Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sleepy Sunday

Coyotes 4, Red Wings 2; Western Quarterfinals, 1-2

Kind of a weird spot for Red Wings fans right about now. Can't don the tinfoil hats and blame the game on Gary Bettman, can't say the refs are conspiring to take out the Wings. Can't even say the Coyotes got too physical with them (with the refs allowing it) and threw them off their game, like in Game 1.

Nope, for once, Detroit fans have to point directly at the guys wearing red. And it's time for those guys in red to look in the mirror. Because today was complete garbage. Sloppy play right off the bat, Phoenix leads 1-0 seconds into the game. Okay. Wings came back and tied it, and took control for the rest of the period. They had Phoenix on their heels. And then they came out of the intermission, dicked around for a minute, failing to establish any pressure on the carry-over power play on some fresh ice, and after that, they just decided to take a snooze. They gradually allowed the Coyotes to swing the momentum, keep the puck in the Red Wings' zone, and generally dictate how the game was played. For those keeping score, that's two out of three games where the Coyotes have controlled the pace, tempo, and attitude of the game. And the series now reflects that fact. Phoenix 2, Red Wings 1.

This game looked a lot like those afternoon games from 2003 against Anaheim, 2004 against Calgary, and 2006 against Edmonton. Games where the Red Wings, despite playing a team from several time zones over, had significantly less energy than their opponents. The Coyotes were playing this game two hours earlier than their bodies were accustomed to, and they came into JLA and punched the Wings in the mouth. Don't get it twisted, they had control of this game well before they broke the 1-1 tie late in the second period. And then in the third period, with an offensive zone faceoff...they lose the draw and the forwards decide to just hang back as Phoenix blazes into the zone and turns Rafalski and Lidstrom (!) into road cones.

And then, to top it all off, after the Wings get it back to 3-2, and the crowd is alive and frenzied again...our playoff virgin goalie gets his cherry broken. Note: I'm not saying Osgood should be put in now. That's an asinine thought, and the Wings showed they don't trust him in goal late in the season in Philadelphia. He's done. But just as Osgood has shown his time has expired, the last three games have shown that Jimmy Howard just might not be ripe yet. After the Olympic break, he looked pretty damn good. Stayed in position, wasn't giving up rebounds, and had appeared to lose the habit of giving up those soul-sucking goals that should never go in. All of the above have returned in spades since the playoffs started. Today, he was way out of position on Phoenix's first goal, over-committing to the near post, which resulted in him throwing himself across the crease on the wraparound follow up, which in turn resulted in him basically being in the net when the puck came out to the slot for Lepisto's goal. On the second goal, Howard served up one of those extra juicy rebounds he routinely gave up pre-Olympics. And on their fourth goal which broke our backs today...there's simply no excuse. That was a dead-on wrist shot from the perimeter at the top of the circle. Wasn't a hard shot, there was no screen, no deflection, no traffic at all. It just went through him, and that's the kind of goal that can never go in during the playoffs. Plain and simple, he has to stop that shot.

It's not all on him. The first goal wouldn't have happened if the Wings hadn't have tried simply sweeping the puck out up the middle. The second goal was a result of bad luck (Kronwall's pass going off Abdelkader's skate) and some poor defensive play (Abdelkader failing to cancel Wolski in front of the net). He had no chance on the third goal because, unspeakably, the Red Wings' top line was sleeping on the ice, completely out-hustled and bowled over. But at the same time, sometimes you need your goalie to just slam the door shut, even when the defense coughs it up in front of him. For all the criticism that was thrown Chris Osgood's way, there were games in the playoffs when he just decided "alright fuck it" and put the team on his back. Whether or not Jimmy Howard is up to that task remains to be seen, but he hasn't done it yet, and he has to be better.

Like I said though, it's not all on him. The turd they laid out there today was a collective team effort. Simply put, this game looked more like the Red Wings from six years ago as they transitioned from the fossils of Yzerman and Shanahan to the new blood of Datsyuk and Zetterberg. They looked nothing like the machine they've been for the majority of the past three postseasons. Lack of heart, lack of determination, lack of hustle, lack of execution, lack of everything. Every attribute we've seen out of the Red Wings for the past three years that has endeared them to us and won our, they were none of those things.

It's not close to being over, obviously. They faced a 2-1 deficit to the Ducks last year and caved the Ducks' skulls in in Game 4 in Anaheim. That 6-3 win in Anaheim last year told me a lot about the heart and character of last year's Red Wings team. Things endly horribly for them, for it wasn't for a lack of determination; they were just gassed at the end. The tank was empty. They didn't bow out with a "meh" attitude about them like they did in 2004 against Calgary. They aren't the Pistons.

Tuesday night, we will see what this version of the Red Wings are made of. Will they rise to the challenge and respond like they're capable of? Or will they mail it in like they did today and start setting their sights on the golf course?

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