Red Wings’ season, playoff chances coming down to the wire

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It’s easy to second-guess coaching decisions after the fact, begins many post-loss sports articles, but it was immediately clear that the Detroit Red Wings, and their recently redeemed goalie, Jimmy Howard, were not 100% last night in Boston. The direct evidence? Surrendering two goals on four Bruin shots in the first 2:44 of the game. The circumstantial evidence? A hard-fought win the night before in a game that did not start until after 8:00, delaying the team’s arrival at its Boston hotel until 2:45 yesterday morning. Howard looked sluggish, and his teammates weren’t able to bail him out. Their backs against the wall, Boston hardly let up, eventually claiming a 5-2 win.

The Howard redemption story is a nice and good one, and, if the Red Wings are able to clinch a twenty-fifth-consecutive playoff berth, there’s little reason to believe it can’t continue into the postseason, but hockey, as much as any sport, is a sucker for narratives like these, and they can color strategic decisions. Continue reading

2015 Detroit Red Wings Playoff Preview

The longest active playoff-appearance streak in American professional sports is alive and well. This is the good news in Detroit, where the Red Wings are preparing for their twenty-fourth consecutive NHL postseason. Their first-round opponent: the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The smart hockey folks predicted a very bad hockey season for the Wings, so the team should take some extra satisfaction in this postseason appearance. (They were right to project improvement by Justin Abdelkader, but less so for Luke Glendenning.) Their reward for consistently above-average production all season long was third place in the Atlantic Division, one spot behind their first-round opponents in Tampa Bay.

The Lightning, who got the better of Detroit in their four meetings this season, present a difficult challenge for the Red Wings.

Two areas where Detroit would seem to have an advantage, goaltending and powerplay scoring, may be mitigated by external factors. April is a bad time to host an internal goaltending competition, but neither of the team’s two primary options, Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek, has been able to carry the load to the satisfaction of coach Mike Babcock, who today announced that Mrazek will start game one. A question mark in net is not part of a winning playoff formula, but this is part of the hand these Red Wings have been dealt.

The powerplay advantage is nice, but powerplay opportunities are at their lowest in at least the last seventeen seasons, which means Detroit is likely to have fewer chances to leverage this advantage, particularly in the playoffs, where penalties already are reduced.

Detroit still has some of the best veteran and young players in the sport, as I was fortunate enough to witness in two wins against top teams (Nashville and St. Louis) this season. By my count, they had a .500 record against other playoff teams this season. They will be underdogs in this round and likely any others to which they advance, but if their defense can hold up, they have a fair shot of doing so.

There’s nothing like playoff hockey – enjoy!

Playing chicken on skates: The Predators and Red Wings pull the goalies in Detroit

We are headed back to Hockeytown this weekend to watch the Red Wings host the Nashville Predators on Saturday night. My first time at Joe Louis Arena, one year ago, was so great, and I can’t wait for this next visit.

Detroit and Nashville used to see a lot of each other when both played in the Western Conference’s stacked central division. They have fewer opportunities to square off since Detroit’s move to the Eastern Conference this year, though, so each meeting takes on greater importance.    Continue reading