Wednesday, September 30, 2009

End of the Pre-Season...

I had a great time watching the Wings' final exhibition game today. I lucked out in that my afternoon class was canceled, so I got to hang out at home and enjoy some hockey. This, of course, didn't stop my mom from sending me a message on Twitter accusing me of skipping class to watch hockey. She either knows me far too well, or thinks far too little of me.

Game notes:
  • The NHL feed was piggybacking off of a Swedish language broadcast, and for some reason decided to air it without the play by play. I'm not sure why they did it that way, but I was perfectly fine just listening to the sounds of the game. The crowd was fantastic, and really picked up after the first period, spending most of the rest of the game singing and clapping.
  • The Wings got off to a bit of a slow start, but quickly turned things on in the first. It's always reassuring to see them look like they're actually interested in playing games.
  • The powerplay was great, and the PK, while not needed much, looked good as well. I know it's not quite the same as a real NHL game, but it made me feel better nonetheless.
  • Jimmy Howard looked spot on again. With any luck, he'll continue to make me eat my words for calling him the team's biggest weak link this season.
  • It was fantastic to see Zetterberg in the lineup finally. He looked good. He made some sharp plays and it was nice to see him score a goal in his first game.
  • I know I did a lot of complaining in response to the signings of Bertuzzi and Williams, and thus far, they're making me look like a fool. And I couldn't be happier about it. While I'm still not 100% sold, I'm feeling much, much better about the whole deal. We'll see how they follow through in the regular season, but so far Kenny Holland's looking like a genius. Again.
  • During the game, we got to listen to what has to be the most random collection of arena music ever assembled. They played everything from a techno version of "Pirates of the Caribbean" to that "Detroit '67" song.
  • Call me crazy, but are the refs wearing different jerseys this year? They look goofy. Maybe it's just because I've been watching online this whole time.
  • Finally, props to Farjestads. They played the Wings hard all game, despite the fact that the score looks a bit lopsided. They fought right to the end of the third period.
One last player profile going up tomorrow morning, and then it's on to the regular season. I don't know about any of you, but I sure can't wait.

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Jason Williams...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 2 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Jason Williams


2008-2009 Regular Season: 80 GP, 19-28-47, +/- -4, 24 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 4 GP, 0-1-1, +/- -2, 2 PIM

Season Highlight: Probably getting traded from Atlanta to a real live playoff team. I guess.
Season Lowlight: Getting swept in the first round by the Big Red Machine.

Williams split time between the Thrashers and the Blue Jackets last season. His production improved once he arrived in Columbus, which I’m going to go ahead and attribute to the fact that the BJs were a playoff team and Atlanta…not so much. His playoff numbers were dismal, but you have to take into account the fact that he was up against the Wings. Beyond that, I can’t really offer a lot of insight into the kind of season he had.

I’m on the record as being strongly against his signing this summer. But, as the wise Mick Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want.” Babcock has Williams slotted in to replace Mikael Samuelsson on the point on the powerplay, and though that makes me nervous, I’m willing to give it a shot. It’s a role that Williams has filled before, and it’s not like Sammy wasn’t turnover prone as well. I’m starting to feel a whole lo better about his signing after watching his performance on Sunday. He really did look good, and he made a few good plays on the powerplay. In my tendency to hold grudges, I often overlook the fact that he posted 58 points one year with the Wings in his previous stint, which is perfectly respectable. The beauty of the Wings’ situation (and what I believe will be their saving grace) is the fact that none of the new signees or guys promoted from Grand Rapids will be asked to put up those kind of numbers. The team hasn’t put all of its eggs in one basket in terms of finding someone to replace Hossa, Hudler, and Samuelsson. Williams and the like are simply expected to go out and play the Wings’ game. And from past experience, that style, defensively focused though it is, tends to lend itself to offense.

Some folks made a big deal about Williams saying that he wanted to stay in Columbus, but I really don’t have a problem with that (except that for the life of me, I can’t figure out why someone would want to live in such close proximity to Ohio State, but that’s another issue altogether). As long as he comes in, works hard, and refrains from whining, I’ll be okay. The Wings need him to fill the role that he’s signed for, and I think he understands what his job is here. Pointwise, I’d look for numbers about the same or slightly higher than he put up last year. I’m told that his line with Filppula and Leino has looked good together so far, and sharing ice time with those two guys, there’s no excuse to not have a decent year.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Not play his ipod.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Brad Stuart...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 3 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Brad Stuart


2008-2009 Regular Season: 67 GP, 2-13-15, +/- -3, 26 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 23 GP, 3-6-9, +/- 5, 12 PIM

Season Highlight: His goal to start off the Finals, fluky though it was. Or possibly this hit. I can't decide.
Season Lowlight: His costly Game 7 turnovers. I'm still too traumatized to be able to link the videos.

He and Kronwall made a solid second pairing for most of last year. He doesn’t have the penchant for spectacular open ice hits like his partner does, but I like the fact that he very quietly delivers crushing checks into the boards. He’s a solid shut-down guy, and his play compliments Kronwall’s perfectly because he’s able to cover when Kronwall jumps up into the play. That being said, there is a little part of me that will never get over those turnovers in Game 7. I know, I know, I know that the blame doesn’t fall completely on him, but ugh, I couldn’t even bring myself to link to the video.

This year, he needs to step up and play tighter defense. The key to the season is going to be tightening up the defense, and he and Kronwall need to play a large role in that. It also wouldn’t hurt to chip in with a few more points, although that’s not really his game. His value lies in his ability to wear down opponents with solid defense and his ability to take them out of the play by rubbing them out against the boards. He hasn’t looked spectacularly good from what I’ve seen of him so far, as he’s been making a lot of defensive zone turnovers, but theoretically the pre-season is there to work those kinds of kinks out.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Atone for his Game 7 sins.

Monday, September 28, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Brian Rafalski...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 4 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Brian Rafalski


2008-2009 Regular Season: 78 GP, 10-49-59, +/- 17, 20 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 18 GP, 3-9-12, +/- 11, 11 PIM

Season Highlight: I'll go with this goal from the Winter Classic.
Season Lowlight: His injuries that caused him to sit out five games during the second round of the playoffs.

He was, once again, his usual solid self last season. Of course, being partnered with Nick Lidstrom would probably be enough to make anyone look good, but Rafalski doesn’t need a whole lot of help. He’s been nothing short of fantastic since signing with the Wings. He had another career year offensively and he continues to play exactly the kind of hockey that the Wings thrive on. His absence was notable for the five games that he missed during the Anaheim series, and I think it’s safe to say that we all breathed a little easier when he returned to the lineup. You could tell that he wasn’t quite the same toward the end of the playoffs, a point which Mickey Redmond and Ken Daniels were sure to point out when they spent what seemed like half an hour talking about Jordan Staal’s shorthanded goal from the Finals during the game broadcast last night.

Speaking of that game, Rafalski must’ve known that I would be writing about him afterward, as he had a very good four point night against the Penguins. Along with Lidstrom, he needs to lead the way as the Wings work to improve their team defense. They need him to (and I see no reason why he won’t) put up comparable numbers to last season, and once again lock things down defensively, especially on the troublesome penalty kill. There still isn’t a single top defensive pairing in the world that I would trade for the Lidstrom-Rafalski tandem, and the Wings will need them to show the world why that is this season.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Just keep doing what he's been doing. It's worked so far.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Finally A Game Worth Watching...

The Wings looked pretty good tonight. Jimmy Howard was sharp, the powerplay actually worked, and the Pens' only goal was incredibly fluky. It's about time they looked like they actually wanted to be playing hockey.

A few notes from the game:

--This was the first game I’ve been able to watch a game on TV. Thank you, cable guy who works on Saturdays. I really missed Mickey Redmond.
--Unfortunately, Mickey and Ken were trying to kill me by repeatedly showing Penguins highlights from the Finals last year. Why? Seriously.
--The Pens did not look happy to see Kris Draper. Good. He played pretty well again. I like the looks of angry name twin heading into the season.
--Franzen had another goal to tie the game up at 1. Is this the year when he scores like a beast for the whole season instead of waiting until March to show up? Yes, please.
--The Wings allowed two shorthanded breakaways. They very narrowly avoided a third. I was pretty sure that they were going for an NHL record or something. The first one led to a penalty shot, which Jimmy Howard stopped. It ended up working out quite nicely because the Wings got to stay on the powerplay and Franzen promptly scored.
--The Pens’ goal was ridiculously fluky, as it bounced off of Meech’s skate into the open net. No fault at all to Howard on that one. After tonight, I feel much better about him backing Ozzie up. Which, coupled with the Lions’ victory, may be a sign that the world is about to end.
--Nik Kronwall in his street clothes and nerdy glasses looks like an accountant or an IT guy. Not a guy who does things like this.
--Because I know you were dying to know: Mickey Redmond is apparently a DirecTV customer, and as such is unable to watch the Wings’ season premiere on Friday. Awesome.
--Chris Kunitz went after Franzen like a punk. I still haven’t figured out how the Wings ended up shorthanded out of that scrum.
--Rafalski had a four point night.
--Datsyuk continued to look like he was in a class of his own out there. Seriously, at times this pre-season, he’s looked like he’s playing keep away with a bunch of kids. He absolutely threaded the needle on a pass to Franzen during a Wings powerplay. Mickey Redmond said, “He can do what he wants, whenever he wants. He's that good." If he keeps it up, he’ll be looking at his second consecutive Hart nomination. You heard it here first.
--Jason Williams also had a very good night. I think my cold heart might be starting to warm to the new arrivals/returnees.

And now the Wings are off to Sweden for one last exhibition game and the two game series against the Blues. Words cannot describe how excited I am for the season to start.

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Chris Osgood...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 5 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Chris Osgood


2008-2009 Regular Season: 46 GP, 26-9-8, 2 SO, 3.09 GAA, 0.887 SV%
2009 Playoffs: 23 GP, 15-8, 2 SO, 2.01 GAA, 0.926 SV%

Season Highlight: Coming this close to winning the Conn Smythe. Or this save. They're related.
Season Lowlight: His “mental health break” midway through the regular season.

Ozzie’s regular season left a lot to be desired last year. I won’t go into detail because we all know that it was ugly. His record wasn’t that bad, but his goals against and save percentage were bad enough that I almost didn’t want to include them at the top of this post. Some of the blame for his numbers falls on the pathetic defensive displays that the Wings put on far too often during the regular season, but Osgood himself admitted that he lacked focus throughout the season. Then, when the playoffs hit, he “flipped the switch” and was the best goalie during the playoffs. If you didn’t know better, you never would’ve believed that it was the same guy between the pipes. I wanted them to win for Ozzie more than any other Wing. There’s no doubt in my mind that he was destined for the Conn Smythe had the Wings managed to eke out that last victory. He finally managed to silence his critics, and I loved every second of it.

The Wings desperately need to see “playoff Ozzie” all season long this time around. The race for the Central, while not being spectacularly important in the grand scheme of things, will be even tighter this year thanks to all of Chicago’s off-season improvements. At the same time, it’s hard to argue that the Wings haven’t taken a step back offensively. Some of the “lost goals” will need to be accounted for by letting fewer into their own net, and Osgood will play a crucial role in that. There’s no Ty Conklin around this year to pick up the slack if Ozzie struggles through the regular season. Instead, less-than-proven Jimmy Howard is slated to give us all a thousand heart attacks.

So far this pre-season, Ozzie hasn’t impressed me. I didn’t catch the game last night, but his performances that I have seen haven’t left me with abundant confidence. All summer long (and really for all of last season too), I’ve been defending him and predicting a return to form, and I’m really hoping he doesn’t make me look like a fool. I don’t put a lot of stock into the pre-season on account of the games being meaningless, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little bit of nervousness creeping in.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Relieve my stress over the Jimmy Howard Experiment by playing as well as we all know he can.

Saturday Night Notes...

I missed the game tonight. Which is ironic, because it was the first one I've had access to on a normal television. If you're looking for a recap or analysis, head over to one of the other blogs on the side. I've decided to write off the entire pre-season and live in the world I've created that has ample explanations for their generally lackluster play.

In other random notes for the day, Mike Babcock delivered one of my favorite roadtrip quotes ever when he was discussing the potential effects of jet lag from the Sweden trip. (This is even more random, but through all of my world travels that have spanned four continents, I've yet to experience any jet lag. So I refuse to put a whole lot of stock into it, and I generally just tell travel buddies to man up. Am I a jerk/freak of nature?) Anyway:
"We have a lot of road trips to the West Coast in this conference and those are five-hour flights. This is just a couple of hours more. In the East, some teams can do road trips on a bicycle, but we're used to long ones."
I especially liked it because it gave me a fun mental picture of a convoy of Rangers on bikes completely bogged down by their enormous hockey bags pedaling down the side of the road. Sean Avery had a little bell on his handlebars. Also, beads on his spokes. I need to find better things to do with my time.

One final note for the night: (Via Snapshots), SI's Allan Muir played rebel and refused to predict the downfall of the Wings. Why, you ask?
"I've learned my lesson: until further notice, it defies logic to underestimate the Red Wings."
Which is kind of what I've spent the better part of every summer for the last dozen years or so saying.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Derek Meech...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 6 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Derek Meech


2008-2009 Regular Season: 41 GP, 2-5-7, +/- -12, 12 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 2 GP, 0-0-0, +/- 0, 0 PIM

Season Highlight: Scoring his first career NHL goal.
Season Lowlight: I'll go with sitting out most of the playoffs.

Meech filled a valuable role last season when he stepped in as a forward during the Wings’ traditional mid-winter rash of injuries. In fact, there were times when I was convinced that he was a better forward than defenseman. With the ascendance of Jonathan Ericsson, he didn’t get much playing time toward the end. I think his main contribution was to nearly give me a heart attack every time he was on the ice.

At this point, Meech is kind of the odd man out. Nobody really knows where he fits into the lineup, or if there’s a place for him on the team at all. He’s largely been overlooked and forgotten (and I’ll admit that I almost forgot to write up one of these for him). For a while there, I was assuming that he’d be used as trade bait, but the Wings’ current cap situation makes that tricky. What befalls him will depend a lot on what happens to Andreas Lilja and his head. If Lilja’s back in the picture, you have to assume that Meech will be gone, but that wouldn’t be enough solve the salary problems. If injuries force him into any significant amount of games, expect his production to be about the same. If he wants to have any legitimate chance at prolonging his stay in the Winged Wheel, he’ll need to work on that +/- rating and the defensive side of his game.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Answer the call whenever/wherever he’s asked to play.

Friday, September 25, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Kirk Maltby...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 7 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Kirk Maltby


2008-2009 Regular Season: 78 GP, 5-6-11, +/- -9, 28 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 20 GP, 0-1-1, +/- -1, 2 PIM

Season Highlight: Playing in his 1,000th NHL game. (But I was really tempted to choose this "interview" because it's comforting to know that his garage is as messy as mine is. And that he has weird neighbor kids.)
Season Lowlight: Getting benched in the playoffs.

Like his former Grind Line buddy Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby didn’t have a particularly good ’08-’09 campaign. He and the rest of the fourth line struggled defensively all year. They weren’t able to wear down opposing lines they way that they need to in order to be successful. As a result, he found himself benched a few times in the playoffs. if not for the injury bug that hit, he probably would’ve sat a lot more.

I’m really hoping that he finds a way to turn things around this year. I have a pretty strong nostalgic attachment to Maltby thanks to the good old Grind Line days, and I’d love for him to be successful again. When he’s effective, he can still bring something to the team. The question is whether or not he can still be effective. At present, it looks like he’s going to be fighting with Patrick Eaves for ice time. I noticed in the playoffs that when he got back into the lineup after being benched, he played much better. Maybe that competition will be exactly what he needs in order to find his way back into everyone’s good graces. He doesn’t need to put up anything different offensively than he did last season, but he does need to step up the defense. That -9 +/- rating isn’t going to fly for a second consecutive season. And with all of the young guys waiting to jump into the lineup, Maltby’s going to have to work extra hard all season to justify his presence on the ice.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Reverse the sign on his +/- from last season.

So Long, Beach Ball...

Shockingly, the Wings have released Dan Cloutier. Thus ends one of the most bemusing training camp tryouts that I've seen in a while. I have a theory about this, though. I think it's all part of an intricately planned strategy by Ken Holland. You see, he figured he'd go ahead and invite Cloutier to camp with no intention of offering him a contract. Then, other teams around the league might look at him and think to themselves, "Well the Wings gave him a tryout. He can't be that bad. Right?" And then maybe, just maybe, someone will offer him a contract, thus destroying their chances of playoff success. Even if nobody signs him and he ends up in Europe (which is probably more likely), at least we all got a good laugh out of it. Plus, we got to resurrect those classic beach ball Photoshops for another round of fun.

Think about it though. Kenny Holland's a smart man. There has to be a method to the madness. It makes sense in the strange, twisted way that things make sense when you've been up since 5:30 AM and it's now 1 AM.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lidstrom Player of the Decade...

The Sporting News (via Kukla's Korner) named Nick Lidstrom the NHL player of the decade today. It’s always nice to see him get recognized like that, especially in light of all the talk about him slowing down and having an "off" season last year. In the article, they call him an anomaly because of the fact that he’s the first European to win the Conn Smythe and to captain a team to the Cup, but I’m not one to put a whole lot of stock into the whole European vs. North American argument. I’d consider him an anomaly more because nobody should be as freakishly perfect at anything as he is. There’s a reason he’s called The Perfect Human.

Most telling of all is the article’s quote from Steve Yzerman:
"Nicklas Lidstrom won the Stanley Cup in '02. He won the Cup in '08. I don't know how many Norris trophies he's won, but throughout that entire time, throughout the entire decade, where he's only missed a handful of games, he was the Red Wings' best player. He's one of the top defensemen on both ends of the rink. He's got really good instincts, and he's incredibly skilled. He's a really, really intelligent hockey player. Nick is your best player in training camp. He's your best player in preseason. He's your best player in the regular season. He's your best player in the playoffs. I'm not sure what else he could do."
When Steve Yzerman says that about you, you know you’re doing something right.

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Andreas Lilja...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 8 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Andreas Lilja


2008-2009 Regular Season: 60 GP, 2-11-13, +/-13, 66 PIM
2009 Playoffs: N/A

Season Highlight: I can't think of anything super special, so how about this fight?
Season Lowlight: Busting a vein in his head and subsequently missing the rest of the season.

Hmmmm…this is a tough one. Last season, Lilja struggled right along with the rest of the team defense. He didn’t really stand out as being particularly good or bad most of the time. His injury played a role during the playoff run, as the Wings really could’ve used his shot-blocking ability, especially on the penalty kill.

I have absolutely no idea what to expect from him this season. He says that his headaches are improving, but there’s a very real possibility that he’ll never play again. You just never know. At this point, I’m not even sure what’s best for the team from him. Putting him on long-term IR brought the Wings under the salary cap to start the season, and if he recovers some moves will have to be made. I think we can all agree that the defense is stronger with Lilja than Lebda or Meech or whoever else rotates in on the third pairing. It’s just a matter of finding the room under Gary’s little salary cap. On the other hand, the thought of a grouchy Lilja (I know I’d be in a pretty rank mood if I had headaches every day for several months, so I’m assuming that he is too.) isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Heal his head…unless the Wings need him to stay on LTIR.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Nick Lidstrom...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 9 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Nick Lidstrom


2008-2009 Regular Season: 78 GP, 16-43-59, +/- 31, 30 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 21 GP, 4-12-16, +/- 11, 6 PIM

Season Highlight: Being The Perfect Human.
Season Lowlight: If I were a guy, I’d probably have to go with his traumatic spearing injury, but I’m not, so I’m choosing that last-second shot in Game 7 (Warning: watching this may make you nauseous).

Last year, Nick Lidstrom was awful. He lost not one, but six steps. It was embarrassing. It was the start of a long and miserable decline into mediocrity. Or so the media would have you believe.

All of this talk of his “off” season is kind of amusing to Wings fans because he still managed to post 59 points and be a finalist for the Norris Trophy. Most defensemen would kill to have a season like that, let alone have it considered to be an “off” year. Let’s not kid ourselves. There still isn’t a single defenseman in the world who you would swap for Nick Lidstrom. If you need further confirmation of his continued excellence, think back to the Western Conference Finals and the nauseous, light-headed, self-destructive feelings that you were afflicted with when it was announced that he would be missing the game. I know, I know. It’s not something I wanted to relive either, but it had to be done.

That being said, I did notice that he wasn’t quite as perfect as he normally is. I choose to believe that that was another symptom of the generally lax defense the entire team played for the majority of the season. Thanks to the goal scorers that they lost this summer, they’re not going to be able to get by with the “offense, offense, offense!” mentality that they seemed to adopt last season. The Wings need to find a way to lock things down defensively. More than anything else, they need Lidstrom to be the captain of the defence (that’s a nod to my Canadian readers, not a typo) more than anything else.

As I’ve said before, I don’t buy into the argument that he’s at the end of the road. There’s absolutely no reason in my mind that Lidstrom can’t have several more good years and continue to challenge for (and win) the Norris. Of course he’s not going to be quite as dominant as he was in his prime, but the beauty of his style of play is that not only is it stunningly effective, but its emphasis on good positioning and stickwork eliminates a lot of the wear and tear that comes with aging. Because of the way he plays the game (with his head, not crushing checks), getting older isn’t as much of a handicap as it would be for a more physically punishing defenseman.

I really do think that this season will be a statement from Lidstrom. There’s no way he’s okay with playing through his traumatic testicle injury only to have Marc-Andre Fleury make that last-second save in Game 7. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally see Nick lose his cool this season. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Make all of those naysayers writing about his decline look like fools.

As Promised...

I finally got the video files from Saturday's pre-game warmup uploaded. They're super-high quality, and for some reason, the audio uploaded as a bunch of metallic clanging noises. Youtube let me swap out the audio for one of the videos, but the 1st and 3rd ones don't seem to be playing the new tracks. Oh well, that's what the mute button's for, sunshines. At any rate, I'm done fighting with the settings on Youtube. I'll let it win this round. I tried to choose the least annoying ones possible, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to switch in Carol King's "It Might as Well Rain Until September" (in honor of the long and boring off-season) or one of the acoustic bluegrass "songs" (trust me, they were annoying) that were available.

Anyway, here are Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Ville Leino...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 10 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Ville Leino


2008-2009 Regular Season: 13 GP, 5-4-9, +/- 5, 6 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 7 GP, 0-2-2, +/- 2, 2 PIM

Season Highlight: His first NHL goal.
Season Lowlight: Being the best player Mike Babcock ever had to cut.

Like most of his Grand Rapids teammates, Leino didn’t get a whole lot of time with the Wings during the regular season last year. He didn’t get into many games during the playoffs either, but what we saw of him has left a lot of Wings fans eagerly anticipating seeing him on the big club full time this season. His first NHL goal was nothing short of spectacular, and the nine points he posted in thirteen games during the regular season seem to indicate that we can expect good things from him.

This season, he’s going to be counted on to replace Jiri Hudler’s production. Based on what we saw from him last year, I don’t see any reason why he won’t be able to do this…if he plays on one of the scoring lines. If he ends up playing fourth line minutes, we’re not going to be nearly as impressed with his point totals as we would otherwise. He’s got the skill set to be a good scorer, and with any luck, his defense will improve as he spends time with the Wings. I was a little concerned with Ken Holland’s comments that Leino had gotten bored in Grand Rapids, but I don’t think it’s really going to be an issue.

One of the great things about Leino is that even though he’s considered a rookie, he’s 25 and has experience not only in Finland, but also in the playoffs. He’s one of the reasons why I refuse to be disheartened by the free agent losses the Wings experienced this summer.

If you need any more reason to look forward to seeing him in the lineup regularly, recall Mike Babcock’s quote from last year after Leino was assigned to Grand Rapids:
"This is the best player I've been involved in sending to the minors, I can tell you that," Babcock said. "He's got a nose for the net, goes to the net, dominant on the cycle, makes great passes. He's a Red Wings type player. Leino, I think he's going to be a scoring machine."
What he needs to do to make me happy: Make me forget about Jiri Hudler.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Self-Imposed Penalty Kill Clinic, Right?...

I was pretty excited to get to watch the game tonight. So much so that I postponed dinner until intermission even though I hadn't eaten since noon. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to watch or not thanks to my computer’s inability to play the sop feed, but as luck would have it, there was a different format tonight and I arrived home just in time to see the Rangers score. Or at least I thought they did. That goal got waived off, but it couldn’t have mattered less in the end. The Wings, bored with the pre-season already, then proceeded to work through a self-imposed penalty kill clinic, or at least that's what I choose to believe. At one point, Mike Babcock felt that it was necessary to remind the referees that there were, in fact, two teams playing. It was a valid thing to point out, now that it's no longer safe to assume that NHL referees can count *coughtoomanymenfor21secondscough*.

The Wings’ PK started out looking pretty good. I actually felt like they had more good chances shorthanded than the Rangers did on the powerplay. I could be wrong though. By the end of the first period, all of the penalty kills just kind of blended together into one big blur. It’s also pretty certain that my new housemates were curious as to why I was sitting in my room yelling, “Come on!” at my computer. Just wait till the regular season starts and the games are on TV, sunshines…

Shockingly, the Wings gave up a shorthanded goal off of a defensive zone turnover. I’ve written several times that I wasn’t worried about this season because I fully expect the Wings to have a team-wide recommitment to defense and fix the penalty kill. But so far, I haven’t see that happen a whole lot. I know it’s only the preseason and New York was icing pretty much it’s NHL roster, but I’m an obsessive fan and these are the kinds of things that I stress about.

I don’t have a whole lot in terms of a recap because after they went down 3-0, I decided that it might be a good idea to actually do my homework for tomorrow, so I spent the rest of the game half watching the game/half reading about Russian Empresses. Good times all around really. I did catch the commentators discussing how the Wings had dominated play for most of the second half of the game after the Rangers had controlled for the whole first period. Well, yes. It’s a lot easier to control the puck against the Red Wings when you have an extra skater on the ice for the majority of the period. I think we can all agree on that one.

I was a little disappointed that Daniel Larsson let in three goals. I was excited to see him in action, but I would’ve been happier with a better result. On the other hand, Dan Cloutier didn’t give up a goal. He even made a couple of pretty good saves. I was shocked.

The Franzen-Datsyuk-Holmstrom line was all over the place again. Not that I would expect anything less from them. I had a hard time seeing numbers because the video feed I had was a little choppy so I don’t have much else in the way of player comments. I was just happy to be able to see anything at all.

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Brett Lebda...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 11 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Brett Lebda


2008-2009 Regular Season: 65 GP, 6-10-16, +/- 9, 48 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 23 GP, 0-6-6, +/- 8, 22 PIM

Season Highlight: His Winter Classic goal.
Season Lowlight: Being utterly forgettable the rest of the time.

Lebda’s run last season was much like the rest of his seasons in the NHL. It was nothing special, but neither was it truly terrible. He was just kind of there. He’s an interesting player because I like to pick on him, but I’m not entirely sure he deserves most of the yelling that I do. Granted, he’ll never be an all star, but after several minutes of deep thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s not really bad, he just happens to stand out as being less talented than his fellow Wings defensemen. And that’s entirely understandable considering that he suits up with the likes of Lidstrom, Rafalski, and Kronwall.

Lebda’s season is going to depend a lot on what happens with Lilja and his concussion. As of now, Lebda’s slated to be paired up with Jonathan Ericsson this season, but if Lilja gets healthy, then Lebda’s liable to find himself in the press box or as trade bait. Assuming he’s a regular in the lineup, he should put up about the same numbers as he did last year. He and Ericsson will still make a pretty good third pairing, and the Wings defense corps is still one of (if not the) deepest in the league. And I’ll continue to sweat it out while he’s on the ice, and then promptly forget about him as soon as he goes off on a line change.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Just keep playing his reasonably solid defensive game. Nothing flashy.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Niklas Kronwall...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 12 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Niklas Kronwall


2008-2009 Regular Season: 80 GP, 6-45-51, +/- 2, 50 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 23 GP, 2-7-9, +/- 4, 33 PIM

Season Highlight: Destroying Martin Havlat.
Season Lowlight: The Crossbar (Warning: watching this may make you nauseous).

Kronwall had a somewhat average season last year. He struggled at times, and seemed to fall victim to the general defensive malaise that plagued the whole team much of the time. It’s not that he was terrible, it’s just that he had set such high expectations with his play in the ’08 playoff run that it was hard to live up to them. He did, however, step things up once again during the playoffs, and he and his partner, Brad Stuart, provided a solid second pairing. This was absolutely essential considering the injuries that the defense suffered during the run. Not to mention the fact that his absolute annihilation of Martin Havlat was one of the most memorable moments of the postseason.

This year, he needs to find the level of consistency that he was lacking last season. As Lidstrom and Rafalski are getting older, the Wings are going to be relying more and more on him to play a prominent role on their defense. He’s long been slated as the heir apparent to Lidstrom’s spot on the top pairing, and he needs to continue making progress toward that lofty goal. I’m expecting his defensive statistics and plus/minus to pick up this season thanks to a team-wide commitment to playing solid defense. We can also look forward to at least a handful of those devastating open-ice hits that he’s becoming known for. Overall, I’m expecting good things from Kronwall this season, as he’s coming into his prime and seems to gel perfectly with Stuart’s playing style. I also like to think that that shot he rang off of the crossbar in Game 7 has been gnawing at him all summer the same way that it’s been giving me nightmares and nervous tics.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Lots of big hits. There are few things in hockey more fun to watch than one of his freight-train-like open ice checks.

Capping Off A Sports-Tastic Day...

I’ve been in sports mode pretty much since I got up this morning. I was at the UM game in the Big House starting at noon, then I went home and caught a few innings of the Tigers game, and then I followed that up by driving down to Detroit for the Wings game. It was by far the most sports-tastic day of my life. Too bad I was only 1 for 3 in terms of victories.

Anyway, it was absolutely fabulous to be at the Joe for some real live hockey. I realize that it’s only been three months since the end of the playoffs, but it feels like forever and a day. I was excited to see the Joe full of energy even though it was just a pre-season game. Right off the bat, there were “Let’s Go, Red Wings!” chants, and they continued throughout the game. There was also a pretty loud round of “Miller sucks” after he tripped Kris Draper in the third period. Yeah, we’re Hockeytown. (Unless, of course, they were just expressing their dislike of that particular variety of beer...)

I posted my pictures over here. I went down to the Wings' end to take some close-ups of their warmups, but unfortunately, as soon as I made it down to the glass, my camera battery died. And, as luck would have it, the spare pair of batteries that I brought with me turned out to be dead as well. Instead, I ended up taking a few videos on my phone. I’ll put those up on Youtube as soon as I’m reunited with my microSD adapter tomorrow. Be sure to check out the “Osogod” jersey that I found, though. It was literally the first thing I saw when I stepped through the curtains. I don't know whether that's a good sign or not. On one hand, it's a fail. But on the other, I'm okay with him attaining deity-like status in Detroit. That can only be a good thing.

I’m not going to bother with a game recap because I’m liable to doze off right at my keyboard if I try to do anything more substantial than point out a few observations.

The top line of Franzen-Datsyuk-Holmstrom was pretty impressive, as you would expect them to be. Pavel Datsyuk does things with the puck that most players can’t even imagine, much less execute. He’s just that good. His setup for Franzen’s goal was spectacular.

The line that really stood out in my mind, though, was Eaves-Draper-Abdelkader. They seemed to be making an impact every time they were on the ice. Draper looked like he was flying, which is a good sign for the coming season, and Abdelkader was all over the place as well. I didn’t notice anything spectacular from Eaves, but he made some solid, hard-working plays, which is about what I expect from him. If the fourth line can find its way back to relevance this season, regardless of who ends up playing on it, that bodes well for the Wings.

Tomas Tatar definitely looks like the real deal. He had several good chances, and it was telling that he was out on the ice in the final minute when the Wings were trying to score with the goalie pulled. I’m even more excited that he’s going to be playing somewhere in North America next season, and I’m expecting good things from him in the future.

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see Thomas McCollum tonight. I don’t know if the plan was for Jimmy Howard to play the whole game, or if they just left him in because he was pitching a shutout, but I was looking forward to seeing McCollum. Howard certainly didn’t have a whole lot of work, but he actually looked pretty solid. The two goals he let in weren’t particularly bad. In fact, I think the Detroit News’ recap treats him a little harshly (I know. I’m defending Jimmy Howard. Not that I put a whole lot of faith in their reports anyway. How do you not mention how well Draper and Abdelkader played?).

The other guy I was looking forward to seeing was Jakub Kindl. I didn’t notice him very often, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a defenseman.

I hope everyone saw Logan Pyatt tripping out of the penalty box. I had a good laugh. I'm sure he took a good ribbing about it after the game. These are the little things that make my days go by.

During one of the intermissions, we happened to see the new arena hostess lady walk by a couple of times (she and her handler seemed lost for some reason...), and if anyone figures out how she manages to make it up and down the stairs in the stands in those stiletto boots, let me know. Lord knows I have enough trouble sober and in sneakers.

I also discovered that every time the Wings find themselves down 2-1 near the end of the third period, I’m going to have traumatic flashbacks to Game 7. For the rest of my life, probably. I just kept imagining…never mind. I can’t talk about it.

Despite the fact that they lost, I had a great time at the game. Any day I get to wear my Stevie Y jersey down to the Joe is a good day in my book, and just walking around seeing the arena filled with the sounds of “Let’s Go Red Wings” chants and pucks on sticks is enough to bring a smile to my face. There’s absolutely nothing like live hockey. I am SO ready for the season to start. Can it be October 2nd yet?

Interesting Quotes (This will be a semi-regular feature, as I have a long history of collecting random quotes from those around me and compiling them on the internet):

Girl: “Ew, that guy smells like seafood.”
Boyfriend: “Eh, he probably just has an octopus down his pants.”
Girl: *completely confused and disturbed*

(Only at the Joe...)

Guy: “I can’t see because she’s leaning too far forward. I was gonna say something, but then I noticed that she’s got an Yzerman on, and I can’t bring myself to yell at a girl like that.”

(I’m fairly certain he was referring to me. If so, this was cleverly calculated to be just loud enough for me to hear it without being obnoxious. I also apologize for any viewing obstructions that I caused. However, as my dad and I explained to my mom, nobody watches hockey while reclining back in their seats. Also, I’m inappropriately intense when the Wings are on. Deal with it.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Jimmy Howard...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 13 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Jimmy Howard


2008-2009 Regular Season: 1 GP, 0-1-0, 0 SO, 4.07 GAA, 0.857 SV%
2009 Playoffs: N/A

Season Highlight: None.
Season Lowlight: Looking terrible in his only NHL start.

I don't remember much about Jimmy Howard's game against Minnesota last season, but I clearly recall thinking, "Oh my god, this is the Wings' goalie of the future?" We didn’t see a whole lot of Howard last year, which might have been good because he looked terrible in his one start. I’m told that he played well in the AHL playoffs, but until I see that translate into solid play in the Winged Wheel, I’ll remain a skeptic.

This year is a make-or-break season for Howard. He needs to finally show that the countless hours and dollars that the organization has spent developing him have been worth it. I’d even go so far as to say that he’s facing more pressure than any other Wing this season. He’s not the only one fighting to prove something, but he would seem to have more at stake career-wise than a guy like Kris Draper who knows he’s not going to get traded or waived. That’s not the kind of thing that’s typically said about a backup goalie, but Howard (and everyone else) knows that the Wings have a couple of top prospects in the minors just waiting to take over the label of “Goalie of the Future.”

I’m not entirely sure what to expect from Howard this year. I’m not exactly thrilled about having him as the backup, but I have enough faith in Ozzie that I’m not truly terrified. I’m going to do my best to keep an open mind and wait until he’s started a few games to decide whether or not the Jimmy Howard Experiment is a success or not. It’s entirely possible that he’ll come out and play with confidence thanks to his finally-attained NHL responsibility. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but I’ve seen stranger things. If anything spurs him on to an adequate performance, I think it might be the strong crop of goalies behind him in the minors. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll raise his level of play if he feels them lurking waiting to take his job. I hope.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Play well enough that I’m able to breathe when he’s in net.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Highlights from Wednesday...

In my desperate search to find a streaming feed of the game tonight (I failed. Many thanks to my Mac for not being able to run the sop software.), I came across this video that includes a couple of highlights from the first pre-season game. I hadn't seen any video from the game before, so I was excited. Not excited enough to make up for my disappointment at not being able to watch the game I've been looking forward to all day, but such is life, and I'll get over it. There's a shot of the Flyers' goal, as well as Draper's. I'm not particularly impressed with Howard on the goal he gave up now that I've seen it, but in his defense, it was off of a turnover (let's please not make that a regular occurence like it was last season...). Draper's was pretty nice, though.



At least I can take comfort in the fact that I'll be sittng in Joe Louis Arena this time tomorrow...

Random News on a Friday Afternoon...


The Wings' season hasn't officially started yet, and I'm already stressing about injuries. This is not a good sign. It's entirely too early for us to be worrying about Henrik Zetterberg and his groin. Seriously. According to The Detroit News (and many other reports), Z won't be in the lineup tonight (or tomorrow) because of that nagging groin injury. Which is lovely, because it's exactly the way I had envisioned this season starting. Probably the only good thing about this report is the picture that accompanied it. Look at Mike Babcock's eyes. I'm a little bit intimidated just looking at the picture.

In other Zetterberg news, the Free Press reported that he's looking forward to having Todd Bertuzzi on his wing this season:
"It's going to be fun to play with Bert," Zetterberg said Thursday. "He's a great player. I've played against him many times, and he's strong with the puck and is really skilled and a big guy. Most of the time with Todd, when he gets the opportunity he puts it away."
Which is nice, but really, what else was he supposed to say? "Yeah, it's really going to suck playing with Bert, but I'm going to try to make the best of things and cover for his defensive lapses whenever possible?" I'm not saying that that's how he feels or anything, but I'm cynical and kind of a jerk, so those are the things that I think whenever I read quotes like that. If you're looking for a more optomistic take on things, The Production Line has an excellent post called "What if Hank is Right?"

What if he is? If that's the case, Kenny Holland will be invited to join Mensa, if he hasn't already. I'm on the record as being very anti-Bertuzzi, but if he can perform, it won't take much to get me to back his signing. I'm not saying I'll ever be his biggest fan or like him personally, but performing well in a Wings uniform is a really good way to get me on your side. He may just turn out to be a great pick up for the team, and as I said before, I would love nothing more than to spend some time next summer writing about how his season was one of the great redemption stories in the NHL.

In one final bit of news, Tomas Tatar has signed a three-year deal with the team. At the moment, it's not clear whether he'll end up in Grand Rapids or Plymouth, but having him in North America will be a good thing. From what I've read, he had a great prospects tournament and pre-season, and I'm looking forward to seeing him play. It sounds like he's got the right skill set and attitude to fit in well on the Wings. But really the real reason that I'm posting this little bit of info is because I'm taking a Russian history class right now, and one of the important factors in the formation of their empire was a group of people called the Tatars. And every time my textbook mentions the Tatars, I get distracted thinking about hockey. In the chapter I'm currently working my way through, this happens approximately every two paragraphs. This doesn't bode well for the rest of the semester.

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Tomas Holmstrom...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 14 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Tomas Holmstrom


2008-2009 Regular Season: 53 GP, 14-23-37, +/- 18, 38 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 23 GP, 2-5-7, +/- -2, 22 PIM

Season Highlight: This was a pretty important goal to help finish off Columbus.
Season Lowlight: Mid-season surgery/disappearing in the playoffs.

Homer’s spent a good deal of the last couple of seasons injured, and that’s hurt his production. All of those years of taking a beating in front of the net are finally taking a toll on him. Even though he didn’t miss any games during this playoff run, he was pretty banged up, and it showed in his play. He seemed to disappear after the first round, and I’m willing to attribute that to injuries. There’s no doubt in my mind that with a healthy Tomas Holmstrom, the Wings powerplay would’ve looked better.

When he’s at 100%, he’s still the best in the world at his job. Even when he’s not deflecting shots into the net, his presence has a tendency to cause quite a ruckus in front of opposing goaltenders. I wish they kept stats on how many “honorary assists” Homer’s notched over the years by causing pucks to sail by unsuspecting goalies who are completely unable to see the shot. It’s hard not to like a guy who willingly takes that kind of abuse day in and day out just for the sake of winning hockey games. The Wings need him to continue driving goalies crazy by driving to the net and camping out in his “office.” In order to do that effectively, he needs to stay healthy. He’s coming off of a couple of groin surgeries and a bum knee, and his ability to stay injury-free is going to make or break his season.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Make every opposing goalie frustratingly familiar with his rear end.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Darren Helm...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 15 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Darren Helm


2008-2009 Regular Season: 16 GP, 0-1-1, +/- -7, 4 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 23 GP, 4-1-5, +/- 1, 4 PIM

Season Highlight: The Kill. Obviously.
Season Lowlight: I can’t even think of one. Maybe spending the regular season in Grand Rapids.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that there aren’t a whole lot of Wings fans who don’t like Darren Helm. Despite spending the majority of the regular season in the minors, he once again stepped up and managed to provide some of the highlights of the playoff run. His spectacular penalty kill shift immediately became the stuff of legend. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be telling my grandkids about it forty or fifty years down the road. That’s not bad for a guy who has yet to score his first NHL regular season goal. He is, however, the proud holder of the record for most playoff goals scored before tallying one in the regular season. So hang onto that little tidbit of information in case they ever release the Hockey Edition of Trivial Pursuit.

We’re all expecting good things from Helm this season. It’s a little bit unrealistic to expect him to have those kinds of epic shifts on a nightly basis, but that hasn’t stopped Wings fans from daydreaming. I think regular season Helm is going to look a little different from playoff Helm, because I don’t think it’s humanly possible to sustain the kind of energy he had in the playoffs over the course of an 82 game regular season. I’m looking for him to provide the kind of clutch play that the team needs when the game is on the line. He’s the kind of guy who can get thrown into any situation and give the team a spark when they need it most. That’s what makes him so valuable, and so darn entertaining to watch.

His shoulder injury is unfortunate, but it doesn’t sound like it’s going to keep him out for any significant amount of time. He’s pretty much guaranteed a spot on the team, so his injury has very little impact in that regard. I guess this is what happens when you try to do things at 100 miles per hour, even during training camp. That’s why we love him though.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Provide that extra dash of energy and spunk when it’s needed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

First Taste of the Pre-Season...

The Wings opened the pre-season tonight with a 3-1 win over the Flyers. It wasn't televised, and 97.1 wasn't broadcasting it online, so I ended up listening to the Philly radio broadcast instead. It wasn't quite like watching it on TV, but it was glorious to hear some real, live Wings hockey being broadcast.

Based on the play-by-play, it seemed like Ericsson, Draper, Abdelkader, Datsyuk, Kindl, and Delmore were the only Wings on the ice. I can't remember hearing anyone else's name called. It's also possible that they're the only players that the anouncers knew. It's a workable theory. They had a nice chuckle when Larsson took over in net because they didn't know who he was.

They also laid into Delmore quite a bit. At one point, one of them said, "Boy, Andy Delmore is doing everything he can to make sure the Flyers get on the scoresheet again. I played with this guy for a year, no wonder I'm not in the league anymore." Ouch. From what I heard though, it sounded like Delmore was making turnovers like there was no tomorrow.

Other random notes:
  • Draper sounded like he had a good game. He scored the tying goal in the second period and seemed to have some good shifts.
  • There was a fight. Listening to it on the radio was really lame. I could tell that the crowd loved it, though.
  • The Flyers announcers seemed astounded at the number of penalties their team took. I'm not really sure why this was surprising to them because a) they were the most penalized team in the league last year, and b) they acquired Chris Pronger over the summer. Get used to it, gents. It's bound to be a recurring theme.
  • The Wings' powerplay did not have a spectacular night.
  • On the other hand, they managed to not allow any goals on the penalty kill, so that's a start.
  • I could tell when PYG touched the puck without the announcers even saying it because the crowd booed him every time. It's comforting to know that even though he's tucked away in the Eastern Conference now, fans can still bring the hate.
Hockey's back, sunshines, and I couldn't be happier! I'm pretty sure that everyone around me thinks I'm crazy for getting this excited about a meaningless pre-season game, but I'm okay with their judgments.

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Johan Franzen...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 16 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Johan Franzen


2008-2009 Regular Season: 71 GP, 34-25-59, +/- 21, 44 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 23 GP, 12-11-23, +/- 8, 12 PIM

Season Highlight: This goal, but stealing Patrick Kane’s mouthguard comes in a close second.
Season Lowlight: I still can’t believe that Huet made this save. Things ended up working out in OT, but…ooohhhhh the net was wide open.

The Mule had another great season last year, which shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone who follows the team. While we didn’t see anything quite like his series against the Avalanche in ’08, it was a solid season through and through. He also joined the legion of Wings for life with his long-term Cap-circumventing contract extension, and I couldn’t be more happy. It was pretty much assumed that the Wings could afford to keep either or Marian Hossa, and there’s obviously a reason why Ken Holland chose to keep Franzen in the Winged Wheel. Also, I don’t think my brother could’ve handled the distress of seeing his man-crush leave the team.

While he put up good point totals last season, but I think he can do better. The Wings need Franzen to show that choosing him over Hossa was the right choice (which I’m personally already sold on). Showing up in full force for games in November and December instead of waiting for March to turn it on would go a long way toward helping the Wings make up for the offense they lost this off season. Mostly, he needs to stay healthy and continue doing his power forward thing. He’s got a great shot, as well as great hands, and he can score highlight reel goals as often as he gets those “ugly goals” that come from driving to the net. You just never know when he’s going to do something like this or this.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Continue feeding my brother’s massive man-crush on him.

Free Press Overload...

I went off the grid for seven hours at work today, and upon returning, I opened up Google Reader to find 87 unread items. That's insane. It also probably explains why I never get anything done.

Anyway, all was not lost, as my subscriptions included the following:

--Another gallery of training camp pictures. (For fun, you can try to spot the picture that's mis-captioned.) Every picture of the Wings on the ice gets me more and more excited for the regular season. I cannot wait until I get to head down to the Joe for one of the pre-season games.
--There's also a nice article on Jonathan Ericsson and the team's expectations for him this season. Regarding having his locker next to Lidstrom's:
"That would be great -- I'd love to get some of his wisdom," Ericsson said.
Make me happy, Johnny. Make me happy.
--As I'm sure everyone knows by now, Darren Helm injured his shoulder crashing into the boards during practice. He's going to miss 2-4 weeks, and it's unlikely that he'll be available for the start of the regular season. It doesn't sound as though he'll be missing a lot of time, though. It could've been a lot worse.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Valtteri Filppula...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 17 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Valtteri Filppula


2008-2009 Regular Season: 80 GP, 12-28-40, +/- 9, 42 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 23 GP, 3-13-16, +/- 8, 8 PIM

Season Highlight: Setting up the OT winner in Game 2 against Chicago.
Season Lowlight: I know it’s superficial, but oh, that hair. I don’t understand his fangirls.

Filppula put up a respectable 40 points last season as he bounced around between lines. There were times when he made stunningly good plays, but I often found myself frustrated with him. I’m not entirely sure why that was, but it’s not particularly important. Like the departed Samuelsson and Hudler, Filppula has a tendency to be maddeningly streaky. He also went through a phase last season when he seemed intent to set a record for most consecutive games played without bothering to take a shot on goal. Now that I think about it, that might have been the source of my frustration.

This is a strange thing for me to say, but I have a pretty good feeling about Filppula’s ’09-’10 campaign. For some reason, he’s always struck me as a guy who would deliver more when he has a feeling of more responsibility. This season he’s not going to be able to fade into the background of the Wings’ supporting cast. He certainly doesn’t need to be a star or the go-to-guy on a nightly basis, but he’s going to be counted on to make up for some of the offense that the team lost to free agency this summer. He’s been highly praised for his playmaking ability in the past, and the Wings are going to need him to step up this season and live up to that praise.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Get a new hair stylist.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Almost There...

The Free Press has a gallery of training camp pictures that should bring a smile to the face of any Wings fan out there. I love this time of year: there's the hopeful anticipation of another hockey season, Michigan weather is glorious, football is back in the Big House, classwork is piling up to the point where I'm pretty sure I'm not going to have time for so much as a nap between now and Christmas...well, maybe not the last one, but you get the idea. Anyway, the end of the off-season is in sight, sunshines, and I've got a set of spiffy pre-season tickets to prove it.

(UPDATE 9/14/09 3:29): Another gallery of pictures was added to the team's Facebook page.

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Jonathan Ericsson...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 18 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Jonathan Ericsson


2008-2009 Regular Season: 19 GP, 1-3-4, +/- -1, 15 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 22 GP, 4-4-8, +/- 9, 25 PIM

Season Highlight: Scoring the Wings only goal in Game 7 of the Finals, and giving hope to Hockeytown faithful everywhere.
Season Lowlight: His poorly timed appendicitis. I still can’t believe he only missed one game because of that.

He turned out to be a major revelation during the second half of the season. Andreas Lilja’s concussion opened the door for Ericsson to play some big minutes down the stretch and all the way through the playoffs. His play during the second round when Rafalski was injured was absolutely crucial. I wouldn’t say he was rock solid, but he definitely didn’t look like a rookie most of the time. I was astonishingly comfortable with him in the defensive zone considering that he was a rookie. He also has the distinction of being the last Red Wing to score last season, for what it’s worth.

Like most fans, I’m looking forward to seeing a full season of Ericsson. If we’re lucky, his play last season was only a hint of what he’s truly capable of. He should learn a lot this season as he’ll be surrounded by good mentors, especially his fellow Swedes. He seemed to play better when paired with Lidstrom when Rafalski was hurt (Let’s face it, though, getting paired with Nick Lidstrom would probably make me look like an NHL-caliber defenseman), and he seems to have the ability to raise his level of play in pressure situations. I would love to see him teamed up with Lidstrom again from time to time this season so he can apprentice side-by-side with The Perfect Human.

Lilja’s continued injury issues will make Ericsson’s presence even more important. I don’t expect to see Lilja back in the lineup any time soon, and the Wings will need Big E to step up and provide some quality minutes. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him score 15 goals. He’s got a pretty good shot from the point, and his four goals during the playoffs seem to indicate that he’s got enough of a scoring touch to contribute in that area. I’d like to see him use his size a bit more, which will hopefully come as he gets more comfortable playing at the NHL level. I’m expecting good things from Ericsson this season, and I really do think he’s going to have an influential year. On a side note, he’ll also probably continue to look like a pirate, but that’s beside the point.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Keep improving and soak up all of the wisdom he can from guys like Lidstrom and Rafalski.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

No Surprises Here...

From the Detroit News today, two things we all saw coming:

--Ken Holland confirmed that Lilja will start the season on injured reserve, thus temporarily relieving some of the cap problems.
--"Also Sunday, coach Mike Babcock said Jason Williams will join Niklas Kronwall on the point for the second power-play unit." Ugh.

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Patrick Eaves...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 19 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Patrick Eaves


2008-2009 Regular Season: 74 GP, 6-8-14, +/- 7, 31 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 18 GP, 1-2-3, +/- -1, 13 PIM

Season Highlight: I have no idea, so I'm going with the prospect of a couple of years worth of free money thanks to his buyout.
Season Lowlight: Probably getting traded for just so he could be bought out.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a whole lot about Eaves. He spent last season in Carolina, which isn’t exactly on my radar. I do, however, know that he was a first round draft pick who hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations folks had for his performance. The parallels that have been drawn (by everyone from fans to management) to Dan Cleary’s situation a few years ago are quite intriguing, and his bargain basement contract is a plus.

I honestly don’t know what to expect from Eaves this season. I’m totally sold on the idea of him being a reclamation project, but never having seen him play more than a couple of games, I don’t have any idea what we’re looking at here. The signings of Williams and Bertuzzi have also thrown his amount of ice time into question. I haven’t quite figured out where Eaves is going to fit into the lineup yet, and that’s obviously going to have an impact on the amount of production he achieves. I would say that his threshold for success this season would be to have a solid defensive year while netting 5-10 goals. A lot of people have him penciled in for 15 or so, but I’m not sure that he’s going to be a regular in the lineup unless someone gets injured. I really do feel, though, that if he can resurrect his career anywhere, it’s Detroit. The style the Wings play tends to bring out the best in players who buy into the system. There’s no pressure to go out and be the star every night. The just focus on defense first and let their offense stem from that.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Live up to my idealized view of him as a worthy and noble reclamation project.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Kris Draper...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 20 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Kris Draper



2008-2009 Regular Season: 79 GP, 7-10-17, +/- -13, 40 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 8 GP, 1-0-1, +/- 0, 0 PIM

Season Highlight: Scoring the Wings’ only goal in Game 6 of the Finals
Season Lowlight: I’m going to have to go with starting the media firestorm that was the Handshake Incident.

We all know that Kris Draper had a dismal season last year. His team-worst -13 is indicative of his struggles, and that’s an unacceptable number for a guy who is supposed to be a defensive forward. On top of that, he missed most of the playoffs thanks to injuries. I like to think that some of his issues were due to the general defensive laxity shown by most of the team last season because I really do like the guy. Unfortunately, his 2008-2009 season will be remembered more for turning the Handshake Incident into an issue than anything he did on the ice.

I really don’t know what to expect from him this year. He’s probably looking at his last two seasons in the NHL, as his contract ends in 2011, and I’d like to see him make the most of the time he has left. I’ve always liked the guy, and not just because we're name twins. If I’m right, and his below average season was due to the team-wide Cup hangover, then we should see a resurgence in his defensive play. The Wings are going to need him to step up and play better defensively as they collectively recommit themselves to solid play in their own zone. While it’d be nice if he could make it to double digits in the goals department, that’s not going to be a big factor. His contribution to the team is going to be playing solid checking minutes that limit the other team’s scoring opportunities. Oh, and he’s still one of the best faceoff men in the league. Judging from his comments at Hockeyfest back in August, he seems fired up and ready to go. And I think a feisty, bitter Kris Draper is a good thing for the Wings.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Return to his defensively sound Grind Line roots.