Monday, November 21, 2011

The Wiz Biz: Detroit Survives Road Trip, Saves Face

With the big four game road trip in the rear-view mirror, the Detroit Red Wings escaped with a 2-2 record, which helped keep the Wings on pace with the rest of the Western Conference. The loss against St. Louis was as close as it gets, but the 5-2 loss against San Jose frustrated everyone. For whatever reason, the Red Wings can't seem to solve the Sharks. Here's hoping for a third opportunity in the playoffs this season. There are good and bad things to focus on from last week's games.

The Good: To put it frankly, Jimmy Howard should not have been left off of the NHL All-Star ballot. His numbers reflect elite goaltending and he has been the reason for a number of Red Wings' victories thus far. His 10-5-1 record sounds good, but he has been great in almost every game he has played, racking up a 1.85 GAA and a .930 save percentage. If he keeps this up and the Red Wings can put together more of these five game winning streaks, Jimmy might get some consideration for more worthwhile accolades at the end of the season. Speaking of accolades, I think it's about time Johan Franzen earned some kudos around the blogosphere for leading the Red Wings in points and putting up a point per game. He's a threat to score in bunches at any time, including April and May. Pavel Datsyuk turned things around from an "awful" string of games as well, scoring twice against Los Angeles and setting up two goals last night against the sinking Ducks.

The Bad: As great as it is for Franzen to step his game up in the regular season...where the hell is Henrik Zetterberg? The other half of Detroit's Euro Twins is struggling offensively this season, scoring just 4 goals and 9 points in Detroit's 19 games. He has been excellent with his two way game, but he is expected to score and he hasn't been doing enough of that. Maybe it's time we called up the "Fake Henrik Zetterberg" to try his hand at scoring:

Zetterberg isn't necessarily entirely to blame for his own struggles, as his time on the power play has been a wasted effort. Detroit's power play clicked against the Sharks and Kings, registering 4 goals in 8 power plays total, but went 0 for 11 against St. Louis and Anaheim. The season's power play percentage is hovering near 17%, which is not promising. Long term success is going to require more scoring on special teams. The penalty kill has been much better, giving up only 2 goals on 13 opponent power plays, but the untimely penalties need to stop.

This week's games features yet another 3-in-4 that has become a staple in the Red Wing's regular season schedule. Wednesday is a home contest against Calgary, Friday is an afternoon battle in Boston, and 30 hours later they return home to face division rival Nashville. The toughest game is going to be against Nashville as it happens about a day after a tough Boston team and it ill require travel to return home. That, and Nashville is currently above Detroit in the standings and will want to keep it that way. At some point, Detroit will have to start Ty Conklin. I think Friday's contest against Boston would be an ideal time to play Conklin as the entire team is going to be fresh and hungry to get a win knowing Saturday is going to be a challenge.

To end on a positive note, check out Brad Stuart's bank shot:

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Wiz Biz: A Tale of Two Seasons

It has been a while since I piped up about the Detroit Red Wings on ice endeavors. Not to take away from the induction of Mark Howe and Mickey Redmond into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but there is much to discuss about the current Red Wings and their current push to reclaim the glory of seasons past. The season so far feels like a roller coaster for its fans and the standings reflect that.

On one hand, we can talk about the Detroit Red Wings team who started the season with five straight wins, including two shutouts, one of which was a 2-0 shut down performance against the Vancouver Canucks. The team that's currently riding a four game winning streak with two more shutout victories and has only given up a total of four goals in those four games. The team that features the dangerous combination of Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula who have 9 and 6 points in their last four games, respectively. We could also talk about how Nick Lidstrom looks every bit as good this season as he always has, and that another Norris Trophy is within the realm of possibility. Most impressive of all, we could talk about how Jimmy Howard has a 1.66 GAA, a .934 save percentage, and leads the NHL with 3 shutouts.

Or we could talk about the Detroit Red Wings whose power play is 18th, whose penalty kill is 24th, and whose five game winning streak was ended with a disastrous 7-1 loss to the Washington Capitals. The team that proceeded to lose 6 games in a row before righting the ship. The team that boasts the most complete duo in the NHL but yet both are struggling with offensive production. It pains me to say this but Pavel Datsyuk with 10 points and Henrik Zetterberg with 6 points 15 games into the season is a disappointment. There's plenty of time to turn it around, we'll get to that point, but it's time to be honest: what's going on there?

There appears to be two Red Wings teams battling each other from week to week. One week they look absolutely lethal on the ice, pumping the net full of goals at a fanatical pace and shutting down the NHL's most potent offenses. On other weeks, it looks like they have given up on their goaltender.

The losing streak should be an eye opener for Detroit. Yes, the start to the season was outstanding and the rebound has been just as strong. Yes, there was (is still?) a dark cloud that hovered over the team after losing Ruslan Salei, Brad McCrimmon, and Stephan Liv to the tragic crash of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane. Yes, the special teams has been horrific at times. Yes, Johan Franzen is elevating his game to a level we usually see in May. It's confusing to a fan and a blogger like myself.

The question is: where do they go from here?

Currently, they are riding a four game winning streak heading into a four game week. On Tuesday, Detroit faces division rival St. Louis (8-7-1) who are coming off of a 3-0 shutout of their own. The next three games are a West Coast romp with California's teams. Even though the Ducks (6-8-3) are having their own issues, these are three tough games, particularly the one against the Sharks (9-5-1) who have already defeated the Wings in a 4-2 game at Joe Louis Arena. Ty Conklin is likely to get a start at some point this weekend, too, which bodes ill of the fortune to come. Still, if Detroit comes out of this four game road trip 3-1 or better it will be promising given how awful the previous ten games have been at times. Then again, all four teams are beneath the Red Wings in the standings and will be hungry to crawl up the standings.

Getting back to Datsyuk and Zetterberg,

It may be early in the season to be panicking about a slide of six games, but reality is that a terrible first half of the season can dictate the second half of the season in terms of trades, signings, and even day-to-day gameplay. Thankfully it appears as though the ship has been righted.

To end on a high note, congratulations to both Mark Howe and Mickey Redmond for getting into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It's satisfying to see multiple news outlets acknowledging that Mark is getting in for reasons beyond his last name. What I love even more is how candid he was about the current NHL on television:

As for Mickey, all I can say is holy mackerel, look at that shake and bake!