Anyone else hoping that the Wings don't face the Predators in the playoffs? In fact, I'm hoping the playoffs don't start soon, because this team is not ready.
The Wings came into tonight's contest with a seven point lead over the Predators in the Central Division, but a win would have created some breathing room and evened the season series against Nashville. However, the Wings came out flat for the 17th game in a row, and before you could say "Barry Trotz still looks like a Russian gangster", they were in a hole that they would never get out of.
Martin Erat opened the scoring 3 minutes into the first period. Tomas Holmstrom, in his first game back from injury, gave the puck away at the red line, and Erat converted an odd-man rush with a wicked shot past Jimmy Howard. David Legwand put the Preds up by 2 when he deposited a rebound past Howard.
In the second, the Preds put the Wings in the familiar position of being down 3-0 when Colin Wilson put home his own rebound after a Jerred Smithson pass. The good bounces kept on coming when a loose puck ended up on the stick of Sergei Kostitsyn, who scored a power play goal to make it 4-0 and end Jimmy Howard's night. Who would have thought it would be Ruslan Salei that would break the shutout streak that Pekka Rinne had against the Wings? I'm pretty sure the only person who would say that with a straight face would be his mother, but she would have been right.
Follow the jump for third period "highlights" and the analysis.
The Wings opened the third killing a penalty, but after surviving the power play without giving up a goal, the Wings spent the rest of the third trying to break through the prevent defense the Predators were playing. Unfortunately, the Wings were unable to solve Rinne again, and for the third time this year, the Wings found themselves on the wrong end of the score against the Predators, this time losing 4-1. A boring game deserves a quick recap, so let's do this.
- For all the listlessness among the Wings tonight, Pavel Datsyuk tried to carry this team on his back to a victory. His absence from the lineup left a gaping hole that was never filled. Ken and Mickey made the point that goals for were up a little while Dats was out of the lineup; but the energy that he injects into the team, especially his linemates, is unmatched. This is not a knock against anyone else, but Pavel is the only player on the team that I see that from. The scary part is that he's not even 100% yet, because he still needs another game or two to get back up to game speed.
- I'm getting really tired of seeing the Wings struggle against an aggressive forecheck. The second Preds' goal is a classic example. The puck hopped over Lidstrom's stick, allowing Nashville to maintain possession in the Wings zone. After a save by Howard, the puck came loose in front of the net. Legwand hustled and beat Dan Cleary to the puck, and seconds later it was 2-0. The third goal was the same thing: pressure resulting in a turnover and leading to a goal. This has been a theme for the Wings throughout the season (not just this year), and I keep waiting for the defenseman (or forward) to make a good pass and negate the forecheck. I'd like to say that Mike Babcock has an answer, but it's hard to be optimistic about that.
- You know who I felt bad for? Jimmy Howard. Talk about being hung out to dry again by his team. Brutal giveaways and bad bounces means 4 goals against, and he did not deserve the loss tonight. The upside is that all those people calling for him to get some rest got their wish tonight thanks to the team in front of him forgetting to show up. Also, to those calling for the Wings to make a trade to get a backup goalie: the goaltending is not the problem on this team. Stop the turnovers and fix the team defense and the goaltending will get better.
- There was a moment in the game where Dan Cleary had the puck all alone with Rinne down, and he missed the net. If that doesn't sum up the game in a nutshell for the Red Wings, I don't know what does.
- There were very few highlights if you're a Wings fan tonight, but kudos to Ruslan Salei for getting off the schneid and popping in his first goal of the season. He was the last of the regulars to score, and is it just me, or have a lot of the "first goals" been ugly for the guys this year?
- I have no idea what to say about the slow starts. There are no more excuses. The Wings are no longer suffering from the multitude of injuries that plagued them last month. You can't blame a lack of chemistry, because a good number of the core players have remained healthy and in the lineup. There is far too much talent and leadership on this team for this type of play to continue. I'm not about to question their effort, because I know that they are trying out there. What I will question is their intensity. Is this the annual "they are just saving it for the playoffs" crap, or are we dealing with a serious flaw on this team? I certainly hope it's the former, but I can't remember a time when I was this frustrated watching them play. I will say this: it's rare that the Wings make me feel uneasy going into a game, but watching them play right now, I don't see how they win a seven-game series against a quality opponent. Maybe that's just me reacting to the loss tonight, but it's a feeling I can't shake.
Ok, now that I got that last little bit off my chest, I'm taking a step back to look at the big picture. Yes, the Wings have played like bull dung the last few games. In fact, during the game thread, we thought that the last really good 60 minute game the Wings played was against Vancouver, and that was a month ago. However, they are still sitting in first place in the Central, 5 points ahead of the Predators with a game in hand. I know there's some panic setting in to the fanbase, but if you want to know what the Wings are made of, just check out the next month: of their next 13 games, 8 are against teams currently sitting in a playoff spot, with 2 more against the Kings who are just on the outside looking in. We in Detroit know that it's all about the post-season; the next 30 days will tell us whether the Wings have what it takes to go on a long run or not.