DETROIT >> If you had taken a poll inside the Wings’ locker room prior to the start of the season and asked if the team would be a point out of first place for the top spot in the Eastern Conference by the All-Star break, a majority of the responses would have been no.
Well that’s just where Detroit is at, with 63 points in 47 games and just a point behind Tampa Bay.
“When I thought about around July 5 when not much happened this summer, I was disappointed, like a few of my veteran players who called me were disappointed, too,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I don’t think any of us would have believed we’d be at this spot, the general manager and myself included.”
The team didn’t land any of the needs it had searched for through free agency, mainly a right-handed shooting defenseman, and essentially brought back the same squad from last season.
So far it’s worked out.
The Wings (27-11-9), who will come out of the break on a five-game winning streak and tied with the New York Islanders for second overall in the Eastern Conference, have 13 more points than they did after 47 games last season.
Health has also played a major role in getting the Wings to where they’re at in the standings.
Last season Detroit had the second most man games lost according to mangameslost.com at 421 and still found a way into the playoffs. And the Wings’ two best players – Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk – were limited to 45 games each.
“The contributions of players that were out a lot last year due to injuries have been a real positive and then the continued development of the younger players,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “At the end of the day, when you’re in the playoffs 23 straight years it means a lot of picking late and we’re trying to accomplish two goals at the same time, we’re trying to make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup and we’re also trying to rebuild the team on the fly.”
This year Detroit is 14th in man games lost with 111. Columbus is first with 283.
“Everyone’s been healthy and we’ve been playing well, so it’s not a huge surprise,” Darren Helm said. “It’s hard work but it’s paid off.”
The injuries last season has helped in the development of the younger players, including Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, who lead the team in goals with 21 and 19 respectively.
“Our scouts have done a real nice job and obviously (Grand Rapids Griffins coach Jeff Blashill) has done a good job in developing and then we’ve done a good job here,” Babcock said.
Special teams have also contributed. The Wings rank in the top 10 in both power play (second) and penalty kill (sixth).
“We’re in a good situation and now we’ve got to get better,” Babcock said. “Our penalty kill hasn’t been near as good here lately. We’ve got to get our penalty kill back, our faceoff circle back and get everyone playing a little better. I think the big thing right now is just get guys away and get them freshened up and get ready for a push.”
Detroit also is 10th in goals per game and seventh in goals against.
“We’re doing a lot of good things,” Zetterberg said. “We’ve gotten better and got it going here. Compared to last year we’re more healthy. I think we’re a little deeper. Special teams are a little bit better.
The Wings have also taken advantage of a favorable schedule.
During the first half they’ve had a favorable home schedule and have faced teams coming off games the night before 13 times.
However, coming out of the break Detroit plays 11 of its first 14 on the road and 20 of its last 35.
“There’s a long way to go and we have to keep winning games,” Zetterberg said. “We know that. Montreal and Tampa will win games. And Boston will win games. We need to keep playing well if we want to have fun in the end.”