Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Doing the Unthinkable: Defending the Defense

Okay, so, we're off to a bad start. Nobody is disputing that. Nobody is happy about our start. We're scored 4 goals and allowed 11. Our power play, despite an astronomical number of chances, has been lackluster at best and a greater travesty than last season at worst.

As I wrote before, the whole sky is falling mentality is unjustified. The season should be 82 games, but it's only 48, or just a touch more than 50% of what we should have. 3 games is 6.25% of 48. 6.25% of 82 is 13.12 games. So 13 games. Granted, nobody would be happy if we'd won only 4 out of 13 games, everyone would be pretty disappointed and they'd be right to be disappointed. But what I'm hearing isn't disappointment it's bat-shit insanity.

Speaking of bat-shit insanity...

And effectively a 1:4 goals for/goals allowed is nothing to thumb our nose at. We got problems. The thing is, I don't think we have an awful lot to panic about. Not yet. So I'm going to defend the defenders, because I think they still have the opportunity to prove to be a solid defensive core.

You cannot deny the injuries are crippling us (pun intended)

We haven't had anything approaching a consistent line up this entire season. Before the season even start, Carlo Coaliacovo suffered an injury. And then Jakub Kindl suffered an injury. Then we actually started playing hockey and we discovered our defenseman had been rebuilt with paper mache during the lockout.

This is seems like as an appropriate time as any to post this.
Since the start of the season, Colaiacovo got hurt (again), Jonathan Ericsson stepped on a puck, fell down and hurt his shoulder in practice, and Ian White suffered Miken Helmdano injury and cut his leg on Jimmy Howard's skate. I think Kyle Quincey got temporarily hurt somewhere in there, too. I mean, it's just been a revolving door of injured defenseman. The Wings have 8 defenseman on the roster right now, and I'm thinking only 2 of them are close to being 100%

Niklas Kronwall has the immense task of stepping into to fill some of the minutes left by Lidstrom's retirement, and he's being asked to do so while not having the same defense partner in any game so far. At least not to my knowledge. He played with Ericsson against St. Louis and Lashoff against Dallas. I'm not sure who he was with against Columbus, but if it was Lashoff, that was the kid's first NHL game.

How can any of these guys be expected to develop chemistry and the crucial communication that is absolutely necessary for defensive pairs to operate effectively come game time. Normally, you'd have practices and pre-season games to work out the kinks, and this defensive core that was already over-hauled and questionable has had no chance to do so. Then the injuries were the equivalent of putting a tossed salad into a card shuffler.

Let's take a look at those chopped vegetables.

Niklas Kronwall: I'll make this short because I already talked about Kronner's situation. But I will point out that with a massive increase in defensive responsibility and a revolving door of defensive partners, Kronwall still leads the team with a +3 rating.

Ian White: Unlike the forwards so far this season, Ian White has managed to score a goal. He's eaten up a good deal of minutes, and I've seen him out during the power play and the penalty kill. Because of injuries and call-ups, he too has suffered from line shuffling and changes in partners, but so far he's avoided major boneheaded mistakes. He still doesn't quite seem to be surefooted and comfortable on the Red Wings blue line, but I still think he's an underrated defenseman. Despite the 11 goals the Red Wings have allowed, White has managed to maintain an even plus/minus rating.

Jonathan Ericsson: Ericsson has actually showed flashes of hope during that blowout against St. Louis. In the Winging it in Motown game thread and on Twitter, I saw people almost unanimous that Riggy Shitbox was anything but that. If you don't believe me just remember this: the only game that he played in, the Wings allowed six goals and scored zero and Ericsson has an even plus/minus rating. Granted, he played PK time and goals scored on a PP/PK do not give a minus point to players on the PK, but that's for good reason - the PP is expected to score. Hear that, Red Wings? THE POWER PLAY IS EXPECTED TO SCORE.

Kent Huskins: I admit, I know nothing about the man. He's bounced around the minors and a few NHL teams and never made a big splash. The Wings signed him and brought him up literally the afternoon they were set to play against the Dallas Stars. I never saw him make a terrible play or be involved in travesty against Dallas, and he came out with an even plus/minus rating after that game. If anyone is blameless right now on the Red Wings roster, Kent Huskins is that lone man.

Brian Lashoff: This kid has perhaps taken his call up from Grand Rapids as seriously as anyone. Yes, the kid has made some mistakes. He was out of position and not covering his man when Ryder scored his second goal against Detroit. But that was after he made a nice shot block, and this was his second NHL game ever. He's going to make mistakes. But at 23 years old, he not only scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, but it was the first goal scored by the entire team this season.

Brendan Smith: He's made a great showing so far this season. Much like Huskins, I haven't really seen Smith make any very seriously boneheaded plays, but he's minus 2 so far on the season and definitely needs to focus a bit more. The thing is though that he's getting some serious minutes, including power play and penalty kill minutes, and to top it off, I've seen him carry the puck out of the zone better than our forwards have been. It's entirely possible that what's killing Smith is him trying to do too much while our offense continues to be lethargic.

Carlos Colaiacovo: To me, he's sort of a cross between Ericsson and Huskins in that I haven't seem him do anything really stupid, he seems to be playing his role on the Red Wings well enough, and the only thing preventing me from figuring out how good he's going to be is because he got hurt. I know Colaiacovo is injury prone as all get up, but you can't exactly blame the player for that. It's not like he wants to get hurt, and he hasn't done anything to put himself at extreme risk. It just so happens he's Rick DiPietro's illegitimate half brother.

Kyle Quincey: He's the only guy who really doesn't deserve to be defended. He's minus 4 so far in the season, and we've seen highlight reel goals of guys punking him, or him being out of position, or him being unable to make simple plays (or combinations of the aforementioned). Plus he seems to be intent on taking stupid penalties at the worst times. The thing is though, is he continues to show moments of promise. He's been trying to shoot the puck, his moments of sheer stupidity have really honestly been few and far between when you consider his ice time, and he made a spectacular sprawling play against Dallas to help prevent a goal. It has just been the case that when Kyle Quincey has decided to fuck up, it's either resulted in a goal or a penalty.

The fact is, out of those guys, there's only one who should really be in the hot seat. The rest are having their performance corrupted by the swaths of injuries and a shortened season. Granted, that latter is not that strong of an excuse because every other team is dealing with the exact same lack of a pre-season and a lot of them don't seem to be struggling the way this team is.

But you also have to keep in mind that it's almost impossible for a defense to do their jobs if their offense can't score goals, can't keep the puck in the other zone, and the power play is a giant pre-mature ejaculation. Would P.K. Subban help? Oh sure, but at what cost? And Kyle Quincey is the only guy who really who you can really say is on the chopping block. The point is, once again, that you have every right to be concerned, but do not write this defense (or even this team) off quite yet. It's still too early.

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