Biggest Potential Problems for Detroit Red Wings' 2013-14 Season
But with 81 games left in the season and a slim margin of victory, there are plenty of problems that may arise sooner rather than later.
These problems must be countered effectively or the Red Wings could face a long battle to start the season.
Here are the five biggest potential problems the team could face this season.
Note: In this instance, "biggest potential problems" means directly contributing to potentially missing the playoffs.
Honorable Mention: The Darren Helm Injury
The Darren Helm injury hasn't just been a problem for Helm, it has been an issue for the Red Wings.
It goes without saying that the Red Wings were a better team with Helm in the lineup, as he provided the team with exceptional forechecking and a solid penalty-killing presence.
Helm's injuries—and there have been many, hence the delay on his return—have thwarted the Red Wings efforts to get a reliable third-line center.
Although Joakim Andersson stepped up in Helm's absence in the playoffs, the Red Wings have too many roster players this year, leaving the team to put waived-center Cory Emmerton in the lineup for opening night.
Getting Helm back sooner rather than later will be an obvious benefit to the Red Wings, but according to Chuck Pleiness of Macomb Daily, not even Helm could really say when that will be.
Helm is out for at least 10 games on "long-term injury reserve."
5. Injuries to (and Chemistry Of) Bottom-Six Forwards
The Red Wings bottom-six forwards' list isn't exactly a case of "who's on first?" yet, but it sure as heck is getting close to it.
It isn't the fact that Red Wings' coaching staff didn't get a good enough look at players in camp to determine their roster spots. But the injury bug that has plagued players like the aforementioned Darren Helm as well as Jordin Tootoo, Patrick Eaves and others has made it difficult to predict who will be in the lineup on any given night.
While these injuries are not necessarily preventable, the goal for Detroit's coaching and management should be to not only keep the same players on the roster, but also to keep the same linemates together.
If linemates can stay together, they can develop chemistry. This is crucial as it could lead to more bottom-six scoring, something not really seen last year through the first half of the season. The bottom-six group struggled to get any scoring in the first half of last season.
4. The Move to the East
While Detroit fans have become accustomed to the Red Wings dominating the Central Division and Western Conference respectively (prior to the Blackhawks becoming a force in the 2000s), Detroit must move on from that mindset.
Gone are the days of frequent, late-starting games on long road trips. Here to stay are the tight divisional races that will be seen in the Eastern Conference this year.
The Red Wings almost did great things last year in the playoffs, stopping short in the final three games of their series against Chicago. If Detroit ends up fighting for a playoff spot like last season, the new playoff qualification format could put them on the outside looking in.
The top three teams from each eastern division make the playoffs along with two wild cards also getting in.
The Red Wings are 1-0—take some time to celebrate that fact.
But the win was against a not-so-talented Buffalo Sabres team, and it was a closer win than the Wings would have liked.
With 15 other teams fighting for spots in the Eastern Conference—and many harder teams to come—don't assume the Red Wings have a playoff spot in the bag this season.
3. The Quality of Play from the Red Wings Backup Goaltender
Last season, the Detroit Red Wings got just seven games out of Jonas Gustavsson.
Although the season was only 48 games, it still was a tremendous work load for and pressure on Jimmy Howard to be better than excellent in helping Detroit qualify for the playoffs.
Gustavsson wasn't great in those seven games with a 2-2-1 record, a 87.9 save percentage and a 2.92 GAA. Those numbers have been close to Gustavsson's career average of 89.9 save percentage and a 2.98 GAA.
But this season needs to be different.
Gustavsson—or whoever ends up backing up Jimmy Howard with Gustavsson hurt—needs to spell Howard out for a game every so often. Not only does Howard need a break every so often, but the Red Wings coaching staff needs to know that backup goalies can actually win games consistently this season.
If this doesn't happen, expect another last day or last week push to make the playoffs in Detroit.
2. Extracurricular Distractions
As easy as it is for NHL players to say they are focused, sometimes events just get the best of them.
The NHL Winter Classic on January 1. Oh, the biggest crowd ever attending a hockey game. Possibly going to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to represent one's country.
Yeah. Talk about distractions.
HBO will be covering the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs leading up to the event, so there could be even more distractions in that regard.
It is easy to say they won't be distracted, but with a 20-day break in NHL action for the Olympics, it will be difficult to stay focused.
With plenty of Red Wings in line for Olympic rosters, the key will be weathering the storm of the Olympics. If the Red Wings can do that and come back with enough gas in the tank to qualify for the playoffs and make a substantial run, Detroit will be sitting pretty.
1. The Emergence of the Second Line
The Red Wings second line of Johan Franzen, Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson was one of the biggest draws in the Detroit lineup coming into training camp.
Well, one thing led to another and the trio really only got to spend part of one preseason game together.
In the Red Wings season-opener against the Sabres, the trio combined for eight shots on goal with no points and a "zero" plus-minus rating.
With a narrow 2-1 win, that line will have to be better. The difference between Detroit being a good team or a great team is how much the second line will be able to contribute to the offense.
The more the trio contributes, the less pressure on the top line and the bottom-six forwards group to put the puck in the net.
Alfredsson, Weiss and Franzen all have the talent to score individually, but it will be important to put it all together as a line and contribute on a nightly basis.
No games off. No exceptions.
All statistics via NHL.com unless otherwise noted.
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