Thursday, May 30, 2013

Looking Back: Expected Bitterness and Unexpected Joy

I was unaware that Mike Ilitch was building an amusement park, but that's the only explanation I have for the roller coaster we all got to ride this year. The ups and downs, twists and turns; moments of sheer terror mixed with unmitigated joy that spiraled into confusion. I know there were several moments when I thought I was going to die.

We all know that this season was something unlike anything Red Wings have had to endure for years. Sure, there'd been loses, seasons of disappointment. But never since I've begun following hockey have I ever known the terror of not making the playoffs. I've never known being the Red Wings being the underdog. We're always the favorite, or at least a contender. This was different. Sometimes different is good.

And sometimes different is painful
The Red Wings almost missed the playoffs, but didn't. They rallied and made it in. They weren't supposed to beat the Anaheim Ducks, but took it to seven games and won. They were supposed to get rolled over by the Blackhawks, but they didn't. They took it to seven games and lost in overtime. So I guess if you were to say anything about this team this season, it could be, "They were supposed to, but..."

So what do we take away from all of this? Well, I figure there are three good things and three bad things we can take away from this abbreviated season.

The Good: The Kids Got to Play

And I don't mean they got to play the classic kids game of "Peg your buddy in the nuts with a soccer ball because it's fucking hilarious" - but the young kids who we have been desperately clamoring for got some ice time. Damien Brunner, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Smith who were expected to get ice time did. We saw the unexpected emergence of Brian Lashoff and Joakim Andersson. The added bonus of Danny DeKeyser made the youth movement that much more explosive and impressive. While line jumbling and ice time caused a lot of confusion, when the Andersson-Nyquist-Brunner line came together and clicked, we got a real glimpse of the Red Wings' future. That line could be a future first or second line, with some combination of Lashoff-DeKeyser-Smith possibly filling 3 out of your top 4 defense men.

That's extremely promising. Andersson was just supposed to come up for a couple games but earned the right to stay. The only reason he could have been sent back down is if Darren Helm came back, and with the nagging injury, who knows when that will be. Brunner was streaky, but was puck hungry and scored some goals. He amped it up in the playoffs and should be back next year. Goose, despite having his eggs smacked, played like the top six forward we know he can be.

"YOU WILL NOT TOUCH OUR FUTURE KING GUSTAV!"
The Bad: There's still "veterans" in the way

The reason that the kids got to play was because Bertuzzi, Helm, Samuelsson, Ericsson, White, Quincey, Coaliacovo and Filppula got hurt. As the injuries dissipated, some of the kids got to keep playing in favor of some of the vets. Coaliacovo and White continued to sit, as did Samuelsson. Bertuzzi was back and the gone and then back and then gone again. Some of these guys have value - Helm, if he can stay healthy, Ericsson has proven his worth, and even Coaliacovo played well when he wasn't broken into thirty pieces.

Questions arise around guys like Bert, Samuelsson, Cleary, Coaliacovo, White and Filppula. Re-sign? Buyout? The question for some (Kevin, RE: Samuelsson) is easy, while guys like Bert and Filppula are trickier. What do you do with guys like Nyquist, Andersson and Tatar chomping at the bit? Can you win after sacrificing some of your tried and true veterans?

The Good: The defense was better than people expected

The biggest stories for me of this defense were Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl. They both made stellar improvements over the course of this season and could very well be the next veterans on this team. For a guy who was nicknamed Riggy Shitbox and someone who was thought to be out the door, those two guys showed to be some of the better guys on the blueline for us. Brendan Smith played well for the most part, Lashoff was great until he struggled in the playoffs, and Kronwall eventually grew into his role as the new defensive leader on the team

Even Kyle Quincey started to be...not so Kyle Quincey.

We won't ever see again the kind of perfection that Nicklas Lidstrom brought to Detroit, but anyone who counted this team out because of the defense was wrong. This young defense is going to grow into one that will continue to keep the Detroit Red Wings as a contender.

The Bad: Turnovers 

I'm not entirely sure if it was the result of new defensive strategies, or was simply the result of a lot young kids trying to adjust to the NHL level, but we killed ourselves with sloppy passes and turnovers, forced and unforced, that led to scoring chances and goals.

There's a lot of work that's going to have to be done this offseason. Part of it will be conditioning to make sure that Wings can come out of the gate and "start on time" as Mike Babcock is fond of saying. However, they are simply going to have to work on the basics. Passes have to connect tape to tape, even under pressure. The puck has to get out of the zone on the first attempt, especially on the penalty kill. We have to gain the offensive zone cleanly and get second and third chances on net. There were far too many one and done plays, especially on the power play.

Speaking of the power play, the Red Wings allowed at least 5 shorthanded goals this season. You can't give up shorthanded goals and expect to win hockey games. Not only are you allowing goals, but it completely neuters your power play. Granted, we ended the season with 18%  on our power play, but imagine how much better it could have been had the Red Wings been more responsible with the puck.

The Good: Our leadership 

Henrik Zetterberg deserved to be the captain of this team, and he definitely demonstrated it throughout the season, especially when it came down to the wire. He scored huge goals late in the season and in both series against the Ducks and the Hawks. When he wasn't scoring, he still had the throttle down almost every game. There were times when I was frustrated with him, and he definitely has to be a scoring threat every night, but he has shown that he has the mettle to lead this team.

If for no other reason than this
Kronner showed why he's an alternate captain and why he was tapped to lead this team's defensive corps. He struggled early on for sure, but he got his feet underneath and started playing smarter hockey. He even started to throw his body around more often, which is what we expect and need from him.

I've written definitively on the need for Jimmy Howard. That talks about his skill in net and his ability to win big games. But if Roberto Luongo hadn't shamed the goalie as team captain thing years ago, I'd make the case that Jimmy could wear the C. Every game he takes stock of what he did to help win or lose the game. He takes responsibility for his mistakes, and immediately sets out to improve upon his weaknesses. He'll ask Chris Osgood for help, work harder every night to keep the Red Wings in games, and show the utmost of respect and support for his team mates.

He doesn't even take total credit for his own shutouts. It's mind blowing the amount of poise and leadership the guy has, even while his team is hanging him out to dry.

And always remember this: Kronwall, Datsyuk and Howard have never been kicked out of a hockey game for throwing a temper tantrum. Henrik Zetterberg has never had to have one of his team mates put their arm around him while he sits in the penalty box for his third penalty of the game.

The Bad: Uncertainty

There's obviously still so much unknown about what's coming our way. We're headed to the Eastern Conference next year. We're going to be seeing the likes of the Bruins, Penguins, Canadiens, and Flyers. These are some very good teams, and I really get the sense that the Eastern Conference is going to be a much harder fought, grittier, more physical experience than the Red Wings have been used to.

We've had these nagging injuries to a lot of our players, and we don't necessarily have the physical presence that some of these other teams have. We'll once again be up against the age old question of what kind of teams can win the NHL, especially the playoffs - skill or grit? When we lost to New Jersey back in 95-96, everyone thought that the Red Wings, loaded with their soft, finesse European players could never win against hard hitting North American players. As a result, the Red Wings went and got some of those guys and came back in win back to back Stanley Cups.

We're going to have to wait and see who gets left behind and who gets tapped to be a Detroit Red Wing next year.

And now to hand out the Season Awards. They're going to look very suspiciously like the game pucks and the series pucks, but they're totally different.

The Bret Lebda Game Series Season Puck: Mikael Samuelsson - It has to be. Some might say that it's not fair to give this award to Samuelsson simply because he was a useless, injured nincompoop all season long. Sure, injuries aren't exactly a player's fault, but he's just such a schmuck. He wanted to come back to Detroit and got a no trade clause and ended up being a complete and utter wretch. If Samuelsson is still on this team next season, Red Wing fans should riot. And by riot I mean bitch and moan on the Internet. 

The Kris Draper Game Series Season Puck: Patrick Eaves - Statistically, this should probably go to Justin Abdelkader or Drew Miller. More ice time, more goals or points. More games played. All of that is true of either Abdelkader and/or Miller. But Patrick Eaves came back from a crippling concussion and broken jaw. He played his ass off in every game he was in. He had as many points during the regular season as Miller did while playing 10 fewer games and had a better plus/minus rating. Plus he got rid of that terrible handlebar mustache. 

10 Points to Griffins-dor: Gustav Nyquist - This was actually a hard decision to make, because Damien Brunner was so good. And Joakim Andersson and Brian Lashoff were such amazing surprises. Tatar was impressive in his time with the Wings this season, and Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser were great as well. But it has to be Goose. He scored some big goals, really earned his spot on the team and the respect of Mike Babcock. Plus, he gave us #BroLaunching.

The Perfect Puck: Pavel Datsyuk - There were so many great Datsyuk goals this year, but I have to go with his "Fuck You Nashville" NHL 94 style.



O' Captain, My Captain Game Series Season Puck: One James Tiberius Howard - I wanted to write about why he had to be the season MVP. I've basically already done it. I don't really think there's anything else that needs to be said. But if you did want to know, I'll leave it to Kronwall:

"I wish we could have won that series for [Howard]. He really deserved it."

Monday, May 13, 2013

Series Re-Cap: Wings Win in 7

Wow. I mean, what else can you say? Can you imagine if that had been the Stanley Cup Finals? Shit, even the Western Conference Finals? I'm pretty sure I'd either be dead or have found myself in a Federal "Pound Me in the Ass" prison because I probably would have burned half of my city to the ground and then gotten out early on good behavior for handing out free kittens and teaching disadvantaged convicts to believe in themselves.

 It was a crazy series I think is what I'm going for here.

But in the end, when it mattered most, the boys in the Winged Wheel got the job done. I had tweeted that I was afraid of a specific outcome, and I would not mention it before the conclusion of Game 7. I admit to being superstitious and also acknowledge it to be completely irrational. My fear was if I said it out loud, it would come true. My fear was that after the whole series without a goal and acting like a world class punk, that Douche Canoe would get the game winning goal. It didn't happen.

This picture is the sound track of my summer. Or something. Thanks Kevin
Going to knock out some bullet points for the series and then hand out Series Pucks. They will look suspiciously like game pucks, but they're completely different.
  • I will admit that the Ducks are a dangerous team. They have a lot of scoring potential, they're very strong on the puck, they have solid goaltending and they aren't too shabby defensively. I don't mind that they play on the edge, I mind that their leadership and strategy seem to hinge on playing on the edge, then shoving the other team over the edge, flopping on the ground and screaming to the refs for a penalty. It'd be easier to stomach if that behavior wasn't spearheaded by their captain, their alternate captain and beloved 42 year old veteran, and their super star goal scorer. 
  • That being said, I'm excited for and scared of Emerson Etem. That kid has some honest to God talent and if he can avoid becoming...well... an Anaheim Duck, he could a very bright future in the NHL. Instead of looking to your team leaders, Etem, look to the leaders of the team who just beat you. They'll show you how to become something special with integrity. 
  • How good is the line of Andersson-Nyquist-Brunner? Having played in Grand Rapids together, you'd expect Goose and Andersson to be good, but Brunner has just slid right in there. And it's such an interesting look for a line that traditionally is supposed to be your checking line. Granted the NHL has evolved where that's not really the case, but damn. Two game winning goals in OT, a lot of great puck control and pressure. Andersson had a couple of chances last night that he couldn't quite capitalize on. I don't know what's going to happen to that line next year, especially with Darren Helm hopefully returning.
  • Also, I'm curious if that line could handle being the second power play unit. Andersson has been great on the penalty kill, and so the minutes might kill him. But it's an intriguing thought.
  • Justin Abdelkader. Like I said on the podcast, had you told me he was going to be a young Tomas Holmstrom only better on the top lines, I'd have given the kid way more slack. He obviously has the drive and the energy and even the skills to play with guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg. He just has to understand his role in that lineup: skate harder and faster than you ever have, hit people really hard, drive to the corners and the front of the net, and heads up because Pavel Datsyuk just dropped you a dime pass. 
  • When Zetterberg took the over the glass penalty, I thought we were done. When the puck went in off Ericsson's skate, I knew we were done. Then we weren't, and I was wrong, and I was okay with it.
  • A lot of us feel, including myself, that this team accomplished something great this season. Everyone thought that this team's best days were behind them. Sure, maybe. Some of the talent that we've had that has left or is aging will never be replaced. But what is still here, and what is yet to come is pretty damned impressive. This team showed a resiliency that the Red Wings haven't had to show in years. Back against the wall in the regular season? Four straight wins. Back against the wall in the first series? Back to back wins, one of them in over time. Hell, 3 OT wins in a playoff series that went to 7 games.  
We're proud of our boys. We're happy to have shot down the Ducks. We're happy to have made it to the second round. Some of us look at Chicago and go, "Well, good year guys. Let's get ready for next season" and maybe that's the correct perspective to have. But this team is still exceptional, despite it's flaws. I called this team a sleeper pick against any team in the playoffs, so long as they play their game. As long as they play like they did those last four games of the season. Like they played last night.

The last couple weeks the Red Wings had duck for dinner. The table is being set for some Hawk. Stay hungry boys.

Series Awards:


The Bret Lebda Game Series Puck: Brian Lashoff - I have to be honest, the guy did not have a good series. He made a lot of rookie mistakes that cost us goals in the three games he played in the series. Obviously, being put against someone like Bitch Fist in the playoffs was a tall order for Lashoff, and despite all of the good things he did during the season, he was not at his best for the playoffs. I still have a ton of hope and faith in Lashoff. He'll be back and better next year.

The Kris Draper Game Series Puck: Justin Abdelkader - "But Mike! He's been playing on the top line! He's ineligible for this award!" Ah, but you're forgetting about the Tomas Holmstrom Addendum, wherein a player who would normally be slotted in the bottom six is moved up to the top 6 and rises to  the occasion. Also they're my rules, I make 'em up. And if you don't think that Abdelkader has been a crucial player for this team, then you probably also think Jimmy Howard is a bad goalie, and we already know what happens when you think that.

10 Points to Griffins-dor: Gustav Nyquist - OT gaming winning goal? Check. OT game winning assist? Check. Power play time? Got it. Everything that we're hoping Gustav Nyquist to be was on display during this series. He's been stronger with the puck, making good decisions and using his speed to be a problem for the other team. A lot of great rookies doing a lot of good things, but Nyquist was the best.

The Perfect Puck: Pavel Datsyuk - I mean...hold on I just need a moment to... uugggnnnnnn fuuuuuuuck just watch it


  

O' Captain, My Captain Game Series Puck: Henrix Zetterberg - This was a hard choice to make. I could just have easily said one James Tiberius Howard and been able to write all about the big saves that he made, his recovery from adversity and how stellar he has been for us all season long. But so has Zetterberg. He deserves to be the captain of this team, and when we needed our captain to lead by example, to carry his team to victory and score big goals for us, Hank was there with not one, not two, but three goals. I was never really disappointed with him at any point, despite him taking awhile to put the puck in the net. We all agreed in the podcast he needed to step up and score for us. Hank responded perfectly. Also, he has a better beard than Howard.

P.S.


Something weird happened last night that is worth mentioning because it happened twice. I said this...


And then two minutes later, Justin Abdelkader scores a short handed goal. Then later I said something similar, and then 7 minutes later Filppula scored, and we went into the third period with a two goal lead. I've been trying to become psychically linked with the cosmos for years now. Believe me, had I discovered this power earlier, I'd have been using it only for good.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Dollar Hotdog Power Hour Podcast #14

It's time to turn it around, boys!
Wednesday's loss was a tough one to take. So I brought together Michelle, Kevin and Nick so that we could figure out what went wrong and try to come find as much positives as we could. We took a few more questions which gave us to do something very positive: talk shit about Corey "Douche Canoe" Perry. Listen in for some of the other colorful things Michelle called him. We made some suggestions of what could happen in terms of lineup changes with Abby coming back as well as some tactical changes.

Brian Lashoff should sit, Brendan Smith needs a wake up call, and in my endless amounts of rage with the ineptitude of the NHL Disciplinary Department, I stop just shy of saying I want Jordin Tootoo to kill someone.

Kevin's Blog and Michelle's Blog should be checked out and shared, as usual, and Nick can be found viva un van, circe de un rio. We hope you enjoy it and as always, you should share it will your friends, family and complete strangers. They'll appreciate it.

 


Editor's Note: We have a fairly low limit for space on our Podbean account, so I may have to delete/archive older podcasts. If for some reason you want to hear past episodes that aren't working normally, let me know and I can somehow get you the original mp3 file.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dollar Hotdog Power Hour Podcast #13

First every playoff edition!
We have a special podcast this week. As per usual, I have Kevin and Michelle with me but we're joined by our good friends Nick, Josh Howard and Peter. This edition of the podcast was very much likes the classic "Whose Line is it Anyway?" skit called Scenes From a Hat. We asked you, our readers, to submit questions. I took the good ones, put them on the podcast, and we argued about them for like an hour.

What changes should we expect for tonight's Game 4 matchup? The discussion was plugging along smoothly until I suggested Jordin Tooto on the top line for Abby, and then, as you would expect, a fight broke out. We sing heft praises for the Grand Rapids Griffins and some guy named Yarncock. We lament the Gryba hit and the Abby hit. We also tell you out right who won't be on the team next year and fight over Damien Brunner's contract.

I want to thank Matt Lowry, Sprout, Joe Joey Joe Joe Jr Shabadoo and Sir Todd Argus for their questions (and non-question) - we had a great time answering them.

Kevin's Blog and Michelle's Blog should be checked out and shared, as usual. Josh can be found at Winging it in Motown and Nightmare on Helm Street. Peter can be found at Octopus Thrower and Nick can be found wherever fine sundries are sold. We hope you enjoy it and as always, you should share it will your friends, family and complete strangers. They'll appreciate it.

 


Editor's Note: We have a fairly low limit for space on our Podbean account, so I may have to delete/archive older podcasts. If for some reason you want to hear past episodes that aren't working normally, let me know and I can somehow get you the original mp3 file.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Howard Haters: A Rhetorical Conversation

Our good friend Michelle came to Jimmy Howard's defense on Twitter today. She was right to do so. Howard had a rough game last night and the Howard Hatred Coalition has come out in full force. We aren't exactly hearing anything new: Howard chokes in the playoffs, he's made of Swiss cheese, his contract costs too much money, it's way too long, we shouldn't have resigned him and gone after a big name free agent, bring up Petr Mrazek right now, etc.
A photographic representation of what many Red Wings fans are doing to Jimmy Howard.
Photo Credit: Nhat V. Meyer/San Jose Mercury News
So what I've decided to do is have a rhetorical conversation with members of the Howard Haters Coalition. Effectively using the Socratic method to demonstrate why they're stupid and wrong and need to stop spreading their bile.

HHC: Jimmy Howard is a terrible goalie! Every time he has come into the playoffs, he ends up choking, letting in weak goals and costing the Red Wings games! We were stupid to resign him!

3RDP: Terrible? Don't you think that's a little harsh? He's been one of the better Red Wings for a few years now

HHC: Wrooooong! Didn't you see those goals last night!? They were weak!

3RDP: Oh sure, the second goal that trickled through under his armpit, he should have squeezed it off. And the third goal got ripped past his glove that he had in the right position. He has to snag that.

HHC: Exactly! He totally blew the lea-

3RDP: Except on the Getzlaf goal, DeKeyser didn't play it correctly. He let Getzlaf come out of the corner, in front of the net and let him get that shot off. If DeKeyser can force Getzlaf off the puck, or at least steer him away from the front of the net, that shot never happens.

HHC: Okay, well, maybe that's true but STILL HOWARD HAS TO MAKE THE SAVE!

3RDP: Oh, I agree, but you also acknowledge he's not completely responsible. And what about the big saves he's made in the first couple of games. For every "weak" goal he's allowed, there's been 2 or 3 big saves that he's made to keep pucks out of the net.

HHC: Well. Okay, he does make big saves but...

3RDP: And we're using a couple of weak goals in two playoff games as a barometer for whether or not a goaltender is good. Or just the idea that they're struggling in general during these playoffs. What about Jonathan Quick?

HHC: What do you mean?

3RDP: Well, Quick is making more money than Howard and has a much longer contract. He's let in a couple of weak goals, and a huge misplay by him cost Los Angeles the first game of the series against St. Louis. 

HHC: ...well, so?

3RDP: So by your logic, Jonathan Quick is a horrible goalie who has a stupid contract and should be traded and the Kings should go looking for a replacement. This is the same Jonathan Quick who won the Conn Smythe the same year he won the Stanley Cup during an amazing run. 

HHC: But...

3RDP: Henrik Lundqvist is also struggling a bit in New York in his first game against the Capitals. You know, Vezina winning and Hart nominated Henrik Lundqvist. 

HHC: We were talking about Jimmy Howard though and Howard is awf-

3RDP: We were talking about Jimmy Howard - a goaltender who ended this very rough season with a 2.13 GAA, 92.3% save percentage, 5 shutouts and an assist in 42 games played!

HHC: Well...those are pretty good stats, I'll admit.

3RDP: Not to mention that when the Red Wings' playoff streak was on the line, and they had to be perfect in their last four games, Howard posted four wins, only allowing 3 goals to be scored, and posted two shutouts. 

HHC: Really?

3RDP: Yep. Wouldn't you agree that without that level of performance, the Red Wings would probably miss the playoffs?

HHC: Yeah...I mean if it had been Gustavsson in net, or even Mrazek, there's no guarantee we win those games, especially so decidedly, and make it into the playoffs, let alone with the kind of momentum we need to win hockey games.

3RDP: And if we don't make the playoffs, none of the goals you're complaining about happen because there's no Red Wings in the playoffs for them to happen.

HHC: That's very true. I mean, when you put it that way...

3RDP: Yes?

HHC: ...Jimmy Howard is a necessary and integral piece of the team that will ensure short term and long term success for the Detroit Red Wings

3RDP: Doesn't it feel good to be right?