NHL Happy Hour: Red Wings Playoff Streak to Stay Alive

Writing for the first time in a while is a weird experience. You have done it so many times before, but picking it back up is almost like finding yourself in your friend’s new car. You are confident that you can drive it just fine, but for whatever reason it still feels a bit weird and you are a bit nervous. I guess some of you might not get that analogy but what is important is that I have finally found some time to write down some thoughts about hockey.

Reading previews for the season if you are a Detroit Red Wings fan must have been fairly depressing. No matter how much excitement there was surrounding the unstoppable kids generation that is coming from Grand Rapids, the overall taste that was left in my mouth was purely bitter; the bitter disappointment that comes from 99% of the experts leaving the Wings out of the playoffs and making the sexy pick of predicting an end of an era.

23 seasons in a row the mighty Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs. The dominant streak has yielded many awards along the way, including four Stanley Cups. This is as close as you can get to a dynasty in the modern day era, something that maybe the LA Kings are currently trying to accomplish themselves. What has come of the streak is expectations and those expectations are about winning the big trophy. Nothing else will do.

It is funny how things change over two plus decades.

For the last few years the expectations have been changing and while some of the Wings faithful would howl at the thought that the Red Wings are not a Cup contender anymore, the reality has set in: the Wings have become a playoff bubble species, rather than a top predator.

I am a Red Wings fan and have been lucky enough to be alive for the entire streak as it reminds of how old I am each year. As a fan, I am puzzled by “experts” picking this year to clip the Wings out of the playoffs.

I try to drink a bit less these days, because it is harder and harder to recover from the few beers that lead to a few shots that lead to a headache and increased pants size. I try to eat healthier and overall maintain myself a bit more than even two years ago, simply due to my age. There is a constant that no one has yet been able to stop. It is time. Time will get you whether you want it or not and I can now relate to older players more than ever before.

Playing even at a simple beer league level has become an experience that I now prepare for. I joined the gym and bike before games for a few minutes. I eat better and certainly do not want to play after tailgating all day on Sundays. It is not that I cannot play, but I want to keep the compete level high. I do not want to be a pylon that can’t back check anymore. All of the things that came so easy to me are now that much harder.

The point here is that I get what it feels like to try and play at a high level (relatively speaking) even though your body is slowly slowing down after years of abuse. The Wings have two of their best players facing the same music.

Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are elite players in every sense of the word. People will dissect them as much as they want, but after all is said and done, these two are elite. Elite level of play in hockey is one of the hardest things in the world to hold on to. The game is just so fast now and so physical that older players tend to get hurt more and more. It is rare for players to stay competitive after the grandfatherly age of 35 nowadays, unless you are a freak of nature like Teeemu Selanne or Jaromir  Jagr.

Health is something that is, and will continue to be, the number one concern for Red Wings fans. Zetterberg had finally resolved the back issue that he has had on and off for the longest time and Datsyuk has finally had time to heal his knee and whatever other undisclosed injury he might have been nursing. The amount of games these two have to play each year is only bested by their teammates. Yet, most pundits predict the wings to miss the playoffs simply because no one believes Pavel and Henrik can stay healthy enough to be impactful.

I disagree.

The Wings are a different team when “Dats” and “Z” are dominating the play. There’s no doubt about that, but even last year it was proven that with consistent goaltending from Jimmy Howard and more front and center ice time from the kids, the Wings are still no pushover.

Last spring was a good lesson for everyone. A lesson in how to deal with growing up and what it takes to win. Boston is a seasoned team that had the experience and toughness to simply will themselves on the youthful Wings during the playoffs.

Success is measured differently in different cities. The spoiled fans of the Detroit Red Wings leaned in with scolding eyes during the off-season. The disappointment was large and boy was it loud.

Again, I disagree.

The first eight games have been proof of how good this team is. The tests came early and often this year. The first three games against Boston and Anaheim, with slight disappointments to follow in Montreal and Philadelphia. I would be betting that most fans are excited as hell in the performance the Wings have put up so far.

The biggest reason to get excited is the possession game is still there for Detroit. The Red Wings are ranked 5th in CorsiFor% five-on-five after the short amount of games, which is very impressive considering who they played on the schedule. The point being, teams that control the puck do better than other teams and the Detroit Red Wings have been very good at that all along. There is no big secret that it’s what wins games over a long enough period and an 82-game season is exactly that: a long period of time.

There are things that can break a team like injuries, but if you carry a strong system built around holding on to the puck, it is much easier to deal with said injuries to star players. With key saves (which were slightly missing last year), you can win games even without star players.

This is the Wings secret, as they have always been about puck possession and will continue to be. The players they have now are capable of this game plan and while the record is not something to write home about right now, consider that they have scored 0 goals on their powerplay in the last five games (19 attempts), their style of play so far is very encouraging.

The Wings will struggle this season, as most teams will, but will also endure and celebrate another season of playoff hockey in Detroit. There are no ways about it, injuries or not, the Wings may not be a contender but still are a damn good hockey team. Plus there is one key factor most forget about the Stanley Cup playoffs, which is you have to be in it to win it.

Cheers to keeping the streak alive.


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