With the NHL Lockout finally coming to and end early on Sunday morning it is time to forgive and forget and get back to the Cup lusting days of winter.
The Red Wings are not the contenders they usually are with the retirement of Nick Lidstrom; Jiri Hudler and Brad Stuart both leaving via free agency and the impending dependance on unproven, young talent. But, as the Los Angeles Kings showed last year, just get to the playoffs and let the puck fall where it may come June.
With that said, here are a few things to watch for that, if swing the Wings way, will equate to a successful 2013 NHL shortened season:
- Jimmy Howard must prove he is not just a successful system goalie. Chris Osgood was strapped with the label of only being a winning goalie due to the Red Wings almost always dominant defense and Jimmy Howard is destined to be saddled with the same label. But Howard is closing in on his Free Agency year and the Wings need him to prove now more than ever that he is a bonafide NHL goaltender capable of stealing not just a game, but an entire playoff series.
- Darren Helm must stay healthy. Helm is not a point per game player and won’t be counted on to score more than 10-15 goals during a full campaign but his value to this team is in his speed, defense, face offs and energy. But, unfortunately, Helm has been hit with the injury bug recently and he must avoid this in the shortened season. Knee, forearm, face are a few of the major injuries he’s received recently but the time he spends on the PK helps ease the wear and tear on Datsuyk and Zetterberg, allowing them to not be forced to play the PK1 and to keep them fresh for the more offensive situations.
- Brendan Smith must live up to his hype, earlier than normal. Most Wings players are not forced into the line up, they force their way into it. However, Smith will be counted on mightily in 2013 due to the loss of major minutes on Defense and he must step up and play NHL caliber defense in major minutes, up to 20-22 per game. Smith is a smooth skating, puck moving defensive prospect and needs to avoid playing like a rookie in order for this team to keep its 21 year playoff streak alive.
- Henrik Zetterberg and Damian Brunner need to keep their chemistry going. Damian Brunner was the highest scoring Red Wing that played during the lockout and he did so playing alongside Zetterberg in the Swedish Elite League. If Brunner can step into the 2nd line and provide the scoring punch he had in Sweden this will allow Mike Babcock to spread out the other scoring and keep the balance the Wings have long enjoyed. Successful teams get scoring from all four lines and the Red Wings are a testament of that since the day’s of the Scotty Bowman/Grind Line and need to avoid all the scoring coming from Datsyuk and Zetterbergs lines.
A 48 game NHL season is a crap shoot, one hot streak can put you in the playoffs and one cold streak can keep you out. An 82 game season allows for streaky teams to regress to the mean at some point and just putting together a 10 game win streak won’t get you in the playoffs, but in just 48 games, that could put a team over the top.
So, if they Red Wings are to keep the playoff streak alive they need to play much more consistent than last year, where they won 23 straight games at home yet still couldn’t win the division and were bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
A 48 game season starting on January 19th is going to be exciting with almost 4 games per week and hopefully the Wings are healthy and ready for the sprint of a season.