Willes: Detroit Red Wings in an unfamiliar dogfight amid the Western Conference mud puddle
Here's the reality of life in the Western Conference.
Over a 24-hour period from Friday night to Saturday night, the Detroit Red Wings powered their way from 11th place to fifth on the strength of a 3-2 overtime win in Edmonton on Friday night and a 5-2 clubbing of the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night..
True, they are still in a large, gray mass with 11 other teams in the West, all of whom are within eight points of each other. But that's the beauty of things as they now stand. Three straight wins and you become a top playoff seed. Three straight losses and you're looking up from 13th.
Wings GM Ken Holland calls this living in the “mud puddle” and while there are more comfortable places to call home, look at the bright side.
You don't have to worry about complacency.
“Nobody is bad in our side,” said Holland. “But, except for (Chicago and Anaheim), no one is really good.”
So remember that as the latest panic sets in with the Canucks. Remember that, with two more home wins in the upcoming week, they're likely going to be leading the Northwest Division.
Remember that and ignore that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that this team is in trouble; that, unless they win the remaining two games in the current homestand, they'll be one of those teams looking up from the nether regions of the West.
Maybe the Wings will still be with them in the mud puddle. It just didn't look that way on Saturday night..
Time was a Wings-Canucks tilt on Saturday night was appointment viewing and there's still something about the Wings that stirs excitement. Maybe that has more to do with what they were than what they are now but the Motown machine still looked like the team we've been watching for the last eight years. Pavel Datsyuk was sublime. Henrik Zetterberg dominated at both ends of the rink. The pair combined for a goal and three assists but their most telling sequence came on an 81-second Canucks' five-on-three in the third which they squelched with ridiculous ease.
Then again, maybe that should be graded against the curve. Everyone is squelching the Canucks' power play with ridiculous ease these days.
So if you're looking at this one through a Detroit lens, you're feeling good about the second straight win, about moving up in the standings, about the impending return of Darren Helm and what that could mean.
“I think that changes our team over night,” Wings head coach Mike Babcock said before the game. “We've been trying to hang in the best we can and hope we can make a push here.”
And then there's the Canucks. Alex Burrows scored a franchise record six seconds after the opening faceoff and for 20 minutes, this one looked like it was going to be a classic Wings-Canucks matchup. But slowly, surely, the Canucks disintegrated over the final two periods and, by the final horn, the grumbling among the faithful was audible. The Wings were playing their third game in four nights and looked fresher, more determined, more resolute.
The Canucks? They looked like a team in a mud puddle.
“Their goalie (Jimmy Howard) played really well in the first period and that's a period you feel like you should be up 3-0 (the Canucks owned a 16-6 advantage in shots on goal),” said Kevin Bieksa..
Bieksa was asked about life in the West; about a conference in which each game is weighted so heavily and fortunes rise and fall so quickly. After Saturday's loss, the Canucks remain tied with Minnesota atop the Northwest with 32 points. Owing to a Wild edge in wins, the Canucks also sit seventh in the West with the cast from Ben Hur chasing them.
“You just go out and play,” Bieksa said. “There's a lot of emphasis on every game but you don't think too far ahead. You go out and play the game. You don't dwell on it too long.”
That's a good policy because, on top of everything else, the Canucks look they've lost David Booth for the foreseeable. True, Booth wasn't exactly lighting it up, he offered up the vague promise of a goal.
The lineup the Canucks finished the game with cringe-worthy. There's still a black hole at center ice. Their second line should be their third line. And if you shut the Sedins now, you're hard-pressed to find another reliable scoring source.
That, at least, is the bad news. The good news is they're in the mud puddle with everyone else in the West and that's not going to change any time soon.
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