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Caputo: Three Players Who Hold The Biggest Key For The Red Wings This Season

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Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a glove save on a shot by Gabriel Bourque #57 of the Nashville Predators during Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Joe Louis Arena on April 17, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. Nashville won the game 3-1 and lead the series 3-1. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a glove save on a shot by Gabriel Bourque #57 of the Nashville Predators during Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Joe Louis Arena on April 17, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. Nashville won the game 3-1 and lead the series 3-1. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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By: Pat Caputo

1. Jimmy Howard, Goalie – He has had solid regular seasons, but Howard’s performance in the playoffs last season was disappointing in a first-round loss to Nashville. Howard has to be at the top of his game, especially now that all-time great defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom has retired.

2. Pavel Datsyuk - During last season, The Hockey News named Datsyuk as the second-best player in the NHL, according to a poll of players. He didn’t perform like it in the playoffs after having in-season knee surgery. The Red Wings desperately need Datsyuk, an amazingly skilled performer, to have his best season.

3. Niklas Kronwall – Known for his big hits, Kronwall has also been a solid all-around player. But he must be better than that now that he is the leader of the Red Wings’ defensive corps following Lidstrom’s retirement.

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