Holland noted that Jonathan Ericsson made great strides last year and this is a good opportunity for him to play on the top pair. They believe youngster Brendan Smith will eventually evolve into a top-four defencemen. Then they have what Holland calls some pros – Ian White, Kyle Quincey, Coliacovo – “who’ve been around the game and can play in the NHL and are obviously going to have to be members of our defence by committee. We really like our forwards. We think we can roll four lines. Even if we get injuries, we think we have players that can fit in and play. So we’re really going to have to try and play a good team game and find a way to grind out wins.”
Likely, the post-Lidstrom era is going to involve some of the same hardships that the Anaheim Ducks experienced a few years back when they lost both Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger within a two-year span. But Holland is hoping to ride it out and continue the Red Wings remarkable streak of making the playoffs in 21 consecutive years.
“After 48 games last year, we were first in the West,” said Holland. “After 60 games, we were first overall. We’ve obviously lost two important pieces, but we have a lot of other players that we think are really good. Obviously, the question about the Detroit Red Wings, in a year where you lose two guys in the top four and a year after you lose Brian Rafalski is gonna be, ‘how is the defence going to hold up?’
“There’s no doubt we’ll have a different look. We believe we have good goaltending. We believe we have good forwards. We believe the defence can play steady and solid, so … let’s play some games and see.”
THE KING AND I: Dave King, the Phoenix Coyotes’ development coach, has a theory that will bear watching as the 48-game season unfolds – that NHL teams are going to have to pay closer attention to shootout preparation than ever before, because the margins between victory and defeat will be so close. King believes chances are good that a team’s shootout may be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.
Certainly, there seems to be no consistent pattern to year-over-year shootout records. Two years ago, the Los Angeles Kings were the No. 1 team in the shootout, going 10-2. Last year, they were 6-9. If the Kings had been anywhere close to their previous shootout prowess, they could have easily made up the two-point gap that separated them from the first-place Coyotes in the Pacific Division (although Phoenix, at 6-10) was no better.
Two years ago, the Calgary Flames were 9-7 in the shootout; last year, they were 3-9 – a contributing factor to their playoff miss. The year they won the Stanley Cup, the Boston Bruins were 2-6 in the shootout; last year, they went 9-2.
There are a handful of teams that have been consistently good on the shootout. Colorado is a combined 15-3 over the past two years; and Pittsburgh is a sterling 19-6.
But for the most part, there is randomness to it, and coaches generally don’t like things that they can’t control. The last lockout begat the shootout and, according to King, the shootout could have a significant impact on who gets to play for a championship now that this year’s lockout is over.
“Goalkeeping is going to be important in a 48-game season, special teams are going to be important, but I think the cruncher might be the penalty shots in the shootout,” said King. “I really believe, in the shortened schedule, teams are going to have to seriously focus on practising shootouts. A lot of times, in an 82-game season, it’s pretty nonchalant. This time, you’re going to have to have guys bear down and just work with five or six shooters and get them focused on the importance of working on moves. Your scouting on goalies in shootouts is going to be really important.”
Incidentally, year-over-year scoring declined the only other time the NHL played a shortened season, and the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup that year by mugging and grinding their way through the playoffs. Pat Quinn, the former Canucks’ coach, believes that the NHL fundamentally changed for the worse that year, just because of how increasingly lax the officiating became in the 1995 postseason.