April 11, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (52) skates to his bench during a time out against the Nashville Predators during the first period in game one of the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators beat the Red Wings 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Why Can't Jonathan Ericsson Catch A Break?

Jonathan Ericsson is the main player on the Detroit Red Wings that gets picked on by fans, no matter what he does (Kyle Quincey aside, of course). There’s always one in the bunch, and Ericsson has become the new Andreas Lilja and the new Brett Lebda. It’s been that way for a few seasons now.

Back in 2009, when he was consistently on the roster during the playoffs, he was pretty phenomenal. I remember thinking (and reading from quite a few other fans) about how he would be our salvation whenever Nicklas Lidstrom decided to leave. The poise, patience, and bit of grace with which he played during the playoffs many have come to see as his peak performance, and everything has been downhill since then. That’s true, to some extent.

Nowadays if you’re browsing through the internet and find Red Wings fans discussing Ericsson, his name is usually “S#%tbox,” and not, you know, Ericsson. If you use that nickname, pretty much every Red Wings fan will know to whom you are referring. That’s how much Ericsson has been turned into the black sheep.

That’s not to say it’s completely unwarranted, but since Lidstrom’s departure, Ericsson has stepped up. It’s simply masked by the fact that Lidstrom is no longer there, and the “replacements” have been, well, mediocre for what Red Wings fans are used to seeing.

If you could stand the NBC announcers during Sunday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks for more than ten seconds at a time, you may have heard Eddie Olczyk reviewing several different defensive zone plays for the Red Wings, and how Ericsson was making smart play after smart play.

Go ahead, reread that last sentence. You read correctly. Jonathan Ericsson was making smart defensive plays.

Chicago may have had control in the Red Wings’ zone for minutes at a time. The Red Wings may have been backed into their own corner and unable to get many shots off through the first half of the game. But even with Chicago in the zone for so long, their shot output was not as much as it should have been. Credit it to blocked shots, smart defensive plays by forwards, but the defense is slowly – slowly – coming around. Ericsson is a central part of that, and not just because he’s one of the least-injured defensemen among the ranks.

In the second and third periods yesterday was when I noticed Eddie Olczyk reviewing several different defensive zone plays by Ericsson. One was a pass behind his back to the center of the ice where a Red Wings forward was waiting. And the zone was cleared. His breakout passes worked better than usual. Things seemed to be lining up for old Jonathan Ericsson.

And then, he had to succumb to that black sheep syndrome. With three and a half minutes to go, he took a bad delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass on an attempt to clear the zone. Chicago scored on the resulting power play to keep their points streak alive and, in the end, won in a shootout.

Twitter exploded with rage after Patrick Kane‘s game-tying goal. Even I had some choice words for Ericsson, whom I had been praising earlier for playing a consistent game. Had he not taken that stupid penalty, there would have been less of a chance for the Blackhawks to score.

Regardless of who had taken the delay of game penalty, Twitter would have exploded in a rage anyway (especially when Niklas Kronwall did the same thing not even two minutes later). That it was Ericsson adds to his whole “Most hated defenseman” case, even with Quincey in the mix.

So why is it that Jonathan Ericsson can’t catch a break? It’s not only that the standards held for him are far too high (even with his immense height), but that he has taken his time turning into the defenseman the Red Wings need. He can’t catch a break because fans constantly focus on the bad, the mistakes, and the shortcomings of the Swede.

And that will not change anytime soon.

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