by Richard Kincaide
It occurred to me as I was walking to the parking lot after the Wings lost to the Coyotes 4-2 today that I didn’t care that the Wings had lost to the Coyotes 4-2 today. I really didn’t. How strange. I used to care a lot. Now, the only concern I had was not in terms of hockey life or death, but in terms of scheduling. As in: “If they win Tuesday I’ll have to come back here for a Game 6 next Sunday.” And that was the sum total of my emotion.
This is a decidedly an odd way for me to feel and can, I suspect, be explained in a very limited number of ways. I’ve either achieved the Zen-like sense of detachment necessary to cover sports properly, having become, in other words, the consummate professional, or I’m depressed. Because that’s a symptom of depression, right? Not caring about something or some things about which you used to care a lot? Inasmuch I don’t feel depressed, I’m going to chalk it up to spirit-killing objectivity and revel in my newly-found professionalism.
So, why’d the Wings lose today? (See, not long ago I might have written, “So, why’d we lose today?”)
The obvious and easiest answer would be goaltending, which is always where you start when it comes to analyzing hockey. The Red Wings did not get good play out of their goalie Jimmy Howard this afternoon. Somebody—probably Scotty Bowman—once said to me, “You can’t win with goaltending like that.” He could have been talking about Howard’s Game 3 performance. While it would be unfair to criticize the rookie on the first three Phoenix goals, the 4th would be another story. It was a softie and it was a killer—coming with the game on the line in the final ten minutes of regulation, just moments (1:39 for those of you scoring at home) after the WIngs had cut the Coyotes lead to a single goal. As soon as the longish, non-deflected shot on which Howard was unscreened went in, the game was over no matter what the clock said and it said there was still 8:22 left to play.
You could talk about Pavel Datsyuk, held in check once again in a playoff game. You see this guy in February or March and you think he just might be the best player in all of hockey. You see this guy in April or May and…well, that’s sort of the point: you really don’t see him in April or May. Datsyuk averages just about a point per regular season game (598 points in 606 regular-season games or .998 points-per game) and about half that when the playoffs start (65 points in 101 playoff games or .644 points-per-playoff game). Datsyuk’s goal in Game 2 was his first goal in his last 15 postseason games. It makes you think one of two things is happening. Either Datsyuk changes fundamentally when the playoffs start, or the game itself changes fundamentally when the playoffs start.
I’ll take the latter. How else to explain that the Wings made it through the regular season without Justin Abdelkader just fine, thank you, but as soon as the playoffs start and the Coyotes started hitting, out of the lineup goes Jason WIlliams and up from the minors comes Abdelkader. The Wings felt they had to get tougher, literally overnight. Why? Because in the playoffs, the game changes. That’s not good for hockey.
The Wings had two apparent goals waved off today due to the referee having whistled the play dead. Either or both could have just as easily been called good goals. If was testifying in court as to what I had witnessed, I would say that on the first, the whistle blew one or two tenths of a second before the puck went in and that it shouldn’t have been blown at all as it was evident that the Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t know where the puck was and therefore did not have it covered or secured. On the second, Bryzgalov himself wound up in the net with the puck beneath him making it, I thought, even more daunting to rule that a goal had not been scored. But both were waved off.
“Nothing, they meant absolutely nothing to the outcome of the game,” said Wings coach Mike Babcock. The old Richard Kincaide would have been on that in a heartbeat, pointing out that my math would indicate otherwise; that two good goals instead of two washouts would have resulted in a 4-4 tie score and overtime instead of a 4-2 loss in regulation. But my question went unasked as Babcock slipped out of the interview room. I was mad at myself for not asking my question, for not making my point. That’s not good sports journalism.
Say, maybe I am depressed. The Wings are down 2 games to 1 in the opening-round series. Game 4 is here Tuesday night.