Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Not Good Enough

Detroit faces Colorado tomorrow at the Joe. My prediction is a loss for the Wings.

I was afraid it would come to this. I held off saying it for too long now. But here it is: Detroit cannot be expected to win any games against the better teams in the league. It's no longer a slump. The current Red Wings lineup just isn't good enough. Colorado is too hot, too strong and too fast to lose to Detroit. If I end up wrong, great. However, I will assume a win for the Wings to be just a fluke loss for Colorado.

That all being said, I still think the Wings have a chance to be an elite team in the west by the end of the season. I'm just waiting for the injured players to get back - just like everyone else.

Around the League

Tonight, I am actually going to sit down and watch some hockey. Edmonton plays Toronto and Los Angeles is taking on Calgary. Also, San Jose plays host to Washington. These three match ups should make for a fun night.

Toronto and Edmonton are both bottom feeders at the moment. However, I'll definitely be cheering for the Maple Leafs. I really thought things would be a lot worse for them at this point in the season. Somehow they have managed to earn 37 points. They are not even in last place in the east - thanks to the Carolina Hurricanes - who seem to be trying to set a record for worst season ever.

Remember when Toronto and Edmonton were decent? I don't. Stop what you're about to do, because I know exactly what the average hockey fan will do at this moment - refer to Edmonton's run in 2006. Don't do it.

Los Angeles is coming off a bad loss to Minnesota - which doesn't help Detroit in the least. The Kings are not as red-hot as they were in November. They will need to pull it together tonight against Calgary. As for the Flames, why do they continue to exist? How does this team float among the top eight in the west each year? I'm really starting to think it's just the goalie. I'm going to start referring to Calgary as Kiprusoff - exclusively.

The big game, of course, is the Sharks vs. Capitals. Here are two teams hungry for Stanley Cups - period. Anything less would be ridiculous, yet quite typical for both franchises. Seriously, I can't see either organization ever winning a Cup. It's kind of sad. If Detroit finished seventh or eighth and drew San Jose in the playoffs, I'd be picking the Wings in less than seven. The only way San Jose would ever beat Detroit in the playoffs is in an underdog position - like 1994.

Is it necessary to mention the Washington Capitals' playoff meltdowns? Yes, yes it is. My finals pick for last year was Washington vs. Detroit - which was actually my pick for 2008 as well. Who could blame me? Washington just looked so explosive ... in the regular season. Is this their year? No, probably not. They will need to begin "rising to the occasion." They can start by beating San Jose.

It seems every time I think about Washington or San Jose, I think about the playoffs and how they really don't matter come April. So when the two meet in the regular season, I'm not sure what to expect. Does this game even matter? Think about it. It will blow your mind.

Those are my brief thoughts on a few of this week's match ups.

Side Note(s):

To be honest, I'm still kind of in shock at Detroit's season. The whole thing has been a nightmare - the injuries, the phantom goals, the ridiculous individual slumps and the mediocre goaltending. Eveything is wrong. When do I stop believing this team will make the playoffs?

BTW: Here's a terrifying statistic: The last time a Detroit Red Wings goaltender was awarded the Vezina Trophy for fewest goals allowed in a season was 1954-55. The man was Terry Sawchuk. This statistic is disgusting. But hey, Jimmy Howard will definitely end the drought.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Travels

I spent the weekend in Michigan. I was at the Red Wings game on Saturday. The crowd at Joe Louis Arena was quite alive - awesome atmosphere. It goes down as maybe the best regular-season crowd I've ever experienced at the Joe.

The Todd Bertuzzi story continues. He had both Detroit goals in Saturday's game against Columbus. Yet, the highlight of the game was Darren Helm's glove save on the goal line.

I still need to get the truth about the "phantom" goal which Detroit "scored". Twenty thousand people thought the puck was in the net.

I took some extremely amateur photos of the rink before the game. Maybe I'll get around to posting some of the pics.

The highlight of my night was standing outside the Joe, gazing over the Detroit riverfront at Windsor. I think it's an underrated view. When it's dark and all the lights reflect on the still, almost frozen river, you can't beat it. I wish I would have taken a picture, but I wouldn't have done it much justice anyway.

Good times.

I'm back in California. I'll be at the Wings vs. Kings game January 8.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Second Chances, Chemistry Matters

Todd Bertuzzi calls Markus Naslund the purest goal-scorer he's ever played with. Naslund tallied 395 goals in 1117 NHL games. From what I remember, he was a dangerous weapon when left alone in the slot. When Bertuzzi and Naslund were on the same line in Vancouver, the two were known to give the opposition quite a headache. They had a special chemistry.

Bertuzzi himself has notched 255 goals in 859 games. His best years were in Vancouver - where he strung together five seasons of scoring 50 points or better. In 2002-03 he scored a career-high 97 points. This guy knows how to produce in the NHL.

However, injuries and just plain bad luck sent Bert down a rough road for a few seasons. I think it's safe to say he's finally climbing out of the hole he fell into a few years ago.

For a long time, Bert was missing chemistry. He was missing a "Naslund." Now, he's found the guy - Pavel Datsyuk. Watching this pair embarrass the opposition is something I've been waiting to see all season.

I couldn't be happier for Bertuzzi. It seems Detroit has a way of bringing out the best in players who have been fazed out of other organizations. The average Red Wing fan can probably think of a handful of players who Holland has pulled out of waivers, retirement, mediocrity or even the streets. Bertuzzi is not at all the most intriguing story. But he is definitely proof of what can happen if true talent is given a second chance.

A guy can lose his head. He can get out of shape. He can even lose all his money and definitely everyone who believed in him at one point. Two things he can't lose are his heart and talent. All it takes is hard work and one other person who believes he can succeed again.

Bertuzzi is lucky the Detroit Red Wings never gave up on him. Right now, Ken Holland is definitely feeling quite satisfied with his decision to bring Bert back on board.

But enough about Bertuzzi, right?

I'm feeling very timid about commenting on Detroit's current situation. I have one thing to say: Keep finding ways to win. That's all anyone can ask of a team which has lost so many key players. Just find a way.




Saturday, December 12, 2009

Awesome Comeback, Bert Wins It In OT


Todd Bertuzzi is setting an example. When goals get difficult to come by, certain players find a way. Bertuzzi is one of those players. His two crucial goals in Friday's comeback victory over the Anaheim Ducks were examples of how to be creative around the net. Both goals displayed his talent with the puck.

Hopefully some other guys start to wake up. Todd is thinking about one thing - scoring. When he gets the puck, he looks at the net. Finally, the back of the net is not so illusive to him. The Wings need some other players to begin thinking this way.

Detroit faces Nashville today. This is a huge division clash. Nashville has a few points on the Wings right now.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Study In Red

I'm sitting here trying to think of a real, meaningful topic to write about. When it gets to this point, I know there is a problem. However, there is more than one thing wrong. Here's my overall feeling for the Detroit Red Wings and the NHL in general this season.

The Red Wings

They are injured. It's difficult to make deductions on a team which is missing so many key players. I can't create an accurate analysis of this team while knowing they are absolutely unable to reach their potential in any given game. Of course, I will anyway.

Sunday's victory over the Rangers wasn't anything "special." What I witnessed was a desperate team clinging to small victories and lucky bounces. Detroit could have easily lost this game.

I am no longer focusing on players of certain expected caliber and experience. Instead, I'm focusing on the coaches and management. I suppose leadership will be helpful in a time like this as well. But the fate of this season falls upon the shoulders of the men who can set examples. There is only so much pressure which can be placed on young, average players. The players need to have faith in the direction of their coach. I don't see it right now. I feel like I'm witnessing some sort of communication breakdown.

Moreover, Detroit needs to forget about pretty plays and puck possession. It doesn't work. It leads to turnovers. I feel like a broken record - for lack of a better term. From what I've seen, the success Detroit has had is due to quick, simple fore checking which involves getting bodies in front and throwing the puck at the net.

I will retreat from any further comment on Detroit's defense and goal tending. I will say one thing - which is sure to lead to an entirely different post: Jimmy Howard is not the answer. He is a band aid. Eventually, even a band aid needs to get ripped off - they don't last forever. I hope I've made myself clear.

Moving forward, I expect this team to realize this: They are not the Detroit Red Wings of recent years. They cannot rely on puck possession and strong defense. They must realize their own identity and make changes accordingly.

Many will not agree with me. I know the naysayers are quite apt to point out the similarities which exist between this season's and last season's lineup. However, I would like to remind everyone of the growth many teams have enjoyed over the past couple years. Teams have molded themselves to beat Detroit. It's no secret. Teams, from all over the league, have been measuring their success with Detroit's for the past 15 years. What I believe many people forget is teams aren't asking, "How do we become Detroit?", they're asking "How do we beat Detroit." If they can beat Detroit, they can beat anyone.

Detroit is not getting beaten at their own game. Their game is getting beaten. There is a huge difference. The Red Wings are finding themselves on the other end of the conundrum. They need to change their game in order to succeed. Again, I realize my recent repetitive commentating. I annoy myself.

The NHL

It's obvious to the average fan how much the NHL has changed in the past 10 years. But still, with all I've said about teams changing their game, here's how I define the "new" NHL:

It's a game with little forgiveness. Players have to move their feet or it's over - get out of the way or get in the box. More than ever it has become a game of chance.

Goaltenders are becoming even bigger scapegoats - they're amazing, or they suck. Gone are the days of the mediocre NHL goalie. If he sees the shot, he should save it. It seem nine out of 10 goals are scored when the goalie is screened or the puck hits something on the way to the net.

Despite some arguably bad things which have been birthed by the NHL's new rules, the league has succeed in one very awesome way - the star forward. New life has been given to the star forward. The player who has a knack for the back of the net - the natural goal scorer - thrives more than ever in this modified league. That's what everyone wanted, right?

Which reminds me: Where is the Red Wings' star forward? Who is he? Is he Henrik Zetterberg? If he is, he needs to start playing like it.

Bottom line is the teams which are doing well are the ones which get consistent offense from select players.

Food for thought:

Should the Red Wings be seeking a strong, nasty defenseman for the playoffs? Is this the missing link?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Poor Brain

My head has been in a million different places lately. Detroit Red Wings hockey had to take a back seat for a few days. Luckily, I was able to watch Saturday's entire game.

Of course, the Wings lost to New Jersey in a shootout Saturday.

I was really surprised Detroit came back from a two goal deficit against the Devils - who are notorious for taking the lead and shutting teams down. Martin Brodeur doesn't let in three goals very often.

There's not much to discuss. The Wings can't expect to win without their best players performing well. Until the entire team starts showing up, fans can forget about enjoying a decent winning streak.

Today, Detroit strolls into Madison Square Gardens to face the New York Rangers. The Rangers are a comparable team to the Wings right now. They are ninth in the East with 29 points - Detroit is tenth in the West with 31.

Today's game is huge. Beating a team like the Rangers should be routine. If Detroit wants to prove they are better than tenth place, they need to start winning games like this.

My questions: Does anyone really believe Detroit would be better with Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filpula in the lineup? When do injuries stop becoming excuses? I mean, my staff at work is shorthanded, but if I start blaming poor quality on a cut staff, I'm heading for unemployment. I hope the Red Wings feel the same way.

This is why Mike Babcock's job is more important than ever right now. He's the boss. He needs to manage this team through the difficult times. He needs to find a way to win. That's hockey. That's life. Except in life no one is paying to see you lose.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's Abert Time

Todd Bertuzzi has four goals this season with the Detroit Red Wings. Two were scored in the past two games. One was a game-winner in a shoot out against St. Louis Saturday. The other was what I like to call a goal-scorer's goal. Bertuzzi caught Marty Turco out of position and slightly screened when he floated one up under the cross bar in Monday's game against Dallas.

This is some quality stuff from a guy who seemed to have lost his hands. When Mike Babcock decided to throw Bertuzzi out for a game-winning chance in Saturday's shootout, I knew he would score. I assume Babcock did too. Good coaches know the best way to get a guy out of a slump is to give him a chance to prove it. Bertuzzi needed to prove he had the heart. He couldn't miss. There is absolutely no reason why Bertuzzi can't be a 20 goal scorer again.

With Bert showing up on the score sheet, the Red Wings are that much better. As I mentioned before, it's not about the third and fourth line guys. Sure, it's great to see Drew Miller and Darren Helm produce some offense. However, if guys like Bertuzzi, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg don't show up every night, the team suffers in the long run. One can only expect so much from the so-called grinders.

Right now I'm looking at a potentially extremely dangerous Detroit offense. There are a few guys like Datsyuk, Bertuzzi and Helm who were very cold and have since switched to very hot. There is no reason - even with the injuries - this offense can't put up at least four goals each game. And the grinders are a bonus. Miller is absolutely fabulous out there. Ken Holland could not have expected anything better.

Detroit faces Edmonton Thursday. It really doesn't matter who this team plays. Honestly, forget about records, statistics and rivalries. Detroit must bring the same game to everyone.

I see pucks being thrown at the net, guys crushing defensemen in the corner and traffic in front. I called for it and the team answered. What more can I say?