Don’t look now, but the Detroit Red Wings are attempting to get back into the thick of things in the NHL. The team that seemed as though it could not get it together, has now won two straight and is currently sitting at sixth in the Western Conference. Sixth place is still nowhere near what the Red Wings expect from themselves, but it is a start, and with as inconsistent as the Wings have been this season, every positive they can get is a glorious thing.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard ranks 29th in the league in save percentage, and 27th in goals against average, but these numbers just do not tell the entire story. Howard had been playing without rest up until the Wings last game against the St. Louis Blues. In that game, coach Mike Babcock finally pulled the trigger and handed the net to 20 year-old Petr Mrazek, Babcock’s only choice as a replacement for Howard. The Wings have two other goalies that would normally be available, but injuries have them both on the shelf, and the youngster has had success at every level of the game so far. The Wings won that game 5-1 and Howard followed it up by stopping 23 shot attempts against the Edmonton Oilers.
Howard is among the NHL’s most worked goaltenders, and he takes the brunt of the blame when the Wings come up short, but his teammates are quick to come to his defense, claiming that Howard gives them a chance to win every night, and it is on them to get him the offensive support he needs.
One such player is Pavel Datsyuk. In fact, Howard is not the only one that needs offense from Datsyuk, the whole team does. When Pavel scores a goal, the Red Wings normally win. They are 4-0 this season when he scores, and 37-1-5 in games that he scores in since 2010-11. Datsyuk scored the first goal of the game on Saturday versus the Oilers. Niklas Kronwall finished Edmonton off with a goal in the final half of the 3rd period and the Wings will get ready to face the struggling Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.
It may only be two games in a row, but with six out of the next eight games being at home, the Wings are in prime position to make a push. If they are going to have any chance at catching up with the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit needs to take advantage of whatever opportunity comes knocking, and right now, opportunity is pounding on the Wings’ door.