These late games are killing me. As a lot of you know, I work super early mornings - usually I have to get up around 4 am and be coherent enough to count a lot of money by 5, so staying up and watching games that start at 10 pm are out of the question. While I was able to watch the last two games despite their late starts thank to days off, I still find myself nearly falling asleep during them (and subsequently sleeping late enough that my "breakfast" this morning consisted of a toaster strudel and some Andy Capp's hot fries at 2 pm), so my comments about the particular games may not be quite as astute as in the past (...as if they ever were).
Coming off of two shootout wins against Chicago and the LA Kings, both of which involved a comeback on the Wings part, the Wings have improved their record to 7-1-1 on the season, not too shabby! However, not everything is smooth sailing when it comes to Wings hockey right now, as the team has more than a few struggles to go along with their strengths.
- Goals for. The Wings certainly aren't short on firepower, as they lead the league in goals scored. Even better, the scoring is coming from across the board. Twelve players have notched goals thus far, and the team certainly doesn't need to be worried about secondary scoring.
- Marian Hossa, after starting the season not poorly but slowly, has stepped it up. The most talked-about addition to the team put up a goal and two assists in Saturday's game against the Blackhawks and then scored the winning shootout in the shootout as well, curiously enough with a slapshot that blew right past Hawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Hossa now leads the team in points (12) and +/- (+7) and the chemistry between he and Pavel Datsyuk that seemed absent early in the season is really heating up. Don't worry though, Hank, I'm sure you're still Pav's favorite.
- Brian Rafalski is second in points (10) and started off the season with a 7-game point streak (h/t to Gorilla Crouch for that link - what a neat Yahoo feature!) that set a club record. There isn't much else to say - he's been awesome. How's that defense of yours doing over there, New Jersey?
- Goals against. Usually a strong point for the Wings, this season the all-star defensive lineup has look just a little bit shaky. The team is 18th in the NHL for goals against, allowing an average of 3.11 per game - not a very pretty statistic. Not only that but the team who boasted a huge chunk of players in the top 10 league +/- this season has nine players in the red, lead by Brett Lebda who boasts a gaudy -7. Goaltending needs a little work as well; neither Chris Osgood nor Ty Conklin have been particularly bad, and both are racking up wins, but neither looks all that stellar, either. Osgood's save percentage is only .884 and he's 21st in the league in GAA. With the defense looking a tad wobbly, Osgood's going to need to step it up as well. Faultering defense and goaltending is a recipe for disaster. The Wings have been winning games, yes - close games. The defense needs to buck up and start playing like we all know it can, and should, be, or sooner or later these numbers are going to catch up with the Wings.
- Johan Franzen's knee injury could put him out for 3-4 weeks. The Mule came into his own last season, breaking a Gordie Howe record for game winning goals in a month near the end of the season, tearing it up in the playoffs, and starting strong this year as well. with 5 goals and 2 assists in 7 games played. Unfortunatley Franzen took a knee-on-knee hit from Brent Sopel in Saturday's game against the Blackhawks and is expected to miss a month with a left knee sprain. The Wings have looked okay without his firepower so far, but Franzen was a key piece to last year's success and will be missed. Luckily for the Wings, they have a substantial amount of talent in Grand Rapids - Finnish Ville Leino will probably get the call-up if it becomes necessary.