That’s the question I asked myself as the Red Wings took the ice following the timeout taken by Mike Babcock during their game against Nashville on Saturday.
What would I have said?
Your guys gather around, the playoffs are looming, momentum seems to be going in the exact opposite way that it should be at this time of year. Do you let the aggravation show? Fire laser beams from your eyes and call out your stars, who haven’t been shining quite as bright as they should for the last handful of games? Call out a certain player or two by name, and hope they respond the rest of the night? Maybe lay into your crew over a rash of penalties that gave the opposition a three to nothing lead early in the second period of a game that more or less had to be won? How delicate is the line between being reassuring, yet firm in your expectations? Turns out Mike Babcock is quite the tight rope walker.
I can’t imagine the things I was saying on my couch after Sergei Kostitsyn buried Nashville’s third goal early in the second were much nicer than that of the rest of the Wings faithful. Where was the fire? And that is why I am not an NHL coach, and why Babcock is arguably the best there is at what he does.
The boys in Red and White didn’t just take the ice following that thirty seconds. They stormed it, responding with two quick goals, all of a sudden giving the Predators a hockey game to play. Babcock had found the spark – the fire – where there didn’t appear to be any. I’d like to take a moment to look at the names that suddenly popped up on the score sheet at this pivotal juncture. Jakub Kindl, who had a goal waved off earlier in the contest, and Justin Abdelkader, who scored twice and always seems to transform around this time of year.
That in and of itself should make Babcock’s message clear: It’s time to step up – each and every one of you.
Todd Bertuzzi had a strong outing, picking up a fight that revved up the Wings early in the first, and picking up the primary assist on the game tying goal early in the third. That left the door open for a hero in overtime. Enter Danny Cleary. The clutch goals this guy occasionally scores makes him worth his paycheck alone.
Hopefully the formally swagger-less Wings can maintain this momentum heading into the playoffs, beating a Nashville team that has given them fits and starts all season long, followed by a win against the hapless Wild on Sunday. After clinching the Central Division, I am sleeping a little better at night, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Winged Wheel just ripped off another 100-point season. But for the last month I had the impression that they were just going through the motions. Even more so than usual at this time of year. Trending down while all the teams under you – you know, the teams you’ll be facing in April – are heating up is bad news.
It seems like Mike had the answer – the correct and steady hand to right the ship. Pav is on the mend and should be getting back into the lineup soon, which is excellent news. Franzen is getting his step back it seems, and hopefully turns into the Mule we all know and love come playoff time. There are a few games left for Jimmy to shake any rust that he has, though his play in the third and in OT on Saturday lead me to believe he is ready to go. Rafalski has been piling up the assists lately, and Z hasn’t been too bad either while the rest of the crew seems to be coming together nicely. Especially a particular line with – don’t look now! – Mike Modano as the pivot. All I have to say is Go Wings… bring on the first round.
As always, thanks a lot for reading. Much appreciated. Feel free to drop me an email or a comment and let me know how you think our guys look heading into the playoffs. Until next time, be well and good luck.