Monday, April 15, 2013

State of the Red Wings: The Home Stretch

Last night's game was a positive step. The Red Wings needed to win, and they needed to win convincingly and they needed to win in regulation. I thought they did two out of those three things for certain, although I'm not quite so sure about the third. They've shut out the Nashville Predators twice this season, and that's cause for celebration. 7-0 in the last two games against Nashville, against a team that has gotten the better of us and a goaltender who always seems to have our number. And there was much rejoicing...

The shootout losses were happily bad? Unpleasantly happy? They dropped three straight but seemed to be playing better. They lost every game by only a goal, but one of those was a shut out, and we've dropped leads and allowed the other team to tie the game and win in the shootout. Kronwall is looking good, Ericsson is looking good, and DeKeyser has looked very good. Quincey, Kindl and Lashoff are struggling, and Carlo Colaiacovo is a guy with too many C's in his name.

Datsyuk has been looking good, although we need him to score goals. Zetterberg is trying hard to lead this team as it's captain and last night, he finally got the monkey off his back and scored a nice rebound goal. Again, DeKeyser has looked very good and that Lidstrom-esqe shot-pass off the boards? I'm not saying he's the Second Coming of the Perfect Human but it was damned good.

But we're not safe. We recovered the 8th seed from Dallas with the win last night, but any Red Wings fan who is satisfied with the 8th seed should probably address their definition of success. Letting other people win to give them a boost of confidence is fine when you're competing against children, but with a roster costing us $62 million, I don't think we're dealing with children.

In fact, we're dealing with a tough road trip. Wednesday will be Calgary, who keep beating us for reasons beyond belief and comprehension. Then we'll scoot down to Vancouver, who we've beaten pretty decidedly a couple of times but there's no reason to believe this team isn't going to come out and try to turn the tide against us. The Sedins are good, Luongo can be good and they're third in the West for good reason. The Coyotes, who've beaten us despite being terrible, the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Predators again and then finally our closest competition for the 8th seed in the Dallas Stars.

I'm worried, and you should be too. Red Wing fans have rarely seen this kind of uncertainty. Speaking of uncertainty, we're close to locking up one James Tiberius Howard to a long term contract. 6 years is maybe one year longer than I'd like. And it's touch more money than I'd like. But if you think we shouldn't be signing him to a long term contract, then you're absolutely out of your mind. He's been the only thing standing between us and some blowout games, he's been the only thing standing between us and some losses.

He stopped a breakaway chance and a penalty shot last night. He could be stronger in net and definitely needs to be better in the shootout. But you know what he said last night? He said he needed to be better in the shootout. He said he was responsible for it. He said that if you practice hard the games will take care of themselves, and he wanted to make sure he gave his team mates a chance to win every game. He called Chris Osgood for advice on how to do his job better. If that isn't the attitude you want every guy on your bench and in the bullpen to have, then what is?

The problem is Jonas Gustavsson has not shown to be the backup we need him to be. We're looking at a situation where Jimmy Howard is going to have to play too many games again. He's going to get tired, worn out and lose some focus, and it isn't fair to him. Not to mention, if this team - and I can't believe I have to say if - makes it to the playoffs, you've had to run ragged all of your guys, and arguably the best player to get there. We could bring up Mrazek, and I'd like to see that, but he isn't quite ready.

I want to hand out the awards for last night and then call it a day.

The Bret Lebda Game Puck: Valterri Filppula - I tweeted to George Malik last night that I had lost all patience for Filp. I liked him, I want to keep liking him. I loved the Filppula I saw last year. I am done with this indecisive, under-performing, disappointing crap. He tried to be Pavel Datsyuk and wiggle along the blue line with the puck and keep the play alive. The result was a bad turnover, a bunch of pressure from Nashville and a penalty. If we re-sign this guy for anything more than 3 seconds and 27 cents, I'll be mad.

The Kris Draper Game Puck: Drew Miller - I keep having to give this to Drew Miller because he keeps playing really good, hard working hockey. I am also going to give a shout out to Danny Cleary because he made some really smart hockey plays last night. I still want to him let go at the end of the season, and I don't want him to be put on the ice in major situations, but he was at least playing smart last night and made some good plays.

10 Points to Griffins-dor: Danny DeKeyser - Hell yeah! First ever NHL point on a brilliant play to Henrik Zetterberg? This kid is doing a lot of great things and continues to show why he was so highly sought after. I'd have given him the perfect puck award for it, except...

The Perfect Puck: Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg - Well it did result in an empty net goal, this was just such a smart play by the Euro Twins. Great intercept by Datsyuk, perfect pass to Zetterberg, perfect no look pass to Abdelkader for the empty netter. 

O' Captain, My Captain Game Puck: Jimmy Howard - I'm just going to leave this here

Want to give a shout out to Mike Brown and Tammi for encouraging me to wear the Lidstrom jersey yesterday. As Mike pointed out, Lidstrom never missed the playoffs. Mojo.

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