For 20 years now the Detroit Red Wings have established a record of excellence unmatched in sports history. Their 20 straight playoff appearances, multiple Stanley Cups, and consistent level of play has been a modern marvel. They survived through the institution of a salary cap and were able to maintain the same level of excellence.
This year, the Wings seemed poised for another run. They set a new record for consecutive home wins during the regular season and seemed like a team that had what it took to win playoff series and possibly get back to the finals. They faded as the season came to a close, however, and ended up with a No. 5 seed.
Fans were confident that they could beat Nashville, although many predicted it to go 7 games. In the end though, the Wings proved to be no match for a stronger, quicker, and more advantageous Predators team. The Preds and Wings played were different styles. The Wings typical puck possession style of play dominated for large portions of several of the games and they managed to generate a large number of shots. Looking at the shot totals alone was very deceiving. Quality shots were few and far between for the Wings.
The Wings seemed to adjust to their style to throw shots at the net with as much screening as possible. Often focusing on rebound opportunities on Rinne’s blocker side. This had a little success but not nearly enough. Rinne was able to stop most shots without a rebound or the shots were quickly swept away by a collapsing Predators defense. The Predators simply stayed in tight, even allowing the Wings to move the puck on the outside perimeter of their zone at times.
Mike Babcock took offense to the notion that they were mostly getting shots from the outside and not getting quality opportunities before game 5. Any review of the film though seemed to support that idea. The Wings throw and go style wasn’t effective enough at crowding the net. The physical Nashville defense was able to fight the Wings off the net, neutralizing their rebound chances.
In a stark contrast, the Wings defense was neither tougher, physical, or smart. They were good at blocking shots and stealing pucks but struggled mightily with positioning. The first goal of game 5 was just another in an ugly string of defensive lapses by Detroit. Detroit continued to chase the puck and leave the front of the net open. Attempting to get numbers in the fore check battle, the Wings left voids in the middle of their zone which Nashville took advantage of. They regularly slipped guys in with little effort, getting point blank opportunities.
It is not what Red Wings fans are accustomed to seeing from their team that has always been known for being sly, smart, and controlled. The sloppy lapses in the defense weren’t the only issue for the Wings. The sloppiness in their own zone when handling the puck lead to multiple scoring opportunities and several goals. The Wings looked almost lazy. The talk locally was that the Wings had several injured players. Injuries are no excuse for lack of effort, which is what I saw from them.
It is hockey though and I sincerely hope that we find out that most of the main guys were playing hurt. That would at least explain some of the slow play, loss of concentration, and mental lapses. Playing through pain can have a real effect. it is worth noting that Lidstrom looked awful in a lot of the series and seems to be really suffering from the injury he sustained back in the regular season. He still wore extra padding and was taken off the power kill units. Sure signs he was playing hurt.
There are two things that concern me most with this team moving forward. First, they seemed to lack enough quality depth to make up for players lost to injuries. They played several younger players but no one really stepped up and showed they were ready to take over a real role on the team yet. Second, the Wings didn’t seem to play with the same will power as in years past. Even just last year, when they came back against San Jose, the Wings showed a grit and determination that made you believe that maybe they could pull it out. In this Nashville series the Wings lacked effort and intensity throughout the series. They had moments were the energy level rose, such as after the Huddler goal in game 5. They showed they could raise their level of play but they didn’t play with any consistent effort. They really disappointed their fans. I would blame injuries but I think leadership may be more likely to blame. Something unheard of in Hockeytown.
I hoep the Wings are able to revamp their roster a little and get some speed and hungrier players. Or maybe even just look in the mirror and decide they want greatness again. Either way, I would hate to see them lose becauee of sloppy play and lack of effort. It’s not what the Red Wings should ever be known for. In the end, it may goo down as exactly what they were known for in 2012.