The Detroit Red Wings are in for another fight to the finish this season. They currently sit in the middle of the playoff race in the Western Conference, but just six points separate the third and 12th place teams. The 2013 NHL season has become very much like college football: Every single game has an impact on things. But for the Wings — and, in particular, coach Mike Babcock – there are a few key issue that need to be examined:
The Datsyuk line conundrum
On Sunday, the Wings fought hard but failed in their attempt at stopping the Chicago Blackhawks’ point streak. Goalie Corey Crawford was the star — the save he made on Pavel Datsyuk immediately after a Tomas Tatar snipe was the game saver.
Tatar and Datsyuk — spoiler alert: I like those names together — were the most noticeable forwards out there in that game. The line of Datsyuk, Daniel Cleary and Justin Abdelkader does not work.
How can Mike Babcock justify putting two grinders out there with the most talented offensive guy in the league?
Every time Datsyuk is on the ice with those guys, he looks like he is trying to do it all himself. Cleary seems lost 90 percent of the time, and he has definitely lost a step. Abdelkader, meanwhile, is what he is: a grinder who should be manning the 3rd line.
It’s not a bad idea, in theory — throw two grinders out there to muck it up and get the puk free for Datsyuk. But it’s not happening like it was planned; Datsyuk needs a skilled winger to play with, preferably someone who can find the net consistenyl.
If I were Babcock, I would be trying every single line combination I could until I find the one that works best. Put Tatar out there with Datsyuk, and the magic may happen. Tatar is a young, highly skilled forward with speed and amazing hands, so it’s a no-brainer. Pick whichever one you want to leave Datsyuk — Cleary or Abdelkader — and there’s your line: Datsyuk, Tatar and a grinder.
It seems as though Babcock is biding his time until the injured guys (Todd Bertuzzi, Darren Helm and Valtteri Filppula) get back, but the Wings do not have the luxury of time with this shortened season. The wins must come now. Put Tatar on Datsyuk’s line, and Tatar’s game will improve tremendously. Cleary and Abdelkader are not getting better being on that line, and it is wasting the team’s top talent.
It’s time to give Pavel some help.
The Power Play
This isn’t a new problem. Last season, the Red Wings seemed to struggle with the man-advantage as well. They brought in a supposed Power-play guru in assistant coach Tom Renney, but going 0-for-the-road doesn’t put Renney even close to guru status yet.
The problem appears to be in the strategy. The Wings have no issue gaining the zone with possession, but once they establish that, they don’t have a creative plan. It’s just pass along the perimeter, get a good one-timer or hard shot (and hope for a tip or rebound), and then the puck is cleared.
They must try some new things, and use the talent on the roster. Tomas Holmstrom and Nicklas Lidstrom are gone, so the shot from point strategy isn’t going to work as it used to — even with Niklas Kronwall occasionally finding the net.
It isn’t all that effective thus far, but the good thing is we have the skills to make it work. A new plan must be put in place and it can’t be set up for a high shot and tip or rebound. Let’s see some creativity.
The Offensive Woes … All of Them
The Red Wings have found themselves in a rough spot by not being able to light the lamp enough. It may be as simple as jumbling the lines or maybe it’s just the injuries. Whatever the case may be, they are having a hard time scoring, and really having a hard time getting a lot of quality chances.
One thing I would love to see is Henrik Zetterberg and Datsyuk out there together. Babcock won’t put them on a line together, but he can manipulate things to get them out there a few times a period, even if it is for 20-30 seconds. Even those short spurts could do wonders for the psyche of the team.
The impact of Helm and Bertuzzi’s absences is much bigger than anyone could have imagined. Add in Filppula being sidelined, along with Mikael Samuelsson (and Franzen possibly playing at less than 100 percent), and that’s four of the Wings’ top forwards out. That’s not a recipe for a lot of goal-scoring.
The Red Wings have a lot issues right now. Fortunately, there has not any problem in net with Jimmy Howard shining, and the defense seems to be getting better every game.
Some of this is on the coaches — as mentioned above with Renney — to dig deep and figure out some new strategies, in order for the Wings to break the mold and explode like they did against Vancouver not too long ago. Heck, take a page out of Scotty Bowman’s book: tinker with the lines every game, every period, every shift even. The staff can do more, and must do more for this team to move forward and rise in the standings.