Thursday, June 4, 2009
I was six and a half years old when the New Jersey Devils swept the Red Wings in the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals. My memories of that series are essentially nonexistant. I have only the foggiest, dimmest recollection of the Devils celebrating with the Cup while the Red Wings stood off to the side, dejected, defeated and heartbroken. And the only reason I remember that is because I remember looking across the room and seeing my dad sitting on the edge of his seat, his elbows on his knees and his face buried in his hands as he lamented, "It's just never going to happen for them, is it?"
Even during some of the spectacular playoff losses experienced by the Red Wings over the years - Colorado in 1996, 1999 and 2000, Los Angeles in 2001, Anaheim in 2003 and 2007, Calgary in 2004, and Edmonton in 2006 - I never felt like the Red Wings had hit the wall in terms of energy. When they lost to the Flames in 2004, I knew they had reached the end of the road. They were old, the lockout was coming, and we'd seen the end of that Red Wings roster. But never before had I watched them and seen a fatigued, gassed team reaching down into the gas tank and coming up with air.
Maybe it's a combination of fatigue, maybe it's some mix of arrogance, but in the second period tonight, up 2-1, and on a power play...the Red Wings managed to lose momentum.
Think about that. In Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, on the power play while already winning and a chance to grind the skate into Pittsburgh's carotid artery, the Detroit Red Wings, always lauded for their machine-like efficiency and deadly execution even in the most hostile of environments, lost the momentum. Brian Rafalski has a lot of very desirable traits as a hockey player. He's a great catalyst on the power play. He skates really well. He's a smart player in general, is usually in the correct position and is a solid puckhandler. And as a one on one defender, he's pretty much worthless. His effort on Staal's shorthanded goal...I've seen grannies swing their purses with more force than that wave he did with his stick. Ever heard of laying out and sweeping your stick across to knock if off the guy's stick?
In general though, everyone must be held accountable. Holmstrom, Hudler, Samuelsson, Cleary, Hossa. All are essentially invisible on offense now. I see Hossa motoring into the offensive zone, and then I see him doing his usual thing of dragging the puck around the perimeter. It accomplishes nothing. I know the energy level is low, but it's time for accountability. I know Nicklas Lidstrom isn't a big "rah rah" motivational type of captain like Steve Yzerman was, but something has to be done.
Oh, and yes, this is something that generally is in bad form, because I am certainly not an athlete and it's easy for people like me to play armchair _______, but Pavel Datsyuk...I'm looking right at you and I'm holding my arms up like, "Well?" Stevie Y went through the entire 2002 postseason on one leg. His second leg was his stick, and he used it as a crutch everytime he went down? Why? Because his knee was ruined, and he was in agony. Brent Gilchrist went through the 1998 playoffs with his groin muscle in pieces, something that would have any of us crying like little babies. So, Pavel, I ask, is it REALLY bad enough where you can participate fully in practice for two straight days, go all out for 90 minutes (three times the regular amount of time) and then take the pregame skate only to determine that you can't go?
And as usual, the special teams are a disgrace. I'm not sure if McCrimmon is in charge of just one or both, but his fingerprints are all over this fiasco. The PK is the PK. It sucks and will continue to suck. But the power play has been playing with fire for a while now. The passes are lackadaisical and they're being dragged down by some pitiful effort. Hudler camps out in the corner on the first unit, and Samuelsson does what Samuelsson does on the second - ill-advised shots that miss the net, ricochet off the glass and come out of the zone on the other end. And tonight, the PP was just comical. You would think that giving up one breakaway would've woken them up, but no. These guys were in such a coma they coughed it up again, and this time it ended up in our net. Bottom line, the Penguins played hungrier and with more desperation. It is unacceptable and at one time was unimaginable that the Wings showed absolutely no fire. This is the same kind of stink that ruined the Pistons. Lazy, unmotivated, sleepwalking through games and then trying to rev it up after falling behind, which the Red Wings tried to do tonight.
If the tank is empty, then there is unimaginable heartbreak ahead, because there's no recovering from lack of energy. If it's a lack of motivation and general malaise...then it's time for some kicks in the asses. Game 5 is going to tell us a lot about these Red Wings. We're either going to see a team pissed off at themselves because of their terrible play tonight and energized by their home crowd, or we're going to see a defending champion in its final days. Enough with the lazy passes and the lapses in concentration. You're a PUCK POSSESSION team, so POSSESS the PUCK! If fatigue is the issue, then get some fresh legs in there. Maltby contributes nothing, put Abdelkader back in.
In the end, it all boils down to will and determination. And Pavel Datsyuk. Babcock said that a team can only go so long without its best player before it starts to hurt. We are officially past that point now. The Red Wings need Datsyuk like humans need oxygen. The one thing the Wings need right now is energy, and Datsyuk would bring it in spades after two weeks off, even if he's not 100%. So I say again, how 'bout it, Pavel?