Twenty-two games into the post-Mike Babcock era, the Detroit Red Wings sit in fourth place in the Atlantic Division, having accumulated 25 points via a record of 11-8-3. The passing of the torch from Babcock to new head coach Jeff Blashill hasn’t been without its bumps, but as of the close of play on Wednesday, the Red Wings sit in the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Despite a transition that has been uneven at times, the Red Wings are still in okay shape when play resumes on Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday.
A high-level view shows some of the mixed returns for the Red Wings so far in 2015-16. The Red Wings are scoring less this season, as their goals per 60 minutes of play has dipped from 2.8 to 2.3. But the team’s goals against has remained steady so far, at the same 2.5 goals per 60 as last season.
On special teams, the Red Wings currently rank 22nd on the power play, with a 17.1 percent conversion rate, and fifth on the penalty kill, having killed off 84.9 percent.
Perhaps the most concerning trend — and proof that the change from Babcock to Blashill isn’t as seamless as many seemed to think it would be — is the Red Wings drop in puck possession. Dating back to 2005-06, the Red Wings saw their score-adjusted share of the shot attempts dip below 53 percent just once, with a 51.2 percent shot attempt percentage in 2013-14. But so far in 2015-16, the Red Wings are on the wrong side of the puck more often than not, as they’ve owned 49 percent of the shot attempts.
One important caveat here is that the Red Wings puck possession is trending up recently, and can help to explain their solid 5-3-2 record over their last 10 games. Here’s a look at the Red Wings running, 10-game shot attempt percentage over the course of the season.
Some of this improvement in puck possession can be attributed to the return of Pavel Datsyuk, but the Wings have survived without Datsyuk before and seen their puck possession numbers remain well above what they were out of the gate this season. While Datsyuk has a part in the improvements, the bigger story is likely the team continuing to transition from the Babcock era to Blashill.
One player that has thrived so far in 2015-16 is Dylan Larkin. Larkin currently leads the team with eight goals and is tied for second in points with 15. His 2.59 points per 60 at even strength lead the team by a wide margin. While Larkin may not be able to sustain his 15.91 shooting percentage at even strength, numbers such as his 52.42 shot attempt percentage and his 17.11 shot attempts per 60, which ranks 27th among all NHL forwards, suggest that the young Larkin is for real and should be a big part of Blashill’s Red Wings moving forward.
On the flip side of the coin, one player the Red Wings need more from is Mike Green, who was signed as a free agent over the off-season to a 3 year, $18 million deal. Green’s puck possession numbers have been fine enough, and 7 points in 16 games looks respectable, but the Red Wings need more from Green at even strength. He’s posted just one goal and one assist, and his rate of 0.4 points per 60 is well below what he’s capable of, as he hasn’t been below 1.0 points per 60 in over four seasons. One thing Green needs to do more of is shoot the puck towards the net. Below are his shot attempts per 60 by season at even strength.
Green has seen a drastic drop in his ability to generate individual shot attempts. One way he can help raise his offensive production is to get more pucks towards the net.
After 22 games, the Red Wings are in decent shape. They are in the thick of the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference, Datsyuk is healthy, Larkin has been a revelation, and their puck possession is trending in the right direction. But this doesn’t mean the switch from Babcock to Blashill has been completely smooth. There have been bumps along the way and some signs to suggest that Babcock meant more to this team’s success than was stated when he left.
As time moves along, and the sample of games under Blashill becomes larger, the picture will become clearer of whether this team can have fully successful transition under their new head coach.