Red Wings: The very least that we must expect moving forward

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 17: Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Little Caesars Arena on January 17, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 17: Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Little Caesars Arena on January 17, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Having a mature outlook on the Detroit Red Wings realizes that the lean seasons offset the fat seasons in life and hockey. It is unavoidable.  It is inevitable.  It is expected.  During the lean seasons, we dream of the promised land of feeling flush again.  Flush with nimble goaltending, sound defense, and sleek two-way forwards.

The patience of Detroit Red Wings fandom this year teaches us something impressive. It bespeaks how deep Detroit’s hockey roots are, how devoted the following is, and how generous the fans become.

Among 31 NHL teams, the Red Wings are a clear favorite for the last place not only in the standings but in every statistical category of goals for and goals against, penalty killing and power play, etc.  I live midway between Boston and Philadelphia.  If the Bruins or Flyers were as abysmal as our Red Wings, they would be screaming bloody murder of players and coaches, and deserting by droves.

Have you noticed lately the Detroit Red Wings are fourth in attendance among all 31 NHL teams? When the hockey is substandard, fans bask in the glow of each other at Little Caesar’s Arena. They do the cliched “wave” to amuse themselves.  They lustily sing “Country Roads” with John Denver.  I was deeply touched as Karen Newman’s microphone failed with Montreal in town not so long ago.

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Without blinking, the Red Wing fans nobly filled that void by standing and ringing out the words to ‘O Canada.’  Seemingly, the Detroit River is no divider of “the true north, strong and free!”  Superb!

With Steve Yzerman on board, fans have discovered new patience with our coach and players.  And that is a good thing. Patience.  Forbearance. Perseverance, right?  But despite our magnanimity, let us not lose track, there are also things we should not tolerate.  May I list them in order of urgency?

A big peeve is when our players have more than a millisecond to clear the puck from the defensive zone during intense pressure and lack the discipline to do so.  Guys, hammer the puck up the gut between the point men.  Carom the puck off the boards and glass at a surprising, irregular angle.  Propel the puck as a hard-around past the point men if the points hug the boards so hard as to stymie that, blast the puck until it stings them like a cottonmouth. That’ll back them off next time.

The next most odious vexation is failure to remove the puck from the slot and goal crease in a wild puck scramble.  Yes, that moment is a feeding frenzy of hockey sticks.  Slapping after the puck is our natural instinct with it in our skates.  But if we do that, we are merely fishing for the puck just as the other guys are. Losing that fishing expedition half of the time results in a basket full of goals against.  Forget the puck and hit somebody. Level them if you want, but at least separate forwards from the puck. The first law of hockey defense is also counterintuitive: play the body, not the puck.

Do any of you notice in the last couple seasons an excessive number of Too Many Men on the Ice penalties?  No excuses here.  Much of this is on Jeff Blashill, who owns up to it.  This is one penalty that a last-place team needs to eliminate.  It only takes discipline, training, and practice. Hey, if you can’t score artful tic-tac-toe goals if you’re a dump-and-chase team, please, at least get this right.

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Lastly, for goaltenders, a word: do not exit the crease to play the puck unless you can adjust to the lightning game speed of the puck. How often does a goalie exit and act like he has all of the time in the world?  This ends badly, with a ham-handed and frantic juggle.  Goalies remain erect and still much of the time in their crease, but the game beyond that crease is now moving faster than ever.