Following last night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators, it has quickly become apparent that our beloved Red Wings might not be competing as hard as they should be with the playoffs right around the corner. Granted, these guys play and incredibly tough and grueling regular season and will naturally relax late in the year, but last night’s lack of effort late in the game only served to further highlight where the Wings need to improve before the playoffs start. With a pair of games this weekend against those “tradition changers” across Lake Michigan, here are a few things I would like to see happen before the march for the Cup begins.
Intensity – Remember back in February after the Wings beat the Sharks? Everyone was talking about how our intensity was up and we were readying ourselves to make a huge run at them for the West crown. Well, we made that run, caught them, and then pretty much closed up shop. Yes, there were some wins after that, but quite a few of those can be chalked up to the superior scoring talent that the Wings posses, as opposed to the hustle and grind that usually defines this team. Want more proof? How about those 8 goal performances from our division foes Nashville and Columbus? Or the third period meltdown against Calgary? And then, when they have a chance to exact some revenge for the Nashville pounding in February, the Wings play a lackluster game and wind up losing.
It’s time for guys like Kris Draper and Dan Cleary to step up and ramp up the intensity. You better believe that Chicago will bring it and bring it hard this weekend, and the grinders need to find a way to match the intensity of the ‘Hawks. Honestly, I would love to see some good hard hits and some cheap, dirty goals by the Wings. It would serve as a great reminder to these guys on how playoff games are played and won.
Distributed Scoring – Over the last 10 games, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa and Nick Lidstrom have scored 21 of the Wings 32 goals. That’s almost 66%. If the Wings want to win another Cup, they are going to have to distribute the scoring a bit more evenly come playoff time. Guys like Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Holmstrom need to step up and find a way to get pucks on net and behind goaltenders.
Defense/Goaltending – Well, duh. This is the no-brainer. We know Chris Osgood will get the start in net, but questions remain about his inconsistent play and whether he can be good enough to lead the Wings to the repeat. The answer: he’s much better when his defense steps it up. When the Wings are hard on the forecheck and forcing neutral zone turnovers, they are probably the best team in the league. But it’s been difficult to stomach some of their recent efforts, where lazy passes and sloppy positioning have left the goalies on an island. If this doesn’t get shored up, and quickly, a grinding, physical team could find chinks in the armor and potentially break through.
In the end, I would love to see two hard fought games against Chicago this weekend, if for nothing more than to prove that this team still cares and can get themselves motivated when needed. It’s time to set the tone for the playoffs. It’s time to start grinding and imposing our will. The only question that remains is if we will do it.