Game Day Preview: Still the standard?


DETROIT - SEPTEMBER 24: Tomas Holmstrom  of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates a first period goal with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg  during a pre season game on September 24, 2010 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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.


DETROIT - MAY 4: Dan Cleary #11 of the Detroit Red Wings skates with the puck against Jason Demers #60 of the San Jose Sharks in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Joe Louis Arena on May 4, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

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.

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 29: Jimmy Howard  of the Detroit Red Wings is scored on by Michael Del Zotto  of the New York Rangers in the third period of a preseason game at Madison Square Garden on September 29, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

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.  

  • I suspect we’ll see Glencross beating up on Hudler/Cleary tonight, while Datsyuk kills Iginla. It might come down to whoever wins one of those battles by the largest degree.

    (Also of note: Zetterberg and Datsyuk are crushing their opponents possession-wise while starting out in their own end more often. Zetts in particular is down around 41%!!)

  • Also, and I can’t let this slide, Berts okay possession numbers are pumped by his near team leading ZS of 62.8%. I don’t know what Ken Holland sees in that dude, but I suspect Babcock realizes what he has on his hands.

    • Robert Cleave

      He knows what Sparklepants is all about, Kent. Babcock’s generally pretty rational about his players’ abilities, IMO. As another example, Roger Millions mentioned on Twitter a few minutes ago that Babcock was worried about GlenX-Bourque tonight. Given the way those two played in Nashville, and how his own third and fourth lines have looked so far, it would make sense that he would see that potential matchup as problematic.

  • Ender

    This is going to sound funny, but Calgary is actually proving to be a pretty deep team. Our third line in particular seems to be beating up on other teams bottom 6’s. If only our top 6 could do the same. I would think that with the return of Moss, Kotalik, and hopefully Langkow we could ice 4 really solid lines.

    • Yup…this has actually be true for about 2 straight seasons now. The problem has been the top end not being up to snuff and it’s honestly still the problem. If you’re paying some 15M+ in cap space for a bunch of guys not to drive the play…well then you might be competitive, but you’ll never be a true contender.

      I said it last summer when contemplating trading Phaneuf and I said it again this summer: the Flames glaring need is an elite forward talent.

      • CitizenFlame

        Here’s to hoping the “big 3” put together an effort like they did against Edmonton and not like Florida. Although, Stajan vs. Datsyuk is not a favorable match-up for the Flames to say the least, and Lidstrom seems to own Iggy.

        Who knows maybe Babcock will match-up his big guns against Bourque and Glen-X if they’re running wild, opening up some more favorable match-ups for the Flames?

        • I hope so, but really when it comes down to it I don’t think it’s about effort more than it is about ability. Bitchslapping the Oilers is one thing. Playing against dudes like Datysuk (and Getzlaf, Crosby, etc.) Well…they’re elite for a reason. You can work hard all night long but talent will out. Once upon a time, Iginla and Tanguay were similar players but they just aren’t quite at that level any more.

          As for the match-ups, I can’t imagine Babcock targeting Bourque and Glencross (although he’ll be aware of them). If there’s a problem he’ll split Zetterberg and Dats and that’ll be that. Whatever happens, because Iginla plays 15-17 minutes at ES every night he’ll be facing good players no matter what.

  • Ya I’m thinking that this game maybe won with our third/ fourth liners. If they play the way they have been,with energy and grit, we might see motor city spinning their tires and have a tough time getting going.

    This is also a chance for Backlund to make a push and continue to show he can play with this team. I hope the big lines come through for us tonight, but I’ll be watching our “bottom two” for sure.

    I also think Hank starts tonight in net!

          • What are his giveaway stats? I can’t seem to find that data anywhere but I know from watching three games this year that he is a machine and giving up the puck. Coaches aren’t generally a fan of that.
            Great shoot out record though!

          • Robert Cleave

            Giveaway stats are pretty useless, since skill players almost alway lead that category, and the recording of them is pretty suspect in a number of arenas. Duncan Keith is the current league leader with 15. Dawes has 1 giveaway recorded in 6 games.

          • Thanks for finding that for me. There’s no way that’s accurate though. There is no way he only turned the puck over once in the three games I watched. It’s actually laughable. I’m not convinced he’s capable of playing a top six role in the league and clearly not the only one who feels this way.

          • Robert Cleave

            He’s making 600k a year. Why is it mandatory that he play a top-six role? They’re paying him like a bottom-sixer, and his underlying numbers, as Kent has pointed out at the score, are decent enough. Waiving a cheap guy whose likely failing has been being on the wrong side of fortune over the short term seems like the sort of ill-considered move Atlanta makes all the time. Franchises often get to be the state that they’re in for good reason.

  • everton fc


    We may have depth… but our first line is not overwhelming. Good point. Obvious. Disturbing.

    When Moss, Kotalik… Langkow (Ivanans!) return… What happens to Morrison, Conroy… Jackman… Meyer… Sutter… Backlund… ?

    I’ll assume Langkow is not back for some time…

    I’ll also assume Morrison isn’t going anywhere. Nor Jackman… But the rest?

    Does Backlund return to the the farm? With Sutter and Meyer? I think Sutter gets picked up this time if he’s waived. Is Meyer on a two-way? (I think he is…)

    Do we dump Staois to Abby so we can keep the extra forward, as to not lose them on the waiver-wire?

    And what about Conroy? If Bourque moves up to the second, and Kotalik resumes on the third, centered by Moss… Could the fourth line be Conroy/Morrison/Jackman? Not a bad fourth line…

    Perhaps, when everyone’s healthy, we see a trade… packaged parts.. for a forward on the cusp of elite?

    • icedawg_42

      Why would Sutter get picked up? It’s not like every NHL team doesn’t have several guys with his exact skillset on their roster and in their system. Plus I think most GM’s would be aware that claiming Darryl’s kid when they got plenty of similer guys already would be a bit of a dick move. Besides which he’s already passed through waivers and doesn’t have to clear again just yet.

      If I were to make a guess when Moss comes back Sutter goes to Abbotsford and when Kotalik comes back Backlund follows him.

  • icedawg_42

    Hrm, hate playing on the road against the Wings. Least road friendly place in the league IMO. So from the above the key will be for the top 6 to not get murdered (i.e. play even) so that whomever Babcock deems to be the “3rd” line can exploit their assignment?

    I hope Jackman see’s even more limited time… I’ve never known Detroit’s PP to be less then stellar and Jackman is in the early lead for the BHPPG (BoneHeaded Penalty Per Game) award. Speaking of which I hope someone follows prior award winner Todd Bertuzzi around in anticipation of his drop pass to nobody move.

    Strange feeling for the day: I almost wish we still had Jaime Lundmark with us, he always seemed to be money versus Detroit. Probably not based on anything real but that’s just what it felt like the last couple of seasons.

  • Giveaway/Takeaway stats are useless. There is no uniformity in how they’re defined… I read a boxscore not to long ago that showed the flames having 10ish more gives then the opposition had takes, call me old fashioned but I reasons that for one to give something another must take so the two should match.

  • Oyo

    well kent about our lack of high end forward talent…. ottawa is balls right now and NEEDS a solid defender. before jbouw ruins his rep. anymore do you think sutter should on the phone for a jbouw + something swap for spezza or something of that nature…..

    or is spezza now thee guy in ottawa

  • icedawg_42

    Kent – I think this is bang on!

    “However, the capped NHL is an efficiency test, and the fact that Dawes can’t seem to stick with an NHL team despite a cheap contract and arrows pointing in the right directions is just another micro-example of how GM’s sometimes get things wrong.”

    • Thanks man.

      Details tend to get lost in the grand sweep of the brush when looking at teams: big players, big salaries, big counting numbers. The truth is it can be death a thousand tiny cuts when it comes to efficiency: each player can be above or below value and it’s the bets on each contract (plus a big dash of luck) that marks the winners and losers in the NHL. Cutting Nigel Dawes in favor of, say, Ivanans is one of those tiny cuts.

  • icedawg_42

    I think moves like that are a pretty good indication that hockey hasn’t really found it’s Billy Beane yet. One day someones gonna write Moneypuck and change hockey.

  • From Babcock this morning (by way of Vicki Hall):

    Mike Babcock actually singled out Calgary’s third line of Curtis Glencross, Mikael Backlund and Bourque for praise in his pre-game remarks. “I don’t really know the kid in the middle,” Babcock said. “It looks like he has some skill. But with Glencross in the middle, they work.”

    Hahahaha. Hilarious. Whats more, entirely accurate.

  • “It’s ironic, of course, that the club was forced to sign 35 year-old Brendan Morrison in a panic after buying out a cheap and useful player in Dawes just months earlier.”

    Even more Ironic is that Morrison currently leads the Flames in points with 5 in 5 while Nigel went -6 in 6 games with 0 points.

  • True story: For about 20 games last year I thought Anze Kopitar was the best player in the league.

    Naturally I bet my house on it, that’s how sure I was.

    I’d bet my house on Morrison over Dawes too, if I still had one.