Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Blues' Clues: What St. Louis taught Detroit in Season Opener

Well now, that was...something.  That was definitely something.

What -it- was, sadly, was the Red Wings' first game of the season against the highly touted St. Louis Blues, and boy was it a stinker.  Detroit came into this opening game with all the same question marks that loomed before and during the lockout.  By the time the game was over, those question marks just hovered a little more menacingly over the head of Hockeytown.  With five special teams goals--four on the power-play and one short-handed--the Blues absolutely handed it to Detroit this evening, cruising along to a 6-0 victory.

Of the questions that were looming prior to opening puck-drop,  the defensive corp was arguably the largest.  Although there is rust from the lockout, the excuse falls flat as every team is dealing with the same thing.  St. Louis, by comparison was defensively solid all night long, manhandling the Wings every time they got any sort of a sniff at a scoring chance.  Detroit was outshot, outhit and outworked.  The Wings did manage to win the majority of face-off chances, but a hit from David Backes or anyone else on St. Louis and the puck was promptly turned over.

It only took a little over six minutes for the end to come, as Vladimir Tarasenko netted his first NHL goal thanks to terrible coverage by Kyle Quincey, making it 1-0 St. Louis.  This would eventually be the game-winner.  Kyle Quincey actually made a pretty good bid for player of the game...just for the Blues, not the Red Wings.  Similarly in the second period, score now 2-0, Quincey missed his mark again, and got burned by Tarasenko a second time to make it 3-0 St. Louis under a minute into the second frame.  All three goals to this point were power-play goals.  Fifteen minutes later, T.J. Oshie would be gifted a scoring chance while short-handed, and did not disappoint the onlooking Blues fans, making it 4-0.  The third period did not prove any gentler for Detroit, as Chris Stewart, recipient of St. Louis' 2nd goal, scored once more--again on the power-play--and brought the rout to 5-0 with just over a minute played.  At this point, coach Mike Babcock mercifully put goaltender Jimmy Howard out of his misery and gave the reins over to new Wings netminder Jonas Gustavsson.  Within another fifteen minutes, though, he too would be breached, as Patrik Berglund got his first goal of the year and made it 6-0 Blues.

So, all told, this was in fact a terrible game for Detroit.  But it is worth noting a few things:

1 - This was the first game back from the lockout, everyone knew there would be ugly hockey for the first few weeks, and this is no exception, it just made our already apparent concerns more noticeable.  Yes, the D was paper-thin and yes, the usual suspects of inconsistency were up to their old tricks, but this is far from the start of a normal NHL season.  Things will improve.

2 - We still have the trade deadline to address finding some dupe to take Quincey off our hands.  Ken Holland will do everything he can to keep this team in the hunt for the Cup, and with a short season, one hopes that Kenny's list of protected players is very short indeed.  After the lockout rust is gone, players -will- need to step up and play consistently, or risk being sent packing.

3 - Yes, Detroit lost the opening game to a division opponent and did so with a grandiose amount of ugly, but for all the stomping St. Louis laid out on the Wings tonight, they still only got two points.  Should the tables turn in the next meeting between the two, all is square, and it is very possible for that to happen.

So, what did St. Louis teach Detroit this evening? That the Red Wings are very human, but this is more of a reminder than a lesson.  Detroit knows that the odds are against them this season, some argue that their playoff appearance streak could come to an end this season, but Detroit has proven nay-sayers wrong in the past, and are perfectly capable of doing so again this year.

The defense will get better, the forwards will gel.  Detroit's top line of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Brunner were by far the most effective forward line out here, even if that didn't amount to much.  Guys like Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula need to up their game and carry some of the offensive load.  Jimmy Howard needs to forget about tonight's events and focus on keeping his team in games, which he did tonight for long stretches, until the onslaught just went too long and put the game totally out of reach.

Next up for Detroit is a date with another division foe, Columbus.  The Wings are likely looking ahead to this matchup to start working on what they've learned from what was a dreary night in Missouri for the Red Wings.