Injuries, key offseason departures and a change to the system played major roles in the Detroit Red Wings' surprisingly slow start. Utter domination of a Central Division rival may have been just what they needed to prove they're still capable of being a force in the Western Conference.
The Red Wings look to build on one of their best performances of the season Thursday night when they host the Vancouver Canucks, who are expected to give Roberto Luongo his first start in over two weeks.
Detroit (8-5-3), a Stanley Cup finalist last season after winning it in 2008, lost Marian Hossa and Mikael Samuelsson in free agency to Chicago and Vancouver, respectively, while Jiri Hudler opted to play in Russia. That trio of right wings combined for 82 goals with Hossa accounting for a team-high 40.
Some of those absences combined with coach Mike Babcock's implementation of a more defensive game plan may have contributed to Detroit's 3-4-2 start, as the team fell behind the Blackhawks and Columbus in the Central.
The Wings, though, are in the process of turning things around, going 5-1-1 as they seek a ninth consecutive division crown.
They may have reinforced that message to their rivals Wednesday with a 9-1 rout of the Blue Jackets. The performance came after they totaled eight goals in the previous four games, including a listless 5-1 loss at Toronto on Saturday.
"I don't know about that," said Babcock when asked if the Wednesday's performance was a statement game. "We're trying to get a win. If that's a statement then great. It's just one of 82, as you know, and you've got to get wins.
"I obviously wasn't very happy with our last game and I let the guys know about that. We played with good structure. We got a lot of pucks to the net, which is important, and things turned out well for us."
Detroit may have a tough time coming close to replicating its offensive outburst against the Canucks (10-9-0) with Luongo back in net.
The four-time All Star goaltender hasn't started since a 5-4 loss to the Red Wings on Oct. 27, when he re-aggravated a broken rib while trying to play through the injury for a second consecutive game.
Luongo was thrust into action earlier than expected Tuesday when he started the second period of a 6-1 loss at St. Louis after Andrew Raycroft gave up four goals on 13 shots. He stopped 15 of 17 shots in Vancouver's second consecutive defeat.
"That's the only positive thing," Luongo said after Tuesday's loss. "I got some minutes, but it's tough. You don't want to come in situations like that."
Luongo is 6-6-0 with a 2.80 goals-against average and a shutout in 13 games this season, and owns a 3-3-1 record with a tie and a 2.69 GAA in eight contests at Joe Louis Arena.
If coach Alain Vigneault decides to rest Luongo, then Raycroft would get his seventh consecutive start. The veteran went 4-2-0 with a 2.37 GAA and a shutout in place of Luongo.
Samuelsson will make his return to Detroit after playing the previous four seasons there, helping the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2008. The right wing, who is noted for his strong defensive play, has eight goals and six assists for the Canucks after signing a three-year deal with them. Samuelsson had an assist against his former team in Vancouver's loss to Detroit last month.