The Detroit Red Wings have made a habit out of playing to their competition this season.
Detroit has somehow found a way to lose at home to bottom-feeding Columbus, then turn around and dominate games against Nashville and Vancouver.
The Red Wings have been hot-and-cold all season, and that trend continued in their most recent game against the Blackhawks. The Red Wings looked outmanned in the game’s early going, took control late in the second, took the lead early in the third, and then fell apart in the late stages.
The game was a microcosm of the Red Wings’ season. At times, Detroit controlled the pace of the game. At others, they looked hapless, allowing Chicago to possess the puck at will.
In the end, Detroit got a point, but nothing more.
There are several reasons for Detroit’s inconsistencies this year, injuries being one. The Wings have played most of this season without Todd Bertuzzi, Carlo Colaiacovo, Darren Helm and Mikael Samuelsson.
And that’s just the beginning of the list.
Detroit leads the league in man-games lost to injury, and the slew of injuries have put the Red Wings in the position they find themselves in right now.
But there are certainly other reasons for Detroit’s struggles.
Head coach Mike Babcock’s hands have been tied because of the injuries, forcing him to give guys increased minutes that he wouldn’t normally. One of those guys is veteran Dan Cleary, and Cleary has been poor in his increased role.
At age 34, it’s no secret that Cleary is slowing down. He has never been a finesse player, and now his speed and strength is leaving him. Cleary brings little to nothing to the team that other guys like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist don’t bring, except experience. Babcock is holding his best player, Pavel Datsyuk, down by sticking Cleary on his line. Give Datsyuk a goal-scoring sniper like Tatar or Nyquist on his line, and goals will follow. Pavel is one of the best space-creators and passers in the league. Pair him with a guy who can handle and score the puck, and good things will happen.
Dan Cleary is simply not that player. I’m fine with him grinding it out on the fourth line with Drew Miller and Cory Emmerton, but to have him on the second line while Jordin Tootoo only sees the ice for seven minutes a game is terrible.
The Red Wings need to truly evaluate where they are as a franchise and as a team. I see several young guys who can be future stars for Detroit, but if Babcock continues playing Cleary instead of giving his young guys a chance to shine will only hold the team back.
Babcock and the Wings have decisions to make. If Tatar is the future of the franchise, the time might be now for him.
Give him a shot. He can’t be worse than Cleary.
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