Saturday, October 18, 2008

NHL Blogging: Road Sweet Road

Heading into tonight's game against the underrated Rangers, the Wings have played four times. They've won twice and lost twice.

The statistical difference? 32 turnovers in the losses to only 6 in each win. The bulk of those giveaways come from the opening loss to Toronto but they still had 13 in the loss to Vancouver, only just below the it's-still-early average of 16 per loss.

So what changed between the wins and the losses? Was it the level of competition or the netminder in goal? Did they score a ton of more goals or clamp down on their goals against? Did Bush's anti-Midas touch rub off on them during their trip to the White House? Not really. The answer's quite simple. When they won, the Wings were on the road. And when they lost, they were home at the Joe.

It seems like the Red Wings are a different team when they're playing in front of their fans.

A while ago, during the dreaded era of the trap, this home disadvantage wasn't such an odd occurrence. Teams would have much better records as the visiting team than they did at home. The explanation for this odd quirk that worked best for me was that, at home, teams pressed more. They wanted to put on a good show, wanted to impress their fans, so they took extra risks and went for more spectacular plays. But, on the road, they could just hit the ice and play their game and their system, without worrying about their fans' opinion. That's just how boring and grinding the game was before the rules were relaxed and more speed and excitement crept back into the game.

And it seems like the Wings have managed to return to those old ways. The increase in turnovers, I think, when they get back to Detroit isn't an indicator of sloppy play. But, instead, of overly enthusiastic play. Of players making that extra pass or trying for that one last deke instead of making the smart, safe play. The Wings, their fans, everyone knows the Wings are supposed to do well this year and that pressure is going to be most felt in the air inside of the JLA. The players are responding by choking up on their sticks, ever so slightly, and it's showing up in the stats.

Since the Rangers game is in Detroit tonight, I'm predicting a loss.

But, the season is still early and four games is an awfully small sample size. The Wings could well turn it around and this could be nothing more than an aberration. If it continues, though, it's something more than a worrying trend.

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