Monday, May 10, 2010

All Things Hockey, Playoff Edition Part IV

Eulogies-- Detroit Red Wings

I don’t want to take anything away from the Red Wings, as they were certainly a good team. Unfortunately, it will be near impossible not to do so though, as this is a team that has been largely overhyped due to the logo on the front of their jersey, and one that exited the NHL’s postseason tournament about where they deserved to do so.

Following their advancement from a hard fought first round series, the Red Wings became a trendy pick to make a deep run with many placing them in the favorite position for the Western Conference. This was set in two lines of reasoning, both of them flawed. The first, and most obvious, was that the Red Wings have been there before...a lot...and therefore seem to be a perpetual threat to come out of the West and compete for a title. The other was the manner in which they clinched the second round birth.

As for the logo on the front, the problem with penciling in the franchise that had seen back to back finals appearances was that this was not the same Red Wings team. It was an older, more tired, and, let’s face it, less talented group. Number 13 and 40 were as good as ever this year. Even in his fourth decade, Pavel Datsyuk is as scary as ever. He still has an ability to track down the puck and create turnovers that can only be described as mystifying. Zetterberg, too, was as productive as ever. The rest of the roster, though, is underwhelming. Guys like Drew Miller, Justin Abdelkader, and Darren Helm were passable pieces as role players on the finals team, but in this incarnation of the flying wheels, they were counted upon as secondary scoring, a role for which they aren’t suited, at least not yet.

Beyond the lack of talent, the Wings had put on a ton of miles, with back to back finals runs, the Olympics for many of their key players, and a grueling 7 game series with Phoenix. For all of these reasons, not to mention the questions in goal, there was a clear difference between last year’s Detroit team and this year’s: they just weren't as good.

The second folly made by those who jumped on Detroit is that they looked at a game seven result, in which the Wings absolutely hammered Phoenix with a decisive 6-1 showing. In that seventh game, the Wings looked like an absolute juggernaut, and a lot of people were watching. Those people saw that performance and understandably, they extrapolated that this was a team that could go all the way. The problem is, that was one game. The public ignored the fact that a Phoenix team with a roster that had no business in the NHL playoffs had taken this so called juggernaut to the brink of elimination, even if they got clobbered once they were there.

Anyways, here is what I think about the Red Wings roster: Datsyuk and Zetterberg are great. Franzen is good. Stuart, Kronwall and Ericsson are solid. Lindstrom and Rafalski are old but they still get it done and then some on the back end. Same for Holmstrom up front. Bertuzzi, Maltby, May, and Draper are old and don’t. Howard and Abdelkader are going to get better, but that is really it, and the window seems to be closing. I watched this team intently for five games and really can’t think of anything interesting to say about anyone else, and don’t feel compelled to expand on any of the above. That last sentence pretty much sums it up.

Since there isn’t much to say about the team, I have a couple of thoughts on the fans. I saw the best and the worst of hockey fans in the Red Wings series, through two groups of Red Wings die hards. The first group, the annoying ones, manifested themselves in HP Pavilion, being obnoxious and demonstrating a decided ignorance towards the game. No team brings out bandwagoners like the Red Wings, and that was on display from a group that hasn’t been this upset since the Yankees blew the 3-0 lead in 2004, or even since Jordan retired from the Bulls. I am lumping this group of people in with the ones who make up the Red Wings presence online, who constantly complained and made excuses, refusing to give the Sharks credit for being the better team in the series. These people frustrated me to no end, but the other group made up for it.

The second group, which contributed the upside, was the crowd for game 4. They came in loud, and the Wings fed off of them on the way to a huge lead. Now, as exciting as a home team’s blowout is as the score is being run up, usually a crowd will check out once the game is decided half way through the second period. Not this one, and it was summed up beautifully, with about five minutes to go and the score at 7-1.

During a stoppage, if I remember correctly, before a Detroit powerplay, “Don’t Stop Believing” came on. Obviously, this was apropos for a number of reasons, with the line ‘born and raised in south Detroit,’ and the specter of a 3-0 hole in front of the Red Wings. The place lit up. The entire building, it seemed, joined in with Steve Perry as the players lined up. A cool moment, but not altogether spectacular. Why not scream the name of the town, and besides, who doesn’t love Journey? Like I said, though, a cool moment from a good, old school hockey crowd.

Unfortunately, the linesman was obligated to drop the puck, and the PA was responsible for cutting the music, right after the second midnight train going anywhere line. With the music off, and the play going, though, the Joe took it to another level. Unperturbed by the lack of accompaniment, the crowd continued to sing, loud enough that they rivaled the volume of the commentary while play continued. The crowd got all the way through the chorus with what had to be 90% of the building singing at the top of their lungs, before finally stopping, and giving themselves a self-congratulatory cheer.

I never thought that I could be made happy by a hockey game that the Sharks were losing by a touchdown, but as I watched the Joe sing in celebration, I was smiling. I couldn’t help it, and that is what I want to remember about the 2010 Red Wings.

Stupidity in the Circle

If I were an NHL coach, and I had half decent centermen, my team would go 70% on draws. I guarantee it.

With the NHL’s insane directive to throw out more centers, an easy loophole has opened up, but no one seems to have tried to exploit it yet (emphasis on tried, this isn’t airtight, but I definitely think it could work).

Here is the problem: after the linesman throws out a center, he essentially waits until the winger gets to the dot, and immediately throws down the puck. Don Cherry pointed this out Saturday night, and he was absolutely right. Watch for it. They hardly even look, dropping the puck almost instantly, more or less every time. While vigilance is up big time on the draw, once a player is thrown out, the level of scrutiny from the linesman drops to almost zero.

So, between the increased number of ejections, and the lack of patrolling on the second matchup, an easily exploitable situation is created. All a coach would need to do is put his best faceoff man on the wing when the teams line up. The first guy goes into the circle and cheats as much as he can. He doesn’t have to get himself tossed for the plan to work, since he can give himself a pretty distinct advantage on the draw just by taking illegal position before the puck is dropped.

If the linesman keeps him in the circle, great, since he has a distinct advantage when the puck is dropped. If not, your best faceoff guy comes in to the dot. Knowing that the ref will almost instantly drop the puck, the natural center can take advantage by not setting, again essentially cheating on the draw and gaining an advantage. No ref wants to throw two guys out of the faceoff. They know they will be boo’d, and called out by the coaches for slowing the game. With the advantage of the aggressive center on the second one, again you are giving yourself a chance on the draw that is well above the intended 50/50.

I am convinced that this would work.

Shorter Hockey Thoughts

- Owen Wilson got a bit of screen time watching the Blackhawks – Canucks game 3. Since I can’t think of a single reason that Wilson would be at the game, I am going to assume that Shane O’Brien saw Wedding Crashers 60 times, with his reaction being ‘that’s freakin’ ME, man,’ and then drunkenly demanded that the Canucks front office ‘get those dudes to the next game, bro!’ (Either that, or they shoot a lot of movies in Vancouver, and Wilson knows how to get some solid entertainment. Either one.)

- Serious question: the Canucks have to be the fattest team in the NHL, right (O’Brien, Wellwood, Bernier…pretty untouchable 1,2,3)?

- What happened to Sami Salo should never happen to anyone ever. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, consider yourself lucky. Please, can we remove all video evidence of this from the internet?

- I would like to see Modano go out gracefully this year, but Nicklas Lindstrom has a couple more years on the blueline. He should come back.

- Kudos to Mike Babcock for having the dignity to come out and say publicly that, as was the case, the Red Wings were not being screwed by officiating. The Red Wings were slower than the Sharks, and getting beat was forcing them to hook, hold, and take penalties. Babcock said as much, and deserves major credit for it.

- Having said that, the officiating was extremely sketchy in the Sharks – Red Wings series, but it was sketchy both ways.

- The NHL needs to figure out goalie interference. Holmstrom and Franzen lived in the Sharks crease, yet Dany Heatley got knocked from behind while following through, and got a penalty. The Byfugdlein thing was ridiculous, but it was hardly the only goal that has been scored with a goalie being physically unable to stop the puck. It is becoming a major issue.


I’m going with a Sharks theme for the plays of the week this time. I’m a homer, deal with it.


I have long contended, for the past week or so, that Ryane Clowe is the And-1 grinder. This goal is proof of that.


Some people thought that it was a cheap shot, that Douglas Murray laid on Johan Franzen in game five. I didn’t think it was that bad, but would admit it was questionable. This one, though was 100% legal, and is for you, Steve Moore.


Turns out I’m also a Team Slovakia homer too. This beauty by Jaroslav Halak on the guy who just so happens to be the best player in the world

NON – NHL Update

Keeping with the ‘damn that was a good crowd’ theme, it is time for the tournament to crown the number one hockey nation on earth. Not including the players who are in the playoffs. Or the ones who are banged up from the season. Or the ones whose owners, coaches and GMs don’t want them putting on the extra mileage. Or the ones who just can’t be bothered to go. The very best, not including the top 70% or so of the NHL!

Team USA is effectively a ‘C’ team at best. I mean the roster has a backup goalie from the AHL, a starter who will probably be there next year, and one from the Finnish league. It has the same number of 2010 World Junior champions, one, as silver medalists. It features studs like Taylor Chorney, Jack Hilen, and Mike Lundin holding down the blue line for the red white and blue. I mean, calling this team USA is like calling Eurotrip a ‘Matt Damon movie,’ except that Eurotrip is fun to watch, whereas this team is kind of embarrassing.

That is exactly what was on display when they played a German squad with their best goalie Thomas Greiss, best defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, and best forward Marco Sturm still in the playoffs. It was a must see game. Why? It was played in one of the world cup stadiums in Germany, and someone forgot to tell the German fans that the teams weren’t world class. The amount of flags was staggering. The amount of fans was staggering. The enthusiasm after the Deutsche pulled it out in OT, was somewhat confusing (again, the teams…), but still cool. I may be prone to hyperbole, but with national pride on the line, this was like nothing that I have ever seen surrounding a hockey game, and that is no exaggeration. Do yourself a favor, watch the highlights on YouTube, Then do yourself another favor, and ignore the IIHF tournament in Olympic years.

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