Many expected the Detroit Red Wings to be battling just to extend their playoff streak this season.
It turns out they have loftier goals. At the All-Star break, they're competing for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Who could have seen that coming after an off-season with no free-agent or trade acquisitions?
"When I thought about around July 5 when not much happened this summer, I was disappointed, like a few of my veteran players who called me were disappointed, too," coach Mike Babcock said. "I don't think any of us would have believed we'd be at this spot, the general manager and myself included."
The Red Wings (27-11-9) have won five in a row and are tied with the New York Islanders for second in the conference, one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Red Wings have accumulated 13 more points than they had after 47 games in 2013-14 (20-17-10). Credit this to better health, continued growth of younger players and more consistent goaltending. This is a faster-skating team than it was a year ago.
"The contributions of players that were out a lot last year due to injuries has been a real positive, and then the continued development of younger players," general manager Ken Holland said. "When you're in the playoffs 23 straight years it means a lot of picking late, and we're trying to accomplish two goals at the same time -- make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup. And we're also trying to rebuild the team on the fly."
Jimmy Howard regained his All-Star from following an inconsistent season and, after he suffered a groin injury on Jan. 10, Petr Mrazek has stepped in without much drop-off.Injuries enabled young players to step into key roles and most are playing just as well or better. Tomas Tatar (21) Gustav Nyquist (19) lead the way in goals, Riley Sheahan has developed into a dependable two-way second-line center and Danny DeKeyser has been one of their steadiest defensemen.Continue reading "Red Wings have exceeded expectations ..."