I started this review during Thursday night's Wings game with the premise the Wings were going to hit the mid-way point of the season at 15 games over .500 And then Hasek proceeds to give up 9 unanswered goals as the Winged Wheelers blew a 4-0 lead in the worst loss I can ever remember. They followed that up with an equally unimpressive loss in LA, I can't help but wonder who these guys are and where did my first half Wings go ?
Proceeding forward as if these two games are just the West Coast blues and a momentary blip in the schedule, I thought we'd take a look back on the 06/07 season and see what we find.
Record wise, the Detroit Red Wings are pretty much where Wing's fans expect them to be. Top 5 record in the NHL, leading the league in goals against, and putting out consistent efforts week in and week out by the professional organization they are. What hasn't been expected not being the first place team in the division, complete power outages by the offense and occasional stretches of Doctor Jekyll/Mister Hyde like performances.
September and October.. the Wings never lost more then three in a row, they never won more then three in a row. There were times when the team looked very poor, but then other nights, you'd see glimpses of how good things could be. November hit and the switch was on... nine games in a row, outstanding play defensively and in the nets, over traditional western conference powers Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and new Western Conference leader Nashville. As quickly as the power came on, the power shut off. A five game losing streak but the dampers on what had looked like a glorious
November. December brought the team back to their early season performance level, never winning more then three, never losing more then three.. till the final ten days of the season when a six and one spurt propelled them into the new year. Then of course there was the last two games, but we've already covered that.
Half way through the season, I haven't seen Babcock make a signature coaching move. Nothing I can hang my hat on and say "that move changed the season". Not for the good, not for the bad. Most nights it seems to me that he is just there. I think the team misses Yzerman's leadership. I don't believe anyone has stepped forward to assume that role which reinforces my position that Lidstrom was a poor choice for captain. And if the team is looking to Babcock to get it they are going to be sorely mistaken.
Offensively, this team is inept. They haven't learned how to take full advantage of the "new NHL", don't have enough individual play makers and still depend too much on the "system offense" the NHL is trying to kill. Defensively, they are as sound as ever which keeps them in most games and what scoring they do get is almost always off from a defensive play. Net play has been outstanding.
Grading the players individually... let's start with the head of the class and work our way down.
Dominik Hasek -- A : This was going to be an A+ grade till the 9 goal abomination versus San Jose. I still can't help but wonder what would have happen if the Wings had traded for this guy in 95 when Buffalo offered him. Anyhow, he's still one of the top three netminders in the NHL, leads the league in goals-against average, and you know what your going to get from him every night. Note to Babcock -- get this guy some rest in the 2nd half he is your only hope come playoff time.
Nicklas Lidstrom -- A : Nick is the best player on the team. He is going to go down in history has one of the best defensemen ever. He is odds on favorite to win another Norris Trophy. Team would have 5 more losses if not for his strong first half play. I'd like to see him ring up a teammate just once and announce his captaincy with authority.
Mathieu Schneider -- A- : Can't believe this guy is doing this at his age. Combined with Lidstrom they are nearly 1/2 the teams offense. I don't know if he can keep up the pace, but he has earned a solid first half grade.
Robert Lang -- B+ : Lang is often overlooked on the Red Wings roster in favor of more glitzy offensive players like Z and Pavel. But Lang has molded well into the Red Wings roster and because he isn't called upon to score like he was in Washington, #20 is fourth on the team in points and will likely the season as the top offensive performer. Cleary better buy him dinner. Twice.
Danny Markov -- B+ : Another Kenny Holland feather-in-the-hat, I wasn't sure Markov was a "Wings Guy". He is. His toughness and edgy play allows Lidstrom the freedom to make plays. The Wings don't have enough guys with Markov's grit and he will continue to be a vital cog in this defense first team.
Dan Cleary -- B : You could have polled 100 Red Wing season ticket holders and asked them who the leading goal scorer on the team was going to be on Dec 31st and not one would have picked Dan Cleary. In fact, you might have been hard pressed to find 10 who could even name Dan Cleary as being on the roster. Cleary is clearly the Red Wing most benefiting from the leagues no-touch policy and Lang's ability to get him the puck has been golden for Cleary. As the game tightens down the stretch, the question will become, can he keep lighting the lamp ?
Chris Chelios -- B- : If we graded this on a curve, Chelios would get like an A+++, how in the hell does a 45 year old physical defensive player still turn in 18 minutes a night while anchoring the penalty kill. His offensive game is completely gone and he isn't the agitator he once was but Chelios is the guy that should be wearing the C and keeping these guys in line.
Mikael Samuelsson -- B- : I wonder what its like to be the 5th best Swede in the NHL and be only the 3rd best Swede on your team ?? So is life with the Red Wings... or Stockholm West as the Swedish Elite League calls the Red Wings. He's having another solid season, Mikael toughness in front of the net are paying rewards on a consistent basis and better play by his linemates might result in a 2nd half goal surge.
Henrik Zetterberg -- C+ : If we were writing a 20 game review instead of a 40 game review, HZ would be getting an F. While not completely his fault, the first line for the boys in Red are definitely a problem spot when it comes to the Wings roster. While Zetterberg appears to have found his old form, he was expected to take another stop forward, not just maintain status quo.
Chris Osgood -- C : Middle of the road, that's the Ozzy we've all come to know and love. He doesn't win games for you, he doesn't lose games for you. He will allow you go to as far as the rest of the guys on the roster are capable of taking you. He needs to get healthy and carry a bigger portion of the load then he did in the first half.
Johan Franzen -- C : Johan Franzen has become everything Kirk Maltby was. He is the player that does all the dirty little things that need to be done. In fact, Franzen probably deserves a grade higher then a C, but I have a tough time giving a guy with only 14 points (and only 4 goals) a grade higher.
Niklas Kronwall -- C- : Who is this guy and where is the Niklas Kronwall who was Nicklas Listrom's heir apparent ? The guy can never stay on the ice, he's always dinged up, and while he plays sound in his own end, he's like invisible on the offensive side of the glass.
Brett Lebda -- C- : Maybe its just me, I mean, I'll admit that I haven't seen every game this season, but does it seem like this guy makes every game changing turnover for the other team ? I know he's playing better and I know the Red Wings like him and I see the potential they are hoping develops. But my god this guy pisses me off more often then he makes me cheer.
Kris Draper -- D+ : Oh, I'm going to take crap for this grade, but why does Detroit love this guy so much ? He's been much better this year then last year, but last year was complete rubbish. He is suppose to be a team leader, but I don't see it. I like the smiling, jumping, shoot out of a cannon Kris Draper of 1999. I'm sure you all do to, but this ain't him. Did I mention he leads the team in PIM ?
Pavel Datsyuk -- D : Alright buddy... Your on the Slava Kozlov fun ride to oblivion. You need to get a grip on yourself and rediscover the creativity, the scoring touch and the excitement which we all know your capable of. The leagues new rules were created specifically so guys like you could make plays. MAKE PLAYS DAMN IT. And hey.. shoot the F'n puck once in a while. The damn thing doesn't find its way to the back of the net by itself.
Andreas Lilja -- D : D as in DNP. I suppose someone has to be the healthy scratch and at age 31 I guess the Babcock and the Wings have picked Andreas. Not a lot else can be said about him, he's okay, a stop gap, the team cork.
Jiri Hudler -- D- : Here's a Czech that can't wait to get out Detroit. At one point and time, Hudler was highly thought of inside the Red Wings organization, now he can't find the ice. He makes defensive mistakes on a defensive oriented team. That isn't going to translate into increased minutes. He has offensive abilities and someone is going to give this guy a shot.
Jason Williams -- D- : I suppose this is the Sophomore slump. Yes, I realize that this isn't his 2nd NHL season, but it is the 2nd season after he had his first real season. So the cliché works for me. Unfortunately, it looks like its working in Williams head also. He's teetering on one-hit wonder status.
Tomas Holmstrom -- D- : Everything that Dan Cleary gained from the new NHL rules, Holmstrom lost. He's like a big red flag... yes, I realize all of the Red Wings are in Red... but his is like a Red Flag in front of a bull, and the Refs are the bulls. He is way off last season's pace and there isn't any reason to believe a 2nd half turnaround is on the horizon.
Kirk Maltby -- F : Why is this guy on the team ? He doesn't score, he doesn't play good defense, he doesn't dig the puck out of the corners any more. He doesn't create opportunities, doesn't make big hits, doesn't fore-check, doesn't back-check, in fact, for the most part he doesn't have any of the game that got him a job in the NHL in the first place. Complete waste of a roster spot.