Tuesday, October 14, 2008

NHL Blogging: Dissent

Ty Conklin played last night, in the Wings' third game and their second win.

The consensus, or at least the lede, seems to be that he played solidly. But I'm not so sure.

I can't say I gave the game my undivided attention but from the parts of it that I did see, Conklin seemed to flop around a lot. He struggled with his positioning and fought to block a lot of shots that should have been easy grabs. I mean, hey, he got the win and everything so all's good. I'm just saying, there's a reason the guy's been a career back-up.

But, the thing is, he doesn't have to be much better. Not with this Red Wings team in front of him. The Big Red Machine doesn't just roll with incomparable talent, it rolls with stars who are just as willing to work on the back-end as anyone else in the league. In Datsyuk, in Zetterberg, even in newcomers like Hossa, you've got goalscorers who are just as good at defending their own net as they are at burying the puck. And I'm not even sure what more I can say about Lidstrom who's been a rock on the blueline for about a decade now.

That commitment to defense trickles down from the top lines and infuses the third and fourth stringers. It makes the whole team better.

So, just like with Osgood, Conklin doesn't have to be the best goaltender on the ice. The Wings aren't just going to control the puck and limit the shots he sees. They're not just going to pepper his opponent with shots and tally up the scores to give him a cushion to work with. They're going to bail him out, time and time again, with last-minute checks on breaks and the sort of deft stickwork that eliminates the chances we never see.

All Conklin has to do, in so many words, is manage the game. Like a middle-of-the-road NFL quarterback on a team with a hotrod running back and a star receiver or a defense that eats its opposition raw, he just has to hand the ball over, make the occasional pass, and, most importantly, not make any big mistakes that cost his team the game.

I've long thought it would be nice if the Wings could come up with the next Roy or Brodeur or otherwise stumble into having the best goalie around, for a time. But such superlative talent is hard to come by, so the Wings do things a different way. Building a team, a strategy, that masks their relative weakness in goal (Which isn't to say that Osgood and Conklin and other netminders who've graces the pipe during the Red Wings' amazing run are bad. Just that, really, none of them have been superstars. Even Hasek was into his decline by the time he donned the winged wheel.) by playing to their other strengths. The Red Wings' goaltender has to make the occasional big save and maybe shift the momentum once or twice, but they don't have to steal games the way other goalies do. It'll always be a nice bonus if they ever do but the team in front of them is good enough that they don't have to.

So, Conklin played alright. Not good, not great, but well enough to get his job done. He's probably not going to knock Osgood down the depth chart any time soon. But that shouldn't be a problem.

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