Early 2013-14 Grades for Each Detroit Red Wings Forward Line
The Detroit Red Wings have won six of their first 10 contests, good for second in the Atlantic Division. Each line has contributed to the team's success, but some in different ways than others.
Though the lines have been changed numerous times, some constants remain amongst players playing on the same line.
Here are the early grades from each Red Wings forward line.
Note: For the sake of clarity, the projected lines at the start of the season will be used, as players have moved all over the place of late.
First-Line Grade: A
The big constant on the first line this season has been Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg playing every game together. The full-time unification of the Euro Twins has helped Detroit's offense tremendously, as the two have combined for 11 goals and 22 points in the first 10 contests.
The interesting part of this line has been at right wing, where there have been numerous changes due to various factors.
Justin Abdelkader started the season in that spot but was replaced by Daniel Alfredsson and Todd Bertuzzi for a couple games.
Abdelkader has since reclaimed that spot as of the last game against the San Jose Sharks. He has provided the energy and the physical presence that has been needed on the first line with 40 hits in the first 10 games.
Abdelkader hasn't been rewarded on the score sheet much with just a goal and two assists, but he does have 25 shots on goal so far this season.
Although most Red Wings fans weren't too keen on putting a career third- or fourth-line player on the first line with the two most talented players on the team, the move has paid off for the Red Wings in the early going of the 2013-14 season.
Analysis: Can't really ask for more from this top line than has already happened so far this season. It is once again driving the offensive bus for Detroit this season (for better or for worse).
Second-Line Grade: C-
There's a substantial drop-off from the Red Wings' first line to their second line. Mike Babcock was aware of that earlier this season and moved around some players to get the team going.
The initial second line of Stephen Weiss, Johan Franzen and Daniel Alfredsson will be reunited at some point, but likely not until Darren Helm gets healthy again.
In the mean time, Franzen is now centering the second line, but Weiss has been bumped down to the third line, leaving Joakim Andersson to center the fourth line.
Weiss was moved to the third line more because of his terribly inconsistent play. He has just two points (both goals) in 10 contests. He has just 12 shots on goal and is a minus-three overall.
Franzen isn't doing much better with two goals and three assists in 10 contests. The Mule has struggled to get to the net with the puck on a consistent basis, putting up just 18 shots on goal.
Daniel Alfredsson is the saving grace on this potential line, but his point totals have come more from either playing on the power play or on the first line than skating with Franzen and Weiss. "Alfie" now has half of his assist total from last year (16) in just 10 games, playing 47 last year to get to the same number.
Analysis: There isn't really much about this hypothetical line combination that hasn't been said already. "Underachieving," "no chemistry" and other phrases could be used to describe the trio of players. The thing is, however, this combination will eventually have the possibility of being reunited when Helm comes back. If they can be better than they have been thus far, the Red Wings will be infinitely better off.
Third-Line Grade: B-
At the start of the season, the Red Wings' third line consisted of Todd Bertuzzi, Joakim Andersson and Dan Cleary. This line has been shredded and reorganized since then, with only Dan Cleary still being on the third line as of last game against the Sharks.
For how much each of these individuals have had time to build chemistry with their new linemates (Bertuzzi on the first and second line and Joakim Andersson now centering the fourth line), it is amazing that they have any points whatsoever.
Sure, Cleary and Bertuzzi have been playing in the NHL for many seasons, but it still doesn't make it any easier switching lines after (what seems like) almost every game.
Bertuzzi has only two goals and an assist but also has only 16 shots on goal. If he could keep up his 12.5 shooting percentage while generating some more shots, it would vastly help Detroit no matter what line he plays on going forward. Bertuzzi is a versatile forward and has shown that he can play wherever (line-wise) Babcock needs him.
If Cleary can find a way to start contributing more on the third line, he would silence the critics saying that he shouldn't have been brought back for another season. Thus far, Cleary has just two points in 10 games, putting him on pace to barely break 15 points on the season. That is unacceptable.
For Andersson, it will be interesting to see where he fits in the picture once Darren Helm finally comes back. Andersson was doing fine on the third line, but the demotion of Stephen Weiss booted Andersson to the fourth-line center position.
Analysis: It is difficult to give these three players an accurate mark based on their performance for the team thus far. If they had all played on the same line for all 10 games, the grade would be easily much worse than the "B-" they've been given here. But good hockey players don't make excuses for changing circumstances; they get the job done, regardless.
Fourth-Line Grade: C+
Predicting the Red Wings' fourth line from game to game seems a bit like playing bingo. Plug a player here, sit a player there. Completely random.
This has had positive and negative effects on these fourth-line players. The positive effect is that it keeps players fresh, alert and chomping at the bit to get into the action. Players like Jordin Tootoo (five games played), Mikael Samuelsson (five games played) and Tomas Tatar (two games played) have all felt the repercussions of this strategy.
But Detroit's fourth-line players—between Samuelsson, Tatar, Tootoo, Drew Miller and other call-ups like Luke Glendening and Cory Emmerton—have combined for just two points.
It looks even worse when it is mentioned that those two points came on the same goal in the first game of the season. That's nine straight games without points from the fourth line.
But fourth-line players aren't solely graded on their offensive performances. This Red Wings' fourth line plays a lot of penalty-kill time, where the Wings have the eighth-best penalty kill in the league at 84.2 percent through 10 games.
If they can keep that up, they will earn their pay and will have opportunities to chip in offensively from time to time. These players have had and will get their chances; it is just about converting them.
Analysis: If Detroit wasn't second in its division right now, this lack of offense by the fourth line would be a lot bigger deal than it is. Unfortunately, their grade is only higher than the "D" range because of their penalty-killing. Players like Mikael Samuelsson (one goal in limited playing time) and Drew Miller (no points in 10 games) have got to be a concern for the Red Wings coaching staff.
There have been some surprises this season for Detroit and some things that can normally be expected. In terms of exceeding expectations, one of the few parts of this forward unit that is exceeding expectations is how well Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are playing together.
The other would be how good Daniel Alfredsson has fit in on the Red Wings' power play. His nine points in 10 games weren't something that many fans should have been expecting, as he had just 26 points in 27 games last year.
Aside from that, the surprises are all fairly negative for a team with a 6-3-1 record.
Mikael Samuelsson can't seem to stay in the lineup. That's extremely disappointing (but not necessarily unexpected) for someone with a $3 million cap hit, per CapGeek.
The fourth line has no points in the past nine games, and big-name free-agent signing Stephen Weiss can't seem to generate any offense with Johan Franzen.
For how many players are underachieving on this roster, the Red Wings are in a fortunate spot in the standings. Whether they can maintain that positioning, however, depends on whether they can start getting the bottom three lines to contribute on a regular basis.
All statistics courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.
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