The Detroit Red Wings have lost their last two games, both in California, to the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks. They suffered a 5-4 overtime loss to the Ducks and lost 4-2 tonight to the Sharks.
Ty Conklin was in goal tonight and stopped 29 shots en route to a 4-2 loss. The Red Wings were outshot by the Sharks which is a rarity, as the Red Wings regularly outshoot opponents with ease. The Red Wings had few scoring chances tonight, only managing two goals. Some guy named McGinn scored his first career goal for the Sharks tonight. The Red Wings are second in the West with a 7-2-2 record behind who else, but the Sharks at 9-2. Are the Red Wings out as champs?
Not one bit. Every team has an "off" night or an "off" road trip. The Red Wings are stacked. Their forward lines are sickening. Their defense almost matches that. The Red Wings lacked the extra scoring punch needed to pull out a couple more victories in Anaheim and San Jose. This could be due to the lack of Johan Franzen in the lineup. Without "The Mule," the Red Wings have a bit of a void. Not really to say their is a void, but his presence is definitely missed.
In Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, the Detroit Red Wings have two of the top 10 players in the NHL. In Marian Hossa, they have a third in the top 15 [the way Hossa is playing, he's top 10 at the moment]. Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Valterri Filpuula, Dan Cleary, Jiri Hudler all have the ability to add to the aforementioned three. Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby are still top notch penalty killers.
Defense is the same story, but a different chapter. The Red Wings have Nicklas Lidstrom, who's seemingly won every Norris Trophy since 1950. A first-ballot Hall of Famer and possibly the best defenseman in NHL history. He's also the first European captain to lead his team to a Stanley Cup Championship. They have Brian Rafalski, who is getting on the scoresheet almost every night. Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart are an excellent second pair. They are very physical and also have the ability to plays in the opposing end of the rink. Andreas Lilja is a force on the ice. Brett Lebda, however, is always pushing the puck into the offensive zone, leading the rush, compromising his position. He often gets caught pinching too deep, but the depth on defense normally covers for him.
The Red Wings forwards also are the best group of backcheckers in the NHL. Mike Babcock preaches the mentality to never give up skating back. The Red Wings forwards skate back just as hard as they do when heading into the offensive zone. If you don't think they're that good, just ask the NHL Awards voters, who had Pavel Datsyuk [the eventually winner in 2008] and Henrik Zetterberg in the voting for the Frank Selke Trophy, along with New Jersey's John Madden.
The Red Wings goaltending is also not a worrysome situation, so it seems to be smooth saililng for the Red Wings in the 2008-'09 season. Chris Osgood had a career year last season as he won his third Stanley Cup. Not only do we have a top 10 starting goaltender in Chris Osgood, we have Ty Conklin as a backup, who kept Pittsburgh afloat in the '07-'08 season when Marc-Andre Fleury went down with an injury midseason. As long as we get consistent goaltending from Osgood and Conklin, there is not any reason why the Red Wings won't repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.
The Red Wings were one of the five least penalized teams last season. Their power play is very efficient and their penalty kill is one of, if not, the best in the league. The Red Wings may run into some rough patches during the season, but look for them at the top of the Western Conference standings and for them to be playing in July.
It's very early, I know, but the Red Wings are too good. Scary good. But I'd say it's a safe bet to start engraving for '08-'09.