DETROIT – November started like many Red Wings games have in the first quarter of the season – slow and unproductive.
But following a lackluster three-game road trip to begin the month – with losses to the Sabres, Senators and Rangers – the Red Wings turned their fortunes around, picking up points in nine of the last 11 games (8-2-1) as they steam into December.
“It was a good month for us,” said Tomas Tatar, who registered a team-high 12 points last month. “We’re showing some good stuff on the ice and I think this team is very strong and hopefully if we can stay healthy we can be a very dangerous team. We’re proving it so far. We’re playing really good hockey and hopefully it will continue this month too.”
With the exception of a few slow starts, the Red Wings are the hottest team in the league, posting a 7-2-1 mark in the past 10 games.
This team wasn’t given much of a chance with many hockey pundits predicting the end to the franchise’s 23-year playoff streak was imminent this season.
But the players never gave up hope.
“We never doubted ourselves,” said Gustav Nyquist, who has a team-best 11 goals in 24 games. “We knew we had a good team in here and I think we’ve proven to be a pretty good team so far.”
For the first time in recent memory, both Red Wings’ special teams units are among the league’s top 10. The penalty kill is No. 4, working at a 86-percent efficiency, while the power play is ranked No. 6 converting 22-of-97 chances on the man advantage. Only Pittsburgh (24) has scored more power-play goals than Detroit this season.
Productivity from specialty teams has been paramount to the Wings’ early-season success, coach Mike Babcock said.
“As a staff we put a lot of importance on that stuff,” Babcock said. “Your ability to keep the puck out of your net is absolutely critical if you want to have success. We have to sharpen up our game on the penalty kill. We’ve given up some goals on that lately. It’s fun for the guys to score goals. The power play helps your offensive guys feel good because they feel like they’re getting their touches and opportunity to score so those things are important. They’re all part of winning hockey. We got off to a fairly good start now we just have to keep building.”
The Red Wings now begin a strenuous month consisting of 14 games, but 10 at home, where they’ve posted a 9-2-2 record with 20 points, which ranks second in the Eastern Conference and fourth in the league.
Stockpiling points at home this month will be ultra important for the Red Wings, who have just six home games sprinkled throughout January and February.
“One of those months we’re gone the whole month, so we got to take advantage of this month, being here, being around families, being around our fans because our schedule the latter part of the season is going to be a lot on the road,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “I think it’s going to come down to the wire with everyone jockeying for position. It’s a new league. Anyone can beat anyone on any given night. You got to come prepared to play.”
For the Red Wings’ coach, he prefers to take this month one game at a time, starting with Tuesday’s home contest against the Florida Panthers.
“I can talk about a real important game, the next game,” Babcock said. “We have a game on Tuesday so that’s what we’re living in. I know what the schedule is, there’s lots of red on it so that means we’re at home this month, but the reality is you just focus on tomorrow. (The Panthers) play tonight, getting off to a good start tomorrow then everything will look after itself.”
Left Wing - DET
Goals: 7 | Assists: 8 | Pts: 15
Shots: 54 | +/-: 6
Following Monday’s morning practice, Babcock indicated that Justin Abdelkader
remains day to day and is expected to sit out Tuesday’s game against the Panthers.
The Red Wings’ forward is believed to have sustained a shoulder injury during a center-ice collision with Vancouver defenseman Luca Sbisa late in the second period of Sunday’s game.
The Wings certainly will miss Abdelkader for his penalty killing and his puck-retrieval skills, not to mention his tenacity in front of the net, in the corners and along the boards. He leads the team with 57 hits and is second among Wings forwards with 15 blocked shots.
“He plays hard on offense. He understands you score goals by being at the net so he goes to the net,” Babcock said. “He’s an important player for us. He’s a guy that works hard every day in my opinion. He brings it most every day, skates good, gets in on the forecheck so we need guys like that.”
Center - DET
Goals: 5 | Assists: 7 | Pts: 12
Shots: 41 | +/-: 5
The Red Wings’ power play finished November with an NHL-high 17 goals on 58 chances – that’s a very good 29.3 percent rate.
Detroit scored multiple power-play goals in seven of 14 games during the month, including three of the last four contests. The Wings are 6-0-2 when they’ve scored more than one power-play goal this season.
Center Riley Sheahan, who scored three power-play goals last month, believes the aggressiveness of anyone on the two units has resulted in more scoring chances.
“I think just getting shots through and having net presence,” Sheahan said. “Once the rebound comes off the goalie, it kind of puts them in a bad position because they don't know where the puck's going to go and we can capitalize on opportunities from there.”
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Red Wings haven’t scored 17 or more power-play goals in one calendar month since the 2008-09 season when they did so in both January (17) and February (18).
NOT SO SPECIAL: Stephen Weiss
Center - DET
Goals: 3 | Assists: 2 | Pts: 5
Shots: 8 | +/-: 2
spent his first 11 NHL seasons in Florida, so obviously, facing his former team last season brought about some mixed feelings for the Panthers’ former first-round draft pick.
“I don’t have quite the same feeling this year,” Weiss said. “A lot of their guys are gone again. There’s only a few left on the team that I was on last. Some of the staff, but it’s pretty much a new team again.”
The Panthers visit Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday, but only nine players on this year’s roster played with Weiss during his final season in Florida.
“Last year, I was really excited to play against them,” he said. “This year it’s just another game.”