Will the Wings be the Wings in perpetuity? That is, will the Detroit Red Wings continue to make the playoffs year after year, possess the puck minute after minute of every game, as they seem to have done forever?
No. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that they were a disaster of a team, a joke in the league and one of the worst teams, along with Chicago, as two squads that never did anything in the postseason and rarely ever got there.
Yes, you read that right. And while it might seem like it was dinosaur-years ago, it was just a couple of decades back. Maybe two-and-a-half. Admittedly, in a hockey life, that’s a long time. Long enough for people to forget.
So to the question: Can they ever not be what they are now?
In fact, they’re close to making that (negative) switch, to going over into a new zone, one not familiar to anyone who, like my nephew 11-year-old Daniel, has only known them as winners.
Look at their lineup right now as they constructed it against the Los Angeles Kings. The old guard is gone, and the guys who have come to represent the Wings in most fans’ imaginations are hurt. That is, on Saturday night versus LA, the Detroit team was missing no fewer than six regulars—Darren Helm, Danny DeKeyser, Jonathan Ericsson, Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk, and Daniel Alfredsson. You’d think that with that many guys missing, the team could not execute its usual puck-possession style. And you’d be right.
“I’m getting to expect it here, eh?” Detroit head coach Mike Babcock said after Saturday’s game against the Kings. “I come in every day, and there’s someone not playing. The bottom line is that the guys that we dressed play hard.”
Babcock isn’t worried about the younger guys on the team, who have been expected to fill in for the top franchise players.
“They are really good players. They play hard and they compete hard,” he said. “They’ve obviously been well-coached and won a championship. They know how to play. They’re good.”
But astute fans would notice one key thing about the Wings’ on-ice play: Instead of holding the puck as long as they used to, they instead trade chances with other teams, playing a more open game than in the past. In some respects, they have no choice.
After they won against the Kings, 3-1, Inside Hockey asked defenseman Kyle Quincey, who has been with the team since the 2011-12 season, to explain whether given the circumstances, they can still play their familiar style.
“Most definitely things have changed. Our game changes with guys like Datsyuk out of the lineup,” Quincey said. “We’ve learned the hard way that we have to play more simple, and when we try to get too cute, it sometimes bites us. Over the past week or two, we’ve gotten to a more simple game, and we end up winning a few more games. Our skill is in the offensive zone once we get it in.”
On the night, Detroit generated just 26 shots versus LA, scoring on three. Their goals were in response to the Kings jumping out to a lead close to the end of the first period. The scorers were Riley Sheahan with his first NHL marker, Tomas Tatar and Daniel Cleary.
The first was, by the terms most would measure the Red Wings’ play, a typical Detroit goal. It came after Tatar sped into the zone and beat Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr. Tatar shot the puck after nobody could pick him up. The rebound on Tatar’s backhand came out to a falling Sheahan, who put it into the net.
Sheahan said of his first NHL goal, “Looking at it now, it’s a little easier to get excited about it, because of the good win for the guys.”
He also said getting called up again was easier this time around.
“I think I played four games before, but knowing the guys a little bit now, it’s a little easier to get excited about [coming up],” he said, adding that he has no idea what he’ll be doing tomorrow, when the Wings are in Anaheim.
The second goal was again on a rebound, one in which LA goaltender Jonathan Quick kicked out with his toe to Tatar at the open side of the net. The assist went to Sheahan, giving the two young players each a two-point night. Babcock later succinctly analyzed their game by saying, “They played hard. Those kids are good.”
The third goal was on a giveaway that will, in all likelihood, land Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin in the press box next game. Cleary stole the puck and ended up scoring from the slot.
Call each the kind of gritty goal that Detroit is known for, though not the type of guy-in-the-crease score that they’ve often gotten with Henrik Zetterberg in front of the net.
And note this: The fact that they’re doing things differently, if only because they have no choice, indicates that they aren’t the same old Wings of the past two decades. But note further that that’s not necessarily to impugn the play.
But if they were able to win against LA, who got, by the way, 45 shots on a spectacular Jimmy Howard, they’ll have to make a further adjustment on Sunday versus the Ducks, because, as Babcock said after the Kings game, “Jimmy went and got himself hurt near the end of the game” on Saturday. He shrugged when asked further about it, saying simply, “He’s probably out for a while, so we’ll go to our next available goalie, so it’s a good opportunity for him.” He later said when asked about who would be the backup, “I don’t know how any of this works; I just know that Mrazek is starting tomorrow.” And he repeated, “Howie got himself hurt, so I just know he isn’t playing tomorrow. I don’t know how long he is hurt, his hip flexor.”
Babcock further said that he would likely go with the same group, plus a new goalie, tomorrow. “March[enko] is here so we might change one D and go with eleven [forwards] and seven [defensemen].”
That answers the question about what Sheahan will be doing Sunday at 5 p.m. The bigger question is what the Wings can do with a lot of guys standing by due to injury. For the moment, they can apparently impersonate the Wings of old.
Detroit player Tatar dedicated his goal to his late father, who passed away on Friday in Slovakia.
The Kings next play Vancouver on Monday at home. Two great questions: Will defenseman Matt Greene come back from banishment to the scratch list, and what repercussions will LA captain Dustin Brown face for hurting Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo a week ago?