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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Red Wings need better goaltending, defense

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Jan. 4 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday through the course of the 2016-17 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

What does Jeff Blashill need to change for the Detroit Red Wings to be competitive again? Or is it time to replace Blashill? -- @mikelaybourne

The first thing the Red Wings need is better goaltending. Petr Mrazek has to step up in the absence of Jimmy Howard if he wants to prove he can be a No. 1 goalie for now and the future. That's not on Blashill; that's on Mrazek to be better. The second thing the Red Wings need is an improved power play. They're at 11.7 percent, 30th in the NHL. They have enough weapons on that power play with defenseman Mike Green and forwards Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist, Thomas Vanek, Tomas Tatar, Dylan Larkin and now Anthony Mantha to be better than 11.7 percent. That's on Blashill to find ways to improve the power play so it can become more effective. Mainly, though, the Red Wings need more speed in their lineup, particularly on their back end. That's on general manager Ken Holland, not Blashill. 

I would leave Blashill alone for now. From all accounts from the people who know him and have worked with him, including former Red Wings coach and current Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, he's a Grade-A coach that should be able to win in the NHL. The fact that he got the Red Wings into the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season was impressive because they were average in just about every area. They're below average this season but their roster is flawed, particularly on the back end. Give him some time, better goaltending and a better defense and then we'll see what he can do.

Video: DET@TOR: Larkin crashes the net, buries a rebound

The Boston Bruins have four defensemen in the World Junior Championship. Do you see them packaging one, not Charlie McAvoy, for a scorer? -- @rayguarino

I can definitely see that happening depending on how the scouts feel about Jeremy Lauzon (Canada), Jakub Zboril (Czech Republic) and Ryan Lindgren (United States). I agree about not trading McAvoy because he should be a force in a top-four role for the Bruins soon. But with the development of Brandon Carlo this season I do think it opens the opportunity for the Bruins to look to trade any of the other three, including Zboril, who was the No. 13 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, to upgrade their scoring. The Bruins also have Rob O'Gara and Matt Grzelcyk with Providence in the American Hockey League so they are flush with quality defense prospects. The Bruins defense this season is an area of concern for me, but they do need scoring depth and it makes sense to trade from a position of strength in your prospect pool to get it.

Can Anthony Mantha keep up his recent play and be the new Johan Franzen for the Red Wings? -- @RC_Tendy

He's been great lately, and while I don't think he's going to score five goals for every five-game clip [he has five in his past five games], I do think Mantha can and should be a force for the Red Wings for a long time. I love the comparison to Franzen, but I hope Mantha has a better track record in terms of health. I haven't been around Mantha much, but I was during the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic and I was taken aback by his size, just how big he is. You can see on paper someone is listed at 6-foot-5 and 221 pounds and know he's a big boy, but when you see him in person, especially on skates, it gives you a different level of appreciation. He is humongous, but clearly skilled too. He's also smart and he can shoot the puck. He could be better than Franzen.

Video: DET@TOR: Mantha ties the game with 1.1 seconds left

Will the New York Islanders make the playoffs now with Thomas Greiss leading them in net accompanied with secondary scoring? -- @ScottyPecs

No.

Although I do like the way the Islanders have been scoring recently, with 23 goals in their past five games, that eventually will slow down. And while it's good to look at the games in hand they do have, including three on the Philadelphia Flyers, currently the team they're chasing for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference, it's also impossible to look past the nine points they need to make up and the seven teams they have to climb past to get into that position. 

How much longer does Dan Bylsma have? -- @Sabres_Fanatic

I'd give Bylsma at least until this time next season to get the Buffalo Sabres heading in the right direction. 

Losing Jack Eichel to an ankle injury for the first 21 games of the season was a crushing blow. The Sabres averaged 1.81 goals per game in the 21 games he missed; they averaged a more respectable 2.60 goals per game in the first 15 games he played entering their game at the New York Rangers on Tuesday. But losing Evander Kane in the first game and having him miss the next 11 didn't help the scoring. The same can be said for missing Tyler Ennis for the past 25 games because of a groin injury. And not having Ryan O'Reilly for the past four games because of his appendectomy has hurt too. Every team goes through injuries, but the Sabres have been dealing with big ones and it's hard to work around that when you're still a team in a rebuilding mode.

That said, the Sabres can't be forced into excuses. Their penalty kill has to improve from 30th in the League entering play Tuesday. If scoring is going to be a problem for them they have to at least give themselves a chance by being better in shorthanded situations. It's not 5-on-5 defense that's a problem; they were sixth in the NHL in 5-on-5 save percentage (.936) going into Tuesday.

But I think Bylsma deserves a lot more time to get this thing going. He needs a healthy lineup too. Let's see what the Sabres can do in the second half, how they continue to build in the offseason and how they start next season before we give a full evaluation of Bylsma, who, remember, was hired when the Sabres were in the infancy stages of a rebuilding project.

Do you think Anze Kopitar's struggles will be season long or can we expect to see the real No. 11 sometime soon? -- @DanZimgolf

It's obviously been a struggle for Kopitar. Not that I need to make excuses for him, but I do think there are some reasons that can be applied to his scoring woes this season. For starters he has played a lot of hockey since early September, when he played three games to help Slovenia win a qualification tournament for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Kopitar then went to the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and played six games for Team Europe, averaging about 25 minutes per game. Right after that his wife gave birth to the couple's first child. And then he went to the Kings. So he's played a lot of important hockey and had a life-changing event to boot. That doesn't excuse his scoring woes, but it does give some background to why he might be struggling.

Kopitar has still been his same reliable self defensively, but his scoring problems should be a concern for the Kings. It doesn't help that Tyler Toffoli is out of the lineup because of a lower-body injury and that Marian Gaborik has been inconsistent since he returned from an injury Nov. 26. I want to say I expect Kopitar to have a breakout second half and for him to help the Kings reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the evidence overwhelmingly is against that right now.

Should we be concerned at the lack of scoring by the Blackhawks lately during their skid? -- @BeachandBHawks

Not yet.

The Blackhawks have scored 11 goals in going 1-4-1 in their past six games. That doesn't look good, but it's just a six-game stretch and they start a four-game homestand Thursday with every game against an opponent that currently is out of a playoff position: The Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators and Red Wings. None of those teams are in the top-10 in goals-against this season, though the Hurricanes can be a difficult opponent because of how effective they are at limiting shots; they entered Tuesday fourth in the League at 27.4 shots-against per game.

If the scoring woes persist through this homestand then I think there would be a legitimate reason to be concerned, but as of now I wouldn't be. The Blackhawks have gotten goals in the past six games from Richard Panik, Vinnie Hinostroza, Michal Kempny (two) and Tyler Motte, who was sent to Rockford of the American Hockey League on Tuesday. They're getting some secondary scoring. Jonathan Toews (two), Artem Anisimov (two), Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin have scored too. No one is in a prolonged drought. My guess is they break out of this at home.

Video: CHI@STL: Kempny opens the scoring with tricky slapper

Have the New York Rangers surprised you this season? And has your projection for them changed? -- @WillSchiller1

They have surprised me with their speed and scoring ability and it has forced me to see them as a second-place team in the Metropolitan Division. I predicted they'd finish third, so it's a minor change in my projection for them.

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