When you watch hockey for long enough, you start to notice the difference.
Sometimes it’s a bit obvious: the hockey your little cousins play on Saturday mornings at the rink is different than the hockey you play late Saturday nights; and that doesn’t look nearly as good as college hockey these days. The minors look different than that, and the pro and international games are the pinnacle in the sport.
But when hockey’s done right, it doesn’t matter what level you’re watching. When a team gets it right, when everything is working, you can’t help but be impressed by the show. That’s what we saw from the Red Wings last night. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t completely dominant; but it was really, really good.
I want to talk about Hossa later on, but he was just one piece of a very well-built, well executed game plan last night. The Detroit Red Wings played an excellent road game on Monday, plain and simple. It didn’t matter about short rest or travel or injuries; they came out and limited chances, stayed back, and waited for the Sabres to make mistakes. With Buffalo pressing like they were, it was only a matter of time.
In a way the whole thing went down in a very predictable fashion. Buffalo pushed and Detroit resisted. Osgood made a few saves, Buffalo took a penalty; and no one felt like moving Holmstrom in front. Just like that, it’s 1-0.
From there it was just a matter of time. The Sabres got a power play after showing a bit of heart and causing a scrum, but three seconds in Tim Connolly overplays a loose puck and breaks a stick trying to forecheck. Power play over. 1-0 after two, and we’re down to the final period once again.
I feel like a broken record here, but how many times have we seen the third period explode on the very first shift? Add one more to the list. Hossa makes it 2-0, and the remainder of the game was Buffalo merely raging against the dying light. Just like on Sunday, Detroit proved that good teams close out hockey games. Last night as no exception, and Buffalo was dead in the water 36 seconds into the third.
Watching it all happen was a bit fascinating, though. Detriot just does so many things right, it’s hard not to be impressed by it all. There is such a presence to their game. No noticeable panic or frustration, and very few mistakes come back to haunt them. When they get chances they convert, and when they make mistakes they answer.
It’s not a word I use often, but the Red Wings just play beautiful hockey. It seems like they always play an odd man rush right, always get at least a shot on net. When you watch a team like the Sabres fail to execute odd man rushes all year, it becomes a striking difference between the two teams.
Watch the game again if you can. Watch what the second man does on a two on one, or what the trailer does to go to the open spot. When you see it unfold so perfectly, it’s hard not to be impressed by it all. Even the way Detroit kills the clock or scores empty net goals is so coldly good. Did you notice Lidstrom made sure to give himself space and gain center on the empty netter? There was no panic, no search for the perfect play. Gain center, look up, take a shot.
This isn’t just some Romanticist ode to a higher level of hockey, either. This is envy, plain and simple. See, we used to have a team like that here. It wasn’t the same style of play, and it wasn’t the same level of consistency; but it was beautiful hockey. For a brief time after the lockout, people across the league looked at the Sabres on the schedule and said “that’ll be a good one.”
That doesn’t happen as often anymore, and it’s not just because there are two players no longer on this team. Something larger has happened here, and a larger price has to be paid. Mediocrity isn’t the end of the world, but its stay should be brief, the response to it swift. The numbers don’t show anything happening quickly here. No spring hockey two years and counting, and five of seven overall.
Weighed, measured, and found wanting once again.