What the hell is going on in Detroit?
Most Red Wings fan are used to seeing the Wings in the playoffs and some have literally grown up with Red Wings being in post season year in and year out for their entire lives. This kind of cuddling and massaging of a fan’s ego can do wonders for self-esteem and add to the beloved entitlement factor (you really saw this during the Parise/Suter sweepstakes). It is not the fans fault really. You tend to get a bit snobby when it comes to your team when not only are they always in the playoffs, but they are expected and predicted to have a good shot to run at the cup every year.
You can barely walk in the smugness that is left behind by most Red Wings fans, my boss and me included.
This notion, or expectation, is somewhat diminished today, right now. The Wings have been called “old” before (yawn) and have been questioned about their ability to make the playoffs before. It happened when coach Scotty Bowman retired, it happened when Steve Yzerman retired, and it happened when Fedorov left town. It happened once again when Lidstrom retired and Brad Stuart departed to play for the Sharks. This attempt to predict when Detroit is left out of the playoffs has put many pundits and fans of other teams face first into a giant cow turd.
So, is there finally merit to Detroit’s fall from grace? Have the pundits and jealous fans of other teams finally seen the day the Red Wings fall short and crumble to the bottomless pits amongst the likes of the Leafs and Habs of the world (sorry, cheap shot)?
Well, not exactly.
You see, we have seen the Red Wings play under the new leadership of Henrik Zetterberg and without Niklas Lidstrom for three games. While the first game was a complete shellacking by the Blues, the last two games against the Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars were not bad. Not bad for a team that is still trying to find its chemistry and let us not take out the injury debacle that is happening right now out of the equation completely – some players should come back as soon as Friday, thank God.
Everyone is pointing to the horrible defense of the Wings. Between HFBoards wanting Kyle Quincey’s head, correctly (figuratively, not literally), and quick judgment of Smith’s ability to play top-tier minutes, the fans are quick to get their torches out (remember, it is the Wings’ fans). Yet, I say the defense will be fine and Jimmy Howard can definitely make a save or two on his own as he showed during the Dallas game. The main issue the Red Wings are having right now is not with the defense, but more so with the offense.
As you can see from the image above we are struggling on our power play and we are struggling to score goals. The shots are there the past two games, so to me this is a sign of good things to come. There is no way a team with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, and Brunner will not start scoring more goals while shooting that many pucks on net. What is of great concern here are those PP numbers I highlighted.
Before you start saying we miss #5 quarterbacking it, the issue started last year while he was still on the team, as seen below here:
The team finished the season going 9 for 78 and had a stretch of 8 games without a PP goal. Horrible. This is also why the team finished the season with a terrible record, 8-15. That was some ugly hockey that continued into the playoffs and resulted in the first round elimination.
So what is the problem on this PP, and when did it start?
It started right after Detroit’s record-setting victory against the San Jose Sharks. Detroit won its 23rd straight at Joe Louis Arena, setting an NHL multiple-season mark for home dominance by holding on to beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2. MacDonald was in net for that one and had been on a six-game win streak. The next game against Chicago, Detroit was without Datsyuk and things turned sour. Datsyuk had a knee surgery, and while I do not think this was entirely the issue, it most definitely hurt the Wings.
Important to note is that Detroit at that point was a top team in the West and everyone was again buzzing about a cup run, while soaking Detroit Red Wings in compliments and the ageless greatness.
After Datsyuk went down the team was not the same. Down the stretch, even when Datsyuk did come back, Detroit’s wings were clipped due to injuries to Franzen, Ericsson, Kindl, and Lidstrom. All of these injuries came at once and caused lots of line juggling by Mike Babcock. The addition of the AHL players into the mix surely would take time to get things going, and we see the same thing happening again this year.
I think the best case scenario here, and when the things were really going well for the Wings last year, is when they had Datsyuk and Zetterberg on two first lines. Datsyuk needs to touch the puck as much as possible and set up guys like Franzen, Bertuzzi, and Brunner for shots. Zetterberg needs to touch the puck as well, but he shoots more often and is really good with Filppula on the wing. Filppula is more affective on the wing as well, as we found out last year where he broke out to score over 60 points for the first time in his career. Slap a kid like Nyquist who is the same, if not better than, Hudler and watch him find success on the line with Filps and Hank. Do not forget that Hudler had a career year that yielded him a big contract over in Calgary.
The solution is really not to panic, but let the injuries settle and make sure to find a working power play. You need to let Kronwall drop the bomb from the point as much as possible and keep everyone moving. Getting this power play chugging and separating the Euro twins to me is the only way to get this train on the right track and to have another successful season.
Let me know if you agree.
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photo credit: Anna Enriquez via photopin cc