[Ed Note: We've had SlapshotGoal around for a while as one of our most-active commenters. Since a good portion of her comments have been postworthy gems in themselves, it was only natural that we ask her to join us as an author. This is the first of (hopefully) many great posts by one of our favorites.]
At this point I feel confident that everyone has asked this question numerous times. I often ask myself while putting my head in a vice and repeatedly striking it with a ball-peen hammer. I assure you, this technique is very effective at distracting me from my frustration with the Wings. Sometimes while I'm lying awake at night, I try to figure out why the Wings are struggling so much. There has to be a reason, there's always a reason for everything. I just don't know what it is yet.
The Wings haven't been able to overcome adversity like they used to. Being down by a single goal often feels like an insurmountable challenge. The team is far too easily deflated and discouraged, and the harder they try the more frustrated they get. Remember in the 2010 playoffs when we played the Sharks and lost the first 3 games? They were down 0-3 in the series and were in danger of being swept. They didn't give up or get discouraged though, they dug deep and fought their way to game 7 and almost pulled out a win. I don't think I've seen such strength and determination since then. Did exerting all that effort and fortitude, only to lose a heartbreaking game 7 crush their spirit? Maybe.
Losing a league leading 208 man games to injury so far this year has been devastating. We had to sign Kent Huskins as an emergency defenseman, fly him in from Norfolk Virginia where he was playing for the AHL Admirals, and have him play that night because we didn't even have enough healthy defenseman to ice a full team. Danny Cleary and Justin Abdelkader were forced to become "top 6" forwards, Jimmy Howard was so ragged that we called up Petr Mrazek who is in his first pro season, and Brian Lashoff and Joakim Andersson probably wouldn't have got much, if any, NHL action this year; but have become regulars in the lineup. Maybe because of all the injuries, the players haven't been able to develop any chemistry together. When I think of chemistry, I think of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Even when they can't see each other, they can still make a perfect tape to tape pass, through traffic, and score boner inducing goals. Sometimes linemates can't complete a simple cross ice pass when there's no one between them. I don't get it. Numerous times I've watched two Wings both go for the puck, leaving the opposition uncovered, or neither of them go for it because they both think the other is going to. Occasionally I have the urge to play the Benny Hill theme song and just sit back and laugh, because if I don't laugh I might cry. There seems to be a disconnect between the players, like they're playing on the same ice but in alternate realities. Why is that? How can a team with so many talented players, with so much skill, look so discombobulated on the ice? Have there been so many injuries, line shuffles, call ups, veterans gone, and new teammates that the players can't develop the chemistry necessary?
I've said since the beginning of the season that the team looks like they're having an identity crisis. For so many years, the core of the team didn’t change. We had guys like Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Chris Osgood, Darren McCarty, and Kirk Maltby who were with the team for a long time. Sure, players would come and go, but the heart and soul of the team remained, so the transition from year to year wasn’t that difficult. The team identity remained largely the same for a long time and the players seemed to be more like a family than just teammates. Since the Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2008, they've lost Chris Chelios, Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom, Nicklas Lidstrom, Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby, Chris Osgood, Brian Rafalski, and Brad Stuart. Are you depressed yet? Wait, it gets better. We no longer have assistant coaches Todd McLellan (head coach in San Jose), Brad McCrimmon (Rest in Peace Beast), or Paul MacLean (head coach in Ottawa), and last year we had two assistant coaches, Jeff Blashill and Bill Peters, who had no NHL experience at all. That's a lot of turnover in just a few years. This year with Blashill coaching in Grand Rapids, the Wings brought in yet another new face in Tom Renney. A lot of nights I feel like I'm watching a bunch of talented guys on the ice, but they don't look like a fully functioning team. The cylinders are firing, but they're not in sync with each other. They sputter and lurch forward, moving for a little bit before coming to a standstill with smoke rolling out from under the hood. Even management doesn't know who or what they want the team to be. When Ken Holland was talking about contract negotiations with Filppula a few weeks ago, Holland said
"I'm still trying to find out what we are".
New bonds, relationships, and chemistry have to form, and a new identity must emerge. Apparently this kind of thing takes time. Who knew? Tick tock boys, tick tock.
I think the psychological factors have a bigger impact than the others. I believe the mind is stronger than the body. A strong will, determination, and perseverance can overcome a multitude of deficiencies. This team can be that team, we have character, heart, and leadership, but each player has to dig deep and come together as a team. Having such a short season really hurt the Wings, because in an 82 game season, they have more time to come together as a team, develop chemistry, and find their identity. I still have hope, but it's going to continue to be a bumpy ride, so hold on to your butts.