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The Red Wings will likely ride the roller coaster as they attempt to sustain their playoff streak

The Red Wings probably won't win all of their games this week--the Wings face an incredibly important game in Columbus tomorrow, they host the Canadiens on Thursday, head to Toronto on Saturday and close out a four-games-in-six-nights stretch by hosting Tampa Bay on Sunday (and DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose offers the details thereof in his "Look Ahead in Hockeytown")--but it would sure be nice if the Wings earned points in the vast majority of those games.

The Wings' Wild Card spot comes thanks to two games in hand on Toronto, but the pursuing Blue Jackets (2 points behind the Wings, even in games, and by the way, Tuesday's game is on NBCSN out of FSD range, and no, I don't believe anybody will send Blake Comeau into April, though I'd sure like to see it) and Devils (5 points behind with 1 more game played than the Wings' 71) have more regulation-or-OT wins than the Wings do, and the Capitals sit only one point behind the Wings (with one more game played), too, so the Wings don't exactly have a "magic number" yet.

The Wings just wrapped up a stretch of 5 games in 8 nights, and displayed a fair amount of mental fatigue in last night's 4-3 OT loss to Minnesota, so the fact that the team had planned to take today off comes in rather handy for the NHL's First Star (Gustav Nyquist) and his teammates. The NHL got pretty gushy about Nyquist--and rightly so...

FIRST STAR – GUSTAV NYQUIST, RW, DETROIT RED WINGS

Nyquist led all players with six goals and tied for the League lead with seven points to help the Red Wings (33-24-14, 80 points) earn seven of a possible eight points and move into the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. He opened the week with two goals in a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs March 18. Nyquist followed that up with 1-1—2, including the primary assist on Daniel Alfredsson's last-second overtime winner, in a 5-4 triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins March 20. He then scored his fifth game-winning goal of the season in a 3 2 victory over the Minnesota Wild March 22 and capped the week with 2-0—2, his fourth multi-goal game of the season, in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild March 23. The 24-year-old native of Halmstad, Sweden, has 23-17—40 in 46 games this season, including 7-1—8 during a five-game goal/point streak and a League-leading 18 goals in 23 games since Jan. 20.

But Nyquist was his characteristic self when discussing his performance with DetroitRedWings.com's Andrea Nelson:

“I’ve been playing with great player so I’ve getting a lot of opportunities out there to shoot the puck in good areas and getting great passes,” Nyquist said following Detroit’s 3-2 overtime loss to Minnesota Sunday night, in which he netted two goals. “So that’s the reason behind it and obviously I’m getting good deflections too. I’ve had some good bounces for some goals, so that’s fun to see.”

The forward leads the Red Wings with 23 goals, tying his single-season total at any level that was set during the 2012-13 season in Grand Rapids. Nyquist has earned at least one goal in each of Detroit’s last five games, and the Wings are 14-1-3 when the 24-year-old has found the back of the net this season.

“He’s scoring goals, that’s great for our team,” said linemate Tomas Tatar. “I hope he will just continue. We have lots of injuries, we need goals, it’s nice to see Gus finding the way to the net.”

With injuries to top players captain Henrik Zetterberg and center Pavel Datsyuk, Nyquist has taken advantage of every opportunity to score during the last quarter of the season. Before Feb. 26, the forward averaged just 2.55 shots per game, but in the 13 games since then, has averaged 3.23 shots per game.

He also addressed the fact that the Wings' cap issues and glut of veterans kept him in Grand Rapids until almost December:

“You can learn a lot from that, the way we played down there,” Nyquist said. “We play the way we do up here and it’s a great league to develop in and to learn the pro game. You play just as many games, getting your body used to that. It’s a good league.”

I was about to write a post about this, actually, as something of a follow-up to last night's spiel:

Put bluntly, the Red Wings team that was only battling Jonas Gustavsson and Daniel Alfredsson's early-season groin issues and Stephen Weiss's unidentified injury (among other injuries)...

Well, it wasn't a very good team, even with Abdelkader, Bertuzzi, broken-down Cleary, Datsyuk, Ericsson, broken-down Samuelsson, Weiss, no currently-injured Jurco and now-demoted Tootoo in the lineup.

Aside from a late-October-early-November road trip, a season-opening flourish and the late-November wins, the Wings lost regularly, blew third-period leads with more regularity than the injury-addled Wings have, and they lost oodles of games because they couldn't win in overtime or the shootout (the Wings are 33-24-and-14, and you wonder what might have been had the Wings won even 5 of those 14 OT-or-Shootout-Losses).

The team played in December like it was more desperate to not give HBO another Bryzgalov moment than anything else, and January and the pre-Olympic February involved Datsyuk and Zetterberg pushing their injuries and the Wings leaning on 'em hard until the Kid Line found its legs, Franzen got back and Nyquist took off.

All the while, Jimmy Howard struggled to find his game, and as we've watched the team's unsung hero and now-de-facto captain Niklas Kronwall re-learn how to both post points and play mean and nasty again while serving as the team's only regular point-producing defenseman...

We've watched an entire team undergo what were probably predictable but no-less-maddening post-Lidstrom identity-building, and the management--in no small part due to the fact that the declining post-post-lockout season salary cap dried up the trade market and made waivers an adventure--was four months behind what the Wings' roster needed, and the team suffered as a result.

That being said, the team suffered because the players on the ice weren't playing up to snuff, and you and I can play armchair GM until we're blue in the face, but none of that stuff changes the Red Wings' present record.

The team is what it is, and just as we'll have to wait to see whether David Legwand and his stick that's just as bouncy as Alfredsson and Franzen's (seriously, these guys are either tape-to-tape or passes are bouncing off the heels of their sticks like ping pong balls) and his difficulties adjusting to a new team work themselves out while helping the Wings make the playoffs, whether he re-signs, and whether Calle Jarnkrok of the 2 assists in 2 Nashville games works out better for Nashville over the long haul...

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, as is having a pretty good inkling as to how things are going to work out personnel-wise (it didn't take a rocket surgeon or tree scientist to figure out that the kids were probably going to out-last the vets once the cap issues worked themselves out).

So where do the Wings go from here? As the Free Press's Helene St. James suggests (via RedWingsFeed), this team's still paddling uphill:

What’s ahead this week? The Wings next play Tuesday at Columbus, following by hosting Montreal on Thursday, then a Saturday night in Toronto before coming back and hosting Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Blue Jackets have lost two in a row to slip out of the playoffs, and so will be really, really desperate to win. The Canadiens will be beginning a four-game road trip. The Leafs are coming undone, with five straight losses that have made for internal and external scrutiny. The Lightning are pretty securely ahead of Detroit in the standings.

How does the playoff picture look? Promising -- and still a little precarious. All that winning helped, but it also took Toronto and Columbus sliding to rosy the outlook. With three weeks to go, it appears Detroit, Toronto, Columbus, Washington and the New York Rangers will be fighting for three spots. It’s unlikely the Wings will catch the Lightning or Canadiens, the two teams that look like they will sort out for second and third place in the Atlantic. That would leave the two wild-card spots, with a first-round date opposite either Boston or Pittsburgh.

How is the injury situation? The Wings got two centers back over the weekend -- Darren Helm and Joakim Andersson. Tomas Jurco (ribs) is expected back this week, though it may not be till the weekend. Justin Abdelkader (leg) is expected back over the weekend, or the April 2 game against Boston at the latest.

The fact that Jurco might come back is pretty huge, but this is the sticky wicket...

What’s the latest on Pavel Datsyuk? Friday marks the end of the three-week shutdown prescribed for the inflamed left knee that has bothered Datsyuk since December. Datsyuk has begun training lightly, and gone on the ice by himself, but the Wings are being very cautious because the problem has lingered for so long. “I haven’t really asked because I don’t want bad news,” general manager Ken Holland said. “No one has come to me with bad news, but no one has come to me with good news.”

As is a very road-heavy schedule, with 2 of this week's 4 games on the road and then 3 of April's 7 games on the road:

How does the schedule look? The Wings have five home games left, and six on the road. The travel is short, with St. Louis in the season-closer the furthest distance. There are three sets of back-to-back, however. The Wings sit at 80 points, and it looks like it will take 93-94 points to make the playoffs.

The Wings play the Bruins, the Sabres (twice), Canadiens, Penguins and Hurricanes before wrapping up the season against those pesky St. Louis Blues on Sunday, April 13th, so the "degree of difficulty" is pretty severe.

How does this week look? Well, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose asked the coach and players about the team's situation before preparing previews of this week's games...

The Red Wings enter the week with 80 points, just five behind Montreal for third place in the Atlantic Division, and with the same points as the Maple Leafs, who dropped a 3-2 decision at New Jersey. However, Detroit owns the tiebreaker with the Leafs, who have lost five  straight and have played two more games then the Wings.

“The guys are competing hard, we're getting good goaltending,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We've scored timely goals; we've had good specialty teams. I think just being competitive and being dialed in as a group has obviously helped us. We've just got to build off that. We've got to keep grinding.”

Since the Olympic break, the Red Wings have undergone a remarkable transformation, especially on home ice, where they began the season with an uncharacteristic 7-11-7 record. But since then, they’ve compiled a 8-0-3 mark in the past 11 games.

Despite the cavalcade of injuries, Detroit has increase its home scoring from 2.04 goals per game in the first 25 games to 3.36 goals in the past 11. The Wings have lost 351 man-games this season, which is the highest total since they lost 346 in 2003-04. Also, they’ve dressed 36 players so far, equaling the franchise record established during the 1993-94 campaign.

The Wings have 11 games left on the regular-season schedule with the next 10 against Eastern teams. Detroit’s season finale is April 13 in St. Louis against the Blues, who remain in the fight for the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team.

“These are huge (games) and this is what it’s going to come down to and who is going to make the playoffs, who is going to be the best team out there," said forward Gustav Nyquist, who has scored 18 goals in past 23 games. "I think we’re playing all the teams that are around us in the standings. That’s pretty much going to decide whose gonna be in.”

The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan noted that the all-important Darren Helm is at least on the road to regaining his form (currently playing on Glendening's wing)...

"Right now he doesn't have that speed," Babcock said. "It's going to take some time. If he gets back and gets playing, he can be a dominant player for us."

Helm played 12 minutes, 6 seconds Saturday and was credited with two hits. In Sunday's 4-3 overtime loss to Minnesota, Helm saw his ice time increased to 17:11 in 24 shifts, with three hits, and a minus-2 rating.

"It's going to take a couple of games," Helm said. "I'm going to start off slow and start on the fourth line for a while and work my way up.

"I'll do what I can to help us win. Play a solid defensive game and that will save you. Do those things and everything else will fall into place."

Jumping right into a playoff race has also been invigorating.

"Especially watching the two games (against Toronto, Chicago) before (returning), and even (Saturday) was exciting," Helm said. "Our team isn't doing things easy. It's exciting for the fans and exciting for us. Every game is so important. We just have to keep finding ways to win."

The Wings know that they also need Nyquist to keep up his superhuman pace, as Howard told MLive's Brendan Savage...

Nyquist has now scored in the Red Wings last five games – he's tallied seven times in that span – and has been the NHL's No. 1 sniper in the last two months with 18 goals in 23 games since Jan. 20.

"He's been doing great," said goaltender Jimmy Howard. "He's pretty much carrying the mail for us here. He's hot, he's been hot since January and we're gonna continue to need him."

Both Howard and his coach accentuated the positive while speaking with MLive's Ansar Khan after last night's loss...

“I know everyone’s probably disappointed that we didn’t get the win, but that point’s huge,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “It moves us up here with Toronto and we just got to keep pushing forward.”

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock looked at the big picture. His team is 3-0-1 in its past four and tied the Maple Leafs for seventh in the Eastern Conference with 80 points – with two games in hand.

“All in all, I guess the way I look at it, we had a great week here,” Babcock said. “We get a day of rest (Monday), get ourselves energized and get to Columbus and then play like we can (Tuesday). For whatever reason, sometimes you just don’t have the energy and normally in the game you find it. I don’t know if we ever found it, and we know we can be better but a huge point.”

The Red Wings were held to a season-low 16 shots. Red-hot Gustav Nyquist staked them to a 2-0 lead with a pair of goals in the first period (13:45 on the power play, 18:27 on a breakaway). The Wild scored the next three goals, including tallies from Charlie Coyle (4:33) and Zach Parise (6:18) 1:45 apart in the third period. Tomas Tatar tied it at 11:43.

“I didn’t think anybody was great,” Babcock said. “We turned the puck over, we didn’t skate, but that’s all part of it. That’s all part of finding a way to battle and compete and get points when you don’t have your ‘A’ game, and I thought our guys did a real good job of that. We just ground away and played a lot of defense today.”

And just as Howard told Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji that he's finding himself--hey, better late than never given what's going on in Toronto right now...

"I feel good," Howard said. "I think it's no secret that the more I play, the better I feel out there. I enjoy being out there and competing so just continue to keep battling for the guys and making saves. We're a young team so there's gonna be mistakes made out there. I gotta find a way to stop the puck for the guys."

Howard has definitely elevated his game of late, which has led to the Wings getting seven of eight points in the last four games.

The Wild scored three unanswered goals, including two 1:45 apart in the third period to take a 3-2 lead. But Tomas Tatar tied the game at 11:43 of the third.

The overtime goal was a deflection from Moulson that Howard could not stop.

"I would've liked to see a box out on the tip guy who scored a goal at the end, we didn't get that done," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "But all in all, I guess the way I look at it we had a great week here, we get a day of rest (Monday), get ourselves energized and get to Columbus and then play like we can."

Yes, the coach and his teammates are looking forward to a must-win-must-win tomorrow in Columbus, and in all honesty, it's a game in which the Wings don't have the luxury of putting themselves behind a Blue Jackets powerplay when their new-found nemesis (at least from last season onward) has picked the Wings apart on special teams, so somebody's gonna have to take a number on Blake Comeau and give his ribs a work-over next year:

The Blue Jackets are just two points behind them and have more regulation or overtime wins than the Wings do (31 to 28). The New York Islanders shut out the Blue Jackets Sunday, 2-0.

"It's going to be hard game," Tatar said. "It's always hard to play against Columbus. Big team, hard to play in that building. But we're in a good way. I'm glad we're taking the points when we can. It's in our hands. There's lots of games ahead of us and we know what we have to win to be in for sure. So lots of games we have to focus and play good to be in the playoffs."

In terms of odds and those in the know, ESPN's Craig Custance had this to say about the Red Wings' status in the Eastern Conference Wild Card Race of Doom via an Insider-only entry.

Custance says that the Wings are always checking the standings right now, and after Sunday's game, he reports that Tomas Tatar, David Legwand and Danny DeKeyser were watching the whiteboard along the player hallway between the locker room, showers/players' lounge (to the left) and weight room (to the right) be updated based upon Sunday's events:

“[We’re] obviously checking it but at the same time you want to focus. Your game is coming up, you don’t want to get distracted by it,” said Tatar, when asked how quickly he checked the Maple Leafs' score following his team’s 4-3 overtime loss. “It doesn’t really matter how they play, we know what we have to do to be there. You feel way better when you’re catching and getting ahead of teams but it will figure out itself if we just keep winning and getting points.”

Custance assesses the Wings' chances of making the playoffs thusly, duly noting that we are indeed cheering for the "Wiffins" in Detroit:

Detroit Red Wings (80 points, 11 games remaining, No. 1 wild card)

Coach Mike Babcock continues to maximize production from a team that resembles last season's AHL Grand Rapids Griffins much more than it does the Red Wings team that nearly eliminated the Blackhawks last spring. Center Gustav Nyquist has been the breakout star in the battle back into the playoff hunt for Detroit, which has been without Henrik Zetterberg (back surgery) and Pavel Datsyuk (knee). Nyquist (23 goals) is the only Detroit player with more than 20 goals this season, and he’s done it in just 46 games. His shooting percentage is at 18.3 percent right now, a reminder that this isn’t the pace we should expect for him during his career, but the timing couldn’t be better for Detroit.

The Red Wings have a 68.9 percent chance of extending their playoff streak and a completely doable 5-3-3 record would put them at 93 points this season, which should put them in the postseason. Their schedule this week includes a huge game Tuesday against fellow bubble team Columbus and a game Saturday against the Leafs, both on the road. Regulation wins in those games would be absolutely huge. On Thursday, Detroit hosts Montreal, a team that is in a battle of its own with the Lightning for home-ice advantage during a potential first-round matchup between those two teams.

That percentage is per SportsClubStats' estimation, and part of my job description involves telling you that Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond estimated that the Wings needed to win 9 of their final 15 games--and they've won 3 of 4 thus far.

Given the Blue Jackets' hex over the Wings since 2013, I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that the Wings may lay an egg in Columbus tomorrow and find themselves looking up at a team that currently has 36 wins to Detroit's 33 and 31 ROWs to Detroit's 28. That would complicate the playoff math significantly, but the Wings have to prepare for hard-luck scenarios.

Any way you slice it, the Wings need more out of their non-Nyquist forwards on a more consistent basis (and given that Miller, Glendening and Helm couldn't score a goal against the Detroit River, that means the "top line" has to be more consistent, Sheahan and Tatar have to "learn" via giveaways a little less often, and that fourth line's got to find a way to post points), and while Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser have come on in the points department of late (Smith has 18 points and DeKeyser has 19), and Kyle Quincey's been disturbingly steady of late, if the Lashoff-and-Kindl tandem continues to be a disaster on ice, that's...Very bad.

I did appreciate the fact that Howard, who was at fault for none of last night's goals, still insisted that he's got to play better...

And given the Wings' minus-20-something goal differential in the 3rd period, I'm disappointed in the fact that Mike Babcock's timeout did little other than allow Tomas Tatar to tie the game at 3's, but at least it had a positive effect, as Tatar told MLive's Ansar Khan:

The Wild scored three consecutive goals to take a 3-2 lead before Tomas Tatar tied it at 11:43 of the third period.

During a four-on-two rush. Brendan Smith passed to Tatar, who pulled up in the faceoff circle and fired a hard wrist shot past Ilya Bryzgalov. It was his 16th goal.

“We led 2-0, which was nice, (considering) how the game was going for us,” Tatar said. “They got two quick goals. Coach tried to calm us down a little bit (with a timeout). We have to refocus and we knew we had to score one goal to at least put the game to overtime and get the point. I got a good puck from Smitty, cut to the middle and I got lucky, the puck went in.”
But in OT, Mouslon tipped in a shot by Jonas Brodin to give the Wild the extra point.

“I would’ve liked to see a box out on the tip guy who scored a goal at the end,” Babcock said.

Nyquist ended up giving the bottom line to the AP's Larry Lage, and it's a simple one--if the Wings attempt to play their modified and perhaps slightly dumbed-down brand of puck possession hockey, they're going to be okay, but if they stop playing and skating aggressively...The bottom falls out:

"I don't think we were skating toward the middle and putting pressure on their D," Nyquist said. "They could break out pretty fast I thought. So that was an issue, which is why we didn't get enough zone time in their zone. We weren't skating good enough, I thought."

It's March 24th, and the Red Wings team that was a "work in progress" when it opened the season going 6-and-2 before losing 4 straight and 7 straight--including 5 OT or shootout losses--in the middle of November, the team was a work in progress when it lost 6 of 8 in December and it remains full of hiccups, self-inflicted wounds and daffy mistakes, especially after taking 2-0 leads.

The Wings are probably going to remain a heart condition-inducing bunch from here on out, and I wouldn't be surprised if the combination of youth, injuries and inconsistencies yield the team's playoff run depending upon the Wings winning that last game in St. Louis.

I hope it doesn't come to that, but we've got to prepare ourselves for an inconsistent team maintaining its form, and hope for something a little less nerve-wracking.

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Comments

Rumbear's avatar

Whew!  Great article G!  That aboot covers everything.

Posted by Rumbear from Top O the Hasek, doing the pre-season shuffle.... on 03/24/14 at 08:05 PM ET

Avatar

and Kyle Quincey’s been disturbingly steady of late, if the Lashoff-and-Kindl tandem continues to be a disaster on ice, that’s…Very bad.

————-

George; perhaps you meant “surprisingly” instead of disturbingly? Anyway, great post and thanks for the updates.  What do you think of the Callahan call up? I don’t know much about him, but that social media hiccup cannot help him with Babs; even I raised my eyebrows when I heard about that. And do you think Callahan will be more effective than Ferraro? Ferraro looked like a deer in the headlights and borderline invisible. He looked scared and is no where near NHL ready. Thoughts?

Posted by ZandPasha11 on 03/24/14 at 08:36 PM ET

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.