There are various reasons one could find for the see-saw start that the Detroit Red Wings have pieced together so far in 2013. After losing to the Anaheim Ducks last night in a glorious third period burnout, some fans and pundits seem to be wondering aloud if this is (really) a playoff hockey team.
I’m not an alarmist in the slightest—at least not until about half the games have been played and math starts to catch up with poor play—so I’m still giving this veteran laden, talented, banged up like a pro wrestler squad the benefit of the doubt. Once the guys that are injured return, we’ll see what this team is really made of.
Injuries aside however, there is one issue that is really starting to unnerve me. Something that every player and every member of the organization can control, unlike the injury bug or bounces.
The issue is the lack of a full 60-minute effort from the Wings at any point this season. They’ve yet to skate for a full hockey game, and have yet to play three solid, fundamentally sound periods in a row.
It’s part of the hockey-speak lexicon at this point (“well we’ve just got to come out and play a full 60 minutes and execute the game plan, blah-blah-hockey-speak-non-answers-blah”) so some might not take the line of thinking seriously. But the lack of a full hockey game in all three zones for 60 minutes is what’s hurting Detroit. Injuries are piled on, sure, but every guy out there is a professional hockey player and should be able to maintain their drive as a professional.
Henrik Zetterberg is bringing his A-game every night and should be considered among the front runners for the Hart Memorial Trophy right now. He’s been outstanding.
The rest of the team hasn’t been bad for the most part either. It’s just those little lapses that tear the game and point streaks and momentum right off of the rails. All it took was a few bad turnovers to the Ducks last night and suddenly a close, winnable hockey game was out of reach in 120 seconds.
Ditto the losing effort to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday. The Wings looked well-oiled in the first 20 minutes, scoring two quick goals and putting the opposition on their heals. But the lack of maturity or drive up and down the bench caused Detroit to play the score and not the game, and they eventually dropped it in overtime.
If the Red Wings were putting together full efforts, game in and game out I wouldn’t be irritated in the slightest. There’s only so much you can do with a group of call-ups and veterans that haven’t played too much hockey as a unit yet. One of the things you can do is leave your guts and heart and blood out on the ice to secure a victory, and that’s something that Detroit has yet to do for a full rotation to this point.
If I’m Mike Babcock, this is the point I am stressing to the Wings. Forget the injuries, forget the crowd, forget expectations. Get back to simple hockey and start winning those 50/50 battles for pucks. Start clearing rebounds, and for the love of Hockey God’s, please start shooting the puck. You don’t score goals without, you know, managing shots on net.
This team (like everyone outside of the Chicago Blackhawks, really) could still go one way or the other. It’s an odd feeling to say that there is still a lot of hockey left to be played despite the season being a quarter of the way through.
Still, if Detroit can start to string together complete efforts and skate hard from puck drop to final buzzer, this is a team that will win more games than they lose.