Every year, teams have defining moments, or games that, in hindsight, were a turning point in the season. I think that this weekend’s two game set with the Boston Bruins could prove to be that defining moment for our beloved Red Wings. Join me after the jump and I’ll let you know why.
Last year, the Red Wings were decimated by injuries throughout the early part of the season, so much so that at one point in December they were sitting miles out of a playoff spot and in danger of breaking the longest post-season appearances streak in professional sports.
They struggled throughout January as well, and at the time of the last game prior to the Olympic break, they’d won only 1 time in February. That night, Saturday, February 13th against the Ottawa Senators, was the pivotal game for the Red Wings. The word had come down earlier in the day that Kirk Maltby would have shoulder surgery during the break, and it was widely believed that the surgery would end his season. In fact, Maltby would never play another NHL game. What Kirk did do, though was open the scoring 9:33 into the contest, giving the Wings a lead they would not relinquish.
They won that game 4-1, and went on an absolutely unholy post-Olympic tear that saw them compile a 16-3-2 record to end the regular season.
A year later, February 13, 2011 could prove to be the turning point for a Red Wings season that has been underwhelming, while still relatively successful. Unlike last year, the Wings don’t need to win 17 of their final 22 to make the playoffs. They are comfortably entrenched in a playoff spot, and have been since basically Day 1. They currently sit second in the conference, with a four point cushion on the next closest competitors.
They’ve been either first or second in the Western Conference for the vast majority of the season. Yet, something still seems wrong.
They’ve thoroughly dominated stretches of games, like when they went from October 30th to November 17th (a stretch of 8 games) with only one loss – to Vancouver. Over that stretch, they outscored their opponents by a margin of 33-18 (or nearly 4-2 per game). From December 26th to January 8th, they went 7-1-1, right after they had lost the services of Pavel Datsyuk and Danny Cleary.
Despite their domination at times without some key pieces, there has been something missing. For a team that, when healthy boasts one of the most feared lineups, top to bottom, in the league, the numbers don’t add up. Among the current 16 playoff teams, only Calgary, Tampa Bay and Carolina have allowed more goals than the Wings. Calgary has allowed 3 more goals, but has played 2 more games.
That is completely unacceptable from a team that boasts the world’s best defensive defenseman, one of the best head coaches in the world, two of the best defensive forwards in the world, and a goaltender who is, though inexperienced, one who very well could develop into one of the franchises all time greats.
The team has struggled to start on time for games all season, and that is something I just don’t have an answer for. What I do know is that the Boston Bruins provide exactly what the Wings need to get themselves back on track.
What that is, is a relentlessly physical team that plays stingy defense and has the league’s top goaltender to boot. It is beyond critical for the Wings to start the next to games on time, because against the Bruins, any deficit will be difficult to overcome. It is of the utmost importance to play with the lead against the Bruins, because they have the ability to completely lockdown on a lead.
A slow start by the Wings means they will be forced to deal with the Bruins physical forecheck for 120 minutes over the course of three nights. The Wings need to be the ones to set the pace, and to do so early. That means a full, 110% commitment to playoff hockey by all 18 skaters.
Start the game hitting, and don’t stop. The Wings need to get themselves into that frame of mind now, instead of waiting for April to turn it on. They’ve been successful at flipping the switch at just the right moment in years past.
This year, that moment is right now.
Let’s Go Wings