Detroit Red Wings fans are well aware of what franchise cornerstones Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are capable of. Both players averaged just over a point-per-game (49 points in 47 for Datsyuk, 48 in 46 for Zetterberg) and led the Wings to the second round of the playoffs before being knocked out by the eventual champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. Assistant captain Niklas Kronwall had 29 points in 48 games last season as well, which put him on pace to shatter his career high had the season not been shortened by the lockout.
Despite the impressive numbers put up by the new locker room leaders in the first season without legendary captain Niklas Lidstrom, the Red Wings put up an unsightly 2.54 goals-per-game, which tied for 19th best in the NHL. This is compared to a 2.29 goals allowed stat, which was good for 5th best in the NHL.
The offensive issues that plagued the Red Wings last season were hard for fans to watch: the most eye popping stat being the 0-24 power-play to start the season. These were the main issues that Red Wings GM Ken Holland signed longtime Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and Florida Panthers franchise player Stephen Weiss during the offseason.
Both are talented, intelligent playmakers that have already made an impact on the offense this season, working in collaboration with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and last year’s breakout star Justin Abdelkader.
Though the offense desperately needed improvement for the Red Wings, a lack of backup goaltending was perhaps a bigger concern.
Then-newcomer Jonas Gustavsson was brought in to provide some solid relief to Red Wings revelation Jimmy Howard following the retirement of Red Wings legend Chris Osgood. Unfortunately for the Red Wings, however, Gustavsson spent much of the season sidelined with an injury while posting a career low .879 save percentage in his 7 appearances. Due to Monster’s injury, Howard was forced to start 42 of 48 games last season. Had the season been a full one, Howard would have been on pace to start 72 games.
Though Jimmy Howard has been a workhorse during his four full seasons as a Red Wing, 72 games is far too many. Detroit needs a backup plan, and that plan’s name is Jonas Gustavsson.
It’s not unreasonable to believe that Howard could start 60 games this season. There are, however 82 games in the season, and the Red Wings will need Monster to act like his namesake during those other 22 games if they want to compete against their new Eastern conference opponents.
Gustavsson is off to a good start after making 28 saves and earning the win on Monday against a dangerous Boston team. Only time will tell if he can work through the injuries and provide the backup that Howard needs this season.
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