If there is anything Detroit Red Wings fans expect out of Johan Franzen, it is both of these:
1. He hits a scoring slump mid-way through the season, then usually shows up with about ten games left
2. He comes up big in many of the important games (90% of them, if it’s during the playoffs)
Fans have more than voiced their frustrations over these two facts. Franzen has been prone to early season injuries that also add to that nearly inevitable “mid-season slump.” And fans cannot stand how inconsistently The Mule plays. He’s streaky. This last fact is one that sticks in fans’ minds rather than, say, that one game against Ottawa when he had five of the seven goals (of course, he failed to score the rest of the season, so case in point).
Make no mistake: A shortened season means a shortened run to the playoffs means that every game really counts.
With this in mind, how will Franzen fare this year?
In normal seasons, if he can avoid injury in the first few weeks of the season, he hits his points lull around the thirty or forty game mark. He tends to reappear with a handful of games to go before the playoffs begin. With only forty-eight games this season, even if Franzen hits that usual cliff, the season will be nearly over and he will have to rev up for the playoffs.
Franzen has been a staple on the Red Wings’ roster since the 2005-2006 season. Since the 2008-2009 season (minus the 2009-2010 season when he was sidelined for four months with a torn ACL), he has managed to hit the fifty point mark every season. But he has never reached thirty goals – he came close last year with 29.
Despite the solid, nearly consistent numbers, it infuriates fans to no end that Franzen cannot be a point-per-game player. He will have seven goals in four games, but not score for the ten games after. This is why fans, overly angry, call for his head… or at least his trade.
Another thing Franzen will have on his side this season is the net-front presence. Without Tomas Holmstrom gracing the roster, someone has to park themselves in front of the goaltender on power plays. Mike Babcock was quoted yesterday by Ansar Khan at Mlive, saying:
“Mule, net-front, is as good as anybody. Mule has been waiting to be out on the first unit since he got here. He thinks he should be. We think he should be, too. So it’s a natural fit.”
While he will not be as fortunate as Holmstrom, who had Nicklas Lidstrom taking the shots from the point, Franzen has had his moments on the second power play unit in Homer’s spot. And he has capitalized on those.
This opportunity to be on the first power play unit as a net-front presence may be the opportunity Franzen has needed to keep his playing consistent.
When the puck drops Saturday night in St. Louis, will we see a new form of the Mule?