With Subtle Lineup Changes, Red Wings Finding Their Way

If it’s broke, it definitely needs to be fixed.

For the Detroit Red Wings, their forward lines were among the broken, scoring two goals or fewer seven times in 13 games to begin the 2016 calendar year. In fact, they sat among the bottom ten in the league in goals scored and were involved in 31 one-goal games, winning 18 of those games. A big reason why the team was in that situation was their lack of scoring and goaltender Petr Mrazek saving the day (he’s done that plenty this year). What was even more frustrating is the fact that head coach Jeff Blashill did not shake up the lines, leaving them like this:

Justin Abdelkader-Henrik Zetterberg-Dylan Larkin

Darren Helm-Pavel Datsyuk-Brad Richards

Gustav Nyquist-Riley Sheahan-Tomas Tatar

Tomas Jurco-Luke Glendening-Joakim Andersson

The usage was baffling, considering who was being slotted where. Justin Abdelkader is a physical player up front, but his 48% CF% possession mark is dismal without Datsyuk and Zetterberg together. Darren Helm and Brad Richards have combined for ten goals and 30 points this season, and each were sandwiching the wizard Datsyuk. Both players also average 1.08 and 1.55 points per 60 minutes respectively compared to their then-center’s 2.29.

Riley Sheahan has had a dismal season offensively with just seven goals and 13 points, posting a Corsi/Rel of  +1.4. That did not help the struggling Tatar (six goals, 13 points in 26 games since December 1st) and Nyquist (five goals, 13 points in same span), who each boast high SAT/Rel ratios of +8.7 and +8.0 respectively. They didn’t have the right center who could drive possession and get them going with scoring chances.

Tomas Jurco posted a CF% over 50% in 18 games since December 1st and has posted an +8.3 Corsi/Rel in 32 games this season. Compare that with Helm, who has posted a low +2.9 mark. Yet, Jurco got the fourth line minutes and had gotten the scratch/fourth line treatment for most of the year with Luke Glendening and Joakim Andersson, who have possession ratings under 50% and have 15 points between them.

The point was that the groups Blashill rolled out night after night did not have the right mix to drive possession on every line. After a 6-3 loss to Florida on February 4th, the Wings made a move that has netted them seven of eight points in four games since. (3-0-1).














Last Saturday against the New York Islanders, Blashill finally changed up the lines and as of today this is where they stand.

Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Justin Abdelkader

Dylan Larkin-Brad Richards-Tomas Tatar

Gustav Nyquist-Andreas Athanasiou-Tomas Jurco

Darren Helm-Riley Sheahan-Luke Glendening

Since the changes have been made, the results speak for themselves. The team has scored 13 goals in four games, and if not for Colorado goaltender Seymon Varlamov Friday night, that total could have been higher.














Individually, the first line has combined for a 55% CF% combining for four goals and 13 points in four games. The second line has also carried possession at an impressive 63% rate, signifying future success to go a long with a combined two goals and nine points.

Athanasiou has looked like he’s been competing in a track meet, forcing the issue on many occasions by not allowing opposing players to play the puck up the ice and creating scoring chances. With Andersson sent down to Grand Rapids, it looks like it’s Athanasiou’s time to shine. The scoring has not come for this group yet, picking up just one goal and six points between them, but the chemistry is there.

The fourth line has had a great mix of speed with Helm, hustle from Glendening, and a big body in the middle with Sheahan, resulting in a 59% CF% mark, pretty remarkable for a fourth line that early on in the season was well below 50%.

It is a relatively small sample size and the team obviously has room to grow, but the chemistry is providing early returns and a sign of greater ones to come down the stretch. In a league that’s desperate for goals, puck possession is key, and if the changes have taught us anything, it’s that the mix is there for the Wings to create more chances and score more goals that they weren’t creating with the old trios.

Keep an eye on this group for the next couple weeks. A breakout could be coming.

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Main Photo:

stats courtesy of war-on-ice, nhl.com, detroitredwings.com, ESPN.com
lineups courtesy of dailyfaceoff
tweets courtesy of @iyer_prashanth