Week 3: October 16-22

There will come a time when it will seem like the Red Wings are playing more. Honestly.

Detroit did play four games this past week, but the two days in between St. Louis and Calgary, then two more in between Vancouver and Los Angeles made it seem less. Now, after a game tonight in Phoenix and hosting San Jose on Monday, the Wings will once again get a rest, not playing Anaheim until Friday.

Then, it’s another back-to-back contest, traveling to Columbus on Saturday after battling the Mighty Ducks. Another two days off separates that game and a Chicago meeting, the first of three straight between the Wings and Blackhawks. Can the Wings get used to this schedule, playing two games in two nights, then getting two or three days off? They’ll have to. Detroit will play on back-to-back nights 13 more times this season. They have looked good so far.

This past week was a good one for the Wings, with the only loss coming against a good Vancouver team, who may or may not have been helped with 11 powerplays. Detroit finally had a good third period against the Kings on Thursday en route to a 5-2 win. And the powerplays went the Wings way on Sunday, scoring five with the man advantage in a 6-3 win over Calgary. The week ends tonight in Phoenix, where the Coyotes have not started the season well. With only 12 goals scored, Gretzky’s team is 1-3-1 and in the bottom five of the NHL.

(Phoenix will be without former Red Wing Brett Hull, who retired today at age 41.)

Speaking of scoring, the Wings are used to getting help from just about everyone, and this season looks no different. Twelve players have scored so far in the first five games, and fifteen of 21 who have played a game have at least one point.

The Wings have eight powerplay goals so far, tied with Atlanta for most in the league. Not surprisingly, Kirk Maltby scored the team’s first shorthanded goal on Thursday. The Wings seem to be slowing as games go on; they have allowed just two goals in first periods so far this season, five in second periods and six in third periods. They had a good third against the Kings and look to keep that up.

Congratulations go out to Johan Franzen, Jason Williams and Chris Chelios, who all achieved career milestones against the Kings. Franzen’s first NHL goal was a game winner against Mathieu Garon. Thursday was the 100th career game for Williams, and the 1,400th for Chelios.

This Week’s Matchups:

October 17 vs. San Jose – The Sharks won’t surprise anyone this season if they do well. They were considered on the weak side of the West before winning the Pacific Division in 2003-2004. Obviously not rebuilding, the Sharks are young and will remain tough to beat. Their 0-2 start will quickly be forgotten.

October 21 vs. Anaheim – The Neidermayer brothers finally get to play together in the NHL. Sergei Fedorov and Teemu Selanne should mesh well and they still have Giguere – though maybe a smaller version of him. These are the guys that need to lead this team, and with only nine goals so far as a club, they need to step it up. Detroit has lost six of the past nine meetings (including playoffs), but was 36-7-7 before that.

October 22 at Columbus – What’s worse than nine goals? Seven. They have only allowed twelve, but the Bkue Jackets need to find their game. They traded Geoff Sanderson (who has a point in two games with Phoenix), so it’s up to Rick Nash. Problem is, Nash is out two weeks with an ankle sprain. If Detroit and Nashville continue to play well, Columbus could be in big trouble with the new division-unfriendly schedule.

Week 2: October 9-15

Sure, the Red Wings can beat a St. Louis team which added a new goalie and lost two all-star defensemen, but what does that mean?

Detroit had a light first week this season with only two back-to-back games, the same way they started out the 2003-2004 season. That year, they quickly beat the Los Angeles Kings and the Ottawa Senators for a 2-0-0-0 start. They have won the season opener for six straight seasons, and have finished the regular season in the top five of the Western Conference for a long time. There isn’t much you can take from the first two games, but here are a few notes:

The new guys are contributing already. Mikael Samuelsson and Brett Lebda have more points than Kris Draper and Nicklas Lidstrom. Jason Williams isn’t new, but he’ll get more ice time this year and had three assists on Thursday.

There should not be a goalie controversy. Manny Legace has proven himself as a great goalie no matter how often he plays, and you can bet on Chris Osgood to win 30 games every year if healthy. Jim Howard might get in a game or two this month, but he looked good in preseason and is well liked so far by the other goalies.

Draper and Kirk Maltby will have to go above and beyond what they’ve normally done as defensive forwards. The Wings were shorthanded 11 times in Thursday’s game at St. Louis, and these two are the best penalty killers on the team.

With the signing of Jason Woolley, the Wings can make the decision to either rest the veterans Chris Chelios and Lidstrom a bit or take time away from youngsters Lebda and Jiri Fischer. These players are all going to have to adjust with the penalties being called, and a deep defensive core will help.

This Week’s Matchups:

October 9 vs. Calgary – Steve Yzerman may not play, but you can be sure Darren McCarty will. He won’t take it easy on his former team, but claims his heart is still wearing red. Many are picking Calgary to once again win the Western Conference, so this should be a good game. (Update: Detroit wins 6-3)

October 10 vs. Vancouver – Finally knocking Colorado off the top of the Northwest Division, Vancouver remains dangerous. Like Detroit, they’ve had good regular seasons and that doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy. They usually give the Wings a hard-fought game; the teams split four games last season.

October 13 at Los Angeles – The Kings may have lost the biggest offensive output of any team in the off-season, parting ways with Zigmund Palffy, Jozef Stumpel, Jason Allison and Martin Straka. To counter, they did sign Pavol Demitra and Jeremy Roenick. If the Kings want any chance of making the playoffs, goalies Mathieu Garon and Jason Labarbera have to immediately make an impact. Lababera won his first game, stopping 27 of 29 shots against Phoenix.

October 15 at Phoenix – Call it the sequel to the Wings’ Red vs. White game in training camp. Lots of familiar faces are in Phoenix now: Brett Hull, Curtis Joseph, Boyd Devereaux and assistant coach Barry Smith. Speaking of coaches, Wayne Gretzky is still in the spotlight – not for what he has done, but what he can do. There have been reports of the players being intimidated by the presense of The Great One, which may explain their 0-2 start. The Coyotes are re-tooling quickly, acquiring Geoff Sanderson from the Blue Jackets in a five-player deal.

Changes: A New NHL, but Wings Remain Similar

With all the opinions on how this NHL season will go, someone has to be right.

You know the words “a new NHL” actually mean something when people are talking about how far the Pittsburgh Penguins will advance in the playoffs, or how the Nashville Predators are the real threat to take the Central Division.

Things are bound to change, but every season brings a few surprises. While the same teams were looked at as Cup contenders each year, there were others that shocked the world once, but not again. No one gave Carolina a shot before 2002, and they don’t get much respect now, despite making the Cup Final that year. Each team is going to see some changes in this new NHL. So, what stays the same in Detroit and what changes?

The roster looks a lot like it has in the past. Detroit may be the measuring stick for any team in the future trying to keep a core together. At the center is Steve Yzerman, as he has been for two decades. Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Tomas Holmstrom and Brendan Shanahan remain from the 1997 championship team at forward, with six-time Norris nominated (and three-time winner) Nicklas Lidstrom on defense.

Chris Osgood remembers that 1997 team, and he’s back in Detroit after spending a few years in New York and St. Louis. Including Ozzie, Detroit has ten players that have been with the team since before 2000. Manny Legace saw Osgood leave and return, and the two will have a healthy fight to become the number one guy. Relative newcomers Robert Lang, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are the guys who will be looked at to score goals this season. Gone from the long-time roster are Darren McCarty and Mathieu Dandenault, along with a few salary eaters (Dominik Hasek, Curtis Joseph, Brett Hull).

Players that will have to produce when they get their chances include Jason Williams, Johan Franzen, Mark Mowers and Dan Cleary.

If the officials call the game by the book, the defense needs to be ready. While Lidstrom is nearly perfect at his position, Jiri Fischer is still learning and may rack up the penalty minutes. This means the Red Wings are relying on a few older veterans to hold down the fort.

The play of Mathieu Schneider, Chris Chelios and possibly Jamie Rivers and Andreas Lilja will be the true test of this Wings squad. Niklas Kronwall again will miss most of the season, meaning the Wings may even look at some inexperienced defenders, as tight cap space may limit them from testing the free agent market or making a big trade.

A new trio now leads the Wings behind the bench: Coach Mike Babcock and his assistants Paul MacLean and Todd McLellan are all fairly familiar faces. Babcock coached the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim that knocked out the Wings in 2003, and MacLean played for the Red Wings. Interestingly enough, McLellan coached the Houston Aeros past the Grand Rapids Griffins in the 2003 Calder Cup playoffs. These three should lay down the law, making sure the Wings never get too comfortable trying to play their old style.

This Week’s Matchups

October 5 vs St. Louis – Chris Osgood won’t get a chance to open the season against his former team, so it looks like Manny Legace will get the start. The Blues now have Patrick Lalime in front of the net, but not Al MacInnis or Chris Pronger. If the Wings can come out hard and fast, they might be able to exploit the Blues’ young defense which is now led by Eric Brewer.

October 6 at St. Louis – The Blues and Wings get two of their eight meetings over with in a hurry. The Blues home opener may see Reinhard Divis and Jim Howard in the nets. St. Louis is the younger team, and they’ll be excited to open the Savvis Center. A split series with both teams winning their home opener is not out of the question.

Games this week: 2
vs. Western Conference: 2
vs. Central Division: 2
Home: 1
Road: 1

Long Division: NHL Schedule Ignores History to Focus on Geography

While the Detroit Red Wings may be happy with the new division-friendly schedule in terms of team travel, the fans don’t seem to be.

As per the new NHL schedule, teams will now face divisional opponents a whopping eight times each, or 32 of their 82 total games. Seventy-two games are against teams in their own conference, and games against the other conference (one game each against two divisions, alternating yearly) will round out the final ten. Wouldn’t you know it – the Central Division, featuring two Original Six teams, will not face the Northeast Division, featuring two more. Detroit will not play the Montreal Canadiens or Toronto Maple Leafs this season. Well, after September. The Wings do meet the Leafs for a home and home series to close out the exhibition schedule. Does that really even count?

Not seeing the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres can be forgiven. Sure, the Bruins are part of the Original Six too, but there doesn’t seem to be the sense of a classic battle with them. As exciting as the Ottawa Senators can be, that’s fine too. We won’t get to see Dominik Hasek in what could be his final season, but we all know how his retirements go. Oh, we’ll sit through three straight games against the Chicago Blackhawks from October 27 to November 1. They have Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin Lapointe and Adrian Aucoin now! Those games might be fun. We’ll even accept the two games in a row visiting the Columbus Blue Jackets right before that. The rivalry might build there with Adam Foote donning the green bee. But the fans want to see Toronto and Montreal. To try and rebuild the game around the fans and to take a part of history away from them can’t be the right thing for the NHL to do. Sure, when April comes and the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins are points away from each other, one team could get an edge playing them late in the season. Only problem is — they don’t. Those two teams square off once in March and once in April. They meet eight times, but not when it counts. The Edmonton Oilers play the Calgary Flames eight times (twelve if you count preseason), and yet just twice after January 23.

The NHL can’t predict who will be fighting for a division title in April. They did make the final week of the season all divisional games, didn’t they? Considering the Red Wings play the Dallas Stars one night before they close the season in Nashville, it doesn’t appear they did. Let’s be realistic here, no matter what moves these teams made during the off-season, does it make much sense for the Wings to play every team in the Central except St. Louis in April? Since the divisional re-alignment of the league created the Central Division, only one season did one of those two teams not win the Central, and the Dallas Stars that did aren’t there anymore.

So, what does this new schedule do? Games against your own division really only matter if winning them counts for something other than two points nobody needs. If those games are going to be scattered throughout the season and not near the end when winning games is more crucial, why not cut them by two or four apiece, and let the fans see the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens in December?nbsp; In either 2006-2007 or 2007-2008, the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks won’t play games against the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens. The All-Canadian triple-header that has been so successful in the past few seasons won’t exist. And it’s a good bet that that will be harder to swallow than St. Louis not getting to play Carolina this season.

The NHL brought in shootouts and eliminated tie games to please the fans. Their marketing plan will allow fans to see things they couldn’t see before. Yes, they did have to throw together a 2,460-game schedule rather quickly, although this format seems rather thought out, but for the wrong reason. The fans want to see all rivalries, not just divisional.

Would we be that upset if the Wings play Columbus only six times?