The Red Wings Need to Get Back to Basics


With a roller-coaster start to the season the Detroit Red Wings are currently on their first down slope of the season. After winning the first three games of the season the Red Wings have won only one in their last six. The game against the Vancouver Canucks  gave Red Wings fans hope that things were turning around but the optimism has waned after the Red Wings played another lackluster game against the Hurricanes. These early games against Carolina should have helped the Red Wings record like they have for most of the other teams in the NHL. The Hurricanes only have three wins and two of them are against the Red Wings!

Enough focusing on the past, the season is far from over and the Red Wings have plenty of time to right the ship. In order to be successful I feel the Red Wings need to get back to basics and start doing some of the things that made Detroit Red Wings who they are. A lot of the basics come from the Scotty Bowman era and still ring true in today’s game. Let’s take a closer look at some areas that the Red Wings need to improve on if they want to make it 25 straight years in the playoffs.

More Shots on Goal

In the twenty plus years I have been watching the Red Wings I can’t remember a time when they had so much trouble getting shots on goal. Some credit has to be given to other teams for blocking shots but the Red Wings have to be better at getting shots through. One thing I have been impressed with this season is that the Red Wings have developed an overall better net front presence. Abdelkader has become the Red Wings premier net front guy but Sheahan and Jurco have also stepped into the role when needed. The problem is the Red Wings sometimes create too much of a traffic jam in front of the net preventing the puck from even getting through. They only need one guy blocking the goalie’s vision the other two forwards need to be moving the puck around and taking shots for the system to work. Also the Red Wings are getting more shots from the point but need to be better at being patient and letting lanes open up. Overall the shots will be fixed once the Red Wings embrace our next basic, puck possession.

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Control Puck Possession

During the Scotty Bowman era the Red Wings became the first NHL team to really adopt the Russian way of controlling the puck. With the acquisition of Igor Larionov ,in a trade for Ray Shepherd, the famed Russian five-line was born. The Russian five served as an example of how the Russian game was played using patience and passing to control the puck and the game. It was not long before puck control became one of the main philosophies of the Detroit Red Wings’ system. It seems like in the last few seasons that the Red Wings have been losing their edge in puck possession. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that a majority of teams have also adopted the puck possession philosophy.  Everyone is paying attention to it now which is evidenced by the new advanced stats that take puck possession into account.  Shot totals are also a big indicator of puck possession and by that stat alone you can see that the Red Wings are not controlling the puck like they used to. They have the talent with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Nyquist, Tatar, and Larkin to take ownership of the puck but need to work harder to get it and control it through the neutral zone. When Datsyuk returns from injury hopefully he can help turn the possession and shot numbers around.

It seems like in the last few seasons that the Red Wings have been losing their edge in puck possession. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that a majority of teams have also adopted the puck possession philosophy.

Play a Whole 60 Minutes

One of the biggest problems affecting the Red Wings now is their lack of consistency. I am not sure I can say I have seen them play at their top-level for a whole game yet this season. Certain players like Zetterberg are playing full games but the whole team has yet to respond for a whole game. It seems like the last few seasons that the Red Wings are usually slow to start. A majority of games this season have seen them get less than ten shots in the first period. The saving graces for the Red Wings have been great goal tending and  their ability to turn up the intensity toward the end of the game and steal games from teams who have dominated the majority of play. There have been a few games that the Red Wings started well but in those instances they are not able to carry it throughout the game. Like Babcock used to preach that everyone needs to be an “every dayer” the Red Wings need to be an every second team during games.

Score the First Goal

It is a well-known fact that the team that scores first usually wins. During the Detroit Red Wings 62 win season I remember that there was a time when they had scored the first goal in 18 straight games. That is pretty impressive and their record backed it up. Even this season the Montreal Canadiens have proven this point by trailing their opponents less than 3 minutes in their 9-0 start. That pretty much guarantees they were the one to score the first goal a majority of the time. The Red Wings came out better in the first against Carolina last game but need to push a little bit harder to get that first goal and grab momentum. It comes down to playing solid mistake free hockey while pressuring the other team with quality scoring chances. It is a lot easier to win when you are not chasing the score or trying to take the momentum away from the opposition.

Score 100 or Better in Special Teams

Scotty Bowman was a big believer in the importance of special teams play and came up with a simple formula to determine if special teams were up to par. Add the penalty kill percentage and the power play percentage and if they equal 100 or more than you have good special teams. Right now the PK is at 78.8% and the PP is at 16.1%. Overall that is 94.9 special teams points. 5 points shy of the goal, both the power play and penalty kill have shown their good and bad sides.

Sometimes the power play looks great with strong puck possession, crisp passing, and net front presence. Other times, like in the last game against Carolina, it seems like the Red Wings are not able to get through the neutral zone without turning it over. Again the Red Wings have the talent to have a great power play but lack the consistency to produce at a 20% or better rate. The penalty kill on the other hand plays well most of the time but is still prone to bad streaks. It seems like they let in power plays goals in bunches at times. But like the first half of last year are able to produce at a 90% penalty kill rate. I expect Tony Granato to whip the PK back in shape but will need the help of the team to not take unnecessary penalties such as too many men on the ice and offensive zone penalties.

Let’s hope the Detroit Red Wings get back to some or all of these basics and chain together some wins and get back on pace to reach the playoffs for the 25th straight time.

Next: Detroit Red Wings Suffer Another Loss to the Hurricanes

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