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.