It figures. I start a Red Wing blog and then a month later they are eliminated from the playoffs. Now, no one wants to read about the Wings because we're all still depressed that they didn't win. Normally, my interest in keeping something like this up would have faded and I would move on to something else. But, I really enjoy writing this blog because it is an outlet for me to get out my thoughts on the Wings, something I never really had. Hopefully both of my readers enojy reading it.
I'm not sure how I am going to approach this season recap. I don't really want to do a grading of every player, because I see that Drew over at NOHS has already started that, and he'll probably do a much better job. Plus, I am technically at work, so I should probably be working. I think I will probably just look at the season as a whole today, and then in the coming days assess the forwards, defense and goaltending.
Where to start? I try and think back to the beginning of the season and assess my expectations. Obviously, the Red Wings were not expected to lead the pack this year given the number of free agent defections they had. I remember a lot of “experts” were thinking that this was the year the Blackhawks finally overtook the Wings in the Central, and unfortunately they were right. But I certainly never expected the season to shape up the way it did.
The season started the way it ended: the Wings blew leads in both games in Sweden. We saw our first glimpse of Jimmy Howard in that 2nd game, and boy, were you as scared as I was after that first performance? Luckily he got better, but this season more than any other I’ve experienced was a real roller-coaster. They would play well at times, and then play like garbage at other times. It was really hard to figure this team out during the season because they were so inconsistent. There were reasons for that inconsistency (see below), but let’s face it: you were never sure which team was going to show up from one game to the next.
During the season, I would complain to non-Wing fans about the number of injuries the Wings had this year and got called a baby. I wish that man-games lost due to injury was tracked (and if anyone knows where I can find that, please let me know), but I do know that past the halfway point of the season, the only team that had more injuries than the Wings were the dead-last-in-the-NHL-by-a-mile Edmonton Oilers. And it’s not just the number of guys that were injured; it was the quality of players combined with it all happening at the same time. It started with Franzen in game 3 and continued all season. I always said that no matter when the Wings’ season ended, the first thing that people were going to talk about were the injuries. I guess in a way, that’s fairly true.
Maybe it was just me, but this season, while frustrating at times, was also really fun to watch. I think it was the suspense of not knowing whether they were going to make the playoffs made this an exciting season, unlike in the past when they blew out to a big lead and then just coasted until the playoffs started. I admit that I liked not knowing until the final couple of weeks whether they were going to make the playoffs or not. It really showed the resolve and heart of this team, as well as their ability to turn it on when they had to. I was very proud when they did make the playoffs, not only because it kept the streak alive, but mostly because no one thought they could do it, and them making it was a giant middle finger to all of the doubters who said shit like “the dynasty is dead”. The Wings proved that while the rest of the league may have caught up to them a little, they are still a force to be reckoned with in this league. Unfortunately, the season did not end the way we wanted it to. They fell a little short, but unlike in past years, they lost to a team that is pretty damn good. Let’s face it: no one has ever questioned the Sharks’ talent. I wish that the run could have continued, but all good things must come to an end.
I’m not going to get in to too much detail about the season, because we all lived it. I'm pretty sure no one wants to read a game-by-game recap. Even though the Wings fell short of their goal to win the Stanley Cup, I feel this season was not a failure. They did some good things, and despite all the obstacles that were put in their way (injuries, rookie goalie, fatigue from an overseas trip and from 3 years of long playoff runs), they made the playoffs for the 19th consecutive season, and made some noise in the playoffs before bowing out against the #1 team in the West. Not too shabby, if you ask me. To some it may have looked like a step backwards, but I see it as a step forward, because they inserted many new faces into the lineup and did not really miss a beat. We’ll get more into that as we discuss the players as groups. Here are my top 5 highlights of the season:
#1 - Making the Playoffs - Like I said before, the fact the Wings even made the playoffs is impressive given what they went through. There were times this season where I was questioning whether they would get in. Not only did they get in fairly easily, they made it all the way up to the 5th seed. 19 straight years of making the playoffs is the longest current active streak in all of sports, and there's no reason that streak won't continue next year. You can't win the Cup if you don't get in the playoffs, and the Wings gave themselves a shot.
#2 - 100 points - This was the 10th year in a row the Wings surpassed the 100 point mark. Now, I realize that in today's NHL it's easier to get up to 100 points, because there's the loser point. And boy did the Wings pick up a lot of loser points this year. But, consider that they finished with more points than 6 of the 8 playoff teams in the East, including the Penguins. Not too bad. To go with the 100 points is a less well-known stat - the Wings finished at .500 or better for the 19th year in a row. That's 2 decades of winning hockey from our beloved Wings.
#3 - Game 7 - I saw just about every single game the Red Wings played this year. I do not remember a game in which they were more dominant than Game 7 against the Coyotes. I don't care who they would have played that night - the Wings would have won easily. Can you imagine if that team had shown up in the Sharks series? The Wings would be the ones playing Little Brother right now. Oh well. But it wasn't just how the Wings played - the magnitude of the game contributed to how great this feeling was. The Wings had to play the game of their lives and came through and knocked out a tougher-than-expected opponent. That was easily the highlight of the playoffs for me.
#4 - Buzzer Beaters Galore - Remember that 3-game Western Canadian road trip in mid-March as the Wings were fighting for a playoff spot? They beat Calgary with a goal late in the third. Then the next night they tied the Oilers with less than a minute left to salvage 1 point. Then there was this. 0.3 seconds left, and The Future Captain wins another game for the Wings that was in doubt. That road trip was huge because they beat the Flames and took 5 out of 6 points to move them up in the standings. But for 3 nights, the Wings reverted to the Cardiac Kids or something like that. It was just another example of the excitement of this season.
#5 - Jimmy's Facewash of Crosby - Who didn't love this? This was like McCarty vs Lemieux only without the bloodied face of Patrick Roy. Sure, it wasn't that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. But, after Crosby did his little pussy-shit (crosschecking Zetterberg in the back), in comes Jimmy to stick up for his teammate. Then Crosby, in typical fashion, bitched that Jimmy shouldn't have been there in the first place. Crosby, I love you for what you did for Canada in the Olympics. But shut the fuck up, you whiny bitch. Jimmy had every reason to be there; it happened right in front of his crease. You got upset that Zetterberg shut you down (again), and then you did your shit and had to answer for it. As good as Jimmy played this year, that was the moment I was most proud of him, because it showed that he was a RED WING. The best part was it came after a big win against a good team when the Wings were still fighting for playoff positioning. Maybe he should have given Jumbo Joe a taste of his glove as well.
Honourable mention to any of Pavel Datsyuk's pretty goals this year (specifically thinking of the SO goal against the Hawks and his steal/deke against Nashville); splitting the season series with Little Brother after Stuart's OT goal in the last game of the season (you may have won the division but you couldn't beat us this year); and the Olympics (Canada winning gold on home soil? Easily my personal favourite moment of the season that was non-Red Wing related).
Coming up in the next day or two, I will be recapping the season for the players, starting with the goaltending in a couple of days.