Loss Candy: Playoff Overtime Edition

FINAL SCORE
2-1 Sharks, OT

SERIES STATUS
1-0 Sharks

TIDBITS
:: During the first Red Wings power play, I remarked to Chris Hollis that whoever scores the first goal in this game will win the series. Kind of an outrageous claim to make two minutes into Game 1, but I think there’s some merit to it. The Wings were flailing a bit in the opening minutes, and being scored on might have taken the air out of the tires and in a series that’s going to be as close as this one looks to be, that’s dangerous and something that may be tricky to recover from. On the other hand, a Red Wings goal would assert their dominance in a way that might kick the Sharks in the happy place, and they might have trouble recovering. Let’s hope I’m right because our captain and recent birthday boy Nicklas Lidstrom starts the scoring with a one-timer from the slot. He snuck in behind the Sharks’ Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and blew it by Niemi.

:: A few minutes later — and in classic Shitboxian style — Jonathan Ericsson fails to keep a puck in the zone and hooks the hell out of Joe Pavelski, giving us a chance to see the new and improved penalty kill. Well, it wasn’t that improved. The Wings looked scattered, were chasing the puck, their tails, and shadows all over the damn ice. Thankfully, the Sharks power play was useless and they had a hard time keeping the puck in the zone all by themselves. It didn’t do a whole lot to assuage fears of a weak kill, but I hoped it was just an isolated instance. It wasn’t. The Sharks would get on the board in the third period as Joe Pavelski scored on a power play following a boarding call to Todd Bertuzzi.

:: In the early part of the second period, the Sharks woke up and shelled Jimmy Howard, seemingly without opposition from the Red Wings. Howard held strong, stopping all 27 shots he faced through 40 minutes, including a nifty catch on a Dany Heatley opportunity. After freezing the puck at just about the halfway mark of the game, Joe Pavelski followed the shot and stopped behind Howard, who got up and went all Reagan Smash on that ass — shoving a glove into the Sharks forward’s face, earning a two minute minor. But, in true San Jose Sharks fashion, Joe Pavelski had no idea what was going on so he punched Valtteri Filppula in his face, earning a two minute minor of his own. The Aristocrats!

:: What’s a Rambus?

:: A bit of a scary moment for Todd Bertuzzi, who dropped his stick and gloves and skated to the bench in obvious pain. He didn’t appear to miss any time and seemed alright following what might have been a skate blade to the wrist/forearm. Glad to see he’s alright, but we didn’t get any kind of update on his status — or a replay of what happened — on the Versus simulcast of CSN: Moron.

:: Bertuzzi would make an impact again in the third period — when a hit from (almost) behind earned him a boarding penalty, as mentioned above. The victim of the ferocious hit, Joe Pavelski, would also be the goal scorer on the ensuing power player, tying the game at 1. It would be a brand new ballgame with ten minutes to play in regulation.

:: As weak as the Bertuzzi call was, the Patrick Eaves slashing call was downright limp. As soft a penalty as I’ve ever seen call in the playoffs, let alone the third period of a tied game. I’m not one to bitch about officiating, because like I’ve said a million times, if you’re going to be in a position to let something a third party did affect the outcome of your game, you didn’t play well enough. But, there’s no doubt about this one: the reffing was horrifying in the third period and pretty transparently in the Sharks pocket for the final frame. Disgusting. Yet not at all surprising anymore. What Todd Bertuzzi did was stupid and dangerous, and I can live with the call — but the Eaves slash was laughably cupcake. Thankfully, the Red Wings cleaned up the mess on the kill.

:: But wait! There’s more! In overtime, Justin Abdelkader was called for a four-minute high sticking penalty — even though it was accidental, it’s automatic, and there was blood. They killed off all four minutes, but the Sharks scored seconds later, with an exhausted shorthanded unit unable to get off the ice. There’s absolutely nothing to like about these Sharks and it looks like — similar to 2010 — we’re not even going to get a fair shake at this thing. The Sharks had six power plays, the Red Wings two. The end.

LOSS CANDY

For those that like the ladies, Bianca Kajlich
For those who like boys, my wife gently reminded me we hadn't used John Stamos yet, so here's a belated handsome Uncle Jesse

Apr. 29 :: The plaque for the alternates is down in the ladies room

WHAT’S ALL THIS THEN?!
After the first off-season of the summer, the Red Wings finally get back to business — and, like Malik says, this time it’s personal. They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves against the team that bounced them from the post-season last go-around, and they’re not sliding into this one after a seven-game series…after mustering up just enough to make the playoffs. They come in to Round 2 the only team that swept their opponent in the opening round — an opponent some “experts” thought would be victorious.

And now to avenge the sting of a year ago. The San Jose Sharks. A team full of assholes and crybabies. A coach split off from the braintrust. A shade of teal that should never be allowed near men. There’s nothing to like about the Sharks. You know it. I know it. And you can bet your ass the Red Wings know it.

That said, they’re damn good. They’re not the pastry puffs that were the Phoenix Coyotes. There’s a ton of firepower in St. Joe’s, and if the Wings’ penalty kill is as poor as it was in the first round, it’ll be deuces in four games. Here’s hoping the hours spent working on the special teams pay off and we send another warm weather city into an early summer. No doubt about it — the Sharks are a good hockey club. But in their series against the Kings (the depleted Kings, no less), they proved they were beatable and a good club like the Red Wings can exploit the same weaknesses the Kings found: soft goals, poor impulse control, and frequent inability to close the deal.

There have been a handful of changes for both teams, but the cores remain the same. Coach Babcock thinks the Wings are a better team than they were a year ago. Are you going to call him a liar?

TODAY’S SCHEDULE
10:30am / 1:30pm Eastern :: Sharks practice
11:30am / 2:30pm Eastern :: Red Wings practice
7:00pm Local / Eastern :: Washington vs. Tampa Bay, Game 1
7:00pm / 10:00pm Eastern :: GAME 1 at HP PAVILLION

WATCH IT
Game 1 will be broadcast on Versus and TSN, however the local Detroit market can opt for the Fox Sports Detroit coverage.

PAR-TAY
The Red Wings will be hosting a viewing party at Hamlin Pub in Shelby Township. Appearances by Red Wings alumni and the chance to win autographed memorabilia accompany food and drink specials.

NOW, WHERE WERE WE?
November 30th @ San Jose :: Red Wings 5-3 :: Jimmy Howard :: Cleary (11), Zetterberg (8, 9), Datsyuk (8), Eaves (4)
December 6th vs. San Jose :: Sharks 5-2 :: Jimmy Howard :: Franzen (12), Holmstrom (8)
February 22nd vs. San Jose :: Sharks 4-3 :: Jimmy Howard :: Cleary (20, 21), Zetterberg (18)
March 3rd @ San Jose :: Sharks 3-1 :: Jimmy Howard :: Holmstrom (14)

ISN’T THIS FAMILIAR? PART II
Just like Round 1, the Wings will face a foe from last season’s playoffs. Hopefully this one goes better than last year, when the Sharks dispatched the Winged Wheelers in five.  Just like 2010, this series begins on April 29th.
Game 1 :: Sharks 4-3
Game 2 :: Sharks 4-3
Game 3 :: Sharks 4-3
Game 4 :: Red Wings 7-1
Game 5 :: Sharks 2-1

OH, HI AGAIN
There are no former Wings in San Jose. Jamal Mayers played his college hockey at Western Michigan, and that’s as close as you’re going to get, as far as players go. Head Coach Todd McLellan was Mike Babcock’s assistant for many years, dating back to the Anaheim Duck years.

MEMBA ME?!
Brad Stuart was drafted 3rd overall by the Sharks in 1998. He jumped straight from juniors to the big club just before his 19th birthday and played 377 games for the Sharks before being traded to Boston for Jumbo Joe. He bounced around a bit — from Boston to Calgary to Los Angeles — before landing in Detroit, who was looking for a physical defenseman to replace the forced-to-retire Jiri Fischer, who was taken twenty-two picks after Stuart.

BEST NAME NOMINEE
Marc-Edouard Vlasic. They call him Pickles.

CHIRP ‘EM
Sharks forward/high board competitor Devin Setoguchi :: @seto1661
Sharks forward/rookie douchebag Logan Couture :: @logancouture
Sharks defenseman/go-to goat Dan Boyle :: @danboyle22

EXPECTED LINEUP
By special request, the TPL Glossary is ready to jailsex your eyes.
Franzen — Datsyuk — Holmstrom
Hudler — Zetterberg — Filppula
Cleary — Abdelkader — Bertuzzi
Miller — Helm — Eaves

Lidstrom — Stuart
Ericsson — Rafalski
Salei — Kronwall

Howard
MacDonald

SCRATCHES
Chris Osgood [groin]
Mike Modano [healthy]
Jakub Kindl [healthy]
Kris Draper [healthy]
ACES: Jordan Pearce, Doug Janik, Brian Lashoff, Derek Meech, Brendan Smith, Cory Emmerton, Ilari Filppula, Jan Mursak, Tomas Tatar

LET’S GET ACQUAINTED
Patrick Marleau — Joe Thornton — Devin Setoguchi
Dany Heatley — Logan Couture — Ryane Clowe
Torrey Mitchell — Joe Pavelski — Kyle Wellwood
Ben Eager — Scott Nichol — Jamal Mayers

Douglas Murray — Dan Boyle
Jason Demers — Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Ian White — Niclas Wallin

Antti Niemi
Antero Niittymaki

SPARE PARTS: Andrew Desjardins, Benn Ferriero, Brandon Mashinter, John McCarthy, Jamie McGinn, Tommy Wingels, Justin Braun, Kent Huskins, Thomas Greiss

The TPL Name Game “Three Stars”
Disch: Darren “Whose Butt Did You Kiss to Get in Here, Anyway?” Helm // Jonathan “The List is Long But Distinguished” Ericsson // Darren “Yeah, Well So is My Johnson” Helm
Petrella: Darren “This is Ghost Rider Requesting a Flyby” Helm
Hollis: Jonathan “And You Asshole, You’re Lucky to Be Here!” Ericsson
*Now it’s up to you! Think up your best names and throw them in the comments — the best one will be shared for all to enjoy on the TPL Facebook Page. The best of the best will be pitted against one another at season’s end, and the winner takes home a TPL Shirt of their choice.*

TPL PREDICTS…
Disch: Red Wings in 7. The Wings get blown out in one game. We don’t win any games by more than 2. Niemi gets chased by Game 3.
Petrella: Red Wings in 7. Henrik Zetterberg makes up for lost time and nets one in San Jose. Detroit wrestles away home ice.
Hollis: **strap in, I just copy and pasted what he had to say:**

I’ve had a hard-on for San Jose since I saw them whoop the Kings in San Jose last month. They are dangerous. They are scary. They could very well win this series, and I think they are the deeper team. These two teams have become full blown rivals and this series should take it to the next level…. which is why I’m picking the Wings in 6. I’ve never seen this team lose to a rival in subsequent playoff years, harkening back to the days when it was Detroit and Colorado going toe-to-toe. Detroit atones this year and wraps it up at home in front of the fans who haven’t seen a playoff series clinched in the Joe since the WCF against Chicago in ’09.

Other predictions: Zetterberg is held off the scoresheet until Game 3, Howard tosses one shutout, Joe Pavelski has at least one 2 goal game and Darren Helm gets the OT winner in Game 6.

TIDBITS
:: Star center Henrik Zetterberg missed all four first round games, but he’s ready to rock for Round 2. With the firepower the Sharks can send out in waves, we’ll need all hands on deck — particularly the fantastic two-way guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Z.
:: Johan Franzen missed Game 4 after taking a vicious header earlier in the series, but — like Hank — he’s good to go for tonight’s tilt. The Mule doesn’t sit. The Mule scores playoff goals.
:: It’s been nine days since the last Red Wings game. On one hand, you wonder if too much time off will be detrimental, particularly when the team is rolling. On the other hand, it’s nice to rest up and get healthy, like Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen had the opportunity to do. Flipping through the Detroit News photo gallery earlier this week, it looked like the players were all loose, having a few chuckles and goofing around at practice. I think that’s a great sign, showing that they aren’t overly worried about facing the team that bounced them last year.
:: Remember when the Sharks were given twice as many power plays as the Red Wings last season? That was fun.
:: Our boys Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader are getting a lot of press lately, from all over the hockey world, for their outstanding grinding and playmaking ability. It’s nice to see them get the attention they deserve, and we certainly hope the two youngsters keep playing like they were shot out of a cannon.
:: Delayed congratulations to Pavel Datsyuk on his Selke nomination; and Nicklas Lidstrom on his Norris and Lady Byng nominations. More things to be proud of.

HEADING INTO TWILIGHT, SPREADING OUT HER WINGS TONIGHT

Straight Out of the 70’s

I freely admit this isn’t Red Wings art, but it does have to do with the Lightning. Not only has this team garnered a soft with Wings fans due to their GM being Stevie Y, but they booted the much-despised Penguins last night.

In honor of that, I’d like to share my appreciation for Ryan Malone’s fantastic facial hair.

It's like a big orange caterpillar... of the AWESOME BUTTERFLY.
That's more of an accomplishment than that slapper in Game 6.

MLX Ice Hockey Skates Review

There's nothing better than a clean sheet of ice...

There are legions of hockey players and fans that spend hours agonizing over their stick choices, their curves, the way they tape their socks, and — of course — their skates. They spend a ton of time researching and studying brands and their subtle differences, making sure every little thing is just right and to their tastes.

I am not one of those guys.

I never was. If playing in a cowboy hat with a tree branch meant I got to stay on the ice for another three minutes — well — I’d do it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a kick-ass pair of skates, or a nifty new stick. I just never put a whole lot of thought into things like that.

That’s why when MLX approached me, via our good friend Matt Saler, not only was I excited to put something so special like their ice hockey skates on my feet, I was a tiny bit nervous because while I know what I like (in the Eye Doctor test — Number 1 or Number 2 — kind of way), I wanted to make sure I took advantage of this incredible opportunity and gave a review that everyone — from players to equipment geeks — could learn from.

That’s why I enlisted the help of some friends before taking to the ice. I know a ton of hockey players (obviously) — some are now NHLers, others are beginners. I’ve made friends with lots of gear monkeys and folks who know brands inside and out. I asked everyone to send me a few things they’d like to know about skates before committing to buying a pair, and I hope that I’m able to deliver an honest and helpful synopsis of a pretty nifty pair of hockey skates.

BEFORE GETTING STARTED
From my first interaction with MLX, all the way up to today, my experience has been nothing short of awesome. They took the time to explain what they were hoping for and spent a lot of time getting my measurements just right. The sizes don’t necessarily work like your shoes or most other skate brands — and after measuring the length and width of my foot, it was determined that MLX would have to build a custom size for me, because (apparently) I have wide feet. That certainly explains the fits I’ve had in the past (more on that later), and it was pretty awesome to know that MLX cared about the feet that are going into their skates. It’s apparent when you pull the skates out of the box that their built to protect as well as perform, and I was anxious to put the steel onto ice to test that theory.

After you receive your skates, the very first thing you should do is head to MLX’s site and check out the various set-up videos. They’re extremely helpful in answering questions about the baking process to the fitting, and everything in between. I’m very impressed with how complete their tutorials are, and I used every single one of those videos to make sure I got the most out of the process as possible.

BAKING
Despite playing at a fairly high level for a bunch of years, I never had a pair of skates that needed to be baked in an oven for the best fit. I always wanted to give it a try, and part of that is because I have oddly shaped feet — likely the result of various traumas suffered in the line of duty. Before the skates are in the oven, they’re a bit stiff, like any pair of skates would be, but eight minutes on each side really did wonders for loosening them up and making it easy to slide your foot into them.

When the skates come out of the oven, try real hard not to touch the eyelets, because whoa baby are they toasty. Once the insole was back in place and my foot was in, I tied the skates as I would if I were to hop over the boards and sat in them until they cooled off. They go back to being stiff again, but now they’re stiff in the shape of my foot, which is pretty darn neat. You can see on the inside where my foot needs a little more than it does in other places, and that my wide ankles carved themselves out a little home in the impressive padding. After the baking process, I’ve never had a pair of skates that fit half as well as the MLX skates do. I prefer to wear socks under my skates, but I know not everyone does — so I threw them on without socks, just to get a feel for the interior. They’re soft, yet strong, and the insole feels great — more like an orthotic insert than a traditional hockey boot.

So far, the pair of MLXs are batting 1.000 and all that was left were some tweaks and taking a twirl on a clean sheet.

PROTECTION
One of my favorite features of the skates is the ability spin the tongue out of the boot completely. It allows access to the toe portion of the boot, where you can insert toe caps (which come in two sizes, are included in the MLX box, and are pictured below). I’ve broken nine different toes (a total of eleven breaks), and it usually wasn’t from the impact of a puck on the front of a skate — it was my toe slamming into the inside of the boot. Although I had skates that fit well, there are always instances where you jostle around a bit, and whether you’ve run into the boards or blocked a shot with your piggies, your foot’s going to jiggle. I can’t emphasize how wonderful it was having something soft at that part of the foot, as opposed to steel and molded plastic, just in case my toes went a-courtin’ with the front of the boot.

Before my junior season in college, I broke my ankle. And since then, it’s been a struggle to properly support it. Generally, I would wrap my laces around my ankle (which I still do, if I can) and then tape the hell out of it. Even still, I have a hard time stopping in that direction, because my ankle didn’t heal properly and it folds over internally, even if the boot is strong and doing its part. With the MLX boots, I liked having a high boot, and at no point did my ankle feel weak. I still can’t hockey stop in that direction, but that’s because I have damaged ligaments, and in no way is it an indictment on this particularly set of skates.

ON THE ICE
I was lucky enough to be given access to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ practice facility, the Coal Street Complex, on Easter Sunday. The building was just about empty and I could take about an hour to play around, shoot some pucks, and test the corners (also, crash into the boards while I got used to the feel of new skates, without having 400 children laugh at me).

Playing in college, I carved out a niche for myself — I’m not at all a big guy, so playing an overly physical game wasn’t going to end well. Instead, I took advantage of the skills that I did have — speed and agility — to contribute however I could: winning races to pucks, forechecking the hell out of the opposition, and making their lives miserable all over the ice in 45-second bursts to give our top lines a breather. I’m pretty quick coming around corners, and not losing any speed as I rounded the net was how I was able to make up any ground in case someone got by me. Not only does MLX have  Mario Lemieux’s name attached to the brand, but they’ve been designed by Olympic speed skater David Cruickshank. If anyone knows anything about taking speed into a corner and coming out with just as much, it’s someone like him.

True to expectations, the skates were unbelievably fast. I don’t know the physics involved (and would prefer not to know, to be honest), but I felt a hair faster in these skates than my old pairs. In fact, I brought all three pairs of hockey skates I own so that I could swap in and out and feel the difference. Without naming brands, I will say that the MLX blades were a heck of a lot faster than one pair, and a touch faster than the other. I was able to make really tight turns, and there was even more snow in the hockey stop shower (for the flashy types… you know, like me). One thing that I didn’t like about the blade was how little it gives when you move laterally. It’s absolutely possible that they weren’t sharpened as nicely as I’d like them to be, but when I stepped side to side (as opposed to gliding along the blade), it was easy to get caught in the ice and take a header. Perhaps they were too sharp — I’ll let you know next time.

At no point did my ankles or toes hurt — two areas of concern for feet that have been through a bit too much. But after fifteen or twenty minutes of all-out skating, my arches were killing me. Now, I’m hoping that has something to do with having to break in the skates and that perhaps over time, I’ll be able to dig away at the insole, but man it was unpleasant. When I was skating — even skating hard — it didn’t bother me at all. It was when I came to a complete stop and was standing still or even sitting. I’m sure it’ll take some time to break that part of the skate in, but in the interest of full disclosure, the arches of my feet were on fire until I was able to untie the boots and take a break.

The only other thing that I prefer about my existing pair of skates, as opposed to the MLX skates, is the length of the blade. The pair I wore when I played in college has a slightly shorter steel blade, maybe an inch, and I found it easier to balance myself on those than on the slightly longer blades of the MLX (and a second personal pair I brought along). Obviously, that’s preferentially, and I’m sure I would get used to the longer blade if I wore them more often than the shorter bladed skates, but if we’re talking straight out of the box preference — I like a shorter blade.

My push off was impressive — there was a little more spring in my step than I get out of other boots, and I was able to take my quick strides without having to adjust for changes in the feel. In short, they’re a very fast set of skates. If I had one lap in which to take a run at Darren Helm’s footspeed, I’d pick the MLXs, no contest. If I had to play a game tomorrow night, without the ability to change in between period, I’d stick with my tried and true pair for now, until I know I can break past the painful arches.

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS
Something that’s very cool about the MLX Skates is all the customization one could do with their skates. For instance, the skates come with a torque wrench for loosening (or removing) the blade, and re-aligning it to your preference. If you’d like to move the blades to the outside of the foot, you can. If you’d like them to be angled to the instep, you can do that, too. It’s pretty cool, and I’d love to learn how to gauge the best position of the blade for my stride, but I decided I’d give the first test run the factory “setting” and make adjustments from there. I’ll very likely play with the blades and see what feels different about the different settings as I keep trying them out.

SPECIAL THANKS
First and foremost, I’m eternally grateful to MLX Skates for the opportunity to give these skates a test run. Huge thanks to Jason Jarecki of the Coal Street Ice Complex and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for giving me a fresh sheet to work with and for maintaining such an amazing facility for the community and the organization. Incredible hockey brains and equipment studs Brad Boswell, Mike Serven, and George Malik for their helpful input and insight. The beautiful and talented Andrea Janov for taking some awesome photos.

DISCLAIMER: We received a complimentary pair of MLX skates in exchange for a review on The Production Line.

San Jose Is the Only Way

When I was a kid – about 12 years old – growing up in Plymouth, Michigan, I lived in a pretty large subdivision. It wasn’t anything super flashy and there weren’t three story houses on every block, but it did well enough for us. The subdivision itself was huge; about a mile North to South and another mile East to West. Our house was up towards the Northeast corner of the “sub” as we used to call it, and I was fortunate to grow up on a street where there will multiple kids within the same age range as me. All I had to do was walk out the front door after school and within two minutes, all of us would be on our bikes and riding through the neighborhood. Our favorite route took us to the Southwest, smack to the middle of the subdivision, where we would meet up with our friends from school who happened to live in the different regions of our mile-by-mile piece of Plymouth.

The center of the subdivision was a natural meeting place not only because of it’s central location, but because it housed a huge tract of woods. A creek ran through the middle of the entire subdivision, split only by the one road we would use to access our meeting place. Every day we’d take our bikes off the sidewalk and down into the woods, and it felt like you were entering a place that was all your own. It was a rite of passage for the kids in our neighborhood to come in and claim areas of the woods, and ours was pretty special. We’d cut through the middle of the trees, following the gently bubbling creek to the West, until it started to take a slight jog to the South. It was there that our dirt trail hit a soft edge and made a seven foot slope downward, running dangerously close to the water on the right. This was our territory. This was our claim.

Of course, like any kids at that age, we were always looking to push the limits of our own existence. One summer – the one where I was 12 – we decided that right at the point where the slope began to trend down, it would be a great idea to build up a dirt ramp to jump our bikes off of. So we dragged a shovel into the woods one morning, started digging, built it up and had ourselves our own little slice of danger and daring. Of course, the first time we all took the hill, it was more of a “roll” over the jump as opposed to actually having a full head of steam and throwing all caution to the wind. We’d roll down the slope, turn around, give that jump a stare and say “Nah, not big enough. Didn’t get enough air.” Nobody had the balls or gumption to disagree, opting instead to nod emphatically and grab the shovel to heap more dirt on an already dangerous ramp. This went on for the entire day, until the light finally started fading and it was time to head home. We all knew that the next day would mean the excuses were over, as we had “expertly” assessed the hill as “completed” that night before we all rode home.

Our routine was the very same the next morning: breakfast, bikes, woods, ramp. Except this time there was no going back from a full fledged jump off the ramp. The stakes were set, the ramp was perfect. It was all about who was going to sack up and make it happen. Naturally, I decided it was a good idea for me to kick off the festivities. So there I went, pedaling around on my bike for a good five minutes just working up the courage to point my handlebars at the ramp of dirt and fear and let it all ride. Finally, it was time. I went charging at the ramp as fast as I could. I wanted to stop pedaling, but I knew I couldn’t. I felt the front tire begin to climb, I saw it go over the edge, and I pulled on my handlebars with everything I had in me. For a brief moment everything was perfect. Everything went silent. I knew what it felt like to soar through the air and defy the laws of physics. I was flying. I was King of the Thing. I was unstoppable.

That feeling would quickly evaporate upon landing. See, the key to this story is that I was riding an old school Magna mountain bike when I took this jump, and upon landing the front wheel collapsed and bent awkwardly and I found my way into the mud next to the creek. I was fine, the bike wasn’t. It was un-ridable. All I could do was drag it back up the hill, whack at the busted tire with a stick, and realize my day dominating the ramp jump was toast. I had felt invincible, yet poor calculation and poor execution had cost me the victory I had taken for granted. I sat there and watched my friends hit jump after jump, offering me time and again the opportunity to take the plunge on one of their bikes. It just didn’t feel right though. I NEEDED to do it my way, with my own gear and not somehow cheapen the experience by using someone else’s property. Unfortunately, that was impossible at least for another week, as I headed off to baseball camp the next morning. I loved baseball a whole lot, but I’d by lying if I told you my head wasn’t on that jump back in Plymouth…

_____________________________________________________________________________

For the Wings, their likely ramp jump with the San Jose Sharks is more than just another second round series in the NHL Playoffs. It’s strikingly ironic that the Wings may play the same opponents they saw in last year’s playoffs in the exact same order this year. San Jose is on the precipice of closing out the Kings and – despite Roberto Luongo’s best efforts – the Canucks SHOULD close out their series with the Blackhawks at some point in the near future. Yes, the Sharks are the most likely opponent for Round 2 and the Red Wings should be savoring the opportunity to go after the team that knocked them out last year.

But why would the Wings want to face a team like the Sharks; a team who has the skill and depth to rival the Wings in almost every area of the game? Yes, on paper many would argue that the Sharks are the superior team, and I’m not one to disagree with them. I saw San Jose play in person this year, and they are an immensely talented team with plenty of potential to go the distance. But Detroit HAS to want them. The Wings NEED to play San Jose. There’s no way around it and if anyone tries to duck it in the Wings locker room, then they have no business being there. Sure, the Wings could conceivably square off against Anaheim or Nashville in the next round and this would all be moot, but deep down you don’t want that to happen, and neither do the guys who wear the Winged Wheel. Are you nervous? Good. Are you scared that it may come crashing down around you? Even better. Because what the hell are the playoffs even about if you aren’t feeling like you could puke at any second?

The whole point is that if the Wings don’t battle the Sharks at some point in these playoffs, the whole experience (while fantastic in itself) would still be a little bit hollow. The Wings want to tackle that jump on their own bikes with their own skill just to prove that they can indeed do it. San Jose was the ground that broke their tire last year. The Sharks were the hill that wan’t conquered. The week at baseball camp was the entire offseason, preseason and regular season for this Wings team. And now the table is almost set for another jump. It’s a jump that has to happen, otherwise there will always be doubt and defeat in the minds of the guys who fell short last year. They knew they could do it last season, but a few things went wrong and it didn’t go according to plan. The planning is better this year. The equipment is sturdier this time around. The jump is still just as terrifying, but there’s no denying that it has to be attempted. So when the Sharks and Kings take to the ice tonight, don’t try and suppress the anxiety of seeing an opponent who could be just as good as the Wings. Embrace it. Own it. Revel in the uncomfortable and understand that it’s just one more step toward the greater goal. A necessary step…

_____________________________________________________________________________

A week later I took a brand new HARO BMX bike back to the jump. I was scared and nervous, but I was so amped up that I didn’t have any time to feel. I was laser focused on what needed to be done and I wasn’t going to let me fear or anxiety stand in my way. I pedaled, I pulled and I even spun the handlebars in mid air. The landing was textbook: rubber met dirt and the bike stayed up. I remember my friends cheering in the background, yet I was still tuned out. I was focused too much on the task at hand and knew that one jump, one conquered foe, wasn’t the full victory. Rather, it was just another step to the larger goal of putting together a consecutive string of jumps, defeating all of those demons and making that hill my bitch.  As I slid to a stop, I allowed myself a small fist pump before I hopped off the bike, turned it around and made my way back. “Where ya going?” one of them asked.

“Back to the top.”

Helm’s Hands, or Lack Thereof

After a Helm-centric conversation on Twitter, I was requested by Sean Gentille (@seangentille) to modify a well-known Pascal Dupuis doodle.

An excuse to draw Helmer? Yes please.

Saddest Helm
The requested version.
Happy Helm!
The more current version.
Confused Helm.
"My ridiculously circuitous plan is one-quarter complete!"

The last one, of course, references my first piece ever featured on The Production Line.

By the Numbers: Sweeping the Coyotes

As the Red Wings recover from a hard-fought, physical and emotionally-charged series against the Phoenix Coyotes, how ’bout we take a look at some impressive numbers from the four-game series with scores that were never indicative of how closely contested the battles were? In a nutshell, the Red Wings cracked the code that is Ilya Bryzgalov, the penalty kill was terrible, the grinders were clutch, and the contributions came from everyone. All numbers and rankings are as of Thursday afternoon.

0 :: Minutes Henrik Zetterberg played in this series.

1 :: The Coyotes leader in +/- and the only player from Phoenix above the break-even line, Kyle Turris.

1 :: The fewest hits thrown by anyone in the series — shared by Keith Yandle and Mike Modano (the latter only played one game).

3 :: The most goals an individual scored in the series. And they were scored by Shane Doan.

4.5 :: Goals per game scored by the Wings, 0.75 more than second place (Anaheim).

6 :: The top post-season +/-, across all sixteen teams. It’s shared by Pavel Datsyuk, Ruslan Salei, and Niklas Kronwall.

6 :: Goals scored by the Coyotes on the power play — tied for the most of all playoff teams in four games.

7 :: Minutes Todd Bertuzzi spent in the penalty box, the most of any Red Wing and one less than Martin Hanzal for the series lead.

7 :: First period goals scored by the Red Wings — two more than the next best among playoff teams.

9 :: Ruslan Salei led either team in blocked shots.

10 :: Pavel Datsyuk takeaways, two and a half times more than the closest competitor for either team.

15 :: Shots Pavel Datsyuk took in four games — the most of either team.

24 :: Post-season goals allowed by Ilya Bryzgalov, dating back to Game 7 of last year’s first round matchup with the Wings, just under 5 goals per game.

24 :: Hits thrown by the leader in that department for either team, Shane Doan: ten more than the closest competition.

25:50 :: Average time on ice for Keith Yandle — the most of either team.

28.6 :: Shooting percentage of Patrick Eaves — the best of either team.

33.3 :: Power Play efficiency of the Coyotes — second best among playoff teams (Vancouver, 40%)

35 :: Average shots taken per game by the Red Wings — the most of any team not to go into overtime.

41:15 :: Minutes played by Jiri Hudler — the least of all Red Wings who played in all four games.

61.1 :: Faceoff percentage of Justin Abdelkader — by far the best of either team among players who took more than four faceoffs.

66.7 :: Penalty Killing efficiency of the Red Wings — tied for second worst among playoff teams (with Nashville, only Chicago’s 60% is worse).

89:39 :: Minutes played by Niklas Kronwall, including 16 minutes shorthanded — both are the most of all Red Wings.

103:22 :: Minutes played by Keith Yandle — the most of either team.

Get some sleep, Hockeytown. It’s looking pretty likely that the Winged Wheelers will be facing the Sharks — another Pacific Time Zone team and another repeat of the 2010 playoffs. Let’s hope for a better outcome than last year’s five-game stinker that sent the Wings into an earlier-than-usual summer.

Photo Credit: David Guralnick, The Detroit News, @DavidGuralnick

Taking Care Of Business

Final (Hi Mr. P!)
Red Wings 6, Coyotes 3
(Red Wings win series 4-0)

Thoughts
I always find it difficult to write about a game that played out pretty much the way you thought it would. No, I’m not trying to claim clairvoyance or anything along those lines. Rather, it’s a matter of understanding the situation and anticipating the moves. We all knew the Red Wings were going to face a stiff test from the Coyotes last night, and the Desert Dogs held up their end of the bargain for the better part of 60 minutes. They were game, they brought the energy and the intensity, and they capitalized on the chances they had to keep the game close and lead for the majority of the contest.

But you just kinda knew…

You just had that feeling that the Wings were playing a little bit of rope-a-dope with Phoenix, especially throughout the third period. The scoring chances were everywhere; spread across the ice like colorful eggs on an Easter morning scavenger hunt. Even when Phoenix took the first of their leads, the Wings kept generating opportunities, most of them of the high quality variety. Bertuzzi, Filppula, Rafalski. Everyone had chances and it was only a matter of time until they started connecting. The third period was that time, and the Wings left no doubt about who was the better team when the final horn sounded. That’s what the good teams do. They finish their business on time and they look confident doing it. The Wings were both tonight, which is refreshing to see from a team that struggled to find their killer instinct throughout much of the regular season.

Am I glad this series is over? Of course. Phoenix was a tricky challenge both on and off the ice, yet the Wings navigated those waters much more smoothly than last season. They’ve earned their rest and let’s hope it does them well. There be rough waters ahead, so the Wings best get prepared. The true tests are yet to come.

Quickly, some additional bullets:

  • Todd Bertuzzi. The man was everywhere last night. Making plays, hitting posts, generally kicking ass. Big Bert’s been playing with an intensity and passion that gets even the most skeptical fans to take notice, and it was good to see him get rewarded with a lucky bounce into the net last night. Bertuzzi’s one of the veterans who seems to have found the fountain of youth this postseason and who looks like he’s finally comfortable in his own skin. He’s one of the key depth pieces that gave Detroit an edge this series and he’ll need to be that same player next series if the Wings are going to make a deep run this year. He may not hit the scoresheet every night, but his playmaking ability below the net should force defenses to pay him some extra respect and allow the slot to open up.
  • It didn’t start well for Jimmy Howard last night, but he pulled it together in the latter stages of the game and got himself back to the form he exhibited during the first three games of the series. It looked like Howard was struggling to see the puck in the early stages of the game, and the first two goals were ones that he undoubtedly wants back. That said, Howard was a rock during the entire series and the more shots he sees and eats up, the better his confidence gets.
  • Darren Helm continues to be a one man wrecking crew despite “slowing down his game” a bit. His forecheck is relentless and forces the opposition into costly turnovers and scoring chances for the Wings. The Eaves goal he assisted on last night was textbook Helm: lay a big hit at the blue line, force the turnover down low, drive to the net and make it count. It wasn’t the prettiest play, but that’s the key to Helm’s success. Mucking, grinding and taking what the defense gives him makes him oh so dangerous, and the more he embraces that, the better the Wings will be.
  • Finally, Niklas Kronwall continues to put together a quietly efficient playoff campaign, despite a sluggish start during the first two games against Phoenix. Following a pair of performances that kept him off the scoresheet, Kronwall went 1-3-6 and +6 on the trip to Phoenix, and led the Wings in TOI in both games 3 and 4, playing over 23 minutes in each game. I know I had plenty of questions surrounding Kronwall heading into these playoffs, but the only one left standing at this point is whether or not he can maintain this play throughout the rest of the playoffs.

One More Thing…
You’ll notice that there’s no mention of the whole “Coyotes to Winnipeg” situation in this post, and that’s by design. All I will say (for now) is that I thought Phoenix brought everything they could last night in an attempt to put on a good show for their fans, and everyone in Jobing.com Arena seemed to appreciate that last night. I know the jokes are running rampant about the potential sale and move of the team, but until something is announced by the league, it’s all conjecture and speculation. If and when something happens, I’ll offer up my own take on the situation. Until then, there’s no point in kicking the bees nest just to get a reaction.

Photo courtesy of Christian Peterson/Getty Images

Apr. 20 :: I Believe This Is Gonna Be Our Finest Hour

Everyone is watching tonight...

WHAT’S ALL THIS THEN?
It’s all on the line for Phoenix tonight, as the Wings look to eliminate them from both the 2011 NHL Playoffs and (potentially) their current city of inhabitance. The bus to Winnipeg is packed and ready to go. 10:30 Eastern. 7:30 in the desert.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE
10:30am local / 1:30pm Eastern :: Coyotes Practice
11:30am local / 2:30pm Eastern :: Red Wings Practice
7:00pm Eastern :: Capitals vs. Rangers
7:00pm Eastern :: Penguins vs. Lightning
7:30pm Eastern :: Flyers vs. Sabres
8:30pm Eastern :: Ducks vs. Predators
10:30pm Eastern :: GAME 4 at JOBING.COM ARENA

WATCH IT
Versus, CBC, RDS, Fox Sports-Detroit and Fox Sports-Arizona will all carry the game, depending on your geography.

EXPECTED LINEUP
By special request, the TPL Glossary is ready to jailsex your eyes.
Franzen — Datsyuk — Holmstrom
Bertuzzi — Abdelkader — Cleary
Hudler — Filppula — Miller
Eaves — Draper — Helm

Lidstrom — Stuart
Ericsson — Rafalski
Salei — Kronwall

Howard
MacDonald

SCRATCHES
Chris Osgood [groin]
Henrik Zetterberg [knee]
Mike Modano
Jakub Kindl
ACES: Pearce, Janik, Lashoff, Meech, Smith, Emmerton, Mursak, Tatar

The TPL Name Game ”Three Stars”
Disch: HORSECOPPIN’
Petrella: Jonathan “Is It Too Late To Abort?” Ericsson (Ed. note: *cringe*) and Darren “I Could Eat the Ass Out Of A Dead Rhinoceros” Helm
Hollis: Jonathan “Like Trying To Drive A Toaster Through the Car Wash” Ericsson
*Now it’s up to you! Think up your best names and throw them in the comments — the best one will be shared for all to enjoy on the TPL Facebook Page. The best of the best will be pitted against one another at season’s end, and the winner takes home a TPL Shirt of their choice.*

TIDBITS
:: Three wins down, 13 (get it?) wins to go. Plenty on the line for both teams tonight and you can bet your sweet bippy that this one is going to be physical. A win for the Wings, and it’s on to the second round with some much needed rest along the way. For the ‘Yotes, it’s all about survival. A win prolongs their playoff run and potentially sends their fans (all four of them) in Phoenix home happy one final time.
:: It’s been a physical series from the get-go, and the intensity should be ramped up even more tonight with the stakes high for both teams. The ‘Yotes have been toeing the line with some of the rough stuff over the last three games, even going as far as trying to rough up Captain Nick. The Wings need to jump out early and play a smart, contained game and not give in to the temptation to slap Shane Doan and the JovoCop right across the face. Why you ask?
:: The PK sucks. It’s terrible. The last five goals the Coyotes have scored have all been on the power play. I’m no genius, but that’s got to change.
:: Speaking of change, the Wings could afford to find themselves some success on the power play tonight. 0-4 with the man advantage usually doesn’t help your cause, but the Wings somehow found a way to survive in Game 3. If the play is as physical as everyone believes it will be tonight, the Wings should find themselves with some man advantages and it would definitely be in their best interests to capitalize on a couple of them.
:: Who will be the “X Factor” for the Wings tonight? Rusty Salei stepped up his game on Monday, scoring the opening goal and going +3 in 17 minutes of play, but it’s hard to believe he can replicate that performance every night. My money is on Todd Bertuzzi or Jiri Hudler, both who have looked pretty darn good this series and are due to make something happen. Of course, we can’t forget about…
:: Jimmy. Dude has been on his game all series and has completely out-dueled Ilya Bryzgalov up to this point. He’s bound to be tested tonight with the Coyotes throwing everything but the kitchen sink at him, so if anyone can turn the tide in the favor of the Wings, it’s likely going to be the guy who’s gotten them to this point.

WHAT WE LEARNED IN GAME 3
The Wings like to score within the first three minutes of a period. All four on Monday came less than 180 seconds into each frame. More please.

THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN GAME 4
:: Multiple folks said there was no octopi on this ice during Game 3 in Phoenix. Is someone going to Free the Octopi tonight?
:: Cheapshots by the dozen. It happened in Game 3 and it will happen in Game 4. Can the Wings keep their composure and finish off the series?
:: Ilya Bryzgalov. He’s got to be on his game tonight, as you know the ‘Yotes will be forcing the issue offensively. The Wings should have plenty of scoring chances and Bryzgalov will have to be on top of his game if Phoenix wants to live to fight another day.

TPL PREDICTS…
:: Bert tallies a big goal and the Mule gets the series winner tonight. It’ll be a hard-fought and close game, but round 2 awaits the Wings and Winnipeg awaits the Coyotes.