Sunday, January 27, 2013

Preview: Wings Look to Ground Blackhawks

Detroit (2-2-0) @ Chicago (5-0-0)

The Red Wings seem to have found life as they enter the 2nd week of play in the 2013 season, but now face a team with much different fortunes of late.  The Blackhawks' perfect start to the season has been a talking point in the media, but is no reason to underestimate a Detroit squad that looks like it is finally getting its wings back--both figuratively and literally.

Despite the shaky start, Detroit's top lines are starting to produce goals and the defence is starting to settle in--mostly.  Though there is still much concern about the play of Kyle Quincey--and, to a lesser extent, Brendan Smith--Brian Lashoff has played admirably and Kent Huskins has also helped fill the void on the blueline quite well.  The Red Wings' powerplay has also found some spark, but face a Chicago PK that has done its team proud thus far, killing 16 of 17.

Jimmy Howard will most likely have the start tonight in net and should continue his solid play from last week's games.  If Howard and the forwards can both get going at the same time, it should help ease the strain on an admittedly weak defensive unit.

A win tonight in Chicago for the Red Wings would deny the Hawks a record-setting evening, as they aim for their longest season-opening winning streak in club history.

So not only can the Wings creep closer to the top of the division, but they would do so while rubbing salt in the fresh wound of an old enemy.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Geek Week: A Look Back at Opening Week 2013

It's nice to go into a weekend and be able to smile with regards to one's favorite hockey team.

Welcome to Geek Week, a week-in-review article where the Detroit Red Wings go under the microscope and we take a closer look at some key points that arose over the last 7 days.  Last week was opening week for the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 NHL season, and the Red Wings were likely well aware heading into the start of this campaign how significant each game would be.

So, how did the Red Wings do in their first week back? Take a look:

01/19 @ STL: 0 - 6 (L)
01/21 @ CBJ: 4 - 3 (SOW)
01/22 V DAL: 1 - 2 (L)
01/25 V MIN: 5 - 3 (W)

A number of variables came into play with regards to last week's results.  Yes, there was lockout rust.  Yes, there were mounting injuries from all directions.  Yes, Nick Lidstrom is still retired.  The Red Wings looked out-worked in three of these four games, only really coming to life by the time Minnesota came to town.  Take away the final game of the week, and Detroit was outscored 11-5.  An even worse area to examine was the powerplay.  Until the game against the Wild, the Wings went an unimaginable 0 for 15 with the man advantage.  They also squandered a 5 on 3 in the Minnesota match, but ended the night 2 for 4, which earns them a bit of mercy.  The only consistent player on the ice for Detroit seemd to be Jimmy Howard, who has played better over these four games than his numbers would suggest.  In all four games, Howard has given his team chances to win, they just had not been responding in kind until Friday night.

Weekly Leaders
Goals: Datsyuk, Bertuzzi, Brunner (2)
Assists: Datsyuk, Kronwall (4)
Points: Datsyuk (6)

Successful Experiment of the Week
Out of everything that's happened this last week, the one aspect that has been the biggest surprise is the play of one Brian Lashoff.  Apologies to Damien Brunner, who has been sensational in his own right, but with the main concern for the Red Wings being their depleted blueline, the way Lashoff has stepped up to the task of playing in the NHL has been admirable.  There have been stretches where one can make the argument that Brian Lashoff has been the best Detroit defenseman on the ice.  As someone on Twitter mentioned, management needs to talk to this kid and tell him to look into Metro Detroit housing, because if he keeps playing like this he isn't going anywhere.

Failed Experiment of the Week
Most of last week was dismal for Wings fans, but the bane of many was number 27 in red, Kyle Quincey.  How far can one fall?  Quincey started his career in Detroit and was a promising looking young defender, but after he was sent away, then brought back at arm-and-leg prices, the return was far from prodigal.  Kyle struggled at the end of last year and many felt (and hoped) that he just hadn't been given enough time to gel with his teammates and get back into the system properly.  Sadly, that does not seem to be the case, as Quincey seems worse this season than he was in the last.  In four games he is -2, despite Detroit having scored 5 goals in last night's game.  Apparently that was just good enough to erase everything except the two terrible breaks he gave up to St. Louis rookie Vladimir Tarasenko in the season opener.  Some fans think fellow blueliner Brendan Smith is also struggling at the start of this season, but at least Smith has kept himself out of the penalty box all but once this year thus far.

Key Ingredient
If the Minnesota game showed Hockeytown fans anything, it showed that health may be the dealbreaker for the Red Wings.  Todd Bertuzzi's return to the lineup was greeted with an onslaught of Detroit goals the likes of which was not even fathomable over the previous three contests.  The defense is still very banged up, and it will take a lot of effort for the Wings to keep themselves competitive as more and more bodies get back to 100%.

With the first week of the season behind us, there is still a little bitterness in the back of the throat, but the week ended on a high note, and promises bigger and better things to come.  Next week looks like this:

01/27 @ CHI
01/29 V DAL
02/01 V STL
02/02 @ CBJ

Not a favorable week by any stretch, but one that Detroit can walk away from on top.  With momentum now on their side, Detroit must keep the energy going and pile on more wins now if they want to keep themselves in the playoff picture.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Preview: Detroit Dances with Dallas in Home Opener

The Wings look to add to the success they found in Columbus and bring home a win in Detroit's home opener this evening, when the Red Wings face off against the Dallas Stars.  After a terrible start in St. Louis, Detroit battled hard for a win against the BlueJackets, coming out on top by way of a shootout victory thanks to Swiss star Damien Brunner.  Now sitting at 1-1-0, the Wings need to keep the momentum going, despite a rash of injuries that is plaguing their roster.

Detroit's opponent tonight, the Dallas Stars, have managed the same start, just in reverse order of the Red Wings.  Having claimed victory in their home opener against the Coyotes, the Stars went to Minnesota and came away with nothing, losing to the Wild 1-0.

It will be interesting to see now, after one terrible game and one not-so-terrible game, how Detroit's defence holds up against the Stars, including the newest addition to the Detroit blueline, Kent Huskins.  Huskins was brought in to shore up the defenses after Jonathan Ericsson and Carlo Colaiacovo both were lost to injury.  It was hoped that Huskins would be ready to jump in for tonight's match.

They will be dealing with the likes of Loui Eriksson, Ray Whitney, and newly acquired star Jaromir Jagr, who seems to be set to continue his age-defying play as he already leads the Dallas Stars with 4 points.

Which Red Wings squad will show up tonight: The scrappy, tenacious team that took a win by tooth and nail, or the sloppy, lethargic team that looked out of its league in St. Louis?  If Detroit realizes how important these early games are, the answer should be obvious.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Wings Survive BlueJackets, Feels like it Means Something

You've gotta love when young guys produce, especially when they put on a show and win you hockey games in the process.

Detroit went from leading the Columbus BlueJackets 2-0 to trailing in the third 3-2, but clawed their way back thanks to the talents of our resident EuroTwins, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, tying the game back up at 3-3.  Overtime settled nothing, but did set the stage for a dramatic and electrifying performace by Swiss phenom Damien Brunner.

It wasn't even the simple fact that Brunner scored the game-winning goal for the Red Wings, but moreso the fact that he did so with such obvious calm and confidence, pulling a right-handed version of Datsyuk's trademark deke and stuffing the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky's pad.  It was the fact that, on the very first Columbus attempt, the Jackets seemed to take an early 1-0 shootout lead, but Detroit was granted mercy by the hockey gods, as Cam Atkinson looked to have double-tapped the puck before it crossed the goal line and the goal was waved off.

It was also the fact that, after the shellacking we took from St. Louis, we were desperate.  We were desperate to see Detroit win a game and put the previous match behind us.  When we almost let that slip away, it made Brunner's spectacular goal all the sweeter.

Have you forgotten yet that I've talking about a game against the Columbus BlueJackets?

The concerns for this team are obvious, and a trip to Columbus has always been thought of as the write-off, the obvious 2-point night.  Much as we hate to admit it, the NHL doesn't work that way anymore, and anything is possible.  That statement is compounded when you lose two legendary veterans like Nick Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom.  The two areas these players excelled in, Lidstrom's defensive poise and both players' powerplay presence,  have been sorely missed in these last two games.  Detroit is a pitiful 0 for 11 on the man-advantage, and surrendered a shortie in St. Louis.  It was admittedly nice to see Detroit find a way to fight, tooth and nail at times, for a W.  It doesn't always have to be pretty, it just has to be a win at the end of the night.

And speaking of fighting, how about Jordin Tootoo earning his keep this evening? The opening puck-drop brawl between Tootoo and Jared Boll was just the thing Detroit needed to get their energy up and help build a 2-goal lead before Columbus stormed back.  Considering Bobrovsky's circus act in the Columbus net to keep most of the Detroit shots out of his net, had Toots not lead with the knuckles this game could have ended much differently.

I mentioned young kids at the beginning, and how can we not smile and congratulate Brian Lashoff for his 1st NHL goal in his 1st NHL game!?  Way to go, kid.  You played your heart out tonight.  Our D got even more banged up this evening, and you might be looking at an extended stay up top if you keep it up!

Next on the docket is the home opener, and it's going to be another sad one.  Before the game, Tomas Holmstrom will hold the press conference where he will officially announce his retirement.  Afterwards, the Red Wings will host the Dallas Stars and their newest high-profile acquisition, Jaromir Jagr.

Should be interesting, Wingnuts. Till next time!

Let's Go Red Wings!!

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.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Holy Smokes, Folks, We Have Hockey this Year!

We're finally here, Wingnuts...!  It's been a long grind since September 15th, but the lockout has officially ended, and Cold War 2012-2013 is over!!

It's going to be a ridiculous sprint-to-the-finish kind of season with the condensed schedule.  Every game means twice as much because points are going to be so precious and important for playoff positioning.  Play is going to be terrible all over the place for the first few weeks due to players on every team not being in game-shape yet.

But you know what? None of that matters, because there is hockey to be played, and a Cup to be won.

Detroit starts this mini-season with more concerns than they've ever had to deal with at once in a long, long time.  Compounding the list above is the fact that the Red Wings' blueline is extremely thin.  The departure of Nick Lidstrom to retirement and Brad Stuart to relocation is impossible to fix in a single offseason--if ever.  Defenders like Kyle Quincey, Carlo Colaiacovo and youngster Brendan Smith are going to have to step up their play to help out the few stalwarts left, such as Niklas Kronwall and Ian White.

Up front, the Wings are certainly better off.  Many of Detroit's forwards made a big splash overseas playing in the KHL and numerous Euro Elite Leagues.  Henrik Zetterberg and his new teammate Damien Brunner were monstrous together on a line, Brunner having led the Swiss League in scoring to this point.  Everyone's favorite magician-with-skates, Pavel Datsyuk, was busy in the K doing what he does best: making sensational plays while providing offensive punch.  Just look around Youtube for recent videos to take in some of that magic.  There are still those forwards who you have to wonder about, such as Johan Franzen.  This will be a year bereft of any mercy towards inconsistency, and guys like Mule cannot afford to be streaky, as scoring droughts could be disastrous.

The Wings are back in Hockeytown, though.  It's time for Detroit to get ready to make another run for the Stanley Cup, and the journey there could be very interesting--and nerve-wracking--indeed.

But what do you think the Wings can do to make the most of this season? Should they focus solely on strengthening the blueline?  Are there any players you feel would be a fit for Detroit at any position that Kenny Holland should make a move for?  Please let me know in the comment section.

Also, be sure to drop by my Twitter and Facebook, @DatsyukianGeek and and say hi!

That's all for now, Wingnuts.

Let's Go Red Wings!!