Thursday’s Thoughts

What will we around Detroit do with ourselves in April and May if the Red Wings fail to make the playoffs?

That hasn’t happened since 1990, in case you’d forgotten.

I suppose we could take in more Tigers games, but Comerica Park keeps itself packed all season, even with the fan base splintering over to playoff hockey at the Joe.

It sure will be strange, if the regular season ends and the Red Wings are on the golf course the next day.

In order not to think that way, you must have faith that the Red Wings, currently in a dogfight with six other teams for the two wild card spots in the East, can get hot just in time to have spring hockey once again in Detroit.

It won’t be easy.

There are 29 games remaining—16 on the road, 13 at home. So the Red Wings are going to have to continue carry the water away from JLA, as they’ve been able to do for the most part all season, if they’re to accumulate the points needed for post-season play.

Under the NHL’s new playoff format, the top three teams from each division automatically qualify for the playoffs. Then there are two, at-large wild cards, regardless of division.

Right now, the Red Wings have 57 points. The two highest-ranking teams after the six automatic qualifiers—and thus wild cards if the playoffs started today—are Montreal with 61 points, and Detroit and Carolina are tied with 57 points. Three teams have 56 points (Ottawa, Columbus and Washington), and New Jersey has 55.

Crazy!

It’s only going to get crazier as the season nears the final leg. No team looks to be able to separate itself from the pack. As always, the race for the playoffs is likely to go right down to the final buzzer of the season.

The Red Wings, buoyed lately by strong play from the kids from Grand Rapids, are sure to be getting healthier shortly, as several injured veterans re-join the cause.

But don’t kid yourselves. There’s a real possibility that we won’t be able to enjoy the Red Wings playing Eastern time zone playoff games until 2015, at the earliest. Only a four-game winning streak at the end of last year’s truncated season kept the 22-year playoff streak alive.

It’s a race on several fronts. Not the least of which is the race to get players back into the lineup before any potential drop in the standings occurs.

Last year was a frantic finish. This year’s is sure to be every bit the same. But the Red Wings are far and away the least healthy team right now among the six who are in a logjam. If that changes, they should still be the favorites to be playing spring hockey yet again.

Game 52: Red Wings-Florida Enotes

The Red Wings lost a hockey game tonight, but they may have gained a future.

The kid trio of Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan were exciting, buzzing all over the ice, scoring goals, preventing others, and darn near led the Red Wings to victory. As it was, the Florida Panthers erased a two-goal deficit late in the third period and beat Detroit in a shootout, 5-4 at JLA.

It was a disappointing end to a 3-1-1 home stand, but the rookie line showed what Red Wings fans might be in for going forward—a tenacious, speedy, creative line that could give opponents fits in the near future.

The line combined for five points and was easily the best trio of forwards on the ice for the Red Wings (23-18-11).

It was Tatar’s 12th goal with 6:27 left that gave Detroit a 4-2 lead and it looked like the Red Wings would complete a 4-1 home stand with wins over Florida, Chicago, Los Angeles and Montreal.

But the Panthers struck twice in less than three minutes, the latter being a shorthanded goal to tie the game.

Sheahan, who showed his high hockey IQ all night on both ends of the ice, scored a pretty goal at 18:15 of the second period to give Detroit a 3-1 lead.

On the power play, Sheahan—the Red Wings’ first round draft pick in 2010—camped out to the left of Florida goalie Tim Thomas, waving his left-handed stick for Tatar to see from the point. Tatar delivered the pass onto the tape, and Sheahan, in one motion, whipped around to his forehand, made a move on Thomas, and neatly slipped the puck into the net.

It was a goal you’d expect from a crafty veteran, not a 22-year-old kid playing in his 14th NHL game.

So it was a loss, but the Red Wings got a much-needed point, and more importantly, saw the silver lining to the cloud that has been their injury bug—that lining coming in the form of three youngsters who might turn this city on before too long.

BOX SCORE

BOTTOM LINE: You can’t let two-goal leads slip away, especially at home, with six minutes to play, when you’re scratching and clawing for a playoff spot.

THE WINGED WHEELER SAYS: The refs missed a blatant high stick leveled on Tatar late in the third period, a whack that drew blood on no. 21’s forehead. The Red Wings power play, which had been buzzing all night, might have sealed the deal had the call been made. Tatar was caught by FSD cameras incredulously complaining to any zebra that came within earshot.

 

 

 

Spotlight on the Opponent: Max Pacioretty

Max Pacioretty

What: Montreal at Detroit
When: Friday, January 24, 7:30pm (TV: RDS; TSN; NLHN-US; FSD)

The Montreal Canadiens’ leading goal scorer is a Connecticut Yankee in Coach Therrien’s Court.

RW Max Pacioretty, 25, has 21 goals to lead Les Habitants, though he has only nine assists to go with those goals. It’s an unusual combo for Pacioretty, whose young career shows 89 goals and 94 assists thus far.

Pacioretty was born in New Canaan, CT and was Montreal’s 1st round pick (22nd overall) in the 2007 Entry Draft.

The goal scoring took a while, but for the Canadiens, it’s been worth the wait.

In his first 86 NHL games, Pacioretty scored just six goals. In 201 games since, he’s fired 83 goals into enemy nets.

There’s more to Pacioretty than just a sniper’s touch. He’s also a survivor.

In 2011, Pacioretty suffered a broken neck, but recovered and his determination resulted in Pacioretty winning the Bill Masterton Trophy following the 2011-12 season, which is given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to the sport of hockey.

Pacioretty is also a member of Team USA for the upcoming Olympics in Sochi.

He has local ties, too—playing one season for Red Berenson at the University of Michigan, racking up 39 points in 37 games in 2007-08.

In December, Pacioretty was the subject of trade talk, as word spread that the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers were interested in acquiring him and his $4.5 million/year salary, which is guaranteed thru 2019. Canadiens fans were opposed to the idea, overwhelmingly.

The only black mark on Pacioretty is that in last year’s playoffs, as the Canadiens were being stunningly KO’d by Ottawa in the first round in five games, Pacioretty went scoreless in four contests—big, fat goose eggs in both the goals and assists columns.

The Canadiens currently hold a playoff spot, so Pacioretty might get a chance to end his mini, four-game post-season scoreless streak this spring.

Pacioretty wears no. 67 for the Canadiens.

European Super Scout Andersson Red Wings’ Unsung Cup Hero

The most unheralded member of the Red Wings’ front office used to guide intrepid fishermen around the waters of Sweden, Norway and Argentina. Frankly, that makes all the sense in the world.

Hakan Andersson is still fishing. And he’s still the best at finding the most prized fish in the darkest waters.

Andersson is the William Morris Agency of the NHL—all by himself. You ever hear the story of how Lana Turner was discovered while sipping a milk shake in a Hollywood diner? Well, Andersson has done that time and again for the Red Wings.

Andersson is the Red Wings’ Director of European Scouting, a post he’s held since 1993. He is the man responsible for finding gems such as Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen and too many others to mention. Andersson fishes the waters, like he used to do after his own playing career ended due to injury.

It’s true. For several years, Andersson acted as a fishing guide, boating with swanky folks who paid a pretty penny to be navigated around expertly to find the fish that no one else could.

When he got done with looking for fish, Andersson turned his talents to finding hockey players.

Hakan Andersson

Hakan Andersson, posing with the trophy he has helped the Red Wings win four times

Imagine finding Michael Jordan pouring in points in a high school in Nova Scotia. Or discovering Miguel Cabrera slamming home runs over the fence of a ballpark in New Zealand.

Andersson’s specialty is unearthing players that the NHL’s typical scouting department has barely heard of. The players mentioned above—Zetterberg et al—were hardly first rounders that garnered the most attention.

Filppula and Franzen were third round picks. Datsyuk was a sixth-rounder. Zetterberg wasn’t drafted until the seventh round. And Holmstrom didn’t get picked until round ten.

Anyone can draft a hot shot in the first round. It’s success in the later rounds that separates the men from the boys in the world of scouting.

Andersson watches hockey and sniffs out talent like you and I breathe. It comes that natural to him.

Andersson and his European staff, scattered throughout the continent, start watching games in September and they don’t stop until April. They use the Wee Willie Keeler method in finding skilled players.

Keeler, one of baseball’s greatest hitters, used the mantra, “Hit ’em where they ain’t” in describing his method of wielding a baseball bat.

Andersson and his scouts look where they ain’t. The “they”, are other teams’ scouts.

It doesn’t hurt to be lucky rather than good on occasion, however.

Datsyuk is Andersson’s Lana Turner.

Andersson went to Moscow in 1997 to check out a player named Dmitri Kalinin, but in the course of doing so, Andersson became enamored with a shifty center playing for Kalinin’s opponents. The shifty center was Datsyuk.

Andersson eschewed the pursuit of Kalinin—currently playing in the Kontinental Hockey League, by the way—and made a return trip to Moscow to see Datsyuk play again. Using Anderssson’s notes, the Red Wings drafted Datsyuk 171st overall in the 1998 Entry Draft. Andersson maintains to this day that he was the only NHL scout to have ever seen Datsyuk play prior to the draft.

The next year, Andersson was at a tournament in Finland to scout right winger Mattias Weinhandl but became enamored with a center “who always seemed to have the puck.”

In 1999, again acting on Andersson’s recommendation, the Red Wings drafted that center 210th overall in the entry draft. He currently wears no. 40 and is the captain of the Red Wings—Zetterberg.

Hakan Andersson’s hand is nearly filled with Stanley Cup rings. He has four of them, and every one of them has been earned just as much as the 20 players who skated nightly for the Red Wings in those Cup years.

The former fishing guide whose own playing aspirations were torpedoed by injury, is perhaps the greatest fisherman in the history of the NHL, when it comes to amateur scouting.

Andersson still enjoys fishing in his free time. No doubt he has little trouble finding anyone who wants to venture out in the boat with him.