Saturday, February 9, 2013

Midday Recap: Red Wings 2; Oilers 1

Afternoon games can be scary. It seems like sometimes it can disrupt players' schedules and habits and throw them out of sync. The Red Wings didn't seem to be too out of sync today in what was a solid, all around well fought win against a young, talented, fast and dangerous Edmonton Oilers team. This team is still a ways away from being Stanley Cup competitive, but there is still a lot to be happy about and as we get more and more into this partial season, I think we're seeing more and more of what this team can be and the challenges they'll need to overcome to get there.

Challenge #1: Can we play Howard and Mrazek in net at the same time?
Now, this is my first game recap since the end of last season. I've been struggling to get consistent access to Red Wings games and haven't been watching them as much as I'd like to, hence why I've been doing more of weekly wrap ups. But I do want to get back into game by game analysis, and I decided that I would switch up the game pucks a little bit.

I'm going to keep 3 of the 4 game pucks that I used last season, and I'm going to add a couple more awards. So let's review:

The Bret Lebda Game Puck: This puck is awarded to the person who did the most in their power to fuck everything up during the game. Often times given to players who struggle to do even the simplest things correctly, this award is also frequently given to the officials. This puck is named for the hapless former Detroit defenseman who was so mediocre even the Maple Leafs don't want anything to do with him anymore.

The Kris Draper Game Puck: This puck is awarded to any player whose work ethic and sacrifice out shine their stat sheets. Generally reserved for 3rd/4th line forwards and 2nd/3rd d-men, this award recognizes players who continue on the Red Wings' traditional of relying on their energy players to make a difference on and off the score sheet. 

O' Captain, My Captain Game Puck:  This is my MVP award. I give this puck out in honor of Oh Captain, My Captain Steve Yzerman who regularly shouldered his team in body and in spirit and lead them to become the most dominating franchise in the history of everything everywhere. This puck is given to whoever carries on that legacy.

New Awards:

The Perfect Puck: It seems only fitting that I should add a puck to honor Nicklas Lidstrom. What made Lidstrom The Perfect Human was his ability to consistently and perfectly do every little thing about his job, every single game. We will never see another player like that, I don't think, so this puck will be given to the player who makes that one perfect play. This award could also be called "WWLD"

10 Points to Griffins-dor: This award will be granted to the new Red Wing that makes significant contributions to the team. This award can go to any player who satisfies one of the following criteria: 1) Is on a call up from the Grand Rapids Griffins or other minor league affiliate, 2) is in their first year having been signed by the Red Wings, having never played for the Red Wings before. Ex: Nyquist, Tatar, Mrazek, Brunner and Huskins are eligible, Mikael Samuelsson and Kyle Quincey are not.

Recap and Awards after the Break

The Oilers always make me nervous. With all of their top picks brimming about, it's hard to believe this team is not winning every game. However, I'm a defensive minded sports fan and so loading up on young, potential goal scorers and not radically boosting your defense just seems dumb to me. I know Justin Schultz is supposed to be the panacea, but much like the Wild bringing in Ryan Suter, that's just one guy. As soon as a team does a half-way decent job of shutting down your goal scorers, you've got nothing to stop them from scoring.

Still, you have to shut down Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagne, and Nail Yakupov, among others. That's quite the list. But the thing is, the Detroit Red Wings just did that with a piece meal, struggling defense. 

This is one of those games where the scoreboard doesn't really tell the story of how lopsided this game was. Damien Brunner had a couple of chances, one big one that he couldn't quite elevate and Nikolai Khabibulin made a fantastic save on. Drew Miller had a couple of chances and the 3rd and 4th lines as a whole were buzzing about again like they did against St. Louis. 

The big story of tonight's game was the special teams. They've been abysmal as of late, but on both sides of the penalties the Red Wings looked good. I was a little worried in the first period because the power play was suffering from One More Pass Syndrome, and the guy who seemed most willing to shoot the puck was Jakub Kindl, no doubt buzzing from his goal against St. Louis. However, the Wings went 2/7 on the PP (28.5%) which is monstrously better than what they've been doing. They went 87.5% on the PK, allowing one PPG in 8 power plays, including a 5 on 3 that they allowed zero shots on. And that was against the 4th top PP team in the league.

There were some times when the Red Wings seemed to be pinched in their own zone and chasing around the younger, faster Oilers around the rink. However that's to be expected with a team like the Oilers and a Red Wings team that is struggling still to find consistency and is still juggling players due to injuries. Despite those troubles, the Red Wings did also seem to have a lot of success breaking out of their own zone for the most part, and did an excellent job keeping the Oilers goal scorers to the perimeter. There weren't an awful lot of chances from the middle of the ice, and Jimmy Howard wasn't challenged constantly like he has been in past games. When he was, he was excellent in net and the one goal was through a screen of about 4 or 5 guys, including his own, on the power play. His 95% save percentage was well deserved.

Now for our first awards of the season.

The Bret Lebda Game Puck: The Refs/The NHL - This was another shit filled game of weak penalties and penalties that shouldn't be penalties. I know that "covering the puck with your hand" is a penalty now, but it's just dumb. Much like the trapezoid behind the net, there's no reason for this, especially for a team in their defensive zone, where the hand pass has been a valuable tool for years. Also, this whole "if your stick comes within the vicinity of their hands, it's hooking" crap needs to end. Not only is it an entirely weak and stupid rule to begin with, but it's being horribly enforced by the refs on the ice.'

George Malik pointed out the need to end players slashing other players on the hands and causing serious injury, and he's right. But wrapping everyone in bubble wrap is not going to improve the game.

This game was chock full of bad calls, bad rules being enforced, and flagrant penalties not being called. It needs to stop, especially when you consider neither the Oilers or the Red Wings played a dirty game tonight. It just doesn't make any sense.

The Kris Draper Game Puck: Drew Miller - the guy was seriously buzzing all game and was driving the net hard. He was strong on the puck and was rewarded with a couple of honest to God scoring chances; one in particular that he absolutely should have had but he sailed it high and wide. But all in all, he completely encapsulated the work done by everyone on the bottom lines.

10 Points to Griffins-dor: Brian Lashoff - Everyone has noticed the value that this kid brought to the team immediately when he was brought up from Grand Rapids. He scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game and it was the Red Wings' first goal of this season. Since then he's established himself as a solid, reliable defensive prospect, logging some good minutes with a lot of different partners, including our #1 guy Nicklas Kronwall. This game, he continued that solid play and was huge for us on the penalty kills. He was blocking shots, working hard against some of the best the Oilers' had to offer and being smart with and without the puck. He's still new and learning NHL hockey, but he was stellar today. 

The Perfect Puck:  Jonathan Ericsson - There is nothing about him this season that has been Riggy Shitbox. He's been a completely different player. Smart, composed, strong on the puck and responsible. Plus, he's apparently added break out passes to his repitoire. I don't have footage of his breakout pass to rookie Joakim Andersson today, but it was a beautiful, smart pass right in Anderson's wheel house. So in absence of footage of that, I'll simply re-use the gif from his pass to Zetterberg. But  both passes were exactly what Lidstrom would have done.

O' Captain, My Captain Game Puck:  Pavel Datsyuk - He got the team on the board with a nice tic-tac-goal, and the guy has been absolutely thirsting for a goal the past couple of games. Bad breaks, good defensive play and fucking goal posts have been all that's been standing between Datsyuk and about 6 or 7 goals. But tonight he got one, and assisted in the Kronwall game winning goal. More importantly, I can't tell you the number of times I watched him render Taylor Hall absolutely useless. Stripping the puck, being in position, and being almost as big a nuisance to Hall as Zetterberg has been to Crosby in the past. He was also making big plays for us on the penalty kill, blocking shots and clearing it out of the zone. Then to top it all off, he was 72% on his face offs today. Pasha is still Pasha and he continues to demonstrate that he may be aging but he's still the best player in the NHL.

These past couple of games have been indicative of what we can expect of the Red Wings if they can continue to grow, improve and overcome the challenges of injuries and the uncertainty on the blue line. They can take advantage of teams playing sloppy and pot 5 goals. They can get production from their bottom players. They can shut down high powered offenses, and their defense is not as shoddy as people seem to believe. But they have to be smart, responsible and patient and know how to play against each team. And they have to stay healthy.

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