COMMENTARY | The season is just over the quarter mark at 25 games old for the Detroit Red Wings, but a lot already has happened. Jordin Tootoo and Patrick Eaves have been sent to Grand Rapids, Gustav Nyquist is with the Red Wings for good and a number of young forwards and defenseman have gotten some playing time in Detroit.
The Red Wings went on a seven-game losing streak for the better part of November in which they lost five consecutive games in overtime or a shootout. Who knew a team with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg would be so bad at shootouts?
They also had a losing streak at the end of October, but rebounded nicely with three straight wins in Western Canada. Detroit, currently, sits tied for third place in the Atlantic Division with Toronto.
Here are my grades for the Red Wings through the first quarter of the season:
Forwards -- B+
Datsyuk and Zetterberg have been lone bright spots for the Red Wings at times. They lead the team in points at 23 and 28, respectively and, are for the most part, scoring on a point-per-night basis.
It's the inconsistency in secondary scoring that is hampering this team. Johan Franzen now has 13 points in 20 games, but registered just two goals in the entire month of October.
Daniel Alfredsson has been an assist machine, but has just four goals on the year, the latest one being an empty-net goal.
Stephen Weiss has been one of the bigger disappointments this season. Weiss scored just two goals in the month of October, and has just one assist in November for three points in 19 games.
The Red Wings have invested a lot of money and time in Weiss, and he will need to start producing on a more consistent basis in order to live up to that contract. I'm not giving up on him yet -- he played just 17 games last year and is still getting back up to speed -- but he will need to pick up his offensive game or his signing may turn into another Mikael Samulesson.
The biggest surprise from the forwards has to be Darren Helm. After playing one game in about two years, Helm has produced quite nicely for the Red Wings. Helm is a great penalty killer and his speed makes him lethal, but he never had a great set of hands in previous years.
This season, he has five goals and two assists in the 11 games he has played. He has put himself in a couple of breakaway positions, and made the most of his opportunities.
Nyquist staying on the Red Wings permanently also is a good sign for the team down the stretch. General manager Ken Holland will have to make some moves when Danny DeKeyser returns from long-term injured reserve in a few weeks, but it's good to see Nyquist getting his well-earned playing time with the Red Wings.
Defense -- B-
Trying to find an adequate way to replace Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart on the fly has been a tall task for the Red Wings. The defense struggled early last year, but rebounded nicely as the season progressed.
It's more of the same this year as there have been numerous defensive breakdowns and giveaways leading to goals, but there have been minor improvements.
Brendan Smith and Kyle Quincey always tend to be the ones everyone points the finger at in terms of the weakest on the blue line. Quincey is dead last on the team in plus-minus at -13, and Smith is second-to-last at -9.
Plus-minus can be a deceiving stat as being on the ice doesn't necessarily mean you were at fault for a goal against or contributed to a goal for, but -13 is a huge indicator you probably are doing more things wrong than right.
Since Smith has returned from a shoulder injury, he has made minor improvements in his game. He's more selective about when he pinches in the offensive zone and he's making the right reads breaking out of the defensive zone. He said he studied Niklas Kronwall during his injury, and it seems to be paying off.
Danny DeKeyser has been a bright spot for the Red Wings blue line. He showed a lot of promise last year in his short stint with the Red Wings, and he has expanded on that promise early in this season.
He's always making the right choices and putting himself in good positions defensively. It's unfortunate the Red Wings don't have more depth at the blue line otherwise they could keep DeKeyser and Kronwall on the same pairing.
Goaltending -- A-
A quick look at Detroit's goaltending stats, and you would think the two full-time netminders have been struggling. Jimmy Howard is sporting a 2.72 GAA and a .908 save percentage, and Jonas Gustavsson has a 2.35 GAA and a .926 save percentage.
Unfortunately for Howard, the team tends to play better in front of Gustavsson and Petr Mrazek in the one game he started. Whether it's a subconscious thing where the team thinks it doesn't need to play as well in front of Howard because he'll bail them out or sheer coincidence, the stats do not truly tell the story of Howard's first-quarter performance.
If anything, Howard has kept the team in games they don't deserve to be in, just like he did during the playoffs last year. Howard is rarely out of position and most goals against him are ones in which his defense hangs him out to dry.
Gustavsson is exponentially better than he was last year as he won his first three starts en route to winning the NHL's player of the week title back in October. However, he had a rough outing against the New York Islanders a couple of weeks ago, and came in for relief of Howard against Ottawa, and didn't fare much better.
Both goalies have been subjected to a number of shootous and have performed admirably. Unfortunately, they never get any shootout goal support and end up taking the loss. All things considered, both netminders are performing admirably, and there is no goalie drama in Detroit.
Tom Mitsos is a Michigan native who covers the Detroit Red Wings for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He also co-hosts a Red Wings Podcast called The Octopod, and is a high school sports reporter at MLive Media Group. You can follow Tom on Twitter.
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