Friday, May 15, 2009

I'm Glad Thats Over


I've said everywhere I've gone today that last night's game 7 was one of the best games I've seen in a looooooong time.  That series as a whole was easily the best of this year, and of the last couple years, and I don't care what you say about an anticlimactic WSH/PIT series.  That was some phenomenal hockey, and the Ducks have nothing to be ashamed of.  Oftentimes such close games (and series) are decided on fluky goals.  This year, we happened to get the fluky (though legit) goal, and we won the series.  If the Ducks had won last night, I would've been disappointed, but I wouldn't really have even been mad, because the Ducks just played so well.  

Massive props to the Ducks on a helluva series.  I hate those guys so much, mostly because I honestly fear them in the playoffs, and this is why.  But at the same time, there is a huge amount of respect there, because as a team, they're one of the best.

Thanks to Art and Dan of Anaheim Calling, for their work on this blog with me.  It's been a fun ride, and we've had some good hockey discussion along the way.  I've definitely added you guys to my bookmarks.  

And thanks to those of you that stopped by to follow our coverage on the series.  Hopefully you enjoyed it.  I'll be seeing you in whatever round 3 action we do here at CLS, and you can now catch me at my own blog that I've just started, over at Sacrifice the Body.  I'll be doing most of the Wings-centric stuff here.  My general plan for StB is mostly NHL-in-general type stuff, and I've got a few big posts over there that I'm already working on.  Hopefully even you non-Wings fans will like it.  

Great job, everyone.

Also, I have a huge mancrush on Darren Helm.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Handshake Line - WCSF 2009: Detroit

**This is our Handshake Line post for this series. We'd like to thank James for asking us to take part in this mini-blog. Thanks, James. Go Pens, right?**

If you missed Ducks/Wings Game 7, you missed a good one. I'd recount my memories of it, but there isn't enough scotch in the world to make typing that out bearable. What is bearable (for me, at least) is The Handshake Line.

Anaheim Calling is as much about why Daniel and I are different as it is about us both being Ducks fans. One key difference going into The Handshake Line is this: Daniel freely admits that his self-worth is tied up in the Ducks' winning and losing. Mine will never be. Perhaps that makes me a bad fan, not as fully invested as the rest of the Ducks' fan base. I just can't bring myself to think of hockey as the Ducks taking the ice to validate me as an individual.

My view of The Handshake Line is that it represents two sides accepting the outcome of the game. The most important disagreement is happening on the ice. The name-calling, gloating, etc. are exterior to that, and exterior to the game of hockey as a whole. You shake to acknowledge each other's efforts. And I would like to do that here.

So, Daniel, what, beyond "Good Luck," are the things you'd like to say to the players and personnel of the Red Wings franchise, as well as their fans?

As Arthur has attested to, I had a lot of reservations about writing this edition of The Handshake Line. Not just because I hate the Red Wings, but because I've had to listen to 7 games of commentary that have generally been disrespectful towards my team. As a sports fan from the West Coast, I'm used to being forgotten about, but this series has pretty much been an exercise in how the Red Wings "can't do anything wrong," and the Ducks "can't do anything right." I'm not saying the Red Wings didn't beat us. You make your own breaks, and the Wings worked for that goal. They deserve to go on. I'm just saying I'd like it if people would remember that Anaheim battled, and they deserve the respect of people who appreciate good hockey. I didn't write that to be a bitter hockey fan, rather I did it to admit my own character flaws and admit that, at times, even I take the game too personally, or as Arthur put it, I almost became Chris Chelios and that is unacceptable for anyone who is a hockey fan. If you don't get that reference, then you should research Chelios' handshake habits. Having said all that, I now start my handshake list:

[To Babcock]
As anyone who pays attention to any sport can tell you, talent is not enough. You stayed one step ahead, and mixed your lines so effectively that there was almost no keeping up. It wasn't just Anaheim mistakes, it was your ability to switch up lines and have those guys mesh well enough to force those turnovers. You have a mastery of your team and you know how to use your talent. Bowman might have some competition for his ring count.

[To Darren Helm]
Props to a kid who has more career playoff games than regular season games. You scored a big goal in a big Game 7, and you're a testament to your organization's ability to produce a never ending stream of quality talent.

[To Nicklas Lidstrom]
Is there a better guy in the league at holding the blue line than you? I don't think you make a lot of amazing plays, and that is what makes you so amazing. You have this way of being exactly where you need to be. Personally, I think you are the hockey equivalent of Nightcrawler. There's really nothing else to say about a guy, who does nothing but make sure his team has an opportunity to win. You are the closest thing in the NHL to a security blanket.

[To Pavel Datsyuk]
In my humble opinion, the Hart trophy is all yours. For Ovechkin or Malkin to be effective, they have to score. You, on the other hand, supply enough pressure and play enough great defense that it doesn't matter if you score because the rest of the team follows your lead. Despite the fact that we kept you off the score sheet, you still wore down the defense and your play led to opportunities for your teammates. That's what a Hart winner does.

[To Johan Franzen]
You really do look like a mule, but hockey players aren't supposed to be pretty. More importantly, I'm pretty sure you have more career playoff goals than regular season goals. All you do is charge fearlessly to the net and make sure the puck goes in. That's old school hockey. I think you are just like Chris Pronger, the only people who like you are your teammates and your fans, because everyone else in the league hates playing you.

[To Marian Hossa]
Way to keep pressing on. The Detroit media was ready to skewer you after the Ducks went up 2-1 and all you did was have a monster Game 4 that gave your team enough momentum to put itself in a position to keep winning. If you don't break out in Game 4, your team might not be going to the Western Conference Finals.

[To Chris Osgood]
Everyone said you were the Achilles Heel, but you came up with some big saves. Maybe you weren't spectacular, but you did enough to win, and at this time of year, the only thing that counts is winning. You stood tall when your team needed you the most, and as you've shown before, you are more than capable of backstopping this team to another Cup.

[To the fans]
Good luck.

[To IAmJoe]
It was good working with you. Good luck blogging the next round. I hope you get your own blog up and running soon. You post good stuff.

[To Chris Chelios]
Anyone seen Chris Chelios?

[To Mike Babcock]
I never doubted you after the Edmonoton series three years ago. I couldn't doubt you now. You acquiesced, and made one change after the opening shift of Game 4. Good call.

[To Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary]
I was never afraid of Hossa or Datsyuk, not for a second. I was always afraid of the two of you. You proved me right.

[To Nicklas Lidstrom]
I remember being sad to hear rumors that you were talking about retiring in 1999, snubbed yet again for the Norris Trophy. Way to spend a decade making us all regret overlooking you. You set the tone in this series, and that's really all a captain needs to do with a good team.

[To Niklas Kronwall]
Good luck and good hits. Oh, and try to stay on your skates in the next series. Those guys are fast. You might come out on the wrong end of one of those Randy Savage Flying Elbows.

[To Jonathan Ericsson]
Even the best of the best have to fight for a roster spot on the Red Wings. So, I hope you know how much of a compliment it is when I tell you that you're the future of this team's defensive core.

[To Darren Helm]
You were barely old enough to drink the champagne out of the Cup (in the US) when you lifted it, but I can tell you have the requisite heart to savor this success. Don't lose that, and don't let anyone take it from you.

[To Kris Draper]
A decade removed from The Grind Line, and it's still headline news that you're sidelined in a series. That's gotta warm a 37 year-old man's heart.

[To Chris Osgood]
Consistency is a young man's game. It's all about timing. Keep proving that.

What a Long Strange Trip Its Been

Well, here we are.  We knew this series would not be quick.  Neither team could allow themselves to easily be ushered off to the golf courses.  Now a series that has been an absolute tug-of-war is going to 7 games.  Figures, doesn't it? 

There isn't much to say at this point.  The Wings haven't played up to their potential in some of these games.  The Ducks haven't played to their potential in some of these games.  If either one comes out and plays a stinker of a game, they're going to regret it, because the winner of this series will walk away with a Stanley Cup, I think.  Hopefully, for both their sakes, each team shows up, and the most talented team wins.  And by most talented team, I mean the Wings.  Now if only gametime would come a little bit sooner.  

If you haven't yet, go read Anaheim Calling's discussion on what the Red Wings as a franchise mean to the Ducks.  Good stuff. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another One For The Ages

[Pavel's still mad about that hit in 2007]

We have spent a lot of time talking about different aspects of this series, from Hiller's struggles to the contributing factors of Detroit's success and we even hated on Versus' coverage, or lack thereof, of this series. What a lot of people are forgetting is that since 2003, these are the two most successful post-season teams. We've each won a Cup, and the Ducks actually have more Cup appearances, 2 to the Wings' 1. Anyone who has followed this rivalry since the early days in 1997 knows that there is a lot of hate between these two teams. I'm sure some Detroit fans blame us for costing them a Cup in 2007, and possibly 2003. Thus, it's no surprise that there were so many fireworks at the end of last night's game. So Arthur, what makes the Anaheim-Detroit rivalry one of the most compelling in hockey?

Let me point out that 2002 was a Cup year for Detroit, so the Ducks don't really have an appreciable lead in Cup appearances when measuring from 2003.

In my opinion, there has never been a Ducks/Wings series without a quality storyline. Detroit has faced Anaheim following each of its last three championships, answering the bell of the Stanley Cup hangover against the same team for the last decade. When these teams first locked horns in '97, Detroit went on to win its first Cup in 42 years, and ten years later, Anaheim beat the Red Wings to advance to the Finals that brought them their only Stanley Cup. It's never a meaningless series when it's Detroit/Anaheim, but here are my three reasons that this is one of the best rivalries in hockey:

1) Fun to watch. Hradek over at the Entertainment Sports Programming Network said it best after Game 3 when he asked if we could watch these teams play a Best of 15 series instead of 7. Anaheim and Detroit declare war every time they face each other. The sweeps aren't sweeps when it's Ducks/Wings. The teams played a combined 10 overtime periods in their 1997 and 2003 sweeps of one another, and the '99 series was filled with goals knocked in above the crossbar, Kariya hitting three posts (but no net) and the general shenanigans we've come to love. In fact, if you add up the all-time Playoff OT minutes between these teams, you probably have enough for another series. And every minute of that time is filled with contentious hockey: they draw blood, they question each other's heart and grit and they steal games from their opponent more often than they best them.

2) Respect. For the longest time, the Ducks were the NHL's answer to Rodney Dangerfield. They routinely dropped the gloves, and had the most potent offensive talents in the NHL. For that, other teams regularly took runs at their skill players, and the talking heads classified them as a purely offensive team, not built for serious playoff contention. No respect, I tell ya. Detroit, by contrast, could win an entire playoff series with nothing but the respect the other team gave them. How many times did we hear a coach in the 90s say of Detroit, "We can't respect these guys too much." It was a legitimate key to the series in a best-of-7 against the Wings. There was always the danger you'd get caught watching Fedorov skate around you, or not put a solid enough check on Shanahan.

Yet, when the Ducks tangled with Detroit, they brought the most dangerous weapon possible with them: the belief they could win. At first, you could chalk it up to a young franchise being too stupid to realize it couldn't beat the Red Wings, but a lights out goaltender and a one-man forecheck in 2003 proved it possible. Since then, the Ducks have morphed into the Big Bad Ducks, but it's the same story. Like the Big Bad Bruins of old, the Ducks don't respect anyone that comes into their building, least of all the Red Wings. And that lack of respect has got to stick in the craw of a Detroit franchise with that much history, that much consistent success and that many skill players. But it's also got to stick in the Ducks' craw that no matter what they do, the Red Wings will have the reputation of being classy and skilled, while the Ducks are Public Enemy #1 for every officiating crew in the NHL.

3) Litmus test in the West. Since 2002, only ONE Western Conference Finals was played without one of these two teams. They are the lineal champions in the West. You can't EARN a trip to the Finals if you didn't go through Detroit or Anaheim. When they face each other, people are prone to speculate (as they have this year) that the Ducks and Wings are deciding the Stanley Cup champion in THEIR series, not the one played weeks later.

As I've said before, I am a long time Ducks fan, and as a result, I have a massive chip on my shoulder. That also means that I hate the Red Wings. As you already stated Arthur, the Ducks were always seen as a flashy offensive team, the Kariya and Selanne show, that never had what it took to be a serious NHL team in the playoffs or otherwise. Then, when we ground out a 7-game win over a gritty Phoenix team, back when Roenick and Tkachuk occupied their top line, it was a step in the right direction. After that, we ran into a wall against Detroit. I believe 3 of the 4 games in that sweep went into overtime. Two years later, we were swept again, and that is when I began to hate Detroit. More importantly, it's also when the Ducks decided to fight for respect as an organization.

As you've mentioned, there is a new litmus test in the West, i.e. the Cup representative has to go through us or them, but the Red Wings have always been a litmus test for Anaheim. Detroit is an Original 6 franchise, and even though they had that 42-year hiatus from Cup glory, when we were starting to develop as a franchise and create an identity, Detroit was a league powerhouse. They were a model franchise, and in a way, I've always seen them as Anaheim's older brother, at least in terms of the franchise wars. After defeats in '97 and '99, what Anaheim fans wanted more than anything was that match up in 2003. In a way, Detroit has been a gatekeeper for Anaheim's respect as a franchise, and I think that is what makes this series so amazing. It may not seem tough to people who refuse to pay attention to a west coast team, but this rivalry belongs in the mythic category. It runs deeper than teams hating each other for ending playoff runs. We fight for the respect of an Original 6 franchise that always seems to be on our path to success, as a constant reminder of what we are trying to become. Red Wings fans seem to see us as a threat, an upstart mickey-mouse hockey club that has no right to even be in the NHL, let alone deserve the honor of hoisting a Cup. In some ways. I think Anaheim/Detroit demonstrates the battle between hockey purists and those who see the economic advantages of a modern league. While we do play a more old skool style of play in Anaheim, I think some people will never forget that we only exist because Disney rode the marketing wave a little too long. Detroit, on the other hand, is an Original 6 in a renaissance that has yielded more Cups in the past 12 years than any other franchise.

As a result of this sort of clash of hockey ideology, I see the players doing more to win than in other series. The reason why the Anaheim/Detroit playoff matchups are always such great hockey is that you have two teams who refuse to lose. It's usually a long stretch of mistake free, hard-hitting, grind-it-out hockey, where a superstar can, at any moment, change the momentum of the game. I know my answer is a little abstract, but that's what makes sports so great. It is so symbolic, yet so material. All I'm saying is that this rivalry has budded into the type of thing that no one from either camp will ever forget. It has offered the promise of hard fought hockey that every fan can appreciate, and most importantly, the games matter. The Cup winner might not come from this series, simply because of the damage these two teams have done to each other, but the winner of this series will definitely have the edge and confidence to hoist the Cup should the opportunity arise.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Step On The Neck and Don't Let Up

That's how you win.  You knock someone down.  You put your foot on their neck, and apply pressure.  You don't stop applying pressure until they're done thrashing.  You don't go "hey, look, I'm on top, cool!" and take off the pressure.  You keep the pressure on, cause if you don't, a good opponent will trip you up, and suddenly their foot is on your neck, and now they're pissed off.  

This is what the Wings have to do in game 6.  They have their collective foot firmly planted on the Ducks' collective neck.  It helps that Ducks have nice long necks.  If they let up, they could quickly find themselves pinned down and eliminated in 7 games by a pissed off opponent.  If they keep the pressure on, they should spend Wednesday morning planning for a Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.  

A few days ago at the BoC, I said the most frustrating part of this series was not as much that the Wings were being really outplayed, but that they were often allowing themselves to be beaten.  I gotta think that given the last two games, Ducks fans have got to feel the same now.  The last two games have featured improved performances by the Wings, particularly the Hossa/Filppula/Franzen line, but at the same time, the Ducks have also taken a step back, I think.  There've been some bad goals.  Mental mistakes.  A general malaise.  Beginning in game 4, as Hiller began to give up a few, the Ducks just seemed to give up.  Suddenly their brick wall for the last 20 games developed a couple holes, and instead of trying plug them or cover for his bad night, they just quit.  And then quit the next game too.  

Despite what Earl Sleek has been saying about playing with house money, I think everyone has to realize that this Ducks team, if it can beat the Wings, has a very good chance to win the Stanley Cup.  I'd pick them over Chicago.  I'd take them over any Eastern team.  When you're that close to getting over the wall, you've been playing this well, and you can see the light, I don't think I believe that whole playing with house money thing.  If the Ducks can win two straight, they're (mostly) home free to a Stanley Cup.  If they finish rolling over, its a big time opportunity wasted for the Ducks.  As much as I'd like to feel sorry for the Ducks, given that its either them or the Wings, I can't.  Frankly, its almost the same situation for the Wings, being a team that should win the Cup if they make it through this series.  

Hopefully this is our last gameday post of the series.  If not though, I won't be surprised in the slightest.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pumpkin Time?

The West's Cinderella 8th seed is now on the brink of elimination. The Ducks were competitive in Game 5, but the Red Wings attack came in waves, and a lapse in concentration to open the 2nd left Anaheim in a 2-goal hole that proved too much to overcome.

I'm going to flip the script a little bit here. Since the Red Wings are playing like the Red Wings and the Ducks are down 3-2, it's clear that Anaheim has to play flawless hockey from here on out. But Daniel, the Red Wings have a chance to swat away a pesky 8th seed that had them on the ropes in this series. What do the Red Wings have to do to make sure they're not back at the Joe next week?

I'm going to do my best to answer this question with as little bias as possible. I will, of course, fail, but at least it gives me a chance to focus on everything the Ducks did wrong. My first task for the Wings is to continue to get to Hiller. I'm not saying Cleary interfered with Hiller on the third goal, I'm just saying he made it impossible for Hiller to move and reach for the puck. Detroit needs to get away with-- I mean --do more of that. If Detroit can continue to win the battles in front of the crease like it did on the second and third goal, they will be victorious in Game 6.

The next thing Detroit needs to do is not let up. It's easy to thoroughly dominate a team in two games, as Detroit has with Anaheim, and forget that the team isn't going to roll over and play dead. Franzen and Holmstrom need to continue giving it to Scotty and Pronger. Anaheim's defenseman are great at using each other to move the puck out of the zone, so Detroit needs to keep the pressure on. More importantly, that pressure needs to continue into the neutral zone. Anaheim has had no transition offense for the last two games, and as a result has lost. No easy access to the attacking zone, no cross ice passes after entry and no cycling means no offense for the Ducks. It all starts by pressuring the D and not letting Anaheim access the neutral zone. Thus, it is necessary to keep the pressure up.

Finally, the Wings need to keep taking it for the team. It is quickly becoming apparent that the Red Wings aren't just outshooting Anaheim because they are getting more offensive chances, it's because they are getting more pucks through. The Ducks are getting a lot of shots stopped at the point and Detroit is turning up ice quickly, and as a result are getting a lot of odd man breaks when the Ducks have 3 wingers trying to crash the net for rebounds. Detroit is stopping everything. They have some of the busiest, and borderline, stick work in the league; they need to keep using it to their advantage and protect Osgood from having to face too many shots.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Hold The Line

**We've got another series-related post over at our blog if you just aren't getting enough Ducks/Wings talk in your life**

I'm going to ask the question that's really on the mind of every Ducks fan after last night: how do we stop the Franzen, Filppula, Hossa line? They seemed to just have their way with us. I can't really figure out why. No matter who Carlyle threw out there, there was no answer. What do the Ducks do to counter this new Detroit line, and get their own scoring back on track?

A lot of the Ducks' issues in Game 4 stemmed from problems on the blueline: Festerling gets caught changing, Brookbank gets called back to the bench halfway through a shift after a horrendous turnover, Beauchemin can't handle Detroit's forecheck, etc. As someone who's been very critical of Wisniewski, I tell you I'm missing him now. He could make quick transition passes that our non-Norris defensemen just don't know how to do. We rely on the boards too much, and that's not safe when the other team's bringing more energy than you are. We can't put ourselves in situations where we're wasting a shift trying to figure out how to leave our zone.

We need to get some consistency on those first passes and breakout passes from our blueline. They're making too many mistakes, and they are succumbing to pressure. Some of it will be fixed in practice with the two days off. Some of it will remain, regardless of what we do. BUT we can't let Detroit pressure giveaways from our defense. That takes our forwards out of the equation and leads to bad penalties, not to mention quality scoring chances.

To a degree, that will help us counter Franzen and Hossa. I doubt there's a sure-fire way to cool them off, just as I doubt there's a sure fire way to heat Bobby Ryan up. Franzen was called out by Carlyle and Hossa by Babcock. They both came into Game 4 with something to prove. Whether or not they can continue to prove it, we'll see on Sunday. But the only effective method to shut them down is to make sure they're playing with the puck as little as possible. Effective passing from the rearguards will go a long way toward that.

There was a sequence last night where Beauchemin and Niedermayer just played catch at our blue line for an entire shift, forcing the Hossa line to change. When a line is cycling pressure like this, they are weary of getting caught out there. Their energy is front-loaded in the shift, and if they don't get the puck, they have to change. We've got to keep that line playing defense. That means breaking out of our zone quickly, being responsible with the puck and upping pressure in their zone.

As far as getting our scoring going, I think it's up to the players. Carlyle's tried different combinations, including ones that worked during the regular season like Ryan/Ebbett/Selanne. Personally, I would like to see what I call the Crazy Eights line: Miller/Ebbett/Selanne because I feel they've done well in stretches together, and Miller plays defense well enough for Selanne to take the risks he can't help but take. But at the end of the day, whether Bobby Ryan figures out his game is really up to him. He's running out of time to do it, but the kid has the ability to dominate-- We've seen-t-it. Carlyle's called him out. I'm sure Carlyle's calling out a lot of guys in practice. Now, he's waiting for them to answer. We all are.