Well, the Detroit Red Wings were able to right the ship, so to speak, with a tremendous January after a dreadful December. Detroit found a way to achieve 20 points last month, the best single-month total since January of 2012. That came on the heels of a pathetic December where Detroit at one point lost nine of 11 games, finishing the month with a 5-9-1 overall record.
The Detroit Red Wings currently control the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference with 58 points on the season. Although things are tight, the Red Wings have an opportunity to separate themselves from the field over the next few weeks if they can continue their hot streak.
The Red Wings are just one point behind the Lightning for the third position in the division. Heading into Monday night, the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs occupied the two wild card spots with 58 points, but Toronto entered the evening with three games in hand. There are a slew of teams snapping at their heels. The Islanders play Toronto on Monday, sitting with 52 points, and a trio of teams are knocking on the door with 51 points at the break (Penguins, Devils, and Capitals). Detroit really does control their destiny at the moment. They're on pace to amass 95 points this season, which should translate to a playoff berth. Last season, 92 points got it done.
A generation of Red Wings fans won't like this following statement, but that's how it goes. General manager Steve Yzerman has positioned this group to make a playoff push this season, but it's unlikely Detroit is a Stanley Cup contender. I say unlikely because, as Florida proved last season, you just never know. The Panthers snuck into the postseason on the final day of the regular season last year and needed help doing so. The measly Chicago Blackhawks beat the Penguins to launch the Panthers into the tournament, and they rode that high to the finals. Fans seem to be all or nothing these days, but Yzerman has built this at a crockpot pace. That's not necessarily bad; he's mentioned in the past that when they're ready to compete for a championship, he wants to ensure their success is sustainable. Does that mean the Red Wings will become buyers ahead of the trade deadline? Possibly. But don't expect Yzerman to mortgage the future to become the eighth seed, and if he makes a surprise move, I can assure you that said player dealt wasn't in his future plans.
The Detroit Red Wings are in a position to make a postseason run.
It's become evident that Yzerman doesn't want to build a 'one and done' team. Just look at what he built in Tampa Bay. After rebuilding the Lightning, they've remained a constant contender. It's unfortunate for Yzerman; he left a year too early before reaping the benefits of his work. Another example is the Boston Bruins. I thought they'd take a step backward this season after losing Patrice Bergeron and David David Krejčí to retirement. And even a depth scorer like Taylor Hall, but they've continued to dominate the Atlantic Division. The Bruins currently sit with 71 points at the All-Star break.
Over the past month, the Detroit Red Wings have made a conscious effort to improve their team defense. Having a hot goaltender also helps amplify things in that regard. Dylan Larkin recently talked about their overall improvement. "A big emphasis for us is keeping goals out of our net," Dylan Larkin said. "I think we’ve done a good job of that. You’re going to have the odd night, but we always have a goal kind of two-or-less for the game, and we’ve been right there a lot of times. Goaltending and penalty killing have helped that, but I think our team defense has improved, as has our puck management. We’re not as much risk, we’re doing it right, and grinding teams down. "I feel this month we’ve really learned what our game is and how to win hockey games."
Alex Lyon has performed exceptionally well since taking over the No. 1 job. He's posted a 13-6-2 record this season, backed by a stout 2.51 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. Help is on the way, too. Although Ville Husso hasn't been the same player he was through the first half of last season, he should be able to provide the Detroit Red Wings with a reliable backup for the remainder of the season. The Red Wings are also expected to have Patrick Kane back on Saturday when they square off with the Canucks in their first game after the All-Star break.