Tuesday, January 29, 2013

To Panic, Or Not To Panic, That Gives Me Indigestion.

When I Say I'm Not Panicking, I don't Mean I'm Not Worried.

     The first five games of the season have been... rough... and that's an understatement. I barely recognize the Red Wings team I've seen on the ice so far, but didn't I know to expect this? I'm worried, frustrated, scared and uncertain. I don't know what to expect and it's even affecting my sleep. The other night I had a dream that I was arguing with Babcock about line combinations and he looked me square in the eyes and said "Ok, you make the lineup then" and walked away. I stood there on the ice, players practicing behind me, and agonized over who to put where, who to put them with and how the hell I was going to get it all figured out before game time. I kept penciling in players, erasing, mumbling, moving names, figuring out who to sit, and worrying about all the players injured. It was one of those dreams where you really just need to wake up and start over again because you're so frustrated and agrivated that you're not getting any rest anyway. Luckily for me Daren Helm skated over and helped me put the lines together, what a nice young man he is. This is what Hockey does to me, it completely takes over my life and there is no escaping it- as if I wanted to even if I could. 

     There were numerous big changes going into this "season" that we knew the Wings were going to have to deal with and adjust to, and I don't think any of us were delusional enough to think we wouldn't be in for a bumpy ride.

Let's take a look at some of the changes and uncertainties going into this season shall we.
  • Lidstrom retired
  • Stuart went to San Jose because of family reasons
  • Homer retired
  • Hudler followed his nose to more money and Canadian hookers in Calgary
  • We signed Colaiacovo
  • We signed Samuelsson
  • We signed TooToo
  • Red Wings assistant coach Blashill became Griffins head coach Blashill
  • Tom Renney became Red Wings assistant coach Renney
  • Grand Rapids Griffin Brendan Smith became Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith
  • Grand Rapids Griffin Gustav Nyquist finally became Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist (Hahaha, Just kidding)
  • Damien Brunner was projected to be a top 6 signing, but was still an unknown factor
  • We signed Jonas Gustavsson
Add to that list:
  • Quincey was still an unknown factor 
  • Patrick Eaves was still suffering from a concussion and we didn't know if he'd play this season at all
     We knew the that this Red Wings team was going to be very different from last season, and I tried to temper my expectations so I wasn't soul crushingly disappointed should the worst happen. We as Red Wings fans are used to having high expectations and those expectations being met. We're used to such a high standard of excellence that what many other teams see as "good" "ok" or "acceptable" are merely average to us and gosh darn it that's not good enough! I'm not trying to poo poo on the other teams, and I'm not trying to make Red Wings fans sound like arrogant jerks. Understanding that our standard have been so high for so long that our expectations are higher than most others' is an important factor in how we process these changes.There are a lot of things we could be negative about so far, but there are also positive things, and I'd rather focus on the positive things because.. why not? I watch Hockey because I enjoy it, I love it and I need it. Hockey is my crack, I'm hopelessly addicted, and I don't ever want to quit. I'm a Hockey junky. I watch the Red Wings for enjoyment, pleasure and excitement so I want to maximize my absorption of the aforementioned as much as possible. I'd rather cheer on a player for what they did right than tear them down for what they did wrong, I don't ignore their mistakes or put on happy glasses and pretend it's all rainbows and unicorn farts; but why should I spend my time and energy getting angry pissed off at something I have absolutely no control over? I'm an optimistic realist and realistically, we have quite a few things to be optimistic about so far.

     Remember the first game? Of course you do, how could any of us forget that dumpster fire.
We couldn't score a sing goal, I could have gotten a breakaway behind our defense, Jimmy Howard was rustier than my old Radial Flyer wagon, Datsyuk looked like he had been replaced with... well, someone un-Datsyukian, we couldn't score on our power play (but the Blues could), we couldn't kill off penalties, couldn't get shots on goal, the injury list was already too long, our forwards looked like they forgot how to play Hockey, the defense was more porous than cheesecloth and I wanted to sit in the corner and cry.

Don't lose hope Red Wings nation! There is improvement.

     Our defense is looking more solid, confident and competent. In the first game, our defensemen looked a bit like they just met each other for the first time and there was a lot of confusion and poor execution all around. With each game their communication has gotten better, they're working better together as a team and it looks like they're maybe shaking off the physical and mental uncertainty and settling in a little. I mention mental uncertainty because there's no way you can convince me that losing Lidstrom didn't affect every single player in that room. His on ice perfection and his calming, confidence boosting presence can't be replaced nor duplicated, and Hockey is a very mental game. We currently have two rookies on defense and while Smith has had a little experience already in the NHL, he's still very much a rookie and Lashoff has been impressive in his NHL debut. The fact that neither of these rookies have been the worst defenseman on the ice in any game so far is a credit to both of them. Lashoff's look very solid and though he's made a few rookie mistakes, right now I'd take him over Kindl.

     I think Datsyuk is fighting an injury right now, that's not good news, but the fact we can expect him to be more Datsyukian once he's healed is something to look forward to. Pav hasn't been playing like himself and while he's usually taking faceoffs, we've seen Zetterberg taking them instead of him. The last time we saw that was when his wrist was injured last year. I suspect that if we weren't already being ravaged by the injury troll, Datsyuk might sit out a game or two, but because he know how much we need him and many other players are "more" injured,  he's instead playing as best he can right now.

     With so many roster changes and a new assistant coach, the Wings really missed having a full training camp and preseason games to work on team chemistry, new plays, styles and techniques and for Renney to have a chance to really prepare the players for his power-play ideas. Which leads me to

     Our power-play can't be this bad for much longer. We have the capacity for so much better (heck, it can't get much worse), and it's the players who have to make it better. Last year our power-play sucked, it was painful to watch and we all wanted to decline it every..single...time. Blashill took a lot of hear from fans for "ruining our PP". He was the new guy brought in during the off season, it was his first stint in the NHL and he was in charge of the power-play. Last summer Blashill took the head coach position in Grand Rapids and Tom Renney come over from Edmonton to replace him. It's hard to make a definitive judgement only 5 games in, but if the PP still sucks this badly after a coaching change, the common factor we're left with is the players. This is where the aforementioned lack of training camp and preseason games really hurts. That's would have been the time to experiment with, implement and give the players and coaches a chance to work these kinks out and make adjustments, and they didn't have that opportunity.

     Playing 3 games in 4 nights isn't an easy way to start the season, especially for those players who haven't played since April 20, 2012. Sure most of the guys were working out and practicing, but that can't substitute for game action and all the sore groins and muscle pulls are proof of that. The Wings have looked tired, slow and are taking stupid "I'm tired, slow and desperate" penalties they shouldn't be taking. I think they've looked a little better each game and I expect that trend to continue until they're back up to speed.

     I'm nervous and worried, but I'm also hopefull. I'm not sure what to expect tonight, but I'll be in front of my TV cheering on my team and hoping for progress... lots of progress. Some people may get as frustrated with my optimism as I get with their pessimism, and hey, we all cope in different ways.

Hopefully the Red Wings give us all something to cheer about tonight.

Let's Go Red Wings!!!

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