"Homer...let me go ahead and stop you. I didn't catch a word you just said."
With the downtime in the schedule, we decided we would take a look at and discuss a few things with the Red Wings. JJ, Graham and I all submitted three questions each and then the answers were submitted. Simple enough. But don't let it just be us, we want you to chime in and offer up your opinions too.
Part I was up yesterday and today we close out this mini-roundtable with Part II.
Question 1: How much stock do you put in the Boston-dominating weekend? They played a division-leader about as well as could be expected, but it's only two wins against the East. Is this the real Red Wings squad we can expect come playoff time or are we destined to see more of what we saw against Nashville?
J.J.: I think the Boston weekend was a reminder of what this team is capable of doing and what they're willing to do come playoff time. Losses to Nashville in the regular season will always bother me and I'll hang up my blogging cleats when they don't, but regular season games just seem to mean more to the Predators. I can't see how this Wings club, who knows how to win come postseason time get consistently outhustled, outplayed, and outcoached over a seven-game series with anybody.
Graham: I'm cautiously optimistic after this weekend. We make fun of the East a lot around here, but the Bruins have been very consistent all year and are one of the better teams in the conference. However, looking beyond who they played, I was impressed by how they played. Obviously, putting 10 goals in 2 games is impressive against anyone, but to do it against the 3rd best defensive team in hockey means that the Wings' offensive slump may be ending. They were also much better defensively, limiting the Bruins to few shots and even fewer chances. More importantly, they showed an intensity that was lacking the last 2 weeks. They seemed to have had the mindset that they always get at this time of year, where they lose focus as they wait for the playoffs to start. I was glad to see Babcock call out the team after the loss to Nashville, and it seemed to have a real effect on the players. I think we will see this team play with more determination and fire the last month and a half as they get ready for the playoffs.
Casey: I think it was a great sign, but it doesn't absolve their previous problems like the back-to-back shutouts and then losing to the Predator 4-1. I think they all got the memo from Mike Babcock that enough is enough and they definitely played better. For me, the question is whether or not they'll be able to continue to play like this. I think the Tampa Bay game might be a hiccup in that road because that is going to be a tough game for the Wings, but then again it could serve as a a big mental boost. I think the back-to-back beatings they handed to Boston will be that mid-season jumpstart that will help them get back to the dominant ways of earlier in the season.
The rest of the roundtable is after the jump as we talk about call-ups, Jimmy Howard, the Canucks, and the trade deadline.
Question 2: Out of the call-ups seen this year (Tatar, Mursak, Emmerton), which impressed you the most?
J.J.: Short-term, I'd say Mursak is the closest to stepping into a role with the club. His speed alone makes him a valuable asset and he's got the right attitude about the kind of work he has to do in order to earn his spot on higher lines. For pure potential, I absolutely love what I saw out of Tatar. George Malik spent a lot of time in training camp talking about how he's got all the skills, but still tries to do everything too fast and ends up "spinning out" too often. I just hope that he is able to put his skill game all together at once because I think he's got the best chance to spend his career as a top-six forward in Detroit.
Graham: I was impressed with all 3 of them, but I liked Mursak the most because he seemed to be the most NHL-ready out of the three of them. He was fairly good in his own zone, created scoring chances with his speed, and it never appeared that the game was too fast for him. Truth be told, I was happy with all of three of them, and look forward to them joining the team and contributing.
Casey: I'm going to go with Tomas Tatar. He didn't put up any spectacular numbers in his games with the team but he also showed what he's capable of in the future in the NHL. For a kid that's 20, he's got a tremendous future ahead of him if he continues to play like that.
Question 3: Vancouver has put themselves in position to earn the coveted first seed in the West and get home ice throughout the playoffs. As Wing fan, how afraid (if at all) are you of the Canucks, and how do you think the Wings would fare against them in a playoff series?
J.J.: I've been told so many times to stop being so goddamn brash about the Wings playoff chances, you'd figure that it would eventually get to me, but Vancouver does not worry me with Luongo in net and Vigneault behind the bench. Time and again, Vigneault has shown that he cannot bring his team to make the proper adjustments and beat teams that they should have taken care of. Luongo is getting more beatable every year, and even the Hawks turned them into a frustrated mess for two straight years. If they meet in the playoffs, Wings in 5.
Graham: A Canucks-Wings series would be highly-entertaining, because they are 2 teams that can score almost at will. I'd be very curious to see how each team's defense stacks up against the other team's offense, especially with regards to the Wings against the Sedins. The Canucks have some injury issues of their own at the moment with Alex Edler out, but they are one of the deepest teams in the league. The series will all boil down to whether Roberto Luongo can outplay Jimmy Howard and shed some of the playoff demons. "Luongo" and "clutch" go together like "NHL discipline" and "consistent" or "effective". The one thing I could see happening is the Canucks using the Wings as that motivational stimulus that the same way the Sharks did: the Canucks get an extra jump in their step knowing that if they beat the Wings, they are beating one of the better teams in the NHL and a team that has proven playoff success. Of course, that may not happen at all if the Canucks and Blackhawks meet in the first round with the Hawks pulling off the "8th-seed-beating-the-President's-Trophy-winner" for the third year in a row.
Casey: For me, this is one of those questions that depends on a few things. If the Wings stay out of the box against the Canucks, they'll win it. If they play solid in the defensive zone and are able to shut down the Sedins, they'll win it. If Roberto Luongo starts, they'll win it. There, I said it.
Question 4: The dreaded "s" word. Is Jimmy Howard having the sophomore slump or is it a product of something else?
J.J.: If a "sophomore slump" means that his numbers are simply "average" instead of wonderful, then I'll take it. Ultimately, his "slump" is of course a product of a few factors and not all of them are his attitude or ability. If I had to put a percentage of the blame on him, I'd go with a solid 65-70% though. His defense is allowing what seems to be a lot more chances against than they did when they had to spend two months playing borind, defensive hockey, but by the same token, it feels like he's stolen fewer games for Detroit this season. The defense (forwards included) need to spend more time playing the team game and limiting shots in front of him like they did in the weekend against Boston, but I want to see more from Howard later in the season and for the upcoming playoffs.
Graham: I think it's a bit of both (cop out). There have been a lot of games this year where I have written "Jimmy Howard had a good game but was let down by his defense", and that's on the team in front of Howard. However, there's no question that he has not been as good nor as consistent this year as he was last year, and this is seen in his numbers. I think what happened is that the NHL got the chance to see him over the course of an entire season, and they have picked up on some of his weaknesses (his lateral movement and rebound control) and exploited them. I also believe that the early struggles and subsequent injury to Chris Osgood meant that Jimmy played a lot more than even he expected to, and he's gone through some bouts of mental fatigue. Given that the Wings only get 2 more 3-day breaks from now until the end of the season (not including the one we are currently enjoying), it's imperative that he get some rest so he's fresh for the playoffs.
Casey: As we've seen a lot this year, Jimmy has been the unfortunate benefactor of spotty defensive play in front of him. I think the fault can be spread pretty evenly between the defense and Howard himself. By that I mean that although the defense has failed him greatly at times, you do need those huge saves to counter that and he just hasn't had all that many this season. He's also struggled with rebound control and tracking the puck so while I don't think he's had a slump, I do think that he's been more consistently beatable than last year.
Question 5: With the trade deadline fast approaching, speculation is rampant that the Wings are looking to acquire either a defenseman or goalie to help with the playoff push. Ken Holland is on record as saying he will not be afraid to make a move if he feels the team is not ready to compete for the Cup. IF a deal is made, which Wing is the most likely to be traded, and are we more likely to see another goalie or a defenseman join the team?
J.J.: I think Holland's statement was more to his team than it was to the rest of the league and that he said it to get everybody in the locker room focusing on how much they enjoy being Red Wings. I simply can't see a big splash being made though. If I had to guess one guy, I'd say Hudler (even though I don't want that). I would think that any trigger pull on a move would bring a defenseman in. Chris Osgood's groin may have a lot to say about that, but I'm not listening to another man's groin for trade rumors (although, I'm more likely to do that than put stock in anything Eklund says).
Graham: Personally, I believe the team we see today is the team that we will see on March 1, so this is more of a speculative question than anything else. However, if there were a trade, I would expect to see a defenseman come to the Wings, and the player I could see getting traded would be Hudler. He struggled earlier this year, but he's been a consistent performer the last few weeks, and at his cap hit, he'd be worth the cap space and would bring back a decent return considering he's still young and has the proven ability to score 20 goals in the NHL. Now that he's playing well, he'd actually be worth something on the market. However, like I said, I don't think the Wings make a deal.
Casey: I think the cap is too tight to make a move that is worth anything and the only way I could see a player get dealt is getting something (draft picks) in return for Patrick Eaves if the team knows they won't be able to afford him. But, like I said, I think it's too tight at the cap to do anything worthwhile.
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Now it's your turn. Tell us what you think on the topics!