Although I’m as deep in Bracketville as 99 percent of sports-loving Americans, I happened to take notice of an important happening on the ice on Friday in Anaheim. A couple of relatively invisible players reappeared, and the Red Wings showed that it may not only be the Tigers we should be excited about this Spring.
First off, I’m not the only one who has questioned Justin Abdelkader’s role on this team through the first half of this season. But how could you not? He was brutal playing on the third line, and as injuries mounted for the Red Wings, he was initially just as bad when grouped with play-maker extraordinaire Pavel Datsyuk. But Mike Babcock saw something many of us didn’t, and Babcock’s patience looks as though it is paying off.
Abdelkader looked like a sniper against the Western Conference’s number 2 team on Friday. His hattrick led the Wings to a 5-1 road win that keeps them in playoff position and major players in the West as the season heads towards the trade deadline.
Head Coach Mike Babcock has finally got Pav and Abby to click after inserting Johan Franzen on to the top line. That line accounted for a collective 12 points in the win over the Ducks, and Franzen and Abdelkader both appear that they have a pulse and are ready to help the Wings keep their record playoff appearance alive.
It’s important that the Wings are firmly in playoff position as the trade deadline approaches. With the condensed schedule, more teams are still alive for a playoff run and less teams will be looking ahead to the 2013-2014 season..
It’s obvious to me that the Wings will be trying to shuffle the deck and will be looking to move a skilled forward for a solid top-four blue-liner in coming weeks. If the Wings keep winning, I expect GM Ken Holland to be proactive in trying to move some of his young skill guys to make a serious run at the cup. It’s possible, however, that those types of moves could be contingent on the health of Todd Bertuzzi and Darren Helm.
Either way, if the Wings are going to challenge the Hawks, Kings and the rest of the West, they are going to need big contributions from Abdelkader and Franzen. Both players are physical and have had playoff success in the past. Mike Babcock may have again made a brilliant move for the present instead of prematurely looking into the future. Players like Tomas and Gustav Nyquist may have futures in the D, but it’s the tougher and more playoff ready players that are needed to supplement the skill of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Brunner.
Well played Mike.