There's one universal truth in the NHL today: if you don't show up for 60 minutes, your chances of winning the game drop exponentially. The Wings found that out once again tonight when an awful first period was too much for them to overcome, dropping a 4-3 decision to the Blues in St. Louis. This was a game the Wings could have and should have won had they started with the same effort they finished with. Of course, this was the second attempt for Chris Osgood to get win number 400, and like some people out there, I just want him to get it so we can all move on with our lives. Unfortunately, he was one of the reasons why we're not talking about his achievement.
The Blues opened the scoring on a power play. Erik Johnson's point shot got past 3 players in front and by Osgood to make it 1-0. The Wings responded 30 seconds later when birthday boy Johan Franzen ripped a wrist shot by Jaroslav Halak. The Blues immediately got the lead back when the Wings failed to clear the puck, and Patrick Berglund's shot went off Niklas Kronwall's leg and in. Late in the first, the Wings killed off a penalty to Kronwall, but Berglund got another shot by Osgood to make it 3-1. Another turnover by a Wing defenseman, this one by Ericsson, allowed Matt D'Agostini to walk in all alone and make a nifty move, increasing the lead to 3 goals.
However, the Wings woke up in the second half of the middle frame, and Nicklas Lidstrom continued his dominance of the Blues this season when he scored his ninth goal of the season on a 5-on-3 power play. Patrick Eaves got the Wings within one when he potted a wrist shot by Halak late in the second. With time winding down, Franzen had a great chance to tie the game up but Halak got just enough of the puck to keep the Blues ahead. The Wings had a number of chances in the third period, but they were not able to get another goal, and the Wings string of inconsistency continued.
I am pretty damn mad after this loss, and every Red Wing player, coach and fan should be, too. Bullets after the jump.
Apparently the Blues were on the Wings' "nice" list because the Wings absolutely gifted them two points tonight.
- We all wondered how the Wings were going to respond to the loss of Pavel Datsyuk, and I'm happy to report that very little has changed: they failed to show up for the first period, got behind early, and their rally was too little, too late. I understand they played last night, but the mental mistakes were the same things we see whether they played last night or last week: lazy passes by the defensemen at the blueline, failure of the forwards to get the puck out, and getting out-skated and out-worked. If there's one thing that drives me up the damn wall about this team, it's their inability to start some games with any intensity. This was a game against a divisional opponent where a win puts them even further behind heading into the Christmas break.
- I don't know whether the way they played in the second half is encouraging or even more maddening. The Wings were down 4-1, then it was like they flipped a switch and dominated the Blues. What's good about that is that they didn't quit, and they had numerous chances to tie the game after it was 4-3. The downside is that had they played like that in the first half of the game, they would have won 7-0. The thought that their talent will kick in and allow them to win a game is a feature of the Wings I've hated the entire length of my association with the team.
- I'll say what we're all thinking: the Blues were lucky to win this game. They were thoroughly dominated in every aspect of the game from the middle of the second period on, and had the Wings played like that for the whole game, they win in a laugher. But, the Wings didn't, and the Blues won. So congratulations, Blues: you won a game against our backup goalie after one of the worst periods of the season for the Wings. Enjoy looking up at us for the rest of the season.
- The defense had a really bad game tonight, and they gave the team little chance to win. The only pairing that really had a decent showing out there was Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart. Yet another goal went in off Niklas Kronwall, and he took a dumb cross-checking penalty in the third that could have proved disastrous. Ruslan Salei had a particulary miserable game, and I know this because I noticed him on the ice, which is never good for a number 6 defenseman. Brian Rafalski may be tearing it up offensively, but his defense (you know, his position) needs to improve by leaps and bounds if he wants to avoid becoming the latest target of our scorn. This was an extremely forgettable night for the blueliners.
- You know why the Blues don't scare me? Their best player, by far, is Jaroslav Halak, and the Wings have scored 14 goals on him in 3 games. Their offense is their weakest link, especially with the injuries they are dealing with, and their defense is nothing special. The Wings were able to get 38 shots on Halak, and many more were blocked or deflected. Unless Halak steals a game or the Wings play poorly like they did in the first, I believe the Wings are a far superior team. Disagree? Prove me wrong.
- The fourth line was outstanding tonight, and I think that with Datsyuk out for an extended period of time, it will be nice for them to develop some actual chemistry with one another. Darren Helm had a number of chances again tonight, although none of them were of the "if he had hands he'd bury it" variety. Draper looked good with some extended minutes, and Eaves is showing some good offensive skills. How long before we consider this line our "third" and the Hudler-Abdelkader-Miller line the "fourth"? Or do we already?
- Chris Osgood. I'm saving it for last because this is a little painful for me. Chris, I have one message for you: I'm done. I'm done defending you. I can't do it anymore. Consider me an anti-Ozzie, Osbadite, whatever they are called. I can't take the fact I have no confidence in your ability to stop a puck anymore. I hate feeling like every slapshot from the boards has a good chance of going in. It makes me physically ill seeing you flop around in the crease and seeing your arm outstretched after the puck has already missed the net. But most of all, I hate the fact that every single game, you seem to give up a goal that a) should be stopped, and b) is scored at a time where a big save would ensure a Wing win. Tonight it was the third goal. The first one was screened: I get that. The second one was tipped in off Kronwall's leg: I can see how you missed that. The fourth one was a sick move that fooled you: happens to the best of them. But that third goal was a killer, and it was one you should have stopped. The Wings were only down 2-1, they had just finished killing a penalty, and you had a chance to get out of the first period (a period in which the team played like garbage) only down one goal, and you give up a goal like that: a slap shot from the boards with minimal screening. I want you to get 400 wins, and I want it to happen soon, because, as much as it kills me to say this: you're done. You no longer are an asset to this team on a nightly basis, and if you don't stop this "soft goal" crap, we are going to have no choice but to play Jimmy Howard every single game, and his arms will fall off by the time we get to the playoffs. Maybe I'm being overly harsh on you because you're the goalie, but I just can't do it anymore: you've hurt me too many times. I wish you nothing but success as you go for 400, and I will recognize the feat if/when you do it (see, I'm not even confident enough in you to say you WILL get it). But I need to see you WIN a game for the Wings, not have them win in spite of you. If you're pro-Osgood and you disagree, bring it in the comments. I just can't do it anymore.
It always hurts to lose a game, but it especially hurts when the Wings don't show up for the first 20 minutes. The NHL goes on their annual Christmas break, so no games tonight or tomorrow. The Wings head to Minnesota on the 26th (Boxing Day for you fellow Canadians), and then it's off to Colorado before a New Year's Eve date with the Islanders. Does Osgood play again in 2010? My gut tells me he gets the start on NYE, but we'll have to see. Get those stockings hung by the chimneys and perform extra nice deeds tomorrow, because Santa is watching right up until the last minute.