I could probably recap the game by describing what happened, but it's 12:30 Central time and we all watched the game. At this point, how the Wings are losing isn't as upsetting as the fact that they are simply losing.
It was easy the other night to figure out what happened: the Wings played like shit against the Blues, and the Blues out-worked and out-played the Wings in every aspect of the game. Tonight was another story.
This was such a weird game. The final score actually flattered the Sharks to some extent, who played well, but were not head and shoulders better than the Wings tonight. The Wings dominated the first 30 minutes in terms of puck possession and shots, but found themselves down 3-1 simply because they lost focus and made mistakes. Throw in a soft goal by Jimmy Howard late in the second and another one by Ty Conklin in the third and the game's over.
Full credit is owed to the Sharks, who are a good team and played well enough to win. I imagine there aren't a lot of Shark fans who are thinking that was their best game of the season, but they got the 2 points in a game that was entertaining at the start but devolved into something that you can only shake your head at if you're a Wings fan, like when you think about how Dane Cook is successful.
This game was an eye-opener for me, and may be for a lot of people as well. Follow the jump for the bullets.
- I hope Detroit is charging the Sharks rent for the space they are renting out in the Wings' heads, because they've painted the walls, hung some curtains and put up all their "Heroes of Silicon Valley" posters and made themselves right at home. Rivalries are supposed to be back-and-forth, but it's getting a little tiring being on the losing end of these games. It was said in the game thread, but the Sharks are a damn good team, and the Wings as currently constituted are just not on their level. At least not without perfect execution on Detroit's part, which did not happen tonight.
- The night wasn't all bad: a huge congratulations to Brendan Smith on his first NHL game, and the kid did not look completely out-of-place. 17 minutes of ice time, mostly playing with Niklas Kronwall, and he got 2 minutes of PP time. There were a few mistakes, and he got rocked a couple of times, but after looking very bad in the pre-season, he restored my faith that he can be an NHLer (at least for one night).
- When I go to the grocery store tomorrow to pick up milk for my kids, I'm seriously expecting to find Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg staring back at me from the cartons. I'm half-tempted to go to my local police station and file a missing person's report for their ability to shoot the puck. I know that Pavel is great at stickhandling like he's in a phone booth; it doesn't do much good when there are another 3 booths blocking the door. It's the same thing with Zetterberg: stop gaining the zone and then turning away to the side boards. Take the puck, use your skill, and shoot the goddamned thing toward that asshole with the mask on.
- If that first period wasn't a microcosm of the Wings' season to date, I don't know what does. They dominated that period, looking like the Wings of the first 5 games of the season and then their subsequent winning streak, but holy mother of all things holy was that a clusterfuck of epic proportions on the shorthanded goal. It wasn't losing the faceoff; it wasn't letting Thornton get to the puck; hell, it wasn't even that Pavelski had enough time to build a fire from camping out in front. It was that the puck went in. Even bad teams need to get some puck luck from time to time, but it just seems like every mistake the Wings make ends up in the back of their net. Suddenly, instead of heading into the first intermission up by a goal and looking forward to a power play on fresh ice, they have to shake off being scored on shorthanded with less than 15 seconds to go in the period.
- I felt really bad for Jimmy Howard tonight. He's been so damn good this season that he's pretty much going to have to start stealing games if the offense continues to be this stagnant, but he had a rough one tonight and people are going to jump back on the "hurr durr the Wings goalies suck" bandwagon. I'm sorry, but Jimmy Howard is the only reason that the Wings even had a chance to win some of the games they have lost so far this year, and while the last 2 goals he allowed were not good ones, where were Datsyuk and Kronwall on the first goal, and what the hell happened on the second one? When you outplay your opponent for the first 20+ minutes and find yourselves down 2-1, that's deflating, regardless of the mental makeup of the team.
- And that's the frustrating part: it's the team's top players that are the most disappointing. If it were the depth players that weren't scoring, then you call up some Black Aces and see what they can do. If the starting goalie is giving up 5 goals a night, sit him down and try the backup. If the defense is struggling, mix up the pairings and look for a spark. But when it's your top 2 players that are bringing your offense down, what are you supposed to do? There's so much talk about trading for someone, but go ahead and find me a team that's willing to part with a top-6 forward at this time of year. As J.J. said in the game thread, this is the team we have to watch for the foreseeable future. Big changes to the roster aren't coming until at least Christmas, if not the trade deadline, so stop saying that the Wings are going to get Rick Nash or Alex Semin in the next few days, because those guys aren't going anywhere.
- This team is broken. There's something off, and while it's been easy to pinpoint the problems with the offense, tonight in the first period they looked like the Wings of old, maintaining puck possession and keeping the Sharks on their heels and pinned in their own zone for 19:45 of the period. But then the goal at the end of the first period happened and it was like finding a unicorn, only to have it kick you in the balls and then stampede your family. There's absolutely no question the physical talent and skill is in that dressing room, but it's a damn shame that when that goal went in, a large majority of the fanbase had that "oh shit" feeling you get when you realize that you have to chew the glass of milk you just drank (I really need to get milk tomorrow). The biggest concern that I have is that there's not single thing that can be tweaked to get this team back to the position of Cup contender. The offense is about as consistent as diarrhea, the defense misses Ian White more than it ever missed Brian Rafalski, and Jimmy Howard's back is just not strong enough to carry this team. We've talked on this site and around the blogosphere about how great a coach Mike Babcock is; now is the time to prove it. Because the problem with this team isn't in the players' legs or hands; it's in that small space between the ears, and all the bag skates and target practice in the world isn't going to fix whatever's going on upstairs in some of the players.
- Therein lies the difficult part for us fans; we've been spoiled for a hell of a long time now, seeing the Wings be contenders year in and year out. When the "elite" teams are talked about, the Wings are always included in the discussion. That's not the case right now, and while outsiders are loving it (as anyone reasonable person would expect), it's got Wing fans sniping at each other. We're not used to dealing with this kind of adversity, and the vultures are circling. It could get very ugly around here if the team doesn't start winning, so prepare yourselves.
Like the Capitals game earlier this season, there were some good things that happened in this game. The new line combinations were a nice spark, and I really liked Justin Abdelkader with Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen. Abby had 5 shots on net and was absolutely robbed in the first when his point-blank shot hit Niemi in the pads. There's little time to dwell on this loss, as the Wings are taking their gin and juice down to LA for an afternoon tilt with the Kings on Saturday night. Let's just hope that instead of being laid back with their mind on their money, they're thinking about how to win a stupid hockey game.