January 07 2011 10:04AM
The Red Wings hit Calgary for the last time this year, still rolling along even as their sick bay has been filled with a couple of notable names. Having multiple elite players available is a nice problem to have, isn't it?
As solid as the Wings are, you'd think that they'd miss Pavel Datsyuk at least a little bit, and I suspect at EV against the better teams, they have been. They got rescued by their PP in Denver a week and a half ago and their game versus the Flyers on Sunday was a rare occasion where the Red Wings struggled to keep up, as Philly blitzed them in the second period with 19 EV shots and 3 goals.
Of course, the Flames aren't really at that level, and Detroit still can lean on Hank Zetterberg when things get a bit rocky. Zetterberg is having as good a year as he's ever managed, playing the toughs, starting in his own end more often than not, and outshooting his competition by a wide margin along the way. He's right up there with Ryan Kesler in the non-Crosby MVP race.
The injury to Datsyuk has forced Valtteri Filppula into a few tougher spots along the way, and although his numbers look OK from the outside, the underlying stats don't really show anything but a guy on a good shooting run. He and Jiri Hudler are, along with Johan Franzen, expected to be the core of Detroit's next wave of players but except for Franzen, it's not really happening. Hudler is particularly bad, and as a result he's the only top forward on their roster that Mike Babcock feels like he has to explicitly shelter.
The other key cog in Detroit's machine is still, astonishingly, Nicklas Lidstrom. I'm not sure that even the evil geniuses that run the Wings expected a player who was drafted before Steven Stamkos was born to continue his incredible level of play, but here we are. As lauded as he's been over the years, I'd still argue he's underrated, because he's hardly had a night away from the other team's best for about 15 years running and he continues to be as good a defenceman as there is in the game. The day he retires is the day that Detroit takes a pretty big step back. I'd recommend he do so this morning.
Gamewise, the Flames gave Detroit a pretty good go in their last meeting for about 50 minutes before folding the tent, and Detroit's bottom six and third pairing are shaky, so it isn't like there's no hope. That noted, given that the Flame special teams have looked lost most of the year and particularly so as of late, the only way that a win seems possible is to stay out of the box, and that never seems to happen against the Wings for whatever reason you might choose to believe.