The Red Wings are seeking a spark. They’re shuffling lines. The starting goalie has been benched — temporarily. Two of the three defensive pairings have been switched. There seems to be some concern that they’re not dominating enough at home.
All this, and there they sit at 18-4-4.
Oh, to have such troubles, eh?
It’s amazing, the measuring stick by which the Red Wings operate nowadays.
They keep winning, yet no one truly seems happy — from coach Mike Babcock to goalie Chris Osgood to captain Nick Lidstrom.
You kind of get the feeling that the Red Wings look at these 82-game schedules that the NHL offers up every season as nothing more than 82-game playoff tryouts. As Osgood himself told the Free Press, “If you start winning in April, no one cares what happens in December.”
He continued. “That’s what we do here, is prepare for the playoffs. When we won the Cup, I couldn’t care less what my stats were.”
Well, he may have to go that route again, because the stats aren’t too pretty right now.
A 3.17 GAA. An unsightly save percentage of .876. Those are about as un-Vezina as it gets. But then there’s this on Osgood’s line: 11-1-4 — as in, his won-lost-OT/shootout loss record. It’s the only line that really matters. Incredibly, despite his pedestrian numbers, Osgood hasn’t lost in regulation since opening night. Where else but on the Red Wings can you have such stats and yet be undefeated in regulation for two months?
There’s no one better suited to coach these Red Wings than Babcock
I rarely know what to write about here when it comes to the Red Wings, between October and March. The regular season records have been monotonously brilliant. There’s been little off-the-ice drama — like, none, really. The players are sickeningly team-oriented. They positively burst with leadership. They win Stanley Cups often enough to fend off the dogs in town.
But this is, actually, something to spend some time on in this space. For I can’t recall when the Red Wings’ record has been so stellar while so many in the inner sanctum have been so critical.
Yet this is another example of Babcock’s mastery. He’s Scotty Bowman Lite, but that’s no knock. It just means that he has a way of keeping the troops motivated and interested without resorting to mind games or other nefarious tactics. Babcock is able to call out his players without embarrassing them. He knows that when you point a finger, several are pointing right back at yourself. So he includes himself, often, when critiquing his team. He also knows when to allay the fears of the aforementioned dogs who call sports talk radio and pound away angrily without spell check on the Internet message boards.
All this adds up, of course, to bad news for the rest of the NHL. The San Jose Sharks, coached by Babcock disciple Todd McLellan, have an even better record than the Red Wings. But no doubt they’re a lot more giddy over there than the Red Wings ever will be until May or June. McLellan has a very nice team in Northern California, but it is not as talented as what’s in Detroit. There’s no shame in that; none of the other 28 teams can match the Red Wings, pound-for-pound, either.
So the Red Wings are 18-4-4, they’re unhappy about it, and vow to correct themselves in preparation for springtime hockey. What do they want? 22-2-2? 24-1-1? Is that what they expect of themselves?
Yes — and that’s why the rest of the NHL should be soiling their long johns right now.