Friday, 03.20.2009 / 10:00 PM / Columns
By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist
In this results-first, bottom-line, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, we've become a little jaded. We want it all. And we want a variety of the best of what we've already seen.
Have you noticed how many Coca Cola products are out there now? There's caffeine free, diet, cherry and on and on. And did you ever think you'd order a coffee and hear yourself say you want a half-mocha, caramel macchiato? All I know is the Whopper I had today was a little too dry for my taste, and with weather like this, well ...
And that instant analysis in sports, well, it's 10 times as tough as it needs to be. Think about it for a moment. We see the New England Patriots go 16-0 and pick nits about their running game. Or remember the last save Brad Lidge didn't finish? Or when was the last time LeBron James had three straight triple-doubles? And how many times did you go through your college basketball bracket before you turned it in?
Hockey's no different.
We see the Detroit Red Wings give up five, eight and eight goals on successive Saturdays in late February and March and we're certain that long run to the Stanley Cup last spring can't possibly be repeated, right? For me, the analytical world we live in today has gone too close to the edge of negativity for my liking (and for the record the Red Wings were 10-1-1 in their first 12 Saturday games this season).
Don't the Red Wings still have Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart on defense? Isn't that still Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom and Dan Cleary up front? And isn't it good enough that the Wings added Marian Hossa to their lineup for a shot at repeating?
Did I forget something? Oh yeah. the goaltending. But aren't you the same fans that said the Red Wings could win in spite of having Chris Osgood in goal? In 1998? And again last spring?
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock won't point to his team's save percentage this season and point out that their .893 number is not as good as Colorado's .894, and they're not going to the playoffs. Nor will he wonder aloud why it is that no one talks about Calgary's defense, when the Flames have given up more goals than the Red Wings. Neither will Lidstrom.
"It's a long year. You're going to have your ups and downs," Lidstrom said recently. "Ozzie's really been battling out there these last few games."
Said Osgood, "You want to prepare yourself for the playoffs. If you're not at the top of your game and you're not playing well, you'll get beat. That's all I'm thinking about ... I'm getting there."
Following a 3-2 victory against Philadelphia on March 17, Osgood had five wins in his past six starts. He had allowed two goals or fewer in all five wins, including two shutouts. Still, Osgood knows the territory. He sees the fingers being pointed in his direction.
"It was a tough start to the year -- not to get motivated, but just to get my head in the right spot for me to be a good goalie in this League," Osgood said. "The last two months ..."
His voice trailed off, as if he was recalling the recent 10-day break he got to get his mind and technique in shape for the playoff run.
"I've felt good, real good, in this last stretch," Osgood said. "What can I say? I grew up idolizing (former Edmonton Oilers star) Grant Fuhr. He prided himself on winning games and being able to make saves at the right time. The rest, the style points, that stuff ... it doesn't matter."
"We're optimistic Ozzie's game is going in the right direction," said Babcock. "We need his game to go in the right direction. We need solid goaltending down the stretch and the playoffs.
"People, when they talk about Ozzie, often don't look at him in the same light (as other top goalies). Look at the numbers he's put up. They're mind-boggling. All I know is we're optimistic his game is going in the right direction."
"The perception outside of this locker room has always been that we won because of our skill and we lost because of our goaltending," said Red Wings GM Ken Holland. "That's not true at all. Because we don't give up many chances, we need big saves at the right times. That's the kind of goaltender Chris Osgood is. He can focus and block out all the distractions to make that one key save.
"In situations like that, I don't think Ozzie even knows there's pressure."
"Coach has been putting us through a lot of three-on-three and five-on-five drills of late," Lidstrom said. "We're getting back to where we need to be."
Said Babcock: "Yeah, I've been driving them crazy with those drills. But they are good for accountability. They are good for knowing that you have to be there for the guys next to you when it counts."
What I'm saying is it's easy to pick out a few warts -- like those eight-goal games -- and say this season's Red Wings are not physical enough to withstand the long haul in the playoffs against a tougher opponent. But this basically is the same team that went to the Western Conference Finals in 2007 and won it the Cup in 2008. And a month from now you're going to be wondering what happened? How did the Red Wings turn it on so quickly?
"I can taste another long run," Lidstrom said. "I can feel it in this room. The guys are getting that focused look in their eyes."
We all see the numbers. Those save percentages. The penalty-killing problems the Wings had a month ago. We can pick nits with the best of them. But couch-potato analysts don't win Stanley Cup rings. The games are won on the ice, in competition, by winning battles.
"Whenever you play that team, you fight two things," said St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray. "They always seem to have the puck, and when they don't have the puck they're fighting to get it back."
Added Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock: "I don't care who plays Detroit. If they decide to play with that relentless-to-the-puck style that they play so well, not many teams are going to beat them ... and nobody is going to beat them in a series.
"If they play that way, teams are going to be lucky to win a game against them."
The bottom line here is these same Wings have been through the playoff grind and know what it takes to win.
And that, well, it's as good as it gets.
That Lidstrom quote sent shivers down my spine. God damn I love this organization.