Friday, March 29, 2013

Wings Waddle out of West Coast in Boring Loss to Sharks

Last night's game in San Jose was a hard one to watch, and not just because the Red Wings didn't come away with the win.  Yes, Detroit lost 2-0 to the Sharks, but the game overall--on both sides of the ice--was chore to watch, and certainly not worth staying up till 1AM ET to behold.

Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns both score for San Jose in less than highlight-reel fashion.  Pavelski's shot deflected in off of Niklas Kronwall's skate and past netminder Jimmy Howard, while Burns's effort was borne from one of many Detroit defensive miscues, with the Sharks blueliner-turned-forward ripping the puck over Howard's glove short side.

That's really all that happened in this game for 60 minutes.  The only other thing noteworthy was the magic show Pavel Datsyuk put on for the fans at HP Pavillion, culminating when he deked Logan Couture so hard Couture literally fell on his rear.  Everything else was completely ho-hum hockey.  Once the Sharks got the lead, they did exactly the same thing Phoenix did, effectively turtling by switching to a 1-4 trap scheme, they stopped pressuring Detroit as much and just waited for Detorit to make their own mistakes.  The Wings did not disappoint them, either.  With turnovers and errant passes aplenty, the Red Wings made the Sharks look like geniuses, doing all the work for them.

With only one penalty having been called the entire game, Detroit didn't get much chance to flex their special teams muscles, but considering how they played, it's hard to say for sure that they would have been as effective as they've been in recent matches.  Howard's play in net was stellar as always, and gave Detroit the chance to come back, but his teammates just simply did not play to the level required to rally back from a 2-0 deficit. Even if the Sharks hadn't scored those two goals, it hardly looked like the Red Wings were going to generate anything on offense, creating another one of those games where Jimmy gets hung out to dry by a flash goal drought.

In the end, what matters most is Detroit missed out on the 2 points, and it's already to the stage now where points of separation are critical.  The Wings should already be in playoff mode, because every game from here on in is that important.  9th place in the conference is not that far away, and if Detroit isn't careful, they could be staring it in the face come game 48.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Wings Find Themselves Late, Rally past Coyotes

There was speculation that, after the elation of the 2-game sweep of the Ducks in Anaheim, Detroit may suffer a hangover of sorts as they entered Arena for their  matchup against the Phoenix Coyotes. To an extent, the speculators may have been right, but fans were treated to a welcome sight, as Detroit managed to rally from a temporary meltdown and battle back to claim their third straight win, defeating Phoenix 3-2.

Detroit opened the scoring when Ian White loosed a shot from the point that weaved through traffic and past Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera for the 1-0 lead.  Instead of keep the momentum going, however, Detroit started slipping mentally, with a lot of poor decisions and standing around in the defensive zone.  Before they knew it, the Wings were staring at a 2-1 deficit.

Phoenix's first goal on the powerplay was the result of a good tip and lots of traffic in the way of Red Wings goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.  The second goal was the infuriating one, as the Monster made two great stops, but there was no urgency by the other Wings on the ice to move the puck away from the crease.  As a result, Rob Klinkhammer waltzed right up to a down-and-out Gustavsson's vacant left side and pounded home the puck.

As the game progressed in the 2nd period, things didn't seem very bright as the Wings' play didn't seem to improve, but a timely powerplay and a goal from Johan Franzen knotted the game back up at 2 apiece late in the period.  Taking that to the locker room seemed to be just what Detroit needed, as they came out a revived hockey club for the final frame.  The Eurotwin powers erupted 6 minutes into the 3rd, as Henrik Zetterberg would find resident magician Pavel Datsyuk with a pass off a Coyotes skate and number 13 made no mistake, burying the puck and giving Detroit the lead once again.

From then on, it was a frantic pace, with the Wings holding on as Phoenix pressed to try and tie the game back up, culminating in a penalty shot awarded to Lauri Korpikoski.  With the lead on the line, the Monster did not falter, shutting the door and preserving Detroit's lead.  Even after Phoenix pulled their goaltender for the extra attacker, the Wings simply buckled down and kept the chances to a minimum right up till the final horn sounded.

The victory tonight was huge for the Red Wings, who have now won three straight, as well as 5 straight on the road.  They will finish up this amazing road trip on Thursday in San Jose before heading home for a pair of games at the Joe.  They have already made more hay in the west coast sunshine than anyone could've hoped for, but a win against the Sharks would be an incredible boost to both Detroit's still-rising confidence and their playoff hopes, as they continue to dig in their heels and prevent themselves from slipping in the standings.

This road trip could very well end up being the defining moment of the regular season for the Detroit Red Wings of 2013, and we'll see how it comes to a close come Thursday.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Wings Savor Valuable 5-1 Win in Anaheim

With the second half of the season well underway, the Red Wings know there are games they need to win even if the odds are against them.  Last night was one of those games, as Detroit skated into Honda Centre and reminded the Anaheim Ducks how to play a good road game.  Justin Abdelkader exploded offensively, notching his first NHL career hat trick, and Pavel Datsyuk got goal #250 and assist #500 of his career in what was a stellar outing for the Wings.  Both players will more than likely say, however, that the best part of last night was earning 2 points against a hot team that many expected more tenacity from.

The game was hectic with plenty of compelling moments, not all of them good for Detroit.  Anaheim seemed to score the opening goal, but it was determined that Emerson Etem kicked the puck in with the heel of his skate before it crossed the goal line behind Jimmy Howard.  After review, the call was overturned, and the game remained scoreless.  As is the scary tradition with Detroit--or so it seems to be, at least--they did not immediately clamp down, and ended up still giving up the opening goal to Teemu Selanne on a smooth cross-ice pass during an odd-man rush.

That seemed to finally wake up the Wings.

Abdelkader and Datsyuk each notched a goal in the 1st to secure the lead before the end of the opening frame.  They did not look back from that point, with Abdelkder scoring again 3 minutes into the 2nd, summarily ending Viktor Fasth's night.  Jonas Hiller came on to man the Ducks' crease, but the bleeding just would not stop.  10 minutes later, Abby would bury his third of the night, and Detroit would head into the 3rd with a 4-1 lead.

Amidst the resounding chant of "Let's go Red Wings!" coming from the stands in Honda Centre, Detroit kept pressure on the Ducks, never really giving them time to properly get into their rhythm.  Despite being outshot all game long, the Red Wings played as solid a game as they've mustered all season defensively, and it seemed as though the idea of simplicity was starting to sink in.  For a moment, it looked as though Abdelkader would have a 4-goal night at the 15:17 mark of the 3rd, but replays proved otherwise, as what appered to be Abby's stick making contact with the puck turned out to be an Anaheim limb, so the last Red Wing to play the puck, namely Johan Franzen, got credit for the 5-1 goal.

Equally admirable last night was Howard, who barred the door after the review on Etem and subsequent Selanne goal.  Jimmy has done this many times this season, he just hasn't always had his teammates roar to life with 5 unanswered goals on the heels of his determined netminding.  Howard was also stellar on the PK, which actually functioned very well as a unit last night.

All in all, it was a fun match to watch for Wings fans.  It will be interesting to see the changes made for tomorrow's encore, as the Wings go right back to Honda Centre to try and do it all again for another precious pair of points, as Detroit's season ages into the 30's.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mentally Weak Wings Lose to Wild

There are a number of factors that led to the 4-2 defeat the Red Wings suffered tonight at the hands of the Minnesota Wild, a team who had not won on JLA ice since 2006.  Even the final score is misleading, as the match wasn't even technically as close as it might lead one to believe. Devin Setoguchi scored a pair and multiple miscues by Detroit made this an easy one for the Wild.  Gustav Nyquist and Drew Miller notched the two Wings goals, though Miller's came with mere seconds left on the clock in the 3rd.  For all intents and purposes, this game should be treated as a 4-1 loss.

The Red Wings came home for a brief pit stop in the midst of all their road-game travels, and boy did it ever look as though they full of the home cooking, so much so that they barely moved their legs for large portions of this game, especially in moments where it was critical they do so.  Overall, the Wild control the flow of the game despite Detroit seemingly having a foothold throughout the whole contest.  It was the little mistakes that sprouted up all over the place that once again did in the Wings.

The Setoguchi goal mere minutes into the match is something that's becoming eerily common: quick goals made possible by the entire line still being asleep after the opening puck is dropped.  This was witnessed in Edmonton and it was witnessed in Vancouver.  That is three (3) consecutive games in which Detroit has given up a goal before the game has reached the 4th minute of play.  It's as though the team gets off on playing from behind, so they just cut to the chase and give up a early one to get in the mood.

The other major contributing factor to the loss tonight was the inability to deal with Minnesota's team defense.  It's unclear if the coaching staff are aware of this, but most teams in the league have gotten wise to Detroit's offensive tendencies, and have all started clogging up the middle and forcing the play to the boards. The Wings have been consistently just going along with it, content to take shots from the perimeter, then have someone try to race to the net before the goaltender and gobble up any potential rebounds or a defender clears the puck away.

Newsflash: it's not working.

If the Red Wings want to play from the perimeter, they need someone to fill the void left by Tomas Holmstrom.  Nobody is going to the net and planting themselves in front of the opposition's goaltender, therefore the number of deflections, rebound retrievals and scrums in front of the crease--all of which can lead to goals--are drastically down.  This was the case tonight, as nobody was screening Backstrom, there was never a consistent net-front presence, and Backstrom pretty much cruised to the win in this one.  Once upon a time, Dan Cleary and Johan Franzen were given that task, but neither seem like they can be bothered with it any longer.  Without that guy in the middle, Detroit is forced to try to push into that space or sneak someone in during the cycle, and it is failing more often than not, not to mention it is taxing on the forwards trying to get there when someone should be there already.

Finally, what killed the Wings this evening--and has been killing them all year--is the cutesy factor.  In countless instances tonight, Detroit was given scoring opportunities, and instead of just putting the head down and going for it, the puck carrier would either get cute or try to make the difficult play rather than the simple (and smart) one.  This more often than not ended up as a giveaway and a rush back up the ice toward Jimmy Howard.  Until the Red Wings learn to control the flow of the game playing simple, smart hockey, teams are going to keep picking off their cute passes and attempts at superheroism.  Want an example? How about team captain Henrik Zetterberg, who cannot seem to resist trying to muscle his way through three or more players at the same time when the opportunity presents itself, or Damien Brunner's spin-around-behind-the-back-no-look drop passes that end up going to no one in particular or, worse yet, an opposing stick.  It's happening too much.  Simplify, then get cute once you've forced the other team to respect your smart plays.

No one player or moment cost Detroit the win against Minny tonight, it was a collective failure of a game that took place in little moments that added up to an L rather than a W, and cost Detroit an extremely precious 2 points against a team in that very same log-jam the Red Wings are in.  Games like this one tonight are ones fans will have to look back to if in the final games of the season, Detroit's playoff hopes rest on the shoulders of other teams and how they perform.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Wings' Second Half off to Poor Start

Having worked during the time the Red Wings' game against Columbus on Saturday, I did not get to see the entirety of the match.  I checked out the highlights, which confirmed that, as a Detroit fan, I didn't miss much.  The Wings began the second leg of this season yesterday and started off nearly as poorly as they began the season.  Let's face it, when you lose to a team half as good as the Blues by half the margin, the odd's the difference.

Detroit looked sluggish, uninterested and outworked in any videos I could find and analyze.  Monster got completely thrown under the bus by a deceptive defense who had finally made us believe they had gotten it together.  Two goals on two terrible giveaways behind our own net is unacceptable, if you can't manage the puck properly in your own end, you have no chance in your opponent's, as was clearly evidenced.  The powerplay on the road is still empty and now something like the 4th worst record in 30-odd years.

I get the idea that management is waiting with bated breath for injuries to heal, but in the meantime, we are playing inconsistent, sub-par hockey.  Even the games Detroit wins, Babcock has noted that there have been problems, the Wings have just been able to weather the storm and scrape up a few more wins than losses.  Our longest winning streak is three games, and we've only managed that benchmark once all year.  In a condensed season, .500 hockey is not going to cut it.

The Red Wings have problems that need addressed immediately, rather than sitting around playing the waiting game for guys to heal who may or may not remedy those problems.  Even if those players do prove themselves a remedy, if the team loses too much of a grip in the conference, they could be looking at a too-little-too-late situation.  As I've said  before, catching Chicago is a pipe dream, which means the best the Red Wings can hope for is 4th in the conference.  So instead of trying to clinch 1 of 8 positions for the playoffs, the reality is that Detroit is trying to clinch 1 of 5 positions in the midst of an absolute log-jam in the middle of the conference.

How do you remedy this?  To me, there are a few things I would suggest.  All of them--or even just one of them--would make a huge difference.

1.) Bring in an ACTUAL leader on the blueline: No, this is not me saying I hate Niklas Kronwall.  What is being said here, though, is that Kronwall is not Lidstrom, and I feel that the pressure is being put on him to become that type of leader.  Kronner has changed his game, and it started last season when the threat of Nick Lidstrom retiring was more palpable than ever before.  I still believe that the players and coach knew before anyone that Lids was exiting after last season, and Kronwall was taking it upon himself to try to be more like Lidstrom when the inevitable came.

When was the last time you saw a good Kronwalling live?  The man has gone completely timid and narrowed his game down to trying to be defensively solid.  Normally that wouldn't be a bad thing, but the more I watch this team this year, the more I confirm to myself that there isn't a soul in the NHL this season that is scared to attack our blueline.  Nobody's head is on a swivel because they know that number 55 in red isn't throwing his weight around like he used to, so opposing offense are becoming more aggressive in their forechek and in moving the puck through neutral ice.

Remember the first game of the season, and the Tarasenko breakaway goal? Two years ago, Kronwall would have had that kid's body smeared along the ice the moment the puck got to his stick, and the stretch passes would have stopped immediately.  Get someone brought in to take of managing the D-corp and let Kronwall go back to playing HIS brand of hockey.

2.) Give the kids more chances: I've been SO impressed by our young guys this year, both offensively and defensively.  It's been better than hoped for and MILES beyond what anyone could've expected.  Guys up front like Tatar and Anderson are making a big impression, and on the back end we've have great improvement from Kindl and Smith.  Also, the emergence of Brian Lashoff has been a delightful surprise.  So with all this young talent starting to blossom, it boggles my mind that Mike Babcock refuses to try something new when the standard format is not working.  I get that Babs is no Scotty Bowman, but you don't need to be a coaching legend to understand how adaptation works.  Move some bodies around, put some of the younger forwards up with Datsyuk and Zetterberg more often, give the other team some different looks!  If your team hasn't scored a goal in 40 minutes of a game, what harm is there in trying a new line combination in the last 20?  I'll hold my breath if it means one day I'll see a line of Tatar-Datsyuk-Brunner.

3.) Make a move to inject a scoring touch into the lineup: I understand Mike Babcock is a defense-minded coach, fine, and yes defense is important.  When that defense fails you, though, the only way to stay competitive is to put pucks in the net.  This team has far too many players on dry spells or just coming off them, Franzen and Abdelkader are the first to spring to mind.  I feel like the defense is mostly set and just needs to keep gelling more, but I'm not so confident about our top 6 forwards.  It feels as though guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg are trying to do a whole line's worth of work by themselves just to generate offense, and other teams are wise to it.  Believe it or not, there ARE players who exist and are able to play decent shut-down hockey AND score some goals.  Franzen used to play a game like that, but now looks as though he prefers to stand around and watch the game unfold before him more often than not.  The only forwards that look truly hungry for the net are younger guys on the 3rd and 4th line.  If we aren't going to move them up more often and give them more minutes, then someone needs to be brought in to fill that role.

And no, Filppula does not fit that role.  He and Franzen are immensely on the hook for me, I'm losing my patience.  Franzen is moody and inconsistent with regards to production, and Fil's time to "break out" has come and gone, he is not going to be the star Wings management hoped he would be.

These are just three of the things I wish Detroit would try--and let me emphasize TRY--in the hopes of bringing more consistency to the club, which should no doubt result in more wins.  Detroit is still a great hockey team, but as with all things the rule of survival applies: In a changing world, you either adapt, or you die.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wings Win 2-1 Over Avs, Howard Shines

Recently, coach Mike Babcock put a call out to his goalies saying they needed to step up and be better.  Jimmy Howard has answered that call ever since, and did so again last night as the Red Wings defeated Colorado 2-1.  Jimmy Howard made 36 saves and came ever-so-close to earning his 13th career shutout, but everything the Avs threw at Howard was not enough.

Detroit was bolstered in the 2nd period when Johan Franzen finally got the monkey off his back and scored for the first time since coming back from injury.  Damien Brunner fed the Mule a marvelous stretch pass that left Franzen free and clear of both Colorado defensemen, and the following wrist shot whistled by goaltender J. S. Giguere to open the scoring at 1-0 Wings.

Later in the same period, Niklas Kronwall would blast a puck toward the net, and some argue that he intentionally shot wide of the net to look for a favorable bounce off of the notoriously lively Joe Louis Arena boards.  The bounce Kronner got could not have been more favorable, as the puck careened back toward the net, ricocheted off Giguere's skate, and back into the net to make it 2-0 Detroit.

All was well until the final stages of the 3rd, when Franzen sullied his otherwise good play by half-heartedly trying to clear the puck out of the defensive zone while Colorado had their net empty.  The puck stayed in, and Paul Stastny got a shot on goal.  Howard responded with a great save, but a rebound came right back to Stastny and he did not waste his second chance.  With just 1:30 left in the game, the Avalanche broke Howard's shutout, making it 2-1.  The Wings, however, would hold on from there and claim their 2 points.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Timely Mistakes Turn Tides on Wings, Lose 2-1 to Chicago

In what could end up being the most frustrating loss of the regular season so far, the Detroit Red Wings managed to go stride for stride with the league-leading Chicago Blackhawks for much of their match on Sunday.  The Wings took a late lead when Tomas Tatar scored in the 3rd to break a scoreless tie.  It looked as though the Red Wings would be the ones to finally snap Chicago's season-opening point streak.

Then, Jonathan Ericsson happened.

With mere minutes left to secure the win, Ericsson made the costly mistake of flinging the puck over the glass in defensive territory, resulting in the dreaded delay of game penalty, on which Chicago scored to tie with only 2 minutes left in regulation.  It did not get any better after that point.

Regulation ended, Chicago got to keep their little streak, and overtime solved nothing.  The game would go to a shootout, where the Blackhawks would score the lone goal, winning 2-1.