Monday, April 11, 2011

A Geek's Thoughts Before the Big Exam

Well, here we are again.

The second season is only days away and the Detroit Red Wings are making another run at the Stanley Cup. It's been a long season, perhaps not as arduous a one as last year's run, but the Wings have again battled their way into a good playoff position for this year's postseason.

I'd like to take this opportunity to address my fellow students of Hockeytown University, and to thank you again for the sense of comradery you all bring and for making it so enjoyable to chat with other Wingnuts while on Twitter. Red Wings Nation is pretty small down my way, but it is alive, and it is glad to be part of the big red machine.

Now, on to our boys.

I honestly believe we have, as always, a solid enough team to go the distance. There are, however, concerns that -must- be addressed. These are things I've noticed throughout the season that could haunt the Wings during the playoffs and make a hard run unnecessarily harder.

1.) Face-offs - You start the game with one, and the rest of the game is littered with them. It's how you start a play with possession of the puck, and if you can't control this aspect of the game, it's a little difficult to play a puck-possession style of hockey. The Red Wings play puck-possession, and we are not nearly good enough on the dot for our style of play. If we're depending on a 3rd-4th line center to win draws, there's a bit of a problem. I want to see my top 2 lines winning draws, because hey, aren't they the ones that usually put pucks in the net? Look, I know we're tied for 3rd in the league for face-off percentage, but 3rd is at 51.9% draws won. Barely above .500? Uh-uh, needs to be much better during the postseason, and needs to be better on critical draws.

2.) Power-Play - Similarly to the face-off issue, it seems like we succeed on the man advantage moreso when it doesn't matter, rather than at the key points in the game when a PPG would really help turn things around. Detroit is 5th in the league at 22.3% on the man-up, which isn't bad by any stretch, but the powerplays that Detroit cashes in on needs to be the more critical ones, when it really matters.

3.) Pucks on the Net - This is a two-parter. The first concern I have is the seeming lack of a dedicated shooter. As I see it right now, the Red Wings do not have a committed sniper like we've had in previous seasons. The closest I can mention would be Henrik Zetterberg, but he has already confirmed he'll be out for at least the first game of the Wings-Coyotes series. My theory -would- be to get Pavel Datsyuk the puck in the slot as often as possible, but Dats serves too many other purposes to limit him to taking the majority of the Red Wings' shots. Valtteri Filppula would be a good candidate, but he's shown he has an allergy to shooting that appears to be deathly: Everytime he gets a shooting chance, he passes. Jiri Hudler is another possibility, but his luck since returning to Detroit has been terrible.

My other concern in this area is the noted lack of shots. In the final 3 games of the season, only once did we break the 40 shot mark, and that was the 3-0 blanking Cam Ward and the Hurricanes gave us, which I pin mainly on the sheer force of will put forward by the Carolina goaltender. Yes, we lost that game, but by God, we gave ourselves plenty of chances at least. The two games against Chicago saw 28 and 31 respectively, not respectably. These were games where we did not give ourselves much opportunity to come out on top, and though we did win the final game, Chicago was poised to tie right till the end. Some of it comes from a lack of big shooters, some of it comes from stints of poor puck control and giving the opponent too much time with the puck, but it's still a concern for a puck-possession team too give itself so few chances, and it will be a far more glaring concern come playoff time.

There are other things that could use fine tuning, and I believe the Wings and Coach Babcock will do what needs to be done to hone their play back to playoff form.

Now, all that's left is to wait. It all starts tomorrow, and at the end of the day there's only 4 words on my mind:

Let's Go Red Wings!!!