After an embarrassing 6-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on October 23rd, Red Wings fans expected Henrik Zetterberg and company to come out swinging last night in Detroit. Not many, however, expected Ottawa to literally beat them to the punch.
In a chippy, dirty game that saw the teams combine for 19 total penalties and 23 penalty minutes apiece, Detroit outplayed Ottawa in a lot of aspects; except where it counted most: the final score.
Senators assistant captain Chris Neil led the way in terms of instigation where he used his size and toughness to bully the smaller Red Wings, and his team followed suit in ways that infuriated the Wings and Wings fans everywhere. We saw slashes to the back of legs, an elbow that will sideline Pavel Dastyuk for at least a game, and other dirty tactics that put the Wings on their heels; the Senators play re-opened a question that many had asked when it was announced that Detroit would be moving to the Eastern Conference: are the Red Wings tough enough to compete in the East?
The amount of no-calls or just outright bad calls in last night’s game were enough to shake the mental acumen of the Detroit Red Wings, a team that, as long as most can remember, has relied on speed and skill as opposed to bullying the opposition. Not that Detroit has lacked enforcers over the years; Bob Probert, Darren McCarty, and even Jordin Tootoo come to mind, but the Red Wings’ key to victory has never been predicated on the ability to physically break down an opponent. The Eastern Conference has been notoriously “tougher” than the West the past few years, and the lack of a true “tough guy” has never been more glaring on Detroit’s side than it was last night.
I am, by no means, suggesting that Red Wings GM Ken Holland should start actively searching for an enforcer because of one bad game, especially after a system that has led to over two decades of success in Hockeytown. The Red Wings, however, need to get mentally tougher if they hope to compete with the many gritty, and perhaps less skilled, teams in the East. They can’t respond to dirty play with dirty play of their own, especially when experiencing a deficit midway through the third period, and expect to get away with as much as they might want.
Mental toughness will be the key to the success of the Detroit Red Wings in the East. The team is finally starting to come together with the returns of Darren Helm, Stephen Weiss, and Daniel Alfreddsson, but Detroit can’t expect to win games if they can’t stay disciplined and let their offense do what everyone knows it can do.
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