Tag Archives: Rafalski

How hot is it in Hockeytown?

It’s officially summer,  yet I’m writing hockey. I remember reading former Islanders PR guy Chris Nichols’ blog last summer and he was scolding readers about not being on the beach. He wasn’t sifting sand between his toes either. Plenty of time for beach and hockey since the NHL truly cranks year-round. You may get lucky and find some lag in the league in late July and August to enjoy ice in your drink, not on the rink.

The Canucks didn’t bring the cup home to Canada due to the scrappy Bruins outsmarting Vanouver in Game 7 of a phonemonal Stanley Cup series. Kudos to the Bruins for fighting through some tough obstacles to hoist the most prized award in all of sports. Still not as much on a Sedin bandwagon, but Ryan Kesler beating out Pavel Datsyuk for the Selke was an impressive feat. The unfavorable light of the reaction of the fans to the loss was sad. The Vancouver Canucks deserved a better reception than that for making the 2011 finals one of the highest ranking in years. Detroit has won championships but don’t burn the town down and we’re known for that in the Motor City.

Red Wings fans are aware that when Datsyuk is in tip-top form, the Wings will always be in contention. My focus of summer is how Detroit will rebound from Brian Rafalski’s retirement and rally for the inspired perserverace of Nicklas Lidstrom, who returns to Joe Louis Arena for a 20th season. The blueline will mantain strong leadership with Lidstrom and should be able to attract top talent if needed. The upcoming draft will also tell the future of the franchise. Detroit picks the starts only after the maturation period has peaked and the skill is ripe for the picking. Look for future Wings updates on the draft, signings and sightings as the summer dwindles.

I’ll say a few words about the Colorado Avalanche who got lucky with the No. 2 and No. 11 slot in the first round entry draft. Swedish winger Garbriel Landeskog will become a power forward the likes of what Chris Stewart brought to the team. Defenseman Duncan Siemens went as the No. 11 pick of the Avs. The Avalanche will be an interesting team to watch in a few years with Stefan Elliott, Ryan Stoa and Joey Hishon coming up through the ranks.

Joe Sakic has joined the front office and an Avs alumni group will be present for the Avs opener Oct. 8 when the Red Wings swoop in. The nice guy image of the Avalanche will prevail with Sakic as the vetern helmsman that Patrick Roy didn’t want to be. I’m ready for a team that isn’t so nice on the ice. C’mon, the Avs most feared fighter is Cody McLeod-a nice guy at heart who could double for Raggedy Andy. Blueliner, J-M Liles moves to Toronoto for a 2012 draft pick. My time writing about the Avs has been fun but will be tapering with this post as I prepare to move across the country to Rangers and Devils territory.

Great things are happening in New Jersey with prospects Jon Merrill from Michigan and the 2011 most NHL- ready draftee, Adam Larsson. The Flyers will hold interest for DU’s Matt Carle, and their spunk. I’ve been a Western Conference hockey fan most of my life so the Eastern Conference will be exciting. I’ll be near the city that never sleeps, and I will be losing sleep staying up for the Kings games.

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Blue Line Benefits

I love the blueline.  Good seats for sure, and that’s where the battle begins. If a team loses the battle on the blueline, it will be devastating take a look at the Colorado Avalanche, who traded suffering goaltender Craig Andersen for a top D-guy, Erik Johnson. Rookie Kevin Shattenkirk couldn’t quite hang on to his great start to the season, but held value for a considerable trade with fellow Avalanche player, Chris Stewart, for power-forward Jay McClement. With Alex Pietrangelo creating a buzz on the blueline in St.Louis, The blues felt their defense was solid, so they also traded defenseman Eric Brewer to Tampa Bay. The Lightning are shuffling to secure their spot in the East. Those teams are on to the benefits of the tight defense that it takes to secure a playoff spot.

Last week, I was consoling an Avs fan on the ailments of the team. We both agreed the downward spiral of Andersen was only one area at fault. The blueline seriously lacked any effort. What happened to Liles’ scoring streak? Foote has been out with an injury, and the rest of the crowd are off in lala land as the pucks pass the point of no return. Shaking up a team is good, but for the St. Louis Blues the shaking could rile some excitement. Stewart has slumped since a broken hand, and no one knows what Shattenkirk’s lack was all about, so it’s a new start for both. And the trade did just that. Stewart rocked his debut with two goals, Shattenkirk, an assist. One game of excellence is not a mandate on the potential impact to the team, but kick in the pants type of debut the Avs guys needed. The Avalanche are desperate.  Erik Johnson is solid, but if he’s not surrounded by an equal force, the numbers stall. Hunwick is a good catch if the blueliners can gel in Denver. The debut of the new trades were not enough to gain Denver a win. Better luck next time.

The Flyers have had their share of goaltending concerns, but defensmen like Chris Pronger and Matt Carle control their zone to lead in the East. Close behind, the Lightning can gain more momentum with Brewer, Victor Hedman, and Pavel Kubina. With awesome blue power, Boston carries Captain Zdeno Chara steering the boat into dock. Now adding Tomas Kaberle to a new crew of Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg anything is possible. Ericsson, Rafalski, Kronwall, and Lidstrom top the Wings blueliners and it shows. With mounted injuries, the Wings were able to remain in contention for the top seed in the West. Vancouver just lost Kevin Bieksa for a few weeks, but expect the goaltending to be the blueline for now with only Ehrhoff, and Hamhuis to draw the line. Phoenix is howling sitting at No. 3 and is a shock to most. The hot potato team’s defense racked up some stellar talent in Keith Yandle. Roszival tops an assorted list of newbies that seem to have it all under control. Gone but not forgotten, Jovanovski took another trip to IR, so injuries have taken its toll on the Yots.  Veteran Aucoin can prop up some points- I’ve seen him do it.

Look out for Montreal’s P.K. Subban and Roman Hamrlik who are making an impact for the Canadiens. In New York, the Rangers are throwing themselves into the game standing in a comfortable place in the East, but looking for a climb. Stocked with Staal, Gilroy, Giradi, Del Zotto to name a few, the boys of Broadway are notable in the hunt. Nashville has Shea Weber and Ryan Suter but the Preds struggle in the playoffs. I love the D in Los Angeles: Doughty, Johnson, and Scuderi impress with some suspect if they can hold on to the last spot in the West. The fans in LA are pumped for their team.

Goaltenders are out, the blueline is in. Netminders have been repeatedly shown up in the playoffs- they are not a guarantee of a win or a chance to move forward. It’s all about keeping the puck out of the net and not allowed past the blueline. Hockey 101-basic stuff, but a turn in trend. So much hype on the goaltenders, that the defensive core was downgraded to penalty minutes. The teams with the best defense will make it further. In Vancouver, the top scorers are hanging on despite the depletion of the defenseman. Offensive-defensive players like Ryan Kesler and Pavel Datsyuk are the benefits of the wandering blue line. If the Canucks and Wings can hang on in the West with a merry-go-round of injuries,they will dominate in the playoff run. On the flip side, I’ll take the Flyers and the Bruins in the East as Cup contenders.

All I want for Xmas is a….

Nothing could be better than the smell of pine wafting from the Christmas tree, presents, treats and festivities galore, except a Detroit Red Wings win over the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 27. After all the gifts are opened, Franzen needs to pull out a power-play goal, Rafalski must deliver the hits, and Justin Abdelkader needs to put on his boxing gloves for a present every Red Wings fan wants.  This game will be a celebration.

With the series tied 1-1; the Detroit Red Wings will hit the Mile High City two days after Christmas. The altitude and attitude of the feisty Avalanche should put the Wings to the test. Though the Avs have slipped in the Western Conference standings a few notches, they are still only two points behind Detroit, who sits in the top spot. The last meeting proved educational for both teams. Both proving they could keep up despite the age and experience level, junior or senior.

The Avalanche lost to the Wings on Nov. 13 at Joe Louis Arena, 3-1. No fights in the game, and only J-M Liles scored for the Avs. In a prior game played on Oct. 12, also in Detroit, the race was tight. Going into a shootout, Colorado was able to win off of a goal by Brandon Yip. Exciting game and a fight ensued between Cody McLeod and Doug Janik, now in Grand Rapids with Detroit’s AHL affiliate Griffins.

So it goes, with a new configuration it could go either way. But it must go the way of the tiebreaker. Grab your beer, jalapeno poppers and some grit because this one expects to be a battle. A renewed rivalry? Not so much. For those who remember the swagger of the old rivalry understands the modern NHL debate, Yzerman or Sakic? Some were blessed with both in the forefront of their hockey memories, not the history books.  If we look at the new faces, the pivotal figures haven’t clearly been established. Stastny vs. Zetterberg? The legends are on their way, but not to the extent of Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. Stastny is by lineage a hockey power, and Z brings the dominance of the European play of Sweden.

No matter the outcome, these two teams will remain as the elite of hockey with their past wins and illustrious rosters. I leave you with the gift of five for fighting in this tremendous rivalry that has ignited such memorable moments.

From 1997, this is the classic hockey brawl:

Yes, even goaltenders want payback:

And to the recent brawl:

 

Happy Holidays and Go Wings!

 

Top D-guys for Fantasy drafts

Draft day is approaching, and while I value the contribution of the offensive players the defenseman hold my attention. I usually take a gander at rankings from the top hockey outlets, but decided to forfeit their early suggestions and make a list of my own. Not all top ranked D-guys made my list; therefore I expect a few rumblings about key players not listed below. If I don’t want to draft them, they’re not on my radar.

Leaving off Dion and Pronger was no mistake. Just not a fan of their style. Avery has graced my roster a few times, but I can handle his style no matter how sticky it can get. The New York Rangers have a decent blueline if Avery can step it up and if Del Zotto can hold on. I wanted to find a powerhouse defenseman in the Vancouver Canucks, and I have to say that last year, Alex Edler was helpful in my playoff run. With the addition of Keith Ballard, maybe the Canucks will gel on the blueline.

Without further adieu, the suggestions below are a list of top defensemen that should be grabbed early.

Nicklas Lidstrom- Detroit Red Wings– Always at the top of my list for several reasons: he exemplifies leadership and the role of the defensemen, plus, he’s the captain of the Red Wings. At the age of 40, he’s coming back for one more year in Detroit to help shape the blueline for the future of the organization. Expect good things from him this season as he wants to leave on a legendary note.

Mike Green- Washington Capitals– Rank him high on your list. With 76 points on the year, a plus-39 rating and 54 PIMs, he’s an overall player. Workhorse and Norris Trophy candidate too.

Drew Doughty- Los Angeles Kings- Also nominated for the Norris Trophy, many expected Doughty to win. Scoring 59 points and 54 PIMs, you’ve just made two categories intriguing on your roster. His impact on the charismatic Kings has been noticed. The Kings have locked and loaded a talented group of players who will fight their way into the playoffs again. Recruit.


Duncan Keith- Chicago BlackHawks-
Norris Trophy winner is all I need to say. Along with his 69 points and 51 PIMs, Keith also has a plus-21 rating which is one niche that many fantasy owners disregard. Besides, who doesn’t want a D-guy who sacrificed numerous teeth for his team to win the Cup?


Dan Boyle-San Jose Sharks
– He had a rough time in the playoffs, but will bounce back from the mishaps. Though the media is cautious in claiming the Sharks will be in Cup contention, Boyle will play hard and keep the team in the zone. Strengths include his 58 points and 70 PIMs.


Tyler Myers- Buffalo Sabres
– Top rookie with 48 points, a plus-13, and 32 PIMs is a good call for this fresh face. Calder winner over Colorado’s Duchene and hot Detroit goaltender Howard. This is my absolute pick for D.


Sergei Gonchar- Ottawa Senators
– A new team, a new crowd to excite. Last season with Pittsburgh he tallied 50 points and 49 PIMs, but beware the under par rating for the plus/minus column.

Shea Weber- Nashville Predators- Team captain and on everyone’s wish list. Posting 43 points and 36 PIMs, he’s a solid defenseman to put on your docket. Nashville has made some moves to ensure the Predators break past round one and two of the playoffs.

Brian Rafalski-Detroit Red Wings– Olympic hero and hometown boy represents the Detroit blueline. Even if his numbers don’t hold at last seasons’ 42 points, a plus-23 rating, and 26 PIMs, he is the guy who sets up the brilliant net shakers and sees them through. If you are a Detroit fan, he’ll be on your roster.


Erik Johnson-St. Louis Blues
– I’m very excited about the Blues this season. Johnson was solid with 39 points and an impressive 79 PIMs. I only play on leagues with PIMs.

Zdeno Chara- Boston Bruins– Also a team captain, Chara was a bit of a let down last year. Not sure what happened, but I am cautious this year. But when you look at his stats, they’re pretty darn good at 44 points, a plus-19 and of course, 87 PIMs. Just watching Chara flatten and skewer opponents is enough reason to stick him on your roster. If you miss the game, check out all the fun on hockeyfights.com

Drafting defensemen is vital early. Depending on your league, you may have as many as four slots for defense; take two solid performers, then you are able to pick up at least two mix and match players on hot streaks. If you only have two, then make top picks that have depth into many categories, particularly on the power-play. Don’t forget your fighter either. Penalties can be bad, but the fighters who can score become the energy on your roster and great to follow. I have at least two bad boys on my team, but always room for more.

Rafalski, Miller Torque Team USA

No one expected Team USA to be at the top of their group, nor be a medal contender, but the Cinderella team are one step closer to the ultimate Vancouver souvenir.  In a shocking upset, Team USA reclaimed some hockey pride by beating the Canadian team on home ice.   Team USA’s youth has sparked the adventurous spirit of what the American team want to showcase. Though the average age of Team USA is 26.6, lack of experience and youth has proven to be a mute argument.  With such amazing performances by Zach Parise who had two goals in the match-up with Switzerland, or the tenacious puck play of Dustin Brown, the sheer mettle of taking on the powerhouse Canada and breaking the bank to top Group A has stunned hockey fans globally.

But the true heart of any hockey team can be found in leadership from between the pipes and on the blue line.  The Canadians knew that a behemoth of a goaltender could revive their team, and it did. Canada has been quick to regroup after the loss to the Americans, replacing goaltender Martin Brodeur with Canucks captain Roberto Luongo.

Not only is Team USA’s goaltender Ryan Miller one of the biggest contributors to the team’s success, but also this is his Olympic debut.  At the age of 29, Miller has the youth, but he brings wisdom and wile to the competition.

Ryan Miller has been stellar and faced quick shots at a furious pace.  Miller faced 45 shots by the Canadians and held 42. Facing 19 shots from the Swiss, Miller took hold and delivered the shutout.  His level headed play was evident at his alma mater, Michigan State, where the Michigan native set an NCAA record with 26 career shutouts.  In 2001, Miller’s talent was showcased with the leading winning percentage, save percentage (.950) goal against average and a record 10 shootouts over all other players in the country, thus snagging the coveted college hockey Hobey Baker Award.  Ryan took the Goaltender of the Year for all three seasons at Michigan State and was the CCHA’s overall MVP twice.

Growing up in East Lansing, Michigan, you’d think Ryan would look at exciting options to play away from home, but not the case.  Michiganders love their hockey and Ryan’s family is no exception.  Brother Drew now plays for the Detroit Red Wings, plus ten members of his family, including his grandfather, all played for the Michigan State Spartans.  In 1990 his cousin, Kip Miller also won the Hobey Baker and was the first Spartan to be honored.  Hockey royalty perhaps, but Ryan never lets his prestigious genetics blur his ability to reign supreme in net.

Michigan is also the home to a defenseman who has rallied the troops, Brian Rafalski. At age 36, Rafalski is the oldest player on the team providing leadership yet so much more.  With four goals and four assists, Detroit Red Wings’ Brian Rafalski leads in scoring for Team USA.  In a mesmerizing match-up between Canada and the USA, Rafalski’s blue line demeanor broke through to score two goals and nab an assist.  The unexpected fury came and this American boy was not going to lose.

Rafalski, the veteran Olympian, was on hand during the 2002 games in Salt Lake City winning a silver medal, as well as playing at the 2006 games in Torino.  Vancouver marks his third Olympic appearance.  His presence may have led the charge in Team USA’s success.  Rafalski has always been a quiet player, not ostentatious with his style, but a classic American citizen and family man.  He is also no stranger to fighting for what he wants, as he struggled to find his place in the world of hockey.

Rafalski, born in Dearborn, Michigan, took his hockey talent to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he played for four years.  His senior year, Brian netted 45 points in 43 games.  The WCHA named Rafalski to their First All-Star Team, plus he was named to the NCAA West All-Star Team, as well as the WCHA Defenseman of the Year in 1995.

Though he has come back to his birth state and found a home with the Detroit Red Wings, it wasn’t always that easy for Brian.  He struggled throughout the years being bounced from teams, countries but always playing as a winner.  He won a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2008.  Despite a discouraging season this year with the Detroit Red Wings, Rafalski is having a good year with 4 goals and 25 assists.  Look for more firepower from this defenseman when he returns from the Vancouver no matter the outcome.

If Team USA is victorious, then American hockey will gain some respect and prove to be a formidable training ground for future players.  If Team USA can’t clinch the prize, then the players can say they fought the good fight and proved American hockey is for real.   No one can overlook the exceptional effort of goaltender Ryan Miller and defenseman Brian Rafalski leading the charge to battle for Gold.

NHL Talent of Team USA

You’d think because Team USA won the World Junior Championship that the Olympic team would be rated better than they are. Perhaps the hype over hockey south of the border was a passing fancy, and the true champions of the sport reside in the frozen tundra of Canada, Russia and Sweden who are all ranked before us for Gold in Vancouver.

Sure, Canada has Sidney Crosby, Russia has Ovechkin and the Swedes have brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin.  Team USA has plenty of talent that is apparently being cast in fourth with no medal.  Interesting to watch for international fans, the players from the Home of the Brave are facing lowered expectations that they can accomplish the feat to bring home a medal.

Starting goaltender for the US will be Buffalo Sabres Ryan Miller who has had an outstanding year with a record of 29-14-6 including against teams with Crosby, Ovechkin and the Sedins.  Miller has the best GAA rating among all the starting goalies with a 2.01, as well as his save percentage at .936%.  He’s had hit a rough patch recently, but he leads with 27 shutouts.  If he can’t stop a puck then Team USA can start worrying.

Both Los Angeles King Jonathan Quick and Boston Bruin Tim Thomas will back Miller in the net.  Quick has had an outstanding year leading the Kings into a comfortable spot in the Western Conference, which no one anticipated.  Quick holds a 34-17-3 record having won in his last two meetings with the heavily loaded Swedish Detroit Red Wings.

Thomas has had a tough time with the ailing Bruins and a record of 13-15-7.  Controversial goaltender selections brewed over the selection of Quick and Thomas over the hotshot of the Colorado Avalanche, Craig Anderson.

Defending the net will be a chore for the Americans as they face some physical players from Russia and Sweden.  Detroit Red Wing defenseman Brian Rafalski will lead the charge with previous Olympic experience.  Rafalski’s resume is impressive with three Stanley Cups and two Olympics, winning Silver in 2002.  But Rafalski doesn’t wander from the blue line with the intent of scoring except for setting up for the assist so he’ll have pressure to lead the inexperienced players and play more aggressively.

The Johnson boys, St. Louis Blues Erik Johnson and LA King Jack Johnson will debut in Vancouver both displaying a work ethic that impressed the US selection panel.  Nashville Predator Ryan Suter will most likely be in the starting line-up with his strong play. Rounding out the healthy participants is Pittsburgh Penguins’ Brooks Orpik whose youth will be either an energetic positive addition or an inexperienced bad experiment. Orpik has experience playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which could prove to be beneficial against Canada and Russia.

Two of the defensemen, New Jersey Devil Paul Martin and Toronto Maple Leaf Mike Komisarek are reported to be unlikely to play, and will need to be replaced due to injuries.  Martin is still holding out hope he could be ready by February 15th.  Possible replacements rumored have included Carolina Hurricanes’ Tim Gleason; Ryan Whitney of the Anaheim Ducks; Pittsburgh Penguins’ Alex Goligoski; and from the Atlanta Thrashers, Ron Hainsey or Zach Bogosian.

Putting pressure on the scoring line, only Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner have Olympic games to back up their insight for their team.  New York Rangers’ Drury won Silver in 2002, while New Jersey’s Langenbrunner played in Nagano in 1998 with no medal.  Drury has been a bust this season and has disappointed in points, but has been able to be a leader.  Langenbrunner’s Devils have held on tight in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference sitting in second behind Washington and Ovi.

The list of forwards consists of what The Hockey News calls, “youth over experience.”

David Backes of the St. Louis Blues has steadily climbed his way into the limelight, for better or for worse.  Critics say he isn’t all that, but Backes has posted 34 points and 77 penalty minutes this season.  His strength is scoring, while his weakness is fighting.

Dustin Brown of the LA Kings has 40 points this season and 22 penalty minutes.  He is one reason the Kings have been able to dazzle the NHL and are holding steady for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Ryan Callahan’s debut on Broadway keeps outdoing each performance for the New York Rangers.  He’s on par to surpass last season’s scoring, and he’s been heating up lately despite the Rangers lack of pizzazz in the playoff hunt.  Expect Callahan to take the charge.

Patrick Kane is out of all the wingers, an anticipated star on the roster for crowds.  Playing for the talented young Chicago Blackhawks, Kane has emerged with 64 points this year and a plus 17 rating.  He’s good and doesn’t make mistakes.

Phil Kessel’s career in the NHL has matured into more scoring and less penalties.  Though his team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, may not be anywhere near a playoff contender Kessel keeps his play as if he were.

Joe Pavelski is as even on goals and assists as ying is to yang.  Pavelski makes his home with the San Jose Sharks and adds additional depth to the point machine of the Western Conference.

Ryan Kesler was a must have last year for fantasy hockey owners, so this year he was scooped up quickly. His presence in Vancouver was the secret ingredient for the Canucks.  Though he won’t be traveling far, this will benefit the US with one less jetlagged player.

Paul Stastny had an opportunity to play for Canada or Slovakia, but good for Team USA to have the commitment from this Colorado Avalanche assistant captain.  Stastny will draw international interest and hopefully draw plays towards the net.

Ryan Malone is a fantasy hockey owner’s dream with 42 points and 57 penalty minutes (if you’re in PIM leagues). The Tampa Bay Lightning knew Malone was something special and he’s proven he can keep up the points.

Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils is one player that was a must to represent the USA, though he sports a Canadian bloodline.  Parise is the second leading scorer for the Devils and synonymous with the new energy of the team.  It shows in their fiery style of play.  Teammate Jamie Langenbrunner will lend some helpful advice.

Bobby Ryan ignites his style with the Anaheim Ducks.  Ryan tallied 45 points and 57 penalty minutes so far this season.  Let’s just hope he scores rather than scraps.

Youth over experience could leave Team USA into overdrive. But beware; the lack of experience could be costly when confronted with players with more skill, more exposure and more scoring.  Mistakes can be costly with these high stakes, but it’s a great opportunity for these young NHL stars to be recognized as our team, Team USA.

Panic in Detroit?

This is the last thought that any Red Wing fan has at this time. With the Western Conference standings bouncing around, the Detroit Red Wings could climb.  Sitting in the nine spot isn’t where the Wings or anyone thought they’d be.  Amazing, yet perplexing is the continual attempt of the players to hang on to the reputation of the team.  Justin Abdelkader has that McCarty fist, Jimmy Howard has found his legs, and the stars are rising over the Detroit River, for now.

Power forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have not been on par this year.  Matter of fact, they’ve just disappointed. Both have contributed a combined 22 goals, 45 assists that should equal one average forward.   Fantasy league owners are miffed.  Formulas for improvement haven’t accrued, yet.  So how long do these two need to wait and condition to get their mojo back?   Right now, the outlook is to sneak into the playoffs and go from there.  The original first line with Lidstrom, Rafalski, and Cleary has stood up to the test just not quite getting the grades they should.

Injuries have plagued the Red Wings.  Franzen, Filppula, Holmstrom, Kronwall, and a rotating door of various key players have created buzz over the impact the AHL has and its infiltration of players that are standing out.  Justin Abdelkader has taken some limelight defending his big brother team with a decent 6 points and an impressive 31 penalty points, which adds up to a few fights along the way. Returning to the line-up is Valtteri Filppula, who was striking gold before his stint on IR.   His promise of the breakout candidate hasn’t been able to break out of the gate in the confines of 3 goals and 7 assists.

Minor league players can fly or faint.  Detroit doesn’t rush breaking in the rookies, rather growing maturity and experience. Thus is the case of Jimmy Howard.  Spending the past few seasons with the Grand Rapid Griffins, there was much hype about the Red Wing rookie.  It looked dim for Howard in the beginning, and veteran Chris Osgood performed well until the Zen knocked down Osgood’s stature.

Osgood had the same problem last year.  Last March, fans I talked to at the local bars in Detroit hid behind Osgood’s stroke of back luck and supported then goalie Ty Conklin.  Anything to win no matter who’s tending the net.  Now, over the mid-season hump, Howard has proven his ability to perform to the expectations of being a Red Wing.   Weary Howard fans sing his praise but know Osgood may be back if Howard falters.   And that’s what happened last season meandering into the playoffs; Conklin sank and Osgood swooped in to save the day.  Not performing goaltending duties since December 20th, Osgood stood in for the bombarded Howard on Long Island Tuesday.  The loss still came with a blow.

The early season prediction in the Sporting News rated the Red Wings as holding steady.  “Despite some cost-cutting, Wings still look like best in West thanks to young gun,” read the headline on the Wings page.  Young guns indeed, holding steady evolved into holding together with the glue kind of steady- sometimes it holds, other times not at all.    Just as the Avalanche forecasters said the Avs would drop, the crystal ball for Detroit is that the team will always climb.  Puck Daddy has glazed over the Wings waning season. The young guns weren’t dying out there on the ice, but keeping it respectable until the 6-0-shutout loss to the New York Islanders.  Yes, it’s an Isolated game that did not revive despite a 4-1 win over San Jose and a 2-1 victory over one bump up in the standings, Los Angeles Kings.   Stop the bleeding or get off the roller coaster.  Something’s gotta give.

In a recent article by Bruce MacLeod, a Macomb Daily Sports Writer, some hope was offered. “The Red Wings got many good signs for the future at Monday’s practice. Skating through drills were injured forward Johan Franzen and Jason Williams and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. The latter said that he might be able to return from a bone bruise in his knee (Dec. 14) as early as Thursday’s home game against Carolina.”

Franzen, “the Mule” needs to save us from our imprisonment of malaise.  Ericsson will play wandering defense just to get into the thick of the game.  The bench may be too timid to play with the big boys or they’re just not jiving.  With the Olympics around the corner, the season will roll into serious contention for playoff spots that will be torn apart and broken through to the other side.  It could get vicious.  Let’s hope so for Detroit’s sake that Johan Franzen is the savior and can revive faith in what was to be.

Is there panic in Detroit?  How about praise?  Talk last season took on teams taking a dive for the highest draft pick.  No one has suggested that of any team yet.  Not only insulting to the players and the game, hockey in Motown is taken seriously and no joking about that stuff.  If the ship were already sinking perhaps draft order would be of interest.  Haven’t arrived at that dilemma yet.  Recharged, retooled, rerouting takes the course of action to instill forging ahead not abandoning the cause.  Let your Red Wings flag fly!