Hockey isn’t about being cool. Or popular. Or driving a bitchin car. Or having ravishing good looks. That was high school. For some of us. Hockey, trite as it sound, is just about being good at hockey…being the dominant team…forcing another squad to do your bidding for 60 minutes and then mounting up your Dothraki steed and moving onto the next village.
That said, having just sat here and watched the Blues-Kings game, there is a certain feeling of having been left out of the cool crowd that’s unavoidable. I’m not talking about the base sense of abandonment we all get when the season closes before the Finals – this isn’t about a one-win postseason. This is about whether or not we belong on the ice past ANY first rounds in the foreseeable future given what happened this evening.
Tonight’s Kings-Notes game was a brutal affair. Incredibly physical. Dirty at times. Pestering throughout. Those were grown-ass men out there, banging bodies when someone’s just trying to get off the ice, scrapping for loose pucks , shanking each other in the ribs like a lost episode of Oz. It was a big boys game. It was, in other words, a microcosm of what the modern day playoff series ought to be and for most teams, is.
It wasn’t a game I could see the Wings playing in. Not with this lineup.
There was a time when we could ride these overly physical teams out of town by being smarter, by moving the puck a little faster, by having defensemen who could break the forecheck and punish teams for sending too many men into our zone. There was a time when we would play the patient game, wait for the other team to get emotionally out of control and commit a penalty, then roll out a truly fearsome power play that made them pay for the lack of discipline.
What we have right now is the odd pleasure of being trapped between two worlds – playing “the beautiful game” and attempting to keep pace with a league whose high-end teams have gotten more physical. You look at teams like Boston last year, or either of the two teams from tonight’s Western Conference tilt, and there is a similar feel. Great goaltending, capable scorers and a nasty, physical edge. The Wings have one of those departments covered, we’re sufficient but unremarkable in the second, and we’re wowefully undermanned in the third.
In the free-spending days, we could amass enough talent to run circles around these brutes. When you’ve got the luxury of slotting Luc Robitaille on the third line, you can do things like that. Right over might. Brains over brawns. Vette’s over GMCs. …call it whatever you want to, but it was a different style enabled by a now-dead financial arrangement.
Those days are done, and what we’re left with is a team that’s skilled but small, and one that would have gotten the absolute shit beaten out of it tonight by ether Kings or…much as I hate to say it…the Bitter Bitch Blues.
I’ve never been in the “get big, get ugly” camp. I never thought we needed it. I’m beginning to think otherwise.