By Bruce Mason, AllPuck.com
Let’s start with a story.
It was April of 2002. Western Conference quarterfinals Game 2. Detroit vs. Vancouver. Yet again, the Red Wings lost inside Joe Louis Arena, and now a roster chock-full of Hall of Famers was down 2-0 in a best-of-seven series.
It was the ninth consecutive game the Wings failed to win. They finished the regular season 0-5-2, lost back-to-back home playoff contests, then had to board a plane, travel six hours and try to break the spell inside a hostile, Vancouver environment.
Done, over and finished, right?
One fan certainly thought so. He walked down the Joe Louis Arena steps, approached the short glass, took off his No. 39 Dominik Hasek sweater, and threw it onto the ice.
Four wins later, he wanted it back.
Sixteen wins later, he was the biggest fool in Detroit.
Welcome to Panictown, where the goalie crease is always a bull’s-eye for abuse, and overreaction comes at a premium. A recent six-game losing streak took bizarreness to a whole ‘nother level, even causing Jimmy Howard to tell nhl.com there’s no need for sacrificing “a live chicken.”
Look. There was every reason to panic. It’s just the third time the Wings have lost six games or more since their 20-year playoff streak began. And this wasn’t just six losses. This was six punchless losses, entailing six whopping goals in six games.
A few thoughts emerged during the losing streak, followed by my panic-alleviating explanations:
1. Man, I tell ya: Johan Franzen was DRUNK against Calgary. Worst I’ve seen him play. Couldn’t connect passes. Couldn’t hit the net. I haven’t seen him worse.
Consider this a Goose Loonies Nightmare.
Remember those horrible events in May 1988? It was Wings vs. Oilers in the Campbell Conference Finals. Edmonton led the series 3-1, and on the eve of Game 5, there was Bob Probert, Petr Klima and Darren Veitch guzzling cocktails at an Edmonton bar named Goose Loonies.
Sure enough, the Wings promptly yielded eight goals in Game 5, their season finished, their embarrassment just starting.
So, yeah, Goose Loonies in Alberta is a bad memory. And oddly enough, another Alberta team faced the Wings on Nov. 3, when Franzen played Calgary and provided a nightmarish flashback.
Twice Franzen cut across the middle, aimed, fired … and missed the net by 10 feet. I’m not joking: He missed the net by 10 feet. Once, he thought a bearded patron in row 6 was Henrik Zetterberg. Once, he performed an odd dance in the crease with Miikka Kiprusoff’s leg pads. Uncoordinated beyond belief. And it made some wonder if The Mule drank something peculiar in his pregame trough.
No worries, though. Two nights later, he had a goal and two assists. Five nights later, he had a hat trick.
2.Six straight losses? Nobody wins the Cup if they lose six straight. Heck, the Wings might not make the playoffs. I might as well start crying now.
Save those tears. I’ll tell you when it’s OK to cry. Take it from me, I did it myself. Remember the 1995 Cup Finals against New Jersey? Game 3? Claude Lemieux beat Mike Vernon to put the game out of reach, the series out of reach, and right then and there, I buried my head and bawled.
So trust me, when I say ‘save those tears,’ perk those ears and listen.
Look. It’s November. The playoffs are a long, long ways away. Do you really think Joe Louis will be empty in April? That’s like the White House without the President. The Vatican without the Pope.
Not gonna happen.
And remember this: In February of 2008, the Wings lost six straight games.
Four months later, they had their 11th Cup in franchise history.
3. What scares me is how this losing streak occurred. The Wings were blown away in Washington. Embarrassed by no-win Columbus. They couldn’t muster any vengeance against nemesis San Jose. Lost to Minnesota twice. Then a three-goal defeat against Calgary at home? We’re doomed.
Throughout the course of their six-game skid, the Wings were second in the NHL in shots on goal, averaging 35.2 per game.
Three percent of those shots lit the lamp. Three percent. I’m not Sir Isaac Newton, but I’m guessing what comes down, must rise up. (See? I’m a fool. It’s the other way around.)
Look at it this way: Zetterberg was an eye-popping minus-8 during the six-game skid, Pavel Datsyuk was minus-6. That was bound to change. Same with the shooting percentage, as evidenced by consecutive five-goal outputs against Anaheim and Colorado.
4. Lidstrom is too old. He’s a step slow. His turtle-like breakouts cannot fit a tic-tac-toe game. He actually looks … human.
Well, yes, he’s human. And yes, he’s slower. And yes, he’s aging.
Yet Lidstrom is still among the league’s best.
Apparently those panicking fans forgot about the NHL awards ceremony in June, when Nick accepted his seventh Norris Trophy at 41 years young. Must have slipped their minds.
His ability to hold pucks inside the offensive zone – which, really, was the all-time greatest, dating back to the inception of hockey on Canadian ponds – is now gone. No doubt about it.
But a slower Lidstrom is still better than a full-blown Zdeno Chara, Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith. Or pretty darn close.
Lidstrom has 11 points in 13 games. As long as he’s on the ice, don’t worry about him. Ever.
5. Zetterberg lost all his confidence. Remember that Game 7 giveaway in San Jose back in May? He hasn’t been the same since.
This one requires a lengthy explanation.
Many die-hard Wings fans battle post-traumatic stress disorder, all caused by consecutive Game 7 losses in 1993 and 1994. Toronto’s Nikolai Borschevsky started the symptoms by beating Tim Cheveldae. San Jose’s Jamie Baker then delivered a full-blown problem when he caught Chris Osgood wandering out of the net.
Ever since, a Game 7 loss has created irrationalities.
Oh, Wings fans were OK for a while. Then 2009 happened. Then Sidney Crosby lifted the Cup in their own rink.
Ever since, the symptoms persist.
So it’s well understood if people believe Zetterberg’s Game 7 gaffe carried into this year. He started slow, no doubt. Heck, he even said this to nhl.com prior to the Nov. 5 game against Anaheim: “Maybe we should go home and watch some You Tube highlight clips … see if that works …”
He must have watched Game 7 of 1996, Wings vs. Blues, when Steve Yzerman’s blast sent Detroit into a frenzy. Because ever since Zetterberg name-dropped YouTube, he’s plus-5.
So there it is.
Maybe Alexander Ovechkin’s head-in-a-locker magic cast a spell on Detroit, thus starting the six-game skid. Maybe newly acquired Red Wings defenseman Ian White could’ve stopped the skid against San Jose, but instead posed an affection for his old teammates, and posted a minus-2.
Or maybe that good ol’ fan who tossed his No. 39 Hasek jersey still holds bitterness, became dyslexic, and decided to toss his No. 93 Franzen jersey this time around. Because the truth is, ever since that ugly loss to Calgary, Franzen appears rejuvenated, the Wings won back-to-back contests, and Panictown is Hockeytown once again.