Archive for March, 2009

Conklin to start Thursday, Rafalski Out

It looks like Conklin’s  getting rewarded for winning, as he’ll be in net against St. Louis on Thursday. Makes sense, since they need to balance trying to get Osgood’s game back on track and keeping Conklin sharp in case he needs to step in.

Also, some of the team’s big names were given the day off as the late-season forced rests begin.

Brian Rafalski will get forced rest for a different reason: he’s out against St. Louis with a groin injury.

3/31 Lilja Update

Helene St. James has the latest on Andreas Lilja in today’s edition. The news isn’t good: he’s unlikely to return to action before the playoffs due to a combination of continuing symptoms and a loss of conditioning due to forced inactivity. Best case scenario seems to have him back in the first round.

This will mean an extension of Jonathan Ericsson’s stint with the team, which is good news for his development prospects, but not for the Griffins, who are now guaranteed not to get the big man back. Previously, they had a hope of seeing him back in GR, if only for a couple weeks until the end of the season and the cap restriction.

Wings 3, Predators 4

I was able to write off the loss Friday to the Islanders as just another late-season show of disinterest, but I can’t do the same for Game #76. It’s one thing to be unable to find motivation to bring your “A” game to a late-March meeting with the New York Islanders. It’s entirely another to be unable to do so against a likely first round opponent.

I wrote on Saturday that “I’m starting to get tired of holding it against them when they don’t perform up to my exacting standards in games that mean next to nothing.” I haven’t changed my stance on that, but I’ll emphasize the words “games that mean next to nothing.” This was no such game. This was a meaningful matchup with a well-known opponent who we may see for up to seven consecutive games starting in just two weeks. They should have had no problem finding motivation to play this one. So, yes, I’m going to hold it gainst them.

There’s really no excuse for allowing the kind of third period burst the Predators had last night at this point in the season. I’m with George on this one when he says,

… I do believe that fans, including myself, have every reason to be plain old pissed off because this team remains too convinced that they “dominate” games where they’re plain outworked, out-competed, and simply seem far too content to play out the string, especially when they can but don’t take advantage of extended power play time.

Let’s be clear: the Wings did not dominate this game. If anything, they went through the motions convincingly enough that for a while it looked like the Predators might lose. How much longer are they just going to go through the motions? How much longer are they going to continue to kid themselves by thinking they’re playing dominantly?

Once again, we look to the next game as the night they’ll pull out of this malaise. The list of available nights is getting shorter. Pretty soon it’ll be do or die. The hope that they’ll “do” in that case is getting harder to hold with every passing loss.

Wings 0, Islanders 2

I’m just going to come out and say that I don’t think this is a game to freak out about. This was not a loss like the 8-0, 8-2, or 6-5 SO losses we’ve seen the last few weeks. This was a typical end-of-season loss to a team that has transitioned to “trip ’em up mode” because that’s the only way they can keep from giving up entirely.

If you’re an experienced sports fan, you know that things don’t always work out in reality like they should according to the standings or relative ability. That’s why I’m less worried about this loss than I am about the losses to Nashville, Columbus and Calgary, all teams I’d consider less than the Wings, but all teams that could be direct competitors when it matters. A loss to the Islanders is a throwaway game. A loss to those teams will mean a history should they meet in the playoffs.

I think that the Wings have done a fair job of correcting the issues that led to the bad losses to the Predators, Jackets, and Flames. This one was a different type of game and falls under a different category of loss.

Are the Islanders an awful team? Their record indicates it. But they’re still a collection of NHL players who retain the pride and drive that got them to the League. While they don’t have a playoff spot to play for, they have the ability to trip up playoff-bound teams and cast doubts among the fans. So, they brought their best last night and came out on top of a team that brought maybe its B+ game.

I honestly didn’t think the Wings played that badly. They didn’t take the Islanders as seriously as they should have and once New York showed that they wouldn’t just roll over, they didn’t up the intensity all that much. That’s worrisome, but it shouldn’t induce panic. This game, to me any way, falls under the category of “typical late season loss to an opponent with more motivation” rather than “ugly loss to possible playoff opponent who should have faced ‘A-game’ Wings.”

Let’s not forget Joey MacDonald, who has proven to be every bit as good in his position as Kyle Quincey has shown to be in his. MacDonald played a heck of a game. The 5-7 posts look bad on one hand, but can also indicate that he only left the shooter that much. The Wings ran into a hot goalie and, as is usual with them, had trouble beating him. That’s a problem that goes back years, so let’s not connect it to their issues this season.

At the other end of the ice, Chris Osgood played well enough for the Wings to win. He got screwed by Mikael Samuelsson on the first one, and, while he looked foolish on the second, was the victim of poor defensive coverage on that one as well. I would have loved to have seen him be as strong as MacDonald last night, but Osgood has only rarely been the goalie who steals games outright. His thing is to give his team an easy way to win, and that’s what he’s been bad about this year with his penchnt for giving up 3+ goals. Last night was not one of those bad nights, however.

I’ve gotten comments in this thread about firing Babcock. Can we stop with that right now?  That has to be the most idiotic Wings-related thing I have ever read. Babcock has brought success to this team that in some ways beats what Bowman accomplished. He is not Scotty Bowman, but he is one of the best coaches in the League today. I’m sorry but any talk of firing a coach after four consecutive 50-win seasons (yes, they’ll do it) is ludicrous and speaks to a culture in the NHL that has developed around looking for easy answers to tough questions.

What’s wrong with this team? It’s a simple matter of having been there and having done that. They have played so many meaningful games over the years that Game #75 of the regular season offers little motivation in light of what’s coming (the playoffs). This effect has to be heightened by the fact that they won the Cup last year. I’m definitely worried about their ability to turn “it” on in the first round, but I’m starting to get tired of holding it against them when they don’t perform up to my exacting standards in games that mean next to nothing.

It sucks that the Wings blew a chance to pull ahead of the Sharks, but they’ll have another opportunity and probably one after that.