Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wings vs. Flames GP...

Wings @ Flames 10 PM

1. Interesting choice by Mike Babcock to sit Ville Leino out tonight. He got off to a good start but he hasn’t done a whole lot ever since.
2. Draper, Eaves, and Helm were skating together in practice yesterday. That line has the potential to be absolutely out of control on the forecheck. Eaves needs to play another game like he did Thursday night. So does Helm.
3. The boys finally got their offense rolling this week. They need to figure out a way to take care of the defensive side of things. If they can work through those problems, they should survive.
4. I don’t know why I’m making these notes because I won’t be watching the game tonight (no live Twittering either). I’m not presumptuous enough to think that anyone actually reads the drivel I write here, so this forces me to question my priorities in life. I should really get back to my Halloween cookie making.
5. How will the Eurotwins perform apart from each other? The top line was really starting to roll, and we can only hope that that carries over to their separate lines.
6. If I promise to never ever make another hair joke, will that magically heal Filppula’s wrist? Please?

Preachy Merchandise Rant...

Inspired by Puck Daddy’s recent post about sexism in sports attire, I decided to go on my own little rant (no really, I’m not kidding, I’m going to rant). I spend a pretty large amount of my time supporting the three sports teams that are near and dear to my heart. I don’t think that it’s too much to ask to have some quality merchandise available in women’s sizes. I understand that the majority of sports fans are male, and as a result they account for a larger percentage of merchandise sales, but there is a large and growing female fanbase out there. And those of us who are real fans, not just annoyed girlfriends who got dragged along to the game, have been largely ignored. This problem isn’t limited to the NHL either. The story is the same for MLB and college sports (I’m going to assume this also applies to the NBA and NFL, but I’ve never so much as looked at any of their merchandise so I can’t say for sure).

The things that make me the most irrationally angry are the pink jerseys.These are travesties. What’s the point of shelling out all that money on a jersey if you’re not even going to wear your team’s colors? I wouldn’t be caught dead inside Joe Louis Arena wearing anything other than red and white. I’m also a frequent visitor to Hockeytown Authentics (I won’t call it whatever they renamed it). And every time I stop in, I seem to leave feeling cranky. You’d think that spending time surrounded by the logos of my two favorite sports teams would leave me feeling happy, but instead I always leave irritated. As if the pink jerseys aren’t insulting enough, a large portion of the women’s t-shirts are pink. Some of them are inexplicably purple. Why? On top of that, most of them are glittery and have cutesy swirly fonts. Also, somewhere along the line, someone decided that it was a good idea to bedazzle women’s sports merchandise. Again, why? It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I’m kind of a tomboy, and I find it insulting that merchandising folks think that the only way to get my dollars is to provide me with suitably girly shirts. I’m still awaiting the time I walk into the store to find a baby pink Hockeytown Princess shirt that features a Wings logo with a bedazzled crown.

On the rare occasions that I find something in the women’s department that I like enough to purchase, I get even more irritated because it’s more expensive than comparable men’s products. (And don’t say it’s because of the bedazzling. They can jack up the prices on that crap all they want. I stick to normal t-shirts.) Case in point: I’ve been coveting a Zetterberg name/number t-shirt for ages. I’ve got an older Datsyuk shirt (baggy men’s size, of course) and I feel the need to complete my Eurotwin set. I haven’t bought one yet because I tend not to wear my giant t-shirts on days when I plan on leaving the house and I figured it’d be a waste of money. Imagine my delight when I was informed that they did in fact make women’s sizes of the name shirts. Unfortunately, they can only be purchased online. Where I can’t try them on. And I have to pay for shipping. Also, they’re more expensive than the same exact shirt in men’s sizes on the NHL’s website. And I can guarantee you that less material is used to make a women’s medium than a men’s medium. So what gives? Nothing, except for the fact that folks know that they can get away with it because there’s a much smaller selection of women’s merchandise out there to choose from. Those of us ladies out there who are serious fans will pay the extra three or four bucks because there isn’t any other choice. There’s nowhere to shop around and we’re a captive market. It’s simple economics. And it’s certainly unfair.

So what can be done to make me happy? It’s simple. Stop treating me like a cutesy little girly girl. I don’t need anything frilly. I don’t need my shirts bedazzled or covered with glitter. And I most definitely don’t want anything in any color not found in my team’s logo. All I’m looking for t-shirt or two with that Winged Wheel I love so much on it that won’t make me look frumpy. I like to think that the male puckheds out there could get behind that notion too, if you know what I mean. As far as jerseys are concerned, they can do whatever they want with those. I’ve got my Stevie Y, so I’m set for life, thanks.

/end rant

It’s the middle of the night and I’m pretty cranky right now. I spent the afternoon talking hockey with some folks from school, and I think we just dragged each other into greater distress. I’m going to use that as my excuse for whatever I’ve just written above. I’m sure I got up on my soapbox a little bit, but it really does bother me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wings 5, Oilers 6 (SO): Post Game Snipes...

  • I can’t decide what to name this season so far. I’m torn between the Season of FML, the Season of the Constant Heart Attack, and the Season of Aaarrrrggggghhhh.
  • When the Oilers had their first flurry right at the start of the game, I turned to my Mom and said this: "Wow that was close. I would've been pretty upset if they gave up another goal 30 seconds in." To say that I was not amused when they actually let one in at 42 seconds would be an understatement of epic proportions.
  • If you had told me that the Wings would get a point out of this game when I returned from the first intermission at the exact moment the Oilers scored their fourth goal, I would’ve laughed at your face.
  • As I was sitting on the couch typing the previous bullet point, Mike Babcock announced that Filppula broke his wrist and will be out for 6-8 weeks. On the off chance that I survive this season, I’m going to be bald and emaciated by the time April rolls around.
  • No seriously. When is this whole hockey season thing going to get fun?
  • Wouldn't it have been nice if the Wings had buried one of the 18,000 shots they rang off the post at the end of the second period? I know, I know...wishful thinking.
  • Darren Helm finally got around to scoring his first regular season goal. At the time, I sarcastically applauded, thinking that it wouldn’t mean much in terms of changing the game. Overall, he was much more noticeable tonight.
  • Zetterberg’s goal was one of the flukiest bounces I’ve seen in a while. I almost couldn’t believe that the Wings had been the beneficiaries of such a lucky bounce.
  • It was also nice to see Patrick Eaves join in on the fun. Also, Todd Bertuzzi. Please, pretty please, can they get going now?
  • No joke, the Wings’ scoresheet read something like this: Helm, Zetterberg, Ericsson, Bertuzzi, Eaves. Yeah. I know.
  • For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this team is so awful at overtime and shootouts. Let’s not even mention the lame excuses for shootout attempts that Z and Datsyuk offered up.
  • Why is it that every time I see an Edmonton Oilers jersey, I feel like I've time warped back to the '80s?
  • I don’t even know what to make of the game other than the jumbled thoughts above. I missed large portions of it because I decided to spend the first intermission catching up on the Office episode I’d DVR’ed earlier. When I flipped back to the game and saw the fourth goal go in, I decided to go ahead and watch the end of the show before coming back. Then large chunks of the third period were missed because my dear father stole the remote while I was up for intermission and decided to watch the end of a movie that we’ve all seen before. Fortunately, I didn’t miss any goals, but I was not a happy camper.
  • It’s tempting to celebrate the fact that they got a point out of the game, but I’m not sure I’m that thrilled about the whole deal. These last two comebacks have been fun and all, but there are some enormous unresolved issues left over from last season that have yet to be solved. And righting the ship isn’t going to get any easier now that Flipper’s out for a while.
  • One positive note: the Wings have scored 5 goals in each of their last two games. Now that the offense is functioning, if they could just get the defensive side of things worked out, we'd be in business.
Cookies and Cupcakes for the Hockey Gods
I know this was intended to praise the player who brought me the most joy during the course of the game, but I’m going to use my executive authority to send the imaginary baked goods over (up?) to the Hockey Gods. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’ve done something to seriously offend them. So this is my lame attempt to make amends. I swear I didn’t notice the puppies I apparently kicked. Or the babies that I apparently punched. Or the little old ladies who I tripped in the crosswalk to steal their groceries. I have no idea what kind of bad karma I’m being punished for, but I’m hoping these cookies and cupcakes (I’ll throw in some brownies for good measure too) will atone for it. Please.

Jimmy Howard’s rebound control gets the Golden Facepalm
I know it’s hard to pin this loss on Howard, but he gave up horrendous rebounds all night. He made some really good saves when the Wings needed him to, but at some point he’s going to need to address the rebound issue.

What I learned:
Just when you think you’ve hit rock bottom, Valtteri Filppula can go and break his wrist so your night’s 100% ruined instead of the usual 75% or so that results from a Wings loss.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wings vs. Oilers GP...

Wings @ Oilers 9:30 PM

1. Edmonton’s riding a pretty lengthy scoreless streak. I’m all about kicking teams while they’re down, so the Wings will need to play a strong first period and keep them frustrated.
2. By the end of the Vancouver game, I had the sense that Pavel Datsyuk was getting ready to go on a scoring tear. Dating back to last season, he was in quite a slump in terms of offensive production. Now that he’s finally gotten whatever issues he had sorted out I’ll be looking for him to really get on a roll. He sat out practice Wednesday because of a shot he blocked. He claims that he's sure he'll be fine for the game tonight, but I won't believe that until I see him take a shift. All of the injuries and bad breaks the Wings have had starting in the pre-season have caused me to wonder if I accidentally kicked a puppy without realizing it. Maybe I punched a baby in my sleep. I must've done something to upset karma and the Hockey Gods. I'm going to work on figuring out what travesty I committed and how to atone for my transgressions. This is getting old.
3. Jimmy Howard’s scheduled to start today. He’s played well in his last two appearances. We’ll see if he can keep it up. I’m honestly torn about the goaltending issue. I’ve always been an Ozzie supporter, but he’s had a pretty rough start to the season. Jimmy Howard’s had a good last couple of games, but it’s going to take a bit more before I’m a convert. I guess we’ll see what happens.
4. How will Darren Helm respond to being scratched on Tuesday? I wasn’t really sure about Babcock’s decision to sit him last night, but since things worked out well in the end, I can’t really complain about it. That being said, I would like to see more from him. It’s early and he did miss some time due to his injury, but he has been a little quieter than I had expected.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wings 5, Canucks 4: Post Game Snipes...

And now for the debut of my shiny new post-game wrap-up:
  • Don’t kid yourself. The Wings needed this win. I needed this win. We all needed a chance to end the night feeling good about this team.
  • Ozzie looked horrible. And I’m a staunch defender of his. Giving up a goal 30 seconds into the game is miserable, and the fact that it never should have wound up in the net only made it worse.
  • I can’t believe that Jimmy Howard came in and saved the day. He made several huge saves and kept the Wings in the game through some stretches. I don’t know what to make of this.
  • In light of Jimmy’s two solid performances, maybe it’s time to think about giving Ozzie his yearly “mental break” now instead of waiting until the February doldrums. It would certainly send a message.
  • I really, really liked what I saw from the team tonight. There were a few stretches here and there when Vancouver carried the play, but the Wings actually looked like themselves for the most part. It would’ve been easy to roll over when the Canucks scored 30 seconds in, but they battled back and notched four goals in a crazy third period.
  • The boarding penalty on Brad Stuart was a joke. I pretty much agree with his assessment (via my lip reading skills) of the call.The powerplay looks to have gotten back on track. The Wings netted two goals with the man advantage in the third period. On the other hand, they also allowed two powerplay goals, so let’s not get too excited about the special teams just yet.
  • I still can’t believe that Jimmy Howard played that well.
  • I think it’s safe to say that this is the happiest I’ve ever been about a win in October in my life. Is this really how low I’ve sunk?
  • My cable went out for five minutes which I spent running around my house trying various TVs in the hope that it was just a problem with my hook up. It wasn’t. I'm really seriously starting to think that Comcast is trying to kill me. Thankfully it happened during intermission. If it had been during game play, they would’ve been getting a(nother) very angry service call from me.
  • I think this might’ve been Jonathan Ericsson’s best game of the season.
  • I really feel like a guy as talented as Henrik Zetterberg could do better on a breakaway than to just rifle a shot into Luongo’s chest from the hash marks. At least try a deke or a toe drag, man.
  • Here's hoping Ryan Johnson is okay after his nasty collision with the endboards. You never want to see anyone get carted off on a stretcher.
Cookies and Cupcakes for Tomas Holmstrom
(The player who brought me the most joy during the game gets imaginary cookies and cupcakes. It’s not necessarily the player of the game, but whoever earned my affection that night by doing something awesome. Who knows; if I don’t lose interest in this halfway through the year I may even tally it up at the end of the season.)
Homer was absolutely in vintage form tonight. Luongo is going to be having nightmares about the sight of Homer’s rear end for weeks. It kind of makes you wonder how the Wings would’ve fared with Homer healthy in the playoffs, eh? Let it never be said that I don’t love me some Demolition Man.

An Extra Stick Tap and a Gold Star for good measure go to Pavel Datsyuk
He couldn’t have picked a better time to come alive. He notched his first two goals of the season and picked up an assist on the Wings’ first goal (really though, would it have killed him to pick up the hat trick so I could have had some Arby’s?). I hope I’m not the only one who has a sneaky feeling that he’s getting set to go on a tear.

Chris Osgood gets the Golden Facepalm
(The Golden Facepalm goes to the player each game who makes me yell things like, “Oh my god, why would you do that?” “Turn in your jersey. Now.” and, “Seriously? Why?” the most times throughout the course of the game.)
As discussed above, Ozzie put up a horrendous performance. He needs to get things fixed. The Wings can’t afford to have him flounder his way through the season this time around.

What I learned:
It’s a lot more fun to write these things when the Wings win. Ok, so maybe that wasn’t exactly a revelation, but I haven’t had nearly enough happy hockey moments so far this season.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wings vs. Canucks GP...

Since I’ve been neglecting blogging lately thanks to school-related responsibilities, I’ve decided to try a couple new things for pre- and post-game. I’m going to make every effort to put up a game-day preview post. I’ll creatively call it the Game Plan, but we’ll call it the GP for short in honor of my previous life as a Splash Trasher. In it, I’m going to list a few specific things that I’ll be watching for during the game. I’ve also got a new post-game wrap-up thing, but I can’t decide what to call it. I figure I’ve got 4 or 5 hours before I have to decide, so I’m going to buy as much time as possible for myself. I’m not going to promise that I’ll manage to scrape these together for every game, but I’m practically an Olympic medalist at procrastination, so it should be fairly regular. So, I bring you the inaugural GP:

Wings @ Canucks 10 PM Eastern

1. Darren Helm will be scratched tonight. He’s gotten off to a pretty slow start since coming back from his training camp injury, but I was just writing it off as trying to get readjusted to the tempo of the games.
2. Will tonight be the night that Pavel Datsyuk finally nets his elusive first goal?
3. The lines have been shaken up a bit, and it looks like the successful Two Finns and Jason Williams line has been broken up. What I’d really like to see is a mix up of the defensive pairings, but like Mick Jagger says
4. Can the Wings pretty please finally pick up a road win tonight?
5. It will also be interesting to see how much of the game I can make it through. I’ve been rocking out since 5:30 AM Eastern with about 4.5 hours of sleep, so at this point I’m just hoping to keep my eyes open. I plan to be on Twitter again during the game, but if I randomly disappear halfway through, it’s pretty safe to assume that I finally dozed off and am drooling on my laptop (or that my internet has once again gone down…I’m looking at you, Comcast.).
6. Will Mikael Samuelsson finally realize that he's really Mikael Samuelsson and go back to whistling shots six feet high and wide of the net?

In other randomness, this is from Mike Stone today:
The Red Wings will probably qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it will not be easy. They lost way too much with Hossa, Hudler, and Samuelsson's departures. Couple that with the injury to Johan Franzen and I have to wonder where will all the goals come from. Plus, the defense and goaltending is not what it was. Hard to say this, but the Wings are not one of the best teams in the league anymore.
That's great and all, but it overlooks the fact that they still are one of the best teams in the league. The losses this season haven't had the slightest thing to do with skill level. There isn't a single problem this team has that doesn't stem directly from mental mistakes and lack of effort. If the team could just find it within itself to give 100% effort for 100% of a game, things would look just fine. A ten game stretch of that, and the standings would get back to normal in a hurry. There is no doubt in my mind that this team is hands down one of the most talented teams in the league, and if they ever decide to apply themselves, all will be right with the world.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Waste of a Saturday...

I don’t even know at this point. I missed the whole first period, and got home shortly after Draper scored the Wings’ only goal a few minutes into the second. When I first turned the TV on, they looked pretty good. Once again, I got my hopes up. Then, somewhere around the midway mark of the period I could see the Avs start to take over. I remarked to my friend who was watching the game with me that it was only a matter of time until they gave up a goal. All the signs were there. It’s pretty predictable at this point. I’m pretty sure this is about when I started muttering to myself about the game, It really wasn’t what I wanted to see after standing in the rain for four hours to watch UM play a joke of a game against Penn State. Anyway, I once again have to defer to George over at Snapshots who pretty much said it all in his post game “memo.”

Other notes:
  • Really, is there anyone out there who would care to explain to me how that puck Todd Bertuzzi put in the net didn’t count as a goal? The Wings need to get a restraining order against Brad Watson. How does that man still have a job? Seriously, it’s one thing to miss a hooking call that’s a subjective judgment or an errant high stick behind the play. It’s another thing to continuously blow calls that have enormous effects on the outcomes of games. You know, like whether or not the puck is in the net. Watson’s a joke, and so is the NHL for allowing him to continue his officiating trainwreck.
  • That being said, it was refreshing to see Bertuzzi actually put the puck on the net for his non-goal attempt. At some point, those shots he keeps ringing off of the posts have to start going in, right?
  • I don’t even want to talk about the powerplay last night. Previously blown calls or not, the Wings had every opportunity in the world to tie things up and take a lead near the end of the first period. There’s no excuse for this team to not net at least one powerplay goal with the number of chances they had last night.
  • One final bone to pick with the NHL: Whose idea was it to not have any early games on this “Super Saturday” thing they had going? If the idea was to market it as a big event, why wait until 7 PM Eastern to start the first games? If anyone knew what they were doing, the first games on the east coast would’ve started at 1 or so, with pucks dropping regularly from then until the last games started at 10:30 Eastern on the west coast.

Friday, October 23, 2009

See, I Told You Hockey Makes You Smarter...

So this is completely random, but I have a crossword puzzle addiction. My roommate had started the puzzle from the other day and left it on the table. I sat down to finish it while I ate lunch today, and I busted out laughing at one of her answers. One of the fist clues was “Benchwarmer” with five blanks for the response. Her answer was ‘hoser.’ Clearly I’ve taught her well. I then proceeded to discover that it was a fitting response (still wrong, though) because the entire puzzle was hockey themed. The big across answers all came from hockey penalties. I finally felt like the thousands of hours I’ve spent watching hockey over the years had paid off, although I’m still not quite clear what I actually gained.

I also want to say that school has absolutely been owning me the last couple of weeks, and there doesn’t appear to be any relief in sight. I’m told that if we survive October, things get easier, but from looking ahead at the syllabi, I’m not convinced. I know I’ve phoned in a couple of game recaps, and I haven’t been able to write nearly as much as I would like so far this season, but I’m just trying to keep my head above water at this point. I hope you understand. I have high hopes that next semester will be much more conducive not only to blogging, but to having a social life as well. And with any luck by then, the Wings will have given me happier things to write about. Trying to find the motivation to find new ways to say things like "third period collapse," "blown lead," "lack of effort," and "defensive zone turnovers" requires more energy than I have to spare right now.

PS. I was driving around campus today and I went through a huge puddle. It sprayed up and soaked this guy who was standing on the curb waiting to jaywalk. I was laughing so hard that I had to pull over. It kind of made my week. So anyway, if you happen to stumble across this blog, random soaked kid, you should know that I wasn’t laughing because I did it on purpose. I was laughing because it’s physically impossible to not laugh in a situation like that. I’m sure I’ll get my karmic retribution shortly.

Still Not Pleased...

Larry Murphy said in the postgame show that there are a lot positive things in that the Wings can take away from the game even though it didn’t end well. That’s nice and all, but that’s how mediocre teams think. I expect better from the Wings.

Every time I start to feel good about this team, they go and blow the game. This time around, they tried a new style of play. They would come out and play solidly for the first half of each period, and then sleep walk through the last ten minutes. Someone needs to inform them that there are twenty minutes in each period. And while they’re at it, they should also mention that there are three periods in the game. Although you’d like to think that, like line changes, that would be the kind of thing that professional hockey players wouldn’t need to have explained.

Pavel Datsyuk made his return to the lineup and immediately made his presence felt. He was absolutely dominant through the first two periods, but he (like most of the team) disappeared for most of the third. Likewise, Ozzie looked solid throughout the whole game and made several huge saves to keep the Wings in the game. Then he let in an awful goal during overtime.

The Flying Circus line was looking good for most of the night, and the Euro Twins teamed up for assists on both of the Wings' goals. Homer scored his team-leading fifth of the season to tie up the game at the end of the first period. I absolutely believe that Tomas Holmstrom in top form is still the best in the business at what he does. Now he just needs to stay healthy.

As soon as I heard that our good buddy Brad Watson was working the game, I had a bad feeling about things. I’ve really tried to move on and get over the Goal that Wasn’t, because I have visions of myself still wallowing in bitterness sixteen years from now a la Down Goes Brown and Kerry Fraser. However, the Coyotes’ tying goal did nothing to bring him back in my favor. While I agree with the other folks on Twitter that they never should’ve been in a position to tie the game at that point, I kind of feel that all star referee Watson should’ve lost sight of the puck while it was sitting there in the crease. Regardless of that, Brett Lebda gets the blame for that goal. He managed to erase whatever goodwill he’d generated with his tally in the second period with that turnover.

In other words, it was another pathetic and inexcusable effort from the Wings. I really expected them to start this season with a lot of jump in their collective step, but so far I’ve been completely unimpressed. They’re now .500 through eight games. At some point, they’re going to need to get serious about winning some hockey games. I have other thoughts, but I’ve been up since 6 AM running on five hours of sleep, and I’m done for the night. It’s best to call it a night before I start to rant.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time to Get Going...

To say that Phoenix has caught the hockey world by surprise is a bit of an understatement. I mean, who knew that Wayne Gretzky was that bad of a coach? Anyway, the ‘Yotes are riding high with their unexpected success and it’s about time for someone to step in and put them in their place. A lot of teams are coming up on the 10-game mark, and the standings should start to make a little more sense now that things have had a chance to shake out.

The Coyotes are young and excited to prove that they’re not total failures. That’s a great feel-good story and it’s cute and all, but they can play Cinderella against other teams. I expect them to come out with a lot of jump and press early as they seek to add the Wings to their list of big name teams they’ve beaten. The Wings need to come out and match them from the start. They’ve had four days off to get their act together, so with any luck, they’ve figured out how to properly execute a line change.

A lot of comments have been made saying that the Wings need this roadtrip to “find themselves” (which begs the question of what they were doing during training camp and for a week in Sweden) and if that’s what it takes, I’m all for it. On some level I get it. During my 7-month exile to the hockey wasteland that is Florida a few years back, that same thing became our group’s unofficial motto. (We even found a job-related theme song.) So I can sort of agree with the notion that hitting the road and leaving behind the distractions of home might be good for the team. On the other hand, I have a hard time believing that 10 days of pillow fights and Apples to Apples tournaments are really going to solve the team’s problems. I guess we’ll find out for better or worse over the course of the next few days.

As of now, I'm reasonably sure that Pavel Datsyuk will be making his triumphant return to the lineup after a two-game hiatus for a mysterious injury. Obviously, this can only mean good things for the team. On top of that, Henrik Zetterberg's finally looking like himself after an uncharacteristically rocky start to the season. Those two need to start getting on the board regularly, because if we learned one thing from the Finals last season, it's that secondary scoring can only carry the team so far if the big guns aren't contributing. At any rate, I’m just ready for some more hockey. I am not a fan of these seemingly interminable four-day breaks in the middle of the season. Let’s play some hockey.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How Did I Forget the Glory of '07?...

So Forbes decided to rank the top 10 hottest sports cities in the US. We placed at #6 on the list, behind Pittsburgh, Philly, New York, LA, and Boston. I can't say that I have a huge objection to the rankings, but the writeup did feature a cool new fact that I had been previously unaware of:
And in the we-need-this-for-civic-pride category is Detroit, which ranks sixth despite the 0-16 record of the 2008 Lions. The Tigers and Pistons have been solid over the past three years, but the bedrock of the local pro sports scene has been the Red Wings, which won the Stanley Cup in 2007 and have been a perennial playoff team--much to the chagrin of the world's octopi population.
Oh man, that '07 Cup was one for the ages. What a run. I remember the parade and the rally in Hart Plaza like it was just last year. Oh, what's that you say? It was? How about that. ('07 is listed in the slide show part too, so it's not just a typo.) And here I was thinking that reputable publications did things like check their facts. Seriously. All you'd have to do is check Wikipedia.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stranger Than Fiction...

So it’s early in the season and I know that things always look a little funny at the start, but this season has looked bizarre so far. A month ago would you have predicted that:
  • Kirk Maltby would be tied for second on the team with two goals? (Or that he’d have a 66.7% shooting percentage?)
  • Datsyuk would only have two points so far?
  • Maltby, Rafalski, and Lidstrom would be the only two Wings with positive +/- ratings?
  • We would be commenting on Todd Bertuzzi’s solid defensive plays?
  • Homer would have four goals already?
  • The Wings would be sitting in 11th place in the Conference?
  • The team would be running through line change drills in practice?
  • Ville Leino would beat out Bertuzzi for creepiest team photo?
  • Brad May would be in the lineup at all?
And the strangeness doesn’t stop in Hockeytown. Look around the league, and you’ll find that:
  • The Avalanche are leading the Western Conference.
  • Phoenix is 7th in the West. They even went four games while only allowing one goal against.
  • Toronto is still winless. Kidding. Nobody’s really that surprised.
  • A puck found its way into the net on this play. Oh, wait, that’s Huet in net, you say? Never mind. There’s nothing bizarre here.
  • All of America spent a couple of hours watching a balloon fly through the sky in what turned out to be the best hoax since Orson Welles panicked thousands of people over the radio. Hmmm? Where is Balloon Boy from? Just saying…
Anyone who claims to have predicted any of these things before the season started is just flat out a lying liar who lies. I have faith that these oddities will correct themselves over the course of the next 10 games or so, because they always do. But for now, all I can do is amuse myself by looking at the statistical bizarro world we’re living in right now. Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mental Collapse (Again)...

I missed the first period last night, so I really can’t comment on that, but I made it home just in time to see the start of the second. And I have to say that I liked what I saw. The Wings actually looked like themselves for a change. They were doing their puck possession thing and controlling play, so I settled in with some homemade chocolate covered pretzels to enjoy a nice, relaxing end to an absurdly busy Saturday.

And then, apparently sometime during the second intermission, the Wings decided that they had things under control and didn’t actually need to show up for the rest of the game. They still managed to walk away with a point after losing the shootout, but that doesn’t make things any better. There’s absolutely no excuse for not walking away with two points last night. None at all. They simply stopped skating, stopped thinking, and stopped working, and that’s inexcusable. I’m tired of watching them sleepwalk their way to frustrating losses. That’s the Tigers’ MO. I expect better from the Wings.

For a real recap, check out On the Wings. I couldn’t agree more with the opening paragraph. George Malik also posted a good piece over at Snapshots. Everything he says is spot on. The team needs to find a way to get their heads on straight and figure out a way to win some hockey games. If it takes a roadtrip for them to figure things out, then I’ll help them pack their suitcases. Somebody needs to do something, because this is getting ridiculous.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lidstrom's Latest Milestone...

I was going to write a post about Lidstrom’s 1,000th point last night, but I’d been up since 5:30 that morning, and I felt like he deserved better than the incoherent ramblings that my brain would’ve created at that point.

The Wings started out slowly in the first period, and I was pretty convinced that it was going to be another ugly game. After the first few minutes, they started to turn things around, though. (I think I’m just going to copy these two sentences and paste them at the beginning of every post that I write this season.) They didn’t look great, but they were much better. Not that it would’ve taken a whole lot to improve from the previous game, but it’s a step in the right direction. There are enough game recaps out there that I’m not going to waste my time writing one of my own. Some notes, though:
  • Mike Babcock kindasorta called out Hank. Hank responded by scoring his first goal of the season. Maybe that was just the kick he needed to get himself going. (I say kindasorta because in the grand scheme of “call-outs,” that one was pretty low key.)
  • For all that talk over the summer about making up for the “lost goals” that the free agents took with them, I bet nobody thought Kirk Maltby would be picking up the slack. He’s currently tied for second on the team with two goals. In fact, he, Lidstrom, Rafalski, and Abdelkader are the only four Wings who have positive +/- ratings at this point. I think the competition for playing time is good for him. I’ve noticed many times that he tends to play better when he’s fighting for a job. Maybe the occasional benching or two will be a good thing for him.
  • Datsyuk sitting out the game worries me. So does the fact that nobody’s saying what the mysterious injury was. I’m used to the playoff mindgames about hiding injuries, but this is much too early in the season to be messing with my head. The last thing the Wings need is to lose him for any measure of time.
  • Todd Bertuzzi continued to not make me gouge my eyes out. To date, he’s only picked up a couple of assists, and he hasn’t displayed the offensive touch he once had (ie. firing a shot clean over the glass on a great scoring chance in close), but he’s been much, much better than I expected defensively. And for now, I’ll take that. As an avid holder of grudges, I don’t know what to make of this.
  • I like Ville Leino more and more each game. He’s been as good as advertised offensively, and way better than I expected defensively. He had a couple of really good plays on the backcheck last night.
And finally, Nick Lidstrom. He recorded points #999 and 1,000 with assists on Homer’s and Hank’s goals respectively. As much as I hoped he’d hit the mark in Sweden, it was nice to see him do it at the Joe. I’ve always felt like he’s been underappreciated, and that’s a shame. I really believe that if he were on a different team with a less renowned offense, he would’ve been recognized for his greatness earlier. For so many years, names like Yzerman, Fedorov, Shanahan, Hull, and now Zetterberg and Datsyuk have been headlining the team, and the media often tends to focus on the scoring stars and their offensive flash. Lidstrom doesn’t deliver bone crushing checks (although he was credited with two hits last night) that attract attention and more often than not makes defensive plays so perfectly that folks don’t even notice that he made an effort to do it. There’s a reason his teammates call him The Perfect Human. Remember how nauseous you felt last year when it was announced that Lidstrom would be missing a playoff game for the first time in his career? That says all you need to know about how much he means to the team. So congrats to #5. He’s been a class act since day one and he’s right up there with the best of all time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's Time to Play Some Hockey...

I ended up missing most of the game last night. From what little I saw, I’m pretty convinced that I’m better off for it. I tuned in just in time to see the Wings’ goal in the first period that tied it up at one. I was excited, and glad that I had made dinner plans somewhere where I could still catch the game. By the time I got picked up to go eat, the Wings were down by 2. By the time we made it to the restaurant, they were down by 4. The greeter at Friday’s sat us at a table where we couldn’t see the TVs in the bar. Normally I would’ve complained about this, but I think he secretly knew that it was in my best interest. Despite the fact that this paragraph has been completely pointless, writing it has made me feel better.

Some folks have been trying to draw positives from the game, but much like Kyle over at BDS, I don’t want to hear it. As far as I’m concerned, there were no good things. If we follow that line of reasoning and bend over backwards to pay compliments, we’ll also find ourselves celebrating spectacular accomplishments like:
  • The Wings only took one penalty in the second period! What discipline!
  • There were four whole Wings who didn’t have a negative +/- rating for the game! Four!
  • Ozzie had one of the best performances by a goalie who gave up five goals that I’ve seen in years! What an effort!
  • Jimmy Howard didn’t give up a single powerplay goal! Our backup worries are over!
  • The game was on Versus, so nobody saw their pathetic performance anyway! Thank you, DirecTV!
Forget it. I don’t want to hear any of it. It’s five games into the season now, and it’s about time the Wings showed up to play. After the first two games, we all told ourselves that it was just the hoopla surrounding the Swedes’ glorious return to their homeland. We ignored the lackluster start of the Chicago game because they pulled it out in the end. We celebrated the win over Washington despite the fact that there were still some big problems. Now we’re looking at a miserable 6-2 loss that has Wings fans jumping right back on the stress train.

We’re all used to their usual mid-winter phase where they phone in two or three weeks worth of play. We forgave them for sleeping through most of the games last year because they were able to find ways to win when they woke up in the third period. It’s far too early in the season for their winter doldrums, and so far their offense doesn’t seem able to stage the dramatic comebacks we saw last year. For all their off-season talk about being motivated and angry after losing Game 7 on home ice, this team sure hasn’t looked the part. They’re not losing games because they’re trying to do too much or because they’re over-skating. They’re losing games because they’re not trying at all. It’s frustrating. And it’s disheartening. And I know in my head that I’m overreacting. But it’s halfway through October now, and the Wings need to get their collective act together. It’s time to play some hockey.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Five Hundred...

I took advantage of the student rush ticket deals today and headed down to the Joe to see the Wings take on Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps. It was well worth it. For those who are curious, the lower bowl tickets are $45 each, and are for single seats scattered all over. I ended up in row 9 right behind the Wings’ net. It’s a great deal if you don’t mind being surrounded by strangers. It’s great for me because I have very little interesting chatting during the game anyway. I’m more than happy to just hang out in the concourse during intermission.

I somehow ended up completely surrounded by Caps fans and a variety of people who did not deserve to have seats that good at a Wings game. I still have no idea who the five people in front of me were rooting for. They were dressed all in black or brown and didn’t clap for a single goal, penalty, shot, play, faceoff…anything. I think they may have just been there to eat B-Dubs because that’s all they really did. I don’t understand that. Even when I watch games in which I have no vested interest, I at least display some sort of emotion. What’s the point of even coming? Seriously.

On the other end of the spectrum was the guy sitting behind me. He spent a large portion of the game complaining about the fact that nobody there was verbally abusing or throwing things at him. Apparently, I’m a lousy fan because I don’t feel the need to act like an idiot in public. Sorry for being classy, sunshine.

I also sat next to one of the coolest kids ever. He was a Caps fan, but that’s forgivable because he appeared to have every single one of their stats from last season memorized (or at least he appeared to. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt because for all I know he could’ve been making all of them up).

One of my favorite moments came when one of the Caps fans sitting by me realized that Mike Green was, in fact, a defenseman. I’m pretty sure everyone was just as shocked as he was the first time they figured that out. I informed him that Green had been nominated for the Norris last season. He didn’t know what that was. Probably because Nick Lidstrom has been hogging it for all of these years.

Anyway, this was by far the best game the Wings have played so far. They controlled the play and actually looked like they intended to play defense. At one point, their penalty killing unit set up a cycle in the offensive zone and looked like they were the ones on the powerplay. That was probably my favorite part of the game (other than when they scored, obviously). In that moment, they looked like the Wings I know and love. Not the ones that had me spouting ulcers yesterday night.

Brian Rafalski in particular had a great game even though he wasn’t recognized with one of the offical stars. He broke up several good scoring opportunities in the third period alone, and he really stood out to me. I was glad to see Datsyuk have a good game as well. I was semi-expecting him to score tonight because it seemed like everywhere I went earlier in the day, I was surrounded by the number 13. He only ended up with an assist, but trying to defend him has to give opposing D-men nightmares.

I was also pretty excited to see the reunion of the Flying Circus line. It’d been a while since I got to see them in action in person. Obviously Zetterberg and Datsyuk both great players individually, but when they’re on the ice together, it just seems like they make each other ten times better. That kind of chemistry is hard to come by, and I’ve always had mixed feelings about Uncle Mike’s decision to split them up last season. Babcock was shuffling wingers on the top line all night long, and I got the feeling he was experimenting to see how things fit together with Franzen out of the lineup. I’ll be interested to see how the lines shake out on Tuesday, especially with Darren Helm expected to return.

Other random notes:
  • The crowd was pathetic tonight. I don’t know if it was because I had an unusually good seat (I’m usually stuck up in the rafters) down with all the high-rollers (ie. the people sitting in front of me who could not have cared less about the game) or if it was that lame all over. Seriously. Show some spirit when you’re at the Joe.
  • You know who else made some solid defensive plays? Todd Bertuzzi. I know. Believe me, I don’t know what to make of it either. Unfortunately, he continues to be useless offensively.
  • It was a little strange to see Brad May skate out wearing #24 in the warm-ups.
  • Ovechkin had a quiet night by his standards. Even still, he seemed like a scoring threat every second he was on the ice. That’s pure star quality. Crazy antics and all, I would have to say he’s my favorite non-Wing in the NHL.
  • Until today, I had never been incredibly bothered by the nets over the glass on the ends of the rinks. From my usual nose bleed seats, they’re a little annoying, but not a huge deal. In row nine, however, the bottom part of the net is directly in your line of sight for most of the ice. It drove me crazy all night.
  • I was a little surprised to see a larger gathering around the Capitals’ bench as people were waiting for the warm-ups to start. Was it the mystique of Alex Ovechkin, or were people just confused?
I took some short videos from behind the net during warm-ups (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). They’re not great, and my camera doesn’t record sound, but watching from that vantage point exponentially increased my appreciation for what goalies do on a nightly basis.

I also put up a whole album of pictures from the warm-ups and during the game. Some of my favorites:
  • I really like this picture despite the fact that the flash did all kinds of weird things with the glass.
  • I almost ran into Larry Murphy on the concourse during the second intermission. Literally.
  • This guy was at least 6'7" and 300 lbs. The women on the far left of the picture were probably in the 5’4”-5’5” range for some perspective. I hope I'm not the only one who sees the irony in his choice of jersey. I just followed along behind him and it was like the crowd was parting in front of me.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Having Fun Yet?...

Remember last night when we were all happy and spitting rainbows because the Wings beat Chicago? I think I do. Vaguely. I’m pretty sure that at one point in my life the Wings brought me joy, but it’s starting to seem like a distant memory. This season has been nothing but stress since Henrik Zetterberg tweaked his groin before training camp even started. Then the rest of the second line went down with groin injuries. Then Jonathan Ericsson took a shot off the ankle in the first game and limped off the ice. Then the Wings lost. To the Blues. Then they lost again. Then Ericsson left the game early again last night. Then…yeah apparently I enjoy wallowing in misery.

And today we got hit with the worst, most stressful news yet. As everyone knows by now, Johan Franzen tore his ACL and will be missing until after the Olympic break. Yeah. That Johan Franzen. The one we were hoping would step up and maybe hit the 40-goal mark. The one who’s in the first year of that mega contract extension he signed a few months back. The one who’s absolutely unstoppable when he decides to score. Gone until March. To think that it was Ericsson's health that I was worried about when I went to bed last night.

So now what? Is it time to panic yet? Um, well, let’s just say that no rational argument is going to stop me from doing just that. This is a problem because I have about fifteen pages of writing due bright and early Monday morning, and instead of working on my paper, I’m eating ice cream and having a Mel Brooks fest in the hopes of cheering myself up.

Some have gone so far as to say that the Wings are going to struggle to make the playoffs. That seems a bit dramatic, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Wings finish second in the Central this season the way things stand. His absence is going to wreak havoc on the lines, and I don’t even know how that’s going to shake out. The only good news of the day was the fact that Darren Helm is likely going to return on Tuesday. That’ll strengthen the lineup, but he’s not going to account for the offense the team just lost with Franzen. Ken Holland has already said that he's not going to make a trade to replace Franzen, and I can't really argue with that. Abdelkader's already been recalled from Grand Rapids and then there's Patrick Eaves who still hasn't worked his way into the lineup.

So anyway, enjoy your weekend, sunshines. I know how I’ll be spending mine. George over at Snapshots was kind enough to provide a survival guide to help you get through this trying time. Unfortunately, he failed to include instructions for how to handle the news if you were sitting in class listening to a lecture when you found out. As a result of this oversight, I had to freestyle. It wasn't pretty.

PS. Best line of the day: “Well, it’s not like he was going to show up to play until March anyway. Might as well have him fresh for his annual spring rampage.”

About Time...

Well, I think it’s safe to say that we all feel a little bit better now that the Wings have a victory to their credit. I’m really not used to stressing about hockey this early in the season. Unfortunately, as happy as I am, I can’t say the game did a whole lot to ease my mind. For reasons that continue to baffle me, the Wings simply can’t be bothered to play for the entire duration of a hockey game.

I missed the first four minutes, but I’m going to go ahead and assume that it looked a lot like the rest of the game. I was really glad that I rushed home from class (no joke, I set a world record for fastest uphill bike ride with flat tires in the rain.) so that I could watch Chicago carry the play for the majority of the period. The Wings were outshot and outhustled and I was starting to get a little bit cranky. To the surprise of nobody, the Blackhawks scored first to take the lead early in the second period.

Shortly after that, the Wings were whistled for a lengthy 5-on-3 penalty kill. At that point, I was strongly considering switching over to watch The Office. I’m glad I stayed, though. The PK ended up being very good, and I’ll admit that I found myself a little bit shocked when they finally returned to even strength only down a goal. The Wings got a powerplay almost immediately after that, and I started to wonder if it might have been a turning point.

It took a little longer, but eventually the Wings evened it up on a fluky powerplay goal by Nick Lidstrom. A few minutes later, Kris Draper buried an absolute snipe to make it 2-1 despite the fact that the team had been outshot and outplayed for the majority of the game. It really seemed like an inverse of the way the vast majority of Wings losses play out. Usually they’re the ones playing games with the puck and peppering the opposing goalie with shots only to give up a heartbreaker or two.

A minute and a half after that, Johan Franzen finished the Wings’ scoring by tapping in Pavel Datsyuk’s shot as it trickled toward the goal line. This secretly made me happy because Franzen is on my fantasy team. Despite the fact that the Hawks made a game of it as they once again took over in the third period, that goal stood up as the game winner.

The penalty kill gave up another goal in the third period, but I’m not too terribly broken up about it. Ericsson could barely skate because he’d taken another shot off of his ankle and Brad Stuart had lost his stick. It turns out that it’s hard to kill penalties when you don’t have any defensemen. After the game, Babcock said that Ericsson was fine, but that really isn’t going to stop me from worrying.

A couple of positive things from the game:
--Both Todd Bertuzzi and Jason Williams made great defensive plays that took away very good scoring chances. I know. I was as shocked as you are.
--Ozzie looked good out there. He made some really good saves in the third period, and really kept the team in the game. This makes me happy because now we can spend the next 48 hours talking about something other than goaltending. He got a little help from the fact that the Blackhawks had apparently been taking shooting lessons from Mikael Samuelsson during the off-season. I lost count of how many shots they fired wide on good scoring chances.
--Kronwall and Stuart were both fantastic tonight. The seemed to struggle a little bit in Sweden, and I was glad to see them get it together tonight. Stuart had several good hits (one on Hossa handmaiden Tomas Kopecky, who stunningly managed to last a whole game without being injured).
--I was surprised to see Brad May in the lineup, until it was posited that he was supposed to be this year’s Dallas Drake. I can kind of understand that, although it makes me wonder why they bothered signing Patrick Eaves. I missed his fight because I was passing out cable box components to my roommate, but I kind of think I’m going to like him (even though I have a hard time trusting a man with a soul patch).

So now we have Saturday and a visit from Alex Ovechkin to look forward to. I’m kind of excited, especially since the team announced that the student rush deal was coming back this season.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Little Brother Comes to Town...

Remember back in the playoffs last season when I compared Chicago to the Wings’ little brother? Well, over the summer little brother went through a huge growth spurt, and he’s looking a whole lot scarier now, although it would seem that he hasn’t gotten a whole lot smarter. I absolutely believe that the Hawks are going to give the Wings a run for their money in the Central this season, but I haven't bought into the whole changing of the guard thing quite yet. Chicago still has a long way to go before they're ready to do anything meaningful, as evidenced by their oftentimes embarrassing elimination by the Wings in the Western Conference Finals last season.

In other news, the Wings open the Joe tonight, and I’m choosing to ignore the fact that the previous two games occurred. It would be super fantastic if the Wings could see fit to eke out a win. Especially since I’ll be missing The Office wedding episode. Oh how I miss my DVR. What I’m looking for from them today:

--Kill off more than 50% of the penalties that they take. 2 for 5 just isn’t going to cut it.
--Brett Lebda Derek Meech to play some defense.
--Brad Stuart to not screen our goalie or deflect shots past him.
--The team to play a whole 60 minutes of hockey (Lofty expectations, I know).
--Let’s try to hold the goals against to three or fewer. That’s scientifically proven to increase your chances of winning.
-- 2 points.

Mostly, I just want to celebrate a meaningful victory for the first time in what feels like forever. It'd also be nice to put the Blackhawks back in their place and show them that the Wings are still in charge of the division. Plus, there's the chance that it would give us a brief respite from all of those "end of an era" articles that people seem to be tripping over themselves to write these days. The bottom line is that I need a rollicking good time to take my mind off of the Tigers' loss on Tuesday. I'm still not prepared to discuss that.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hockey Makes You Smarter...

It’s recently occurred to me that thanks to my lifelong addiction to hockey, my head is now filled with an insane amount of random bits of trivia. I’m not just talking about player stats and team records. I mean actual, non-hockey related knowledge. For the most part, these little pieces of information are completely useless, but someday I’m going to win a game of Trivial Pursuit because of it, and then the joke will be on whoever I defeat. So now, because I can’t contain my excitement over the return of hockey, I bring you proof that hockey does indeed make you smarter:

• Thanks to the Wings’ trip to Sweden, I now know that ‘ljumsken’ means ‘groin’ in Swedish. I have no idea when in the future this will come in handy, but you had better believe that if I ever make it over to Sweden on vacation, I’ll find a way to work it into conversation.
• I can point out places like Sverdlovsk, Vasteras, Red Deer, Njurunda, Peterborough, and Cranbrook on the map. While this info may never help me pass a geography exam, I once saw an article that said that a significant number of Americans can’t even point out Germany on a map, so I think I’m ahead of the game.
• I also discovered that there is a city in Minnesota called Redwing. My little brother and I are going to take a roadtrip there some day, just so we can take pictures with the city welcome sign. Then we’d turn around and come back home. It would be well worth the drive.
• The Phoenix saga has taught me some of the intricacies of bankruptcy law. There’s been more legal mumbo jumbo bandied around hockey blogs in recent months than I ever expected to see. But you had better believe that the next time somebody brings up bankruptcy in conversation, I’ll be ready to jump right in. This hasn’t happened yet, but with the economy the way it is, it’s only a matter of time until it does.
• Due to the hours I’ve spent watching hockey broadcasts, I can pronounce just about any French, Russian, or Swedish name that you throw at me. Names that would trip up most Americans roll right off my tongue without a second thought. Watching hockey was like Hooked on Phonics for foreign names. I’m not even joking.
• Typing up my blog entries has caused my spellcheck to inform me that ‘deke’ is not a real word. It turns out that it’s a Canadianism that’s short for ‘decoy.’ This was kind of a shock to my system, as I’d always taken it for granted. I don’t know how to break the news to Gordon Bombay.
• My many pilgrimages to the Joe have caused me to learn to navigate downtown Detroit very well. This is quite possibly the only real-world applicable bit of knowledge in this entire post. Whenever I go down to the city with friends, I drive because I’m the only one who knows my way around. The confidence that comes from not being afraid of getting lost has led me to explore even further. And I’ve discovered some great things along the way. I love it when people from out of town look at me incredulously when I tell them that I frequent the city.
• Greenland is covered with ice, and Iceland is very nice. Okay, so that doesn’t come from watching real hockey, but that movie was very much intertwined with my childhood love of the sport. And no, I’m not going to say which movie that comes from. You should know that on your own if you’re a hockey fan worth your salt. If not, google it and feel ashamed.
• Brian Burke taught me a new word when he spoke about wanting truculence. I’m eagerly awaiting the day when I get to use it in a paper for class. I’m willing to use that desire to guide my topic choices if it comes to that.
• Stemming from one of the controversies of the summer of ’09 I now have a working knowledge of the vagaries of international flight law. It also turns out that cabotage is a term for the right to operate airlines within the domestic borders of another country and not, in fact, a way of tampering with cabbage. Who knew?
• Injury reports have given me a detailed knowledge of the human muscular system, joints, and basic surgical procedures usually only acquired by first year med students.
• One of the benefits of having the Wings in the Western Conference is that I can tell you in which time zone almost every major North American city is located. This comes in handy when you go on roadtrips out west and you don’t need to look up what time it’s going to be when you arrive at your next destination.
• My first introduction to the fact that the Cold War had existed was through listening to the stories of how the Russian players had defected. I was only three when the Berlin Wall fell and I came into my own as a Wings fan during the heyday of the Russian Five, so the thought of these guys having to sneak away from their homes and families to come play hockey in North America seemed bizarre to me. Yeah, that’s right. I, the ultimate history buff, got my first taste of world history from watching intermission interviews with hockey players. We all have to start somewhere, I guess.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What A Weekend...

Well the weekend didn’t exactly turn out the way I was hoping. The Wings blew their Swedish extravaganza, UofM rallied to force overtime and then blew that, and the Tigers blew their lead in the AL Central setting up a tiebreaker on Tuesday that I won’t be able to watch. In short, I wasted way too much time watching sports this weekend with very little return for my emotional investment. Thanks, guys.

Despite the fact that they lost, there were some encouraging things from the Wings on Saturday. The second line looked much better. I’m hoping it just took them a game to get their act together since they all missed most of training camp, and not a sign that we’re going to be getting inconsistent efforts from them all season. That being said, you could tell that Zetterberg was still hurting from his groin injury. His first couple of strides were noticeably slow, and I’m reasonably certain that he would’ve been out if not for the whole Swedish thing. Hopefully the four days off will help him.

Thomas Holmstrom seems back to his old self. If he can stay healthy all year long, he should continue to cause havoc for opposing goalies. His goal was a classic Homer deflection as the puck bounced in off of his hip. There’s no doubt that Ty Conklin liked being on the other end of that last season much more.

Ville Leino continues to impress me. After these two games, I’m hinging more of my hopes on his production. I’m not sure how that makes me feel since as a Red Wings fan, I’m not accustomed to relying on rookies to play big roles, and there seems to be a lot of that happening this season.

On the other hand, the penalty kill continues to be horrible, the powerplay wasn’t particularly effective, Jimmy Howard has a five hole like a sieve, Brett Lebda getting hurt actually helped the team, and I’m having flashbacks to the majority of last season. I’m not going to focus on the negative because it’s only going to put me in a worse mood, and let’s face it, I don’t have the time to detail everything that went wrong anyway. I’m not saying it’s time to panic or anything, but it’s a little too early in the season for me to be stressing about the Wings. They’ve got four days off (Arguably the worst part of this whole Swedish adventure. Now that I’ve got a taste of hockey, what am I supposed to do with myself until Thursday?) to sort things out and with any luck, they’ll figure out a way to solve at least one of last season’s recurring problems. Dating back to June, they now have four disappointing losses in a row, and I just want to be able to celebrate a victory.

Now, GO TIGERS!!! I hope I’m not the only one who wants to see them go all the way just for Ernie Harwell. When they were in the World Series three years ago and he called a couple of innings, I closed my eyes and his voice took me right back to when I was a kid laying in front of the TV watching games with my dad on a cool summer evening. It meant so much to me, especially given what was going on in my life at the time. If you haven’t seen his speech, shame on you. I dare you to find someone who grew up in the Metro-Detroit area who didn’t get at least a little misty eyed hearing him talk. If you can make it through without choking up, you've got one heck of a cold heart.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Disappointing Start...

For a team that spent the whole summer talking about how they were going to return to playing lights out defense this season, the Wings sure didn't act like it. They got off to a pretty good start despite the fact that St. Louis scored first. After they took a two-goal lead, though, they pretty much shut down. All in all, it looked stunningly like most of their losses last season. And that's not good.
  • Versus started the game with the scoreboard reading "St. Louis 4 Deroit 3" before they quickly reset it back to 0-0. So someone should figure out who made that mistake and we can all head to Vegas together.
  • The fourth line was out there for the Blues' first goal, but after that, they looked great. Kirk Maltby had an assist on Ericsson's goal, and then scored one of his own on a shorthanded breakaway. Yeah, that Kirk Maltby. That whole fighting for a job thing really suits him well. I noticed that he played significantly better last season in the playoffs after getting benched too.
  • Ericsson left the game with an ankle injury. So that's fantastic. Especially since it resulted in Brett Lebda getting even more ice time...
  • ...and boy did he make an impact. He was on the ice for 3 of St. Louis' 4 goals, which indicates the kind of night he had. He looked awful. I would not be shocked to see Meech take his place in the lineup tomorrow if Ericsson's good to go.
  • Ozzie looked average. He gave up a couple of bad rebounds, but I wouldn't pin the loss on him. One one of the Blues' goals, Brad Stuart was kind enough to set up a Homer-like screen right in front of Ozzie, and he really had no chance.
  • Datsyuk didn't manage to score, but he was the best player on the ice. I have to believe that he's going to break that elusive 100-point mark this season. He looks like he's raring to go, and I love every second of it.
  • On the other hand, the Zetterberg-Cleary-Bertuzzi line didn't look good at all. Hopefully it's just the effect of them all missing most of the pre-season and they'll turn things around. Otherwise, it's going to spell trouble.
  • Chris Mason just made his way onto my list. He made a handful of incredible saves, and the Versus announcers credited him with "turning the game around." I don't really buy that, but he sure did keep the Blues in the game when the Wings were pressing.
  • I also discovered why I shouldn't go to Meijer's after the Wings lose: I went to buy taco cheese, and instead walked out with cake mix, Halloween frosting, a bottle of wine, Disney princess cupcake liners, and some sprinkles. I had to go back inside to pick up the cheese.
  • While at the store, some guy saw my Wings shirt and asked me if I thought they were going to win tonight. I had to inform him that they had already played and lost. I'm pretty sure he thought I was lying to him.
The Wings'll be back tomorrow. Same time, same place for round 2 of their Swedish Adventure. I was pretty disappointed with the game, but it felt good just to be watching the Wings play some real, live, meaningful hockey.

2009-2010 Storylines...

The Wings open the regular season today, and I couldn’t be more excited. In light of that, and because I’ve run out of players to profile, I bring you a list of storylines to watch throughout this season, for both the Wings and the NHL in general:
  • The Wings have vowed to tighten up their defense this year and I’m going to hold them to that promise. The defense was embarrassing at times last season, and they’re not going to be able to just float by this time around.
  • Special teams: The powerplay and PK have historically been points of pride for the Wings, but last season, the PK was dismal all year long, and the powerplay dried up when it was most needed. Thus far during the pre-season, the PK has been good, and the powerplay seems to have figured things out based on the last couple of games. Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.
  • Nick Lidstrom: He’s in the last year of his contract and he hasn’t committed to play in the Olympics yet because he’s concerned about his health. He’s said that his elbow injury that nagged him all season is feeling better, and with any luck that won’t continue to hamper him. Nick’s already being written off by some, but I think we’re going to see him return to form. He’s still the best in the business.
  • Injuries: They doomed the Cup run last season and have already plagued the Wings throughout the pre-season. Is this the three consecutive lengthy playoff runs finally catching up to them, or just a bump in the road? Only time will tell.
  • Redemption stories: Detroit appears to be the place that guys come to resurrect their careers. That works for me. It’s an appealing storyline for a lot of Detroiters right about now. If you’re one of those people out there who things that second chances are beautiful things, then you’ve come to the right place this year. Todd Bertuzzi, Patrick Eaves, even Jason Williams and Jimmy Howard to an extent. They’ve all been written off by others (and me, admittedly) and now have a shot at contributing to a successful team. Here’s hoping the way their seasons play out the way they’ve been scripted in all of our imaginations.
  • Revenge: It’s pretty clear that the Wings are not okay with the way their season ended last year. They battled through injuries, the stacked Western Conference, and some questionable refereeing only to fall one game short of repeating (in the Joe, no less). Then the media went ahead and vilified them as sore losers for calling out Sidney Crosby for the Handshake Incident and wrote them off as “old” and “washed up.” They’ve got an axe or three to grind this season, and I can’t think of a better source of motivation for a hockey team.
  • The kids: Helm, Howard, Ericsson, Abdelkader, Leino, etc. ought to provide an influx of new energy to the team. They give Wings fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the team’s future.
  • Ozzie: One of the biggest questions facing the team this season is which edition of Chris Osgood we’re going to see this time around. Jimmy Howard’s looked pretty good through the pre-season, but I can’t shake the feeling that there’s less of a safety net this year if Ozzie falters. I have faith, though. I’ve always been an Ozzie supporter, and I’ll remain as such until he convinces me otherwise.
  • I would suggest keeping a tally of how many innocent bystanders accidentally die from Mike Babcock’s evil eye. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t take rifles on his famous big game hunting trips. He just stares the animals down. Like Davy Crockett without the smile.
  • It will be interesting to see how full the Joe is this season. We all know that times are tough, but the Wings can usually be counted on to provide pretty good bang for your buck. I, for one, fully intend to take advantage of any ticket bargains they offer.
NHL miscellany:
  • The Central: It’s the best division in the league. Last season, the Central came pretty darn close to putting all five teams into the playoffs, and as far as I can tell, it’s only gotten better over the summer. Remember those days when we’d complain about being forced to endure countless division matchups that would put you straight to sleep? When the Wings were accused of padding their point totals by beating up on their weaker competition within the division? Yeah, not so much anymore. A pretty good portion of people are predicting that Chicago is going to dethrone the Wings atop the division, but I’m not sold on that yet. The Blackhawks are going to give the Wings a run for their money for sure, but I’ll wait until they have an accomplishment other than being league-wide media darlings under their belts before I’m willing to cede bragging rights.
  • One of the great joys of being an NHL fan is that every season, you get to look forward to the watching the league doing everything in its power to make itself look bad. There’s no telling how they’ll manage to do it this season, but it’ll happen. There are just so many possibilities. If you turned it into a drinking game, all of Canada would be perpetually sloshed.
  • The biggest question heading into this season is how long it will take for non-Pittsburgh fans to start offing themselves thanks to being inundated with advertisements featuring Sidney Crosby hoisting the Cup. Anyone want to take an over/under? This is probably the worst part of the Wings’ loss.
  • Phoenix: I haven’t mentioned it much on here because it’s not directly related to the Wings, but this continues to be a PR disaster for the league. No matter how it’s resolved, it’s going to take years to fix. Luckily for us, the saga seems poised to drag on interminably. Fun times for everyone.
  • Chicago: There’s a sense that the Blackhawks have a one-year window in which to make a run for the Cup before salary cap Armageddon strikes next summer. I’m not sure that that’s necessarily the case, as they’ve got more than enough offensive talent to survive losing one of their impending free agents. A lot of folks are picking them to dethrone the Wings from the Central Division title, but they’ve still got plenty of questions on defense and in the net. At the very least, they should be, dare I say, entertaining to watch this season.
  • The Sharks: Dany Heatley got his wish and ended up about as far away from Ottawa as you can get in the league. San Jose is certainly stacked, but until they do something worthwhile in the playoffs, they’re going to remain a punchline. The fact that they went out and added a guy widely regarded as a locker room cancer to a team whose character was already much maligned amuses me too.
Five hours until the puck drops in Stockholm. I'm beyond ready. Let's get this season going.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Henrik Zetterberg...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there IS ONLY 1 DAY 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:

Henrik Zetterberg

2008-2009 Regular Season: 77 GP, 31-42-73, +/- 13, 36 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 23 GP, 11-13-24, +/- 13, 13 PIM

Season Highlight: Owning Crosby in the Finals. Again.
Season Lowlight: Probably his “fight” with Malkin.

Who better to conclude this series with than Zetterberg? His regular season numbers were down a little from the year before, but critics overlooked the fact that Marian Hossa took a lot of ice time on the top line. There were rumblings about him having a below average season for much of the regular season, largely due to the fact that his performance was being compared to his Conn Smythe winning playoff run the year before. Whether or not you feel that he lived up to his lofty standards during the regular season, there’s no doubt that he turned things up a notch in the playoffs. He was nothing short of spectacular in the Finals, as he once again managed to shut Sidney Crosby down, this time without the aid of Pavel Datsyuk for much of the series. There were times when I felt like he was one of the few Wings who actually looked like they had any desire to win the Cup.

So far this pre-season, he’s been hampered by a groin injury that held him out of the lineup until yesterday. I’d be lying if I said that this didn’t worry me on some level. Those are the kinds of injuries that nag and nag and just won’t go away. It’s only October 1st and the fact that I’m already finding myself stressing over Z’s groin has me nervous. The Wings need Zetterberg to be healthy and in top form this season. At present, he’s slated to center his own line with Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see a EuroTwin reunion when the Wings need a spark from time to time. We haven’t seen much of the line in action thus far, thanks to the injury bug (it’s about 5 man-games lost away from being officially upgraded to curse), but the concept definitely intrigues me. Hank looked pretty good in his pre-season debut on Wednesday, and I feel a little bit better now. With any luck, it won't take long for that line to gel now that everyone's in the lineup.

Really though, I don’t know what to say about what to expect from him. Basically, he’ll continue to be Henrik Zetterberg, which is another way of saying that night in and night out, he’s going to be one of the two best all-around players in the world (any guesses as to who the other is?). He does it all, and in one game he’ll be working magic in the offensive zone and the next he’ll devote himself to shutting down the other team’s top line. He’s already been anointed as future Captain by many Wings fans, and this season, he just needs to continue doing what he does best: leading by example with his performance on the ice. Also, trying to bring old-man cardigans back into style.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Find more excuses to wear eye black. Just saying.