Half in the Bag: Thoughts on the First 41 Games of the 2016-2017 Season.

Well we’ve gone through 41 games this NHL season for the Detroit Red Wings now, would have been 42 if Carolina’s ice hadn’t been too….not ice. The Red Wings are 17-18-6, good for 40 points and last in the Atlantic. It’s been rough to watch in a lot of ways, but there’s been some fun moments too. Here’s some beats I’ve thought about in the first half.

 

Riley Sheahan Held to 0 Goals

(Photo: Tom Mihalek, Associated Press)

The longer and longer this season went on the more and more flabbergasted I got with this. Those of you have been reading since the beginning know my first article was basically me saying “Riley Sheahan has been disappointing by his career supports that he can’t sustain this level of underperformance”. Yet, here we are 41 games into the season and he only has 6 points, all of them assists, and sits at a whopping -16 (not that +/- is really that useful of a stat). It’s not even like he hasn’t gotten shots or good chances, he has 64 shots on the season. Fun fact: last season he had 128 shots in 81 games, meaning he’s on pace for the exactly the same number of shots. Over the past three seasons Sheahan’s shooting percentage has been 11.6%, assuming my math and hockey-reference are correct. That means he should have scored approximately 6 goals this season. Yet somehow, he has 0. The only person more snakebit that him at this point is the girl from True Grit.

Free Agent Acquisitions Standing Strong (Mostly)

 Last offseason the Red Wings signed Mike Green. This offseason they signed Steve Ott, Frans Nielsen, and Thomas Vanek. Currently, Vanek is 2nd in points with 26, Nielsen is 3rd with 23, and Green is 6th with 18. The three of them have been some of the only shining examples in an injury depleted offense (Vanek and Green have both missed time themselves and are still in the top 10). As someone who normally resists the patented Ken Holland method of signing aging veterans to bolster our team while taking away ice time from prospects, these three are proving me wrong in an awesome way.

Steve Ott is not, unfortunately. I really want to like the guy, because he is the kind of player that I appreciate that they have somehow stayed in the NHL by virtue of work ethic and locker room presence, but simply put Ott has not been worth the roster spot in my opinion. The preseason hot OMG line combines for the worst 3 even strength CF% players on the Wings (excluding Tyler Bertuzzi in his 7 games), and consistently is chasing the puck in our end. I’ve lost count to the number of bad goals and chances that were caused by this “gritty” line. This was a signing I didn’t understand at the time, and it doesn’t look like it’s paying off anytime soon. Nothing against the guy, but I hope he stays scratched to keep some of our more talented forwards up.

Jimmy Howard Finds Inner Peace

Photo from NHL.com

Jimmy Howard has played average goaltending the past 3 seasons, hovering around .910. Every time he seemed to get going and look really solid he has gotten injured and lost a step. Last season was the pinnacle, when he lost the starting job to Mrazek and had his fewest starts since he got the starting job in 09-10. Jimmy Howard was not the goalie you thought of as elite.

But not this season. This season Jimmy Howard has been the very definition of elite. In 17 games played Jimmy Howard has a .934 SV% and a 1.96 GAA. There’s only one goalie better than him in save percentage and that’s Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk and Holtby are the only 2 with better GAA. That means statistically Jimmy Howard has been better than:

  • Carey Price
  • Sergei Bobrovsky
  • Carey Price
  • Matt Murray
  • Carey Price
  • Tuukka Rask
  • CAREY PRICE

The only reason Howard hasn’t been getting more talk about how obscenely good he’s been as a goaltender is that he also has barely been able to get any wins because he has gotten the WORST goal support in the league. A fact that’s not going to change now, because he was injured and I still haven’t seen a timetable on his return. But what a turn around it was in the first half of the season, going from losing the starters net to being one of the most dominant goalies in terms of stats.

Mrazek Rattled Early

The flip side, of course, is that Mrazek has had an immensely rocky start to this season, so much so that he was not chosen to start the Centennial Classic against Toronto in lieu of Jared Coreau, who was on his 4th game played in the NHL at the time. Mrazek has posted an .896 SV% and a 3.14 GAA, a far cry from last season’s .921 and 2.33. Early on it was obvious that Mrazek lost his confidence and began to lose a bit of his edge, and for a goalie like Mrazek who bases a lot of playstyle around quick reflexes and aggressiveness losing his confidence is the absolute worst. Second guessing is basically the death sentence, and we saw a lot him miss shots by that much or just graze it with the glove in the middle of the first half. He was in his own head, and the team suffered for it.

Thankfully, Mrazek has looked like his old self in the past couple games, playing really sharp. I remain hopeful he’s be back to his oldself sooner rather than later.

Young Players Step Up

Photo from http://octopusthrower.com/2017/01/03/hockeytown-am-anthony-mantha-deserves-a-permanent-roster-spot/

If this hasn’t been the standout part of our season (besides Howard’s amazing play) it’s how great Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou have been. Mantha has 12 points in his last 10 games. AA has 6 points in his last. Mantha’s advanced stats look great too, his even strength CF% is 54.6 and PDO is 103.4 (highest on the team >20GP). Basically he leads the team in most advanced stats, is tied for lead in goals, and leads in +/- all with only 26 games played.  The Red Wings look so much better with him on the ice that it’s not even funny. Astonishing that a player who was lambasted by management as a spare part is now a clear top line fixture, and he wouldn’t even be there without injuries depleting the roster.

AA is in a similar boat, where he’s had to struggle with being scratched and benched for some weak games, and constantly being put with LGD, Ott, and Miller who are dragging him down. Now that he’s finally being put with some more, offensively competent line mates, he is exploding again in the offensive zone. His advanced stats aren’t quite as good as Mantha, but again he is still near the top of the team (49.5 and 102.5). These guys are going to be fixtures in the Top 6 for seasons to come, provided we do the smart thing and protect both of them in the expansion draft.

Injury Woes

According to mangameslost.com, Detroit has been hurt worst than anyone with injuries with 274 man games lost. At various points this season Andreas Athanasiou, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Niklas Kronwall, Brenden Smith, Mike Green, Tyler Bertuzzi, Jimmy Howard, and Thomas Vanek have been injured. Helm, Howard, Smith, and Bertuzzi all are still injured. This team has not needed any help playing below what they’re capable of, but they have had the deck stacked against them from almost the outset.

The worst part about it is, if none of these injuries had happened at all then Mantha wouldn’t have gotten to play in the NHL and we would have certainly been worse off.

The Second Half

So where do the Wings go from here?

With 41 games left in the season, the Wings are rapidly approaching the point where they need to decide what they want to do: either find a way to make a push for the playoffs or start seeing what they can get for some of the more valuable assets to assist in being a much more competitive team next season (maybe with a top 5 pick?). The craziest part is, they’re only 6 points out of a playoff spot right now. It is entirely conceivable that they could light it up over the next month while some other teams just skid and suddenly they’re in a whole ‘nother light.

I don’t know what they’re going to do.

I don’t know what they should do.

Either way, here’s to a hell of a second half to the season.

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