If you’re like me, every day since their playoff usurping you’ve spent at least a little time reflecting on what went wrong for the Detroit Red Wings in 2011-12. Encased in a bubble of depression, you’ve considered the unthinkable reality that Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom may never take the ice again, the real possibility that your team could miss the playoffs for the first time in more than 2 decades if the right choices aren’t made, and the maddening idea of a major roster overhaul taking place. But today, instead of focusing on the agonies of a round 1 exit and the painful decisions that must be made this offseason, we’ll take a moment to remember some of the best moments of the season; The reasons we believed in this team in the first place. The top highlights of your 2011-12 Detroit Red Wings
20. A Nibble of Revenge
Surprisingly, this wasn’t the only Red Wings fight to take place this year. Hell, it wasn’t even the best one. Yet it sticks out from the others for one simple reason; What lead up to it. After Shea Weber decided to endear himself to Motown by slamming Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass, and the NHL in all it’s wisdom decided the action was worth nothing more than 1/3000 of Weber’s annual salary, Bertuzzi took it upon himself to settle the score. It was something that needed to be done. A message that needed to be sent, and while the revenge came in just a bite sized package considering the series loss, it was a nice thing to see from a guy who just signed on for another 2 seasons.
19. Cleary Pulls a Holmstrom
What’s that, a tip-in goal? Good ole’ Tomas Holm-wait what, Dan Cleary!? The Red Wings 3rd line winger sure had a tough season. Battling through severe knee issues (which he’ll have surgery to repair shortly) throughout most of the year, Cleary turned in a dismal performance compared to the year prior (though on par with the 2 seasons before that). His moment of glory? This beautiful deflection goal. The hand-eye coordination necessary to pull something like this off is outstanding.
18. Down but not Out
Pavel Datsyuk is a slippery fella. The only thing more slippery than his stick-handling wizardry is apparently the ice he skates on. After blowing a tire Datsyuk not only manages to keep his head in the game, but also keep the puck away from Shea Weber and land a pass on the stick of Todd Bertuzzi. He then dishes to Franzen who scores one of his 29 regular season goals. It was a thing of beauty that was almost a thing of “fail.” That’s what the best player in the game can do for you.
17. Emulating Your Partner
When you’re “stuck” playing next to Niklas Kronwall every game your hits tend to appear as nothing more spectacular than a fender bender in a Michael Bay movie, but with this hit Brad Stuart proved that he’s a fully capable hitter himself. He’s likely hoping that the West Coast teams he’s looking to go to are watching a lot of this highlight and none of the numerous gaffes he made late in the season and into the playoffs. Though his days with Detroit are likely over, we can still cherish this moment of dominance in one of our rekindling rivalries.
16. Call Him Mr. Clutch
Okay so this is 2 highlights, not 1, but they’re both worth remembering! First Datsyuk springs Bertuzzi on a breakaway on a play he would recreate just 2 days later, allowing the shootout specialist to work his magic. Then Bertuzzi comes through again, batting the puck out of the air and into the net in overtime after slick work from Valtteri Filppula. He was clutch in this game, as he was all season long in the shootou. It’s why he earned that slight raise and 2 more seasons that I previously mentioned.
15. Speaking of Filppula…
How’s that for slick work? Filppula does his best Datsyuk impression, makes the Kings look like an AHL squad, and then sets up Zetterberg for the quick goal. We saw a lot of great things from Fil this year. In fact, he put forth his best season on record; Setting career high marks in goals (23), assists (43), points (66), and plus/minus (+18).
14. Stopping the Best
Evgeni Malkin is a great player, you need look no further than the regular season stats on NHL.com to arrive at that conclusion, but Jimmy Howard is a great player too. While Malkin’s efforts will likely earn him the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP), Howard was an early favorite for the Red Wings MVP with plays like this. Malkin’s extra effort to get the puck on goal wasn’t quite enough to overcome Howard’s extra effort to keep it out. Later in the season they were able to combine their efforts and win an All-Star game.
13. Now That’s What I Call Teamwork
Tomas Holmstrom refused to be outdone by Cleary in the deflection goal department of this countdown, so he enlisted the help of the rest of his team to create one of the prettiest plays that would transpire during 2011-12. This is the Red Wings team were used to watching on the ice. Quick crisp passes leading to highlight-reel goals. Even Pierre McGuire was in enough awe that he forgot to mention the junior teams every player on the ice played for.
12. A Regulation Shootout Move
As mentioned before, Bertuzzi is Mr. Clutch. The number of times we’ve witnessed him close out a shootout win with a spectacular spin-o-rama goal is almost directly proportional to the amount of times the Red Wing won in a shootout this season. Here, he forgets there are an extra 10 players on the ice and pulls one anyway. Why not?
11. Happy Shows Up Early
In his first season back from the KHL, Hudler underperformed extensively. During the offseason he trained long and hard and it paid off right away, getting him a goal in Detroit’s first game of the season. It helped during the long haul as well, like Filppula Hudler put up career high in goals with 25. What that goal total means for his future with the Red Wings is unclear. Will he fetch more money from another team? Will he decide to stay despite of that possibility? Either way, he helped Detroit extensively in 2011-12, and not once was it prettier than when it started.
10. The First Flyer Kronwalled
Danny Briere wasn’t expecting this hit, perhaps because Kronwall allowed him to get all the way to the blue line, or more likely because Kronwall only strikes when it’s least expected. The NHL named this hit the best in the Western Conference, and while I disagree (as I’ll explain later on), it’s clear as to why. Kronwall is explosive with his hits. Players never seem to learn, and that’s why his name is now a verb.
9. “Holy Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat”
Henrik Zetterberg provided the Wings with the shootout highlight of the season. He emulated fellow Swede Peter Forsberg perfectly, faking out one of the NHL’s best goaltenders this year. It was a stunning play. So stunning in fact that Hudler wanted in on the action, recreating the play just a few games later.
8. Downing The Champs
Datsyuk left Bruin’s goaltender Tuukka Rask mesmerized with his little soccer play back in November. We’ve seen Pavel kick the puck before, but to do so directly to his stick at such a fast pace, it’s almost like he enjoys futbol or something. His memorable goal lead to a shootout winner for the Wings over the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Sweet victory on a national stage. Worth remembering.
7. Duck, Duck, Goose
In this case the ducks are Bertuzzi and Datsyuk, who combined to set up Gustav “Goose” Nyquist’s first NHL goal. The incredibly promising prospect spent a lot of time with the Red Wings while they struggled with injuries, and is all but guaranteed a roster spot in 2012-13. When he wasn’t in the NHL, he was busy turning heads in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins, managing to earn himself an All-Rookie Team nod.
Returning to the realm of pretty passing plays, we find this gem of a set up leading to a Franzen goal. It all takes place too quickly for the Flyers to even realize what’s happening. A shot-pass that’s tip-passed to a wide open goal-scorer is money in the bank every time. It was an embarrassing play for the Flyers to allow, but at least one of them likely doesn’t remember it.
5. Odd Bounces
Strange and unfortunate bounces were a nightmare for the Red Wings this year, specifically in the playoffs. It seemed they were never on the receiving end of any help from “the hockey gods.” In this instance, Howard managed to recover from the unexpected bounce and make an astonishing save with his athleticism.
4. Where Am I?
In the history of Kronwalling, this is probably 2nd to only the leveling of Martin Havlat in 2009. It’s important to note that Jakub Voracek, the victim of this crushing hit, wasn’t significantly injured on the play. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t be remembering this hit so fondly, despite it’s entirely clean nature.
3. The League’s Best Thief
We’ve grown accustomed to Pavel Datsyuk’s thieving ways over the last 10 seasons. Yet it’s still just as breathtaking when he executes a robbery so golden. Even better when it’s against the Predators, which he’s done before. It didn’t lead to a come from behind win or a change of tides in the playoff series, and Detroit still woefully lost in just 5 games, but it was a moment of pure skill trumping the unsuspecting and inexperienced. It’s something that thankfully, we probably haven’t seen the last of either.
2. It’s not a Goal, Bobby Ryan
After being bumped by Corey Perry, Jimmy Howard managed to keep his wits about him and make Bobby Ryan question his sanity. It was one of Howards best saves to date. Only his performance against the Canucks last season comes to mind as a better outing. It was an excellent year for Howard, despite struggling with injuries. 35 wins in 57 outings, a .920 Sv% and a 2.13 GAA in his 3rd full season are respectable marks to say the least. It will likely be more of the same heading into next season, which is a great thing for the Wings chances.
1. No Points for You
It’s only fitting that the top highlight of the 2011-12 season come at the expensive of the team that would end it so quickly. With under 6 seconds left in the game, Datsyuk decided the Red Wings wouldn’t be yielding any points to the Predators, breaking the tie and sealing a victory. Sure, Nashville had the last laugh, but Datsyuk’s ability to make Ryan Suter look abysmal shouldn’t go unnoticed. That’s no diss to Suter, who’s an excellent defenseman and potentially a Wing next season, it’s instead a compliment to the skill of Datsyuk. He can make anyone look silly. The chance coming off of assists from Zetterberg and Lidstrom is just icing on the cake. The Red Wings’ leaders coming through for them together. It could be the last time those 3 combine for such a spectacular goal, whether Lidstrom calls it quits or not.