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2016-17 NHL Season preview: Detroit Red Wings

2016-17 NHL Season preview: Detroit Red Wings

It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.

Team: Detroit Red Wings

How they did last season: 41-30-11 (93 points); 3rd in the Atlantic Division; 8th in the Eastern Conference. The Wings qualified for the playoffs for a 25th consecutive season, but they also got bounced in the first round for the third straight year and fourth time in five years.  

Notable acquisitions: C Frans Nielsen; LW Thomas Vanek and C Steve Ott.

Notable departures: C Pavel Datsyuk, C Brad Richards and C Joakim Andersson.

When they will play the Caps: Feb. 9 in Washington; Feb. 18 in Detroit.

RELATED: WHAT ARE THE CAPS UP TO THIS OFFSEASON?

Analysis: The Red Wings have been one of the most consistent franchises in all of sports for a quarter century. But take a close look at this year’s Pavel Datsyuk-less roster and it’s tough to envision The Streak reaching 26 seasons.

Similar to the situation in Vancouver, it’s probably time for a proper rebuild. But, like the Canucks, the Red Wings seem content to keep reaching for Band-Aids, while simultaneously attempting to retool on the fly.

With Datsyuk off to the KHL and an offense that struggled to score (2.55 goals per game/23rd) last season, GM Ken Holland signed Frans Nielsen (six years, $31.5 million) in an attempt offset the lost production. Datsyuk had 16 goals and 33 assists in 66 games; Nielsen had 20 and 32 in 81 contests.

Holland also signed declining winger Thomas Vanek, who was bought out by the Wild after a couple of disappointing seasons. The hope in Detroit is that a motivated Vanek (one-year, $2.6 million) has another 25-30 goal season in him.

Meantime, Steve Ott was signed to provide some grit on the fourth line and to help kill penalties. He inked a one-year, $800,000 contract.  

Here’s the thing: Nielsen and Vanek are 32 and Ott turns 34 this month. And they’re joining a roster anchored by Henrik Zetterberg, 35, and Niklas Kronwall, also 35.

There were also some changes behind the bench as second-year head coach Jeff Blashill sought to surround himself with more NHL experience. To achieve that, he added veterans Doug Houda and John Torchetti to his staff.

So, yeah, the Red Wings were indeed busy this summer (even though Holland did not sign the top-4 defenseman the lineup so desperately needs). But it’s unclear if they took a step forward or another step toward the inevitable.

I’m going with the latter.  

Season prediction: It’s not all bad for the Winged Wheel, I guess.

The roster does boast Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, a pair of productive forwards in their mid-20s. And there’s a trio of up-and-coming players in Dylan Larkin, Petr Mrazek and Danny Dekeyser.

Larkin, who is expected to transition to center this season, has the potential to be a big time player. When Mrazek is on his game, he sure looks like a No. 1 goalie. And Dekeyser, assuming his upward trajectory continues, should develop into a solid top-pairing D-man.

With a handful of prospects knocking on the door, as well, the Red Wings need to stop reaching for the stopgap solutions and fully commit to a youth movement. Perhaps seeing The Streak come to an end will force them to (finally) decide it’s time.

MORE CAPITALS: VEGAS GM MCPHEE HIRES 5TH FORMER CAPS EMPLOYEE

2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS

Pacific Division
— Anaheim Ducks
— Arizona Coyotes
— Calgary Flames
— Edmonton Oilers
— Los Angeles Kings
— San Jose Sharks
— Vancouver Canucks

Central Division
— Chicago Blackhawks
— Colorado Avalanche
— Dallas Stars
— Minnesota Wild
— Nashville Predators
— St. Louis Blues
— Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
Florida Panthers 
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)

Metropolitan Division
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming soon)

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

The Caps could not shake Buffalo for two periods, but a dominant finish on Saturday helped them pull away for a 5-1 win. Here's how they finally put away the Sabres.

A quick start

Strong starts go a long way towards helping a team in the middle of a slump. It's a confidence boost for a group in desperate need of one and the Caps got that boost on Saturday from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used his wheels to zip in behind the defense and score just 50 seconds into the game. Washington led 1-0 at the end of the first, just the second time in 19 games they have held a lead after the opening 20 minutes.

RELATED: SEE THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-SABRES HERE

Andre Burakovsky snapping a second period slump

It looked in the second period like the Caps were caught trying to protect the lead again, but Andre Burakovsky woke the team back up with his incredible highlight end-to-end goal. It really looked like Buffalo was going to tie the game at one, but instead, Burakovsky extended the lead to two. Going end to end the way he did shows a player who is starting to play with some confidence, something Burakovsky has lacked for much of the season.

Ovechkin's two-goal third period

Buffalo would not go away. Sam Reinhart got the Sabres on the board just 14 seconds into the third period and suddenly the Caps found themselves in a one-goal game again. But Ovechkin ended any hopes for the comeback as he struck in the top corner of the net on the power play from the office. He would later add a deflection goal to extend the lead to 5-1, giving a scuffling Washington team the dominant win they so sorely needed.

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3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

The Capitals needed a win in the worst way and they got one, dispatching the Buffalo Sabres in dominating fashion with a 5-1 win.

Washington was locked in a tight game leading 2-0 heading into the third period when Sam Reinhart scored just 14 seconds into the period to pull Buffalo to within one. The Caps then slammed the door shut, scoring three unanswered goals to put away the Sabres.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Ovechkin: This was career game No. 983 for Ovechkin, tying him for the franchise record for most games played with Calle Johansson. Ovechkin very fittingly celebrated the occasion with two goals. The first came on a power play goal from the office, but there was no need for a one-timer on this one. The Sabres gave him all the time he needed to aim up the shot and wrist it into the top corner.

He added a second goal late off a deflection from a John Carlson shot.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov: To say the Caps have struggled at the start of games would be an understatement. In the last 18 games, Washington has held the lead after the first period only once. Kuznetsov made sure this game started off on the right foot as he scored just 50 seconds into the game. He turned on the jets in the neutral zone to turn the edge on Jason Pominville then easily skated around a weak, ill-advised challenge from Robin Lehner before flinging the puck into the yawning net.

It was the fastest goal to start a game by the Caps this season. It was just the start of what would be a four-point night for the Caps' center as he added three assists.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky had the highlight of the game with his end-to-end goal in the second period to put Washington up 2-0. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he launched himself from the defensive zone, streaked down the center of the ice and in on net to slide the puck through the Lehner's five-hole.

Look how Burakovsky was able to slice through the Sabres' defense. Buffalo had him surrounded, but his speed caught the Sabres off-guard and they were not able to recover in time to actually slow him down.