Yes, it’s very early in the season, but the Detroit Red Wings are fourth in the entire NHL, just three points behind the top spot held by the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights. They are also only a point back of the Boston Bruins, who lead the Eastern Conference. To add onto that, new face and hometown boy Alex DeBrincat leads the league in goals (nine) and is second in points (13) – one behind captain Dylan Larkin, who is tied with Jack Hughes atop the NHL. All in all, it’s great to be a Red Wings fan right now.
So much so, that it was very difficult to find three minuses for the inaugural edition of the Red Wings’ 3 Up, 3 Down. That’s how much positivity and optimism there is around Hockeytown right now. But there’s always room for improvement, so let’s dive in.
Plus One: Top Line of DeBrincat, Larkin & Raymond
Is it time to name the Red Wings’ top line? If they continue this run they are on, it will be impossible not to. The dynamic duo of DeBrincat and Larkin have combined for 13 goals and 27 points in seven games and, while Lucas Raymond has yet to hit those same heights, he has added one goal and five points as well. The trio is working extremely well together and basically gelled from game 1 of the schedule.
DeBrincat had his four-game point streak snapped against his former team, the Ottawa Senators on Saturday (Oct. 21), but has recorded at least a point in all but one game this season. I falsely predicted a hat trick in that game, but he made up for it with one against the Calgary Flames the next night and now has four goals in his last two games.
As for the captain, he is cruising along at a two-points-per-game pace and has yet to be denied on the scoreboard so far this season. He has a seven-game point streak (and three-game goal streak) going and already has a trio of three-point nights on his resume. I think it’s safe to say that Larkin is living up to his $8.7 million salary right now. And if you like early on-pace numbers, he is set to score 164 points this season. No, I don’t think he will hit that, but it’s exciting to look at nonetheless.
Minus One: Robby Fabbri Injured…Again
Robby Fabbri has had the worst luck with injuries lately. Last season, he only played 28 games before succumbing to a knee injury that shut him down for the rest of the campaign, and now he’s out four weeks with what is being called a lower-body injury. Fortunately, head coach Derek Lalonde told the media that the ailment didn’t involve his knee. I’m sure fans let out a collective sigh after that news, considering he’s had knee issues going back to his days with the St. Louis Blues.
“It happened late in New Jersey, he skated the next day, we almost played him the next [game], so it was a true day-to-day [injury],” Lalonde said. “And then as it didn’t respond well throughout the week with those skates, [the doctors] did some deeper testing and they found something that they did not like, so he’s going to be out one month.”
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Here’s hoping that Fabbri’s recovery goes well and he’s back with the team healthy and ready to go for the rest of the season. He was off to a hot start, scoring in the game he got injured in against the New Jersey Devils on opening night.
Plus Two: Justin Holl & Shayne Gostisbehere
General manager Steve Yzerman basically overhauled his defense corps in the offseason, bringing in veterans Justin Holl, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Jeff Petry to supplement holdovers Moritz Seider, Jake Walman, Olli Maatta, and Ben Chiarot. Well, so far so good, as two of the newcomers have made a positive impact so far.
We’ll start with the much-maligned – at least when you talk to Toronto Maple Leafs fans – Holl. He has looked light years better than the defenseman who patrolled the blue line in Toronto for six seasons and it could be argued that he is a different blueliner entirely. The Maple Leafs often tried to put a square peg in a round hole by playing him on the top pairing with Morgan Rielly, resulting in constant criticism and ridicule from the fans and the media.
Now in Detroit away from the pressure cooker that is Toronto, Holl has settled into a secondary role with Ben Chiarot and the pairing has yet to allow a goal against when they have been on the ice at even strength (according to Natural Stat Trick). In fact, the Red Wings have outscored opponents 7-0. What’s funny is that Chiarot was equally maligned in the Motor City last season, and now the duo forms one of the most effective pairings on the Red Wings right now. What a crazy turn of events.
Turning to Shayne Gostisbehere, aka “Ghost Bear”, he has also fit like a glove on the Red Wings’ blue line, often paired with the underrated Maatta. His presence has been particularly felt on the power play where he has two goals and four points. Overall, he is leading the defense with nine points and has already turned into the biggest acquisition Yzerman made in free agency this offseason.
Minus Two: Team Defense
Right now the Red Wings are outscoring a lot of their problems, but as we know, that doesn’t always last. All you have to do is look back to last season for a recent example. So far this season, they lead the NHL in goals with 34 (4.86 goals-per-game) but are in the middle of the pack when it comes to goals against with 20 (2.86 goals-per-game). They have allowed at least three in four of their seven games and have allowed the opposition 351 shot attempts (third-most in the league). Basically, their team defense needs to get better if they hope to continue this hot run they are on and eventually make their way into the playoffs.
Plus Three: James Reimer
The Red Wings went into the season with three goaltenders on their roster – Ville Husso, James Reimer, and Alex Lyon. Early on, Reimer has pulled ahead of Lyon on the depth chart and could be considered the de facto backup to Husso. Some might argue he should be getting more starts than Husso at this point, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Reimer got off to a roaring start in his first game in a Red Wings jersey pitching a shutout against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 16 on the strength of 23 saves. He then followed that up with another solid performance against the Flames on Oct. 22 making 29 saves on 31 shots for a .935 save percentage (SV%). So far, he has a 1.00 goals-against average (GAA) and a .963 SV% in two starts. His next one might come versus the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday as Husso allowed five goals on Tuesday (Oct. 24) in a 5-4 overtime loss.
Minus Three: Ville Husso
Speaking of Husso, he has not gotten off to a good start in his second season with the Red Wings. His only solid game probably was against the Senators last Saturday when he made 35 saves in a 5-2 win. Apart from that, he has allowed at least three goals in every one of his starts and holds a less-than-stellar 3.38 GAA and .893 SV% in five games. Fortunately for him, his team has given him plenty of running support as his record is a solid 3-1-1. But, like I said earlier, that probably won’t last and he is going to have to start making a few more saves to keep the goals-against down so that the forwards only have to score three to win, not four or five.
Fortunately for the Red Wings this season, they seem to have a competent backup in the aforementioned Reimer rather than the rotating door of mediocrity they had last season in Magnus Hellberg and Alex Nedeljkovic. At this point, Lalonde should employ the 1A/1B strategy – as long as Reimer is performing and Husso is struggling, that is.
What’s Next For the Red Wings?
As we move into the next week of games, the Red Wings will return to Little Caesars Arena on Thursday to face the Jets where Andrew Copp will meet his former teammates for the third time in the winged wheel. He has four assists in three career games against them and will be looking to score his first goal.
They will then travel to Boston on Saturday to match up against the undefeated Bruins in a battle of powerhouses (that’s crazy to say, right?) for what could be bragging rights atop the league. Finally, on Monday, they will make their way to Long Island for the close of a short two-game road trip against the New York Islanders.
Hopefully, there’s more good than bad again in the first Red Wings’ 3 Up, 3 Down of November next Wednesday. Until then, enjoy the games!