DETROIT – When Wings general manager Ken Holland was asked for his assessment of his hockey team one-third of the way into the season his answer was one that could have been expected.
“We haven’t played one game with our team,” Holland said during a phone interview. “We’re a work in progress, but we’ve got a lot of good going on.”
The Wings have yet to play with the lineup they had counted on in a week-long training camp when the lockout was settled.
Just 10 players have played in all of Detroit’s 16 games this season.
“I think our coaches and players are doing a great job of battling and scuffling,” Holland said. “We’re finding a way to stay afloat.”
Detroit leads the league with 101 man games lost due to injury.
The Wings were hit hardest early on the blue line, where they had to recall rookie Brian Lashoff once the season began and then sign free agent Kent Huskins when Carlo Colaiacovo went down.
And this came on top of an offseason that saw them lose Nicklas Lidstrom (retirement) and Brad Stuart (trade) and then ben unable to attract a high-end free agent blue liner to come in despite having a nice chunk of money under the salary cap.
Then the injuries up front began, most notable Darren Helm and Mikael Samuelsson, who have combined to appear in four games. Todd Bertuzzi and Johan Franzen are also on the shelf.
“We’re trying to get younger people experience,” Holland said. “With youth comes up and downs. This is the NHL. They’re not going to win at the same clip.
“We’re probably a couple of wins short of where we’d like to be but there’s some good stories going on,” Holland continued. “I think we’ll be a deeper team than we were a month ago.”
With the injuries some of the younger players in the Wings’ organization have begun to emerge, most notably Lashoff, Tomas Tatar and Petr Mrazek.
“At the end of the day, I think there’s some good things going on that will pay dividends down the road,” Holland sad. “We’ve just got to stay in this race.”
The team has been carried all season by Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
“They’re two superstars who are keeping the team in the race,” Holland said. “People were saying they were declining, but they haven’t stopped and they have even gotten even better. They’re the real deal.”
Zetterberg leads the team with 16 assists and 21 points, while Datsyuk is tops in goals with eight and second in points with 18.
Damien Brunner, who the Wings’ found in Switzerland, also looks like he’s the real deal.
He’s third on the team in scoring and second with seven goals.
The bottom six forwards are also starting to heat up and Daniel Cleary is playing better.
After a lopsided loss in the season opener in St. Louis, the Wings began the do the right things.
But of late the wheels seem to coming off again and it’s happening in spurts.
“Anaheim scores two quick ones on us in the third period at home and then we fall asleep the first 15 minutes of the second period in Minnesota,” Holland said. “We’re doing a lot of good things, but we’ve beaten ourselves a lot.”
The other major disappointment this season has been the special teams.
The Wings’ power play ranks 25th in the league (13.5 percent), while the penalty kill ranks 24th (76.1 percent).
“I think the PK has been getting better, but the stats aren’t showing it,” Holland said. “But when you give up four power play goals in your first game it’s going to take at least 10 games to get the percentage back to where it should be.”
The Blues did just that in the opener on the Wings and also scored one time shorthanded.
“I think the penalty killing is getting more aggressive,” Holland said. “The power play is a work in progress. The power play hasn’t got us that timely goal, like when we had a four-minute advantage against Minnesota.
“Those two (power play) units haven’t produced the way we expected them to produce,” Holland continued. “You need to have good specialty teams to win consistently in the NHL.”
Detroit, which hasn’t missed the postseason since 1990, is currently in ninth place in the Western Conference.
The Wings, who are 0-2-2 in their last four games, embark on a three-game home stand beginning Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets before hosting Nashville (Saturday) and Vancouver (Sunday).
“We have a big home stand coming up,” Holland said. “Every two points is critical. We’ve got to get back on the winning ways.”
Six of Detroit’s next eight games are on home ice.
“We’d like to have a couple more wins, but given everything that’s transpired the last nine months, to expect more is to disrespect the rest of the league,” Holland said.