It's the morning after a west coast road game for the Red Wings, and we're all a little more bleary-eyed and cranky this morning because the Wings lost their 2456th road game in a row. Another loss to the Sharks stings, but the idea that the Wings have this magical hold on the Sharks is gone. The Wings are the Sharks bitch now, whether we like it or not.
Anger and frustration are starting to seep into the fanbase, and with good reason. I wrote last night that there are a lot of problems with this team, most notably their inability to score goals with any kind of consistency. Through 17 games, the bright spots have been few and far between, outweighed by the issues that have prevented this team from rocketing out to the start that we've become accustomed to in the past.
Last night's loss may not have been the final straw, but the camel's legs are shaking and he's looking a little unsteady. Any more piling on and that may be it for a lot of people.
After the game last night, Mike Babcock didn't exactly tear the paint off the walls, but the tone of his presser was definitely different. No longer was it "we've got to keep working and plug away and things will work themselves out and I like gum". Here's what Uncle Mike had to say about the team:
We're at the point we got to make a decision what kind of team we want to be and how hard we want to pay for 60 minutes and get this looked after, because you can't let this snowball on you. You got to win on the road and you got to win at home.
Do we want to be a good team or not? Life just doesn't go on for you. You make a decision that it's going to go good for you. You decide for yourself that you're going to be successful. You decide for yourself that you're going to make a difference. You decide for yourself that you're going to have a good career.
No one just gives you this stuff. Other teams are trying, too. So we got to make decisions.
I'm no psychology major, but if that's not a direct challenge to his team I don't know what is.
Here's the thing, Mike: this all starts with you. You're the coach. You should be the one deciding what kind of team you want to be, and you should get the players to buy into your system. If they don't, then they don't play. It's pretty simple.
You got a player that you think isn't trying hard enough? Sit him down. I don't care if his name is Fabian Brunnstrom or Henrik Zetterberg; no one should be immune from the Leino Lounge on this team. Not right now. Now is not the time for coddling the players and stroking egos. Now's the time to kick some ass and fire up the team.
If we're questioning what kind of team the Wings are going to be, then I got news for you Mike; you're in trouble. Because that means either the system you've put in place isn't working, or the players have tuned you out.
If it's the former (which I don't believe it is), then it's just a matter of execution. I say it's not likely the system that is the problem because too many good teams have adapted it. The Blackhawks and Sharks are blatant rip-off artists of the type of puck possession game the Wings play, and the Canucks play almost a similar style. There might be tweaks, but generally this gameplan will make the Wings successful.
So does that mean the players have tuned Babcock out? That sure seems to be the prevailing thought, and that's going to be tougher to get back. Now is the time where you either show that you're the coach we think you are, the guy who can lead this team back to the promised land, or we find that you're simply a guy who inherited a great team and you've lost the room.
Because you've got the talent. It's there in that room. Players like Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg didn't suddenly become bad. Jimmy Howard should be going to the All-Star Game. The roster that takes to the ice each and every night should be enough to compete with any team in the NHL.
The problem with this team is mental, not physical. I respect that they want to spout all the cliches about "remaining positive" and continuing to "work hard" and taking it "one game at a time" and "getting ready for our next opponent" so that the Wings can "get back on track". Taking the wins and losses with the same business-like approach is nice, because you can stay grounded during the highs and not want to start cutting yourself during the lows. But every team should have a breaking point, and the Wings should be approaching theirs.
So Wings, it's time to answer Babcock's question: what kind of team do you want to be? Do you want to be the team we've seen in 8 losses this year? The team that can't score, makes mistakes that end up in their net, and looks like they can't beat a pee wee team? Or the team we've seen in 9 wins? Dominant, unyielding, talented. Oh, and you might want to make up your minds pretty quickly: Thanksgiving is approaching, and Ken Holland thinks that this is a pretty important date.