Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Week in Review: I hate the Flu

It's been an up and down last few games for the Detroit Red Wings. And this illness I've been battling seems to be a really good parable for the Wings performance as of late. Which, by the way, I do want to apologize because I wanted to do more writing and I had to cancel our latest podcast because of this blasted flu. But I also wanted to offer my thanks because once I mentioned I was sick on Twitter a lot of people offered their support and well-wishes, and that was pretty sweet.

I promise I'll get back into form here soon and we'll be reschedule the podcast as soon as our schedules re-align. But enough about me, let's talk about the Red Wings.

I almost feel like we should crack open a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and read what the criteria for bi-polar disorder, because I think that might most accurately describe our current Detroit Red Wings. "One or more manic episodes...a depressive or hypomanic episode is not required for diagnosis but it frequently occurs". That sounds about right.

This pass brought to you by a guy nicknamed Riggy Shitbox
They've got a winning record, sitting in 6th place in the Western Conference with a 4-3-1 record. They've got a 22:24 goals scored/goals allowed ratio and just snapped a 2 game win streak with an embarrassing loss to Columbus. So what the hell is going on with this team? What does all this mean?

1) The Red Wings do have a potent offense

It's one of those things that seems so obvious, but there have been games this season when it seems like we were looking at the most impotent offense the Red Wings have seen really since the drafting of Steve Yzerman. Blown out by St. Louis in the home opener, held to a goal against Dallas, held to a goal against Chicago, and only two last night against Columbus and Steve Mason. With names like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Filppula and Brunner, that seems like impossibly impossible. And redundant.

However, the flip side of that is that this team has shown that it can put up big numbers against teams of different levels of skill. Against Minnesota who has solid goaltending and a defense whose best guy allowed this to happen, we put up 5 goals. Our first meeting against Columbus we put up 3, in our second meeting with Dallas, who has played well defensively and has a hot goaltender, we put up 4. Against St. Louis - a team that is competing with Chicago to be the best Central Division team, and against Chicago and San Jose to be the best Western Conference team, and is 5th overall in the league - who is extremely good on defense and has two extremely talented goaltenders, the Red Wings put up 5 goals. And by the Red Wings, I mean Henrik Zetterberg, who scored two first period goals on route to one of the greatest hat trick goals I've ever seen.

The power play has been looking better, Damien Brunner is really living up to the expectations of his ability as a play maker and a goal scorer, and he's doing so outside of the shootout, which is good. This immediately means he has more use than Todd Bertuzzi. Datsyuk continues to Datsyuk all over the ice and in people's faces, and Henrik Zetterberg seems to be taking this whole being the Captain of the Detroit Red Wings thing pretty seriously. He does still do his whole "skate into the zone with it on his backhand and then get pinched off in the corner and lose the puck" play, but much like last year, it often seems like he's one of the only guys on the ice trying to do anything, and that if he gave up that play, we'd never see the other side of the neutral zone.

Perhaps one of the most stunning stories so far has been Johan Franzen. He's averaged a point per game with 2 goals and 6 assists, and that really hasn't been indicative of the effort the guy has been putting forth pretty much game in and game out. He's had some very Mule-ish moments in terms of laziness and sloth, but also some very Mule-ish moments of being bull headed, stubborn and physical. I think everyone has noticed him out there throwing his weight around and actually back-checking. He's adopted his net front role very well and could end up being an excellent replacement for our favorite net from Swede, Tomas Holmstrom. This guy should probably have 3 or 4 more goals so far, and I don't really blame him for not having them.

2) The Red Wings defense could be good, if only...

"If only..." should probably be the motto of the defense right now. We all know there was a ton of uncertainty with this defense coming into the season, and I really believe that this defense could soar above those expectations, if only...

My last post laid out why we should continue to be patient with our blue line, and I stand by everything I wrote in that post still. We've only let Dallas, complete with Jaomir Jagr, score 3 goals against us. We prevented Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and the rest of the undefeated Hawks score only two on us.

Yes, we just let Columbus pot 4 against us, including another short handed goal, but let's also remember this happened after Brendan Smith went out with an injury. Kent Huskins was injured against St. Louis and thankfully came back for the game against Columbus. But the fact of the matter is everything that has plagued the Red Wings defense through this whole season - injuries, bad mistakes and inconsistencies, and Kyle Quincey - continue to be a problem.

Josh (Whoabot) solves a major problem for us
But let's be honest about a couple of things: #1: All things considered, this defense is really not that bad. They're even pretty good. They're just not great, and they're not what we've been used to. #2: We had a lot of these same problems last year and a lot of the same results, and that was with Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart on the team.

This defensive squad could be a solid, reliable group for the Red Wings if only Brendan Smith, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jonathan Ericsson, Kent Huskins and Ian White hadn't been wounded, if only Kyle Quincey could find confidence and consistency, and if only Niklas Kronwall would be smarter on the power play and more confident and physical in his game.

3) Jimmy Howard continues to be awesome, unbeknownst to many

He's 8th in wins (4), and his GAA (2.96) and save percentage (89%) has been suffering from the defensive breakdowns in front of him. But the fact of the matter is that Jimmy Howard has been a man on a mission, doing everything in his power to keep the Red Wings in games. Sometimes the guys in front of him have rewarded him, and sometimes not.

Pictured: Xang Ye Howard, Jimmy's long lost uncle
After last night's loss to Columbus, Howard described one of the goals he allowed as "garbage" and seemed ready to officially throw the entire team onto his back and then dive on top of the live grenade that had been thrown into the locker room. It's unbelievable this man's dedication to his team and his team mates, and I can only pray that the rest of the team will show the same devotion to James Tiberius Howard. Much like the defense, Jimmy has been hounded by injuries, both for himself and for the guy who was hired to be his very reliable backup, Jonas Gustavsson. Mike Babcock flat out stated part of the problem is they haven't had a guy to put in for Howard, and that's why he's logged the majority of the minutes.

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