Friday, May 28, 2010

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

Here we are. After a long season filled with ups and downs, lefts and rights and a even a few diagonals, we have finally arrived at the start of the last series of the NHL season. From the moment the puck dropped between the Leafs and Canadiens, every fan has hoped that they will see their team rise above all others to be crowned Stanley Cup champions. Out of 30 teams, 2 remain, and they will begin their battle for hockey supremacy starting tomorrow night in Chicago. So, without further ado (and because there's nothing going on with the Wings right now), here is THITD's preview of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Goaltending - Wow. What a matchup we have here. Not since Roy vs Brodeur in 2001 have we seen 2 heavyweights square off head-to-head. 2 high-draft picks leading their teams to the.....wait, what? Neither goalie was highly sought-after coming out of junior or out of Europe? But I thought in order to win a Stanley Cup a team needed a top prospect to get this far. Huh, shows what I know about hockey. In this series we've got the rookie Antti Niemi going against the journeyman Michael Leighton. Both goalies have played extremely well, but now we're at the Big Dance, and we'll see who can step it up. Both goalies are facing less than 30 shots per game (on average), but Philly is facing a team that is much better offensively than anyone they've played so far. Still, Philly has beaten Martin Brodeur, Tukka Rask (who would be a Calder candidate if he played all season) and Jaroslav Halak, so they know what it takes to score on a hot goalie. I'll give a slight edge to Niemi, because he looks like a Russian gangster, and if there's one thing movies and TV have taught me, it's that you don't piss off the Russian mafia.
Advantage - Chicago

Defense - This is a closer matchup than people think. Too many people are talking about Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Chris "Bring Da Noise, Bring Da Elbows" Pronger. But if you look at the rest of Philly's defense, it reminds me a lot of Detroit's, but in reverse. They've got a shutdown guy in Pronger paired with a solid two-way guy in Timonen (who has surprised me with how good he is). Then you've got Braydon Coburn on the 2nd pairing (who apparently can not be stopped, no matter what happens to him) paired with an offensive guy in Matt Carle. How will they fare against the top lines of the Hawks? There is speed back there, and we all know that Pronger can handle himself. On the Hawks, beyond the obvious pairing of Keith and Seabrook (as an aside, I like Keith. I don't normally like Hawks players, but there's something about Keith and the way he plays that I respect. Plus, any guy that can lose 7 teeth and still come back is all right in my books), you've got the $7 million dollar man Brian Campbell paired with Hjalmarsson and greasy-haired Brent Sopel logging important minutes on the 3rd pairing. Campbell's been pretty invisible this playoffs, but not ineffective, so I guess that's something. Still, there's nothing like paying 12.5% of your salary cap to your #3 defenseman. Overall, I like Philly's defense over the Hawks. I think Pronger is a beast back there, and has provided a presence on the blue line of the Flyers that has not been there since Eric Desjardins. The only team that had anyone that could have matched up with Byfuglien size-wise was the Sharks, but Fugly is too big to ass-check down (I'm looking at you, Rob Blake). Pronger can take him. I hope he does, because I can't stand to see a guy score a goal from 2 feet in front of the net and then stare down the opposing fans like he just went around the whole team. Advantage: Philly

Forwards - I think this is where the Hawks have the edge. As much as I can't stand them, the Hawks boast a lot of talent up front. The top line of Toews, Kane and Byfugly is pretty much unstoppable right now, and if they do get shut down, then the Hawks can throw out Sharp, Hossa and Bolland or Madden, Versteeg and Ladd. It's a little scary when your third line can score. Plus, if someone goes down, they can always throw Tomas Kopecky out there, a dangerous proposition for the Flyers. If anything can put the fear of God in me, it's an angry Tomas Kopecky. Barring something different happening in the Finals, Toews is the front-runner for the Conn Smythe, and he's another Hawk that I actually don't mind. He's the kind of guy that I say "boy, I wish he was on another team". He was great for Canada in the Olympics and has continued his strong play into the playoffs. He would scare me if I were a Flyers fan. I would also be scared of Patrick "20 Cent" Kane, but only because anyone who willingly looks like this has some severe issues; next thing you know he'll be graduating to more violent behaviour. If I were the Flyers, I would keep my head up at all times when Kaner's on the ice. The nice thing for the Hawks is that, even though the team as a whole is pretty young, Hossa's been in the Finals enough to make up for everyone else's lack of experience ten-fold. My advice to the Hawks forwards: whatever Hossa says you guys need to do to win, do the opposite. I'm just sayin'.
The Flyers don't exactly have a bunch of houseleaguers on their team. They are led by Pierre McGuire's favourite "monster" Mike Richards, and if you want to talk about guys keeping their heads up; the Hawks will be well served to know exactly when Richards is on the ice at all times, lest they end up like some of these guys. The Flyers have had scoring for a few years, and now Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne are healthy, Daniel Briere is playing up to his contract and Daniel Carcillo is....well, he's doing something out there. Claude Giroux scored a couple of nice goals against the Canadiens, and then there's everyone's favourite son, Ville Leino. Given up for dead by the Wings because of salary cap issues, Leino has been re-born in Philly, actually playing like, you know, what we all thought he could be. You can't blame lack of talent around him for his struggles in Detroit, because he was playing with Henrik Fucking Zetterberg, and I could score 20 goals playing with Hank. Who knows what happened, but Uncle Mike clearly lost interest in fair Ville, and he was shuffled off to Philly. You know what? I feel good for him. Leino was a guy that was expected to put up decent numbers this year, but I know I wasn't thinking he was going to challenge for the Rocket Richard trophy. 15-20 goals, 40-50 points, that's what I wanted from him. But then Franzen got hurt, and everyone thought that Leino was just going to pick up the Mule's slack in his absence, and when he didn't, we all got pissed off and called him a bust. I don't think that was fair to Leino (look how long it took for Franzen to develop into the player he is today), but I also don't think the Wings "gave up" on Leino either. They had to get Lilja into the lineup, and that meant sacrificing a forward. Unfortunately, Leino had to go. However, Leino did suck balls here in Detroit, so I think a portion of his playoff bonus should be paid back to the Wings for wasting our time this year (and yes, I realize I completely contradicted myself by saying that I wasn't expecting much from him and then getting on his case for not producing). Advantage - Chicago

Coaching - The 'stache vs.....well, I don't really have a nickname for Laviolette. Joel Quenneville, while not able to ever beat Detroit in the playoffs (ever - look it up), has quietly become one of the better coaches in the NHL. I know a lot of people here were very surprised when he was hired to be the Hawks' coach last year, but he's done a good job at making the Hawks a cohesive unit. Sure, trying to figure out what his lines will be is as easy as figuring out
certain math problems. But Q has always struck me as a guy that got a lot out of his players, even if those players stunk. This is a guy that won a President's Trophy with Roman Turek as his goalie - clearly he's got some coaching talent. But, this is his first real kick at the can, as he's never coached in the Finals before, and he's going against a guy that took a largely underrated team (the Hurricanes) all the way in 2006 in Laviolette. I'll be honest - I don't know a lot about Laviolette, since I mostly pay attention to the Western Conference. I know he won the Cup in 2006, but that's about it. One thing struck me when checking him out, and that is that he took the Islanders to the playoffs. Clearly, if he can do that, he is some sort of coaching prodigy. He seems to be playing the part of Dan Bylsma this year - taking a talented-yet-underachieving team from the depths of the East all the way to the Finals. Given that he's had 19 starting goalies to work with this year, I'd say he's done a pretty good job. Advantage - Flyers

So, what does all that mean? I don't know. I'm horrible at picking series. I know I didn't post anything, but in the first round I went 5 for 8, in the second round I went 1 for 4, and in the third round I went 1 for 2 (the only team I have consistently gotten right is the Hawks). I've already given my opinion on who I am cheering for, but I never said who I thought would win. Much like with the Wings-Sharks series, my heart is leaning one way but my head is screaming something different. With the Wings, I went with my heart; I've learned my lesson. My official pick is Hawks in 6, only because I hope that if they do win the Cup, it's not in front of their legions of bandwagon fans. I've always lived by the old adage: hope for the best but for prepare for the worst. That pretty much sums up how I feel about this series.

Go Flyers!!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Meet Stevie's New Team

Well, by now we've all had our fair share of "Steve Yzerman is the Lightning GM" stories. There have been some incredible posts out there regarding how much Yzerman meant to the Red Wings and the fans. Any one of the blogs in my blogroll will contain something that will move you. I myself find that I am still wrestling with the fact that he is no longer employed by he Red Wings. However, there's no question that he will always be known as a Wing, no matter what great deeds he accomplishes in Tampa.

Which brings me to the reason for this post. What exactly is Stevie getting himself into? I'm going to take a break from recapping the Wings' season by bringing a different perspective on what Yzerman has in store for him now that all the introductions are done. He's got work to do, and we all want to see him do well. So, here is my little preview of where the Lightning stand now (with a very large thanks to TSN for the info). I'm going to preface this by saying that I know very little about the Lightning, so a lot of this will just be me talking out of my ass.

Goaltending - According to TSN, the only signed NHL-ready goalie the Lightning have is Mike Smith. At first glance, I'm not overly familiar with him except that I know he was the backup in Dallas for a while. I checked out his numbers from last year and saw that they were fairly pedestrian: a record of 13-18-7 with a GAA of 3.09 and a SV% of .900. Not great numbers, but not Vesa Toskala-bad either. Their other goalie (Antero Nittymaki) is a FA, and his numbers were better. Who knows whether he will re-signed. I checked out the FA goalies that are available, and this year could be the year to sign someone. There are some good ones out there, including both goalies from this year's SCF (Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton). Both of them are RFA, but we all know that Chicago is in cap trouble (tee hee) so they may not match any offers to Niemi if they are high enough, and just get some draft picks instead. It looks to me like Stevie is going to have shore up the net for the Lightning going forward.

Defense - Again, according to TSN, the Lightning have 5 NHL defensemen signed for next year. The most notable names to me are Victor Hedman and Mattias Ohlund. Hedman is a guy that the Lightning are going to try and build their blueline around - he's a freaking monster (6'6", 220 lbs) and he's only 19. He's only going to get bigger and stronger, and this is good news for the Lightning. Plus, from what I read about him during the year, he played pretty well, especially for a rookie. Ohlund we all remember from his days as a Canuck, but it looks like he had an off year last year, at least offensively. I've always thought of him as a defenseman that could hold his own in the defensive zone, but was most effective on the PP and creating offense. Last year could have just been an off year for him, and he's under contract again for next year. It looks like he and Hedman make up the first pairing. I remember Andrej Meszaros from the Senators, but nothing about his game stands out to me. TSN certainly didn't think too highly of his game last year, but it sounds like he might be decent on the 2nd pairing. I don't know anything about the other 2 guys they have signed, so I won't try and talk about them. Out of their FA, the only one I really know anything about is Kurtis Foster, because he played here for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL (Atlanta's farm team). I know he's got a howitzer of a shot, but we all remember him breaking his leg, and now he's dealing with the terrible tragedy of losing his infant daughter a few weeks ago. Who knows where his head is at after something like that. Again, there might be some attractive FA out there for Stevie to pursue, including Anton Volchenkov, who seems to be fairly high-sought after for his shot-blocking abilities.

Forwards - This is where I actually know something about this team. Steven Stamkos was amazing this year, tying for the Rocket Richard Trophy with 51 goals in only his second season. He had a rough start to his rookie year, but for the last season-and-a-half, I'd argue he's been one of the top-10 forwards in the NHL. He's clearly who this team is built around (something Yzerman may know a thing or two about). Martin St Louis had a good season as well, and has proven that he is not just some flash-in-the-pan that I thought he was after his MVP season a few years ago. The big question is around Vincent Lecavalier. We all know about the monster deal he still has, and there have been trade rumours about his for a few years. In fact, I still expect him to be traded to the Canadiens any day now. He hasn't had great numbers the past few seasons, but he's still fairly young and if Yzerman confirms that he will not be traded, maybe that will free his mind a little to focus on hockey. The Lightning only have 2 other guys signed from their roster last year, and one of them is an enforcer (Todd Fedoruk) who plays less than 10 minutes a game. It seems like they have some prospects coming up, but my guess is that they are going to be very active with FA. I remember Steve Downie for his hit on Crosby, but I didn't realize he actually put up some decent numbers with Stamkos. Alex Tanguay is a guy that I actually wanted the Wings to look at instead of Bertuzzi, and he really didn't fit in with the Lightning. Maybe he will go elsewhere for a fresh start. There's a lot of depth that needs to be filled in up front, and let's hope Stevie doesn't look at some Wings (Eaves, Miller) as potential pieces.

According to Capgeek, the Lightning have about $21M in cap space but they don't have a lot of players signed. They have the 7th pick in the draft this year, so there's going to be a lot of highly-touted prospects still available when it's their turn to draft. Stevie is going to have his work cut out for him, and it remains to be seen what type of team he wants to build. I believe he's going to instill a system similar to what is in Detroit - there will be an emphasis on puck possession, skill, and hard work. It's weird to think about him in this position; having to hire a coach, make trades, release players. He's always been known as one of the nicest, classiest people in the game, and GMs have to make tough decisions that are not always popular. I believe Yzerman has landed in a good position in Tampa, and he will build that team back up into a perennial contender. He has already brought class to the team, as well as experience from being part of the best organization in all of sports. I have no doubts that the Lightning will be Cup contenders in the next 5 years, and Yzerman will win an Executive of the Year award at some point. Once again, for the thousandth time, to Stevie: we're sorry to see you go, but we wish you nothing but success and happiness. Make us all proud.

Stevie Y to Tampa

Well, by now you've probably heard that Steve Yzerman is set to be named the general manager of the Lightning today. This is a very bittersweet day for Red Wing fans. We're all sad to see him go, as he's been such a fixture of this franchise for over a quarter century. But we all want to see him succeed and do well, because it his success will reflect postively on the Wings and their front office.

From a personal standpoint, this is tough. I have never lived in the state of Michigan of the city of Detroit, so I was not exposed to the Wings at an early age. I became a Wings fan when I saw Steve Yzerman play. I was 7 years old and saw him at Maple Leaf Gardens. I remember being mesmerized by him on the ice, and from then on I kept checking on how they were doing. This was in the days before Twitter, blogs, ESPN/TSN and the internet. So I did what any kid did: I checked the boxscores in the newspaper to see if Yzerman got any points. Over the next year or two, I was converted into a full-fledged Red Wing fan (much to the consternation of my Maple Leaf-loving father). I've watched Yzerman grow from an offensive dynamo of the late '80s and early '90s into the best 2-way forward in the NHL under Scotty Bowman. I remember the rumours about his being traded to Ottawa in the mid-90s after yet another unsuccessful playoff run. But the one thing that I will always remember about him was his solo lap with the Cup in 1997. I still get goosebumps when I see him lift that Cup for the first time, and always will. It was at that moment that all the doubts about him were removed, and he finally cemented his place among the all-time greats.

To Stevie: thanks for the memories in Detroit. You will always be a Red Wing, no matter where you go. I wish you nothing but good times in Tampa (or as I am now going to call it, Hockeytown South) and hope that you bring a Cup there. You've got a good nucleus to work with and a high draft pick this year. Good luck and here's hoping that some day you make your way back home to Detroit.

Season in Review - Part 2 - Goaltending

Let’s face it. It’s been a long time since the Red Wings had a legitimate stud goalie under the age of 30. Hell, it’s been a long time since the Wings had a stud goalie, period. Now don’t get me wrong: I’ve always thought that Chris Osgood is extremely underrated, and will be in the Hall of Fame someday (take that, doubters!). But he was never the type of goalie that was going to steal a series in the playoffs for the Wings, or even win it on his own. He was the type of goalie that made the right save at the right time. Look at the goalies the Red Wings have used since they began their streak of playoff appearances: Tim Cheveldae, Greg Millen, Vincent Riendeau, Bob Essensa, Mike Vernon, Chris Osgood, Manny Legace, Dominik Hasek, Curtis Joseph, and Jimmy Howard. Out of that group, how many of those goalies would be considered elite? Hasek for sure, and maybe Joseph, but they got both of those guys at the end of their careers, not in their prime. Osgood, unfortunately, has always had his detractors for being an average goalie on a great team (nevermind that other “average” goalies never won shit with the Wings, but that’s another discussion). But this year, Jimmy took the reins of the team and became the de facto #1 goalie for the Wings.

At the beginning of the year, there were still people (myself included) who doubted whether Howard was ever going to succeed with the Wings. It seemed like he was given countless opportunities to win the backup job, yet the Wings kept going out and signing Manny Legace and Ty Conklin to back up Osgood or Hasek. This year, the only reason Howard was given the job was because they couldn’t afford Conklin due to the cap. I remember thinking at the beginning of the year that if Howard could give them 20-30 good games, I’d be happy, because obviously Ozzie was going to rebound from his awful play last year in the regular season.

Jimmy gets his first start against the Blues in Sweden, and gives up a soft goal. Hey, that happens to the best of them. Just bear down and…..shit, Jimmy, really? The same goal a few seconds later? I’ll be honest, I was yelling some nasty things at the TV, and the words “fucking rookie bitch” escaped my mouth at least 5 times that afternoon. I was not exactly filled with confidence that Howard was going to win a game, let alone carry this team through the season.

Then a funny thing happened: Osgood sucked ass. Be honest; he never looked “right” this season. Personally, I think the 400 win mark was getting to him, and he was trying way too hard. Ozzie gets pulled in Vancouver, and in comes Howard. And Howard looked good. He gets the start the next night; he gives up 5 goals against the Oilers. But after that, a funny thing happened: he kept getting better, and I could not get why. About halfway through January I realized that this kid was doing something special. I no longer penciled the other team in for 4 goals just because Jimmy was starting. It was a nice feeling. We all remember the run he went on after the Olympics, where it seemed that he, like the Wings, were unbeatable. He ended the season 37-15-10 with a 2.26 GAA, 924 SV% and 3 SO. Keep in mind, those numbers are better than Steve Mason’s last year (except for the SO) when Mason won the Calder Trophy. Jimmy has been nominated for the Calder this year, but people say he’s too old (who cares) and that he was on a good team (uh, when they were healthy). Personally, I think Myers is going to win the Calder, but that’s only because he’s a defenseman who put up ridiculous numbers.

The playoffs started, and let me ask you something: were you nervous about Jimmy being a rookie? Strangely, I wasn’t. I had no doubts that he was going to perform well and keep the Wings in games. I never got the sense that he was a real weakness, and throughout the first round, he looked pretty good. He was a little shaky in the first couple of games, but then he pitched the SO in Game 4 and looked great in Game 5. Game 6 was not his fault, and he didn’t really have to do anything in Game 7. Against the Sharks, he was the victim from some poor play in front of him and some mental lapses (Couture’s tying goal in Game 3 is a goal that I am sure will haunt/motivate him for years). All in all, the Wings were not eliminated because of Jimmy; were it not for him, Game 5 would have been a complete blowout.

So, what does this mean for the future? Hopefully, good things. I’m always wary of the sophomore slump (Steve Mason, Cam Ward), so you just never know. Now that Jimmy’s had a full season, other teams will be more aware of his weaknesses; in other words, every team will try and get the game to the shootout. If I had one criticism of Jimmy, it’s that he sucks balls in shootouts. How can a guy who played for that many years in the AHL, where they have had the shootout longer than in the NHL, be so bad at them? Maybe Zetterberg and Howard should have a little 1-on-1 practice this summer. I’m happy with where the Wings’ goaltending situation is right now. We’ve got Ozzie for one more season, and I think the offseason will be good for him to refocus and get back on track. I want to see him get to 400 wins so badly; I think it would really mark him as a legitimately great goalie. After next season, I expect Ozzie to retire, paving the way for McCollum to come up and assume the mantle of backup. By then, Jimmy will have a Calder and a Vezina under his belt to go with his Conn Smythe and Cup ring. The future is bright in the Detroit net for the foreseeable future.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Let's Go Philly?

So the Blackhawks are in the Finals. Lord save us. I can not think of another result that wasn’t Red Wing-related that pissed me off so much. Watching that game yesterday, I had the sense that the Hawks were going to inevitably tie the game up and win, much in the same way I knew the Sharks were going to win Game 5 against the Wings. As soon as the empty netter was scored, I turned the game off; there was no way I wanted to see the Hawks celebrate getting closer to winning the Stanley Cup.

First, a note to the Sharks: seriously? That was the team that beat the Wings 4 out of 5 times? I can’t believe that. Now, I can’t say with any certainty that the Wings would have beaten the Hawks 4 out of 7 times. But I do know one thing: they would have won a FUCKING GAME! Talk about rolling over and dying. At no point in any game during this series did I get the sense that the Sharks belonged here. They were awful in every aspect. And to every journalist who wrote about Jumbo Joe shedding his “choker” label, I better see some retractions, because he was absolutely invisible in this series.

Back to the Hawks. I can’t say I’m surprised they are in the Finals. They are a great team full of young superstars that is getting exceptional goaltending at the right time. They have eliminated the #1 and #3 seeds in the West, and will be huge favourites to win the Cup.

And I fucking hate them.

I can’t stand the Blackhawks. There are two obvious reasons for that. The first is that they are a major rival of the Red Wings. The second is that they are the home team. If you’ve ever lived in another team’s city, especially a rival, you know what I am talking about. You already hate the team, but because of where you live, you are forced to get coverage of them beyond the national media. It sucks. But, beyond those reasons, there are a couple of other factors that feed my hate of the Hawks.

The first is Patrick Kane. JJ from Kansas said that Kane was the Crosby of the Western Conference, and I tend to agree with that statement. As we discussed, the problem is that Kane gets a pass for his shit while Crosby is vilified if he farts on the ice. But, therein lies the difference between Kane and Crosby: all of Crosby’s antics (the diving, whining, cross-checking, speedbagging the opponent’s balls) are on the ice, while Kane is best remembered for beating up a Buffalo cab driver because of a dispute over 20 cents. I will take a player who is a douche but is a douche on the ice over a player that is an idiot off the ice: the former speaks to the guy as a player, while the latter speaks to him as a person. It’s a shame that all of the real jerks in the NHL (Crosby, Corey Perry, Chris Pronger) have all won Cups, and it looks like Kane is going to get one too: I hope they don’t present the Cup in the Hawks defensive zone, because Kane will not know where that is.

The second reason is the fact that, for as much as the Hawks talk about hating the Wings, they are the Wings. They play the same style, are coached the same way, get the same type of players; they even hired Scotty Bowman away from us. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: I say that they are still the Little Brother that can’t match what Big Brother has done on their own, so they try and copy everything we do so that they can try and be half as successful as us. But, there’s a big difference between what the Wings have done and what the Blackhawks have done: the Wings never had to suck balls for 10 years and rack up high draft picks to stay competitive. We have seen the Wings stay at or near the top of the NHL for the last 20 years, while the Blackhawks have been garbage for a while up until the last 2-3 years. Consider this: since the lockout, the Wings have been to the Finals twice; the Blackhawks have been to the PLAYOFFS twice in that same time frame. Oh, and the Wings split the season series this year with the Hawks even though they were injured and supposed to be in a “rebuilding” year. I love reminding Hawks fans about that.

Hawks fans. Good Lord, are there Hawks fans now. There are people who are now sporting their Hawk hats and growing playoff beards and talking about how Toews and Kane are awesome and they can’t wait for Niemi to be here and win 5 Cups with them. Are you fucking kidding me? I went to the grocery store the other day and saw 6 people wearing Hawks shit. I can guarantee that of those 6 people, 5 of them couldn’t name one player on the Hawks 5 years ago. Further, in this grocery store, 5 years ago I could probably have found 1 or 2 things with the Hawks logo on it: now there’s shit everywhere. This city has hopped on the bandwagon, and done so very quickly. But, God forbid you say that the fans are there because the Hawks are good: to hear them talk, it was all Bill Wirtz’ fault. He was a terrible owner, and he certainly got in the way of the Hawks being good; I think when they did succeed, it was in spite of him, not because of him. But, the reason the fans came back was not because he died; it’s because they had players like Toews and Kane and Keith that were good, and the team got better. If the team had continued to suck, the fans would still not be going to the games. A couple of stories from my own experience to illustrate this: about 4 years ago, my father-in-law called me on a Thursday and asked if I wanted to go to the Hawks game. I asked him who was playing, and he said they were playing the Wings. Naturally, I said yes, and we were able to get tickets ON THE DAY OF THE GAME that were in the 300 level at centre ice. The building was about ¾ full for the Wings, which never happened. Now, they sell out every game and the fans think this shows how supportive they are. The second story concerns a co-worker of mine. 3 years ago after the Hawks got Toews and Kane, they played the Wings very early in the season (it may have been the first game, I can’t remember). That was the game where Kane scored the SO winner against Hasek. The next day at work, a co-worker came up to me and said “saw the Hawks beat the Wings last night” and proceeded to talk shit. Being the kind of guy I am, I brought up the fact that the Wings were probably tired of beating the Hawks, seeing as how they had done it 15 of the last 16 times. It was then that he said “I don’t like hockey. I was just busting your balls because the Wings lost and I know you are a Wings fan”. Fast forward 3 years; this same co-worker was at the game yesterday texting pictures from the game and talking about how awesome the Hawks are and how excited he is the Hawks are going to the Finals. I have secretly renamed this guy “Exhibit A” because of how he personifies the way this city has gotten behind the Hawks.

If anyone local reads this blog and is upset at what I wrote, I don’t really care. I can’t stand the Hawks, because of one final thing: their identity is not based on their love of the Hawks, but of their hatred of the Wings. They are like White Sox fans (another team and fanbase I can’t stand); Sox fans spend more time hating the Cubs than liking the Sox. I can’t understand that mentality, as I have always been a “cheer for your team” kind of guy. You see on blogs like Second City Hockey that they won’t talk about the Wings by name: they call the Wings “Scum”. Really? You hate the team that much that you have to call them some sort of derogatory nickname like that? You know why Hawks’ fans act like this? Jealousy. Don’t let any of them tell you different; if the shoe were on the other foot, Hawks fans would be all over us telling us how we wish our team could be as good as the Hawks have been for the last 15 years.

There are a few saving graces for me; things that make me smile and keep me sane. I love knowing that even if the Hawks do win the Cup, the team will have to be blown up in the off-season because of all the dumb-fuck contracts given out to idiots like Hossa*, Campbell and Huet. I hope Hawks fans enjoyed seeing Byfugly and Sharp, because it’s almost a guarantee they are gone; so is their goalie. Quenneville still has never beaten the Red Wings in a playoff series, and I know that deep down, Hawks fans are pissed that they didn’t get a chance to play the Wings this year in the playoffs. They know that we can still point out that they have not beaten us to win the Cup, and until they do, they are still our bitch. Hell, even when they won the division this year, they didn’t beat us in the season series. As of this writing, it looks like it’s going to be a Philly-Chicago Finals, so I am going to do what any self-respecting Red Wing fan will do – get updates from Twitter and hope that somehow, someway, no one wins the Cup this year.

* Speaking of Hossa, what a colossal waste of money that guy has been for the Hawks. He missed half of the year with a shoulder injury, then didn’t do much this season, and has a whole 2 goals in the playoffs. My father-in-law said that he is a two-way player; two-way players still score goals once in a while. I think I may make a graph charting that as Hossa’s contribution has decreased, his teams have done more. What really chaps my ass is that, despite his disappearing act, he is in the Finals for a third consecutive year. Un-fucking-believeable. I wonder what he’ll do if he loses; I’m thinking suicide watch.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

1 In, 1 Out

Since I can't bear to watch Little Brother and the Flyers win games, I needed a distraction. Thankfully, there was actually some news out of the Wings yesterday. One was a signing, one was a defection, and another was a potential signing.

Mattias Ritola signs 3 year deal with Red Wings - There are a couple of things about this signing. First, sayonara to Jason Williams. It’s a shame that my last memory of you in a Wing uniform will be you trying to shatter the glass with your slapshot in game 3 against the Sharks. But, when you consider that the only other thing I remember you doing this season was breaking your leg, maybe that’s a sign you just weren’t a good fit here. Oh well, good luck wherever you go. I like this signing, because this will inject some youth into the lineup. The cap hit is essentially nothing ($500K for the first year), so that’s not a big deal. The interesting part is that it is a two-way deal, but they will have to waive him if he gets sent down to Grand Rapids. My take? I think the Wings have decided that this year is Ritola’s make-or-break year. If at some point they feel he’s not good enough to hack it in the NHL and have to send him down, they are not going to worry about whether he’s claimed off waivers or not. This won’t be like the Kyle Quincey situation where they had too many d-men already on the roster to give him a spot: Ritola is going to get a chance to earn an everyday spot in the Wings’ lineup next year. Queue the calls of “Riiiittttoooollllaaaa” from the commercials.

Daniel Larsson signs with Swedish team - So, it appears that the Wings’ AHL goalie has signed a contract with a Swedish team (ironically, the team that just lost another one-time Wings’ prospect, Stephan Liv). There are 2 things I get from this defection. First, it’s always tough to lose a goaltending prospect, even if that goalie was not expected to ever become the #1 guy for the Wings at some point. Look at the Flyers this year: they’ve had every single goalie in North America play for them at some point, and they are 2 games away from going to the Finals. Larsson put up good numbers in Grand Rapids last season, and from what I’ve been reading, there was talk he was going to become the backup to Jimmy once Ozzie retires, which may be as soon as 2011-2012. So that’s a bummer. However, if he continued to play really well, then he could have earned the backup job in Detroit or been used as trade bait to secure some other asset for the Wings. The second part of this is that clearly Thomas McCollum has become the “next-in-line” guy for the Wings. He’s still young, and as we saw with Jimmy, the Wings are not going to rush Tommy (I’m imposing this nickname now) up to the NHL. It will be interesting to see what the Wings do with Tommy going forward, but maybe it’s time he got the full-time job in Grand Rapids to see if he can handle being the number 1 guy for the team.

Todd Bertuzzi and Wings start talking - I read this article and immediately thought of the Weezer song “Say It Ain’t So". However, after picking myself off the floor, I thought this may not be that bad a scenario. It will all depend on the money involved. If the Wings can get Bertuzzi for no more than $1.5-$1.75M per year on a 2 year deal, I would be ok with it. He can put up 10-15 goals, 40-50 points, and he was one of 3 Wings to actually play in every game. Plus, he can score in the shootout, which was a real bugaboo for the Wings this year (on an aside, can someone pull Zetterberg away from what he’s doing and tell him he might want to practice breakaways? When have you ever seen someone so talented suck so bad at shootouts?). There was a time late in the year and in the first round where he, Zetterberg and Filppula were the best line the Wings had. I can’t believe I am actually typing this, but maybe signing Bertuzzi is a….sm….art……move. Ok, I’m going to go vomit now.

Still no official word on Nicklas Lidstrom, but rumours are that he is going to make a decision by June 1st so that the Wings can proceed with their plans. Much like a Game 7, I am filled with anxiety and excitement waiting for him to announce that he is coming back for at least 1 more year. Please let that be the announcement. I can't take the thought of the Blackhawks and Flyers being in the Stanley Cup Final at the same time as Lidstrom retiring. I might have to lock myself in a dark room for a few weeks to ward off all of the demons in the world, because clearly there would be some dark spirits afoot if that all happened at the same time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Season In Review - Part 1 of a Bunch

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.

Monday, May 10, 2010


I am leaving this "untitled" because I am not sure what to say. The shock of the Wings losing the series has mostly worn off, leaving me to analyze the series itself and my thoughts about it. Actually, the word "shock" is not the right one. I was not shocked the Wings lost. For most of the series, the Wings were a step behind the Sharks, and never caught up.

It's hard to pinpoint what exactly went wrong. The Wings lost too many battles for loose pucks, and good God were they awful at faceoffs. A puck possession team has to be actually have the puck, and the Wings were forced to chase the Sharks, unlike in years past when it was the other team chasing the Wings. It's not a good feeling being on the other side, watching Wings' opponent control the play and never give up the puck. I hope that when training camp opens in September, every single centerman on the Wings practises faceoffs for at least 2 hours a day.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the referees. Let me start by saying that I do not believe the refs had anything to do with the Sharks winning this series; they won (mostly) fair and square. But I have been watching hockey for a very long time, and I truly believe that was the worst officiated series I have ever seen. I say that as both a fan of the Red Wings and a fan of hockey. If I were a Sharks fan, I would probably say the same thing. Two of the most brutal calls were against the Sharks; the penalty shot in Game 3 and the goaltender interference call on Heatley in Game 2. I hope that in the coming years, when tapes are shown of how not to officiate a playoff series, every game in this series is shown.

Again, I want to repeat: the Sharks were the better team in this series, and the refs did not affect the outcome of the series. There were calls missed, including yet another one in Game 5 with Murray's head-shot to Franzen. The Sharks scored immediately after that play after the Wings fucked up yet another faceoff. I heard someone argue that the faceoff never should have been in the Wings' zone if not for the missed call; but, be honest with yourself. Do you really believe the Wings were going to win that game? Whether the Sharks scored on that faceoff or another one, I had the sense that a Sharks win was inevitable. Even in the dying seconds, when the Wings had a power play and were trying to tie it, I could not shake the sense that even if they made it to OT, the Wings were going to lose. The Sharks were the better team for the first 30 minutes of the game, and the last 20.

This series was not lost due to the penalty discrepancy of Game 2, or the 3-goals-in-90-seconds of Game 1, or even with Rafalski's brain fart in Game 5. This series was lost when the Wings could not hold a 2-goal lead in the third period of Game 3. At some point this summer, I am going to go back and look at how many games the Wings lost when they had at least a 2-goal lead at some point in the game; I am dreading the results of that research. Unfortunately, this was a team that could not clamp down on their opponent, and it cost them both during the regular season and in the playoffs.

I will probably do a season "recap" in the next few days. I am working on something that sums up how I feel about the season as a whole, not just the series just passed. All I can say about this series is that, as much as it pains me to say it, the better team won. I wish I could say I want the Sharks to do well going forward, but I just can't. In fact, as it stands today, the final 4 would be the Penguins, Bruins, Sharks and Blackhawks. Ugh. I think I am going to unplug my satellite and just read the post-game reports. On second thought, maybe I will cheer for the Sharks; they seem to be the lesser of all evils.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Is This It? - Part 2

Due to family stuff, I didn't get to see the game. I will say that it is probably a little inapporpriate to be at a funeral home and yell out "Yes, eat shit motherfuckers!" That is what I did when I (discreetly) was told by my wife what the score was after the first period. Needless to say, I was given a very stern look by many people there. The only part of the game I saw was the second intermission on TSN. I wasn't paying too much attention, but James Duthie made an interesting comment. He said "if Detroit wins Game 5, they win the series." Bold prediction, and I hope he's better at predicting things than Maggie the Monkey.

So, how do you write up a preview of the game when you haven't seen the last one? I don't know, but this seems to be working so far. I have read a lot of the blogs (because the news reports of the game don't tell me what I want to know), and from what I've seen, the pairing of Franzen and Bertuzzi apparently lit a fire under both their asses. That reminds me of Game 4 last year against the Ducks when Babs put Hossa and Mule together and they torched the Ducks. That game carried over to Game 5 which the Wings won big. Here's hoping history repeats itself.

I guess Franzen decided to actually put the puck in the net, eh? 6 points isn't too shabby for one night of work. Let's hope he didn't blow his wad too early and go cold again tonight. Bertuzzi also appeared to have a good game.

I've always been wary of how a team like the Sharks will react after a blowout loss like Thursday night. We saw what happened last year against the Penguins (fuckers). I think I'd rather the Wings had won a hard fought 2-1 OT game. That lets the Sharks know that the Wings are fighting back against the Sharks. I don't know exactly what happened, but from my own experience playing, it was always easier to bounce back after being blown out because you think "we sucked today, but that won't happen tomorrow." Here's hoping that the Wings get another early lead and keep their foot on the gas.

This series should be 2-2, or even 3-1 for the Wings. Should this series end tonight, I will be extremely disappointed, not just because the season is over for the Wings, but because this was a series that feels extremely winnable. I have not been very impressed with the Sharks so far, and that's not just because I am a very sore loser. I think that if they can steal a win tonight, the collars around the Sharks are going to get very tight. The thing to remember is that the Wings no longer have to come back from being down 3-0 - it's now 3-1, and we just witnessed the Canadiens come back against the President's Trophy winners. Anything is possible. Whatever the Wings did in Game 4, they just need to do it again. Shouldn't be that difficult, really. Right?

No movie quotes again today. I can't think of anything that wound sound tired and cliched. The Wings know what this game means. Win and the epic comeback is half complete. Lose and the season is over. I think tonight is where Jimmy Howard shows why he should be ROY. He steals a game the Wings have no business winning, and the Wings stay alive.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Is This It?

I am in the car headed up to Toronto for a funeral, so this will have to be quick.No fancy quotes or in depth analysis.

I feel like the Wings are on the verge of something special. Tonight is going to be a good night.I really believe that the game 7 Wings are going to show up.Maybe I am inspired because I am just outside Ann Arbor as I write this (beautiful city). Or maybe its because I have had the equivalent of a pot of coffee and its only 10:45 am. Either way, I feel good.

I will miss most of the game due to family stuff, so there will not be a big recap tomorrow. I won't get into what the Wings need to do to win tonight. All they need to do tonight is play the way they can, an remember that they are the fucking Red Wings. They will not be swept, not by the Sharks. They still have the ability to choke. I will not give up hope until the game is over and the Wings are out.

Tonight the comeback starts. I will give the Joe a salute as we cross the bridge. No limits.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Fitting End to a Shit Day

Well, that was brutal. It's hard for me to write about this, because I am still numb.

A note before I recap the game, because this is the reason I just don't give a shit: my grandmother passed away today. She had a quick but determined fight with cancer, but unfortunately the disease won out. Just like the house, cancer always wins. All of the cliches are true: stuff like this puts life into perspective. Don't get me wrong: I'm still uber-mad the Wings pissed that game away. But I just don't really care. The Wings could get swept on Thursday, and I won't care as much then. My grandmother was a wonderful woman and was really like a third parent to me. I was very close to her, and it's going to take some time to get over the fact she's not with us anymore. The only saving grace is that she is no longer in pain, as it got pretty bad towards the end.

On to the game. How is that the 3 things we all said were important for the Wings to win (faceoffs, contain Pavelski, better on the PK) were accomplished, and they still LOST THE FUCKING GAME!!! I just don't get this team this year. They play an inspired first period, even if they did get a huge break when they got the penalty shot. But why the fuck did Hank take it? He is godawful in shootouts. Put Bertuzzi out there. At least he scores every once in a whie on those things. Babcock really screwed the pooch out there.

I was feeling great until that goal with 1.8 seconds left - 1.8 seconds away from a 2-goal lead and a dominating first period. To quote Andy from Fight Night at the Joe said on Twitter, "Unacceptable".

The second period was blah, but to be honest, I missed most of it because I was talking to family. From what I saw on Twitter, it sounded like the Sharks were starting to take over the game. But, I felt good going into the third with a 2-goal lead.

The third period. Our nemesis. How many leads have we seen the Wings piss away this year? Too many to count, if you ask me. About 5 minutes into the third period I turned to my wife and said "they're not skating". Sure enough, Thornton picks up a goal after the Wings turn into a bunch of blind idiots trying to get the puck. After that, the Hank line picked it up, This was clearly their best game of the series, but it was too little, too late.

The tying goal. Jesus. Fucking. Christ. Jimmy, I am proud of you for what you have done this year. You almost single-handedly kept this team close to a playoff position when we had the injuries. You were unbelievable down the stretch after the Olympics. In fact, you were having a pretty good series. But, you pulled a Legace - you let in a cheap goal when your team needed a save. I think you're going to have a good career here in Detroit, but if you ever give up a goal like that again, don't think I won't turn on you like a rabid dog.

We're going to take a break from the recap to discuss what we all love - the refs. They did not cost the Wings tonight. The penalty on Homer at the end of the game was a brutal call, but overall they did not influence or impact this game. I know there was a discrepancy in calls (again), but the Wings put themselves in position to take penalties too many times tonight. Here's a thought: move your fucking feet and keep skating. Or, win a faceoff and control the puck. If you have the puck, then you don't need to hook or trip anyone. It's fairly simple.

So the Wings broke their OT cherry tonight, and damn if it wasn't pretty. The millisecond after I saw Thornton and Marleau on the 2-on-1, I knew it was over. There was no chance, and it was a nice pass. I'll be honest: Thornton is looking pretty good out there. I still don't like him, and still think he's overrated, but he is starting to shed that "choker" label.

So that's just about it. Down 3-0, and nothing the Red Wings did tonight gave me any confidence they can come back and win 4 straight. This series has exposed a lot of flaws on the Wings, and it's very disheartening to see them go out like this. Tyler over at Triple Deke echoed my thoughts in saying that this is not about the Red Wings "not wanting it". I'm disappointed by the outcome, but I know that each and every one of the players in that room are even more devastated by the loss tonight. They want to win just as much, if not more, than we want them to. You can question their decision-making or their execution, but don't question their heart or desire to win. As much as it pains me to say this, maybe they just aren't that good. At least not good enough to win the Cup. The loss tonight is squarely on the Red Wings - they had a 2 goal lead, once again, and frittered it away with a laid-back game plan and poor play.

RIP Grandma Jean. We will always love you and miss you. I know you are in a better place.

WCSF - Game 3 - May the Force Be With You

Ok, so I'm a pretty big Star Wars geek. Not the "dress-up-in-a-stormtrooper-costume-to-see-the-movie-at-the-theatre" kind of geek - I don't have enough money to buy a costume. But like most Star Wars fans, I can recite pretty much all of the original movies, and some of the next set (which were not as good, but don't get me started on that). I've got some action figures lying around the house, and I am not completely ashamed to admit I own a few t-shirts that may or may not have Darth Vader on them. Under normal circumstances, I would watch at least one of the movies today, but there's a hockey game on tonight that is a little important. So, we're going to look forward to that. So, in honour of Star Wars Day (May the Fourth, get it?), we'll do our game preview with a Star Wars theme.

"Never tell me the odds" - Empire Strikes Back, 1980 - The Red Wings are down 2-0, and without doing any actual research, I would bet all $300 I have that the team that is up has won the series about 70-80% of the time. Bad news, right? Well, there are reasons why the Wings should feel confident they can come back. First, how many times did the Wings win the first 2 games of a series, only to see the other team win their home games and tie it up? Off the top of my head, I can think of 5 series where that happened: 2004 against the Predators and Flames, 2007 against the Flames, 2008 against the Predators, and 2009 against the Penguins (fuckers). Of those 5 series, the Wings lost 2 of them. So it's not impossible to come back. Plus, we all remember the Finals last year. I still have nightmares about it. Basically, until the Sharks win 4 games, I will not consider this series to be over.

"I'm Luke Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you" - A New Hope (1977) - With all apologies to Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg is the cog of the Wings' wheel (pun intended). He was awesome against the Coyotes, but against the Sharks he has been a little invisible. It's not that he has played poorly; it's just that he's not doing what we really need him to do, which is score goals and play smothering defense against the other team's top forward. He can't do it alone; Bertuzzi and Filppula have to be better as well. But if the Wings are going to win this series, Hank has to be our Luke Skywalker. This starts in the faceoff circle, where he's been dominated by anyone on the Sharks that has gone against him.

Darth Vader - Not a quote, but it's clear that Joe Pavelski is the Darth Vader to the Red Wings' rebel alliance. In fact, if you pay attention, I'm pretty sure he just scored again. He has been the reason that the Sharks are up in this series. He's got 4 goals out of the 8 the Sharks have scored, and his line has scored 6 of the 8 goals (Greg Louganis (Setoguchi) and Clowe have the other 2). So the message should be simple - stop that line and the Wings win. The Thornton-Heatley-Mitchell line has not been scary - both of their goals came on a busted stick leading to a 3 on 1, and a matchup after an icing on the Wings' 4th line.

Wedge - Remember Wedge? He's one of the rebel X-wing pilots. He's the only guy besides the main characters that is in all 3 of the early movies. He's there, but you don't really notice him as the movie is going on. When the trilogy is over, someone mentions that Wedge was in all 3 movies and you say "huh, I hadn't really noticed that. I guess I will pay attention to that next time." This is Johan Franzen. He's had a point in every game. That's impressive. But have you really noticed him out there? Outside of Game 1 of this series, he's been fairly mediocre. It's time for the Mule to stop being a supporting player and become a main character in this series.

Jabba The Hut - Jabba was an interesting character. He was some sort of mobster, controlling Tatooine, although he never moved. The only thing Jabba was actually good for was getting Princess Leia in to the gold bikini. I guess some would say he was an imposing figure, but as the movie develops, you got the sense he was really just a minor plot point to advance the story that Luke was now a superstar. I mean, for a guy that huge, all 100 lbs of Leia could choke him to death? Really? Anyway, this is how I feel about Evgeni Nabokov. Some people consider him an elite goalie - but does he scare any of you? He let in a softie in Game 2, and I don't think he's been the difference in this series at all. He's made a few nice saves, but I credit the Sharks' defense more for keeping the Wings to the outside and preventing second and third chances. If they get that, they will score a ton.

Babcock needs to pull some Jedi-mind shit on the players today. He needs to convince them that they are the better team, and that they will win tonight. I can just see it:

Team: This Sharks team is pretty good. It's going to be tough to beat them.
Babcock: These aren't the Sharks you're playing.
Team: These aren't the Sharks we're playing.
Babcock: You're playing the Coyotes.
Team: We're playing the Coyotes.
Babcock: It's Game 7 - lose and you're done.
Team: It's Game 7 - lose and we're done.
Babcock: Kick some ass!
Team: Kick some ass!

My prediction for tonight? I can not see the Wings falling behind 3-0 in this series. I think the officiating is going to be very even, because this series is under the microscope. I don't think there will be any make-up calls for Tuesday, nor do I want any. The Wings come out and play like their season is on the line, which it essentially is. I really believe that tonight is the night that Franzen and Zetterberg step up and take this series over. Thornton will continue his streak of being one of the most over-rated players in the NHL, and Pavelski will not have the opportunities that he's had in the first 2 games. The Wings win big, 5-2, and set the stage for a pivotal Game 4 on Thursday.

LGRW - May The Force Be With You!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Going Forward....

Breathe. Just take a deep breath. Don't you feel better? I know I do. Maybe it's the 3 cups of coffee I had in just over 90 minutes. Maybe it's the fact I just got yelled at on the phone by a crazy person (not my wife). Or maybe it's because I have had time to digest last night. But, I feel better.

Look, we all know the officiating was garbage last night. My main issue is that the referees have had far too great an impact on the outcome of the games. These are two excellent teams, and it would be nice to see them let these teams play and decide the game on the ice. However, this has been talked about to death by the fans, so we won't get in to it again.

As Drew at NOHS pointed out, the Red Wings have played very well in these first two games. Looking back at last night's contest, they were the better team throughout a majority of the second period. The start of the game was something else, though. They were on their heels for the first 10 minutes, and had it not been for Datsyuk's goal and some stellar goaltending by Jimmy, it could have been another night like Game 1. But they buckled down and got back to even, despite not playing that great. The GWG last night was off a fluke play, but Lidstrom should have tackled Thornton or Heatley. That's a situation where I wouldn't mind a penalty being called, because it would stop a 3-on-1. Throw in the fact that Jimmy made the first save but the rebound went off Rafalski's leg right to Jumbo Joe for the easy goal. (As an aside, what the fuck is up with Thornton's nickname? He plays like he's 5'7" and 180 lbs. He's not gritty or tough. He's a finesse guy. There is nothing "Jumbo" about his game besides his ability to disappear in the playoffs). So what do the Red Wings have to get back in the series? There are still several aspects of their game that need to improve.

My God, their inability to win a crucial faceoff is driving me insane. Remember when it was automatic that the Wings would win a faceoff and immediately break out of the zone? Zetterberg is getting owned in the faceoff circle, and this is creating a lot of problems. This was something that Phoenix took advantage of, and it's obvious the Sharks are exploiting this weakness. I think they should just start each faceoff basketball style with the Sharks "inbounding" to another player. You know they are going to get the puck anyway, so why not let the Wings get set up defensively in the zone.

Joe Pavelski scares me. Every time he touches the puck, I pee myself just a little bit. I honestly expect him to score every time he touches the puck. If he took a shot from center, I would hold my breath until Jimmy saved it. He's that good right now. I haven't seen anything like this since Franzen vs the Avalanche circa 2008. With Pavelski seemingly scoring at will, the Sharks' top line has not had to be the difference. The Wings have to find a way to stop Pavelski, Clowe and Setoguchi. I would suggest that all 5 Wings on the ice gang-tackle Pavelski and let Jimmy face the other 4 Sharks - that would give us a chance.

This will sound funny, but the Wings PK has to be better. How can they improve on their 80% from last night? Stop going down by 2 men. 3 of the Sharks PP goals have been scored with only 3 Red Wings on the ice. The Sharks are far too talented to allow them that much time and space to operate. They were much better overall on the PK last night, but they were also bailed out by some spectacular saves by Jimmy. They desperately need an 0-fer to gain some momentum.

Speaking of Jimmy, there had better not be a single person out there who blames him for either loss. He has not been given any help by the Wings' defense so far, and last night he was the only reason they were still in the game after the first period. I watch Jimmy and I feel confident that he is going to keep them in the game. I've long maintained that the Wings do not need a goalie to steal a game or a series from the other team; all he has to do is make the right save at the right time. Last night Jimmy did that.

The second line of Zetterberg, Bertuzzi and Filppula has to create more offense. The Wings are relying far too much on Datsyuk's line to score goals, and without balanced scoring, the Wings are in trouble. Nabokov has not looked particularly sharp in either game so far, so the Wings need to exploit this. I feel the goaltending matchup is in favor of Detroit. Nabby just does not scare me.

All in all, the Wings are still in this series. Obviously Game 3 is disgustingly important. The Sharks have had their problems at the Joe over the years, and there's no reason why that can't continue. The Sharks have not been head-and-shoulders better than the Wings in this series. They've had some good fortune and (that's the last time I mention the refs, I swear). The Wings need to remember how they played in Game 7 against Phoenix - determined and dangerous. When the Wings dictate the tempo and style of play, there is not a team in the NHL that can match them. They showed that against Phoenix last Tuesday. Even down 0-2, I still don't feel like the Red Wings are in deep trouble - yet. They have not lost a home game yet, which is very important. I'm not going to worry about winning both at home, because they have to win the first at home. I have no doubts the Wings are going to throw everything they have at the Sharks on Tuesday. This team has battled through all sorts of adversity this season, and have emerged on the other side of it more battle-tested and hardened. Tuesday will no different. I fully expect the Wings to get a victory on Tuesday, and then we will worry about Thursday.

Sharks 4 - Red Wings 3

Not a whole lot to say about that. Even now, almost 12 hours later, I'm still pissed about that. What an awful display of officiating. That was as embarrassing as all of the diving the Sharks were doing out there. Apparently McClelland picked up a few new tricks when he went out to San Jose.

There's really no need to recap the game. The Red Wings were looking good until someone realized that the Sharks had not had enough power plays, so the parade began. And if you think I'm just upset as a Red Wing fan, think again: two of the calls against the Sharks were just as bad (the Marleau "boarding" and the Heatley goalie interference). If I were a Shark fan, I would feel good about being up 2-0, but if you don't recognize that the refs have had a huge impact in these 2 games (the missed high stick on Franzen and the debacle last night), you are deluding yourself.

The two refs who worked the game last night should be ashamed. There is no reason why any official should have that great an impact on a playoff game. Especially in a series that would be awesome if the refs weren't fucking the whole thing up. How about just letting them play and only calling actual penalties? When you've got neutral announcers questioning the validity of the calls, and the 2 guys in the studio also wondering why there are so many penalties, then it's pretty clear you're doing a shitty job.

Having said all that, the Wings need to get better. Uh, guys, how about winning a faceoff once in a while? Pavel Datsyuk can not carry this team on his own, especially if the Sharks' top line gets going. Zetterberg, Filppula and Bertuzzi have to do a better job at creating offense.

Overall, the Wings didn't play a great game, but didn't play that poorly, either. Aside from Datsyuk, who almost single-handedly won the game, I can't think of a Red Wing player that had a great game or a bad game. The GWG was off a fluke play, and it's shit like that that makes me feel like this is just not their year.

Game 3 is huge. Must-win. I expect to see Game 7 Detroit show up. Otherwise this series is over.