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.