Red Wings first-half lookback: Here’s what’s gone right, and what’s gone wrong

Detroit News

Ted Kulfan
| The Detroit News

Detroit —  From general manager Steve Yzerman down to the players, the Red Wings wanted to see improvement this season.

After going through a miserable 2019-20 season, which saw the Wings finish last in the standings, there was no desire to go through that again.

They have been better during this pandemic-shortened NHL season, so far. By one point.

Through 27 games last season, the Wings were 7-17-3 (17 points).

This season, through 27 games (the halfway point is actually Thursday’s 28th game in this 56-game season) the Wings are 7-16-4 (18 points).

There have been positives, no question. But there also have been disappointing aspects to this fast-moving season.

More: Detroit News 2020-21 Red Wings midseason grades

Said coach Jeff Blashill: “When we’ve had a full roster, the good is we’ve been a harder team to play against. Talking to people around the league, that’s what they seem to say. What does that mean? That means we’ve been pretty good defensively, we’ve made it hard for other teams to get easy chances, we’ve played fairly heavy. We’ve put teams on heels at times and been physical. That’s been the good part about it when we’ve had a full roster.

“The bad would be when we haven’t had a full enough roster, I don’t think we’ve handled that well enough. We’ve probably needed more guys to step up, and in general, I don’t think we’ve had the production that we would have hoped across the board. We’ve had chances and not enough production. We need more of that, but that comes in time.”

Here are five things that have gone right and five things that have gone wrong in the first half of the season.

What’s gone right

Jonathan Bernier: Through the second half of last season, and now through this first half, you can make the argument Bernier has been among the best goaltenders in the NHL.

Bernier headed into Thursday’s game with an above-.500 record (6-5-0), with a 2.94 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, both extremely respectable for a team near the bottom of the standings.

The question now is whether Bernier, an unrestricted free agent this summer, re-signs with the Wings or is dealt at the trade deadline to a team in need of fortifying the position.

Helpful acquisitions: Yzerman dipped heavily into free agency, signing defensemen Troy Stecher and Jon Merrill, forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov, and goaltender Thomas Greiss, along with trading for defenseman Marc Staal.

The newcomers have done what Yzerman hoped for, strengthening the roster with more NHL-caliber talent and making the roster deeper.

Only Greiss (1-11-4, 3.41 GAA, .883 SVS) has played below expectations, while all the others, arguably, have performed as expected.

Signed to one-year contracts, players such as Ryan, Staal and Merrill could be shipped at the deadline for more draft picks.

Developing young core: The organization needs to see continued progress from core players such as Dylan Larkin, Filip Zadina, Filip Hronek, Tyler Bertuzzi, Robby Fabbri and Anthony Mantha.

Other than Mantha, those young players mostly have played well enough to give the Wings hope they can be building blocks heading into the future.

With prospects such as Mortiz Seider, Lucas Raymond, Joe Veleno, Dennis Cholowski and Michael Rasmussen continuing to progress at the junior or minor-league level, this season has continued to offer hope for the future.

Dylan Larkin, captain: Larkin, as expected, was named captain before the season began.

You could argue Larkin could have been named captain the year before, but Yzerman, also with merit, wanted to get familiar with all his personnel before making the important move.

But Larkin has, as expected, slipped into the role of captain easily.

Teammates follow Larkin’s lead, whether by words or actions, and Larkin, from Waterford and having played at Michigan, appreciates the tradition of the Wings’ organization and the understands the passion of local fans.

Luke Glendening: It’s not a sexy statistic, and casual fans easily slip by it without giving it much thought.

But faceoffs are crucial. A huge part of the game, where possession of the puck begins and a team can begin its offensive push.

There has been nobody in the NHL better in the circle than Glendening this season.

Glendening ranks No. 1 in NHL with a 67.6 percentage (259 faceoffs won, 124 lost).

Glendening’s faceoff talent, along with his checking skills and leadership makes him a potential bargaining chip at the trade deadline.

What’s gone wrong

Anthony Mantha: There is nothing that has gone right for Mantha this season.

Signed to a four-year contract worth $22.8 million ($5.7 million cap hit) in the off-season, Mantha was expected to become the offensive force he’s been long envisioned to be.

But Mantha has six goals and four assists for 10 points in 26 games, has been a healthy scratch for one game, and has a team-worst minus-16 rating.

Whether it’s the pressure of the contract, lack of confidence, the shortened season, or simply a slump, this has been a disappointing performance from an important core piece of the Wings’ rebuild.

Offense still offensive: Goals continue to be a scarce for a lineup that was expected to produce a bit more than last season’s miserable numbers.

Heading into Thursday, the Wings ranked last, 31st, with only 2.11 goals per game, and 29th with only 57 goals scored.

A key reason both totals are so low has been a miserable effort by the power play, which ranks 30th (11.5%).

Mantha’s struggles have contributed to the offensive problems, along with injuries to Bertuzzi and Fabbri, who’ve missed chunks of time out of the lineup.

Specialty teams struggle: The penalty kill hasn’t been good enough, ranking 30th, with a dismal 69.7 percentage.

Injuries have played a part in the difficulties on the penalty kill, but after a good start this season, the Wings haven’t been able to maintain the effectiveness.

But the disappointment is greater on the power play.

The unit went a stretch of not scoring over 40 chances, sapping momentum and not being able to produce needed offense.

This, despite some quality personnel who should be better than the numbers indicate.

Tyler Bertuzzi’s injury: Bertuzzi was injured Jan. 30 in Florida, and hasn’t played since, the organization calling it an upper body injury.

With five goals and seven points in nine games, Bertuzzi was off to one of the best starts of anyone on the roster.

His absence has been felt in many ways.

Bertuzzi is a key fixture on power play and penalty kill, a presence around the net, good defensively, and plays with grit.

It’s been difficult to replace him.

COVID-19: The virus was expected to impact NHL teams at some point, and it did the Wings early in the schedule.

Key players such as Zadina, Fabbri, Merrill, Sam Gagner and Adam Erne were knocked out of the lineup for roughly two weeks, about seven games, and quickly forced the Wings to the bottom of the standings.

Everyone agrees it’s good to have hockey back, but with little to no fans in the stands around the league, there remains a large void.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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