Here is where Detroit stands as of today, December 30th, 2010:
Where do we stand? First in the West - not by much...but first nonetheless. This team has not lost three straight games in regulation YET this season. The Wings went sideways for a short period in December - but have since won four out of their last five. This season has not been without its injuries, with Mike Modano going down for several month with a non-self imposed slit wrist, and Datsyuk and Cleary both out for a month.
But how do you keep winning without three stars (no pun with Mikey Mo there) in your lineup? With your other stars stepping up and your depth players coming through. This is what I saw this morning on my TV when I turned on the NHL Network:
That is how you win without Dangles and Buckets. Eaves scored goals 9,10, and 11 last night. He had 11 goals TOTAL last year. Depth guy stepping up? You betcha. I've said all year that this guy should be in the lineup every single night...and he hasn't disappointed me yet. But the other depth guys - The Namesake, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller - they're all doing their jobs. They're working their asses off and punishing the opposition and contributing when they can...what more can you ask for? Oh and a big stick tap to the play of Kris Draper recently. Honestly, I didn't think there was room for him anymore heading into this season. But as guys got nicked up, and Draper's groin healed, he has come in and played well.
Speaking of old guys playing well. How about our captain? The Perfect Human has 11 goals already this year. The 40 year old's career best is 20 goals in a season. We're not even halfway through the season and Nick Lidstrom already has more goals than he did all of last season and is only 14 points shy of his total from the 2009-2010 campaign. And he looks like he has at least five more good years left in him. Oh...our defense has more points collectively than any other team in the NHL (I thought that was worth noting).
Henrik Zetterberg has also been playing extremely well. With Datsyuk out of the lineup, the spotlight, bullseye, etc. on Z's back has gotten even bigger...but so has his play. He was the second star of the entire NHL last week and is currently on pace for better than a point per game. Hank and Lidas continue to hoist this team on their backs while the third and fourth line guys along with the defensive corps provide pivotal support...and the big red machine keeps rolling.
Oh and we also have the tenth winningest goalie OF ALL TIME backing up one of the league's hottest young goaltenders. Jimmy and Ozzie have hardly been to blame for the few losses that Detroit actually has this season. They're both north of .900 for save percentage and with last night's win over Dallas, Jimmy took sole possession of first overall in the NHL with 20...JIMMAH!
So where are we headed? We're on pace for another 50 win season, something that eluded last year for the first time in a long, long time. It will be hard to win the President's Trophy when you have decent teams playing in the Eastern Conference. The West is just too deep for a President's Trophy Winner to emerge from that conference. But who cares? It's all about the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the end...and that is a certainty for Detroit. Should we really be concerned with Vancouver? I'm not...because I don't think Luongo will ever steal them a round in the play-offs. Hell, if Chicago makes the play-offs - they'd be more than happy to take out the Nucks for us. Vancouver is simply not built for the play-offs...they're soft. Young teams like Los Angeles and Colorado will continue to be pesky, but in a seven game series...no one matches up.
Sure we have three big name guys out...but it's all looking good for the Red Wings right now. Ozzie got his 400th win. Lidstrom is playing damn near better than ever. Hank is playing with a chip on his shoulder and I dig it. The depth guys are delivering. And the defense is rock solid (with the occasional Stuart own-goal or Rafalski giveaway). Jimmy Howard is the man and will continue to lead between the pipes. This IS the season that I dubbed "restoring the natural order of things". The Wings have done that. They're back on top in the Central Division and the Western Conference. And we're heading into New Year's Eve with the future looking bright.
It's times like these (which are more often than not) that it feels damn good to be a Wings fan.