If last night's shootout loss to St. Louis demonstrated anything to the hockey world, it's that the Red Wings clearly do not understand the urgency of the situation they are in. Right now they sit ninth in the Western Conference amidst a ferocious fight between seven teams for two playoff births. Apparently this information was not relayed to Detroit, who played a lethargic and apathetic game for the better part of fifty, of what at times seemed to be, endless minutes.
Then, inexplicably, the Wings wanted to play.
Attempting to gain a firm, or for that matter, tenuous comprehension of this enigmatic squad would most likely prove to be a frivolous task. An empathetic person could certainly see why the Wings of past years have displayed occasional diffidence when a playoff spot is all but locked up in December. It's a long season and most of the time, the playoffs are just too far away. These days however, the eternal wait for the playoffs could use a slight extension.
With each suffered loss, the importance of each game increases. This truth, undeniable, despite the contradictory words spoken by Detroit's on-ice actions. Perhaps force of habit is behind their listless efforts, perhaps it's fatigue, or maybe after a Cup and a heart-breaking Cup Final-loss, it's a loss of passion, but confidence should not be the cause of their ailing ways.
Being down 3-1 and facing another disappointment with six minutes to play, Detroit dominated until the score was tied. The goals scored weren't particularly demonstrative of the usual Red Wing-style, and some might say luck got them to overtime with some fortunate bounces. But the fact is, for the first time in that game, Detroit put sustained pressure on the St. Louis defense and for all intents and purposes, willed the puck over the line. Twice.
It's amazing what talent like that can do in five minutes when they slip out of first-gear. To the average spectator, it would seem theoretically logical and reasonable, to suggest that if coach Mike Babcock could negotiate even forty minutes of urgent intensity from his players, wins would instantaneously become less elusive. Apparently, the mysterious throttle on this juggernaught is not as easy to operate as it once was.
Maybe we're all being fooled and Detroit will end up with the fourth seed through some sudden spring to action. This is still actually a plausible scenario given the flashes of excellence we have seen from time to time. But unless those flashes become a steady stream, it won't happen.
Even then, nothing can be certain. Talent is great, but talent alone is not the reason they became the Stanley Cup Champions in 2008. The hardest working team in the National Hockey League, was the Detroit Red Wings. The hunger and the work-ethic of that time barely even felt like a memory but more a dream about a past incarnation when you watched them play last night.
Upon the return of Holmstrom and Kronwall, they will be devoid of excuses. It has been a tough year for the mighty Wings, one that no-one would envy. The good news for the Detroit faithful is, they do have the power. They control their destiny and what's more, they can win games when they really want to.
So. Do they really want to?