Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Wings Waste Game 1 with Sloppy Performance

The Detroit Red Wings may have misconstrued the phrase, "What happens in the regular season doesn't matter in the playoffs".  I say this because we sure as hell did not see the team of last week on the ice for Game One of Detroit's opening playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks,  What we got was garbage, from top to bottom: a lackluster, undisciplined showing that was not in line with what one expects of a team in the playoffs.

One of the biggest concerns of the night had to be the penalties.  Terrible decisions made at the worst possible times hampered any chance Detroit had to get any sort of early rhythm going, and made it impossible to really turn the tide as the game went on.  Anaheim opened the night's scoring on a powerplay goal spawned from a moronic cross-check by Jordin Tootoo in front of the Wings' net, literally seconds after we dodged a massive bullet where Detroit should have been called for a penalty, but wasn't.

The Red Wings' only goal of the night followed, on what can only be described as a 'lucky bounce', Jakub Kindl, in what may have been the only smart thing he did all night, shot the puck toward the net, and the puck deflected off of Dan Cleary's body and past Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller.

From there, it was much of the same: Bad passes, terrible exits from the defensive zone getting stymied in the neutral zone, one-and-dones once the Wings finally DID breach the O-zone.  No sustained pressure. At all.  Even Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard was off his game tonight.  Don't misunderstand me though, he did his job and gave Detroit a fighting chance, but almost every stop that Howard made looked forced.  He fought the puck all night long, it seemed, and never truly got settled in, which may have further unsettled the skaters in front of him.

The young guys played like young guys tend to in the Playoffs: trying too hard, trying to force things that weren't there, and just generally not making smart, simple plays.  Take Kindl for example.  With a chance to hammer the down down the ice, he decides to get cute and try to bank the puck off the glass in his own zone...and totally misses the glass.  Delay of game penalty ensues, Ducks take the lead on another PPG early in the 3rd.

Everything kept slipping downhill from there, with the Wings gradually losing what little grip they still had on the game.  A few chances cropped up here and there, but Hiller was square to the task of shutting our minimal offense down for the rest of the match.  Add to that an empty netter from the Ducks' own zone, and it was the icing on the suck-cake.

So with the first game squandered, it's now up to Detroit to learn what they may from the loss, adapt, and move on.  They can still split the road pair and come out strong at home in Games 3 and 4.  This series is far from over, but Detroit needs to make performances like the one tonight disappear from their future matches.

Don't Believe the Odds, Detroit will be Dangerous

The Wings begin their quest toward the Stanley Cup tonight in Game 1 of their first round series against the Anaheim Ducks, but while Detroit's late-season push to make it in was extremely impressive, many analysts and odds-makers obviously don't believe that means much.  The majority of the hockey world sees the Red Wings as longshot to win the Cup in comparison to teams like Chicago and Pittsburgh, but I wouldn't count out a team whose last-second revival was of sleeping-giant-proportions.

Let's take a look at the last week, shall we?  Over the course of four games, Detroit decimated each and every team they faced, starting with the Phoenix Coyotes, who at the time were hot on Detroit's heels looking to overtake the Wings for a playoff spot.  They were pounded 4-0 for their efforts.

Next came the defending champs, the Los Angeles Kings.  LA jumped out to a 1-0 lead and everyone expected the worst.  Instead, Detroit rallied back, roaring past the Kings with three unanswered goals to win 3-1.

Then, it was the Nashville Predators, a team out of playoff hopes, but still with a chance to play giant-killer to a hated division rival.  The game was fiercely contested for the first 20 minutes, but after that, it was all Detroit, exploding for four goals to go from down 2-1 to winning 5-2.

Finally, in the critical final game of the season, Detroit faced another would-be dream killer in Dallas.  The Stars could also potentially crush the Wings hopes for Playoff glory by so much as taking a single point from the Wings.  The Red Wings weren't interested in that, however, and came to win, dominating the Stars 3-0 to lock up the 7th seed.

And now, here we are opening the 2012-13 playoffs against an Anaheim team we took to task in a back-to-back showdown just over a month ago.  In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, anything is possible if you work for it.  But go ahead, lay the odds against the Wings.  I'm sure they're just fine with that, and they'll let their play determine the real odds.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Red Wings / Ducks series preview: Ducks vs Dynasty

The Red Wings have made it into their 22nd playoffs in a row by playing their best hockey in their last 5 games of the season, they’ll have to play the same dominating hockey if they want to win against the Ducks.
Since April 12th, the Red Wings have gone 5-1-2 for 12 points out of a possible 16 points. But the most important stats for me is the goaltending: Jimmy Howard played in 13 games in the month of April and finished 7-3-3 with a 1.44 GAA (2nd for goalies who played 10 games or more, only behind Elliot who had outstanding results) and .942 SV% (3rd for goalies who played 10 games or more), plus he had 3 shutouts. In other words, Jimmy is on the top of his game at the right time, and so is the Red Machine. Special teams are firing on all cylinders, with the PP firing at 21 % and the PK stellar, with a 91 %. The standard for special teams is supposed to be PK + PP = 100 %, so the Wings are going strong. And most importantly, the Red Wings outscored their opponents 23 to 11 along these 8 games.

Now enough about the Wings, what about the Ducks?

Since April 10th, the Ducks have gone 4-3-1 for 9 points out of a possible 16 points and were outscored 19 to 17 over that span. The Fasth and Hiller duo did respectfully well, with Fasth starting 9 games and going 4-3-1 with a 2.02 GAA and a .925 SV% with two shutouts. Hiller went 3-2-0 with 1.94 GAA and .931 SV%. Getzlaf (11 points), Perry (8 points) and Palmieri (8 pts) did ok in April, but Selanne and Ryan have been cold.

But enough about the un-sexy stats, what about the head-to-head stats? The Red Wings won 2 out of the 3 meetings against the Ducks this year, with Miller notching the game-winner on the 1st Red Wings win and Datsyuk getting the GWG on the second one. Andrew Cogliano got the GWG for the Ducks on the first meeting of the season. For the all-time stats, Detroit has won the playoff series three times (1997, 1999 and 2009) while Anaheim has won two times (2003 and 2007)

The two teams are evenly matched and have animosity, with the Datsyuk – Perry fight being the best part of it. I really think Detroit's depth matches Anaheim's goaltenders and Detroit wins this one in 6. Here's hoping.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Code Red!!! Detroit Playoff Bound after Clinching 7th Seed

A legendary streak found itself extended on the shoulders of an amazing performance.

The Detroit Red Wings, who were becoming slotted as playoff no-shows as little as a week ago, defeated the Dallas Stars 3-0 tonight to clinch the 7th seed in the Western Conference and extend their active postseason appearance streak to an awe-inspiring 22 years.  It is the first trip to the playoffs for Detroit with Henrik Zetterberg as the Wings' captain.  He is only the third captain to play for the club since the streak began way back in 1990.

The past week for the Red Wings has been, as one analyst called it, a week of Game 7's, as each and every game was critical. A single point over the last four games would have cost the Wings their shot at the Cup, as at this time, the Columbus Bluejackets and Minnesota Wild have both won their final game.  Their victories would have eliminated Detroit from playoff contention in almost every scenario.  This team needed to win, and when it counted the most, that is exactly what they did, and did, and did, and did again.

The evening started off quite tense, as the Wings did not come out with as strong a start as in previous games, allowing Dallas to maintain most of the early pressure, but goaltender Jimmy Howard was tall to the task, keeping Detroit in the game.  Then, with less than 2 minutes left in the 1st period, Zetterberg put in a phenomenal effort in the corner against the Dallas defense and swept the puck in front of the Stars net.  It initially looked as thought Justin Abdelkader may have gotten a stick on the puck before it went in, but upon closer review, the goal would go to Hank, and the Wings led 1-0 going into the 2nd.

The play in the following period was much more back-and-forth, with Mike Babcock calling it a 'track meet' with all the up-and-down the ice play.  Again, Jimmy Howard was solid in net and protected Detroit's tenuous lead.  The score would remain unchanged as the two teams went to the dressing room and prepared for the final frame.

Finally, in the 3rd, the floodgates would open wide.  The Red Wings began with a chance borne of a Stars miscue on their powerplay within the first 2 minutes of the period, where the Eurotwins would pounce. Pavel Datsyuk sprang Zetterberg on a breakaway and Hank did not squander the opportunity, zipping the puck past Dallas goalie Richard Bachman and extending the lead to 2-0.  Next, just minutes later, Datsyuk would feed another teammate, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, and his wrister from above the high-slot area would find its way to the back of the net, padding the lead to a cushy 3-0 margin.

From there, it was lockdown time.  Detroit minimized the chances for Dallas, and with the help of a late penalty to Dallas with under 2 minutes to play, the Winged Wheel cruised to its berth in the 2012-2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  With only the middle of the pack left to sort out positioning, it had already been determined that the Wings, sitting in 7th, will play the 2nd seeded Anaheim Ducks in the 1st Round.

Hold onto your beards, guys! Ladies, just hold onto your guys' beards, because it's playoff time in Hockeytown once again!!!

Let's Go Red Wings!!!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wings Keep Rolling, Beat Kings 3-1

Looking back on the season the Detroit Red Wings have had this year, most all of you reading this had the same lingering thought in the back of your minds coming into the game tonight as the Wings hosted the defending Cup champ Kings: We need this game so bad...and the bottom is going to come right out of us.  You wouldn't get much argument based on the trends the Wings have followed all year, they haven't been a great team like in years past, and have had battled inconsistency all year long.

But the team that hit the JLA ice tonight, same as the one that we saw on Monday, did not let the trends define them.  This Red Wings team came to play, and played to win.

Detroit saw themselves facing a 1-0 in the 2nd period of this evening's game against Los Angeles, and instead of hoping for the best and falling short, as many times this season they have, this team got angry.  This team out worked their opponents in almost every aspect of the game.  This team turned he tides of battle in their favor and came out on top, responding with 3 unanswered goals to roar back over the course of the remainder of the game and claim a 3-1 victory, and move back into the 8th and final playoff spot in the West.

Leading the charge was the resident magician, Pavel Datsyuk, with a slick move to bring the puck out in front of him around and LA defender, and sweep a backhand cleanly through Kings goalie Jonathan Quick's five-hole for the tying goal.  Datsyuk's goal would be followed in the 3rd period by Jordin Tootoo, who got a wicked deflection off a Patrick Eaves shot from the point, fooling Quick for the go-ahead goal.  Finally, Wings fans were treated to a Mule feeding, as Johan Franzen received a superb pass out in front from Henrik Zetterberg just left of the LA net.  The Kings would pull Quick in the dying stages of the game, but it was obvious they weren't as hungry for the points as Detroit, as they waited until there was only around 45 seconds left in the game to pull him.

The Wings seem to finally understand what is at stake, and are playing as if they truly want to make the playoffs.  Had we seen this type of play from them earlier in the season, we likely wouldn't be in the mess we're in now, but it's irrelevant now.  We're here, and we need to win.  So far this week, that's exactly what we've done.

Monday, April 22, 2013

One Down, Three to Go as Wings Shut Out Phoenix.

For the first time in a while, we can sleep the night after a game. The Wings leave the Joe tonight two points closer to keeping that streak alive, but still miles away. We’ll get to that in a bit, though.

Finally we saw signs of life. We saw Jimmy give his all for the Wings again, but we saw a team in front of him willing to hustle and play smart as well. Brunner looked great, Nyquist was taking up the role of Helm with some brilliant bursts of speed and forechecking. Franzen chipped in on defense and offense, and for once in a great while the Red Wings weren’t Howie and Pavel and a sack of Red and White weights tied to their legs to drag them back. Heck, even Fil scored. What changed?

Well the power play was obviously brilliant. Given the Coyotes were happily giving them to us all night, it was fantastic that we were able to convert. Brunner’s shot from the point, tipped in by Franzen, was the start of something special. For long stretches this season we have been abysmal on point play and the power play, and to break through so early on both really seemed to get the morale going.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to say that. As play continued post-goal, the Coyotes seemed to remember that they, too, had a season on the line and we went quite a while pinned back in our zone. As Pierre (yes, Pierre McGuire. You may file out now as this post has now lost all credibility) put it, the Red Wings needed “to stop messing around.”   For the first and hopefully last time in my life, I agreed. Yet the pressure continued, and there was a sort of sinking feeling that came to your stomach as you thought “No…is it going to be one of these games again?” Two stupid Brendan Smith penalties added to the feeling that we’d all been through this before.Thankfully it would not come to anything for the Coyotes. The second power play goal of the period, one that turned out to be a welcome surplus, came late and certainly helped ease the pressure.

In the second, Filppula stepped up for his first goal in eleven and a half centuries. I should note at this point Pierre McGuire also stepped up, reclaiming his place as the worst person ever to commentate on the NHL by repeatedly pronouncing Filppula as Fil-pewa-la, as if he’d just eaten a very peanut-buttery sandwich. (You can all come back, the author has regained her sanity and hates Pierre once more.) It was a pretty shot from a sharp angle and immediately had people wondering: Is this what gets Fil going for the year? We all sure hope so. That was a huge plus of the game. Any time Fil can be on the scoreboard this season, things are improving.

After his goal, the game was essentially over. The Coyotes went into pure desperation mode and that almighty pillar of class, Mr. Shane Doan, proved his real mettle as an NHL captain and put his team a man down with a stupid fight. Dinner and a show for Wings fans, insult to injury for those one or two unfortunate souls..erm…Coyotes fans still watching hockey in the desert. Jimmy would have his shutout, Franzen an empty net goal, and it ended 4-0 to the good guys. One down, three to go.

Brunner had the first star, Z the second and Jimmy very, very rightly the third (play wise I would almost elevate Jimmy to the second star).  Nyquist was another that impressed, he showed quite a bit of hustle and almost got what he deserved as a shot missed by inches and caught the post. Do the same thing next game, Gus, and you will be rewarded in due time. Franzen made some solid defensive plays as well and even Quincey, yes Quincey, made some smart moves that helped out a lot. Oh, and demolished a guy. Kyle Quincey demolished a human. A human on the other team (yes, I did feel the need to specify.) Let that sink in and make you happy. Ok, let's move on.

Of mild concern was that we were still showing some of the tendencies we have all season. Bad back passes, stupid early penalties, being pinned back for long stretches in our own zone. All in all, though, this game was a vast improvement over many of our recent ones and left a much better taste in the mouth.  It isn’t over yet, however, and that’s important to remember.  We have to come out hungry again against the Kings, and we have to come out smart again. Smith needs to stay out of the box, we still need to find a way to correct our tendency to make poor passing decisions, but this was a good start. Funny, to call it a good start with four games left in the season, but it was a good start all the same. It’s something we have to build on, improve and succeed or regress and fail. Those are our choices, and let’s hope this game inspired our guys to do the former. For now, we can celebrate and sleep tight, the Wings are safe for another day!

The Losing Streak Has Ended! Red Wings Beat Phoenix

Everyone knows how badly Detroit needed two points tonight, seems like a theme this season. Don't worry; you will not be reading any complaints about the lack of performance tonight, though! The Detroit Red Wings had a beautiful shutout tonight against Phoenix, winning 4 to 0!

The Wings were aggressive and every single player was not allowing for another loss (maybe besides Cleary and Smith). The first period would seem rocky when looking at the shots on goal, 4 to 12. However, the score did not reflect the shots on goal. Within the first three minutes, Johan Franzen scored a tip-in goal on
the power play. The next penalty Phoenix suffered from also resulted in the Red and White scoring. Damien Brunner had a beautiful goal with less than a minute left in the first period. The shots on goal were few, but were quality shots. Luckily, Detroit had netminder Jimmy Howard to stop the force that came from Phoenix. Detroit lead 2-0 after twenty.

The Wings looked to continue a strong lead in the second. In doing that, they needed to shoot the puck more and keep Phoenix away from Jimmy. While Howard only had to face two less shots than the first, Detroit obviously was making a continued effort. Detroit had 12 shots and one successful goal from Valterri Filppula. That is right, you read that correctly: Val scored a goal. The Wings had successfully scored on 3 out of 4 power plays through the first forty minutes. Detroit was feeling good with a 3-0 lead.

The third period was not a different story. Justin Abdelkader engaged in a small brawl and Johan Franzen scored on an empty net. Franzen landed his second goal of the night with about two minutes left in the game. The Wings took the much needed two points with a 4-0 shutout against Phoenix.

The three stars of the game were Damien Brunner, followed by Henrik Zetterberg and lastly Jimmy Howard. While I think that Detroit picked a great top three powered by Ram Trucks, I think that Jimmy should have been first. Jimmy faced 34 shots on goal compared to the 23 that Detroit produced. The netminder did not allow one goal, giving Detroit any easy win even if they only scored once. Howard has been nothing short of

outstanding this short season. He has had a couple rocky games here and there, but since March 22 the Wings have failed to have more than a couple goals each game. Howard has been solid and proved that again tonight. 23 shots on goal is great and four of those making it into the back of the net is definitely welcomed, but savings 34 is even more outstanding. Howard is definitely my hero of the night.

One down and three to go. Detroit will verse the LA Kings on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Hopefully the fans of Detroit will bring that same playoff like atmosphere at the Joe to drive the Wings to push to another win. Until then, don't forget to like our Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more Detroit Red Wings coverage!

Some Phoenix Pre-Game Thoughts.

There’s a fair few things I could say about the Red Wings’ game tonight. I could go with the one most in vogue, “the last time the Red Wings weren’t in the playoffs I was…” I would finish that sentence with “not born.” I was born about a month after the 1990 playoffs ended, so I really have no experience whatsoever with a playoff season the Wings were not part of.

                I could go with the downer’s favorite: “the Wings don’t deserve the playoffs this year anyway.” Neither do quite a few teams. The Southeast division will only appear in the playoffs on accident, Minnesota is trying to choke their way out after the two biggest signings of the offseason…but they’ll make it. Why shouldn’t we? This is a playoff system set up with a fun little failsafe; over half the teams make it. You can be below average and play postseason hockey. Add some Bettman points in and there’s no such thing as a team that “doesn’t deserve” playoffs, just teams that fell apart slightly less than the next one.

                I take that back. We’ll always have the Panthers. They’ll never deserve it.

                I’m going to go with the realist’s analysis of the situation: If we win tonight, we very effectively stay alive. If we lose tonight, well…there’s a proverbial oversized woman warming up and practicing her musical scales. The past is the past. The other games are over, we can’t fix them. Let’s live in the now, let’s win in the now and move on in the now.

                So what do we need to do? Well, anyone who’s watched even a couple of games in this Red Wings’ season can answer that very easily:

                Above all else, that team has to want it. I’m hoping and praying to the hockey gods that from Hockey Olympus on High (or Sweden) Nick Lidstrom called down to Z today and reminded him what’s on the line, reminded him that the Winged Wheel does not quit. The legends of the past two decades did not play through hell just to watch a bored, uninterested team destroy their streak the first season they went un-monitored. And that’s that.

                Oh, a more tangible need for the game you ask? We absolutely must not take stupid penalties. They are killing us this year, and there has been no sign of improved discipline. If a guy is giving his all, sells out on a play and accidentally hooks someone…maybe it’s excusable. But that’s not been the case. Laziness and ineffective defense has led to idiotic penalties, guys rushing back because they missed coverage or gave the puck away, guys not paying attention to where their stick is at…all rookie, all fixable. Phoenix is gunning for this spot, too. We can’t allow them any extra advantage in the battle or the war.

                The other things we need to fix are also all so fundamental I feel almost silly writing them. Then I remember it’s the Wings’ fault they have failed on fundamentals, not mine. Smart passes, setting up good screens, not shooting the puck into a wall four bodies thick, clear the front of the net for Howie…etc. All basics, all things we have consistently failed to do that we now MUST do.

Because tonight, as much as I hate to be so melodramatic, is our season. The product we put on the ice tonight is going to decide whether or not we get to keep controlling our own fate and is going to go a long way to sealing or breaking our playoff streak. Tonight, for the first time this season, we better get serious. No more blaming refs, injuries, missed signings, etc. Tonight, we win or lose on the basis of our ability to score and defend. In the here and the now, we are responsible for what’s left of our season, playoffs or not. That's it, it's so simple. Play hard, win, and we keep going. No more Mulligans. No more second chances. This is it. Go big or go home, fellas. And as always, let’s go Red Wings!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Red Wings lose another one in shootout

Even before tuning in to watch this Red Wings game, I was sure of two things. One, there would be major homerism in tonight’s game; I have rarely seen bigger homers than Vancouver’s announcers. Game in and game out, they toot Vancouver’s horn, they belittle any of Detroit’s achievements, like how they’re still in the hunt with Cleary and Abdelkader in their top-six. And two, they had one job tonight, and that’s a win and they’re back in the hunt.

The way I see things, it’s going to come down to the very last game of the season against Dallas, and I don’t like the Red Wings’ chances.

In the pre-game, the announcers kept saying that Vancouver was probably going to get to a slow start, seeing how they just came home from a 5 game road-trip and Detroit just isn’t the same after losing Lidstrom and Stuart. I hate and loathe when they use that excuse, yes this team lost the 7-time Norris trophy winner, but they can still play. When they say that, it’s like they’re saying a player has no stick on a shootout attempt, for which it’s practically impossible for it to work. To that, I say nay nay.

The first period went by fast, about as fast as a Canuck diving, as shown by Burrows on a semi-breakaway. Edler, who Detroit should have drafted but Vancouver snagged him first, scored on an absolute bomb from the point. Emmerton did his best Datsyuk in-between-the-leggers and it was all tied up after one period. The game had a tentative pace after both teams had a lot on the line – Vancouver needing one point to clinch a playoff spot and Detroit just needing to stay in the hunt.

In the second period, Abdelkader and Ballard traded punches after Ballard hog-tied number 8 in the blue paint (see Ma, I can rhyme!). Abdelkader is really playing like a power-forward these last games, which is very needed and appreciated by the Piano man, Datsyuk. Later on, we saw a rare sight, as the Sedins attempted to jump the Mule, who just shrugged it off but wasn’t laughing when he took an additional penalty on the play. After the announcers laughed at who much experience the Red Wings lost in the last two years (I swear, they make an exception to put it in EVERY time…)

The third period saw Detroit outshoot Vancouver 17-3 and really dominating the play, but in the end, it was Maxim ‘I have a face only a mother could love’ Lapierre who won it in the shootout.

What does it mean for the Red Wings? Well, for one, they’re one point back of Columbus for the eighth and final playoff spot, which is a good thing: let’s say they en up tied for points, the Wings would have more ROW (regular or overtime wins), which are the first tie-breaker. Secondly, they managed to get at least a point in a road game. But really, the most telling stat is that Detroit has 3 goals in 14 attempts on the shootout this year and in the last couple of games against San Jose, Chicago and Vancouver, the shooters have really let this team down. But on the upside, there’s no shootout in the playoffs and should the Red Wings get there, look for the 3rd line of Nyquist, Andersson and Brunner to get some valuable playoff experience and  unfortunately, probably a first round exit against the Blackhawks, who are assured of finishing 1st in the Western conference. The Red Wings now are in a race for 8th with Columbus, Minnesota, Phoenix and Dallas.

Thing is, and I might be in the minority here, I'd rather see Detroit lose by trying than to win only by skills and barely, like the Red Wings of old.

Wings Let Another One Slip Away

The Detroit Red Wings are running out of games, and they are running out of time.

The Wings had a chance last night to lock up 2 points to pull even with division foe Columbus in the Western Conference standings, but lack of finishing took a 1-1 tied game all the way to the shootout, where the Red Wings did what they've seemed to do every time they go that deep into a game: absolutely nothing.  Max Lapierre got the only goal in the shootout and the Vancouver Canucks stole that invaluable second point from Detroit in a 2-1 final.

At least what we saw from Detroit last night included more heart and effort than had been witnessed in many of the recent matches.  The Wings did battle harder yesterday, but on so many scoring chances, just couldn't seem to find the cracks in Cory Schneider's armor.  The only Red Wing to beat Cory was...well, Cory! Cory Emmerton got a beautiful tip off a shot heading toward the net and slipped the puck between the arm and pad of Schneider to knot the game at 1 after Vancouver had taken the lead earlier in the 1st period.

It was another game in which the bottom forward lines seemed more effective than the top, and another game where Detroit did not capitalize on their powerplay chances.  Detroit managed to give the Canucks not one, but two shorthanded breakaway opportunities, with goalie Jimmy Howard bailing out his skaters once again.  Howard's stat-line has been phenomenal, but the production from the skaters has been strangling the life out of the team, costing Detroit precious points far too late into the season.  Johan Franzen, for all his chances last night, could not find the twine--and he had a ton of chances, especially early on in the game.  Val Filppula was his usual self: uninspired and turning away from the opposing net every chance he could find.  So of the top 6, the Eurotwins were left to shoulder the big load on their shoulders with little to no help once again.  Hank and Pavel are obviously exhausted from the extreme wear and tear of trying to control the entire game in both ends by themselves to make up for incompetence coming from their linemates.

On the injury front, Drew Miller, another of the rare breed on this year's Wings who has the heart to play with some energy, left the game with a broken hand.  Todd Bertuzzi is hoping to make a comeback before the end of the regular season, and if his back issues finally do clear up in time to allow him some games, he will hopefully add a spark to a reeling Red Wings squad that is watching the sand of a playoff spot slip through their fingers.

Four games remain, and the nail is dangerously close to the coffin.  Detroit needs wins, especially against Phoenix and Dallas who both chase them coming into this morning.  Anything less could very well sink the ship.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Quitters Never Win

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. If effort was money, Red Wings would beg.

                But to beg would be to desire a result, to be concerned about a result, and so perhaps Red Wings would not beg. Perhaps Red Wings would lay down and die, as they have most nights this season. Some games they lay down and die less than the other team, but across the board our Wings have not produced above an 85% effort in a game (excepting perhaps Vancouver) I can attest to, and have averaged a 60% effort. That’s if we’re being generous.

Want to know what’s funniest about this? I couldn’t even catch the game tonight. I was working, a concept the Wings seem positively allergic to. But I didn’t need to watch to know what probably happened:

 I’ll bet the Red Wings came out with a 40% effort. I’ll bet they came out with all the fight and urgency of a fat cat on a sunny day.

                I’ll bet the Red Wings didn’t bother to crash the net and force rebounds. That’s not a good idea when the entirety of your hockey strategy seems to revolve around firing a puck through three or more solid human bodies.

                I’ll bet the Red Wings still wouldn’t know what a good pass looked like if it appeared on their stick with a wide open shooting lane beckoning to them.

                I’ll bet we looked like bored toddlers. I’ll bet we looked the same way we have all season. I’ll bet we still don’t get what’s on the line. I’ll bet we won’t wake up until it’s too late. If we haven’t woken up yet, there’s absolutely no indication we will soon.

                And if disappointment were music, Hockeytown would sing. We do sing. Night after night, we wax lyrical and un-lyrical about the shortcomings of a team that just doesn’t care. We sing of excuses, none of which explain away the fact that a professional hockey team doesn’t seem to feel like playing hockey. I sure wish I could be paid hundreds of thousands not to show up at my job. The worst excuse of them all? That we have a “garbage roster.” Here’s some truth: I’ve seen worse rosters do better things and I have seen better rosters do worse things. But I have never seen THIS roster, this Red and White, Winged Wheeled Sweatered Roster, do less things. I find myself disgusted. After all, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. And this pup’s got no fight. This pup’s got no urgency. This pup’s got no ambition. This pup’s not going anywhere, not at this rate.

                So what do we, the fans who actually play our hearts out on the message board and twitter rinks of hockey each night, do? We waited half a season for hockey and have been treated for another half a season to effort akin to a 9th grade girls gym class. So what now? What do we do now as our beloved team stands on the precipice of a virtual unknown frontier? The one I dare not speak the name of. The place without *deep breath* P-L-A-Y-O-F----I can’t finish. What do we do?

                We don’t give up. We continue to play our hearts out, because this is Hockeytown. We stand up and cheer for a team who has brought us what fans of many other teams will never see in their lives: four championships, over two decades straight of playoffs, a long list of HoFers. Sure, this year has been one hell of a disappointment. But damn it, we aren’t out of it yet. If it can hurt this bad to lose it must be because we have something special on the line. If there isn’t a single person in that Red Wings’ locker room who feels the need to stand up, rally that team and kick into their heads the idea of giving it your all, maybe we can. We signed up for this fan thing, for better or for worse. It hurts tonight, but that’s sports and that’s love. Let’s ride out the season behind our guys, show them what effort really is. Who knows, maybe they’ll surprise us and turn the afterburners on just in time. We aren’t out of this yet. We are not out of this yet. If you don’t want our guys to quit on the season just yet, set an example.  There’s not a damn bit of good giving up will do us. So stick your heart back on your sleeve, Hockeytown, and get ready for the next one.  If wishes are second chances, maybe we’ll get one. Again.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Despite Sunday Win, Detroit's Destiny Still Undetermined

The Red Wings skated into Nashville yesterday evening, played 60 minutes of pretty darn good hockey, and skated out with two points.  The elation most Wings fans got from that is a foreign concept.  We're giddy about one win against the PREDS!? Yes, yes we are, because that win kept us relevant.

Detroit's victory last night retook the 8th and final spot from the Dallas Stars, who had leap-frogged Detroit. The Wings are now tied in points with 7th seed Minnesota, but lose the ROW tie-break, and are thus still holding the final spot in the West.  With three teams hot on their heels, the Wings got it done when it really counted.  A loss on Sunday could have been catastrophic.

Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and Justin Abdelkader scored against Nashville and Jimmy Howard recorded another shutout in the win.  It was a VERY welcome sight to be Hank and Mule scoring.  These are the guys who need to get it going, along with Datsyuk and--to a greater extent--Filppula. Our bottom 6 are grinding as best they can and doing a good job, now we need our top 6 to turn up the offense and start lighting the lamp more consistently.

By the time Wednesday rolls around and the Wings play their next match against Calgary, it's hard to say where Detroit will sit in the standings.  One thing is for sure though: if we get more efforts like Sunday's to close out this season, Red Wings fans would sleep much more soundly at night.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Preview: With Playoff Hopes Dimming, Detroit Desperately Needs Win

Detroit (19-15-7) @ Nashville (15-19-8)

We've already hit mid April and for the first time in over two decades, Wings fans are legitimately scared.  Detroit's tenuous hold on 8th spot in the West was finally ripped away when the Dallas Stars won their latest match to take the seed from the Wings through tie-break rules.  It is now imperative that Detroit win some hockey games to keep pace with not only Dallas, but also Phoenix and Columbus, who are all swarming.

Tonight, the Red Wings can reclaim 8th with a win over divisional foes the Nashville Predators.  It's the first game of a one-on-two-off week for Detroit, who will play Calgary on Wednesday, and finish the week in Vancouver against the Canucks.  Detroit and Nashville have split the first two games of the series, the most recent game being a blowout by Detroit, who crushed the Preds 4-0.  A similar effort tonight for the Red Wings would be just what the doctor--or in this case, the Geek--ordered, since Detroit's recent games have lacked offensive punch.

With Nashville pretty much out of the playoff picture now, they will likely look to play the role of giant-killer and try to help end Detroit's playoff appearance streak.  If the boys in the Winged Wheel want to have a chance at the big dance, they need to win games like this.  These are the teams you're supposed to beat, and when you find ways not to, well...the playoff window just shuts a little bit more each time.

With a concerted effort from all four lines and communication between the blueliners, Detroit has every chance to walk out of Tennessee with two points in their pockets.  We'll see if they're up to the task very soon.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Art of Kronwalling: Why is it Disappearing?

I like me a good Kronwalling.  Now technically, I like any big hit dished out on an opposing player that keeps their head on a swivel for the rest of the game, but there is nothing like watching a beautiful, signature move-esque hit from number 55 in the Winged Wheel.  I get shivers when I see Nik turn that corner on the backskate and see the rear-end wrecking ball careening toward its unsuspecting prey, and I hear explosions in my head when I see the carnage before me as that opposing player drags themselves back to their feet...if they're even able to. This is a far cry from advocating injury to anyone, but I just can't get enough big hits in a hockey game!

Kronwall is one of the best at what he does, because of HOW he does it, the Kronwalling, as it has lovingly come to be known in Hockeytown is almost as important a symbol of hockey in Detroit as the octopus! ...Almost. It is still a must-see for Wings fans, but lately I've noticed that the artist has been putting down his proverbial brush and has been painting with a more defensive-minded stroke.  To an extent, yes, I understand this.  Lidstrom retired. Stuart left.  Rafalski retired before them.  The biggest keys to Detroit's blueline have packed up and gone one after another for their own reasons, and that leaves Kronwall with a bunch of kids and nomadic journeyman.  Like it or not, for the time being the top D-man in the D is 55.  This means a few things: much more ice-time, a more diversified role such as constant use on the PP and PK as well as at even strength.  He's out there all...the...time.  He feels he needs to shore up his defensive game.

He thinks he needs to be a Nick Lidstrom.

At least that's how it feels to me, because Nik Kronwall has not played a Nik Kronwall-like game once this year.  We've seen flashes of it, like the hit on the Av's Jamie Mcginn, but it has been a decided rarity since the departure of The Perfect Human.  Big hits are part of Kronner's game, and as long as he keeps reining it in, other teams are going to take advantage of it.

Want a great example? Anyone who watched that heartbreaker of a game last night in Chicago would've seen the Hawks get a late scoring chance in Overtime that nearly kept us from even GOING to a shootout.  The Hawks entered the offensive zone by pressing up the boards, and were primed for a Kronwalling.  Instead of stapling his mark to the glass, Nik decided to BACK OFF HIS MAN and let him enter the zone! Wanting to remain defensively sound is one thing, but when your worrying about getting caught out of position or taking a penalty results in a good scoring chance on your goaltender, that's no smarter NOR any more responsible a decision.

I've watched teams attack our blueline more this year than any other recent season in memory.  Primarilly this is due to the transition period the Wings are going through and the lack of experience and depth on the back end.  I would also argue, however, that this aggressive push teams are making against our lines would get a bit more timid if number 55 stood a guy up here or there a little more often.

There is a balance to be had between a defensive game and a physical game.  The great players who play a physically defensive style find it.  Kronwall almost had it before Lidstrom left, but now he's all out of sync with himself and his team is suffering for it.  For the good of Hockeytown, Nik, get out there and Kronwall the hell out of somebody!

The Sarcasm Report: Samuelsson Working Hard to Get Back to Highly Paid, Overrated 2008 Form

With the regular season winding down, the Detroit Red Wings are in serious need of more unable-bodied, awkward, oft-injured, over paid wingers on their roster in order to make the playoffs. Current Red Wing Mikael Samuelsson believes he can be that type of player for his team.

" I certainly believe that I can fill a role like that," Samuelsson told reporters today, "It's not often you can replace a big plug on the second line and also on the point on the powerplay."

Samuelsson, who signed a two year contract worth a whopping $3 million per season, is currently injured with a pectoral strain and is apparently confused as to when or if he can return, and most importantly why he would want to attempt such a thing when it could ruin his teams chances of success.

"I think I have a pulled boob," reported Samuelsson, noting that it hurts when attempting to miss the net on the far side high and wide by fifteen feet.

"I can't even do a proper dump in or that stupid looking, obvious head fake thing I do. Don't even as me about high and wide shots around the glass. It's frustrating."

Ken Holland explained that while Samuelsson's injury isn't serious, they need him back in a hurry.

"Listen, we're in eighth spot in the conference. The way I see it, we're lacking that god awful type of player who can float around out there and not earn his paycheck."

Teammate Johan Franzen agreed, saying that it was difficult to replace Samuelsson's presence on the bench.

"Every time I look down the bench and don't see Sammy, I get really excited to try and mimic what he does so well," Franzen said, "I can tell it's working because no one really likes me anymore."

Holland was adamant that Samuelsson's contract had nothing to do with his ability as a hockey player. "When I was looking down the list in NHL 08 and saw Samuelsson's overall was like an 82 and on best lines he was slotted with Datsyuk and Zetteberg, I knew we had to sign him," he said, "Three million dollars for a player like that I'll do every time. Hell, I had to throw in a no trade clause to get him here."

Samuelsson is even baffled at the attention he is getting in Detroit. "It's amazing really. I never thought anyone in the right mind would give me three million a season and a no trade clause. Who would want me? Phoenix? Probably not."

Samuelsson has one goal this year.

"I just want to get back to my 2008 form," he said, "Remember that game against Pittsburgh where I somehow went end to end and scored on a wraparound? And then the same game scored another goal? How does that even happen?"

Mike Babcock is reportedly excited to get Samuelsson back sometime before his contract expires in two years. "Sammy is going to be on the top line, no doubt," Babcock reported, "I like how he makes three million dollars for every goal he scores."

Samuelsson is working hard to get back into the lineup, saying that "I'm basically just sitting around in my boxers eating Cheetohs," and "Man this is sweet I made three million dollars this year by not doing anything."

No word on if the Red Wings are trying to sign Samuelsson's future replacements; Kirk Maltby or Uwe Krupp.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Marleau difference, as Red Wings fall to Sharks in shootout 3-2

In the crisp air of this spring day (WTF spring, get your act straight!), the Red Wings were playing at home in the hunt for a playoff spot (WTF Red Wings, get your act straight!). « To win, they have to score goals » said Ken on Fox Sports Detroit, a very smart fellow, as Mickey mumbled something about how the Sharks were going to play a « nasty game ». Joe Thornton was slated to play with Torres and Wingels after a couple of horrible games, even though Big Joe’s parents were in the crowd. This game had a strange feel to it, making it a great Thursday night game at the Joe. The bottom-line was simple: if the Wings win, they’re two back of San Jose in 5th with the Wings having more regular or OT wins. If the Red Wings lose, they risk sliding to 9th if Phoenix wins against the woeful Calgary Flames tomorrow night.

Marleau potted a shorthanded goal in the first period and Abdelkader notched his 8th goal of the season in the 2nd as the Sharks captain would win it in shootout for the visting team.

Apparently, the blurry TV feed in the first 6 minutes of the game affected the Red Wings’ on-ice play aswell. The Red Wings just couldn’t make passes on the tape that resulted in numerous turnovers. The Sharks took away every single play the Wings could have done, thus the Red Wings didn’t score in the first. This Shark’s team was huge, even without Murray at defence and it was evident in the corners and in the neutral zone where the Sharks were very active with sticks. Marleau had the only goal of the period.

In the second period, Detroit came on harder and were making better plays, aka a normal Red Wings’ game. During the couple of first minutes, Niemi made a couple of big saves, stoned Emmerton and Mickey Redmond commented on it for the next 5 minutes, so nothing out of the ordinary. All was not lost however, Abdelkader scored after Franzen did all the hard work behind the net (barely, he waltzed in like Datsyuk on a shootout attempt), matching his jersey number’s total in goals for the year. The little things the Red Wings did in this period were better than in the first; Brunner made simple plays to pick the puck out of the Sharks way, Dekeyser made great heads-up passes, Andersson poked Niemi in the back when the latter went out to play the puck and Smith played « real-gud »hockey, like coach Mike Babcock likes to say. The Wings did fall in to penalty trouble in the latter part of the 2nd period, but the 5.3 million-dollar man made some amazing saves against Marleau to keep it tied.

The third period was a very critical point in the Red Wings’ season. If they win this one, they go into Chicago tomorrow with a little bit more confidence, having won against a team in front of them in the conference. If they lose, they might be playing a little more out of desperation against a Chicago team that doesn’t make a lot of mistake, especially on home ice where they’re 14-3-2. After a Burns’ penalty, Kindl makes them pay with a shot top shelf, where moms hide the cookies from the kids (sorry kids)!  After a couple of bang and crash plays, Brendan Smith does his best Don Cherry impression after getting caught for a holding penalty  and the Sharks get a PP marker with a Logan Couture backhander from a spot he hardly had room to do so. The pace of the game then slowed down at the 10 minutes in the 3rd period, with San Jose playing a tight-checking game and the Red Wings stalling, needing the valuable point. At the 5 minute mark, Abdelkader and Filppula had great chances individually, but nothing came out of it.

With each team getting the oh-so-valuable one point, they went at it with each team still playing it safe. In this period, we heard the ever-so-rare words of « Gomez with a shot » and « Andersson on the ice in OT ». Even with their best shots, Kronwall and Datsyuk couldn’t put it past Niemi, thus bringing this game to shootout.

In the shootout, Datsyuk kept it simple for a backhand goal against Niemi and Couture mimicked him to score against Howard. For the second attempt, Pavelski and Brunner didn’t score and Nyquist almost scored on the spin-o-rama move, but Niemi had an amazing toe save. Then, the one who started the scoring also finished it with Marleau going five-hole on Howard.

All in all, it was a hard-fought game that the Red Wings kept close and got a valuable point. Now, they have to rest up and play Poop-cago tomorrow night. Let’s hope the Wings can repeat the feat on the anniversary of their 61st win of the year in 1996, coincidently a 5-3 over the visiting Blackhawks. That year, the Wings broke the record of 60 set by Montreal in 1976-77. 

Howard's 6-Year Deal Has Risks

Jimmy Howard signed a deal worth $5.3 million a year today with the Detroit Red Wings, a move meant to keep Jimmah in Detroit for the next six years. The Red Wings have certainly locked up a very capable goaltender that has stole some games in this lockout shortened season.

But here's the thing; we all have questions on if the deal was good or bad. As we've pointed out before, his cap hit is tenth most among starting NHL goalies, which means he is at the bottom of the top third of the highest paid goaltenders in the NHL. That mad sense, right? Keep up with me.

A $5.3 million cap hit isn't a concern at all because the Red Wings have a buttload of cap space. The only thing that might be a concern is the length of the deal. Is $5.3 million a good deal right now? Of course. Howard has played well and earned a big pay raise. He is a clear cut starting goalie that has made the all star game already. He is a goalie that the team has to be comfortable with in their time of retooling.

However, do you really want a 35 year old Jimmy Howard making $5.3 million per season? Obviously that is yet to be seen, but my thinking is that a 35 year old had better be a stud - think Marty Brodeur. You don't see a ton of very successful 35+ goaltenders anymore; most are in their twenties.

What you have to keep in mind is that he doesn't have to be in Detroit the next six years if things don't go well. If Ken Holland is still around maybe he will actually make a move, although it's doubtful. The Red Wings also still have some pretty decent prospects between the pipes in Grand Rapids' Petr Mrazek, Saginaw's Jake Paterson and the potential signing of Northern Michigan's Alex Coreau. If they step up, they paly, no matter Jimmy's cap hit.

The bottom line is if they didn't give Howard what he wanted and he left, the Wings were uber screwed. None of those guys are ready to play yet and Jonas Gustavsson is basically a nightmare in net. Do you see any great free agent goalies out there? Probably not. Actually, definitely not.

On the open market Howard would have got a lot more than $5.3 million. I'd say the Red Wings got him for a bargain. Get ready for six more years of Jimmy.

Six! More! Years!

                In case you missed it, and I’m not entirely sure you could have, the Great and Mighty Twitter has erupted. A minor eruption, but an eruption all the same. According to Aaron Ward of TSN (and other secondary sources too numerous to list) the Wings are close to or have re-signed Jimmy Howard to 6 years/5.3 mil per. (And then they weren’t close and then they were. As of this writing it seemed a done deal.)

                For some reason this made the Twitter angry. “We shouldn’t spend that much on a goalie, we have other guys to re-sign! He’s not elite! That's not the Red Wings' way!” said the Twitter, and for some reason people thought it made sense. People who must surely realize hallmarks of the "Red Wings' way," impenetrable defense and Homer in the net offense, have passed. People who have watched this team night in, night out and commented on innumerable occasions that Jimmy was the only thing keeping us in it. The only Wing who showed up. The only Wing worth mentioning.

                And thus I think a fitting place to start with a rebuttal to the anti-Jimmy-Contract Twitter storm is the unmentionables. We are a team that signed Samuelsson and Quincey to $3 million contracts EACH (nearly 4mil for Quincey). And while everyone and their mother agrees this was an idiotic thing to do, it doesn’t change that we threw over $6 million at two of the least useful players to pull on a Red Wings’ sweater in recent memory. Another guy, Colaiacovo, is getting $2.5 million to exist on the very edges of the collective memory of our fandom . If you’re Jimmy Howard, and you play your heart and soul out nightly to keep this team in games they often have no business being in, what do you do if that goes unrequited? What do you do if the team you give your all for doesn’t think you’re worth at least double Carlo Colaiacovo?

                First I would take a minute to feel properly insulted. Then, I would look at a goalie roster that includes Jonas “I think flopping around like a scared puppet is a sound goaltending strategy” Gustavsson and the inexperienced young guy Mrazek and say, simply: “Well, maybe you can trade for Luongo. I’m sure you can justify *that* cap hit, right?” And I’d walk away. I wouldn’t even look back.

                The scenario is a nightmare and we all know it. There’s no one who is going to replace what Jimmy does for us for the price Jimmy is willing to accept. Not right now, at least. End of. And while I still have major doubts about Jimmy in the postseason, this is the first season in a while that we finally see what it’s like not to assume the postseason is a given. This season began a new era, where we can’t coast by on an incredible defense or solid offense. We need a regular season goalie before we can even dream of the playoffs. That’s Jimmy, and in my mind that’s the end of the argument. This contract, should it come with that number, is a necessity.

                Which brings us to the “What Now?” portion of our day. According to everyone’s favorite bearer of bad news,, Jimmy’s potential deal would leave us with about $12 million (we could add several million more if we buy out some…*ahem* less than ideal signings). $12 million to sign a fair few people (here’s the link if you want to see for yourself The issue is more specific than what now, it’s: Who’s the odd man (men) out? This is my dream, folks:

                Not re-signing Filppula is a given (in my mind at least). Maybe he’ll fly off to a place we dare not mention, and maybe there he’ll win a trophy that breaks our hearts. Maybe afterward he’ll end up on Florida, or Phoenix, or some other team who is so firmly embedded in NHL obscurity we’re not even sure if they’re real anymore. Yes, maybe he’ll pull a Kopecky (who is getting paid $3 million a year, for anyone keeping score of bad deals at home.) In any event, it’s Filppula’s business. For the good of the Red Wings, it can no longer be our business.

                Another given is buyouts (compliance buyouts for EVERYONE! Or…two guys). This is the fun part, where we get to imagine we’ve never heard of certain guys
                Quincey who? ($3.775 million)

                Samuelsson who? ($3 million)

                Carlo I can't spell his last name to save my life who? (Ordinary buyout, $2.5 million)

Which brings us to a fairly delicious roughly $21 million available if the Howie deal is signed.

Remind me again why you were so worried about $5.3 million for Howard, Twitter. Remind me.

                It’s good to have our goalie locked for a bit. And if we concentrate on signing our young guys with bright futures, ending this horrible emergency vet signing strategy that saw us bring in Sammy and Cola etc., and picking up one or two above average guys in the offseason then I think next year we have a lot less to fear. And we’re not even going to think about that whole “Pavel’s probably going back to Russia when his contract ends” thing. We are going to crawl back into our safe little “Jimmy for six more years!” bunkers and not think about it even once. Not. Once. Oh god. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Poll: With Darren Helm Shut Down, is Deadline Decision in Question...?

With Darren Helm now out for the year, management's choice to stand pat at the deadline was... free polls 

When the news broke yesterday that Coach Mike Babcock had released a statement confirming the speedy, gritty forward Darren Helm was to be shut down for the rest of the season due to his back issues, there were two things that immediately crossed my mind.  The first came to me as I watched my Twitter feed explode in frustration as, despite the public outcry of regret that we had lost our dear Helmer for the whole season, there wasn't a single person that was surprised about it, myself included.  The second thing that crossed my mind came immediately after, when I realized: If it was so obvious to everyone else in the world that Helmer wasn't going to be back this year, why would Ken Holland and the management/coaching staff wait till now to play it safe and prepare under the assumption that we WOULDN'T have Helm in the lineup?

What this now means is that one of our main roster guys who we desperately needed to get back to bolster the depth lines on the Wings is gone.  That's a big loss to the checking, faceoff (Helm has been pretty consistently at or over 50% at the dot over the last two seasons), and forecheck/puck retrieval game.  Now, the only mainstays left to count on coming back are Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson.  Bert's back is also his issue, and it's impossible to say if he doesn't end up tweaking something further and ending up like Helm, while Sammy just...seems to find new and inventive ways to get himself hurt and not play.

And now, here we are.  The Red Wings have 9 games remaining, and coming into today, they currently sit in 8th in the West.  Most teams have finally caught up to Detroit in games played, but we have Dallas currently over our shoulder just 2 points behind, same GP, and we only play one more time this year.  Needless to say, our entrance into this year's playoffs is less than assured at this juncture.

The point that I'm driving at here is this: Considering that we had roster issues from day one, and then we saw Detroit become absolutely riddled with injuries from which we still have not fully recovered, it begs the question of, 'Was it truly the right call by management--I realize it's not all on Kenny Holland's shoulders--to not kick some tires a little harder and try to pull the trigger on at least one deal to reinforce the lineup before the end of the regular season?

There are some arguments on both sides of this potential debate.  From the viewpoint of standing pat being a wise choice, you concede the fact that, regardless of what the Wings do this year, it is still going to be a 'transitional' year, nothing will change that.  You do not lose a player the caliber of Nicklas Lidstrom and stay as great a force in the league as you were the year before, it is not possible.  Ad to that the retirement of veteran Tomas Holmstrom and the departure of blueliner Brad Stuart, and you've lost 3 key pieces to your lineup.  Trades and free agency do not replace guys like these, at least not fully.  It's easy to look at all those losses and go, "Oh shit, we need to snap up anything on the market that will bite!", but that is irresponsible.  Detroit knows it has great, young talent coming up through the Grand Rapids Griffins and are ready in some cases--such as Nyquist, Tatar, Andersson and Lashoff--and some almost to that point, like Sheahan, just needing a bit more time to marinate in the AHL.  You give some of these guys roster spots to fill the holes and get some NHL playing time and see what they can do, and in some cases you get a nice surprise.  With that, you simply try to weather the storm and if you get into the post-season, well...everything from there begins anew, and you make your own fate.

On the other side, however, you can argue that anything less than a product designed to have the best chance to win itself a Cup that year is a failure.  There's not a single team on opening night that says to itself, "Yeah, we'll just do our best this year, but the Cup? No way.".  It is the goal of every team, every year, and to take actions that will undermine that goal are irrational.  Holes in the lineup? Fill them with the best talent you can.  Someone is underperforming? Advise them that if their play does not improve, they could either be sent down or shopped to another team in a package deal.  Now granted, when you look at the offseason acquisitions Detroit made, the only one I agree with to this point is Jordin Tootoo, as we've needed a player like that since...well, since we won our last Cup, really.  Beyond that, however, the pickups we made were...head-scratchers at best.  With even less options at the deadline, and knowing every team in playoff contention is looking to ramp up their squad with guys from the teams in the Seller's Cellar, the urgency to get something has to be palpable.  There were players at this year's trade deadline that would have made the Red Wings a better team, but for myriad reasons, we did not make the moves.

So now, we rise and fall with what we had available at the beginning, minus one of our best grinders and a great guy on faceoffs.  Helm will sorely be missed, but the Red Wings's fate is not sealed just yet  A few wins and we're in, a few losses and...well, we don't need to think about that JUST yet.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Where everybody knows your name

Everyone knows the names Nyquist, Tatar and Smith: these are arguably the top prospects in the Red Wings organisation, but what about the lesser known ones, like Backman, Jensen, and Jarnkrok? This guy thinks that the Red Wings right now have the deepest prospect pool since, well, ever.

The Red Wings have a tendency so over-ripen prospects in Grand Rapids or overseas (so I’ve heard) like Tomas Tatar, a veteran of 260 AHL games, Jakub Kindl, a veteran of 237 games and is now a regular in the winged wheel uniform and Gustav Nyquist, who’s a case on its own. The latter has his butt marks permanently etched on the Grand Rapids bus, he’s been up and down more times than Datsyuk on a breakaway.

But enough with the clichés, let’s get to the prospects.

Jensen, Backman and Jarnkrok are three of the Red Wings’ most unique prospects. Each brings a unique skillset and different baggage to a prospect pool that already boats a top goaltending prospect (Mrazek), two defensemen that could look like a Suter (Ouellet) and Weber (Sproul) pairing in Nashville in a couple of years and Hossa-lite (Jurco) that has a lot of lights.

Matthias Backman is a smooth skating, puck moving defensemen from Linkoping, Sweden who is playing his second full year with his hometown team, Linkoping, in the Swedish Elite League (SEL). Not overly big at 6’2’’, 176lbs, Backman was picked in the 5th round, 146th overall by the Red Wings in 2011. When he was taken, the feeling was that Rafalski, Lidstrom, Stuart and Kronwall were going to play at least three more years, so Red Wings’ management weren’t in a rush to get an NHL-ready defensemen. Backman took his time and developed in Europe for 3-4 years and boy did it pay off. He’s top-10 in scoring for SEL defensemen and is the team’s top-D at 21, which is no small feat. A lot of scouts think he’ll pan out as a top-four defenseman, comparable to Alexander Edler. Not bad for a 5th rounder.

Nick Jensen is an in-your-face defensemen, drafted in the 5th round, 150th by the Red Wings in 2009; apparently, the 5th round is where the Red Wings pick up defensemen these last years. Not a beast physically at 6’1’’, 195 lbs, he still likes to hit and is a fierce competitor. As Jiri Fischer said, “He’s in people’s faces, he’s taking people’s space away thanks to his skating, and he makes great outlet passes. He’s had a great year and we’re really happy with his development.” Remember John Wickstrom, the Red Wings 5th rounder defensemen in 1997? No, me neither. Picking in the 5th round is still a long-shot, but the fact that Jensen was talked about by Pierre McGuire on National TV during the Red Wings vs St-Louis chess match on Sunday means he’s come a long way since being an unknown last year.
And now for the inspiration for this blog post, the guy that gives me hope that new and exciting prospects are a reality. Calle Jarnkrok was picked in the 2nd round, 51st overall in 2010. This was after a disappointing 2nd round lost in the playoff to the San Jose Sharks, who are now on my bitter-list, with Colin Campbell for not allowing Al to swing the octopus in the 2008 playoffs. His style emulates that of one Henrik Zetterberg. That’s right, this 5’11’’, 165lbs center is supposed to be this team’s next number two center as soon as next year.  He’s been playing with Brynas in the SEL, where’s he’s been in the top-2 scoring the last two years for his team. He’s described as a two-way center with a very high hockey IQ and helped his team win the SEL championship last year. This year’s been tougher on Jarnkrok, with him being held pointless while Brynas was eliminated in four games, but he still did finish 8th in SEL scoring with 42 points. All was not lost for ‘’Iron Hook’’, the Red Wings have assigned him to Grand Rapids for last nine games of the season (he has 2 assists in 6 games while adapting to the North American ice surface) before playing in the World Hockey Championships in his home country of Sweden April 15th. In maybe what is the understatement of the year, Jarnkrok has a ton of pressure on his shoulders being touted as the next Zetterberg.
With Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson graduating from prospects to full-time NHLers, the Grand Rapid Griffins will need some reinforcements to play under coach Blashill and these three prospects will make sure that the Midwest division title has to go through Grand Rapids.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Costly Mistakes Sink 2-Dimensional Red Wings VS Blues

The end of the season is in sight, and the Detroit Red Wings found themselves needing a win today on home ice to try and maintain their position in the Western Conference standings against the team that trailed them by only a point: the St. Louis Blues.  It was the day of the press conference confirming what everyone already knew--though still enjoyed hearing--about the 2014 Winter Classic.  It was a day where the Wings needed to be tough, and resilient, and smart.

Of those three things, we witnessed the first two.  The last one cost Detroit dearly.

Detroit dropped their home game this afternoon in what was an arduous match of grinding, uninteresting hockey for long stretches.  The play would funnel from one end of the ice to the other with a scoring chance here or there, and then end up in the opposite zone, where we would see much of the same.  The only variant from this would come from one Chris Porter at the 16:28 mark of the 2nd period, when Detroit defenseman Jakub Kindl made the poor decision to try and remove Barret Jackman's leg at the knee.  Needless to say, it failed, which prompted Jackman to move the puck up the ice, and the Blues' Porter would drive the net and reap the benefits of more poor play by the Red Wings.  With at least two red jerseys around him, no one made the move to check Porter's stick or clear the puck, and Porter managed to knock the loose puck clean past goaltender Jimmy Howard for what would be the game-winning goal.

Detroit may have had a hope to come back late in the 3rd period, but the final killer mistake came from veteran blueliner Niklas Kronwall, who closed his hand over the puck as he was pinching in behind the Blues goal line, drawing a 2-minute penalty.  Although the Wings still clawed at St. Louis with everything they had left and got some scoring chances, the loss of one skater in the waning moments sealed their fate.

The first question that must be asked (as much as it pains anyone to agree with Pierre McGuire) is this: Why, if you're Jakub Kindl, do you decide that the better play is not to dump the puck in deep to give the forwards a chance for puck control deep in enemy territory, but rather to let rip a prayer of a shot that only has the slightest fraction of getting past the defender right in front of you?? With one blown decision, the entire game was written in stone.  I had mentioned on Twitter directly after this goal that the Porter goal was going to hurt us bad, that this type of slogging, grinding game was not going to see a multitude of goals.  Sure enough, the goal didn't just hurt, it downright killed the Wings.

The second question has to be: If you're Kronwall, why do you even risk touching the puck with your glove when you know the officials will be looking for it in the dying minutes of a close game?  Yes, there is desperation to keep the puck alive and in your team's possession, but not at the risk of hamstringing yourself completely, which is exactly what happened.

Detroit did get it's share of chances offensively, but it was one of those games where the hockey gods simply weren't buying what the Wings were selling.  The greatest of these chances came from Gustav Nyquist, who got free and clear on a breakaway for a chance against St. Louis goalie Brian Elliot.  Nyquist elevated his shot, but the elbow of Elliot was too nimble and managed to deflect the puck up and out of play.  Although Nyquist would be seen looking skyward and face-palming a bit, it was a good effort, and the closest Detroit would come to a goal all day.

Many of the other chances the Wings tried to cash in on were one-and-dones, because despite the outcries of everyone else, it seems that coach Mike Babcock just cannot get the message through to his players that if you want to succeed, you have to work for those extra chances off the initial shots.  Rebounds, loose pucks, battles on the boards, if you aren't getting and/or winning these, you risk spending more time skating up and down the rink when the puck gets cleared easily out of the offensive zone and back down toward your own net.  This is exactly what happened to Detroit today.  At very few junctures was there effective and sustained pressure in St. Louis's own end, and despite Elliot playing well, he was neither tested nor pressured the way he should have been if the Red Wings really wanted to even up the game.

It continues to seem as though coach Babcock refuses to see reason, that most teams in the West have gotten wise to Detroit's offensive flow and have found ways to diffuse it off to the boards and away from the middle, where it is most effective.  What we end up seeing almost every game is Detroit players being forced up the wings to either take perimeter shots or cut to the middle with the puck themselves.

There are 2 problems with this: First, if you're cutting to the middle of the ice with the puck, you're going to get swarmed and lose the puck.  Second, if all the shots are coming from the perimeter, and no one is going to the middle and trying to create a net-front presence, you most often end up with yet another one-and-done scoring chance, if the puck makes it to the crease at all.

Then you have players like Filppula who seem to be allergic to the opposition net and peel off the moment they get to the blueline.  There is a timidness to both drive to the net to just rip shots to the net and push for rebounds.  The fancy stuff is primarily not working unless your name is Datsyuk or Zetterberg, so it needs to stop.  That initiative needs to come from the coaching staff, but so far there has been nothing, no change to the offensive style and no adaptation during the game when the opposition defense stymies Detroit for half the game or more.

It is true that Mike Babcock is not Scotty Bowman, but in the wild, you adapt or you die, and today, the S.S. Hockeytown just sprung a major leak and is taking on water.  With 9 games remaining, the ship cannot afford another hole, or it risks sinking for the first time in over two decades.