Arrogant in victory, malicious in defeat – Dan Jenkins’ description of Notre Dame football fans from Life Its Own Self.
I’ve used that quote before to describe the online component of Detroit’s fan base, but unlike the fans of the Fighting Irish, their team has been worthy of the accolades they’ve received over the last 20 years.
With Chicago taking an axe to their depth in order to comply with the cap, the Red Wings are back in their familiar position as division favorites simply because they didn’t lose anyone of note.
I don’t believe that this year’s model from the Motor City is as good as their Cup winning team of ’08, but the Wings are still very dangerous, and as long as they have two of the games best forwards in their line-up that shouldn’t change. Pavel Datsyuk might be one of my favorite players to watch in the game.
He has all the requisite skill with the puck that anyone could ask for, but it’s his attention to detail without it that makes him such a handful, and there isn’t another player in the league that has his consistent success at pickpocketing unsuspecting puckcarriers on the backcheck.
His cohort Henrik Zetterberg is at least as good or better, of course, and Mike Babcock is currently using the two of them together with Holmstrom on Detroit’s top line. They’ve been performing their standard roasting of the opposition at EV, and the second line will benefit from this evening’s return of Johan Franzen.
The Swede rejoins activities after missing a game due to a concussion suffered against the Stars, and if the Wings want to use their two best players on one line, they need a healthy Mule to carry the second group, because Detroit’s depth thins after those guys.
The Wings have been a dominant out-shooting team at EV for several years running, but this team might be one where their bottom six gives back most of the possession their top six accrues. Their fourth line is a mile under water so far, and players like Hudler and Cleary have been fairly unsuccessful to open the year.
Most teams are obviously weaker on the third and fourth lines, but the fall-off in Detroit is more marked than I’m used to seeing, and it’s their one clear soft spot.
On the blue, the ageless wonder is still as good a defenceman as there is in the league on many nights, and if it’s possible for a guy who’s a lock HOFer to be slightly under appreciated, Nik Lidstrom might well be that man. His second banana, and excellent defender in his own right, is on the shelf for a few more weeks, though.
I think Brian Rafalski gets lost in the wash on occasion, in large part because he’s spent most of the last decade paired with either Scott Stevens or Lidstrom, but last year’s Olympics went a fair piece in showing how good he was without those two onside. Detroit still has Kronwall and Stuart in reserve, so I’ll spare the tears for them, but those two and Ruslan Salei are still a step down from Rafalski.
Detroit went the cheap route in net before it was openly fashionable, and they’ve been good enough to make that approach work. Last year’s club received a solid body of work from Jimmy Howard, and he’s off to a good start this time around as well. If he falters at all, Detroit might have a bit of a pickle, because Chris Osgood looks like he’s shot. I suspect we’ll see Howard this evening.
Overall, the Red Wings are still a very good squad, but I don’t think the fear factor is quite as high as it was a couple of seasons ago. As I mentioned to start, it seems to me that their front-runner status has been obtained by standing still while others peeled talent off their rosters, and I suppose that might be notable in it’s own right.
Gamewise, if the Flames are going to prosper, they’ll need Kipper to be lights-out and need to find a way of controlling Datsyuk and Zetterberg well enough to make a possible advantage against the Wings’ lower orders relevant.