So where does this leave us?
Detroit’s shootout loss at the hands of the San Jose Sharks Thursday night puts the team in a precarious position. They’re exactly two points ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes in the eighth playoff spot with the same amount of games remaining. Detroit plays Chicago tomorrow, and frankly, I don’t anticipate even a point coming out of that encounter. Phoenix plays Calgary tomorrow, a team that barely qualifies as being in the NHL. Phoenix will probably win that game, and while Detroit is ahead by two games (for now) in the regulation-overtime-wins tiebreaker statistic, a margin of 0 points to hold on to an eighth playoff spot is too close for comfort.
Honestly, we haven’t beaten a team that wasn’t named the Avalanche in two weeks. At this point, playoff hopes are looking grim…and there are some great young prospects in the 5-10 range of the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. I’m not saying we should throw the rest of the season…but Elias Lindholm would look really really good next to his cousin, Detroit prospect Calle Jarnkrok, in three to five years.
Anyway, the game:
The first period, as usual, was a complete s***show. Detroit had no strength on the forecheck, no precision in their puck movement or playmaking, and no urgency. I’m not saying they should be panicking or anything, but this didn’t look the way a team that’s fighting tooth and nail for a final playoff spot should. Patrick Marleau opened the scoring for the Sharks 2:35 into the game, shorthanded – Henrik Zetterberg whiffed on a pass and sent the puck right to a San Jose defenseman, who passed it straight to Joe Pavelski to create a 2-on-1. Anyone could have scored on that play – neither Howard nor Detroit’s defenseman can take the blame here. These are the kind of mistakes that will cost Detroit a playoff spot, and you’d think everyone on the ice would realize that right away. But nope, the sluggish pace continued, and San Jose put on a clinic for the rest of the period.
I don’t know what Babcock said to the team in the first intermission, but whatever it was worked. Detroit absolutely owned the period – they outshot the Sharks 14-8 in the 20 minute span, and Justin Abdelkader continued to spit in my face with another goal that made him look like a legitimate top six forward. Granted, Franzen created the entire play (who knew he was such a good playmaking center?), but Abdelkader is starting to show a Holmstrom-like ability to be in the right place at the right time. I never actually considered him as a serious net-front replacement, but it makes sense; the Mule has too much talent to be relegated to that role, and Abdelkader is the only mix of size and skill available that hasn’t injured their back. I think he’ll grow into that role rather nicely as the seasons go on.
The Wings may have kept up their torrid pace in the third, but San Jose woke back up to meet them. The teams traded a pair of powerplay goals early – Detroit’s coming from Kindl off a great one-timer in the slot from Henrik Zetterberg, and San Jose’s from a front-net top-shelf rebound off the stick of Logan Couture. If you have a second (or a few minutes, since I’m too paranoid about copyright issues to post any links), look up the goal – the way he gets the puck to the top of the net with such a small amount of time and space (oh, he was facing the other way, by the way) is really, really cool. Sorry, I’m done waxing eloquent about the opposition’s key players…despite a very strong showing through the rest of the period, Detroit couldn’t put the puck in the net, and regulation ended scoreless. Overtime saw more of what Detroit showed in the third – strong forecheck, great puck movement, and a willingness to shoot the puck, but again the heroics of San Jose goalie Antti Niemi kept the game tied, and a shootout ensued.
Who else but Pavel Datsyuk would shoot first for the Wings? He didn’t disappoint, as he scored with a quick little forehand to backhand deke to put Detroit ahead. Sadly, Logan Couture was able to duplicate Datsyuk’s feat by putting the puck between a sliding Jimmy Howard‘s legs. The next three shooters, Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist for Detroit and Joe Pavelski for San Jose, were all stopped short by the goaltenders (although Pavelski’s shot was a little too close to comfort). Patrick Marleau ended up with the game winning goal with another five hole goal, and as they say, the rest was history.
Here’s some thoughts:
– Jimmy Howard is DEFINITELY worth 5 million a year for six years. We’ll get him at his prime, and he’s proven (especially this season) that he’s more than a receptacle for Nicklas Lidstrom‘s amazing stat-padding abilities. If you disagree, you’re wrong. Sorry.
– If Detroit makes the playoffs, they’re likely to do so as the eighth seed, and somewhere between 13th and 16th in the league. That leaves them drafting between positions 14 and 17…some prospects in that area are: Nikita Zadorov, a skilled, hard hitting moose of a two-way defenseman; Max Domi, a gritty and amazingly skilled, though undersized playmaker; Ryan Hartman, a Darren Helm type with maybe a touch more skill; and Frederick Gauthier, a 210-pound power center that could end up as the second line version of Ryan Getzlaf or Joe Thornton. This draft is gonna be fantastic for Detroit…the future is looking great here – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
– Gustav Nyquist is the future center of Detroit’s forward corps. Him, Jarnkrok, and Tomas Jurco are probably the three most prolific young offensive assets in the prospect reserves. In five years, that could be a line that tears up opposing offenses. Think like a European version of Edmonton’s wonder trio. I just wish we had a Yakupov to go along with them…
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