Wings, springs and things/The Red Line
I have a hypothesis that the number of crabby people I deal with in a given week typically varies inversely with the quality of the weather.
Of course, I’ve never had the time to test it empirically, but there’s something about a nice day like Wednesday was that makes one less likely to send one’s french fries back or call the Sports Editor and complain.
It hasn’t been a tremendously enjoyable spring anywhere in Michigan yet, and so, it makes perfect sense that the sports angst level is particularly high these days, and that was before the Detroit Tigers called up closer and provocateur Jose Valverde.
The last few games of the season for the Detroit Red Wings have, in the past, been low-intensity affairs in which the only thing up for grabs was seeding, if that. This makes watching them fight for their playoff lives over the last three weeks of the season particularly unsettling.
Almost as if the National Hockey League were viscerally passing the Winged Wheel by, Detroit let three critical points slip through its hands recently in shootout losses to San Jose, Chicago and Vancouver. In fact, if it weren’t for the shootout (or goaltender Jimmy Howard’s Comedy Hour at the Saddledome in Calgary last week), the Wings would be unbeaten in their last seven.
Instead, it’s all about scrapping for loser points to keep pace with a skating adjective (the Minnesota Wild) and the irrelevant band of merrymakers known as the Columbus Blue Jackets (they still have Rick Nash, right?)
I have previously maintained that deciding the World Cup final on penalty kicks is like awarding the Indianapolis 500 championship to the best parallel-parking job. Deciding key NHL playoff points with the shootout is like crowning the Daytona 500 champ on the basis of the fastest oil change. I’m not sure if I’ve ever met a ‘hockey person’ who likes them.
A wrinkle in the National Federation of High School Assocations rules now allows for shootouts in mid-season tournament situations. I am fairly confident I will hear Jimmy Young and Bob Erkkila broadcast the MacInnes Holiday Classic in Portuguese on WKMJ-FM before that happens in the Copper Country.
Besides, from the media standpoint, covering a tie (which I did most recently while moonlighting on a Michigan Tech-Bemidji State game in January) is something of nuance, an endangered species. The rare 0-0 tie, whether it be in hockey, soccer or other – that’s the sort of thing that might go in a clip file.
Anyway, I’ve come to grips that the shootout’s not going away. Gary Bettman can’t sell a TV contract for games that might not have an actual winner. I just wish the Wings wouldn’t be so pathologically bad at it.
Of course, when things go awry in the skills competition, the first fingers are always pointed at the goaltending, particularly in Detroit, which has a reputation for savaging goalies that goes back to Terry Sawchuk. However, the Red Wings are 5-of-23 on shootout attempts this season, which is fifth-worst in the league.
After watching Saturday’s game, it appears the plan is have Pavel Datsyuk lead off with something crazy, and if it works, great, and if it doesn’t?
Damien Brunner’s attempt in the final round, knowing the Wings needed a goal, was particularly galling. It reminded me of my days playing EA’s NHL 2000 when I’d go in on goal and hit the pass button instead of shooting.
That being said, they looked excellent in wiping out Phoenix 4-0 Monday and solid in defeating the defending champion L.A. Kings Wednesday, leaving their destiny in their hands. Of course, that destiny likely involves Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks, but we’ll worry about that next week, I hope.
The weather’s supposed to turn, and so will my mood. A spoonful of sunshine makes the medicine go down.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.