Busy bee

I’ve been blogging away over at Winging it in Motown for about two weeks now, and it’s been a blast so far.  I have a preview of the Conference Finals up, in lieu of no Red Wings hockey.  There’s also a short recap of the Conference Semi Finals, and a little piece on the future of Nicklas Lidstrom.

A new adventure

As most of you may know by now, there are going to be a few changes around here.

If you have visited Winging it in Motown lately, you will notice that there’s a new editorial up on the front page, by me.  This is because the guys at WIM have asked me to be a full time author at their site, to which I emphatically said yes.

I know it has only been four short months since the inception of Hockeytown USA, and it’s been a great four months to say the least.  We got to witness the Red Wings struggling near the bottom of the Western Conference, only to go on an unprecedented tear to make the playoffs for the 19th consecutive season.  I hope you enjoyed the ride as you followed the excitement right here at Hockeytown USA.

But as is the case in life, all good must come to an end.  However, in this case, the end of one good things has led to an even better situation.  I will get exposure I never could have dreamed of over at SB Nation, with no disrespect to the wonderful operation here at WordPress.

I want to thank you all for discovering and following me here on Hockeytown USA, and I hope you’ll follow me on my journey over to WIM.  But most importantly, I want to thank you all for welcoming me into Red Wings Nation with open arms.

Will this be the end of Hockeytown USA?  I don’t know.  I’d hate to see my brainchild fade away, but if that is the case so be it.  I will say that I have immensely enjoyed my time here, and it is an experience I’ll never forget.

Don’t worry about me, I’m not leaving you altogether.  In the words of the late great Ernie Harwell:

But I think good-byes are sad, and I’d much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure.

Now God has a new adventure for me. And I’m ready to move on. So I leave you with a deep sense of appreciation for your longtime loyalty and support.

Well said Ernie, well said.

Franzen’s 6 points stave off elimination

The last time the Red Wings faced elimination, they brought their best game against the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 7 of the first round in a 6-1 rout.  They did the same again on Thursday to the San Jose Sharks.

But to advance this time, they’ll have to do it three more times—in a row.

Johan Franzen will give the Sharks nightmares tonight after scoring four times and accumulating six points in a 7-1 rout of San Jose to extend the series.  After winning the first three games—all by scores of 4-3—the Sharks will head back to San Jose with a bad taste in their mouths as they try to eliminate the Red Wings a second time.

Todd Bertuzzi had a goal and three assists and Jimmy Howard stopped 28 shots as the Wings avoided being swept for the first time since 2003.  Dany Heatley scored the lone goal for the Sharks, and Evgeni Nabokov was pulled after allowing five goals on nine shots

Franzen scored three unanswered goals in a span of 3:26 to complete a natural hat trick, missing the all time playoff record for fastest three goals by a meager two seconds, and added another in the third period.

Despite Franzen’s scoring tirade, it was Bertuzzi that kicked off the onslaught.  Franzen’s shot deflected off the inside of Bertuzzi’s left leg past Nabokov to open the scoring.  It was initially thought the goal was Franzen’s, which would have meant he scored the first four goals, but was later changed to Bertuzzi.

Then Franzen started his rampage.  At the 7:50 mark, Nabakov stopped the initial shot on a rush by Henrik Zetterberg with Franzen screening in front.  Franzen found the rebound and spun a backhander into the empty net, giving the Wings an early 2-0 lead.

Zetterberg found Bertuzzi streaking over the Sharks’ blue line 2:57 later.  Bertuzzi pulled up as two Sharks defenders converged in front of him and left a beautiful no-look pass for Franzen, who ripped a wrist shot over Nabokov’s glove.

Thinking he had completed the hat trick, Red Wings fans threw hats on the ice.  Franzen made it official 33 seconds later, getting his own rebound and poking it into the net for a 4-0 lead.

Franzen finished off his night 7:33 into the third period, putting home a rebound off a point shot from Nicklas Lidstrom, prompting the home crowd into chants of “FRAN-ZEN! FRAN-ZEN!”

Detroit wasn’t done in the first period.  Valterri Filppula dug a loose puck out of the corner and flung an odd angle shot that hit Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray and trickled by Nabokov to give the Wings a 5-0 lead at the intermission.

The stunned Sharks pulled Nabokov to start the second, although it didn’t really matter much.  With Dwight Helminen off for tripping, Bertuzzi fed a cross-ice pass to Brian Rafalski, who one-timed it by new goalie Thomas Greiss.  Greiss finished the game with 26 saves in the final two periods.

The game got chippy in the third period.  San Jose’s Joe Thornton was penalized four times in the frame, beginning with an elbow to the back of Zetterberg’s head, and culminating with a 10-minute misconduct after scrapping with Tomas Holmstrom.  Justin Abdelkader and Scott Nichol fought, and Kris Draper and Ryane Clowe were given game misconducts halfway through the period.

In all 26 penalties were called in the game, 15 to the Sharks, a stark contrast to previous games in the series.  The Red Wings had been taking more penalties in the first three contests, which led to 10 San Jose power plays in Game 2, and six in Game 3.  Detroit finished the game 2 for 8 on the man advantage, while the Sharks finished 1 for 5.

Game 5 is Saturday in San Jose.

Hey, I’ll decide who sucks around here

The Wings are down 3-0, and it’s time to change things up around here.  So behold, my first movie-themed post.  What movie is better to start off with than the modern hockey classic, The Mighty Ducks?  None.

Goldberg, you’re the goalie, it’s supposed to hit you

Jimmy Howard has carried the Wings this far, but his play has dropped off a bit.  He’s given up a few weak goals and has allowed four goals in every game this series.  If Detroit is going to 1942 Maple Leaf the Sharks, he’s got to turn it around.  Now.

I don’t mind losing, I’d just like to lose fairly

Let’s face it, no matter if you’re a Wings fan or Sharks fan the officiating in this series has been horrid.  Phantom slashes and goalie interference calls have led to a huge penalty discrepancy through the first two games.  Detroit was the second-least penalized team during the regular season, but the most penalized team in the post season.  Put the whistles away tonight and let the Wings decide if they want to keep playing or not.  Three to four penalties—for both teams—max, please.

It’s not worth winning if you can’t win big

This 4-3 stuff has been nice for hockey fans, but it’s time the Wings kicked it into fifth gear tonight.  Detroit had a 3-1 lead in the third period of Game 3 and sat back, allowing San Jose to tie the score.  Run up the score if you can.  No holding back tonight.

Yo dude, you obviously in the wrong hood!  This is my dominion.

Detroit has been spectacularly awful at home these playoffs.  Detroit has won just one game at home this post season (Game 4 against Phoenix).  Detroit needs to protect home ice a lot better than it has been.

Concentration, not strength

Officiating aside, the Wings have killed themselves with untimely penalties.  Detroit will have to be extra-disciplined tonight because the refs are calling everything that they touch.

You may have paid for that jersey sir, but you didn’t earn it

Mattias Ritola will make his playoff debut tonight, taking the place of Jason Williams.  Ritola will be a restricted free agent in the off season, and scoring a couple goals tonight would go a long way toward getting him a contract next year.

You may make it, you may not.  What matters is we’re here.

Win or lose tonight, the Red Wings went on a remarkable stretch just to get back into the playoffs.  While being swept would be the ultimate disappointment, the fact Detroit has gotten back to its’ 19th straight post season is something to be proud of.

RIP Ernie Harwell, 1918-2010

Although Ernie Harwell is not a hockey figure, he is an icon in the state of Michigan and deserves a mention nevertheless.  Harwell died last night after losing a long battle with bile duct cancer, at the age of 92.

Harwell will always be the Voice of Summer in Michigan.  You will be missed.

Wings blow 3-1 lead, teeter on brink

The officiating was better, the penalty killing was outstanding.  It was everything else that went rotten.

Patrick Marleau scored 7:07 into overtime, lifting the San Jose Sharks to a 4-3 victory and a 3-0 series lead over the Detroit Red Wings.

Joe Thornton and Logan Coture both scored in the third period to tie the score, and Evgeni Nabokov stopped 32 shots for the Sharks, who trailed 3-1 entering the final frame.

Tomas Holmstrom, Dan Cleary and Henrik Zetterberg scored for the Wings, who find themselves trailing a series 3-0 for the first time since 2003.  The Red Wings were swept out of the first round by the Anaheim Ducks, who dominated behind the stellar play of Conn Smythe winner Jean Sebastian-Giguere.

Only twice has an NHL team fought its’ way out of a 3-0 hole, and it’s only happened three times in North American sports that use the best-of-seven format.  The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs came back from a 3-0 deficit—against the Red Wings no less–in the Stanley Cup Finals, and the 1975 New York Islanders did the same to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The only other sport to accomplish the feat is baseball, when Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.  No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 hole.

The Red Wings still had penalty issues as they did in Game 2, but this time were not bit by the consequences.  San Jose went 0-for-6 on the man advantage, after scoring twice in 10 opportunities Sunday.  The Sharks were penalized just twice, and took only four penalties on Sunday.

Marleau scored the winner on a bad break for the Wings.  Jason Williams blistered a shot wide of Nabokov at one end, but the rebound came all the way out to center, where the Sharks started an odd-man rush.  Thornton fed a perfect cross-ice feed to Marleau, who easily found the empty net.

Holmstrom opened the scoring 13:33 into the first, redirecting a pass from Johan Franzen with his skate behind Nabokov for a 1-0 lead. Nicklas Lidstrom started the play, beating a Sharks defender to a loose puck just above the faceoff circle, skating behind the net and feeding the puck to Franzen.  The play was reviewed but the goal stood.

Detroit was not so fortunate on an earlier review.  Just before the Holmstrom goal, Henrik Zetterberg appeared to have redirected a shot with his skate past Nabokov, but officials ruled he had kicked the puck in and the goal was waved off.

Zetterberg had a chance to redeem himself later in the period.   Nabokov robbed Zetterberg’s backhand attempt on a penalty shot after Couture had been called for covering the puck in the crease, and the score remained 1-0.

Cleary gave Detroit a 2-0 with just 1:23 left in the period, one-timing a pass from Drew Miller past Nabokov’s blocker.

San Jose, as it has done so many times in this series, responded quickly.  With just 1.8 seconds left in the period, Devin Setoguchi took a pass from behind the net and slipped a soft shot under Howard’s pads to cut the score in half.

Zetterberg appeared to give Detroit some breathing room in the second.  Zetterberg banked in a shot from the left corner off Nabokov and in to give the Wings a 3-1 lead.  The Sharks, however, were far from done.

After pressuring Detroit in their own zone, Thornton skated around the net and fired a shot off Pavel Datsyuk’s stick and over Howard’s left shoulder to cut the lead to one.  Couture then tied the score with 6:43 to play, scoring from a bad angle after catching Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson sleeping.

Unlike Game 2, the officiating did not overshadow the outcome of the game.  While the penalty discprepancy (6-2) was heavily in San Jose’s favor, the penalty killing unit was able to step up and thwart all the Sharks’ power play chances. Detroit was instead bitten by untimely defensive lapses, and Jimmy Howard had his weakest game of the series, letting in two soft goals.  Howard has let in four goals in each game against the Sharks.

Three Stars
1.  Patrick Marleau— overtime goal
Score a playoff OT goal, you get first star.

2. Joe Thornton, Sharks– goal, assist
Thornton tends to disappear in the playoffs, but he came to play against Detroit.

3. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings, goal assist
Zetterberg could have potentially had three goals tonight, but part of me says it wouldn’t have been enough anyway.

Trainwreck of the Game
Jonathan Ericsson, Red Wings
Didn’t really notice Ericsson until I saw him standing around on the Couture goal.  He made a lot of other stupid plays besides that too.

My exact notes from the Couture goal by the way:
“Couture scores from a bad angle, Ericsson standing around like a dumbass.”

Yeah, I was a little angry.

Let ‘em play

I hate blaming officiating for losses.

I’m not going to sit here and deny the fact that the Detroit Red Wings got outplayed by the San Jose Sharks last night.  They did.  But it’s not hard to outplay a team that’s playing a man short for one-third of the game.

The Red Wings were penalized 10 times last night for a total of 20 minutes, a full period worth of playing shorthanded.  The Sharks?  Four times for eight minutes.

To put it in perspective, the Red Wings were the second-least penalized team in the NHL during the regular season, and have been near the bottom of that category for years.  Detroit was called for 723 penalty minutes, a shade under 9 minutes per game.

But in the playoffs, the referees have been discovering their whistles during Red Wings games.  In nine playoff contests, the Red Wings have drawn 125 penalty minutes, tops among the 16 playoff teams, for an average of just under 14 minutes a game.  On average, the Red Wings are spending 23 percent of the game in the box.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the Wings were actually committing most of the penalties the referees have been calling. In Game 1 between the Sharks and Wings, Johan Franzen was high-sticked by Devin Setoguchi of the Sharks, causing Franzen to hit the ice.  Setoguchi tripped over Franzen’s stick.  The call?  Two minutes, Franzen, for tripping.  Setoguchi got nothing.

Then in Game 2, Detroit’s Todd Bertuzzi got two calls that can only be explained as “reputation calls.”  Bertuzzi was called for goaltender interference and holding, both of which involved little or no contact with the opposing player.

It’s not just the Red Wings getting bad calls either.  The Sharks were awarded two penalties in Game 2 that left even Wings’ fans scratching their heads.

At the end of the first, Patrick Marleau skated into a Red Wings player, which can most accurately be described as a love tap in hockey terms.  Marleau was sent off for boarding.   To clarify what boarding exactly is, we turn to the NHL rule book:

42.1 Boarding – A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee

Key word: violently.

Later in the game, Dany Heatley was checked into Detroit goalkeeper Jimmy Howard, and was called for goaltender interference.  Of the four penalties called on the Sharks, two weren’t even against the rules.

Around the rest of the league, it doesn’t get much better.  In Game 5 of the Chicago Blackhawks’ opening round series with the Nashville Predators, Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa dangerously checked Nashville defensemen Dan Hamhuis from behind, sending him crashing into the boards.  It was eerily similar to the hit Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals delivered to the Hawks’ Brian Campbell earlier in the season, which got Ovechkin ejected and suspended two games.

Hossa’s penalty?  Hossa was awarded a 5 minute boarding call, but was not ejected, and came back to score the overtime winner.  In addressing why Hossa wasn’t subsequently suspended like Ovechkin, the NHL said it was because Hamhuis was not injured, while Campbell was.

Understand all that?  I hope you do, because I sure don’t.

The quality of the officiating has become a league-wide problem lately, not just a Red Wings problem.  The so-called “new” NHL seems like it’s just too fast for the referees, and the quality of the calls is diminishing as a result.  Referees are constantly looking for all the ticky-tack stuff, like interference and hooking that the league wants enforced to a ridiculous extent, and are missing the big stuff like cross-checking and sucker punches to the backs of heads.

No league is perfect when it comes to officiating, and human error is involved in all aspects of life.  But the NHL is dangerously approaching NBA territory in the number of terrible calls that are being made on the ice.  Goals have been completely missed, players are getting injured, and teams are being handcuffed by poor calls.

San Jose and Detroit was anticipated to be a great series, and still has that potential.  These are two of the best puck possession teams in the league, and the officials are ruining what should otherwise be a phenomenal series.  These  teams have the two most talented rosters in the league.  They don’t need their hands held by the officials to even the playing field.

So dear NHL: please swallow the whistles for Game 3.  Keep the refs out of it and let the players decide who wins.

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