As the Wings put together an impressive start during the first half of the season, a competitive-as-ever Central Division will surely keep the pressure on after last week’s all-star break marked the halfway point of the season. With Chicago, Nashville, and an upstart St. Louis club all within four points of the top of the division, it’s crucial that Detroit carries over their early season success down the stretch in order to hang on to home-ice advantage. That second-half success shouldn’t be hard to replicate seeing how the scheduling stars have seemingly aligned for the club. Of the top six seeds in the Western Conference, Detroit has eighteen games remaining at the Joe, a place where to say the team has absolutely dominated at this season would be understating; posting a 20-2-1 record and looking to add to their record seventeen-game winning streak next Wednesday against Edmonton. And with a four-game road trip wrapping up next Monday in Phoenix, the team has all the leverage they need with only ten road games left in the 2012 campaign as they make their march into… Well… March.
Starting with a win two nights ago in Calgary, the rest of this west coast road trip has implications on how momentum might shift in the race for the Central while also having a trickle-down effect on how the rest of the West will end up. And though the Wings have managed to stay red hot at home, a .500 record away from Joe Louis Arena isn’t where the team wants to be and has to be a point of emphasis during the second half. A match-up with the Canucks tonight at Rogers Arena will be a measuring stick for the clubs currently positioned at the top of the West and is the first meeting between the two teams since Vancouver captured a 4-2 victory earlier this season. Vancouver, equipped with one of the top goaltenders in Roberto Luongo, a potent one-two punch with the Sedin twins, and a top rated power-play attack (23%) continues to prove that they’ll be the team anybody in the West has to go through in order to get anywhere. Considering the strength of Wings’ division, Vancouver could end up with the top seed in the conference, giving tonight’s match-up all the more importance.
Each year brings with it the same questions of attrition though, and whether a team of veteran players can hold up for another run at the Cup. Since a Stanley Cup season in 2002, shouldn’t a ten year track record of championships and playoff series wins with savvy veterans supplemented with a few sets of fresh, young, and hungry legs be enough to convince any skeptics that this team is just doing “it” again? Then again, what skeptics am I even trying to convince? The Wings aren’t a topic of discussion until they lose a game against their first round opponent and everyone loses their collective minds. The same minds that most likely haven’t watched a hockey game since last May are always the loudest and brashest when they’re yelling at Gator or Valenti that the Wings “aren’t physical enough”, or “not fast enough”, or “how ole’ Jim Howard isn’t a Stanley Cup caliber net-minder.”
Take it from someone who watches Wings’ games in January, trust this newbie to the DMR, this team is going to be successful regardless of what everyone wants them to be.
– Ryan Mathews