After a 119 day wait for the NHL season to finally begin, the players and the owners have put aside their differences and got down to the business of hockey. There were questions as to whether or not fans would return to the game that has had three work stoppages in the last 20 years. Well, after the first week of games that question has been answered, and the answer is yes, NHL fans have returned in mass. There haven’t been any protests or boycotts to express the fan’s displeasure with the way they have been treated by both the league and the players. There are only a few ways for the lowly fans to reach the owners and players and NHL fans don’t seem to be interested in that at all. Apparently NHL fans are ok with being treated like after thoughts. Fans of other sports are more than willing to express their displeasure with their favorite sports. After the MLB strike of 1994-1995 average game attendance fell from 31,256 to 25,008 a decline of 19.9%. MLB owners and players got the idea that the fans were very upset with them and made efforts to win back the fans. The NHL is trying to engender fan support at the start of this season by making the players more available to fans and making sure all teams and owners send out letters apologizing for the lock out and thanking the fans for sticking with the team but in my opinion these efforts are hollow and as long as the fans come to the games, buy NHL products and watch the games on TV then neither the owners or the players will ever think about the fans. But since the fans would rather support their hockey teams then try to get them to think about the fans, I will go with that and speak about my favorite team the Red Wings.
Through six games the Wings are 3-2-1 for seven points and third place in the Central Division. They were slaughtered in a opening night loss 6-0 against St. Louis. The Wings looked like a team that had just gotten together while the Blues appeared to be in mid-season form. Detroit’s passing was horrible, there was no flow to their game and Jimmy Howard was porous. Of course this could be attributed to the extra long layoff. Detroit was outshot 36-14 and was 0-4 on the powerplay while giving up 4 goals while a man down. The Wings said they would put that game behind them and concentrate on their next game two days later.
The Wings got their first win of the season winning 4-3 in a shootout against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Wings jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by rookie defenseman Brian Lashoff (his first of his NHL career) and Ian White before giving up three un-answered goals to Columbus. Pavel Datsyuk scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime. After a scoreless OT the Wings prevailed in the shootout, with Damien Brunner scoring the only goal. Detroit outshot Columbus 42-33 but was 0-7 on the powerplay. The penalty kill was not great with Detroit giving up two powerplay goals. Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall each had two points while White, Lashoff, Mikael Samuelsson, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen all had one point each. After the game it was announced that defenseman Carlo Colaicacovo had been injured and would be out indefinitely with a strained groin.
The Wings were not able to carry the momentum from their win against Columbus into their next game against the Dallas Stars. Before the game the Wings announced the signing of veteran defenseman Kent Huskins to a one year contract. The signing was a move to shore up the battered Detroit defense corps. Ken Holland also announced that after 15 years in a Red Wings sweater Tomas Holmstrom was retiring. Homer was given a standing ovation as he walked out to center ice for the ceremonial puck drop but was disappointed by his former team who lost to the Stars 2-1. Michael Ryder scored both Dallas goals while Brunner scored with four seconds left to spoil the shutout. Datsyuk and Zetterberg assisted on Brunner’s goal. Detroit outshot the Stars 40-32 and was 0-4 on the powerplay but did not allow a powerplay goal on two Dallas chances. In their first three games the Wings have only scored four goals and were 0-15 on the powerplay while giving up 6 powerplay goals in 14 chances. In the post-game news conference coach Mike Babcock said he would be splitting up Datsyuk and Zetterberg who had been playing on the same line to try to jump start the offense and especially the powerplay. Babcock also announced that defenseman Ian White had been cut with a skate and would be out two to three weeks.
The Wings’ next game was against the Minnesota Wild and Detroit won 5-3. After a scoreless first period, the two offenses woke up and combined for six goals. The first goal, just 13 seconds into the period, was a powerplay goals scored by Brunner, his second of the season, assisted by Zetterberg and Kronwall. Todd Bertuzzi scored just 22 seconds later, his first goal of the season, assisted by Valtteri Filppula and Brendan Smith. The next two goals were scored by the Wild to tie up the game. Zetterberg scored next assisted by Datsyuk and Filppula and the second period scoring was wrapped up by Datsyuk who scored a powerplay goal, his second of the season, assisted by Kronwall and Franzen making the score 4-2. Detroit scored first in the third period with Bertuzzi collecting his second goal of the game, assisted by Datsyuk and Filppula. The Wild cut the lead down to 5-3 with a third period goal of their own but the Wings held on to win by that score. The final line saw Datsyuk and Filppula leading the team each with three points. Zetterberg, Bertuzzi and Kronwall all had two points and Smith, Brunner and Franzen had one each. Detroit outshot the Wild 27-26 and was 2-5 on the powerplay while holding Minnesota to one powerplay goal in eight chances.
I was hopeful after the Minnesota game and thought the Wings could build on that effort and string together a few wins to try to climb back into the hunt for the Central Division title against the leading Blackhawks but the Wings slipped back into the lack of scoring way that had plagued them in all their losses this season. Chicago remained unbeaten by topping the Red Wings 2-1 in OT. Chicago opened the scoring early in the first period with a powerplay goal by Duncan Keith. The score remained 1-0 until 4:30 of the third period when Franzen tied the game with a goal assisted by Brunner and Zetterberg. Chicago ended the contest midway through the overtime period with a goal by Nick Leddy. Detroit outshot the Hawks 30-27 but could not score in six powerplay chances. Chicago was 1-3 in their man advantage situations.
Detroit established a trend for the season in their second game against the Stars this season. After a 4-1 win at the Joe, Detroit has now alternated wins and losses. This was Detroit’s best game of the young season outshooting the Stars and scoring the only powerplay goal of the season. Dallas opened the scoring in the second period after a scoreless first period but Detroit tied the score on a goal by Filppula assisted by Datsyuk. The Wings took the lead on a powerplay goal by Zetterberg assisted by Patrick Eaves and Kronwall. Detroit scored the only two goals of the third period with Brunner collecting his third goal of the season and Filppula his second of the game. The Brunner goal was assisted by Franzen and Zetterberg and the Filppula goal was assisted by Datsyuk and Bertuzzi. Another highlight of the game was Jordan Tootoo’s two fights. He dropped the gloves three second into the game to take on Eric Nystrom and fought again at the 16 minute mark of the first period when he tussled with Brendan Dillon in a carryover from the first Dallas game. According to the post-game news conference Dillon had wanted to fight Tootoo in the first game but Tootoo was at the end of his shift and just wanted to get off the ice. When the situation came up in this game Tootoo was only too happy to oblige the rookie and beat him handily. Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Filppula all had two points in the game while Eaves, Brunner, Bertuzzi, Kronwall and Franzen all collected one point in the game.Will the Wings be able to build on this game or will they follow the pattern they have started and lose? What can Babcock and the coaching staff do to improve the special teams? Will the Wings find their stride or is this the end of the longest active playoff run in sports today? The Wings will try to avenge their opening day loss to the Blues Friday 2/1/13 and will have a better chance because they have Bertuzzi back and they are starting to hit on all cylinders. They go on the road to Columbus on Saturday 2/2/13 for the second game in that series. Detroit will try to improve on the 4-3 shootout win and put the Jackets away in regulation. Detroit returns home on the 5th for the first meeting of the season against the Calgary Flames, then head back to St. Louis for the third game of the year against the Blues. The Wings return to the Joe for a contest against the Edmonton Oilers on the 9th and have their first extended home stand of the season when they play the LA Kings, the Blues (again!) and the Anaheim Ducks before going back on the road. Reads this blog often to keep up with the ups and downs of the Wings this season.