DETROIT — It’s early. So early. But coming out of their 6-3 win Wednesday night over the Pittsburgh Penguins, here are a few stats about the 2023-24 Detroit Red Wings that will catch your eye.
Through four games, they have scored as many goals as any team in the NHL: 19. Their power play, humming along at a ridiculous 46 percent clip, has been the best in the league. Their leading scorer, Alex DeBrincat, has the most points in the league. And already, just four games into the season and with that kind of output from DeBrincat, they have had 12 goal scorers.
That combination is what carried them over the Penguins, and it’s what’s been carrying them through much of this young season.
All of it is related. DeBrincat helps fuel the power play, which drives up goal totals. So does getting contributions from just about everywhere in Detroit’s remade lineup.
Again, it is early, but that doesn’t mean it’s not impressive. It’s not the kind of thing you’ve been able to say about the Red Wings in quite some time.
A few observations on Detroit’s offensive display:
1. Last season, when the Red Wings got out to a strong start, it was largely goaltending and team defense driving the push. That, and a schedule that was quite kind to them through their first five games.
This has been different. Detroit has lined up against the New Jersey Devils, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh, all expected to be playoff teams coming into the season, and beaten two of the three en route to a 3-1 record. And after finishing last season with the ninth-fewest goals in the league (2.89 per game), it feels notable that those results have come because of the offense.
“Just add a couple more sticks in the lineup,” Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde said after Wednesday’s game. “It’s amazing what it can do for your offense.”
Sure enough, Detroit’s new additions have made a huge difference. DeBrincat, the big summer trade acquisition, scoring five goals in his first four games is beyond anything the Red Wings could have realistically expected. But that gaudy number aside, in many ways, this was the vision for the Red Wings — bring in players like DeBrincat, Daniel Sprong and J.T. Compher, as well as defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, for a bit more offensive firepower. Augment them with fellow forwards Christian Fischer and Klim Kostin, and defensemen Justin Holl and Jeff Petry to get tougher to play against. That was the hope, anyway.
Four games in, Sprong has a pair of goals. Compher and Gostisbehere are up to four points each. Kostin and Fischer are making their physical impact felt. And DeBrincat’s on a tear.
“A lot of it, of course, is personnel,” Lalonde said. “But we’ve talked about (how) we want to get more goals but do it the right way. And I think guys have done that here. They’ve taken what’s given. We make plays when plays are there.”
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2. Lalonde was quick to caution, though: “It’s just a four-game stretch, which we’re finding a lot of goals. That seems to find a way to have its ups and downs.”
It’s true: Detroit’s not about to score nearly five goals per game all season. It’s not going to trot out a near-50 percent power play. DeBrincat won’t actually score every night. And the rest of the team will go through slumps. There’s no question about it.
But the significance of the Red Wings’ start isn’t in believing the numbers will keep up at this rate. It’s that the idea of a team deep enough to weather droughts from top scorers has so far looked legitimate. Detroit’s not just leaning on its top line, though DeBrincat’s goals have been timely.
Even if you take out the three empty-net goals Detroit has scored, including two against the Penguins, the offense has come from crisp backdoor passes, rebounds and well-screened tip-ins. It’s come on the power play, and it’s come at even strength.
It’s come from the new guys, for sure, but also from returners — players such as Andrew Copp, who netted his second and third goals of the season Wednesday after finishing last season with nine. He could easily have more. Copp was denied on a penalty shot Wednesday for the second straight game, but that he’s already generated two penalty-shot chances speaks to how much more jump he’s had in his game, now a full year removed from the abdominal surgery recovery that slowed him to begin last season.
“Even like the play that led to the penalty shot, I think you saw some explosion and speed,” Copp said. “And I think if I tried to do that last year, I would have been out six to eight weeks.”
3. The power play is perhaps the most interesting early story. While it’s the aspect of Detroit’s game (along with the empty-netters) that’s most liable to regress back toward the mean, it’s also been legitimately impressive.
DeBrincat is a kind of weapon the Red Wings haven’t had on that unit in recent years, and even when he hasn’t been the one scoring with the man advantage, the threat of his scoring touch has probably helped elevate Detroit’s power play as a whole. Wednesday, DeBrincat found Dylan Larkin for a power-play chance in the slot, creating a rebound that David Perron banged home for his first goal of the season.
“I think just moving it quick,” DeBrincat said in analyzing the power play’s success. “I think we have so many options, so many shooting threats, that it’s hard for them to cover all of them. So if we can come with a different play or high-volume shots, it’s getting pucks back and putting them back in there.”
That phrase, “so many threats,” is new territory for the Red Wings, at least over the last several years. But it was the plan — the hope, at least — for them coming into the season, and so far it’s playing out that way.
4. Even after giving up a goal to Evgeni Malkin less than a minute into the game, the Red Wings weren’t rattled because they knew they had the personnel to get back in it.
“I don’t know if we would have panicked last year,” Copp said, “but it’s definitely more of a quiet confidence (that) we can get down one, you can get down two, and we’ve got enough scorers in here. The depth of our scoring has shown so far.”
They won’t want to make a habit of digging those deficits to test that theory too strenuously. They’ll be tested enough in the tough Eastern Conference. And they’ll be especially tested in their next game: a weekend trip to play the Ottawa Senators.
That storyline may feel all too familiar: a hot Red Wings team, looking like it might be able to make some noise, going into Canada’s capital. Last year, those circumstances ended in disaster, with two punishing Senators wins that practically ended Detroit’s burgeoning playoff hopes and forced a trade-deadline sell-off.
The Red Wings won’t want to make that game bigger than it needs to be, especially in just the third week of October. But of course, they remember.
“After last year, I think we just want to put our best foot forward,” Copp said. “I think it’s two teams that feel like they’re on the rise and feel like they’re on the cusp of becoming a playoff team year over year. So there’ll be some battles, for sure, and I think we want to play a good hockey game. I think we’re trending in the right direction right now. We’re feeling good about our game.
“But that’ll be another test.”
(Top photo of David Perron scoring Wednesday night on Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry: Paul Sancya / Associated Press)