We’re here live at Peerless Central on a Saturday morning as the Caps head off to vist The Joe – Joe Louis Arena – to take on the two-time Western Conference champion Detroit Red Wings, and…
“What’s goin’ on?”
Well, if it isn’t an old friend of ours from our college days in Michigan, Mo Towne. Mo, it’s good to see you again. Hey, it’s too bad about Johan Franzen – I see where he’s going to be out for a few months after injuring his knee against the Blackhawks the other night.
“It’s a shame.”
And it’s not like the Wings are off to the sort of start folks in Detroit were expecting, either.
“A ball of confusion…that’s what the world is today.”
Espeically coming after that heartbreaking loss to the Penguins in t he finals last spring.
“Can you see the tracks of my tears?...what becomes of the brokenhearted?"
But the Red Wings are still a formidable team, aren’t they?
“You could say they’re a brick… house.”
But it’s going to be tough holding off those rising Blackhawks, I would imagine.
“Nowhere to run…”
But the Wings still have a strong core of players – Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart – signed for years.
“Signed, sealed, delivered…”
And they seem to have some talented kids in Ville Leino, Jonathan Ericsson, and Justin Abdelkader, even though they just sent Abdelkader down.
But I guess the key is still Nicklas Lidstrom.
“Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby…”
But the Caps have improved quite a bit in the last couple of years, too. It should be a good one tonight…
So you’ll be there tonight?
“I’ll be there…”
Well, we’ll have to do this again soon…
“Keep on truckin’…”
As the Caps take the road to visit Detroit tonight, they can take comfort in the fact that they have not lost a game in regulation to the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena since January 2002. OK, so they’ve only played there in two games since, but 1-0-1 is better than most teams fare in that venue.
The Red Wings have stumbled out of the gate, by their standards. At 1-2-0 and two standings points, no Western Conference team has fewer points. But it is, as they say, early. Any team with this statistical profile from last year has to be thought better than their start suggests:
Points: 112 (3rd)
Goals for/game: 3.52 (1st)
Goals against/game: 2.93 (20th)
5-on-5: 1.20 (4th)
Power play: 25.5% (1st)
Penalty killing: 78.3% (25th)
Winning pct. when scoring first: .804 (2nd)
Winning pct. when leading after 1st period: .788 (12th)
Winning pct. When leading after 2nd period: .810 (24th)
But looking at those numbers, you have to start to wonder, are the Wings primed for a slip in the standings? The Wings are and remain a powerful offensive team, but in last year’s regular season they also gave up a lot of goals and have allowed 11 in three games so far this season.
The Wings were a dangerous team with the man advantage last year – the best power play success rate in this decade. But they were a poor penalty killing club that benefitted from being tied for 10th in fewest times shorthanded last year. So far this year, their penalty killing has been ghastly, even by Caps standards. At 64.3 percent (9-for-14 in three games), this could be a dangerous problem for the Wings as they try to repeat as conference champs. It could be a problem in the context of this game as the Capitals have converted 23.8 percent of their power play chances so far this season and were second to the Wings (with the second best power play of this decade) last season.
And, speaking of power play and penalty calls that create them, it has already gotten under the skin, it would seem, of Red Wing goalie Chris Osgood…
"Every year the calls are exactly the same. They call the most ridiculous things for the first two months of the season trying to jack up the scores, then they call nothing as the season goes along, depending on who you are."
The Red Wings have participated in 5-on-3 situations in each of their first three games – two against and one for, and that doesn’t include a 6-on-4 to end the Wings’ 3-2 win over Chicago in their last outing when the Blackhawks pulled their goalie on a late power play.
Another problem the Red Wings will have to solve is bad finishes. Specifically, the Red Wings have not scored a third period goal this year. While they’ve been able to hold opponents to two third period goals in three games (both goals coming in losses), the Wings have not been able to muster much in the way of an effective late attack.
Which brings us to the back end of the defense (and we use that term “back end” with some caution) – goaltending. Neither Chris Osgood (3.03 GAA, .895 SV) nor new backup (for now) Jimmy Howard (5.17, .844) have distinguished themselves in net thus far. But it is, as they say, early. Osgood had an equally grim regular season last year (3.09, .887), yet still backstopped the Wings to the Cup final.
What the Wings are going to have to deal with that they did not last year is a serious injury early. If one looks at the core of skaters for the Red Wings, none of forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, Johan Franzen, Brian Rafalski, or Nicklas Lidstrom played in fewer than 71 games. Only Brad Stuart among the top-four defensemen played in fewer than 70 games.
Well, Franzen is out an estimated four months after having sustainging the dreaded “ACL” knee injury against the Blackhawks in the Wings’ last game. Franzen hasn’t had any particular success against the Caps (one goal in three career games). But losing a player with 61 goals over the past two years will leave a mark.
We could say at this point that guys like Datsyuk or Zetterberg will have to fill the void. But the Wings are in a bit of a transition. There is a “next generation” thing happening under the star level for the Wings.
Ville Leino bears watching. In a late season trial last year, Leino put up five goals and four assists in 13 games, which he followed up with a pair of assists in seven playoff games. However, he did put up 28 goals for Jokerit Helsinki (Finland) in 2007-2008, and he had 15 goals in 57 games in Grand Rapids last year (plus 3-10-13 in 10 playoff games for the Griffins).
Leino is the oldest (he turned 26 last week) of a young group that is poised to take over bigger responsibilities. Jonathan Ericsson (25) got his feet wet with the Wings last year (19 games, 1-3-4, minus-1) and picked up some valuable playoff experience (4-4-8, plus-9 in 22 playoff games). He could grow into a minutes-eater on the Red Wings blue line for years to come. Not that he needs any more size at 6’4”, 220.
Valtteri Filppula is the most experienced of the young group in terms of NHL games played (238 regular season games, 63 playoff games in three full seasons). In in Red Wings mold, he’s shown flashes of offensive talent (31 goals over the last two years in 158 regular season games, eight goals in 45 playoff games) and defensive responsibility ((plus-25 over the past two years in the regular season, plus-15 in the playoffs). Also in the Red Wings mold, he’s been brought along slowly, getting mostly third and fourth line responsibility. But now, with Franzen out, he might be the one to watch as the player to assume a bigger role in the middle.
The Wings have some sorting out to do of the sort that they haven’t had to do lately. How their lines remix with Franzen out will be an issue, although the Wings certainly have enough firepower (not to mention experience) to make any variety of combinations work. Perhaps more troubling is that the Wings have gotten off to a rough start in their own end of the ice, and this really isn’t much different from last year, when they finished the regular season a very mediocre defensive team.
The Wings’ weaknesses play to the Caps’ strengths. But by the same token, the Wings' strengths (depth in scoring) play to the Caps’ weaknesses (the Caps are 24th in goals allowed per game so far this season). It is the irresistible forces meeting the very movable objects. This is a game where a dozen goals might be scored in regulation with an overtime needed to settle the matter (we can’t imagine needing a whole overtime). And that’s how we think it will unfold…
Caps 7 – Wings 6 (OT)