Heading into the 2019-20 NHL season, even the most optimistic fans of the Detroit Red Wings had lukewarm feelings about the team’s chances to compete. While certain parts of the roster showed promise, there was a consensus that the Red Wings would be one of the worst teams in the league.
Nevertheless, the Red Wings came out on top in their first two appearances of the season. They beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 on the road on Saturday before taking down the Dallas Stars 4-3 at Little Caesars Arena the next night. With two exciting games under their belt, here are three far-too-early takeaways from the Red Wings’ opening weekend.
Bertuzzi, Larkin, Mantha Line Is Elite
Dating back to the end of last season, Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin, and Anthony Mantha have combined for 55 points over their past 10 games. Throughout the first two games of the 2019-20 season, the trio has scored eight of the team’s nine goals.
“That line was dominant tonight,” Stars head coach Jim Montgomery stated following Sunday’s game. “That’s what you are looking for from a top line.”
Leading the charge is Mantha, who is playing some of the best hockey of his career right now. He followed up Saturday’s three-point effort with a four-goal game against the Stars. The former first-round pick was supposed to have a breakout campaign this season, but his performance through two games is exceeding all expectations.
Likewise, Larkin continues to be the team’s unquestioned leader. He produced two points in each of his first two games. He is averaging 21:55 in time on ice per game, which is trailing only Alex Ovechkin (22:17) among NHL forwards. Now in his fifth season, Larkin has developed into an elite player capable of performing in all situations.
The fiery Bertuzzi seems to serve as the glue that holds the trio together. The 24-year-old started his season off with a four-point night against the Predators, and he snagged another assist against the Stars. Bertuzzi’s fearless style of play wreaks havoc in front of opposing netminders and opens the ice up for his skilled linemates.
Now, this level of production will not last over 82 games. Despite their early success, this line will have its fair share of difficult nights. Regardless, it is reassuring to see the Red Wings’ young leaders step up and drag the team to victories. The trio can singlehandedly take over a game, which is a sizable revelation for a rebuilding team.
Lacking Forward Depth
On the flip side, the rest of the Red Wings’ forwards were painfully average over the weekend. While part of that stems from Andreas Athanasiou’s absence, it is a concerning reality for a team that desperately needs to find more secondary scoring.
Aside from the top line, Luke Glendening was the lone player who managed to score a goal in the first two games. Due to Athanasiou’s injury, Glendening had to fill in as the second-line center. To his credit, Glendening played relatively well in both games, but the 30-year-old forward is better suited for a defensive role.
Without Athanasiou, the rest of the Red Wings’ forward core is an offensive wasteland. Aside from aging veterans Valterri Filppula and Frans Nielsen, no other member of the bottom-nine forwards have ever recorded over 50 points in a season. To make matters worse, Filppula has not done it since 2013-14, while Nielsen is heading to the injured reserve.
With Athanasiou and Nielsen sidelined, Ryan Kuffner and Evgeny Svechnikov are being called up from the American Hockey League (AHL).
Svechnikov, the team’s first-round pick from the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, is especially intriguing. He scored three points in his 2019-20 AHL debut and was a highly touted prospect before a torn ACL forced him to miss the entire 2018-19 season.
This call up is essentially an audition for the 22-year-old, as he could earn a full-time roster spot if he produces. He is a wild-card, but he is capable of filling a substantial need.
If Svechnikov can manage to produce some offense, the Red Wings’ secondary scoring may be less of an issue when Athanasiou returns. In any case, a lack of offensive depth is a glaring weakness for this team, especially if the top line has a quiet night.
Filip Hronek Is the Team’s Best Defenseman
Perhaps this is not a surprise to most fans, as Hronek had 19 points in his last 30 games to close out the 2018-19 campaign. Similarly, the 21-year-old Czech defenseman impressed at the 2019 World Championships. He scored 11 points in 10 games and earned the award for Best Defenseman at the tournament.
Thankfully, Hronek has not missed a beat to start the 2019-20 season. He was adequate during Saturday’s win over the Predators, but truly shined during Sunday’s game against the Stars.
The right-handed rearguard looked comfortable running the power play and led all defenseman with an 87.50 Corsi For percentage (CF%). He also pocketed two assists, including a beautiful feed on Mantha’s game-winning tally.
Danny DeKeyser, coincidentally Hronek’s defense partner, has enjoyed a satisfactory start to the season. Newcomer Patrick Nemeth has offered steady defensive play alongside Mike Green. Nonetheless, Hronek is unquestionably the crown jewel of the blueline in Detroit, and he should continue to get better as the season progresses.
After Saturday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Red Wings may be on a three-game losing streak and everything written here could look completely misguided. Similarly, they may rattle off three more wins and sit with an improbable 5-0-0 record after the first two weeks.
That is the beauty of October hockey, as it is wholly unpredictable. I am just happy that the Red Wings started their season off in exciting fashion, and on a winning note. Hopefully, we get to see more of the same during Tuesday’s matchup with the Anaheim Ducks.