The New-Look Detroit Red Wings?

Nick JamesContributor IJanuary 2, 2010

DETROIT - DECEMBER 9:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings defends the net during the game against the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena on December 9, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

The 2009-2010 season has been an interesting one for the Red Wings. We've see nearly half the team go down with varying injuries, gone from one of the league's best offenses to one of its most inept, and have witnessed something Red Wing fans haven't seen in quite some time; a consistent #1 Goaltender.

The Wings, who are typically admired for their experience, are relying on younger players to get the job done, and are showing more character than they have since #19 decided to hang 'em up. Now is when I rattle off all the injuries the Red Wings have suffered since the season opened in Stockholm, please use your bathroom break now, I promise you the list is quite long.

We lost power forward Johan Franzen in the third game of the season to a torn knee ligament, he is expected back in mid to late February. Forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary are both out of the lineup with separated shoulders, but should return in the next few weeks. Defensemen Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson are both out with knee injuries. Kronwall is expected back within a week, however, Ericsson won't be returning any time soon. Grinding forward Darren Helm started the year with a shoulder injury but only missed a week or two. Valtteri Filppula returned last week from a broken wrist, while line mate Jason Williams is still out with a broken leg. Beyond those major injuries, players like Pavel Datsyuk, Chris Osgood, and Brian Rafalski have all missed time with less serious ailments.

I'll start with the bad news; players like Datsyuk and Lidstrom have had mediocre seasons, Chris Osgood's regular season woes continue, we're tight against the salary cap so a trade is almost surely out of the picture, Ville Leino hasn't produced like we thought, and our offense hasn't produced as much as it should.

And the good news? We're still in the playoff race with half the year to go, Jimmy Howard has played well enough in net to garner attention from Team USA brass, Tomas Holmstrom is healthy and scoring, ditto for Todd Bertuzzi, guys like Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller, and Justin Abdelkader are making it hard for Ken Holland and Mike Babcock to show them the door next year, and our defense is one of the best in the NHL

And what is the key to all of these changes? In my mind, it has been the play of Goaltender Jimmy Howard. Howard's performance has changed this team from one that needs to score five goals a game to win, to one that can come out on top in a 2-1 or 3-2 game. We're coming down the stretch and the Wings will improve as players start to get healthy (and please, God, stay healthy) and with Howard playing solid, the Wings will be able to turn the corner and be a real contender come spring.