Wednesday, October 15, 2014

It Was The Goalie's Fault!

Trip and Strip!
Anaheim's #15 Ryan Getzlaf trips Detroit's #55 Nicklas Kronwall but no penalty is called and Getzlaff takes the puck and goes in to score on Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard.  Getzlaf's unassisted goal, his second tally of the night, comes with only :24 left in the 3rd period and gives the Ducks a 3-2 win over the Red Wings on October 11, 2014.  (Click to emgiggen. Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images) 

It's probably taken me 4 days to write the game story from Saturday night--Anaheim's 3-2 win over the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena--because of the headline (see above) that I knew I was going to have to write.  

I'm a goalie and because I'm a goalie I know from my own personal experience that when you blame the goalie when the puck goes in, which by the way you do every single bleeping time the puck goes in, all y'all are RONG somewhere between 80 or 90 percent of the time. Like last Thursday night in the opener when Boston's first goal went in over Jimmy Howard's shoulder and I had to (calmly) explain that if Howard hadn't gone down you'd all be complaining about how the puck had beaten him low (OMG! THE 5 Hole? That is  SO WEAK!!!) because when there is an NHL shooter winding up and firing from inside the top rim of the circle you'd better get down and take away the bottom of the net right away because you sure as heck aren't going to have time to get down once he releases because from that distance. From 30 feet an NHL slapshot will get to you before you can drop and spread 'em but you still have to take away the bottom of the net because it's a lot easier for these guys to beat you low than it is for them to pick that little spot over your shoulder and under the crossbar and beat you high and when they do, well, good for them.  Etc.

That said, the first two goals Saturday night were Howard's fault; totally.  And the Wings lost 3-2. So, it's the goalie's fault.  The 3rd Ducks goal was on the ref and we'll get to that in a minute but first the two bad ones allowed by Howard.  

It was scoreless in the second when Howard, trying to flip it into the corner to his left where Nicklas Kronwall was waiting, instead turned it over to Anaheim's Patrick Maroon (wearing the new Ducks uniform that appear to have some sort of weird pumpkin spice motif going on which is nice for this time of year) who slid it out in front of the empty Detroit net.  It looked like Howard and the Wings had caught a break when Corey Perry couldn't handle it and the puck slid off the end of his stick but, uncovered, Ryan Getzlaf moved right in and blasted it by Howard who was still scrambling a bit to get back into position and who thus did not have time to either get square to his shooter or to set his feet.  When a goalie's feet are moving at release, the puck goes in about 100% of the time.  I don't know why this is, I just know that it is. That's what happened in this case and Anaheim had scored the all-important First Goal of the Game.

The Wings came back however and led 2-1 in the third when Howard made his second big mistake. Ryan Kessler's centering pass from behind the net went through the crease and Howard failed to block it and Matt Beleskey took the clean feed and fired it by.  Phil Myre, one of the great guys in hockey whose CV includes having been the #1 goalie for a couple of teams called the Montreal Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers, told me one night that if a pass goes through the blue of the crease and the goalie doesn't block it or deflect it, anything that happens subsequent to that failure is on the goalie.  Kessler's pass, right along the ice, almost hit Howard in the skate but his stick was not on the ice and it went straight through to the open man when Howard could have and should have blocked it and it was a one-timer into the back of the Detroit net and a 2-2 tie.

All of that said, everybody thinks the Wings lost Saturday night because neither of the referees, Tom Kowal or Kelly Sutherland, called Getzlaf for tripping Kronwall deep in the Detroit zone with the game still tied 2-2 in the final 30 seconds of the third period.  Getzlaf (see picture above) took Kronner off his skates, took the puck, and moved in laterally out of the right wing corner to beat Howard with a backhand while Detroit's other defenseman Jonathan Ericsson took it all in from a nice vantage point: stationary near the far goalpost.  Perhaps Ericsson thought a penalty was surely coming and he decided to wait for the whistle.  In any event, he was every bit as involved in the play as was any fan you care to name who was sitting in the lower bowl.  

Now the thing is, everybody is right.  There should have been a penalty called on Getzlaff who never should have scored and the Wings should still have been in a tie game and on the power play going into overtime, assuming they didn't score a go-ahead PPG (Power Play Goal) in the final 25 or so seconds left in regulation, or surrender a short-handed goal before the buzzer.

I, for one (and maybe I'm the only one), am not particularly up in arms about this.  Things happen. Mistakes are made.  The applicable sports cliche here is that "they all even out over the course of the season."  Sometimes it takes a little more than a season, that's all.

Remember last year when the Wings won a key late-in-the-season game at home against the Kings when somebody first a shot that went over the glass behind the LA net and caromed off the screen and hit Kings goalie Jonathan Quick in the back and went it?  It was as blatant a miss by the officials as you can name.  The puck is supposed to be dead when it hits the netting above the glass as it is the same thing as the puck going out of play.  But none of the officials saw it and last year (they've changed it this year because of what happened in Detroit that night last season) it was not reviewable. Imagine if the point that goal wound up costing LA had cost them a playoff spot?  It almost did, you know.  They were the 8th and final seed, remember?  And they went on to win the Stanley Cup.  If that goal, that blown call, had cost them a playoff berth, well, it would have cost them a Stanley Cup would it not?

So, the cliche, like so many cliches has the ring of truth-- it does all even out.

Boston is here tonight.  The Wings beat 'em 2-1 last week in the season opener.  Now they come in for the final time this season.  Sometimes the NHL schedule, like life itself, goes by in the blink of an eye.    

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Everybody Was Right Where I'd Left Them

Gustav Nyquist (at left) has just scored on the Power Play.  His goal at 14:46 of the second period broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Red Wings a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Opening Night.

It began to dawn on me even before I got upstairs for Thursday night's Detroit Red Wings 2014-15 season opener...   

The usher who lets me in the door was the same, the lady who greets me when I enter the concourse under the stands was the same, the security guard at the corridor leading to the locker rooms was the same, they guy collecting for the Press Room meal was the same (and the same low price, $6!), Leslie who prepares and serves our meals was the same, Ken Holland's reserved seat closest to the TV set was the same and so on and so on.  

And then it occurred to me: Everybody was right where I'd left them last April!

Even the opponent was the same.  The Boston Bruins.  The same Bruins who'd beaten the Wings 3-2 in overtime of Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs here last April in what became--when the Wings went to Boston and dropped Game 5 of the series a couple of days later--the last Wings game of last season.

Everything was the same.  Except, of course, for the result.  Tonight, the Wings, after falling behind 1-0 in the first came back with a pair of goals in the second and let Jimmy Howard do the rest in a 2-1 Opening Night victory.

I was a poor correspondent on this night.  Normally I'm Tweeting and live-blogging and jotting down line combinations and who scored and when they scored and so on and so on.

Tonight, I just watched the game.  I'd brought along this set of really nice high-power binoculars and I just sat there in the last row of the place, high, high above the ice and watched it all in extreme closeup.  I was the only person up there with binoculars because, really, hockey doesn't lend itself to binocular viewing the same way that, say, football does.  At Ford Field or Spartan Stadium you are literally a number of stories above the field, 7 or 8 of them judging by the number they press on the elevator to take you up there, and you can still see all 22 through the scopes.  In hockey, you wind up seeing only a player or two close up and you miss what is happening away from the puck.  But what a view of the goal you get.  Since nearly all of the important action in a hockey game takes place there, at the goal, I don't care if people think me odd for using binoculars.  I like the close-up look I get at the net.

I was sitting just a couple of chairs down from the great Matt Pavelich who spent 3 decades working the lines in the National League and was the first Linesman ever to make the Hockey Hall of Fame. You can imagine what sitting next to a guy with that kind of history means to a guy like me.  

Matt's the best.  At one point he said, "I hate that guy!"  (No, I am not going to tell you who).  No more than 6 seconds later he said, "I love that guy!"  I said, "Did Matt just say 'I hate that guy' and 'I love that guy' about the same guy in the span of 5 seconds?"  Matt said, "Hey, I can change my mind!"  

Anyway, it was a terrific game.  When Boston scored a dozen minutes in, there was some question about whether the goal had come on their first shot on goal of the night.  In other words, had Boston scored on the first shot on goal against the Wings this season?  I thought not because when I glanced at the shot-counter a couple of seconds after the puck had gone in, it read "1" and it's my experience that it usually takes them a few seconds to put a shot on the scoreboard after it's been taken, but after it stayed at "1" for a few seconds I figured it had indeed been first shot on goal against the Wings in the entire 2014-15 season and since it had gone in, well, that made it less a SOG (Shot on Goal) than a harbinger of disaster and doom.  You give up a goal on the first shot you see all season?  That can't be good, right?  Then the shotboard changed over to "2", meaning the goal had come on the second shot against of the season and that removed any portend of evil which a goal allowed on the first shot of the season would have had and I, for one, breathed a sigh of relief which was nothing less than enormous. Nobody wants a harbinger portending disaster and doom hanging over them for the entire 81 and 2/3 games which were, at the moment, remaining to be played on the Red Wings schedule.

A lot of people were critical of Jimmy Howard's having let the goal in (most people are critical of ANY goal that their goalie lets in) but let me tell you, you let an NHL guy unload with a slapshot from inside the top ring of the faceoff circle and it goes over the goalie's shoulder like this one did, tip your hat to the shooter.  The goalie has to go down because from that close in, you can't react fast enough to take away the bottom of the net and if the shooter--in this case Patrice Bergeron--picks the little tiny space over the goalie's shoulder and under the crossbar, well, nice shot and let's have a face-off at center ice and get on with our lives.

Danny DeKeyser fired in a shot from the right point early in the second period to tie the game.  Well, actually, he sort of did.  The goal was awarded to Johan Franzen as he had apparently tipped DeKeyser's shot but upon what turned out to be further, further review, (a time-consuming review of the origianal review) Franzen's redirect of DeKeyser's shot had hit Justin Abdelkader in the ass (well, it did) and only then had gone into the net.  So, officially, the goal was Abdelkader from Franzen and DeKeyser although I did point out that the puck had hit so much crap on its way in that DeKeyser, the guy who shot it in the first place, was in danger of losing his assist.  

With Detroit a man to the good later in the period, Gustav Nyquist (see picture above) was left all alone in front of B's goalie Tuukka "I Have Too Many Letters In My First Name" Rask at the top of the crease and his quick one-timer off a well-conceived/executed Darren Helm feed proved to be the gamer at 14:46.  Nyquist led the Wings in goals last year (28) and Game Winning Goals (6) and he is once again tonight Detroit's leader in both of those important offensive statistics.

So, it's one down and only 81 to play for the Red Wings.  Oh, one other thing.  In his postgame presser, Coach Mike Babcock said his team tonight was playing with six forwards who were not in the lineup on Opening Night last season.  He said this year's team was faster than that team he iced a year ago and his job now would be to make them even faster.

I was very impressed by Detroit's play and I thought the game was an outstanding example of what the best hockey in the world should look like when played at the highest level.  Anaheim, the Ducks, are here on Saturday night.