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.