The Wings only put had to play 5 regular season games in April, so the three stars of the month will come down to those who did the most in that span. The Wings as a team put together a 3-2 record this month, by winning their first two, dropping the next two and then closing out with a victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. Let’s take a look at who starred in April!
In the 5 games the Wings played, 6 different players earned nods as a star of the game. The three players who were once nominated but didn’t crack the top three stars are as follows:
Darren Helm, for his game opening goal against the Wild leading to a 4-2 win.
Pavel Datsyuk, for his one-glove goal to take a 2-1 lead on the Chicago Blackhawks.
Justin Abdelkader, for his two goal outburst against the Nashville Predators, where he sit the tone both physically and on the scoreboard in the Wings 4-3 victory.
Justin Abdelkader actually tied with our third star for April, as each received one first star nomination. For the tiebreaker, I went with who registered the most points in the month. Therefore, your third star for the month of April is…
3. Brian Rafalski 0G, 5A, +3
Rafalski twice had two points in a game in April, and for the month averaged a point per game. For a guy who has played much of the season with Jonathan Ericsson, and with neither of them being renowned for their defensive prowess, the fact that they ended the season as #1 and #2 among the team’s blue liners in +/- is remarkable.
His absence was really felt in early March, when he missed a 9 straight games and in that time the Wings had a four game losing streak. His ability to quickly and precisely move the puck out of our end and get the attack started is his greatest asset, even more so than his ability in the other team’s end.
He is also underrated in his ability to keep the puck inside of the offensive zone. For a small old guy with bad knees and a bad back, he sure covers a lot of ground when jumping to swat down a puck or reaching to hold one in at the blue line. His shot-pass from the blue line is deadly accurate, leaving teammates with easy tip-ins or back door opportunities.
He really makes the power play click, giving Lidstrom a right-handed shot opposite of him to take full advantage of the extra man.
Rafalski put up 48 points this season, which is a very good total for a defenseman, even before you consider the fact that he hasn’t been 100% healthy and that he missed 19 games to injury. In fact, had he played all 82 games like Lidstrom did, he was on pace for the same number of points as the captain.
The second star of the month earned his two nominations with consecutive wins to start April. Your starting goalie, Jimmy Howard!
2. Jimmy Howard 3-2 record in April
Howard was key in the Wings victories over the Predators and Wild on April 2 and 3, his first two games back from a nasty looking shoulder injury.
He stopped 58 out of 63 shots in those two games, and really helped the Wings right the ship after a heartbreaking overtime loss to Chicago and an embarrassing 10-3 whooping by St. Louis while he was out injured.
If it weren’t for the standout performances of Cleary and Datsyuk against the Hawks on Sunday, Howard could have easily picked up another star, especially with his 15 saves in the third period to preserve the win.
Look for Howard to take these strong performances and spin them into a lot of confidence heading into his second ever NHL post-season.
Finally, I think it’s fitting that we close out April’s stars with a guy who really surprised a lot of people, myself included, this season.
This is a guy who battled injuries all last season and could never get his game on track. With his highest goal and point totals ever in the NHL, Danny Cleary stormed to second on the Red Wings in scoring. He is also the first star for the month of April.
1. Danny Cleary 2G, 1A, +1
Both of Cleary’s goals this month were of the game winning variety, in the month’s first match with the Nashville Predators, and in the season’s final game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Cleary has been one of the more impressive Wings all season long, despite missing a full month with a broken ankle. He is in the third year of a 5 year, $14M contract and he definitely more than earned his pay this season. That’s how the Red Wings are able to be so successful, by everyone playing above their pay grade.
It was his hard work that led to Pavel Datsyuk’s go ahead goal on Sunday, and it was he who finished off a fantastic shift by Todd Bertuzzi to win the game for the Wings. Danny Cleary, April’s first star.