Detroit Red Wings: 5 Ways the Wings Can Win Without Nicklas Lidstrom
When Nick Lidstrom retired in May, it marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one for the Red Wings.
Detroit's captaincy sits vacant for only the second time since Steve Yzerman was appointed captain in 1986.
The Red Wings must figure out not only how to win without Lidstrom, but how to win without any big free-agent splashes on the blue line.
Ryan Suter signed with the Minnesota Wild in July. In an already weak free-agent class, the Suter signing was enough to take the Red Wings out of the market for a top-tier defenseman almost altogether.
But with the season just around the corner (barring a lockout of course), the Red Wings need to find a way to fill the large void left by Lidstrom's retirement and Brad Stuart's departure.
Here are five things that they must do to continue to win without Lidstrom.
1. More Forwards Blocking Shots
The video above is exactly what I'm not talking about in the slide title.
Patrick Eaves sold out to block the shot and took one that effectively ended his season.
The kind of blocking shots I'm referring to is more playing up close on the defensemen on the point instead of playing a passive box-plus-one as they have been doing all along.
The Red Wings lost Brad Stuart and Nick Lidstrom on defense last year.
According to their player pages on NHL.com, Stuart had 115 blocked shots and Lidstrom had 79 blocked shots.
Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard had a save percentage of 92.0 in the regular season, meaning that he would have given up approximately eight more goals if those shots from Stuart and Lidstrom didn't get blocked.
While it doesn't seem like it makes a big deal, a goal here and there can turn the tide and make the difference between home-ice advantage and being on the road to open the playoffs.
Detroit's defense is lacking in experience and talent going into this season, and if the defense is going to go anywhere this season the forwards will need to step up and block some shots.
2. Back-Check Like the Season Depends on It
Funny thing about players that want the puck all the time: They usually end up getting the puck back and making something happen with it.
The player that comes to mind is of course Pavel Datsyuk.
According to his NHL.com player page, Datsyuk has 300 takeaways in just the past three seasons alone.
If the rest of the Detroit players were as tough against opponents on the puck, imagine how much better the Red Wings would be defensively.
Over the past couple seasons, Detroit seems to let teams roam free in the neutral zone and only a few players stepped up on a consistent basis to challenge opponents on the back-check.
If the Red Wings were able to step up their play in the neutral zone, they would become increasingly more difficult to play against.
This play must start in the regular season so the Wings aren't scrambling around trying to figure out how to dominate the neutral zone come playoff time.
3. Active Sticks in Front of the Net
As great as 2012 All-Star selection Jimmy Howard was last season, he could still be better.
Howard had a great start to the season, but his injury against Vancouver derailed his early-season success.
Detroit's renewed sense of urgency in front of its own net was key to Howard having as much success as he did—and if Detroit can regain some of this prowess, they have a chance to be better than last season.
A great way to help out one's goalie is to keep pucks away from the front of the net.
Active sticks deny passing and a perfectly timed stick lift can completely thwart a great opportunity.
Lidstrom used his stick so well to not only block shots or take the puck away but to take an opportunity away.
4. Be Opportunistic
To be the best (or like the best) you have to think like the best.
I'm not expecting that every pass or shot will be tape-to-tape and in the back of the net respectively, but instead just believe that it could happen.
Here Lidstrom gets on the scoresheet twice in 13 seconds.
The first because he pots a one-timer, but the second because he is always looking up ice to see the best place for him to pass the puck.
He hits Kris Draper with a pass almost right off of the draw because everyone else has their eyes on the puck instead of where the puck is going.
It sounds so simple, yet last season there seemed like an infinite amount of times where the Red Wings would be content to pass the puck around the exterior and not see the shots that were open to them.
Although the Red Wings are still a fairly good team up front, it makes no difference how good their passes are, how accurate or hard their shots are or how fast they can skate to get open if they have no vision and are not playing opportunistically.
5. Aim to Surprise, Know When to Add Some Flair
Whether it is dangling goalies for overtime goals in the slot or firing off half-ice shots and scoring on surprise bounces, the great thing about Lidstrom was that he was everywhere you thought he was going to be.
Well, that's what he would like opponents to think.
Lidstrom played with little flair and didn't really seem to be much of anything special.
But it was Lidstrom's ability to catch teams off-guard that gave him so many goals such as this one.
Funny how things work sometimes.
The Red Wings lose the best defenseman of this generation, but there is light at the end of the tunnel as there are things to take from his game that can be applied to the Red Wings as a team.
Lidstrom's retirement was a big blow to the franchise for sure, but we all knew it was coming at some point in time.
If the Red Wings are able to learn a bit from Lidstrom's game and apply it for next year, they can remain a top hockey club for the foreseeable future.
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