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Red Wings will need to play better defense in 2011-12 to win another Stanley Cup

October 3, 2011
The Mining Journal

It's no secret the Detroit Red Wings are considered to be one of the top teams in the National Hockey League, and rightfully so.

The team has made 20 straight postseason appearances - the best run in any sport - and has won four Stanley Cups since 1997.

Year-after-year, the Wings set the standard for excellence from the front office on down. It's a given.

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But the Wings have been ousted in the second round of the playoffs the last two seasons by the San Jose Sharks, who appeared hungrier and quicker to the puck than the Wings both times.

The Detroit club is viewed by many to be old. Nicklas Lidstrom is 41, Tomas Holmstrom 38, Todd Bertuzzi 36 and Ty Conklin, 35.

There's a lot to be said about NHL experience, but the season can be a long grind with a grueling postseason to follow. It's becoming a young man's game and while the Wings are reloading, will the changeover to younger, faster players be quick enough?

With Lidstrom, and centers Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings boast three of the best players in the NHL.

Throw Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall into the mix, and you have an impressive nucleus.

But is it enough to vault the Wings into the playoffs again this year and past the second round?

The team lost Brian Rafalski and Chris Osgood to retirement, then made a pair of small moves in free agency by signing defensemen Ian White and Mike Commodore. Solid players, maybe, but no stars.

The Wings should score goals this season, especially if Jiri Hudler rebounds from a poor 2010-11 campaign and Valtteri Filppula steps up his offensive game a notch.

But ultimately, the only way the Wings will be able to make a 21st consecutive playoff appearance and contend for the Stanley Cup is to play better team defense.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard will need a better season than last, when he posted a so-so 2.79 goals-against average. That led to the Wings to being ranked 23rd in the league in goals-against.

But he'll need some help. Lidstrom will have to show age hasn't caught up to him, White and Commodore will need to show they were worth adding to the roster, and Jonathan Ericsson will have to show he's better than he has played the last couple of seasons.

It's not just the defense, either. The forwards have to be more responsible in the Wings' defensive zone. If they are, it will be easier for the defensive corps and Howard/Conklin to prevent goals.

That could lead to a few more wins and the difference between a playoff run and an early summer vacation for the Wings.

There's no solid reason why the Wings can't have a banner season. They have the tools. It's just a matter of how well they're put to use.

Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.



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