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Abel to Yzerman

Central Concern?

Updated 1400 EST:  Be sure and read Baroque’sanalysis of the Central.  The statistical ying to my reactionary yang.

You’re still reeling.  This whole damn season is some sort of wacked-out opposite of everything we’ve come to take for granted thing.  Eleven games against the Central and only ten points out of a possible 22?  A sweep in the far west for the first time, what, ever?  Blanked by Chicago?  Can’t sell out the Joe?  Hasek in the tank and Osgood on fire?  And then, finally, this…

“Tonight—and I never, ever say this—was the first time in a long, long time we didn’t have enough people ready to play and ready to compete. That’s unacceptable and that’s not Red Wing-like.’‘

It’s rare that Uncle Mike calls his buddies out in public.  Unprecedented really.  But there it is, and, yep, it’s deserved.  What was a cute little aside—this temporary difficulty with our little Central sisters—has become an issue.

The concern lies in two areas.  First, 32 games against this division means you’d better ramp it up if the annual cakewalk is to continue.  After this recent 9-game bowl of cranberry sauce, two weeks in a padded room with Dylan blaring from cheap speakers, it’s pretty damned obvious that a philosophical shift is in order.  The organ-I-zational mindset that games against Gary’s Central have been pre-ordained as victories for the Dynasty?  No more.

Last night proved that despite wakeup calls from every team in the division, the Wings still believe their sweaters are enough to eek out victories against the teams they rightfully owned for a decade.  The Wing players themselves have probably come to grips with the fact that there are no cakewalks in the division, or even the conference.  The real problem though?  Columbus, Bubba, the Bitter Blues and the Hawk team it’s hard to hate…they all know it too.  The mystique is gone.  I guarantee you right now we won’t see another quote from another Central opponent this year that reads like this:  “We gave them too much respect.”

That fear of being embarrassed?  It used to be good for a goal/game.  Not anymore. 

Worse than a late acknowledgment that they’d better ramp it up against the Central?  These inter-division games are exposing some flaws.  Defensively, the Wings are not playing responsibly.  Giveaways in their own zone, poor coverage around the net, Rafalski continuing to prove that success within the New Jersey system may be attributed to the system itself.  Chris Osgood was brilliant in the second period last night, but only because he was forced to be.  That was an assault. 

And how about something deeper?  Mike Babcock wants to point fingers, even if deserved?  Ok.  Let’s point some.  Is breaking up the Flying Circus the best idea at the tail end of three games in four nights? Is that what you do with a tired team, throw a wrinkle in there?  Is breaking up the league’s hottest line a good idea for a game that, divisionally, you need to win?  And, hey, if you’re going to have a grind line for the fourth unit…make it a grind line. Don’t half-step it.  Put Maltby back there with Drake and Downey.  Get Hudler back on the third (or second) line where he can at least be of some use offensively.  On the fourth line he’s invisible.  No one’s going to set him up.  And any offense he attempts to generate is going to be wasted because there are no finishers out there with him. 

Oh, and Mike, nice timeout from Hitch last night, eh?  The guy got the slightest hint of a momentum swing and he acted.  Rallied his troopies around him, chewed some ass and, woops, a goal.  When’s the last time Babcock called a timeout for any reason other than to give the Circus a rest before a final push?  Yeah, it’s a veteran team. No, they probably don’t need the same amount of care and feeding a young team like the BJs do.  But, it’s an option and one that’s never used in Detroit.

This is not a panic-stricken plea for wide-scale changes.  Not necessary.  This Central slump is correctable and will probably not last.  Talent will eventually rise to the surface, as long as the effort is there.  Fortunately, pride will take care of that. 

Parity’s the catch word across the league these days.  It was Gary’s dirty little secret fantasy and now he’s got it.  His favorite division is a prime example and in that case, it’s hard to fault him too much.  Last night’s game was one that could have earned a few fans, if any had watched outside of Michigan and Central Ohio.  The possibility of that is so slim I can’t even fathom it.  At the very least, it’s done this:  if I had to choose one game to attend this year, it could very well be the next one against Columbus.  When’s the last time anyone said that?

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About Abel to Yzerman

Welcome to Abel to Yzerman, a Red Wing blog since 1977.  No other site on the internet has better-researched, fact-laden and better prepared discussions than A2Y.  Re-phrase: we do little research, find facts and stats highly overrated and claim little to no preparation.  There are 19 readers of A2Y. No more, no less. All of them, except maybe one, are juvenile in nature.  Reminding them of that in the comment section will only encourage them to prove that. Your suggestions and critiques are welcome: wphoulihan@gmail.com