Big game tonight with the Red Wings. A throwback really, with the two teams both riding quite high. Must have felt tlike this in bygone eras.
As a prelude to the game, I was asked by Red Wings blogger, and extremely dedicated Norwegian hockey fan, to answer a few questions for his blog "Fight Night at the Joe". In turn, I asked him a few of my own. I'll post his answers below, and will link to the my answers on his site when they're up.
Fight Night at the Joe asks LIW:
1. The Habs have looked great so far this year, what reasons are behind the improvement from last year?
2. Will they be able to hold on for the entire season?
3. Which player do you guys plan to boo next?
4. Going into this game, what do you fear about the Wings? What should the Wings be looking out for?
5. Predict the final result of the game and tell us why!
(See answers on the Fight Night at the Joe pre-game post)
LIW asks Fight Night at the Joe:
1. Can you explain briefly how the Red Wings do it? Perennial contention, what's the secret?
The secret is pretty simple I think. First of all, the Wings have always drafted very well. They were very early on to focusing on Europe and got a lot of draft steals from Sweden and Russia. Generally good scouting has also helped.
Secondly, the Wings tend to never rush anyone. Except for in a few cases, prospects have to play at least a year, often more in the AHL before they get up to the NHL and they are well developed when they finally come up.
The Wings have also done very well at trading. There have been a few busts (Wendel Clark and Robert Lang come to mind), but most of the trades the last 20 years have been good and they have never been a team that will make a desperation trade.
Money is another factor, but that has been diminished after the lockout.
But one of the main factors in my eyes is that the Wings seem to be a team where players want to stay. Everyone, from the Illitches, through Kenny Holland and down to the role players, equipment guys and everyone else are part of the Wings family. They treat their players well, keep a consistent environment and everyone coming up through the system plays Red Wings hockey. Draft picks stay there their whole career and journeymen like Brad Stuart and Dan Cleary and outcasts like Todd Bertuzzi find a new home where they can get a role that fits them, adapt to the system and finally settle down. The players seem to be happy in Detroit, there is a winning culture and the team is usually the same from year to year, which is a huge factor in consistently winning. And they really take care of and value every player. They know how important role players are. Just look at Draper and Maltby.
Last of all, Nicklas Lidström. It is impossible to realize how good he is without watching the Wings every game and he has been a huge part in the last 20 years of success.
2. The Canadiens have lost Andrei Markov for the second straight season, essentially. Is there a single player on the Red Wings whose absence might lead to a significant dip in the standings?
The first player that comes to mind is Nick Lidström. As I said, even with his success I think he is underrated. He is so subtle and does all the little things right. You really need to watch them often to appreciate just how good he is at that. Teammates and fans call him the Perfect Human and it is fitting. When he makes a mistake it is shocking to us, cause usually he just doesn't make them. He is the team's leader, still one of the best, maybe the best defenseman in the NHL. He does a huge job shutting down the opponent's star players every night and is important offensively too. Zetterberg and Datsyuk are other guys that would be huge losses for the Wings.
3. Andrei Markov goes to free agency on a shaky knee. Would you want your GM to sign him?
That depends on the price. I wouldn't pay high money for an injury prone star defenseman, but if he came for a discount because he wanted to prove himself it would be interesting. Right now I don't think the Wings need a guy with his style, but if Nick retires he could be an interesting part of a solution to fill the hole that would leave.
4. Montreal has had amazing first periods thus far, and managed to impose their style on the opposition. From what I know, this is Detroit's M.O. Which team do you think will get to play their style tonight?
The Wings are terribly schizophrenic when it comes to starting games. Some days they are right no time and score one or two goals early, but other nights it seems like they need a period to get into the game. And it is very hard to predict which version will show up. Right now the team has lost three straight games (or, well, one was in OT) and in the two first they came out strong, but collapsed (end of road trip and first game back home, so I get it) and then on Wednesday they were terrible for the first 25 minutes against Nashville. I know Babcock goes insane over that, so hopefully he has whipped the team into shape so they come out strong, but I am very worried that the Habs can come out flying and roll over the Wings for some time before the Wings really wake up.
5. Predict the final result of the game and tell us why!
That is a difficult question. The Wings have not been good lately and the Habs are scary to me right now. And they have such a speedy group of forwards, so I am scared that they might be all over the Wings, rush them and make the Wings commit way too many turnovers. The Wings need to get into their groove a little and get their passing game going to be good and if the Habs can deny them that early, then that and Carey Price having a good game, can lead to this getting ugly.
However, I think the team and everyone around it are very disappointed in the last few games and I have to hope that they show up ready to go and out for blood. I think it will be a tight game, but I think that the Wings will win 4-2 with the fourth goal being an empty netter. I also think special teams might become the deciding factor, but it is hard to predict which way that will swing.
6. Finally. You live in Norway. How do you manage to follow the NHL. And why the Red Wings?
Following it is pretty easy these days. Back in the day, when it was just on TV, it was a pain and you couldn't see every game, but now I have something called ESPNPlayer, which is basically the European equivalent of GameCenter Live. Lets me watch every game live or on demand (I have the same for the MLB and NFL (shoot me, I'm a Lions fan)). And seeing as I'm a student and my part time job has evening shifts, I can have a semi-American sleep cycle and stay up to watch the games.
Why the Wings? The answer has two parts really. When I was three or four I got a Canucks jersey cause my dad had been in Vancouver. So I became a Canucks fan. However, when I got NHL on TV in 94-95 I realized that the Canucks bored me (aside from Bure) and my 6-7 year old fashion sense realized that the Canucks jerseys were ugly as sin. However I loved the Wings jerseys, I loved that they had a Russian line and some Swedes and I really loved Stevie Y, so I began rooting for them. Two straight years of playoff disappointment (horrifying finals loss and then a brutal conference final loss) only made me love them more. And then, in the summer of 96, I attended a hockey camp in Asker, right outside of Oslo and Scottie Bowman and Barry Smith came in and coached us for one afternoon and in the morning the next day. It was really cool and they were really nice to us and I remember that Scotty gave us stickers saying "Proud to be a Wings fan". That settled it and I've been a hardcore ever since. Used to fight my mom and dad to be allowed to see important games on school nights and everything.
Thanks to Fight Night at the Joe
Pretty cool to hear from a dedicated fan of a very special franchise. The answers to the questions above remind one about things that have been said about the Canadiens in the past, and things we hope might be said about them in the future.
Needless to say, we're a bit jealous about the Scotty Bowman meeting, all-time best coach and all. But then I've had Nicklas Lidstrom hold the door for me on my wedding day, so we'll call it even...