Archive for October, 2010

Wings 5, Predators 2

On Time: The Wings finally started a game on time, which goes to show that maybe regular scheduling works better than long layoffs (ya think?!). They had a strong first period, which they controlled for the most part, and looked like they were ready to go from the start.

Second Start: They didn’t start as strong in the second, leading me to think maybe we’d see an inverted game: they worked on starting better, but neglected whatever had them playing well in second periods. That feeling faded as the period went on, though, and has me thinking that the Wings’ apparent slow start in the second may have been due to the Predators. I do think the Wings have to be off their ideal game to be outplayed by just about anyone, but the Predators deserve credit for their hard work. They’re a good team.

Third: They were outshot, but overall, I thought the Wings more or less kept the pedal to the metal through the third. This was among the Wings’ most complete games this season.

Defense: Still some things to work on. For all the credit I want to give the Predators above, the Wings could have been better in their own end. The two goals are evidence of that: Ward was pretty much unmolested on his shot, and had a two-man screen to put the puck through. Not great coverage or shot blocking effort by Stuart and Filppula.

And the second Nashville was just embarrassing: Weber’s trip around the back of the net had everybody discombobulated to a degree typically seen in pee-wee games. The Wings clumped together like cat litter and Klein had no one pressuring him as he released a shot. To be fair to the clumped Wings, that puck never should have made it through, but it did.

If only Zetterberg’s trips around the back of the net threw the opposition off so much.

Osgood: It was one of his old “bounce back from a bad loss with a strong effort” games, I thought. I can’t really fault him for the two goals, though he did take himself way out of position on the second. Both goals came through screens and would have been lucky stops, probably. He didn’t have to make many huge stops, but he was solid and earned the win. He was aggressive, almost too much so, but I think I’d rather have him come out to challenge than retreat in his net. A confident Osgood that’s backing up the confidence with action is better than a timid Osgood that’s earning his timidity.

Datsyuk: He continues to amaze. His second goal was awesome, and his awareness on the first was impressive. Someone said on Twitter last night that he’s killing his reputation as a slow starter this year, and there’s no denying that. Here’s hoping he hasn’t exchanged that for being a slow finisher or something. I still think he’s headed for a big season.

Abdelkader: Made a case for himself to stay in the lineup even when Babcock decides to let Hudler back in. The third line looked better, with Modano having more jump, but I still think that group is the weakest. The fourth line is still making the decision of who to sit for Hudler a hard one for Babcock.

Rinne: Some of the Wings’ success around the net was due to Rinne’s tendency to flop or swim on the crease. He’s a better goalie than that, but the Wings caught him on a bad night.

Franzen: NHL.com is giving the goal to Stuart, but I still think Franzen got it in the net. Here’s hoping he can keep up the pace and stay healthy.

Next: Couple days off before kicking off that Western Canada road trip in Calgary. Late games and crap. Fun times.

Game Day Thread: vs. Nashville

I’ve got friggin’ ton of leaves I need to rake today, so I’m going to keep this real short and declare this a must-win game for Chris Osgood. If he loses, nothing about his status changes, since the team is stuck with him for better or worse, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need a win from the perspective of the fan base. A win won’t change many people’s opinions of him, but at least he won’t be adding another piece of evidence to the class action suit against Chris Osgood.

Osgood probably doesn’t give a crap what any of his detractors think of him, so I guess when I say it’s a must-win game for Osgood, I mean it’s a must-win from the perspective of his band of supporters.

We’re tired of not having anything positive to point to, Chris. Throw us a fricking bone, eh?

And he needs to do it whether or not the team shows up to the degree they’ve needed to in order to win with him in net lately.

Wings 2, Coyotes 4

Slow Start: Once again, the Wings didn’t come out of the gates at full speed. Some of that had to do with not playing since Saturday, no doubt, but it’s not like it’s a trend that’s unique to this current spread out schedule. This team has a real problem starting games on time and last night was just the latest in a string of examples. After after last night, they won’t even have the excuse of a long layoff.

Osgood: Like the rest of the team, he had a slow start. And like the rest of the team team, he was markedly improved in the second and third periods. And I think that if he’d allowed three goals over the course of the game, rather than in the first 12 minutes of the first, the final analysis of his outing would be somewhat different than we’re seeing.

But it’s not just about number of goals allowed, it’s how and when. You can make a reasonable case that all three goals were weak. He flailed on the first, went down about an hour early on the second and wasn’t in position at all on the third. That’s the how of the goals, and like the number, if those are spread out throughout the game, maybe it’s not so bad. But the when of the goals is the killer. All three in the first period, including one when the team was on the power play means you have a goalie that wasn’t prepared.

If the layoff excuse applies to the skaters, it applies even more to Osgood, who hadn’t played since the Dallas game. But the same counterpoint to the layoff excuse that applies to the skaters applies to Oz: it’s happening too often to make excuses at this point. Osgood has historically been a guy who needs to get in a rhythm of starts to reach a decent level of play, but at this stage in his career, he’s not going to get that rhythm. He has to be able to step in and play every fifth or seventh night, depending on the schedule. He has to adjust. The Jimmy injury may be good for him in that he’ll be able to get a few starts in and maybe find his game, but if he does, he needs to hold on to it for the next time he’s needed, which could be only once or twice a month.

I tweeted last night that I’m about done with defending Osgood publicly because his defenders look more and more like myopic fools with every game he plays. I still believe that the Chris Osgood that made several key stops in the second and third period exists and that he can put out that kind of work for a full game. But with every period that he doesn’t make those saves, professing that belief feels more and more foolish. I’m tired of beating the drum for him. I’ll hang on to the drum, but it’s time he started making some noise himself, you know?

This is the perfect opportunity for Osgood to put up. Even after three games, it’s impossible to extrapolate his seasonal trajectory with any real authority (however much the negativists may want to try), but the list of data is growing. Time for him to change the trajectory.

Bryzgalov: In contrast to Osgood, you have Ilya Bryzgalov. If he’s not in your top 4 list of current NHL goalies, you need to rethink your membership in the hockey fan club. The Wings were in it tough enough starting out 0-0 against that guy. Spotting the Coyotes 3 goals was basically suicidal. It took a ridiculous amount of effort to crack him twice, let alone three times. Just witness Holmstrom’s goal, which followed three consecutive point-blank shots from none other than Pavel Datsyuk.

For all their offensive talent, the Wings cannot afford to go down three goals to a team like Phoenix. The team defense has to be better and the offense has to be more dominant. Ilya Bryzgalov is too good a goalie.

The Comeback Attempt: That said, they were on a flight path to tying it up sometime in the final five minutes or so when Todd Bertuzzi got slapped with a reputation penalty at 4:08 of the third. You know the type: “omg that player just fell like a tree in a lumber work zone…is that Todd Bertuzzi? It is! Obviously he chopped him down with that tomahawk he keeps in his hockey pants. Penalty!” That, right there, is the most negative part of having Todd Bertuzzi on your team. He takes his fair share of earned, stupid penalties. But all too often, he’s basically called for being on the ice.

The refs, to their credit, caught Derek Morris’ high sticking and evened things out, but the damage had already been done. The Wings needed a flawless third period to crack Bryzgalov and the Bertuzzi powder puff call threw them off the tracks.

Holmstrom: In case I’m making the case for the Bertuzzi penalty’s role in the loss too much, I have to say that they could have gotten back on the tracks were it not for Tomas Holmstrom’s idiotic interference penalty at 15:12. It’s those moments that reveal Homer as an occasional liability. He needs to be smarter than that.

Also: there was a play not long before that penalty that to me highlighted the weakness of having Holmstrom on the top line. Datsyuk rushed it in beautifully and dished to Homer, who totally fumbled it and cut the whole thing short.

Easily 7 times out of 10, Homer’s a great fit for the Eurotwins. But those three other cases really hurt. The other two see the game on a level that he just can’t match, and you get nuked plays like that one on the break. Then he takes a dumb penalty.

I love Homer and would probably buy a #96 jersey if I had the money, but it’s shifts like that that make him seem more like a power play specialist than an even strength player.

Kronwall: I wonder if he’s had a worse shift in his entire playing career. I mean, holy crap, was that awful. You know what I’m talking about. What was it? 4 turnovers by him alone? And the deal-sealer: the half-assed wave at the puck that Korpikoski ate up. Ugh. You need to rebound from that with a big night Saturday, Nik. Seriously.

Pavel: Is ridiculous. Completely and utterly ridiculous. There are plenty of great stickhandlers in the league, but Datsyuk does things with the puck that shouldn’t be physically possible. He regularly makes bona fide quality NHL players look like total fools and amateurs and he makes it look absurdly easy. He was one of the most consistent bright spots last night, even though he only ended up with one point. I think he’s headed for a big, big year.

Fourth line: Even in the first period, I thought Eaves, Helm and Miller were the Wings’ best. They had the most prolonged play in the Coyotes end in the first half of the game and had an all-around good outing, including their PK play. The team has three lines playing strong offensive hockey.

Third line: Another pathetic night, enough so that Babcock actually broke up the BFF Line and gave Cleary and Modano Bertuzzi, while Hudler got bumped up to play with Franzen and Filppula. Expect more permanent assignments to follow Saturday. Those guys are by far the weakest link on this team right now (sorry, Oz haters).

Kindl: He’s looking more and more like a rookie. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m starting to think it’d be great to have Ericsson back. Yeah, it’s that bad. For all the flak Osgood deserves for that first goal, Kindl should get a major dose for his figure skating impression that lead to the breakaway.

Team Defense: The Wings’ defensive game is incredibly weak right now, and there’s no reason for it. They have all the tools to ice the best team defense in hockey, but they’re falling short every night. With the long breaks they’ve had, you’d think there’d be plenty of opportunity to shore up that phase of the game, but they continue to rely on offensive skill rather than defensive work ethic to gut out wins. Sure it was only their second regulation loss, but it was a clear sign that gutting out wins on skill alone isn’t going to get it done in the long term.

I harp on this all the time, but they have got to find the work ethic that contributed so heavily to their success in ’08. It’s not as fun as playing pond hockey, but it works. Bring back the wholesale team defense, guys.

Next: They’ve got the division leaders next. A great opportunity to get in the saddle and start riding, I say.

Game Day Notes: vs. Phoenix

Update (3:47 PM): The official site has more, including details about what roster moves needed to be made to allow the MacDonald call-up. Ellen points out it could mean 3 games of Osgood/Joey.

At the risk of being too preachy, I should also mention she points out it’s a good time to take a breath on the whole Osgood is starting thing. If he tanks tonight or even in the first period, feel free to commence the freak out. Hang on until then. – Matt

Update (3:40 PM): Ted Kulfan has some big news: Jimmy Howard’s out tonight with back spasms. Craig Custance reports that it’s not serious, but it’s still worrisome. The Wings have painted situations like these as precautionary before only to have them turn into prolonged absences. Here’s hoping this not such a case.

The Howard injury means Chris Osgood will start tonight instead. This is a great opportunity for Oz to step up his game and fill in capably. It’s a situation he should thrive on.

We all better hope he does, because Joey MacDonald has been recalled to fill in as faceoff charter, and that’s about all he’s useful for at the NHL level these days. – Matt

After sitting around twiddling our thumbs since Saturday, we finally have some Red Wings hockey to watch.

… The Coyotes are 1-2-2 since we saw them last, with their only win in that span coming against Anaheim on the 17th in the game immediately following their 2-1 OT loss to the Wings. They’ve earned a point in two of their last three games, but lost Tuesday night in regulation, 5-2 to the Senators.

… This is the final game in a three-stop Eastern time zone road trip, so there may be some small road fatigue issues to take advantage of.

… The loss to the Sens came despite the return of their leader, Shane Doan, from his 3-game suspension for his hit on Dan Sexton. Doan managed 0 points and ended the night even in +/- but took a penalty. Big impact.

… Doan hits on something (not a head this time), with his comments on what challenge the Coyotes face this year: it’s no longer them against the world. Instead, the expectation is that they do it again. Meeting high expectations may prove to be harder than far exceeding low ones.

… Martin Hanzal is out for the Coyotes.

… The Coyotes saved Bryzgalov for tonight by starting LaBarbara Tuesday, though Bryzgalov did have to relieve his backup. So he won’t be totally fresh, but he’s a guy used to playing a lot and he’s sure to still be a force.

… All the previews are pointing out that the Wings have won three in a row, so I better say it too. The win streak started with the OT decision over the Coyotes (is it not absurd how few games the Wings have played since then, compared to the ‘Yotes schedule?), and continued with wins over Calgary and Anaheim.

… The 3-game streak angle doesn’t cover the fact that the team is still not playing particularly well defensively, which is something that could be shown tonight if the Wings can’t get the puck past Bryzgalov and thereby cover up their issues for another game.

The Coyotes aren’t an especially threatening team offensively, but this is as good a time as any to start showing a commitment to strong play in the Detroit end, especially when there’s a guy like Shane Doan on the ice. He’ll be on the forecheck looking to wreck whatever guy’s saddled with the initial breakout possession, so quick and correct decisions with the puck will be key to preventing off-balance Coyote pressure shifts.

The defensive effort begins there. If they make good decisions with the puck, it ends up on the sticks of the opposition that much less.

… The Wings are still without Kris Draper, Brian Rafalski and Jonathan Ericsson, and Justin Abdelkader remains out. Brad Stuart missed practice with what sounds like what they usually call the flu, but he’s expected to play.

… Helene St. James has the lines and pairings:

Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom
Franzen-Filppula-Bertuzzi
Hudler-Modano-Cleary
Miller-Helm-Eaves

Lidstrom-Stuart
Kronwall-Janik

No change, for the moment. But Babcock’s about fed up with the third line’s lack of production as well as their inability to play competent defense to at least balance the whole not scoring thing. So they get one more chance, though don’t be surprised if things get mixed up in-game if they start out particularly bad.

… Jimmy Howard is in net tonight.

… The Wings are getting plenty of rest these days, but the flip side of that is you run serious risk of losing focus and momentum. For a team so reliant on the hot steaks of the second line and gutting through games on offensive talent, that’s not a great recipe for success. They have to find a way to stay focused and translate it to the ice in these games that are so widely set apart. Fortunately they get into a more reasonable rhythm after this, but tonight’s important.

The Coyotes themselves know that there are expectations out there that they can compete in this league. The Wings need to act as though they have that same expectation of the Coyotes tonight. No taking them for granted, as has been so easy to do in the past.

The Atlantic Talks Hockey, Gets It Wrong

Update (4:48 PM): I suck…added the link. – Matt

Steven Stark, writing for The Atlantic‘s website, comments on a New York Time piece from before the season about how professional hockey appears to be doing pretty well despite the down economy. Stark suggests this is due to some kind of “overwhelming nostalgia for a fabled ‘simpler’ past.”

In contrast (to the NBA), ice hockey looks and sounds much the same as it did in the 1950’s, albeit with a few central European names thrown in.

Also:

Perhaps most telling, hockey remains the last major professional sport that’s virtually all white. This is not to suggest that hockey’s current appeal is based on racism. Rather, it’s that the game’s racial makeup reflects what pro sports once looked like.

In other words, “it’s not racism, except that it kind of is.”

It’s not that hockey’s faster, involves more skill and is more competitive than ever. No, my fellow hockey fans. It’s that we like watching white guys skate around because we are pining for ye olde days of a simpler time. Right.

I don’t know if the game’s speed, skill and competitiveness is making the difference that’s separating it in some ways from the other sports, but I have to think it has more to do with it than what Stark obliquely suggests by bringing it up and then half-heartedly discounting the idea.

By the way, I’m not letting the Times off the hook:

A rash of concussions was addressed over the summer by a new rule banning blindside hits to the head.

Really? The data begs to differ. The issue is far from addressed.

Admin note: sorry for the lack of posting yesterday. The slow Wings news day and my screen fatigue from sitting in front of a computer all day had me disinterested in firing up the old Dell when I got home.

Wings 5, Ducks 4

Comeback: It wasn’t the cleanest comeback effort, but it was a comeback win and that counts for something. This team may not being doing all the things it needs to do for long-term success, but it’s showing that it has the building blocks. Them not quitting when down 3-1 or when the Ducks pulled ahead again at 4-3 is a good sign. The fact that they were in either situation is not, but this point is to focus on the positive.

Defense: On to the negative.

The first Ducks goal was sad: Bobby Ryan left wide open out front. I say it all began with Bertuzzi going after Visnovsky at the blueline when Franzen already had him covered. The goal happened a bit after that, but if Bertuzzi hadn’t committed out at the blueline, he may have been able to make a difference out front.

The second one: all Hudler. You gotta play Carter tighter than that and at least wave your stick at him. I guess I can give Jimmy a little flak for his rebound control there, but if Hudler uses his stick, it doesn’t matter.

The third: Janik. Here I don’t mean defense as in without the puck. I mean it in the “play in your own zone” sense. Horrible turnover by Janik leads to quick chance for the Ducks. Jimmy got beat, the puck crossed the line (if barely), and it’s 3-1.

The fourth: this one was less defense and more Jimmy, but it’s still about puck management and Cleary’s failure to adhere to that basic principle of Red Wings hockey. Jimmy has to make that save, but the break never should have happened.

So you get the idea. Other instances of defensive breakdowns either resulted in a Howard save or a post bailout. They only gave up 25 shots, but enough were A or B Grade chances to be disconcerting.

Back to the positive.

Datsyuk: He only got one point, but he was easily the most dominant player on the ice all night. His best game of the season, maybe. His game winner was mind-blowing in real time and he was doing stuff like that all night. Fun to watch.

Zetterberg: I still think his first goal will be taken away (the puck hit Homer’s foot and changed direction a couple degrees), but he had a great game as well. About time.

Franzen: Still looking like a guy who could light up the League if can stay healthy. His goal wasn’t pretty, but it was a great effort.

Howard: Selanne break and minor quibble on the Carter goal’s rebound control aside, I thought James had a strong game. Certainly good enough to win without needing to score 5 goals, but he didn’t get the defense to allow that. So he looks sort of average with 21 saves on 25 shots.

McElhinney: Got a star despite giving up 5 goals, but I sort of thought it was warranted. The Wings’ offense did have a few Grade A chances that he managed to stop, and if Pleiness had to pick the star before the comeback really got going, it makes sense. If that’s the kind of effort their backup can manage, maybe the Ducks won’t be so sucky after all.

Kronwall: Selanne’s making hay about this hit, but I don’t see what case he has:

That’s a head-up, shoulder to head hit. I don’t like the “to head” part, but it’s not an illegal hit in today’s NHL. It wasn’t blindside and the contact was made with the shoulder, with his elbow and arm coming up after contact. Selanne can cry about it, but I don’t think Kronwall’s in any danger of facing punishment for it. Unless you count more whining from other fanbases about his wild elbows punishment (it is for those of us who have to hear it, anyway).

Next: The Wings get another lengthy break, with their next game coming Thursday against Phoenix. More time to rest up for guys like Ericsson and Abdelkader, so that’s good. Sitting around twiddling our thumbs as fans, not so much.