March 31, 2023

The Detroit Red Wings have had a bout of bad luck recently with losing back-to-back games, some injuries, and most recently the two-game suspension of Michael Rasmussen, but this is by no means the end of the world. This season up to this point has had a whirlwind of good and bad, but it has been one of the best starts to a season of Red Wings hockey in a few years. 

Detroit Red Wings Celebrate
Detroit Red Wings Celebrate (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Lots of things still need work as the Red Wings spiraled down a bit after the first five games, but this doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world just yet even if they did have some terribly ugly losses. Bad games happen to every team every season and it is still very early on to be jumping to any firm conclusions regarding the state of the team. For the sake of being positive, here are the top five positives to come out of a very short stretch of the 2022-23 season.

Started the Season 3-0-2

While this may not seem like much, this was the best start for the Red Wings in quite some time. Through the first five games the team earned eight points, which was the most they had in this time frame since 2017-18 when they had a 4-1-0 record. Oh, and not to mention, this was the first time the Red Wings had recorded a point in each of their first five games since the 2011-12 season.

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To put a cherry on top of all that, the Red Wings were the last team in the league to record a regulation loss this season. These are all small victories but it is a promising start to a season with a fully revamped team. There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding how exactly things would look when the team hit the ice this season since there were so many changes in the offseason, but some worries were eased by these first five games.

Free Agent Signings and New Players Are Making an Impact

Steve Yzerman truly worked some magic during free agency as he brought in a boatload of new talent to the Red Wings’ roster. That talent showed itself nearly immediately as Olli Määtä, David Perron, and Dominik Kubalik all scored a goal within the first two games of the 2022-23 season. Andrew Copp scored his first goal as a Red Wing most recently against the Washington Capitals, bringing him to a total of five points for the season so far.

#Senators rank 2nd in NHL with 31 points from players new to team (includes 1st-year players):
Red Wings – 36
Senators – 31
Panthers – 30
Blackhawks – 28
Ducks – 25

The biggest surprise out of this bunch would have to be Määtä. The 6-foot-2 defenseman had eight total points through 66 games in the 2021-22 season and already has six points through 10 games so far this season. Personally, I was not expecting this from him at all but it is definitely nothing to complain about! He has a great offensive upside but is also solid in his own end as he has a comfortable spot on the second defensive line. Another new Red Wing that has yet to make his debut is defenseman Mark Pysyk who has been out with an injury thus far. Where he will slot in on the defensive end is still up in the air, but it’ll be exciting to see what he can bring when he returns in the new year.

Dominik Kubalik Is off to a Red-Hot Start as a Red Wing

Kubalik is one of the newest Red Wings and my goodness, his contract is proving to be worth every cent so far. His signing was somewhat of a surprise over the summer but adding another young forward with a knack for scoring is never a bad thing. In his first NHL season as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, he recorded a whopping 30 goals and then dropped down to having 17 and 15 goal seasons the next two years.

As of Nov. 4, the Red Wings have played in 10 games and he has a total of 12 points (four goals, eight assists). Any player that can maintain a point-per-game pace or greater is an invaluable addition to a roster and Kubalik has been exactly that so far. Even in the games that he does not score, he is there taking smart, hard shots on net. If he stays on the path he is currently on, I would not be shocked to see him have a 25-plus goal season as a Red Wing.

Dylan Larkin’s Dive Save Against Los Angeles

It would be a complete mistake to make this list without mentioning the heroics of beloved captain Dylan Larkin. In a 4-3 game with just minutes remaining, he took it upon himself to lay it all out for his team. Viktor Arvidsson of the Los Angeles Kings was heading towards an empty net and it seemed inevitable that he would score, but Larkin had other ideas.

Larkin was able to lay himself out with his stick in the most perfect way possible to break up Arvidsson’s drive towards the net. He managed to not take a penalty on this play as well, which makes it all the more impressive. This one play allowed the Red Wings to come back and tie the game with just over 40 seconds remaining in regulation as Oskar Sundqvist scored the breakeven goal. And, of course, Larkin had the assist here because stopping that empty netter just was not enough. It’s moments such as this that truly show why he deserves the “C” on his sweater.

Special Teams Are Looking Strong

Two constant themes through the 2021-22 season were not being able to score on the power play or allowing goals on the penalty kill. Through the first stretch of the season, both those issues were temporarily laid to rest as both the power play and penalty kill dominated. It was genuinely a shock how strong both special teams looked through the first five games and it was refreshing to say the least (from, ‘How special teams’ resurgence is keying Red Wings’ early success,’ The Detroit News, 10/24/22).

As of Nov. 4, the Red Wings have the ninth-most effective penalty kill in the league with a 82.35 penalty kill percentage and the 22nd-best power play with a 20.00 power play percentage. Meanwhile they were dead last regarding the penalty kill last year at 73.78 percent and then 26th on the power play at 16.30 percent. The jump in improvement in special teams is largely thanks to the new coaching staff as well as the new roster additions. As of recently, the special teams have slowed their momentum slightly but even the smallest improvements are something to be happy about.

There is still almost an entire season left to be played but the Red Wings have a lot of positives to point out. Yes, it is not all good as there are still lingering issues such as injuries, line combinations, and working out kinks with the special teams. But taking time to focus on even the small improvements is what makes rooting for a rebuilding team so rewarding at times. Looking at the 2021-22 Red Wings to the current team is almost a day and night difference even just regarding the names on the roster, nonetheless actual efforts in games. This being said, it’ll be interesting to see where the other 70-plus games of this season will take this Red Wings team.

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