A Season Of Learning For Detroit

I

t isn’t always the best idea to start writing straight after a playoff series has ended and your team is done for the season, but it is often the case that it is when most of your thoughts want to come out. Therefore I apologise in advance for what may be a lack of cohesion throughout this post… Just like the Red Wings in the post season.

Having already touched on the issues Detroit had in the regular season, with injuries and veterans not turning up, just making it to the post-season for a 23rd consecutive time felt like a victory in itself, but the way Detroit made it there probably gave many of us false hope, that we could be deep and ultimately that was never the case.

Stretch Run

In the final sprint to the finish, it took a collapse from Toronto (teehee) and what was a herculean effort from Gustav Nyquist, with support from ‘The Kid Line’ to get Detroit to that 23rd straight appearance. That was done without Pavel Datsyuk, without Henrik Zetterberg, without Johan Franzen! Well Franzen was on the ice, but his contributions were severely lacking, so he was mostly a passenger.

But with Datsyuk returning and having a few games to get fit and the kids on fire, it looked like there would be momentum going into the series with Boston. Yes they would be the favourites, but Detroit led the regular season series 3-1. They knew how to beat them, they could go and put up a real fight.

The Playoffs


After game 1, that looked the case, with both teams looking a solid match for each other and both goaltenders pretty much keeping both teams in it. Datsyuk scored a dirty, DIRTY goal to give Detroit the series lead and steal one on the road. From there though, it was all Boston.

In game 2 they out fought and out battled a Detroit team, who tried to play the Boston way and match them physically, rather than using their speed. Game 3 back in Detroit was the same and the Wings were dispatched with ease and shut out.

Then in game 4, it looked like Detroit had found the answer to Boston and started playing the way they needed to. At 2-0 up Detroit headed to another Power Play and looked set to put Boston to the sword, only for an ‘interference’ call on Todd Bertuzzi just seconds into the advantage to stop that momentum. Boston scored on their short Power Play and rallied to win that game 3-2 in Overtime, giving them a 3-1 series lead.

Going into TD Garden and getting a win was always going to be a tall order, especially going a goal down early on. However the Red Wings did show some character and leveled the game, only for the officials to go whistle happy, making bad calls on both teams and eventually putting Boston on a 4 on 3 Power Play.

Yet more controversy though, as on the Face Off that led to the 2-1 goal, Pavel Datsyuk was interfered with, which was ignored by the officials and Boston took full advantage. How to you know it was a bad miss? Mike Babcock was irate, more so than you’d usually see, he went after the officials right from the moment the call was missed, right until the end of the period.

Boston made it 3-1, but Detroit rallied to give themselves some hope late in the game, but with just 3 minutes left they took their usual Too Many Men penalty and that was that, with Jarome Igninla making it 4-2 on the empty net. The Wings were done and Boston would go through to meet Montreal in what will be a nasty series in round 2.

Learning To Fly

So what went on with Detroit? Well there are a number of issues really, but a lot of it comes down to learning. Detroit are still learning how to cope with the loss of key players. Namely, Nick Lidstrom. Since the retirement of the Perfect Human, Detroit has been frail in defense, often leaving their goaltender exposed and lacking protection and whilst some will point to Howard’s contract being a turning point for his performances, that is unfair.

Howard, while not being spectacular, has been doing everything he can, but when he lacks support from the guys in front of him, there is only so much he can do and when you look back on the season, there are only a small number of goals that can be blamed solely on him.

Injuries haven’t helped either, with Detroit lacking any continuity in defensive roles, Kronwall and Ericsson have both spent portions of the season injured and have rarely been together and despite a breakout year for the impressive Danny DeKeyser, he too has found himself partnered with too many different players and where he should be a third line D for the most part to continue his education, he has been pushed further up the lines and had to have a bigger role than he should have.

Defense, Defense, Defense

Many Detroit fans will rightly point to the production of Kindl, Quincey, Smith, Lashoff as to why the defense is so bad right now also. Quincey started the year dreadfully and it seemed like he couldn’t step on the ice without making an error. I too have been a huge critic, but credit where credit is due, since the Olympic break and even into the playoffs he has played a lot better and the mistakes have fallen away somewhat. It’s not enough for me to want him back next year, or for him to be worth a new contract, but he at least responded and did try to step up.

Kindl has to be the bigger issue, he came through a couple of seasons back and showed lots of potential, yet he has just gone backwards and failed to progress as many had hoped. He should be a solid second or third line D, but as his replacement by Xavier Ouellet for the vital game 5 showed, he has even lost the trust of his coach. He will be gone in the summer and I don’t envisage anyone caring.

Brendan Smith is probably the most interesting case for Detroit in the defensive positions. He has his issues, can be easily wound up, as proven early in the series, can pinch more than an enraged lobster entering the boiling pot, but unlike Kindl, his potential is still there for all to see. Given the right partner, he could very well be a big asset for Detroit in the coming seasons.

He is a big body, isn’t afraid to put that body on the line, is a battler and has shown himself to be more than capable when needed. His main issue is discipline and consistency, not just with his temper, but also knowing when not to join the attack and when to hold off. He does need to work on that, but it will come and he was probably one of Detroit’s better playoff performers.

Veteran Scoring

The other issue Detroit had, was a complete lack of offensive force, with teams often able to restrict the team to low percentage shots and making them work harder than themselves to even get some goals. Again injuries to Zetterberg, Datsyuk and co haven’t helped, but it is one man who should be relied on for goals that has been the biggest let down.

Johan Franzen! I like Mule, he is big, nasty and when he gets going, he is an unstoppable force, yet something has been missing this season, especially in the playoffs, which is usually the time the big man stands up and dominates. Not this year though, he looked more like a shrinking violet.

Whether there is something going on in his head, or if the problem lies elsewhere remains to be seen, but as it stands he is far from justifying his $4m per year contract. 41 points in 54 games may not seem to bad during the regular season, but with the likes of Datsyuk and Zetterberg missing, it should set the stage for Franzen to lead the team and be the guy pulling them into the playoffs.

This isn’t a young kid in a debut season, or a 4th liner being told to do a first liners job. Franzen is a star and is experienced too, but he has look far from that all season and even back to last season. If a change is needed, then fine, cut out losses and see if we can trade him, but the team cannot afford to have Mule as a passenger for much longer.

It Ain’t Easy

I have seen some people point to the lack of production from Nyquist, Sheahan, Tatar and Jurco in the post-season as an excuse for the exit. Let me tell you something then…These kids went above and beyond down the stretch and were the absolute reason Detroit were even in the playoffs. For some this is their first experience and for all of them, their first experience as main bodies in the roster.

If anyone deserves a free pass, it is those kids. This at best should have been a learning experience for them, playing less minutes, maybe even missing games altogether, yet here they were, expected to carry the Red Wings past Boston! Of all teams! With zero points between them and without them ever really looking threatening, it showed just how much pressure was on them way too early. They played like they had just carried a team for the best part of half a season, they looked done.

Yet, this will be a positive experience for them. They will now understand how much harder the NHL Playoffs are compared to what they experienced in the AHL (and won with the Griffins). If the Red Wings get back there next season, these kids will be better prepared.

On The Way Out?

So onto some of the veterans, Legwand, Bertuzzi, Alfredsson… ZERO Points, ZERO Shots and a combined -2 on the series. That simply isn’t good enough and to be honest, it is highly unlikely any will be resigned, Alfie had maybe this last shot at the cup and yes injury played a part, Bertuzzi hasn’t had a look in and Legwand has looked like a pure rental.

You feel that these three will be part of a huge summer clear out, along with Samuelsson and Cleary at the very least. If the Red Wings are in a period of transition, then they need to now trust the kids who came up this season, use whatever trade power they may have to solidify the D and get in a top 6 forward and build the team around this amazing talent they have coming through.

Closing Thoughts

I’ll cover the option in the Summer in another article, but I’ll finish with this. It has been a long and stressful season following the Red Wings, it has far from gone our own way at all, but we DID make it 23 straight playoff appearances, we did it with a depleted roster, when all around were saying it would be over.

We fell short in the playoffs and never really showed too much fight. BUT – and this is important – there is a lot of hope, there is plenty to be excited about going forward, we have had a taste of the future and if you cannot get excited by watching Nyquist enter beast mode, or a line of Jurco, Tatar and Sheahan make the opposition dizzy, then something is wrong.

Just sit back, relax until October, then strap in and enjoy the ride.

Follow Brad on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk throughout the playoffs!

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