Blues vs. Red Wings: What Detroit's Win Means for the NHL Central Division
What is this, the 90s?
Anyone watching the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings duke it out for the lead in the Central Division Monday night would think they were back in the day when Steve Yzerman led the Wings' attack against Al MacInnis and Brett Hull.
The game featured choppiness that hasn't been seen since the Blues went to the postseason for 25 consecutive years. Ultimately, the Red Wings came out with the win, solidifying a slim, but extremely important, three-point lead over the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks for the Central Division lead. This could be the turning point for the division for a number of reasons.
Red Wings' Consecutive Home Streak Continues
The Red Wings have not lost at Joe Louis Arena since November 3, 2011. In those 17 games at home, the Wings have kept up their pace to stay in first, and even more incredible, a plus-50 goal differential at home during that span.
The Red Wings have shown that they are nearly unstoppable at home, with their only weakness showing at the beginning of the season. While they can't remain unbeaten for the entire season at home, the Wings are making it known that if teams want a win in the JLA, they're going to have to work harder than ever to get those two points.
The Red Wings have only 10 divisional games left to be played—five at home and five away. What's more important is that the Red Wings play the Columbus Blue Jackets three times over those 10 games. These games are seen as easy points, and for teams below the Red Wings, points that will be hard to make up.
The Blues Show Their Youth
I will admit, I was jumping on the "Cup or Bust" bandwagon for the St. Louis Blues. This game against the Red Wings showed where the Blues are vulnerable and shows how the intangible "experience" can win hockey games.
Two major moments stink out in my mind.
The first is the Stewart vs. Stuart fight. Stewart comes right off the bench and goes directly to Stuart to start a fight that resulted from a completely clean hit on Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Stewart had everything to lose. He had to have known he'd get hit with the instigator penalty, and then in the fight, he kept throwing punches on a defenseless Stuart, warranting a 10-minute misconduct.
Stuart, on the other hand, had everything to gain. His team needed a spark plug, and the hit and subsequent fight ignited the team like no other. Watching the replay, you can even see Stuart smiling right before Stewart challenges him to the fight. Stuart knew it was a rookie mistake for Stewart to engage the fight. Stuart's play worked, as Pavel Datsyuk scored on Detroit's power play early in the second because of the instigator.
Second is the play of Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo. Colaiacovo committed a penalty late in the third period. Again, Pietrangelo was hit by Darren Helm of Detroit. Helm appeared to have played Pietrangelo over the puck, which resulted in Colaiacovo putting him in a headlock. Colaiacovo was awarded a minor penalty for holding, and 35 seconds into the penalty, Niklas Kronwall put the puck past Jaroslav Halak, ending any chance of a Blues comeback.
While Colaiacovo had a right to stand up for his teammate, choosing your own form of justice, especially at that time in the game with so much at stake, should not have happened. Colaiacovo is no stranger to taking bad penalties at bad times either.
In the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs, in the first round against the Vancouver Canucks, Colaiacovo took a roughing penalty in overtime in what would be a 3-2 OT win for the Canucks, thus completing the sweep. While it was not a power-play goal, Colaiacovo's penalty put the team at a serious disadvantage when a single goal meant so much. Hopefully this time, he actually learns for his mistake.
The Next Matchup: April 4, 2012
When this game comes to town, the two clubs could play two very different games. The first could be a tune-up game for the playoffs, with seeds basically being set in stone. However, the more likely situation, is that this game could not only be the difference between winning the division title or not, but even having home ice in the playoffs.
As stated earlier, the game played on Monday was chippy, culmunating with a "shoving" match between David Backes, Pietrangelo and Jimmy Howard. With so much time off, the bad blood could have time to cool off. But the bad blood could sustain itself throughout the cutthroat race to the top of the division, with its finishing touches being a bloodbath of a game reminiscent of the brawl of 1993.
So What Does This Mean for the division?
This game showed that, currently, the Red Wings are the cream of the crop not only in the Central or Western Conference, but also the NHL. They capitalized on the youthful mistakes the Blues made with goals. Experience was rampant in the game. But both were good for the clubs. The Blues got to see how good playoff teams play a full 60-minute, mistake-free game. And the Red Wings got two valuable points that will go a long way in the standings.
I firmly believe that the Central Division will be home to the Stanley Cup champions. We'll have to wait until the playoffs to truly figure out who's the king of the Central castle.
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