Red Wings proving to be major suprise with extended points streak
Fun fact learned Thursday night by fans of the Red Wings: hockey games can be won in a span of 60 minutes.
It doesn't happen often for Detroit—just five times since Nov. 1—so even a desultory effort like the one they put forth in that 3–2 victory over the East-leading Canadiens on Thursday, is worth noting if it results in an on-time departure.
Then again, working overtime has worked out just as well for the Wings, who’ve now collected at least a point in 12 consecutive games (8-0-4), their longest streak since 2010. It's a stretch that has Detroit, a team many at the beginning of the season saw as a possible playoff outsider, in position to challenge for the Eastern Conference lead.
The return of Pavel Datsyuk has played a big part in this run. The Magic Man missed the team's first 15 games while recovering from offseason ankle surgery, and the Wings struggled, going 8-6-1 without his electrifying two-way presence. Since his return, they've gone 8-2-4, a .714 winning percentage that speaks to Datsyuk's ability to make everyone around him more effective
The goaltending, if not elite, has certainly been solid. Petr Mrazek, who made 23 stops in the win over Montreal, has just one regulation loss in his past 11 starts. His .924 save percentage and 2.38 goals-against average are nearly identical to the .921 and 2.25 GAA posted by partner Jimmy Howard. Each has allowed his share of questionable goals along the way, but both have shown a steely resolve that's kept games close and given their teammates a chance to come out on a nightly basis.
Rookie Dylan Larkin has been a revelation. Say what you want about the validity of the plus-minus stat but when a rookie leads the league in the category (a sizzling +20) and there's not another player on his team in double digits, it speaks to his ability to stay on the right side of the puck. Larkin isn't simply a promising goal scorer (he leads the Wings with 11) or a reliable defender. He's someone who can be counted on to consistently make the right play in all three zones.
Perhaps the biggest surprise though, and the real key to their success, has been the work of coach Jeff Blashill. It's tough enough for a rookie to step behind the bench, especially in an Original Six city. But Blashill's challenge was complicated by the legacy of the man he replaced.
Mike Babcock, arguably the best coach in the game and certainly the one with the highest profile, set a high bar during his Detroit tenure: a .649 winning percentage and 10 consecutive playoff appearances.
But Blashill has met the challenge head-on. He's shown a deft touch with the team's younger players—perhaps not surprising, given that he worked with all of them while coaching in Grand Rapids. His confidence has brought out the best in forwards Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar, who've teamed to form a highly effective Kid Line. But it's his ability to nurture struggling players like Tomas Jurco that's been particularly telling. Jurco's been used sparingly but has dressed in three straight games for the first time this season. He scored his first goal against Washington on Tuesday and had live legs against the Canadiens.
“We want to have patience with him. We think there's a lot to his package,” Blashill told mlive.com. “He also has to, every time he gets a chance, grab the spot and grab those opportunities and he did that the other night by scoring.”
Blashill also has a knack for recognizing where the chemistry is working ... and where it isn't. His willingness to move Darren Helm up and down the lineup, for example, hasn't always worked to the betterment of the player, but it's typically worked out best for his linemates and the team as a whole.
He still has room to improve. Even after scoring Thursday against the Habs, the power play remains a work in progress. They're a less effective possession team than last season (down almost three points to 50.8%). And the defense can still play a little fast and loose. But it's been a reasonably smooth transition, both for the coach and the players. And the results prove it, even if it usually takes longer than 60 minutes to get there.
The numbers game
• With 731 career goals, ageless Panther Jaromir Jagr now trails only Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801), and Brett Hull (741) on the NHL's all time list.
• Rasmus Ristolainen is now the first Sabres defenseman to score a hat trick since Hall of Famer Phil Housley on Jan. 22, 1988 vs. the Devils, and the first in franchise history to do it in one period.
• Patrick Kane has put up at least a point in 27 of the first 29 games he's played this season.
• The story of the daily abuse suffered by former NHLer Patrick O'Sullivan as a child is one of the most harrowing you'll read.
• Another stunner: this story of NHL referees, debilitating concussions and the punishing code that kept them quiet.
• Is the NHL seriously considering renaming its trophies?
• Why is USA Hockey sabotaging one of the biggest women's games ever?
• On the occasion of Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday, let's take a look back at a rare intersection between the singer and hockey.
• And finally, congrats to Jason Christie for setting this minor league record.