The Detroit Red Wings face a challenge with the loss of goaltender Jimmy Howard.
He has probably been the biggest reason for the team’s success so far this season, but he is out indefinitely after injuring his groin early in Detroit’s 3-1 loss in Washington to the Capitals on Saturday night. Howard was in so much pain, he had to be carried off the ice on a stretcher. The injury came only about an hour after it was announced that he would be the Red Wings lone representative at the NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 25.
Detroit placed Howard on Injured Reserve on Sunday and recalled Tom McCollum from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League to back up Petr Mrazek, who will have to shoulder the load in net. Veteran Jonas Gustavsson, Howard’s backup when the season began, is still out with a shoulder injury and isn’t expected back for at least a week or two.
But Howard isn’t the only reason the Red Wings are where they are. A major part of it is due to the development five young players.
Four of them, wingers Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar and centers Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening, were originally called up from the Red Wings American Hockey League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, during the past two seasons because so many Detroit players had been injured. The other is defenseman Dan DeKeyser, who was signed as a free agent out of Western Michigan University near the end of the 2013 Lockout-shortened season.
Each of the quintet has become an important element of the team.
Nyquist, 25, has gone from a prospect who has always piled up points mostly through assists to a dynamic goal scorer who has shown the ability to score over 30 goals per season. He was second on the team with 15 goals and was near the top of the NHL in power-play goals. He has already had a few eye-popping goals in his short NHL career, but the most amazing was the overtime winner in Ottawa against the Senators on Dec. 27. He held on to the puck, skating around the Ottawa zone and protecting it with his body, for an incredible 28 seconds before firing a wrist shot from the left circle through a screen and into the net for a 3-2 Detroit win.
Tatar, 24, has 16 goals to lead. He has managed that despite a slow start this season. He scores goals due to his energy, nose for the net, hard and accurate shot, competitiveness and willingness to go to the rugged areas of the ice.
Though Sheahan, 23, has a modest 18 points (eight goals), he has developed into a solid two-way center, who can play the pivot on the second line when coach Mike Babcock plays Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on the same line. And when Datsyuk and Zetterberg center different lines, and Sheahan centers the third line, he usually dominates the opposing third-line center. Sheahan has had a tough time finishing at the net this season, but he has displayed superior hands in creating scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. One effort that he did score on came in the 3-2 win at Calgary on Jan. 7. The left-handed shooter cut in on goal off the right wing around a defenseman, made a quick move and snapped it past the Flames goaltender.
Glendening, 25, has shown what can happen when you have both a competitive streak and work ethic that simply never ends. In less than three seasons, he has gone from an undrafted free agent signee out of the University of Michigan, who had never played center, to one of the NHL’s best shutdown defensive centers, penalty killers and face-off men.
After the Red Wings won the race to sign DeKeyser, 24, when he was the most coveted College Hockey free agent in 2013, DeKeyser has developed as expected. He’s a great skater who plays positionally well, makes a great first pass out of his own zone and is steadily improving at jumping into the play offensively. Recently, Babcock called DeKeyser and partner Kyle Quincey, the best and most consistent of the Red Wings three defensive pairings.