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I was in attendance last night for the Wings preseason home opener, which aside from the highlights NHL.com makes available, seems to be the only way to catch a preseason game right now.
In lieu of a full on game recap, I thought I would offer some pluses and minuses from the game.
I asked before the game if there was anyone in particular that the fans wanted to know a little more about, so let’s start with those right away.
+ Fabian Brunnstrom At first, Brunnstrom looked a lot like a guy who knew he had to be impressive to crack a deep Red Wings forward group. The numbers are not at all in his favour, with 14 guys already ahead of him, plus a healthy competition with guys like Johnson and Conner. In the first period, it looked like he was trying to do too much, and it cost him a couple of turnovers. However, he was Johnny-on-the-spot for the opening goal, receiving a nifty Patrick Eaves pass and rifling it between the legs of Sergei Bobrovsky. As the game went on, he seemed to get more comfortable and played a really strong game. He was one of the Wings most effective forwards, in my opinion.
+ Cory Emmerton Start to finish, Emmerton was the Wings most poised forward, which says a lot considering >this guy was also in the lineup. If you couldn’t see Emmerton’s name or number on his jersey (like say, if he were on the Flyers…those nameplates are practically unreadable unless you are up close), you would have thought he was a grizzled veteran. He made calm, safe plays with the puck all game long. He was responsible backchecking. It was the kind of game he needs to have every night to make certain he has a spot on this team. He isn’t going to wow you offensively, so he needs to play a smart game, and that’s what he did in this game. Also, give Cory a follow on Twitter (@cemmer48) since he’s brand new to the social media game.
+ Chris Conner One the Windsor-Detroit tunnel bus heading to the game, my cousin asked me what I thought of Conner. I told him that if he was six inches taller, he would be a force to be reckoned with. What I mean by that is, despite measuring in at a (generous) 5’8″, Chris Conner does not give up on a play, ever. He threw some thunderous bodychecks for a guy that looks like he should be in high school PE instead of an NHL game. He’s the kind of guy who you love to have in your organization. The young guys in Grand Rapids will learn a lot from his never quit attitude, and if he needs to make an appearance at the NHL level due to injuries he won’t cheat you on any shift.
- Brendan Smith I came away wholly disappointed with Smith’s performance in this game. I know it’s just one game, but I was hoping for more from the future of our defense. His decision making was just a hair slower than it needed to be, and it led to having his shot blocked, turning the puck over or sending a bad pass to a teammate on numerous occasions. His turnover directly led to the third Flyers goal. He got absolutely leveled towards the end of the second period when he was skating the puck through center ice with his head down. His partner Mike Commodore rushed to his defense and fought Matt Walker, who delivered the hit, but picked up an instigator penalty in the process. Smith was also on the receiving end of a very scary and dangerous hit in the first period, when Mike Testwuide drilled him from behind and sent him head-first into the boards. Testwuide received a 5 minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind, and Smith finished the game looking no worse for the wear. On the positive side for Smith, he made an excellent breakout pass from deep in his own zone in the third period, hitting Chris Conner at the far blue line for a breakaway. He also had a couple of nifty touch passes on the power play. He quite obviously had the skill to play with the big boys, he just looked really, really green. Another year in Grand Rapids and I think he’ll be ready for big NHL minutes.
- Logan Pyett/Garnet Exelby These two played as a pairing for the majority of the game and frequently showed why they are AHL bound. Pyett coughed the puck up a lot and generally looked out of his league. Exelby, who has played in over 400 NHL games, is just not good enough to be an everyday NHLer. He is tough as nails, and he had at least two monster body checks, including one in the second period that took out two Flyers, but he just doesn’t have the skating or puck-moving ability a Wings defenseman needs. That being said, he will be awesome to have in Grand Rapids, because he will stick up for his teammates, as he did when Testwuide ran over Smith.
- Ryan Johnson Johnson, like Brunnstrom, is in camp with the Wings on a professional tryout. Unlike Brunnstrom, Johnson has said that if he doesn’t make the NHL, he won’t accept a contract to play in the AHL. That, coupled with the strong play of Conner, Brunnstrom and Emmerton means Johnson likely has no future with the Wings. He was a -1 in the game, and didn’t really show me any reason why the Wings would keep him over any one he is competing with for a job.
+ Niklas Kronwall/Brad Stuart The Wings top defense pairing in this game was outstanding. Both Kronwall and Stuart, with Lidstrom and Zetterberg not in the lineup, wore A’s for Detroit, and they were leaders by example. They looked the part of the veteran duo, and were easily the two best defensemen in the game. Kronwall has come a mile from where he was a few years ago, when he played with a reckless abandon that put himself and others in jeopardy every shift. He looks poised, mature, calm and just oozes leadership. Brad Stuart was his typical no-frills self, playing the steady, solid game we’ve come to expect from him.
Pavel Datsyuk I don’t know what to put next to Pavel’s name here. He looked like he was playing the game at about half speed, but Datsyuk at half speed still undressed about half of the Flyers roster over the course of a 60 minute game. He wasn’t sharp with his passing, but he still looked like he could do whatever he wanted at any given moment. He just seemed to be getting a feel for the game all night, instead of playing full out. Obviously, nothing to be concerned with there as it’s just the preseason. If last night was your first time seeing Pavel play, you still would have thought he played incredibly well. Having seen him play for basically a decade now, though, we expect him to dominate every time out. You know that when the puck drops on October 7, it will be game on for the world’s best pickpocket.