Saturday, April 7, 2012

Detroit v Chicago: End of the Season Wrap Up

Just as an FYI: This is a really long post, as I'm wrapping up the season. So hit the bathroom now, grab yourself a beer, and settle in.

Due to a time confusion and working on some cleaning projects around the apartment, I missed the first 3/4 of the game today. When I turned the game on and saw it was 2-0 Chicago, my heart sunk. We were going to sink into the playoffs with a loss to Chicago. Then we got a goal and I felt hope and happiness. And we started to play super hard and get chances. And I was joyous. And then Chicago turned it around and my heart sunk deeper. Then we tied it and holy shit. I almost came leaping out of my chair and dumped my laptop to the floor. Then we lost. Fuck.

Me at the end of the game. And much of this season
Since I missed a huge chunk of the game, I don't feel right covering the game in total. Instead, I'm going to share my thoughts on the regular season, my hopes and my predictions for the playoffs. I'll also include my regular season awards, with a couple extra awards thrown in to wrap up the season.

The Home Streak: Was amazing, and it certainly ended too soon. However, I think it bears pointing out how important that come streak ended up being. With the injury bug that came sweeping through the Wings' dressing room, the struggles on the road, those points we built up during that 23 game home streak kept us in the middle of the pack. Without that streak, we may have been looking down at 7 or 8th place. Maybe fighting just to get into the playoffs instead of figuring out who we were going to play.

Defense: Was so much better this year than last year. We allowed about 40 fewer goals this season than we did last season. A ton of that credit goes to Jimmy Howard who, prior to being hurt, was an early Vezina consideration and an All-Star. But Lidstrom, Kronwall, Stuart and Ericsson all made more concerted efforts to be good in their own zone. Ian White came in and made an impact from the get go, Kindl and Smith were excellent interchangeable parts, looking to earn a spot.

Inconsistency: If there was one word to sum up the Red Wings this season, it would be that. They start off 5-0, then drop 6 games straight. We go on a home game tear and set a league record, but can't win outside of Wayne County. A huge sore spot from last season was how often they had to come from behind to try to win. They were better about it this season, but the last few games it seems like they gave up goals early on, and had to struggle back to win it. The Chicago game was a perfect example of that. Down by 2 goals and bust as to go to the shootout.

Pressure: I think the Wings felt it this season, maybe more than last. They win a cup, they make it back to the finals. We expect maybe a year or two of rough patches but Wings fans are hungry, impatient, passionate and dedicated. We want Stanley. We want him to purchase a home on Woodward Avenue and settle in. On the flip side, it seem like the Wings lacked pressure on the ice. I remember when I started watching hockey, and watched Detroit lose to New Jersey and Colorado, one of the things Scotty Bowman and Ken Holland wanted more of was grit, physical play and grinding play. That's why we got guys like Shanahan. That's why we let Konstantinov do his thing, and started the Grind Line against Eric Lindstrom, John Leclair and Mikael Renberg. And it worked.

I felt like at times the Wings spent too much time in their own zone, too much time getting out hit, too many times they'd gain the zone, get maybe one shot, and lose it off stronger physical play. San Jose has the same game strategy as the Red Wings, but with the added advantage of a faster, stronger forecheck.

Injuries: It could be argued, though, that a whole lot of the problems the Wings faced this year would have been nonexistent, or at least minimized, had the Wings not gotten murdered by injuries again. Datsyuk, Helm, Franzen, Howard, MacDonald, and something the Wings and fans were not ready for, Lidstrom. But, as I have said in the past when injuries happen: you still have to put a team on the ice, and they still have to perform and play to the level they're capable of.

That being said: injuries could have robbed Howard of a Vezina, and Lidstrom of his 8th Norris. And his recovery time may give him cause to retire.

Playoff Predictions and Awards after the Break:
So what's going to happen? Well, it's hard to say. I don't like coming into the playoffs on a loss. Especially not back to back losses. Especially not with this inconsistency problem the Wings have. This Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing. Where Dr. Jekyll is this...

...and Mr. Hyde whatever Clod Barfluzzie is whenever he's not in a shoot out. It's just so hard to know what the Red Wings' chances are right now. At the same time, I think it's really easy to know. I think the Red Wings will show us in the first game, maybe two, what this team is going to show us come playoff time. I think we'll know really quick whether or not the Wings have truly "flipped the playoff switch." 

If the Red Wings show up, if they bring the game we know they're capable of bringing, it doesn't matter that they're starting the series away. They'll maybe drop a close first game, win game two, sweep Nashville back at the Joe, and the wrap things up in 5 or 6 games total. If they don't, they'll see another first round exit. And we'll have to wonder how Edmonton Nashville did it. But the reality will be the Wings did it to themselves.

If the Red Wings we know and love come to play, I can see a Conference Finals, maybe a Stanley Cup Finals trip for Detroit this year. I think we have the right pieces in place where talent is not an issue. The issue is going to be how badly they want it and how hard they're willing to work for it. 

My hope? Nashville in 5 games or less, whoever in the 2nd round in 6 games, and then St. Louis in the Conference Finals. If all goes well, Lord Stanley's Cup will once again reside in the Motor City.

Time for the Awards Segment of Our Show:

The Bret Lebda Season Puck:  Danny Cleary because I don't buy that Cleary can "play on any line" anymore, as Mickey Redmond likes to keep trying to convince us of. And I want to temper this as saying, I don't think Danny Cleary is a bad hockey player. I think he works hard, I think he has a lot of great things to offer a team. Or rather he did in 2007-2008. I'm glad he could come to Detroit, contribute and win a Cup. But I think between subpar seasons and bad knees, Cleary should hang up the skates this season. I think guys like Abdelkader, Miller, Eaves, and Nyquist could make better use of the Cleary's spot. I know his numbers haven't been exactly abysmal, but I just have a hard time going "Awesome! Danny Cleary is on the ice!". Especially in 4 on 4 situations.

The Kris Draper Season Puck:  There are a lot of guys on the team who deserve this award, because there are a lot of guys who busted ass to keep the Wings successful. Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller, Corey Emmerton, Jakub Kindl, Darren Helm and yes, Danny Cleary. I think, had things played out differently, I'd probably be giving this to Dirty Darren Helm, because of how invaluable he had been all season. I said before Draper retired that Darren Helm needed to be the new Kris Draper, and he has become that in spades. But this puck is going to Patrick Eaves. Because of this play here

The Wings were up by 3 goals late in the 3rd period, and Eaves didn't hesitate a second to sacrifice his all for the good of the team. Operation Eaves is a wonderful plan and I hope everyone is involved in it. Because we want Patrick Eaves back. I also want to tip my hat to Jossi, the guy who shot the puck. Because as Eaves was being carted off the ice, he went over and said something to Patrick. I have to believe he was wishing him well and apologizing for the freak accident. That kind of sportsmanship seems so rare in modern professional sports. It's the kind of thing I'd expect a guy like Patrick Eaves to do.

The Derian Hatcher Season Puck: Kyle Quincey, because I just have a hard time believing that he's going to be good for the Wings in the long term. He took way too many penalties, including a 5 minute game misconduct and a 1 game suspension, in less than 20 games. The Red Wings didn't do much in terms of movement during the off-season, but Kyle Quincey has shown me to be the worst decision of all of them. Unless he makes major contributions to a deep playoff run/Stanley Cup victory, I want him gone in this off-season.

And now for a couple of Special End of Season Awards:

The Brendan Shanahan Award: To be given to the player acquired in a trade or picked up off free agency who made a significant positive contribution to the Red Wings. Without a doubt or hesitation, this has to go to Ian White. He had a monstrous task of filling in for the sudden retirement of Brian Rafalski, and the acquisition of Ian White paid off. And I think it will continue to pay off for many years. The guy is only 27, so he can still get even a bit better as he gets even more familiar with the Red Wings. I hope to see him given a good 5 year contract soon.

The Injury Hero Award: To be given to the player who fills a void in the starting lineup with vastly exceeds the hopes and expectations of his team mates and Red Wings fan. Gustav Nyquist would be an easy choice for this spot. So could Brendan Smith. Both are worthy of mention and I think we're going to see them more and more soon, and I think we can expect good things from them to come. But I have to give this award to Joey MacDonald. When Jimmy Howard went down and Conklin looked shaky, MacDonald stepped in and kept our hopes of a home winning streak alive. He played out his ass. Plain and simple.

O' Captain, My Captain Season Puck:  Jimmy Howard. There were so many great players for the team this year, big moments, big plays and big games. But even the Wings struggled, even when they were down, even when they didn't play the best, Jimmy Howard stood on his head, kept them in games and brought them W's. He strapped this team to his back and carried them through it. It was an injury that brought Jimmy Howard back down, it certainly wasn't bad play. He rallied a team behind him to earn a well deserved All-Star appearance. The man deserves his name on the Cup, and the Wings ought to pull out all the stops to give it to him.

Play of the Year:

Here's the a great play off run, a roller coaster of a regular season and, as always...

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