Early Grades for Detroit Red Wings' Top Stars in 1st Round of NHL Playoffs

Daniel Williams@@dwill3Contributor IIIApril 25, 2014

Early Grades for Detroit Red Wings' Top Stars in 1st Round of NHL Playoffs

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    The Detroit Red Wings were in desperate need of a shot in the arm, and the return of Henrik Zetterberg helped tremendously.

    However, a deflected shot in overtime put Detroit in a deep hole.

    Trailing in their first-round series 3-1, the Red Wings are looking for anything to rouse their dormant offense. Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall each tallied a goal, but the other 16 skaters have produced just one in four games (Luke Glendening).

    Heading into Game 5, Detroit faces elimination on the road in Boston.

    Detroit needs its best players to rise, but that’s easier said than done. Boston has dictated the pace for most of the series, and Detroit has not been able to play a full 60 minutes.

    So far is not so good for Detroit, and if things continue, there won’t be much hockey left this season in Hockeytown.

    Let’s take a look at the early grades for Detroit’s top stars.

Pavel Datsyuk, B+

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    Pavel Datsyuk was certainly the “Magic Man” in Game 1. He wasn’t the biggest factor in the middle contests but returned to form in Game 4.

    His clutch opening-game performance made him the early favorite for series MVP, but Boston’s smothering defense has since bottled him up. The return of Henrik Zetterberg seemed to give him life.

    While Datsyuk has averaged 21 minutes, seven seconds of ice time and won 57.5 percent of his faceoffs, he has mustered only nine shots on goal.

    It can’t be discounted that Boston focuses primarily on stopping No. 13, as he’s Detroit’s top threat in every facet. On the other hand, the opportunities aren’t coming often, and he needs help from his supporting cast.

    He has two of the team’s four goals this series and will need to shoot the puck more for the sake of generating chances.

    Datsyuk doesn’t need much time or space to make a play, and with Zetterberg back in the lineup, things began to open up. He’ll need a repeat of his two-point night if Detroit is to remain alive in the series.

    Grade: B+

Johan Franzen, D+

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    While Johan Franzen is notoriously more potent in the playoffs, he is also a substantial reason for Detroit’s offensive struggles.

    He registered the lone assist on Pavel Datsyuk’s goal in Game 1, which is the only playoff point he has scored dating back to Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.

    He has just 11 points in his last 31 playoff games since 2011. In the three previous years, he amassed a dominant 59 points in 51 games.

    When he is on his game, Detroit has experienced great success. He has become the go-to guy in the playoffs but hasn’t made a significant impact in some time.

    He is even in plus/minus and has totaled 10 shots on goal. Unfortunately, that hasn’t translated into increased production.

    It is obvious that his performance is tied to Detroit’s fate. Playing on a line with Darren Helm and Gustav Nyquist seemed to help, but again he posted zeroes on the scoresheet.

    Franzen had some of his best games this year alongside Nyquist, and Detroit hopes reuniting the two is the right formula.

    His showing thus far has been ineffective and uninspiring. Anything that can get the big Swede rolling will pay dividends for Detroit.

    Grade: D+

Jimmy Howard/Jonas Gustavsson, B

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    Jimmy Howard had been the Red Wings’ best player in this series until an illness cost him the start in Game 4.

    Jonas Gustavsson filled in admirably, stopping 37 of 40 shots faced through regulation and overtime in Detroit’s 3-2 loss—his first career NHL playoff game.

    Coming into the playoffs, Detroit was going to lean heavily on Howard, and so far he’s been rather good. His 25-save shutout in Game 1 gave Detroit a leg up in the series, only to suffer a rough outing in Game 2.

    Game 3, again, went against Howard and Detroit, but he still stopped 29 of 31 shots in the 3-0 loss. His 2.02 goals-against average and .931 save percentage both rank among the top starting goaltenders this postseason.

    Both stats are career bests in the playoffs for Howard, who has allowed Detroit to remain in games. His save percentage is better than former Vezina Trophy winners Sergei Bobrovsky, Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Miller.

    A goaltender can only do so much when his offense averages one goal per game. Without any support, Detroit is wasting good play from its starting netminders.

    Both goaltenders have proved to be stable in the crease, so Detroit still has a chance to come back in this series.

    Grade: B

Niklas Kronwall. B+

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Niklas Kronwall is the clear-cut leader on Detroit’s blue line and has been a steady force through four games.

    The biggest part of his game this postseason has been his discipline. He knows when he’s going to take a hit, and he’s followed through with the smart play.

    He averages a team-high 25:08 of ice time and is minus-one. Where the team needs him to improve is on the power play. He did just that in Game 4 with the team’s first power-play goal of the series.

    Kronwall generated just four shots through the first three games but fired three shots in Game 4 alone.

    Detroit produced just two shots on goal in six stints with the man advantage in the first two games but has fired 12 in the last two. The Red Wings are now 1-of-13 with the man advantage, thanks to Kronwall’s tally.

    He continues to be a great presence for Detroit’s young defense corps, and his example is exactly what the rest of the defense needs to replicate.

    He has played well under the relentless pressure from Boston’s forecheck, but his help offensively is still required.

    He finished tied for the team lead in points at the end of the regular season, and his offensive prowess is necessary to stave off elimination. He has five goals and 43 points in 97 career postseason games.

    Grade: B+

Gustav Nyquist, C-

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    After leading the team in goals during the regular season, Gustav Nyquist has yet to register a point in the 2014 playoffs.

    After spending most of his time alongside Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar, Nyquist skated on the second line with Johan Franzen and Darren Helm in Game 4.

    Nyquist’s struggles don’t stem from a lack of effort. He is third on the team with 11 shots on goal while averaging 16:14 of ice time per game.

    The 24-year-old is in his third postseason with the Red Wings and looking to rediscover his scoring touch. He has five points in 18 career playoff games.

    He had a particularly rough night on Thursday, finishing minus-one and generating just one shot on goal in more than 17:14 of ice time.

    Detroit has had to deal with minimal secondary scoring through four games, and hope is dwindling. Nyquist is a noteworthy part of this team’s offense, and it’s no coincidence the difficulties coincide.

    He may have just one more game to make his presence felt, and if he can get going, closing out Detroit may not be so easy for the Bruins.

    Grade: C-