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How the Red Wings Can Make the NHL Playoffs This Season



Dylan Larkin, Red Wings

Lucas Raymond was 14 the last time the Detroit Red Wings made the playoffs in 2016.  Jim Harbaugh was in his second season as Michigan’s coach. The Los Angeles Rams made Jared Goff the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Derek Lalonde was coaching the Toledo Walleye in the ECHL.

The Red Wings have a chance to change that narrative, to end their seven-season postseason absence, this season. They currently own one of the two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference. They are only one point out of third place in the Atlantic Division with a couple months left of the season. has Detroit with a 50.7% probability of making the playoffs.

The Red Wings were 9-2-2 in January. They have momentum. The key is maintaining it.

“I think that we’ve been getting good goaltending,” Detroit captain Dylan Larkin said. “I’ve said it before. We’ve had a different hero every night. Guys chipping in scoring goals, big goals. I think the Copp line, when things have gone sideways for us in this stretch, they’ve been our rock of playing the right way, being on the forecheck and changing the momentum of the game. We’ve been good on the penalty kill for a long stretch here other than one game. Those things, good goaltending as well, have been our pillars during this run.

Alex Lyon Stays Sharp

The Red Wings have been a different team since Lyon gained control of their net. That’s been the critical component of Detroit’s rise. Goaltending may eventually decide the Eastern Conference wild card race and Lyon’s .922  save percentage will serve Detroit well. Lyon has to stay on top of his game because the New York Islanders, trailing Detroit, has Ilya Sorokin and the Tampa Bay Lightning have Andrei Vasilevskiy. Lyon’s strong play, presuming it will continue, gives Detroit an advantage in net over Toronto and the New Jersey Devils. The Pittsburgh Penguins have both Tristan Jarry and former Detroit goalie Alex Nedeljkovic playing well. Jarry has six shutouts.

“A” Grade For Detroit D

The January Red Wings have been a different team because of their committed defensive work.  They have given up an average of 2.45 goals per game over the past 11 games. Those numbers reflect a combination of Lyon’s excellent work and a new understanding of how it needs to play to be successful. One of Coach Derek Lalonde’s worries going into the team’s lengthy break is that his team might lose its defensive momentum. ”
Have to get that back,” he said. “The one negative about the break is sometimes when you’re away from it that long you forget, you maybe don’t have the muscle memory of how hard we were actually competing. So, we’ll have to get that back in a couple of practices.”

Detroit Stays Among Top Scoring Teams

Defense does indeed win champions, but teams must score to reach the playoffs. For example, last season,  11 of the top 12 scoring teams qualified for the playoffs last season. This season, 14 of the top 16 highest scoring teams are in the playoffs. The Red Wings are tied for fourth in scoring at 3.48 goals-per-game. It’s important to stay in that range. They have been scored under that average in seven of their last 11 games, which may be a function of the commitment to playing tighter defensively. The return of Patrick Kane from injury will certainly bolster their offense down the stretch.

Maintain Individual Consistency

The Red Wings still have 32 games remaining in the season, and Joe Veleno has already matched last season’s offensive production. Daniel Sprong has exceeded expectations with 13 goals and 32 points. J.T. Compher is getting the job done as the team’s No. 2 center.  Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot have stepped up their game as a shutdown pairing this season. Their underlying numbers have been impressive. Chiarot left the lineup with an injury on Jan. 19, but they expect him back after the break. Dylan Larkin scored 10 goals in January. The Red Wings need all of those players to sustain that level of play down the stretch. They can’t afford any fall off if they want to reach the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.