The first loss of the season is usually easy to take. With an 82 game schedule, it’s only a matter of time before a team is out played, out coached or just gives up. With every NHL team, it’s a matter of “when” not “if”.
The first blowout, however, is always harder to swallow. It’s a sign that your team has major deficiencies and holes that need immediate attention. It not only exposes the weaknesses, it highlights them like a Las Vegas neon sign; which was the case last Saturday night with Detroit.
As it turns out, the Red Wings still have a lot of work to do.
The season started off well. Detroit looked poised to make a dominant run in the Western Conference. At 5-0 with a 10-point goal differential, the Wings were solid in most areas. Even the defense looked improved from last season. Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl were starting to play like veterans, Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall were tightening up the zone, and Niklas Lidstrom, well…was still being Niklas Lidstrom. Even Ian White was filling in nicely for the vacant Brian Rafalski. The Dearborn native who massively contributed for four years to Detroit seemed to be hardly missed.
Then things started to unravel against Washington’s powerful scoring line. Brad Stuart had a costly giveaway to Mike Green on the first goal. Kindl forgot to cover Nicklas Backstrom in the third period, and even the “Perfect Human” had a brain fart that set up Mathieu Perreault’s second goal of the night. Add to that Ericsson’s -3 rating and the Wings powerful D looked more like Columbus’ than Detroit’s.
The defense wasn’t entirely to blame. Cory Emmerton had a nasty rookie turnover in the defensive zone against Marcus Johansson that helped widen the deficit. Ty Conklin, who was hardly to dominant goalie he resembled in Colorado, gave up two goals that were so soft Steve Mason started to feel good about himself. The team lost together, and everyone is partially to blame.
Mind you, I never expected Detroit to win this game. They were exhausted from travel and playing back-to-back games, and their backup goalie was up against an elite goaltender. More importantly, the Wings had yet to face a worthy opponent this season.
The undefeated record was no accident. Before Washington, the Wings only faced mediocre foes. Columbus and Ottawa are jokes, Vancouver is still trying to win in spite of their overpriced goaltender, and Minnesota is desperately combing Xcel Center in search of a scoring line. True, Colorado has proved to be a formidable hockey team, but they are still young and prone to mistakes.
The Caps were the true litmus test for Detroit’s season, and they failed. It showed that, even though the Wings will more than likely win the Central Division (Chicago looks to be the only true contender), Detroit might have to make a few moderations before the playoffs. Kindl and Ericsson may need to be replaced, Emmerton will have to continue learning what not to do, and Conklin will have to start playing like he did in 2009. The power play still needs tweaking and the Wings need to start the offensive pressure when the puck drops in the first period and not in the second.
Luckily, the Wings have time to recover from their embarrassing outing. This is only the first of many obstacles yet to be faced this season. The team is good but needs to be better.
Time to hit the books.