Starting the season in Sweden, the home of 8 of the Red Wings players, should have put things on a positive note right? Without a win in either of the two games and losing the lead in both games, the team undoubtedly boarded the flight home to Detroit with a sour taste. So what's there to take away from the trip overseas? There's some good, some bad, and some ugly.
Offensive production was pretty good in the opening two games. The team scored early and often (twice in both opening periods) and continued to produce great offensive chances. The Wings were +11 in the shooting column for the first game and +1 for the second, registering more than 30 shots in each contest. A lot of these shots were from great spots on the ice in the first one and a half periods of each game but were then limited to the point and to the perimeter as St. Louis adjusted defensively. Another good sign is how well the Wings fared in the face-off circle, winning about 57% of the draws for the weekend with Datsyuk hitting about 70% in the circle. The offense showed that it's still powerful despite the loss of the players from last year but it can't be called upon to do everything to win.
The penalty killing units continue the woes from last year, allowing 4 goals in 9 opportunities to the Blues. I know it's early but 56% kill rate will dig a big hole in the goal differential column if it stays this poor. I don't expect it to but there needs to be a rapid adjustment to the scheme for the penalty kill to get the confidence back in this team that it can play with the disadvantage. Another thing that was bothersome was the inability to change the offensive attack when the Blues adapted to the Detroit game plan. The middle of the ice started out fairly open but the Blues clamped down defensively and forced the puck to the perimeter and forced the Wings to try to beat them from the point. Sound familiar? Game 6 and 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals fit this description perfectly. The Wings need a new plan of attack when the puck is forced outside and I trust Babcock will come up with something sooner rather than later.
The defense and goaltending was particularly forgettable in these two games. Both games exhibited the definition of complacency following an early lead. Not to take anything away from the Blues on this one but the defense handed these two games to the Blues. I hate to lead the player bashing brigade but Brett Lebda is showing me all the more reason to root for a roster move. He was on the ice for 6 of the 9 goals scored in the two game set. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that one of them came on the powerplay but he was constantly out of position on the remaining 5. I appreciate the aggressiveness of trying to jump up in the attack but when he is at the front of the attack and leaves a forward to play his spot, the line needs to be drawn. The goaltending didn't help that much either this weekend as both Chris Osgood and Jimmy Howard let in at least two very soft goals. The difference between Ty Conklin being the backup and Jimmy Howard being the backup is pretty clear. I'm not ready to sell Howard down the river yet, given that it was only his 8th career start he still deserves the chance to prove himself but I think with the soft goals he has given up, that window of opportunity is closing fast.
MrNorrisTrophy's "MVP of Sweden": So who was I most impressed with in the two games to open the season? Although it is tempting to put Kirk Maltby with his shorthanded goal and assist, I picked Niklas Kronwall. He played solid defense while contributing a powerplay goal and assist in about 23 minutes of ice time per game with 6 shots blocked...and because he's from Sweden
#55 / Defenseman / Detroit Red Wings
Jan 12, 1981