Red Wings Hope Change Helps Them Stay the Same

Published on 15-Feb-2013 by Alan Adamsson
NHL / NHL Daily Review

The Wings' can't spread the ice as easily by long passes anymore, so now they have to do it by keeping their gaps tighter and their passes shorter.

Recently, Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock uttered what has to be the ultimate truism of his profession:

"I always ask [the players] to find their game within our game."

This disarmingly simple but eternally profound statement defines the essence of team success. In any sport. Maybe in life itself.

In an interview with MLive.com, Babcock expounded on how the loss of stellar defensemen Niklas Lidström, Brian Rafalski, and Brad Stuart has altered the Wings' game strategy. Detroit's attack has long relied on long, laser-accurate stretch passes from its own zone to spring the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk out of seemingly nowhere into the odd-man rushes that frequently turned the tone of a game in a heartbeat. They still have puck-movers like Niklas Kronwall, whose physical game enhances his finesse skills, but overall, Detroit's blueliners are limited to more conventional first passes.

This, of course, has a significant effect on the forwards. They must now keep gaps tighter, expending more energy to do so. In turn, while Detroit rolls four lines more often than most teams, this means their third and fourth liners now have more ice to cover and thus more grinding to do. It's changed their game.

The Red Wings' philosophy is, thankfully, still oriented toward puck possession as opposed to dump-and-chase. It's why they've employed so many Europeans in recent history, as they were raised on the niceties of that style. It also complements the sort of speed the Red Wings require in order to play 'their' game, and therein lies this season's challenge.

Babcock and his staff must find ways to align the team's increased reliability on grinding with Detroit's organizational preference to hold the puck rather than chase it. Their success at this remains to be seen.

Odds are Detroit will be in more close games, though. That means on most nights, they're a better match for money lines than puck spreads. Given how clearly Babcock has stated his coaching philosophy and recognizes his mission, the odds also are that the Red Wings will be on the right side of that ledger more often than not.

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