Sunday, February 3, 2008

Chris Chelios is Highlander

Another good win last night by the Wings, with the Big Five coming through on the offensive side, and solid goaltending from Osgood. Datsyuk and Zetterberg controlled the game, although I am a little concerned that the Franzen and Filppula lines didn't do much. My biggest impression from the game, though, was the 5-on-3 kill in the second period, the entirety of which was anchored by the Ancient Greek himself, Chris Chelios. Lidstrom and Lilja, two critical pieces of the Wings PK, were in the box, so the task fell to Chelios and Rafalski. According to the NHL's TOI stats for the Boston game, Chelios had a shift of 2 minutes 52 seconds, and 2:39 of that was consecutive with no whistles. Chelios helped kill all 1:47 of the 5-on-3, in which the Wings gave up only one shot, 0:13 of 5-on-4 with no shots allowed, and a frantic 0:39 of 5-on-5 in which the Wings were trapped with four D on the ice (the PKers Chelios and Rafalski, and Lidstrom and Lilja out of the box.) And all this on the second of consecutive game nights, which Chelios likely wouldn't have played if Nik Kronwall was healthy.

So what does this say? I don't disagree with Babcock's caution with regard to Chelios. He is older, and at his age injuries are much harder to recover from. For the regular season, the third pair, limited minutes, and mentorship/locker room leader role is perfect for Cheli. But in the playoffs? All that caution is useless if you don't unleash one of the best defenseman ever to play the game, especially after he just showed he is still an elite defender capable of logging big minutes. Chelios stepped up to the #4 spot last season when Kronwall went down, and was the Wings #2 man when Schneider got hurt. He averaged around 25 minutes and anchored the Wings D. I think that, unless the Wings acquire a Top 4 D, Chelios should be Kronwall's partner when the playoffs start, regardless of the injury situation. That leaves a solid Lilja-Lebda pair for the third pair, unless the Wings acquire a #5/6 D.

And the Wings should indeed still go for a D at the deadline. And the better the guy they acquire, the better the team, so if they can get a Top 4 guy, great. If there was one thing Anaheim beat the Wings at soundly in the WCF it was taking care of the crease. The Wings got pushed around up front and the Ducks continually crashed the net. And by replacing Markov and Schneider with Lilja and Rafalski, the Wings only got smaller. So a big man is definitely a priority, and I'd still love to get Blake - he would bring physicality and as a bonus, shore up the 2nd PP unit. But Chelios showed last night that the Wings don't really need a Top 4 guy, because the Wings already have 4 elite defensemen - one of them is just masquerading as a #6.