The Detroit Red Wings come out of the holiday break with more questions than answers. Are they the Red Wings team that beat the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second time last Wednesday?
Or, are they the Detroit group that was 0-4-2 entering that contest?
Consistency remains an issue for the Red Wings. They have shown signs of becoming a highly competitive team, but they haven’t been able to maintain the same level of play.
But the team has positives to lean on as Detroit players practice Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday’s game at Pittsburgh. Here are five factors to consider about coach Derek Lalonde’s team heading into that road game.
1. Robby Fabbri Coming Off Injured List
The Red Wings have been targeting New Year’s for his return from knee surgery. It is not unthinkable that he might play Wednesday against the Pens or Friday against the Ottawa Senators.
His spunkiness and gritty play around the net should give the Red Wings a lift. Fabbri had 17 goals in 56 games last season. That essentially means the Red Wings are adding a 20-goal scorer back in the lineup.
Jakub Vrana: “There’s bigger things than hockey in life. … You’re gonna deal with some things that is sad, that is bigger than hockey.” pic.twitter.com/BCcWn6f8j1
— Nolan Bianchi (@nolanbianchi) December 16, 2022
2. Vrana Should Be Ready to Play
Lalonde has said there’s no timetable for Jakub Vrana to get back in the lineup. He hasn’t played in two months because he entered the NHL/NHL Players Association Players Assistance program. He is back practicing with the team. The Red Wings worked him pretty hard in his last practice.
At this point, he probably should be considered day-to-day. In his short career with the Red Wings, the gifted Vrana has netted 22 goals in 39 games. Steve Yzerman has proven himself to be a slick general manager, but it’s doubtful he could make a deal that would give Detroit as much help as Vrana and Fabbri can provide.
Once Vrana and Fabbri are both in the lineup, the Red Wings are adding 50 goals to the lineup.
3. Red Wings’ Upcoming Schedule Is Rugged
But before anyone gets too excited, consider that Detroit is facing a challenging segment of its schedule. Over their next eight games, they play the Penguins, New Jersey Devils, and Florida Panthers. Detroit will play the Toronto Maple Leafs twice. Those teams are either in a playoff spot or expected to own one at the end of the season. Detroit also faces the Buffalo Sabres, who are leading the NHL in scoring at 3.94 goals per game.
The Red Wings have already lost twice to the Sabres and gave up 13 goals in those two setbacks.
4. Jake Walman Playing Sharply
He’s been one of Detroit’s most consistent performers since coming back to the lineup in November after offseason surgery. Even when the Red Wings were in their six-game losing streak, Walman was impressive playing beside Filip Hronek.
Jake Walman leads Detroit at +14 and +7 in his past four games. He posted 13 shots on goal in those four contests.
5. What Two Wins vs. Lightning Says
Tampa Bay’s depth isn’t what it was. But the Lightning are still a contending team, and the Red Wings played well against them.
That certainly means something, particularly to Lalonde who was Tampa Bay’s assistant during their championships.
“We’re trying to grow,” he said. “We still have a long ways to go. We’ve been trying to judge ourselves on performance vs. outcome and that’s why the guys have stuck with it and have had some pretty good morale of late despite being 0-4-2. It’s amazing how things change quickly. “