With comparisons to last season's Pittsburgh Penguins team abound, one can’t help but wonder: Would an up-tempo style benefit this Wings team?
Some would contend that firing head coach Mike Babcock is necessary, but that isn’t going to happen. The next best thing would be to alter styles and adapt to the players that are still healthy.
The defensive corps is depleting game by game, but the forwards are starting to gel and put up some nice numbers. So rather than replacing the coach ala Pittsburgh last season, why not adapt to a style that will put more pucks in the net?
While Babcock’s brand of hockey worked wonders with last year’s squad, it’s certainly struggling this year. They are only a plus-three in goal differential on the season (89 GF, 86 GA).
This same time last season, they were plus-14 (107 GF, 93 GA).
Translation: they couldn’t keep the other team from scoring, but the Wings could score at will.
Neither Osgood nor Howard (who should be starting over Osgood), will steal a game. They’ll make some key saves, and if the Wings are lucky, not give up a backbreaking soft goal.
Their only hope for success would be to focus on the offensive end and out-gun the other team.
This should lead to a shift in philosophy. The Wings have the talent up front, with Todd Bertuzzi and Drew Miller really stepping up recently. When Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula come back from injury, the Wings could put together an offensive juggernaut.
We all know the adage of the best offense being a good defense. But wouldn’t the converse also be true? If you limit the other teams’ opportunities with the puck, wouldn’t you decrease the chances for them to score?
There’s very little this team can do about keeping goals out of their own net. Only a blockbuster trade will have an effect, and the players other teams would value likely aren’t going anywhere.
A change in philosophy will allow the team more freedom offensively, and maybe even give a jolt to Pavel Datsyuk, who’s having a terrible season thus far.
Putting more emphasis on the forecheck and offensive pressure will lead to turnovers, more goals, and more wins. If Babcock would let players like Datsyuk, Bertuzzi, and Abdelkader loose and give them the opportunity to put more pressure on opposing defensemen, the team would generate plenty of scoring chances.
For all this to work, however, both the forwards and defensemen need to be more aware of what’s going on. If the forwards create a loose puck or errant pass, the defensemen need to pounce on it and keep possession of the puck.
If, however the defensemen pinch and can’t keep control, the forwards need to keep their heads up and get back to cover on defense.
This sort of style would also give struggling defensemen Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom added puck possession, leading to more scoring chances.
Yes, this strategy will likely give up odd man rushes and defensive breakdowns, but the team is already giving those up in the current system. At least with an offensive-oriented strategy, goals can be generated.
That is certainly not the case under Babcock’s current game plan.
This plan needs to be instituted as soon as possible. Even if Babcock only lets one line play this way, it has the potential to energize the whole team and turn games around.