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Lessons Learned: Defense

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Continuing the season review, we'll take a look at the defense today. Like with the goaltending, we'll look back at the season preview and see if we're geniuses or morons.

2009 - Nicklas Lidstrom 82 9 40 49 22 24 5 0 1 0 194 4.6
2009 - Brian Rafalski 78 8 34 42 23 26 5 0 1 0 134 6.0
2009 - Niklas Kronwall 48 7 15 22 5 32 3 0 0 0 68 10.3
2009 - Brad Stuart 82 4 16 20 -12 22 1 0 2 0 153 2.6
2009 - Jonathan Ericsson 62 4 9 13 -15 44 0 1 1 0 55 7.3
2009 - Andreas Lilja 20 1 1 2 -2 4 0 0 0 0 19 5.3
2009 - Brett Lebda 63 1 7 8 -2 24 0 0 0 0 61 1.6
2009 - Derek Meech 49 2 4 6 -12 19 1 0 2 0 57 3.5

Season preview--strengths:

Defense: Chris Chelios is no longer on the team and Andreas Lilja will start the year on the long term injured reserve. But if it wasn't for these two circumstances Jonathan Ericsson wouldn't have gotten the chance to start the season with the Red Wings. Ericsson is an up and coming defenseman who shows too much skill and mental awareness to have just had "fluke success" in his time last year. His big frame is a much needed presence in the defensive end and he should work well with the speedy and energetic puck chaser Brett Lebda. Lidstrom and Rafalski are one of the best pairings in the league and Kronwall and Stuart have a perfect chemistry since both are skilled but physical defensemen. The key to the success of the 09-10 team lies in the defense. If they keep the pressure off of Osgood and feed the playmakers, the Red Wings can continue to play their trademark puck possession hockey.

"Ericsson...shows too much skill and mental awareness to have just had 'fluke success' " well...the -15 and numerous turnovers and bad play made me look stupid huh? Big E had a lot of trouble adjusting to his first full season in the league but by the end of the season he was having a lot better go of it and making a lot fewer mistakes. I chalk that up to playing alongside Andreas Lilja. "The key to the success of the 09-0 team lies in the defense" or this year, lack of defense was the cause of a lot of late game collapses that could have had the Red Wings at a higher seed or further in the playoffs (see: games 1-3 San Jose).

More after the jump...

All of this isn't to say that the Red Wings didn't have any success on defense but rather just not the success we are used to from the blueliners. Inconsistency plagued the team and kept them from having offensive success too. However, given some of the injuries this year we got to see some of the future guys that might make an appearance in Detroit next year. When Kronwall went down with a knee injury and Lilja still missing from a concussion, Jakub Kindl got to play in three games and show his ability. I think Kindl and possibly even Sergei Kolosov will fill the shoes of any of the following: Lilja, Lebda, Meech, Lidstrom (just his roster spot, no one ever replaces that guy).

Following his year long absence from post-concussion symptoms, Andreas Lilja played pretty well in the time given to him. He was a solid penalty killer and shot blocker while appearing to have improved some on his mental and positioning game. I think he's earned himself another year in Detroit while Lebda and/or Meech walk.

Season preview--weaknesses

Defense: Last year's defense was pretty horrid at times and it showed in two 8 goal games and several 6 goal games. There was very uncharacteristically poor play by Lidstrom, Rafalski, Kronwall, and Stuart far too often for my taste. Pinching in the offensive zone at the wrong time created breakaways, confusion with assignments created shooting lanes, and sometimes just flat out bad defensive play were common during games last year. With the loss of the a lot of the offense from last year, there has to be a new focus on defense. Ericsson showed his knowledge of the game and skill; hopefully this translates to a cohesive third pairing and the top two lines are more likely than not to return to their former level of play.

"Last year's defense was pretty horrid at times" that carried over to this year it seems. "There was uncharacteristically poor play by Lidstrom, Rafalski, Kronwall, and Stuart far too often..." That carried over a bit too this year, all four are guilty--but consider that's also by the standards that have been established based on their excellent performance in the past. "Pinching in the offensive zone at the wrong time created breakaways" That continued this year but to a lot lower rate (thankfully) than the previous year. "Confusion with assignments created shooting lanes" Remember the LA game allowing 52 shots on net? Yep.

There was a lot of carry over from the previous season that seemed to plague this year's team as well. I can't fully blame just the defensive players by position definition either as a lot of the forwards this year were rotating in and out from injuries and only a few of them played consistently well in their own end. The defensive pairings were as expected this year with Lidstrom/Rafalski getting the most minutes per night and Kronwall/Stuart playing a load of minutes as well. Perhaps one of the biggest things I noticed this season was how often Kronwall and Stuart played some major minutes. I think this is a sign of how things are progressing on the blue line. There's no longer a pairing 1 and pairing 2, it's pairing 1a and 1b. That's something that they can look at with a bit of a silver lining as Lidstrom debates retirement, there's more than one guy fully capable of stepping up to the top pair.

In the end, there was a lot that plagued this season's team defensively. The downturn in scoring at the other end created greater pressure for the defense to bend and not break. Unfortunately, it broke a few too many times this season and a lot of the opposing teams were able to exploit that weakness. But there was plenty of good too with the way that Lilja returned from injury and the big contributions put forth by Stuart and Kronwall.