Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Depleted Detroit D Earns Valuable Point VS Sharks

I'll admit it: I came into this game with low expectations.  I mean, come on, our top defensive pair had Kyle Quincey on it.

With Niklas Kronwall still out (playing it safe after a mild concussion), and Jonathan Ericsson returning to his wife's side as she delivered a baby girl last night, the Red Wings found themselves with a notably younger D-Corps than they would have liked against the sizzling San Jose Sharks on Monday evening.  Averaging over 4 goals and over 40 shots a game, it seemed like the match-up from hell for a Wings team that has been lax with the puck and giving up nearly as many shots on average per game.

The first period began, and things seemed to play out as you'd expect: We were hanging on but getting out-chanced, but 20 minutes came and went, and the game was still scoreless.  Then came the second period...and then the third, and all throughout, San Jose kept pressing, waiting for the big defensive gaffe that would give them a great chance to take the lead.

But it never came.

This young and still-developing group of defensemen, including prospect Xavier Ouellette who was making his NHL debut, held the line and did not relent in the face of one of the highest-powered offenses in the league--and while the defense kept things steady in our zone, the Detroit offense went to work applying pressure in San Jose's zone.  We didn't get as many chances as the Sharks, but we kept it close and soon we saw regulation time end, still with no score.

Overtime would come and go, with still no deciding goal.  The defense having done its job, it was up to a chosen three and Jimmy Howard to get it done in the shootout.  Datsyuk made the move to beat Antti Niemi, but fired his shot just wide.  Alfredsson's attempt was gobbled up easily by the Sharks netminder, which came from pretty much straight on.  Directly after Alfie's shot, Logan Couture beat Howard to give the Sharks the advantage and match point unless we converted in the 3rd round.  Todd Bertuzzi, however, got Niemi down and out the best.  Pump-faking a slapshot, then making a quick deke from backhand to forehand and trying to outwait Niemi, Todd stared at a gaping top half of the San Jose goal.  Bertuzzi got a little lift on his shot, but Niemi, showing an admittedly remarkable feat of athleticism, managed to kick his right pad up from on his stomach and just got his toe on the puck, kicking it away for the save and the win.

The effort was good, the determination was good, and the discipline was...well, pretty good. I won't say it was great because we again saw a penalty parade that started half a minute into the game, and gave San Jose way too many PP chances.  Our PK was perfect, sure, but we shouldn't be taking that risk.  All in all, a valuable point moving forward is better than nothing, as Detroit is currently in sole possession of 2nd in the East at 13 points, behind only Pittsburgh with 14.

The Red Wings will play next on Wednesday, and Daniel Alfredsson faces his old team for the first time, when Detroit takes on the Ottawa Senators at the JLA.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

And the Academy Award Goes to...

To be perfectly honest, I had a day that sort of forewarned me to not get too excited about the game today.  It was one of those days where everything just  Sure enough, that carried directly into my viewing of this evening's match between the Detroit Red Wings and the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Wings made all the right moves to begin the game, coming out to an early 2-0 lead with goals from Pavel Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi.  The game looked like what you would expect: the rested Wings were taking advantage of a weary Phoenix team that went to a shootout the night before.  It was all going swimmingly.

Then: Mike Smith.

I'm still having trouble with this part, so I apologize if I'm forced to get brutally honest and some virgin ears suffer for it, but damned if I can figure out just how the hell things went the way they did.  To summarize, Datsyuk let fly a wrister toward the Coyotes net, which Mike Smith turned away with his arm...and then keeled over like he'd been poached through the chest with a goddamned harpoon (UPDATE: Upon closer examination, it looks like the puck didn't even make contact with Smith's body, it went off his stick, making this whole thing even more ridiculous...).  The refs did NOT blow the whistle, nor did they show any intent to, yet when Brian Lashoff fired the loose puck into a gaping Phoenix net, the ruling was no goal.  In the end, it was ruled that, because the goalie was "injured", the goal did not count......yet, after only a couple minutes, Mike Smith miraculously came back from the dead and kept playing.

HMM...doesn't sound like he was injured, now does it? So if he wasn't INJURED, and the ruling was no goal due to INJURY, the goal should count.  But oh no, that simply cannot be! As such, the game continued, but the atmosphere completely shifted.  The biggest problem with how the Mike Smith incident was handled wasn't so much the goal being disallowed as much as it was the boost of morale it gave the Coyotes, who would have otherwise been deflated by what would've been a crippling goal.

Instead, we got to witness the wheels come right off the big red machine on all 4 corners.  5 unanswered goals lifted the Coyotes over the Wings for a 5-2 victory, the biggest insult coming by way of the great actor Smith himself, who managed to launch the puck down into the empty Detroit net with 0.1 second left in the game.

As a follower on Twitter said: Not bad...for a dead guy.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Wings Post 'Monstrous' Win over Bluejackets

Although the score may not have been imposing, the Monster between the Detroit pipes certainly was.  Jonas Gustafsson played a remarkable game this evening as the Red Wings defeated the Columbus Bluejackets 2-1.  Jonas faced 37 shots on goal and turned away all but one, while Daniel Alfredsson finally found the twine for his first goal as a Detroit Red Wing.  Todd Bertuzzi rounded out the scoring to give the Wings the lead once again after Columbus had tied the game at 1 apiece.

Overall, a pretty good effort from the entire team, though I am still very concerned about our constant parade to the penalty box.  The refs can only be blamed so often before one has to stop and really consider the possibility that Detroit is being lax on discipline with regards to not making infractions.  Thankfully, of the 3 PP chances we gave the BJ's, they only converted one.

Next on the docket is a date with the Avs, and a chance to humiliate Patrick Roy once again now that he is a coach out in Colorado.  I eagerly look forward to the opportunity.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wings Powerplay Erupts in Blowout Win over Flyers

It was coming.  Everyone knew it, especially the Detroit Red Wings: It was only a matter of time.

Detroit saw its PP units finally get rewarded for some very good work last night as the Red Wings netted their first 3 goals of the game on the man-advantage, snapping a torturous 0-10 drought, to carry them to a 5-2 victory over the visiting Philadelphia Flyers.  Todd Bertuzzi got things going with the opening tally and the Wings really never looked back, with the Flyers never able to pull even with Detroit for the rest of the contest.

Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk got the next 2 goals for the Red Wings, followed by a pair from captain Henrik Zetterberg.  Hank's first goal was the only even-strength tally for the Wings, while the finishing blow was lobbed lightly into an empty Philly net after goalie Ray Emery had gone off for the extra skater.  Flyers goals from Erik Gustafsson and Tye McGinn kept the score somewhat close, but Detroit would not be denied on the night their powerplay found life.

Overall, Detroit did a much better job of playing a hard, assertive, and FULL 60 minutes of hockey, making it very difficult for Philadelphia to generate any consistent offensive threat.  There was one small gap of time where, after the Flyers scored their second goal, the Wings seemed to devolve down to a stuttering mess, similar to how they looked in the previous two games: started turning pucks over, chasing guys instead of playing their position, and generally looking like they had completely forgotten what to do out on the ice.  Thankfully, Detroit recovered their composure and locked the game down from that point forward.

The lineup changes and line shuffles by coach Mike Babcock seemed to pay some dividends, with his use of rookie Luke Glendenning in the 4th line center position, and switching in Brian Lashoff for the reeling and deservedly scratched Brendan Smith.  Justin Abdelkader saw himself on the 2nd line while Daniel Alfredsson was demoted to the 3rd line, making way for Todd Bertuzzi to play with Datsyuk and Zetterberg on the top line.  All parties seemed to benefit from these changes, except of course for Johan Franzen, who seems to still refuse to fully engage in the play.  I vividly recall a moment in the game where he and Stephen Weiss were coming through the neutral zone. Weiss dumped the puck in on Franzen's side and Mule responds by...peeling off back into the neutral zone.  Perhaps I just missed the memo where Mule is now allowed to opt out of forechecking when he feels like it.

My frustration with Franzen is enough for a novel, let alone it's own article here.  I won't get fully into it now, but this man has become something BEYOND streaky: he's flighty.  Mule only seems interested when he wants to be, and that doesn't seem to happen very damned often nowaday.  The Law of Averages suggests that while the sum of one's attempts at any action should, on average, come out around 50/50 if there are only two possible outcomes; however, it ALSO suggests that each individual attempt still only has that 50/50 chance of success.  So every time Mule gets the puck, the two outcomes are that he either makes a play that results in a goal--be it his own shot or a pass resulting in an assist--or he doesn't.

We're 5 games in, Franzen has 2 assists.  He has 13 shots...only 13, over 5 games.  Henrik Zetterberg has 27 shots, literally more than double, also having buried 4 of those shots in the net.  Yes, Franzen doesn't make Zetterberg money, but with the effort he puts in, he's lucky he makes ANY money.

Alright, enough, time to close this out before it DOES become a Mule article.  Overall, a much improved game from Detroit last night, who rest up today for a rematch against Boston on Monday.  Up here in Canada, this is going to be my Thanksgiving day game, so I'm expecting good things from the Wings.

Until then, stay cool Hockeytown!

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Red Wings So Far

Photo Credit : The Bleacher Report

I thought going into this season that the Red Wings would be assured of being a powerhouse team, with the additions of Alfredsson and Weiss, Datsyuk and Zetterberg playing together and the defence being a year wiser and more experienced, they could do no harm. With four games into the 2013-14 season, I must admit that much like going on weekend long drinking binge, I have to take a step back and reconsider. Let’s take a look at what has gone right and wrong so far, and then what to do with those Stanley Cup aspirations that I had in the pre-season.

What has gone right for the Red Wings?
  • The Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Abdelkader line has been as expected producing with 7 points in 4 games. They can do no wrong: Datsyuk dangling, Abdelkader pulling the piano and Zetterberg out-working everyone on the boards. I know I should be used to it, but the Datsyuk dangles are a thing of beauty.
  • The Kronwall-Ericsson has been a rock-steady pairing, with a +4 and +2 plus-minus, respectively and chipping in offensively too.
  • As a whole, the team has only taken 34 PIM and has been stellar on the PK (81.5%).
  • And it should be noted that Samuelsson has a 100% shot percentage after recording one goal on one shot. (I had to look that stat up and it was, in fact true )

Now for the things that have gone wrong for the Red Wings.
  • The Red Wings’ second line that was touted as one of the best second lines in the NHL has been somewhat cold, with only one goal between them (the Weiss OT winner in Carolina) and 3 assists. They have been slow out of the gate, but I for one am not worried. The timing should get better as times moves along and as Alfie’s hair gets longer, it’s a known fact.
  • Keith Yandle owns the Red Wings and this little guy doesn’t like it. Credit goes to SBnation for that one. Yandle has 16 points in 32 career games against the Red Wings.
  • The powerplay has been abysmal, with a gross 0% efficiency with the man advantage. But it has been looking better with Alfredsson on the point than it was with Samuelsson (although he has a 100% shooting percentage now…)
  • Babcock has been playing Cleary and Bertuzzi on the 3rd line and it hasn’t been working. The Red Wings should be making some moves soon though, with Gustavsson and Tootoo being activated off the IR and Emmerton andMrazek being sent down to Grand Rapids.
  • It also sounds like they will be bringing up someone from Grand Rapids to play the 4th line C position. Why is this a bad thing? Well, for one, it means that Helm isn’t close to returning and that Emmerton can’t adequately hold down the 4th C position.
  • The Quincey-Smith has been awful to say the least. Their blunders have cost the team alot of goals and they have a shiny -4 (Smith) and -5 (Quincey) to show for it. If they don't pick up, look for either of them to be traded or at the least, to ride the pine in favour of Ouellet or Almqvist.

Now for what to expect from the Red Wings in the coming Canadian long-weekend. They are going to be in tough with Philadelphia in town on Saturday, although the Red Wings, in 124 career regular season games, have only been shut out 3 times by the Broad Street Bullies. The Bruins have already beaten the Red Wings last Saturday by a score of 4 to 1. This time, Mike Babcock’s crew should be better rested and should be able to put up a better fight.

Here’s hoping the Red Wings lay a beat down on the Flyers and Bruins!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Oh Captain, Our Captain. An Ugly 3-2 Win in Overtime

There are games in the National Hockey League that grab you by the throat and toss you around for almost every second of 60 minutes. There are games in the National Hockey League that put you to sleep throughout. And there are games in the National Hockey League where, really, the end justifies the means. Tonight against Carolina was the third scenario. For the Wings fanbase, there are three things that legitimately need to be discussed concerning tonight’s game, and only three. No more, no less.

                We start with one, the first goal. Perhaps the ugliest goal Yours, Truly has seen since…well…Yours, Truly has squashed down a lot of bad memories of bad goals. It was bad. It looked like a goal that would be scored at the end of practice when everyone is messing around and getting the pucks put away. No one, and I do mean no one, in a Winged Wheel was really where they ought to have been. Jimmy poked when he should have stayed, Kyle Quincey just Kyle Quincey-ed. And after a run of good play for the Wings that just wouldn’t work, it was a double blow. A goal like that should be a once-in-a-season embarrassment. As such, it’s best to get it out of the way early. The team moved on, we can move on.

                In between the Things to Discuss, Carolina scored again and then we made it a one goal game. In Between the Things to discuss, we played like trash and Carolina, despite playing only slightly less trashy, continued to look like the eventual winner. But we aren’t going to discuss that.

                We are going to discuss the captain (not The Captain, chill). Zetterberg wanted this game. He wanted it more than most regular season games I saw last season, and that was incredibly encouraging. That’s not to say he was bad last season, not by any means. But I often felt he was out-worked and out-paced by Pavel, and I firmly believe a captain should out-work everyone. This season, though, Z is a hungry man. Thus far Henrik Zetterberg has 14 shots on goal, in two games. THAT is what we need to see out of our captain: Leading from the front, showing his guys exactly what needs to be done to conquer the East in year one.

                So what better way to lead from the front than scoring the game-tying goal with 17 seconds left, during one of those frantic scrambles where so often we just come oh so close but never quite close the deal. Z made damn sure we closed the deal this time. He showed us what grit, with a little bit of finesse, can do for a team that refuses to quit. And, from a technical standpoint, he was in the exact right place to do what needed to be done (something that plagued the Wings all game. But we aren’t discussing that.) He took us from a write-up about a really ugly loss to:

                Stephen Weiss’ overtime goal , his first in a Wings’ sweater. Another illustration of what being in the right place at the right time will do, he cleaned up some trash and gave the Wings a really undeserved win. What a way to open one’s scoring account for the year, and what an exciting end to what had been, for so long, a dreary game. And that’s it. That’s all I’m going to discuss from the game.

                Why? Why am I stopping there? Why am I not addressing all of the major, major issues the Wings had most of the game? It was a dreadful, ugly game. There is a lot more to discuss, sure. Many of the exact same issues from last year were still woefully on display tonight.  I could write them all in list form, all the things we’re so sick of we could puke, all the things that are so identifiable but are never fixed. I won’t discuss them tonight, though. I won’t because sometimes, a team needs to win ugly. If a team can’t win ugly, they won’t win it all, it’s as simple as that.

So, while it’s early in the season and we can still use that as an excuse, I’m going to continue to give the Wings the benefit of the doubt. If Zetterberg keeps playing like he wants it, it may rub off. If Smith finally gets it through his head what he needs to do, he may turn it around. It’s so early, we really can’t know about anything. Except that Kyle Quincey will continue to be awful, we’ll always know that. But for now, I’m going to bask in the happiness this game gave us. It was horribly, horribly ugly. But ugly is so much more beautiful and enjoyable when it’s worth two points. 2-0 and I’m not looking back, I’m looking ahead to Boston.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wings Bully Buffalo, Claim Win in Home Opener

In what could only be called a lop-sided affair, the Detroit Red Wings did exactly what coach Mike Babcock asks for always: Start on time.  Mikael Samuelsson and Pavel Datsyuk scored :36 apart in the 1st period and never looked back as the Red Wings defeated the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 in their first match of the season.

Detroit dominated the puck for the majority of the game, which says as much about the Sabres as it does the Red Wings, considering the Wings were booked for seven penalties before the end of 40 minutes, including two 5 on 3 chances for Buffalo.  Detroit kept their composure through it all, the PK units working splendidly and were perfect while a man (or men!) down.

Samuelsson opened Detroit's scoring with a wicked redirect off of a Cory Emmerton shot, beating Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller up high.  Not long after, the magic man weaved his skills yet again as Pavel Datsyuk gobbled up a loose puck and wound a ridiculous backhander past Miller to extend the lead to 2-0 just before the 13 minute mark of the game.

The Red Wings locked things down fairly well for the remainder of the match, until a miscue by Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard ended up in front of his gaping net. Playing the puck behind the cage, his attempt to rim the puck around the boards was blocked and flew out front.  Despite his best efforts, Jimmah wasn't able to get to the shot from Zemgus Girgensons, and the lead was cut in half with about 7 minutes left to play.

The Wings managed to hold the line despite some obvious scrambling after the Buffalo goal, and even as Ryan Miller left his net in the late stages of the 3rd, Detroit persevered and held off the Sabres for their 1st Eastern Conference win.

I'll quickly go over what stuck out to me as I wrap things up for the night:

The Alfie-Weiss line is going to be scary - I'm not talking some of the time, I'm talking ALL the time.  No production on opening night, fine...but WOW did they ever pressure Buffalo all night long! Alfredsson came to Detroit hungry, and does it ever show as he let total howitzers go every chance he got.  Weiss was hard on the puck as well, getting a number of quality chances.  If they can mange to motivate Johan Franzen, their vegetable of a line-mate, they will be a fearsome line to try and defend against.

This defensive corp is legit - When the Wings needed to lock things down, they did so.  A much younger group of defensemen than most of the Hockeytown faithful are used to have shown that they learned much from last year's shortened season.  What makes them seriously deadly, however, is how well they seem to be reading the play and pressing the attack.  Datsyuk's goal should show an assist from Jonny Ericsson, as him bull-dozing into the offensive zone set up the whole play.  Multiple times all night the Detroit defenders made similar plays driving deep into the zone when it was prudent to do so and help stimulate more offense.

Just because you're good doesn't mean you can be sloppy - A few of the calls I had reservations about, but Detroit could have very easily ended this game with far fewer penalties.  This was an issue at times last year, and it CANNOT persist this season. It's great that Alfie and Weiss helped out on the PK, but that is NOT why we brought them here.  We need to stay out of the box and keep generating pressure and generating goals.

We're only one game in, but things certainly look promising.  We'll see if the Wings can keep things rolling on Friday when Detroit heads to Carolina for a date with the Hurricanes.