You know how side characters in TV shows can become so popular that they become main characters? Roger from American Dad, the Fonz, Steve Urkel and even Sipowicz were all side characters that ended up stealing the show, or at least a good part of it. Kenneth, the page from 30 Rock, is an interesting case. As the show progressed he started to take on a larger role, getting more and more episodes that put a significant focus on his character. But because the show's intended stars, Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan, are actually really good, there wasn't any room for Kenneth to move up, even though he showed some potential. And even if there was room, it's unclear how he would stand up to the added pressure. So while his character has shown some increased depth (as when he told Alec Baldwin that he's always faking his cheer and is actually a super-repressed maniac), he's been denied entrance to that upper floor occupied by the real stars.
Sound familiar? This year it was clearly time for Filppula to step up to that upper floor. And he did. Of course, that doesn't matter, because now that the playoffs have arrived (and are damn near gone for the Wings), Filppula is back in that old familiar role, playing page to Datsyuk and Zetterberg. At least Hudler's been a presence at times, sneaking a dangerous pass in here and there (AKA: playing his role) and Franzen has had his moments (at least his hopelessness is coupled with visible effort, not that that warrants his status on the team). Filppula, though--I'm not even sure he's been out there as much as Emmerton and Nyquist. I just checked, he's been out like 3 times as much, but I'm pretty sure both those guys have created more chances than Filpulla, who's supposed to be our number two centerman. In fact, Emmerton and Nyquist show up on the highlights of the game more often than Filppula. They're making things happen. Val had the one good chance early, but that was it and it was served up to him on a platter.
When he's paired with Zetterberg, it's painfully obvious who's running the show. Z carries it in, Z holds off a D-man with one hand while controlling the puck, and play, with the other. Filppula has his help, somewhere off to the side or behind the net. This guy hasn't made anything happen. He looks like a bad-day Sedin twin out there, looking for space that isn't there instead of putting his head down and creating that space himself, the way the much smaller Datsyuk and Zetterberg do. We need him to be a force out there, but he's just passing messages back and forth, expecting other guys to deliver all the best lines, deferring, just like Kenneth Parcell. (They kind of look the same too)
The Wings Aren't Old, They're Un-renewed.
The Wings might lose. Most teams lose. Losing is the rule. But we're very familiar with the exception, or at least to going deep in the playoffs. That too might end. Or it has. Or it might not. Only one game to win, and it's game 6 in Detroit, then who knows.
But to get to that point, Filppula needs to step into the top forward role he's been groomed for. In typical Red Wings style, this grooming process has taken half a decade, but dude's 28, so there's no more time to wait. People like to say the Wings are old. They aren't. They've got young guys breaking in (Nyquist, Smith, Emmerton, Kindl, all with potential), guys at the start of their prime (Filpulla, Ericcson, Quincy, White, the injured Eaves and Helm). Guys like Holmstrom and Bertuzzi are replaceable. There is, however, that soft middle of core guys that will need to be replaced, the way Datsyuk and Zetterberg replaced Yzerman and Federov. That's the real danger here, that no one will step into those roles. And this isn't just about the future, it's also about now, about Game 5. Dats and Z have a few more runs in them, and Z may never stop (he's got some of #19 in 'em, doesn't he? 9 shots in game 3), but before they get old, they'll need someone to join their ranks to pull off another late run. That was supposed to be Filppula. There are other holes. Cleary, we now know, is not Doug Brown. He gets the same chances, but unlike Brown (who would've roofed that 1st period chance) Cleary gets cold feet at the sight of the open net. And the two coverage errors were horrible (no Red Wing was that open all game, every shot was contested or rushed). But take those away and we played a good game with no force, no drive outside of the usual Z and Dats axis (throw Kronwall in there too). You could probably levee the criticism people always had for the Soviet teams: great system, beautiful execution, not enough will, not enough determination.
Filppula, it's your time. You need to force your hand. Please, please don't become Keith Primeau.