Dang, two more wins and I'd already have a draft ready to proclaim the Wings the Stanley-Cup favorites set to go for immediately after the Sharks game. Oh well, life continues its effort to teach me humility and I'll just keep on marveling at how a team can lose consecutive games by a combined score of 11-2 and still have a +2 goal differential only 7 games into the season. The Wings currently sit in 2nd place in their division thanks to the Hawks having played one more game and being able to take two of their losses into Gary Bettman's bonus-points extravaganza time.
Ten points in seven games is still pretty good. It's good enough to put Detroit on a 117-point pace. Unfortunately, it's not all beer farts and unicorn kisses at this point. October is supposed to be an easy month for the Wings while they're still relatively healthy and still (supposed to be) relatively not in mid-season cruise control. Wasted opportunities to earn points in October hurt just as much as failed struggles to earn them in February. But hey, at least we're not so sad-sack that we have the national media falling over themselves to congratulate us on our first win of the season... in our ninth game.
Let's see if we can make some sense out of what's happened in the last two games.If you're looking for answers about what the Wings have been doing wrong the last two games, I would say that attention to detail would be the answer to their problem all over the ice. Let's take a look at an example:
I hate to pick on Homer here, because he's the league's best net-front man and this actually isn't a problem he has nearly as much as I've noticed from Cleary, Abdelkader, Franzen, Filppula, and even Datsyuk, but he's the only one photographers consistently like to capture standing in his office, so he gets to be our example. Look at the picture on the left (from Tuesday's loss) and then the one on the right (from last Friday's win). Take notice of Homer's stick position. You'll hear Mickey Redmond talking about this all of the time, but this is a perfect example of a small attention to detail which can make a big difference in a game. While body position is very important around the net (more on that in a bit), the split-second it takes to get your stick into position to poke a rebound home can be the same split second a defenseman needs to keep you from doing just that.
Aside from focusing on the little things like stick positioning, there's another detail missing from the Wings' last two games. If it looks like they've been outworked on the ice, it's because they have.
You'll see in screencap 1 up there that there is 2:44 left on the clock. You can see Jiri Hudler in the middle of taking a skating stride. Valtteri Filppula, who is already behind four Washigton Capitals players (meaning one of them is the guy he should be covering), is already coasting. Johan Franzen is not in your picture, but that's partially because he was the low man in the zone. Screencap 2 is four seconds later. I've circled the puck as it's mere inches from Backstrom's stick and only about a half-second away from being in the back of the net. In the intervening seconds between these two screencaps, Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula have taken exactly zero strides each. At least Franzen has finally joined the play (and is standing at the top of the zone to cover the 5th Capitals player on the ice). Hudler is partially tied up with his man (Brouwer), but is not in good body position. Filppula is still six feet away from Carlson. I don't know much about John Carlson's foot speed, but I'm pretty sure that if Filppula is skating hard, he closes the gap in those four seconds.
Of course, the last five minutes of what's already a blowout is kind of a time when you don't get on your players as much for helping put one more nail in the coffin that is your backup goalie's GAA, but this is the kind of attention lapse that has hit the team in the last two games. Don't get confused about moving feet automatically equaling the right thing to do. There are times when you have to coast to stay in position. Skating too hard in one direction pulls you out of your lane or makes you vulnerable to an easy move. However, it's not hard to know when a player whose feet aren't moving should be skating.
When you don't move your feet while on offense or defense, you make the other team's job that much easier. I said on Tuesday that one of the problems the Wings were having is that they were trying to do too much with their sticks and not enough with the puck. This is an offshoot of that problem. Keeping your feet stationary makes you have to work that much harder to get to the puck; it makes you that much easier to clear out of the front of the net, and it makes you that much easier to track down on an aggressive forecheck.
Ultimately, we already knew this. Mike Babcock ran a practice yesterday that would have otherwise been a day off because he wasn't happy with the team's work ethic on Tuesday, saying to reporters "I guess if you don't do it in games, you can do it in practice, right?"
...and that is absolutely right. Bounces, calls, and goalie matchups won't always go your way and sometimes there's nothing you can do about that. But what you can always control is how much you work on the ice, and you'll find that the words of Samuel Goldwyn remain true: "The harder I work, the luckier I get."
Detroit will have a tough opponent to face on Friday in the San Jose Sharks. They'll have last change, so it should be slightly easier to get the line matchups they want, but they're dealing with a very deep team. San Jose has two fewer points in the same number of games, but they've won three consecutive against the likes of New Jersey, Boston, and Nashville. Friday will be a test for the Wings against the team that has ended their playoff run for two straight seasons. A win or a loss isn't going to decide anything, but an effort like they put in on Tuesday would severely hurt.