Saturday, April 21, 2007

Wings, and Tigers, and Pistons -- Why Detroit is Great

If there was any doubt that Detroit, Michigan was the best sports city in the world, today put that to rest. Sure, the Detroit Tigers lost, but if you were a really dedicated sports fan (and I would have done this had I not been in the middle of studying for law school finals, and I made it to Comerica Park as it was) you could have seen the Detroit Tigers game, the Detroit Red Wings-Calgary Flames Game Five playoff game, and Game One of the Detroit Pistons-Orlando Magic series, all in person, all in the same 12 hour span. Quite the day and evening for Detroit sports.

So where to begin. Let's start with the Red Wings, who proved that when they want to turn it on and dominate, they can. I missed most of the game in transit from the Tigers game (more on that debacle below) and one of the first things I heard on the radio was that Dan Clearly had scored a "short handed penalty shot goal." I thought for sure I had misheard something or that the great Ken Kal had made a rare mistake. Turns out, he was right. After leaving their special teams (both their Power Play and their Penalty Kill) in Detroit during Games Three and Four in Calgary, the Wings responded in force on Saturday, scoring on Cleary's penalty shot, adding a shorthanded goal by the ageless Chris Chelios (the fact that he can play at such a high level at 45 is amazing) and two Power Play goals. If only they were able to play like this just during one of the two games in Calgary, the team wouldn't have to make the 1,800 mile journey for a game scheduled for 9:00 tomorrow, just under 30 hours after Game Five ended. Nice to see Henrik Zetterberg get on the scoreboard for the first time this playoff (he scored twice) and Pavel Datsuyk scored again, his third goal of the series. When these two guys are on their games, the Wings are obviously very difficult to beat.

The end of the game was a disgrace. For those that didn't see the game, Calgary backup goalie, Jamie McLennan, just eighteen seconds into his appearance, gave a viscous and deliberate two handed slash to Johan Franzen. It was uncalled for and it shouldn't be part of hockey, and the NHL would be wise to come down hard on McLennan. Sure, it won't hurt Calgary since he's their backup goaltender, but it would send a message that blows designed to injure, and made out of nothing other than frustration, should not be tolerated. Here's video of the incident, from a few different angles, for those that missed it:

And that wasn't the only cheap shot by Calgary. Daymond Langkow sucker-punched and gave a concussion to Brett Lebda and Jarome Iginla got into the act as well. He told that
"It was really about getting some fights going at that point to keep our energy up and carry some anger into the next game," Iginla said with several new stitches over his left eye. "We're not going away."

You just lose respect for players and teams when they get intentionally violent like the Flames did today. I understand trying to get an edge back and playing physical to try to get a team out of their gameplan, but to intentionally injure players, and strike with reckless blows to "send a message", that's not hockey, that's being a thug. And it shouldn't be tolerated by the NHL.

For more analysis of Calgary's dirty play, Christy at Behind the Jersey has a recap of national and local coverage of all of the dirty plays by the Flames and Dave at Gorilla Crunch has a great post about Red Wings GM Ken Holland screaming at NHL executives to suspend Calgary players for their actions. Great stuff.

Moving on to the Tigers, I was at Comerica Park, and while there were close to 40,000 fans in the stands, nobody went home happy (well, maybe a few White Sox fans). The Tigers are just not playing good baseball right now, and today's game hit all of the negatives:

Defense: The Tigers had three very costly errors today, and while the team has only committed four errors on the season coming into this afternoon's game, the way they played today wipes all of that out. And the team would have a lot more errors if not for Sean Casey's excellent play at first base.

Offense: Craig Monroe, Brandon Inge, Sean Casey, and Gary Sheffield are all hitting under .200. That's practically half the lineup. And Magglio Ordonez, despite a solo home run today, is getting close to the .200 level. That's unacceptable. Sheffield has the support of Tigers fans now, but they won't stick with him for long considering his huge contract and his lack of performance so far. We're giving him the benefit of the doubt because his history tells us he's one of the best batters in baseball, but, so far, we haven't seen it in Detroit. Inge, Monroe, and Casey are also really struggling, and no matter how well Casey plays at first base, if he can't turn his performance around at the plate, the Tigers should consider calling up Chris Shelton, who is playing very well at AAA Toledo. Maybe manager Jim Leyland should consider changing his lineup a bit, moving Sheffield down in the order, moving Pudge to 3rd or Guillen to 3rd. Something just to shake things up, because right now, nothing is working.

Bullpen: Todd Jones blew his first save of the season Wednesday, Joel Zumaya gave up a lead today, and Fernando Rodney has been horrendous all season, and already has four losses, which most relievers have as a season total. They have to sit Rodney down for a while. Aquilino Lopez, called up from AAA Toledo to replace the injured Jose Mesa, pitched really well in his Tigers debut on Friday night. Maybe he should take Rodney's spot late in games, at least for a week or so, just so Rodney can take a step back and try to get back into what he's capable of. He has nasty stuff, he just hasn't shown it this season for whatever reason. And until he does, the Tigers are going to be relying heavily on Todd Jones and Joel Zumaya, and those two guys can't carry an entire bullpen.

You may have noticed I haven't written much about the Pistons-Magic game. Well, that's because it was business as usual for the Pistons, who led throughout and won Game One. Not nearly as much controversy there as there is the Wings and Tigers. Or as much to complain about. I will say this though, the Pistons need to be careful. Even though they led most of the game, Orlando never went away, and they almost made a run at the game late. The Pistons can't relax, and can't sit back at all. If Dwight Howard makes a few more free throws, the Magic have a few less unforced errors, and it may have been a different game. It got way too close at the end. The Pistons should continue to win games handily in this series, but as the Magic showed today, they are a team that can, at the very least, put a scare into Motown.

And that concludes what was the busiest day in sports until next weekend, when hopefully the Wings and Pistons continue their playoff runs, the Tigers battle the Minnesota Twins, and the NFL Draft commences. Great time a year to be a sports fan. Not the greatest time of year to be taking law school exams. But, it's all about balancing your time right?

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