The start to the season has been full of ups and downs for the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings, but far more downs than ups thus far. After starting the season with a big win against the Nashville Predators and then a crazy win in their home opener against the Dallas Stars, things were looking up. Then the wheels fell off. In the team’s next 10 games, they only had one win, which came against the Montreal Canadiens. Throughout these 10 games, the team allowed five-goals-against six different times. And they only scored more than two goals once, in the 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly Surrounding the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings
That was the last loss of an eight-game losing streak as they would go on to win their next game against the Edmonton Oilers. But immediately after that, they were right back to their losing ways, dropping four straight games. In these four games, they allowed seven, four, six, and five goals against, respectively. Meanwhile, they scored three goals once, one-goal twice, and were shutout. These, so far, are adding up to a common theme that is defining the team this season. That theme is that they can’t score, and they can’t keep the puck out of their net.
But they have kept fighting and making changes to find a way to win. With only three games left until they hit the 20-game mark for the season, the unofficial Quarter-poll, Steve Yzerman pulled some magic out of a hat and acquired Robby Fabbri from the Blues. It was a move that paid immediate dividends. Fabbri’s arrival coincided with a quick three-game win streak in which he played an integral role.
The Red Wings would go on to beat the Boston Bruins and the Vegas Golden Knights, two teams that are, without a doubt, Stanley Cup contenders this season. They also beat the Anaheim Ducks who are having a bounce-back year themselves. With this brief overview complete, let’s look at the good, the bad, and the ugly that has gotten the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings to this point. And for the sake of having some hopes of salvaging something positive, we’ll do it in reverse order and finish on a positive note.
With a record of 7-12-1 after 20-games, its easy to find the ugly in the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings performance. But the most obnoxious of the ugly is the minus-29 goal differential (46-Goals For, 75-Goals Against). It is by far the worst in the entire league. It leaves the team only scoring an average of 2.3 GF and 3.75 GA per game. Special teams have an impact on these numbers, as well. And while the team’s power play is not great, it sits in the middle-of-the-pack at 16.6 percent. The penalty kill, on the other hand, is an abysmal 69.3 percent, once again, the worst in the league. And just for good measure, the Detroit power play has also allowed three shorthanded goals.
There is a lot of ugly to be found when looking into the player’s stats. To start, three players who would be considered regulars in the lineup have zero points. Those players are Adam Erne, Christoffer Ehn, and Frans Nielsen. Let’s not forget that Nielsen is the most significant burden of the three, making $5.25 million per season. From there, there are 10 other players who all have under 10 points. All players have played in at least half of the teams’ games to this point, as well.
Looking into advanced stats is where the ugliness continues, particularly in the Corsi (CF%) and the Fenwick (FF%) department. The biggest personal disappointment is Andreas Athanasiou. Athanasiou currently has a 46.5 CF and a 49.2 FF%, with only 11 points. These numbers are far from expectation for him this year, especially considering he has more offensive zone starts than any other player on the team at 58.1 percent. Sticking with the advanced stats for a moment, of the 19 skaters who have played in at least half of the games this season, 12 of them have a CF% under 50 percent. And 10 of those same 12 players are under 50 percent in FF% as well.
Goaltending. Need we say more. The goaltending this year has shown flashes of brilliance, but those are few and far between. It seems that Jonathan Bernier has supplanted Jimmy Howard as the teams starting netminder. Bernier has been far from stellar but has posted a 5-4-1 record in 12-games with a 2.91 goals-against-average and a .891 save percentage. These numbers are not excellent but superior to Howards. Howard has a 3.5 goals-against-average and a .887 save percentage after posting a 2-8 record. The most significant factor so far that separates the two is that Howard has allowed four or more goals in six-of-10 games. Bernier, on the other hand, has only done so in four-of-12 games. These numbers are indicative of a more significant problem overall.
That problem is the defence. The defence lacks an actual number-one defenceman for starters. Kronwall was the guy, but he has since retired. Mike Green was that guy for a time, but that was long ago now. The hope of finding a new player to fill that role soon is not lost. Much of the defence in Detroit is very young and very talented. Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek are 21 and 22 years old, respectively, and both are leading the charge on the defensive side of things. Unfortunately, they still have a lot of learning and growing to do, and only time will tell how great they will become.
Injuries have also plagued the defence as well. There has been a total of 11 defencemen who have been in the line up at some point this season. That makes it hard for players to bond on the ice and develop chemistry with each other. A significant loss this season has been Danny DeKeyser. A leader on the defence now, Dekeyser got off to a hot start with four points in three of the first four games of the season, all games the Red Wings won. He cooled off and didn’t produce any points over the next four games, which the team promptly lost. He has been out of the lineup and placed on IR with a lower-body injury.
Despite all that has been mention so far, there are more than a few good things we can take away from the team so far this year. First and foremost is the Tyler Bertuzzi–Dylan Larkin–Anthony Mantha line. They have shown that they are a legitimate top-line for just about any team in the NHL this season. Bertuzzi and Mantha are also just under a point-per-game as well, with Larkin just a few back of them. Mantha is finally emerging as an elite goal scorer at the highest level, along with showing more consistency. The best part of their game is that they’re controlling the play.
The top line of Bert-Larkin-Mantha all have a CF% of 54.6 percent, 55.9 percent, and 55.8 percent, respectively. These numbers show just how much more they control the puck when they’re on the ice. Another great sign when reading into the advanced stats is looking at the CF% and FF% of the younger defenceman, Hronek and Cholowski. Both defencemen are in the 52 percent range with their CF% and 54 percent when looking at their FF%.
As a team, these are respectable numbers, as well. Detroit had a 49.5-CF% and a 51.0-FF% as a team through their first 20 games. And while being outshot in most games, the total Shots For is 607 while Shots Against is at 636. These numbers continue to show a continual effort by the team. Not only that, but that their competing and challenging their opposition. They need to work on their finishing touch as the season goes along.
How will the rest of the season unfold?
It is hard to say how the remained of the season will unfold. A playoff spot should be the last thing on anyone’s mind. But there is progress to be made still this season as the players continue to learn, grow, and develop throughout the season. Patience will be the key moving forward. There is a lot of high-end skill on this team, but the players that possess this are still learning at this level. Not every player comes out of juniors like McDavid or Mathews, and many tend to forget that. The forwards upfront are finding the consistency they need to be dominant in the NHL. Where the young defencemen may still need another year.
Many people have called for coach Jeff Blashill’s head to resolve the struggles the team has been experiencing. While it seems likely he won’t be around after this season, cutting him now would serve no real purpose. Teams generally only fire a coach mid-season if they were expected to succeed and are floundering. With the players progressing and competing under his guidance, he will remain behind the bench this year.
And that is all that can be hoped for as the season carries on. That the young players continue to progress and take steps forward in their development, finding some secondary scoring will help immensely, and Robby Fabbri seems to be the guy to help lead that charge. Combine depth scoring with the speed and tenacity shown at times throughout this early part of the season, and the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings don’t look like pushovers to anyone in the league. And that is all that can be asked to consider this season a success. That the team continues to compete hard, and the youth continues to develop correctly. Patience is the key.