In the heat of the ice war, when the bodies are slamming and the hearts are pumping and the fans are banging on the glass, it is possible, just for a moment, to forget the problems. It is possible to forget that the confidence on this team is down to fumes, that resentment over past trades still festers like a sore, that these Red Wings are in deep and dire trouble.
And then something happens to remind them.
It usually happens around the net.
Take Thursday night. Here are the Wings, who are breathing like a clogged lung these days, on a rare surge of emotion, their players suddenly charged, fighting for the puck, Dave Barr against the boards, locked in a body grip, now it comes to John Chabot, slapping with his stick as a defender drapes over him, now to Steve Chiasson, who pokes it through a defender’s legs, slides around the front of the net and puts it inside.
“SCORE!” scream the announcers. A ray of hope. The Chicago lead has been cut to 5-4. “Maybe,” says the voice inside the Detroit head. “Maybe now we come back.”
And maybe not. Just seconds later, before the crowd has even stopped buzzing, Chiasson falls trying to defend Dirk Graham. All alone, Graham chugs down the ice, draws Glen Hanlon flat on his stomach, then flicks the puck over his head and into the net.
So much for tonight.
Woe is Wingdom. This has been the murderous pattern of this murderous season. No breaks. No luck. No defense. No goaltending. That breakaway goal was the Blackhawks’ sixth score — and the most forgivable. You should have seen the others. Let’s face it. Hanlon is a wonderful guy, he would take a knife for the team, but he cannot do the job alone. He’s exhausted. And Greg Stefan is wounded and maybe finished. And Sam St. Laurent and Tim Cheveldae are not the answers.
Read the control panel, folks. SITUATION: DESPERATE. This team needs goaltending the way John Elway needs a vacation. The playoffs? Don’t ask
Forget about the playoffs. I don’t know why people are worried about that. True, not making the Stanley Cup playoffs is like not getting into a free concert in Central Park. But what difference would it make? The way the Wings are performing? Do you really want to see that in the playoffs?
Better to concentrate on the problems at hand. Fix what’s broke.
Or didn’t you watch what went on Thursday night? In the first period, the Blackhawks scored two quick goals on a power play. They made it look like elementary school. That was off St. Laurent.
Then poor Sam took a puck off his head. By the second period, Hanlon — who should have had the night off — was in the net. Hello, Glen. Oops. Just 18 seconds passed before the first puck went scooting past him. Before the next intermission, four more would do the same.
“We know where the problem is,” said coach Jacques Demers after the 8-6 defeat. “I have to talk to Jimmy D. about it. We have to do something. Glennie needs help out there. He really needs help.”
Well. That’s like saying Noriega has to do something about his legal problem. Hanlon is overworked. He must think the Red Wings run a sweat shop. General manager Devellano says he has tried the goalie market, but he can’t get anything. That’s not a good enough answer.
How would you feel if you were the Wings players before each game, knowing you had to score six goals to have a chance? It’s time to rebuild
Whatever it takes. Goaltending. Priority No. 1. It is a hole in the heart of the team right now.
There are other concerns. Defense. Attitude. There is resentment on this team, and grumbling and even dissension. Many of the players are still stinging over the Bernie Federko- for-Adam Oates trade. Others resent the handling of the Petr Klima, Adam Graves and Joe Murphy trade to Edmonton. Others question the philosophy of the team, and occasionally, even the coaching methods.
But much of that would be soothed with some victories. And you won’t see any of those until you see a stopper in front of the net. Hockey is fast and furious and brutal and bloody, but it is still fairly simple. Put your pucks in and stop the other guys’.
In the final minute Thursday, Chicago’s Adam Creighton slapped a goal into an empty Detroit net. Joe Louis Arena was three-quarters empty.
Funny. Three seasons ago, the Blackhawks were swept out of the playoffs by a hungry, hard-checking Red Wings team.
Can you imagine if that series was played this year?
Fix what’s broke. Get some goaltending. People are talking about Minnesota and the standings, and “how many wins it will take.” But they should be less concerned with making the playoffs and more concerned with remaking the team.
After all, the way they’re going, even if the Wings made the playoffs, they would quickly disappear.
If only we could say that about their other problems.