The Canucks had a chance on Thursday to hurt the Dallas Stars' playoff chances and they got destroyed by a hungry team. If you believe in narrative hockey and that the Canucks are a good team who want to show they're better than the embarrassing result they got in their last game, this one's going to be tough for the Wings.
It will not hurt my feelings one bit if the Wings golf in May. Not one bit. Like I've said before: it's that respectful hate I have for them.
As the points standings work, the Wings can right now afford to lose one of their last five games as long as that loss isn't against Dallas on the 27th. That's the leeway they have in the control of their own destiny. More losses than that and they need to rely on help from their competition.
With that said, here are five guys who I'd like to see give better effort to help the Wings win tonight.
1. Mike Babcock
Alain Vigneault is a very smart coach who uses line-and-zone matchups more than any other coach in the league. With last change, he's going to have the advantage in getting those matchups. If Babs uses the line blender, he needs to be very careful or he's going to find his lower lines consistently facing defensive zone matchups against the Sedins. It seems like every game we play against these guys, one of those matchups creates a Canucks goal. Also, as he's told the press time and again this season, preparation and 60-minute focus are his job.
2. Valtteri Filppula
We've been hard on the guy lately ad he hasn't done much to prove we shouldn't be. He has put up three points in his last 15 games and is a -7 during that stretch. Filppula has consistently gotten top line minutes and has neither produced offense nor done much to prevent it from the other team. He's been shuffled around a bit and that hasn't helped. From focus issues of not having his stick on the ice around key areas to the mental laziness of always taking the easy lane given by the defenders*, to the continued insistence on playing defense with his stick first and his body rarely, Filppula has got to improve.
(*the reason they give the outside lane easily is because you're a lot less dangerous out there. They're not going to give the middle lane if you're not constantly challenging them)
3. Kyle Quincey
Despite how silly he's made me look for defending him all last summer and through most of the lockout, I still believe Kyle Quincey is a better defenseman than Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo. Like Filppula, I think Quincey has trouble focusing the more the game goes on. He's better as a big body than people give him credit for, but he's also supposed to provide some level of offense. For comparison, Colaiacovo has just two fewer points in 25 fewer games. White has outscored him in fewer outings. It's even worse when you take into consideration that two of his three points were fluky garbage (his goal came when Jonathan Bernier couldn't cleanly glove a shot and had the puck bounce into the net off the back of his head and his latest assist was a pass to Johan Franzen just before the half-ice bouncer that found its way through Kiprusoff).
4. Jimmy Howard
Howard had his most disappointing game of the season against Calgary in the team's latest loss and let his frustration show on the goal that turned out to be the difference-maker for the Wings. He's been good this season and recorded a shutout in the game prior to that one, but he really needs to have a big bounce-back game to help the team out. I'd prefer if the team made it as easy as possible, but it's the Canucks. They're going to get scoring chances and the Wings will probably need Howard to come up big for them a few times.
5. Niklas Kronwall
For Detroit's point-producing defenseman, Kronwall hasn't recorded a point in his last five games and hasn't put a shot on net in the last three. He's been playing more minutes and tougher roles as of late, but I'd like to see the aggression which makes him a difference-maker on display. Kronwall plays behind forwards who know how to cover a point for a well-timed pinch. It's time that as a leader on the ice, he plays that role by making a bigger difference at both blue lines.
Calling out Pavel Datsyuk would be silly, so I didn't include him. Three points in his last five games is below the pace for him though and if I'm going to call out Howard on a one-game sample size, Datsyuk can get similar consideration. Zetterberg and Brunner need to finish more chances. Cleary needs to take fewer penalties, Abdelkader could get around to earning his third assist of the season any day now, and Brendan Smith could remind us of the kind of player we thought might compete for the Calder soon. You could probably throw anybody in here.