DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings have reached the quarter point of the season and the reviews are mixed.
They’re currently riding a six-game winless streak.
All five of the Wings’ last games have gone past regulation, becoming the first team since the 2003-04 Edmonton Oilers to play in five straight overtime games.
Overall Detroit is 0-4 in shootouts this season and 1-3 in games decided in overtime.
Heading into play Sunday, Detroit is fourth in the Atlantic Division, but sits in the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Wings are 0-1-6 in their last seven at Joe Louis Arena, their longest such streak since the 1989-90 season.
Here are the positional grades for the quarter point of the season.
The grade is only that high because of one line – Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and whoever is the third guy paired with them.
Zetterberg (10 goals, 13 assists) and Datsyuk (11 goals, 11 assists) are the top two goal scorers on the team.
Todd Bertuzzi has been the beneficiary of late playing with the Wings’ top two forwards, collecting five goals and four assists.
Prior to Johan Franzen finding his goal scoring touch with three goals in his last two games to give him five on the season, no one else on the team had more than three goals.
Detroit’s biggest problem is finding a second line to compliment the top unit.
The original plan of Stephen Weiss centering Daniel Alfredsson and Franzen never panned out.
Weiss, who’s been sidelined with a groin injury, has not provided anything offensively since inking a five-year deal worth $4.9 million a season to replace Valtteri Filppula as the second line center. He has just two goals and an assist.
Alfredsson, who has missed the last two games with a groin injury, is third on the team in scoring with three goals and 11 assists.
Darren Helm is currently centering the second line.
“Helmer’s the best third line center in the league,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We can play him in the second hole, he’s going to be fine. But he’s the best third line center in the league. If you want to win every night he’s a three.”
Then there’s Daniel Cleary, who got a one-year deal worth $1.75 million from the Wings a day into training camp.
The deal caused a logjam at forward and Detroit has since had to place three players – Cory Emmerton, Jordin Tootoo and Patrick Eaves – on waivers. All three have since been assigned to Grand Rapids.
Cleary, who was a healthy scratch last Tuesday and has just a goal and two assists, is the main reason why Gustav Nyquist remains in Grand Rapids.
Tomas Tatar, who somehow can’t find a regular role up front, has two goals and three assists in 13 games.
Niklas Kronwall, Danny DeKeyser and Jonathan Ericsson have been rock solid, all plus players.
DeKeyser has been the brightest spot on the blue line.
“He’s got great hockey sense, a great skater and a real good defender,” Babcock said. “Whoever he plays with they play better. Real good players do that to their partner and their linemates. That’s just something he’s come here and grabbed. It wasn’t long ago we didn’t even know to put him in the lineup, give him a gradus game before we shut him down for the year. Now he’s rolling along and in our top three.”
The rest of the regulars – Jakub Kindl, Kyle Quincey, Brendan Smith, and Brian Lashoff – are a combined minus-25.
Jimmy Howard’s numbers aren’t awful, but they’re not spectacular.
His goals-against average (2.68) and save percentage (.910) are his worst numbers compared to the last two seasons.
Howard is one of leading candidates to represent the United States.
Jonas Gustavsson and Petr Mrazek are a combined 4-0-1 as backups.
A healthy Gustavsson could play a huge role as the season progresses for Detroit. He had a stretch of three straight starts, subbing in for an injured Howard, and had road wins at Boston, Columbus and Colorado.
Mrazek’s win was a shutout.
Line juggling is what Babcock is known for but he’s sticking to his guns with not breaking up his top forward unit.
“I know the guys, I talked to them personally and I think it helps them,” Babcock said. “I think they’ve been good. I like what’s going on with that group. So we got to find someone else to share some of the scoring workload.
“You want to play them together every day but you also want to get on a roll, so you can’t,” Babcock continued. “My job is to evaluate the people and put them in and out. Now we have less forwards so it should help guys be in more constant spots.”
The bright spot all season long for the Wings has been the play of their special team units.
The penalty kill is ranked fifth overall (86.1) and the power play is seventh overall (21.5).