You know, this whole "lose a player to injury" every game is really starting to get old. The Wings, who have been battling the injury bug for a while, lost 2 more players tonight (more on that later) while falling to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a shootout by the score of 3-2.
Columbus opened the scoring 4 minutes in when Rick Nash's shot went wide of the Wing net. Jakub Voracek took the bounce off the boards and put it past Jimmy Howard, who was slow in getting over to cover the other side. The Jackets increased their lead when Grant Clitsome (who has the greatest unintentionally-dirty sounding name in the NHL) took a shot that bounced off Howard's wrist and in. The goal came on a 2-man advantage for the Jackets after Jiri Hudler and Jonathan Ericsson were in the box for penalties. Later in the first, Howard took a shot off the knee that seemed to catch him in the area where there is no padding. He left and did not return, and Joey MacDonald took over for the second straight game.
In the second period, the Wings came out with some fire, and they tilted the ice in their favour. Drew Miller scored that rarest of rare goals, the shorthanded tally, to bring the Wings within a goal. Shortly after that, Valtteri Filppula put a beautiful pass on to the stick of Jiri Hudler, who deposited the puck into the open net to tie the score. The third period saw no goals, and neither did overtime, despite Columbus having a power play for the first minute in a half. So, for the third time in the last 4 games, the Wings went to a shootout, trying to get their third straight win in the skills competition. Unfortunately, Steve Mason was up to the task and stopped all 4 Wing shooters with some help from the crossbar, and Antoine Vermette's goal in the fourth round stood as the game winner.
To lose the game is one thing, and we'll deal with that in the analysis. More importantly, the losses in the dressing room keep mounting for the Wings. Follow me after the jump where we'll look to figure out what is going on.
So what do you want to talk about first? The game or the injuries? I guess it doesn't really matter because it's my blog and I want to talk about the game.
- Once again, the Wings got off to another poor start, and they gave up 2 goals early to fall into another hole. That makes 3 straight games the Wings have been behind, and like I said last time, while it's nice that they are battling to come back, these poor starts are killing them. The worst part is that they are doing this under many different circumstances: whether they are rested or not; on the road or at home; healthy or missing players. If I had to pick out one consistent weakness of this team, it's their propensity to start out of the gates slow, resulting in having to play catch up. That's all well and good against the Blue Jackets and Flames, but when the playoffs roll around, the Wings' opponents will have much more talent to potentially keep the Wings down.
- Are we starting to see the return of bad Jonathan Ericsson? This was the second game in a row where he looked lost out there. He had 2 penalties (the first was one was an iffy call), but the second one with 30 seconds left in the game was an absolutely unnecessary penalty to take. Luckily the Wings killed it off, but that could have been the game. He was also nowhere to be found on the first goal. Voracek was his man, and he completely neglected him coming down the slot. If Ericsson turns around and notices Voracek, he's able to tie him up and prevent a goal. I put some of the blame for that goal on him. Here's hoping this is just a mini-slump and not a complete regression back to the Ericsson of last year.
- The rest of the blame for the first goal goes to Jimmy. He was slow to get over to cover the far side, and it's not like this was the Joe where the puck came off the boards like it was a sling shot. He also whiffed on the second one when the puck went off his wrist and bounced over him into the net. Granted, it was on a 5-on-3 PK, but that's a save he's got to make. I haven't been digging the way he's been playing lately, as he seems to be in the Osgood camp of allowing a soft goal per game. Like with Ericsson, I'm hoping this is just a mini-slump and nothing big.
- Staying with the goaltending, I was really pleased with Joey MacDonald and his play. It's been posted in other places that in his 2 relief appearances with the Wings, he's allowed 2 goals, has a save percentage around .970 (I couldn't find the exact number), and is 0-1-1. He kept the Wings in it during the game, particularly with a big poke check on R.J. Umberger and on the PK in overtime. Despite everything that happened tonight, Joey was not the reason the Wings lost. It sounds like he's probably getting the start tomorrow, and I think the team comes out on fire to finally get him the win that he personally deserved tonight.
- There were some bright sides to the game tonight. The first was the play of the second line after the first period. I commented during the game thread that after the first, I was ready to hang the first line. Bertuzzi looked like he needed to go back to hockey school to learn to pass, Filppula spent the first looking tentative again, and Hudler.....well, he was Hudler. But in the second and third, they generated offense, including scoring the second goal on a great pass by Fillpula to Hudler. Bertuzzi had a few chances over the course of the game, and his shootout attempt was ridiculous: it was the kind of move that, had it worked, we would have been talking about for a long time. However, to Hudler, I say the following: shoot the puck. You're not always going to get the great pass like tonight. Think of the game in the same way you think of your private life (if the rumours are true): just pull the trigger and don't wait for the easy ones.
- I also loved the showing from the depth lines. I am going to do this for the first time: I am publicly declaring my man-crush on Darren Helm. His speed never fails to astound me, despite him showing it off in every game. What I really like about him is that, regardless of the score, he's always hustling. Tonight, he drew 2 penalties, including an almost-penalty shot (although knowing his stone hands, I was happier with the power play). He killed penalties like he always did, and he was a force in the neutral zone, using his speed to keep the Jacket defenders on their heels. If he ever develops a scoring touch, the Wings could have a 20-30 goal scorer on their hands. The other player I was impressed with tonight was Miller. His goal was a thing of beauty, and it being a shorthanded tally made it that much sweeter. But for the second game in a row, I thought he was responsible in his own end while creating a little offense. Considering he's a winger on the fourth line, that's pretty good. If the Wings are going to get through this stretch of the injuries, they are going to need contributions from guys like Miller and Helm.
Ok, let's get the news part out of the way: in case you haven't heard, it appears that Jimmy Howard sustained a bruised knee and may be day-to-day. I haven't seen anything official about that, but Mike Babcock said that it's unlikely Howard gets the start tomorrow. If it's a choice between Jimmy playing tomorrow against the Blue Jackets or resting to be healthy for the Pens on Tuesday, I know my preference, and I'm pretty sure it's the same as the majority of you. However, we did not receive good news regarding Tomas Holmstrom. Per reports, it appears he has broken his right hand and is going to be out for approximately 4 weeks. So, for those keeping score at home, that is officially 2 of the 3 players from the top line that are currently out with a long-term injury. Reports are that Tomas Tatar is going to be called up, but this is a pretty big blow.
Here's where we stand on the injuries right now: Pavel Datsyuk and Dan Cleary are progressing, and may be back around the All-Star break. Mike Modano is skating and is targeted for an early March return. Brad Stuart just had surgery and is out at least another 5 weeks. Chris Osgood is out six to eight weeks with his groin injury. To that, add Homer, who is out for at least 4 weeks, and Jimmy, who could be out for 2 days or 2 weeks; no one knows yet. I would like to know if it is acceptable for us to mention injuries as a potential factor in the Wings' play over the next 2 weeks. I would hate to be accused of making "excuses" when other teams go through injuries as well. I would argue that the players the Wings are currently missing are far superior to any other teams' injured players in the entire NHL when looked at collectively, and that includes Pittsburgh missing Crosby. However, I see this injury list, and I'm struck by a thought I never expected: I'm excited. You know why? Because when the Wings weather this storm and come out the other side, they will be healthy, rested, and pissed off that they had to go through this again. They will also have the knowledge that they can bounce back and go on a tear like they did last year. I have no doubts that they are going to play just fine, and I'm calling right now that they win 3 of their next 5 games before the break.....at least. After the garbage of last year, this stretch of injuries is nothing. I always like to see how teams deal with adversity, and it's not like the Wings have completely gone in the tank since the injuries started. The team is fine, and let's not forget that in a couple of weeks, everyone except Nicklas Lidstrom is going to have a nice break where they'll get a chance to heal, rest, and get ready for the stretch run and the playoffs. See? Because the Wings are so unpopular among the rest of the NHL, no one votes them in to the All-Star Game, ensuring they all get ready for the playoffs; even when people think they are punishing the Wings, they just end up helping them.