In a freaking shootout...
Playing Detroit is always both a joy and a horridly painful experience. A joy because at Rexall it is almost always a hard fought hockey game with lots of plays made off the rush. Most of the games just flow along to a drawn out conclusion and you at least feel like you got your money's worth. Tonight was no different as we saw probably the longest non-playoff game I can remember played for the Saturday night audience. A glass issue, several scrums and a goal review added up to a monster first period and then of course we had OT and a five round SO. I can remember games like this before some of the rule changes made to speed up games, but not since.
These games are also painful though. Why? Because Detroit gets away with so many non-call plays that our team has to work twice as hard as they would have to against any other team and usually still comes up short. The amount of clutching, hooking and grabbing from nearly the entire DET roster is staggering and the referees make a habit out of never calling the Wings on this stuff. It is unlike any other team we see in a given year. I really wished the Wings would head east so we don't have to put up with this crap so much. It is the only way an older, slower team like the Wings can halt our attack. Never mind the missed calls on more severe plays; the holding done by Henrik and "Danny" (make up your mind on a name you damn bum) alone should have had us on constant powerplays. It is shameful that this goes on, but is a reality against DET.
I'm also going to go ahead and say that I haven't watched the replay of the Kronwall hit other than at the game, but if that is Andy Sutton, he gets 5+ a game and is suspended. The double standard on those hits is putrid. I, like many of you long for a game where that hit is once again borderline rather than illegal (I'd have called charging as Kronwall took far too many steps), but the inconsistency right now is appalling. Then Smid hammers a guy with his stick a little high, Henrik barely goes into the boards and we're killing? BS. Complete BS.
Why did the game shift so much in the third? Two things: in the first couple periods we'd responded to Detroit's gameplan by staying aggressive, travelling with speed and hitting people. We apparently outhit DET 9-2 in the second. In the third we slowed down, backed off, and got lulled into playing the positional game that Detroit is so good at. You can't beat them playing that game and they nearly took this one from us. Our coach also didn't make the obviously needed adjustment of breaking up 4-89-14 for a shift or two. They were getting owned by the Wings and something needed to change there. I also object to our OT line combos and our SO choices, but you've probably all heard that rant already.
In the end though, the boys fought really really hard for this one. It wasn't a perfect game; far from it, but we fought til the end and earned a full value two points. If you bring that effort even 7 games of every 10, you're going to do very well in this league and blow a large number of teams out of the water with our skill up front.
The only thing that saddens me is thinking back to our run at the beginning of the year. If you recall the report after beating Washington, you will remember that I immediately called for this team to acquire depth defencemen. Why? So that the darkness we experienced for several months would have much less so, and these games we're playing so well now would mean the playoffs were in sight. Acquiring these types of dmen is cheap and could have been done without sacrificing any of the "future". The mistake of standing pat will only become more glaring if we go on a serious run and challenge for a spot. I'm so glad we can actually see some light peaking in and maybe, just maybe this team does have a big, nasty winning streak in them yet, but these games could have meant so much more. You hear the players mentioning how much the transition game and team play have improved...it never had to be as bad as it was. I just hope that as we go forward we see a lot more of what we've seen over the last 5 games. Not only are we winning, but we are playing a brand of hockey that is VERY difficult for opposing teams to shut down. We're the track stars and we should play like it more often.
- Certainly not his best night, but he did make some solid saves. His mistake is almost always the same and DET took advantage of it on several occasions including Bertuzzi's regulation and SO goals specifically. When Dubnyk isn't feeling particularly confident, he stays back in his net and goes down way too early. The only SO shooter he didn't aggressively skate towards was Bertuzzi. I think it is probably time to give him a night off and for him to hit the video room. 8 goals against in 2 games, firewagon hockey or not, isn't very good.
- Cam has a little bit of a Sheldon Souray approach to things sometimes and I really like how he manages this without getting penalties. LMHF#2 thinks Barker throws more crosschecks without getting a penalty than anyone he's ever seen. He also responded post-Kronwall with several hard hits, some tough play in scrums, and clearly annoying the Wings enough that one guy simply decided to put him in a headlock. I like that kind of game from a depth defenceman. Once he's able to return to his proper role after Gilbert returns, I think he'll do well. He was good in the offensive zone at the blue line tonight and made some really nice moves skating over the line, but struggled some in his own zone as well.
- Incredibly stupid play going for the big hit on Bertuzzi's goal. Are you kidding me with that Andy? He'll own you every single time. Aside from a couple offensive forays (including a dangle and shot in the second that rival anything our forwards can do), he had one of his weaker games, often getting out of position in the defensive zone and giving the Wings attack a chance to work.
- He played quite tough and was at his shot-blocking best on several key occasions (including one in the arm that obviously hurt a ton). Not a lot of puck play other than an adventure into the Detroit zone and behind the net. Big props to him for coming back strong after that shotblock though.
- I thought he was pretty mediocre tonight and is maybe showing some signs that he isn't ready for full-time duty. Too many times he rushed the puck off of his stick when he had time and space. The easiest example to remember was the play in OT where he got into the offensive zone and passed to no one. He laid a nice hit on Bertuzzi which was lovely, but needed to be more confident out there tonight.
- He started terribly, missing several pucks, getting his skates caught together and getting out of position in the defensive zone. Credit to Whitney for bailing him out. As the game wore on he got stronger and to his credit he stayed aggressive and confident, separating the puck carrier from the puck with hits in the defensive zone and pushing the offensive play in the Detroit zone. He had at least two chances to win it in OT, including the best chance where he received a feed from Hopkins and whiffed on a shot at the empty net. If he hadn't been angry and lost focus, he could have followed the puck up and scored anyway, but normally he cashes that one. I like that he bounced back from a rough start and stuck to his game.
- Strong game from Ryan. He was solid on the opposition blue and bailed out Potter as noted above. He wasn't as aggressive as I'd like to see, but hopefully the coaches remind him that he can push the play before next game. He got several chances to shoot tonight and I'm surprised he didn't score on the one-time chances. He looks good shooting these last few games.
- It looked early on like these guys would just continue tearing the opposition apart as everything that #89 touched continued to turn to gold and they racked up 3 in the first period. LMHF#2 pointed out that Gagner was only on pace for six and how disappointed he was, but I noted there were still ten seconds remaining and sure enough, strong play from Smyth and Hemsky led to Gagner scoring from the perfect spot in front of the net. He was also in the perfect spot on his first goal, and had it not been for Smyth's leg getting in the way on a second period powerplay chance, would have scored yet another goal from in close and had back to back tricks. The play drifted away from him a bit as the game wore on, which was disappointing to see because he appeared to be going strong and finding the seams just the same as last night. Eberle did what he always does. He scored a brilliant first goal, putting the puck on net and then whipping around behind the net to tap it in from the other side before Gagner knocked the net off, then he got set up beside the net and let the puck come to him with the goalie pulled. It has been a long time since we scored with an EN at home, but it should be no shock that it was #14 doing the scoring. So what de-railed the scoring machine tonight? Taylor Hall. I'm not saying he had a bad game, but for whatever reason, he completely ditched the playbook from last night and instead of attacking with speed, looping and finding Sam or Jordan, he reverted to the north-south wing rush game and tried to do it himself. Big mistake. If he'd played the game he did on Thursday, this one is a laugher. Again, I hope the coaches or Taylor watch some tape and note the difference between the method against Chicago as opposed to the method in this one. Could've been another crazy point night for all three.
- It took a while for #93 to settle in, and there was some positional confusion for all of the members of this line for some time tonight. Once Hopkins got his legs under him and gained control of the puck (he was way off in period 1), he was solid defensively and made some really nice things happen in the offensive zone including making Nick Lidstrom look like a disheveled old man in the second period. This was actually the first time I've seen the Oilers deliberately attack Lidstrom and beat him on several occasions in the offensive zone. Some of that was done by Hemsky. If you can't appreciate the effort he put in tonight, I don't believe that you enjoy or appreciate hockey. He busted it all night and especially after the hit he took. It appeared as though he wanted to return to play and was forced to head to the "quiet room" despite the fact that he popped up and skated hard to the bench while Corey Potter did a solid job of standing up for his teammate. Beauty shift and pass to Whitney before the rebound goal, a strong effort to help set up Gagner's late first period goal, and another strong effort, this time beating Kronwall I believe, to set up Eberle's game tying goal. Really strong effort among a bunch of strong efforts from forwards tonight. Horcoff was a tad off the mark. He struggled more than I thought he would to generate speed and attack off the wing. Often, Hemsky and Hopkins would have something cooking and Horcoff would miss his positioning and the play would break down as Detroit is very disciplined positionally. He made up for most of this with a strong defensive effort, but I'm surprised he wasn't a better attacker tonight.
- Definitely one of Smyth's finer efforts in some time. He got shots away, chased the puck quite hard, passed decently and had two strong efforts that resulted in assist. The shot/pass to Gagner at the end of the first was perfect, and his work behind the net at the end of the game was quintessential Smyth. He also checked the Detroit attack quite well. Jones had one of his better games in some time, but wasn't quite close enough to the net on his shooting chances to score. He's not a good enough perimeter shooter, but at least he was getting the puck and sending it in the right direction. Belanger was also a solid checker, but did not have a strong night offensively. Getting put in the SO is not his fault, but Brian Rolston he is not. Make a move.
- Quiet game from Lander which is okay. Petrell took and laid some hits as is common for him and played the support role fairly well. Eager did some things tonight that I wish he'd do more often. He was cocky, got in the fight with Commodore and landed some nice shots, angered the wings enough to make them lose their focus for a time and stayed disciplined himself. I can certainly appreciate the type of game he played. These guys got most of the their time in the first, and did okay. I still wouldn't give them an offensive or defensive zone draw if at all possible.
Someone asked the other day whether I take notes and I forgot to respond. I don't take any notes, but watch the game in such a way that things tend to stand out in my mind. I learned to watch the game this way very early on and it is how I would watch regardless of whether I was writing or not. It is fun for me to try and understand what's going on and why; what play and what decision made the result possible. I sometimes consult the stat sheet or a replay if I'm making sure someone was on the ice or something general, but this report has always been intended to be as pure as possible a reaction to my experience of the game rather than any other sort of review. That's what keeps it interesting I believe and it will remain that way.
So there you have it; an HNIC win against Detroit. I love attending Saturday games for the atmosphere and the extra bit of spectacle that it seems to have. The crowd was more into it than they have been lately, and if we'd run away with this one it would have been pandemonium in that rink tonight. Let's hope when the team returns, we can resume cheering like crazy people for our winning squad. A guy can hope.