DETROIT -- The Red Wings finish their exhibition season this weekend, and they could do with at least one strong performance.
They take on the Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena tonight coming in with a 2-4 record, most recently dismantled at home by the Penguins in a game coach Mike Babcock didn't like afterward and didn't like any more the next day. Exhibition games don't mean anything in the standings, but what happens in the games means something, and so far the revelations haven't been all that impressive.
Some games have revealed what everyone already knows: Pavel Datysuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard are stars and leaders. But a pretty good group of Wings have played in games those four haven't, and suffered Wednesday's 5-1 loss. The Pens did have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but much of that same group of Wings also were part of two shutout losses.
Babcock said Thursday that the previous night's team didn't compete very hard, didn't have much substance, didn't have good structure. "Evaluation is pretty straight forward," he said. "They didn't do what we wanted them to do."
The Wings haven't won any games when Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Kronwall and Howard haven't been in the lineup. While that speaks to how good those guys are, it's disconcerting that a group with quite a number of NHL regulars hasn't once dented an opponent that hasn't played its full lineup.
A chance may present itself today: The Wings, at least, hope to play almost a full lineup, and maybe the Maple Leafs will bring a competitive group to the Joe. Saturday's game at Air Canada Centre will be Detroit's last before opening the season Wednesday, and Babcock put some of the blame on having to play eight games, because it forces a team to spread out its lineup.
"You have to, just to keep guys alive," he said. "We can play two less exhibition games, and we can have more guys in the lineup, or we can continue to do what we've done, and that's the way it is."
The Wings have a number of guys ailing, though any fear Justin Abdelkader might be sidelined after getting cut on his left index finger after a fight Wednesday was assuaged after Abdelkader took part in all of practice and declared himself good to go. Daniel Alfredsson practiced and sounded almost certain to play at least one game this weekend. That's important, because a sore groin has so far limited him to one appearance, and prevented a good look at the ideal second line of Alfredsson, Stephen Weiss and Johan Franzen.
Others in sick bay include goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (groin) and forwards Jordin Tootoo (shoulder), Darren Helm (groin/back) and Patrick Eaves (knee, ankle). Defenseman Danny DeKeyser (knee) is questionable after hurting a knee Wednesday.
The most jarring stat so far is how problematic scoring has been. The Wings have 16 goals--the same amount they've allowed. But eight of those goals all come from one game, in Boston where Detroit had Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Howard.
Franzen said it reflects that, "guys are more focused on being where we should be on the ice. Me personally, I'd rather have a bad preseason than a good one. You don't want to go into the season thinking things are going to go easy. I'd rather go in and feel like it's a little uphill and you really have to dig down to get things going."
Exhibition season does serve a purpose: Games are preparation. Preparation matters.
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