November 21, 2011 :: 12:10pm ET Wings won't back down
The Detroit Red Wings aren't about to throw in the towel, despite
their slow start to the season.
LOS ANGELES -- The struggling Detroit Red Wings entered Staples Center
on Saturday in the midst of their first -- and up to that point,
unsuccessful -- Western road trip.
There's a lot of adjectives in that last sentence you've rarely seen
juxtaposed to the Winged Wheel, eh? But facts are facts, when they
laced 'em up on this day, the standings yawned a record of 9-7-1 with
a "10" next to the conference standing designation.
While things have been peachy keen inside Joe Louis Arena (7-2-1),
their 2-5-0 record while staying in hotels and flying on charters is
far below the very high expectations set of one of the NHL model
If you've followed this franchise if at minimum from afar, you know
what comes next.
They're too old. They're too injury prone. Todd Bertuzzi deserves it.
The Wings rolled into L.A. in the midst of a season that can only be
categorized as a roller coast. Winning streaks and losing skids dot
the 'results' part on their schedule; if they dropped another one it
would have equaled a six game road losing streak that dated back to
December 1987. They were crushed Thursday night in San Jose by a team
that was better in every facet of the game and this was the time for a
While it's still early, the Central Division looks to be a dogfight
this season. The arch rival Chicago Blackhawks could revert to the
Stanley Cup form of two seasons ago, the Nashville Predators will be
tough with one last ride of the current roster and the St. Louis Blues
have tuned in Ken Hitchcock after tuning out Davis Payne.
No Columbus Blue Jackets mention here, sorry.
Things didn't look much brighter on this blustery November afternoon
when Mike Richards on a torrid pace after adjusting to his liberation
from all this Philadelphia, potted an unassisted shorthanded goal less
than seven minutes into the contest. Before any angst settled in on
the Detroit bench Pavel Datsyuk, in the midst of a curious 12 game
goalless streak, returned serve on the next shift to equalize the
From there, the visitors were who we thought they were, playing their
puck control game to a tee and smothering the Kings in front of Jimmy
Howard's cage. Anze Kopitar, on track for a career best season, was
stifled by Datsyuk with his first shot on goal coming halfway through
the match. The opportunity came via the way of penalty shot, the first
of the Slovenian's career and became a game changer when his soft
backhand disappeared into Howard's glove. With Howard rebuffing the
Kings best punch the Red Wings kept forcing turnovers that resulted in
a 4-1 victory that has been the norm for over a decade for this
While the win didn't elevate Detroit to the Top 8 in a Western
Conference that shows Minnesota at the top of the heap on this past
Sunday, there was the usual sense of calm in the Wings' room at the
end of the day.
Nicklas Lidstrom, a Hall of Famer in every way, gave careful
consideration to this up and down season's first quarter.
When asked if the start should be minimized he politely disagreed, "It
is 20 games and that's a quarter of the season, it's definitely
significant. We've played good defense and Jimmy (Howard) has been
great but we haven't been able to score."
To no one's surprise, Lidstrom, at 41, is still a vital component to
this team. When he captured a sixth Norris Trophy with a less than
dominating season that included a minus rating, more than a few
pointed to his reputation as the reason he won the vote over runner-up
Shea Weber. While his teammates have run hot and cold, Nicky's been a
rock again in the early going, 14 points in 19 matches and a robust +6
that everyone is more accustomed to. With the other Nick, this one
minus a C in his name and sweater, fellow Swede Niklas Kronwall
prepping to step into the huge shadow cast when Lidstrom departs, the
unquestioned leader of the team until he hangs up his sakes is the
Datsyuk, one of the surprising culprits of the offensive woes, seemed
no worse for wear on this day. The Kings who have always been a
favorite target of the Russian's accuracy proved to be the perfect
foil to get back on track. While neither of his goals approached the
virtuosity of his Game 7 backhander against the San Jose Sharks last
May, it was time for him to get on the board regardless of the degree
"When it's not going good, it's kind of frustrating," after doubling
his season goal output in one match. "But it's a good experience. This
tough situation will make me stronger later in my career. It's a
little bit of a tough time when you play hard and trying to score and
it's not going in."
A central focus of Detroit inability to advance past the second round
since losing to the Penguins in the 2009 Finals is goaltender Jimmy
Howard. Though he's fashioned consecutive 37 win regular seasons, his
playoffs have taken the exact path; beat the Coyotes, lose to the
Sharks. We thought that Howard wasn't the prime time goalie that could
take the Wings to their twelfth Stanley Cup championship until we
glanced down at his stats line, his 1.84 goals against average and
.930 save percentage has nothing to do with this team's stalling at
the quarter pole. He had his worst performance of the season in the
Shark Tank that resulted in his being pulled by Babcock but bounced
back with a tidy, controlled performance in Los Angeles.
While he's only one game over .500 in his post season career, his .915
and .923 save percentages in two playoff seasons have been good enough
to go farther and meet the expectations of championships in Detroit.
His talent has never been questioned during his tenure in the
organization but only when his conditioning matched his skills did GM
Ken Holland consider him a keeper. With the ability to play back to
back games makes backup Ty Conklin's job one of the easiest in the
Babcock, the tough minded coach has always been a long money player,
even when his team is underperforming, rarely straying from the proven
formula that works in Michigan.
"The story of our year is we've played a lot of good hockey and we
found ways to make enough mistakes that we haven't been able to win
enough," Babcock said. "You can't continually get 38 shots a game and
give up 22 or 24 and not win. Eventually it's going to happen for you.
It was great to see Pavel get a couple. He's a goal scorer, wants to
score, and wants to feel good about himself.
"It's not like we haven't worked, but the results weren't coming. We
can all get down or yell and scream or get mad at each other, but to
me that's a waste of time. Be resilient and keep coming."
Roughly 28 hours later, the Anaheim Ducks laid in wait for the old
bones to make the trip down the 5 Freeway to the O.C. The home side
thought of everything to knock the Michiganders off the track, fowl
weather (50 and rain is more 8 Mile than Newport Beach), a power
failure (the second one this week OFF the ice for the Ducks) but it
was to no avail.
The Wings jumped on the Ducks early and often and forged a three goal
lead that was good enough to give them their first consecutive road
wins this season and a happy charter home in the bargain.
Those looking for a premature burial of the Red Wings had best find
another team. They're smart and tough and if they can stand the rigors
of an 82 game marathon, still a dangerous team an opinion shared in
their room as well as the opposition's.
"They say every year (the Wings are too old) and nothing really
changes. They have guys who play their system really well and as
gifted as they are, they're a really good defensive team," conveyed
Kings defenseman Matt Greene, who unsuccessfully combated waves of
Wings on this day.
Their struggle isn't over, but it seems that parity has hit the
Western Conference more than ever this year.
The Blackhawks looked out of sight until they took a snooze in
Alberta, San Jose will always be there but they've had so many chances
that we're not convinced that they're ready to win a minimum of three
rounds and while the Kings have names, they're as inconsistent as
Detroit to this point.
Brad Stuart, in his fifth season as a Red Wing, echoes the big picture
sentiment throughout the locker room. There's never panic or despair,
no calls for trades or changes behind the bench.
"We all know we have a great team," he said. "We talked about how
things will go wrong at some point in games and it's all about how you
handle it. Today, we did a better job of handling those certain
situations where they'll play good, and we know we have to respond."