What can be taken away from a 6-0 thrashing? Aside from the tongue lashing that the Detroit Red Wings no doubt incurred from coach Mike Babcock, the loss to the St. Louis Blues revealed some issues in a rather glaring and blunt fashion.
Stats galore have been tossed around regarding last night’s game—most of them ending with the phrase “worst in over 20 years.” The era, not coincidentally, refers to the last time the Wings were without Nicklas Lidstrom. That is to say, he hadn’t been drafted yet.
Is this really what fans should come to expect for the next 47 games? What can be done to avoid a draft lottery position and maintain the playoff streak?
It seems the bug has bitten again. Todd Bertuzzi, Darren Helm and Jakub Kindl were all missing from last night’s game. Valtteri Filppula, it seems, is shaking off more rust than the rest of the forwards while coming off a knee injury. This is not a team that is built to withstand multiple injuries anymore. Last season showed concrete evidence of that.
With a shortened and compressed season, Bertuzzi could be done. Mono is as bad as any groin or hamstring injury; it lingers, and unlike upper-body injuries, it prevents any cardio from being done while out.
Helm and Kindl’s injuries don’t seem to be major, but back and groin issues are no laughing matter. With the lack of training camp, these could be lingering issues, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both were back in time to face Dallas.
Bertuzzi’s extended absence makes room for someone like Mike Knuble: a stable, veteran presence on a third of fourth line.
At long last, a Red Wing goaltender feels Tim Cheveldae’s and Vincent Riendeau’s pain. With no visible defense to speak of, Howard was left to weather the offensive storm.
This is the year Howard will finally be able to define what kind of goaltender he is. There is no Hall of Fame defender in front for detractors to point to.
If Detroit expects to have any sort of home-ice advantage, let alone make the playoffs, Howard will have to steal games. He will have to make saves he isn’t supposed to make, and get into opponents' heads. For the first time in his career, Howard will have to become a player the opposition game plans for.
In the last year of his contract, this could be a perfect storm for Howard. If he plays well, he not only receives a cushy contract, but could erase any doubt that he is, in fact, the goaltender for this franchise moving forward. If he plays poorly, and he might just be looking for a new address.
While this game should not be indicative of how the defense will play all year, it should queue up “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” in everyone’s mind. Fans and goaltenders alike were spoiled with the play of Lidstrom, a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
In the past, any mistakes made by forwards or defensive partners were quickly and efficiently erased. I’m sure opposing forwards trying to take advantage of said mistakes really knew, in the back of their minds, the play would end with No. 5 swooping in, relieving them of the puck and going about his business.
That luxury is gone, and last night is evidence of the very real void that exists.
Yes, Brad Stuart left as well, and Brian Rafalski before him, but with time to reload, all there is to show for it is Carlo Colaiacovo. Brendan Smith may very well be the future, but with only 15 minutes of ice time last night, Babcock isn’t showing much faith. With Kyle Quincey getting burned more than once by rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, that may change sooner rather than later.
As previously noted, Jakub Kindl is still working off an injury, and should be expected back in the mix soon.
I don’t have much more optimism other than “how much worse could it get?” Defensemen are notoriously slow developers; so, Smith, Quincey and Kindl still have upside, but Ericsson and Ian White need to step up sooner rather than later.
Kronwall will need to play a more balanced game. His big hits will need to be much more calculated, as in the past they have led to more odd-man rushes than stalled ones.
With the retirements of Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom, as well as the departures of Jiri Hudler and Brad Stewart, holes have opened up on the roster. There is depth to be found, but veterans like Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson need to take on bigger roles to allow the newcomers to find their place.
Up front, Jan Mursak, Cory Emmerton and Mike Knuble will be given an opportunity to fill in while Bertuzzi and Helm are out. If they can find their niche quickly, neither player will feel the pressure of having to rush back before they’re actually ready.
Newcomers Damien Brunner and Jordin Tootoo will need to contribute immediately. Only time will tell if the Swiss National League really has seasoned Brunner enough for the Show. Being put on a line with Zetterberg, he will face top defensemen every night, but the team will need him to produce if they expect to be competitive.
Tootoo knows his role, and it's one the Wings need filled badly. Detroit hasn’t had a consistent physical presence up front since Darren McCarty and Brendan Shanahan. If Tootoo plays his game, the forecheck has an opportunity to be much more effective, wear down opposing defensemen and coax mistakes.
On the back end, Brendan Smith is carrying a heavy load. While not entirely new to the Wings, Smith has yet to spend significant time on NHL ice. If he can play well, it would go a long way to solidifying a defensive unit that, to put it delicately, is in flux.
Kyle Quincey was less than stellar in last year’s playoffs. If he expects to stay in a winged wheel, he needs to shake whatever funk he was in (and whatever that was last night), and play with some grit.
The lockout affected every team in the NHL, and I’m sure Babcock isn’t letting any of the players use it as an excuse, but let’s be real. The Sweedish Elite League, KHL or any other overseas organization isn't the NHL.
Players like Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg got little more than scrimmage-worthy exercise over the break.
I would argue that the Wings, more than any other team in the league, were hurt by the brief training camp before the season started last night. I hate to harp on it again, but a team does not lose half of its defensive corps in two years and just shrug it off.
Add to that the additions of Brunner, Emmerton, Mursak and Tootoo, and you have almost half a lineup that is new or very green tossed into to a demanding system.
Let’s not forget who the Wings played last night. St. Louis was two points out of the Presidents' Trophy race last season. St. Louis is a very, very good team that will, in all likelihood, win the Central Division again this year.
There’s no shame in losing to the Blues, but there is in the way the Wings went about doing it.
Detroit will need to take advantage of every practice and turn every loss into a lesson if it is to make something of this season. The Wings cannot afford to coast through the first 20 games, find themselves, then turn it on in the last two months like they have in the past.
This season is going to be a sprint, and the players need to learn their roles and the nature of their mistakes in short order, or they’ll be setting up tee times much earlier than they’re used to.