There’s an old saying, maybe the oldest, in sports writing: No cheering in the press box.
OK, maybe it’s not quite as old as editors screaming, “When are you gonna file that stupid thing?” Or writers asking, “Where’s the food?”
But it’s old, nonetheless. There’s even a great classic book by Jerome Holtzman that borrows its title from the saying and should be required reading for every sportswriter and any fan of the profession. The premise of the saying is that sportswriters should never have a rooting interest because they must remain dispassionately objective.
But I’m going to break this rule just a little today. And since I’m not actually sitting in a press box, I think Grantland Rice, Red Smith and Jim Murray, sitting in that big press box in the sky, might be willing to turn a blind eye this one time.
Today I offer a hearty cheer for the Detroit Red Wings, because they deserve that and more. Their five-game winning streak – their longest since the 2018-19 season – came to an end Tuesday night with a 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators.
I’m sure it was a disappointment to the 15,539 fans at Little Caesars Arena who have seen the Wings do practically nothing but win lately and especially at home, where their 9-3-2 home record was still the NHL’s fifth-best after the loss.
But the Wings deserve a lot more than a mild cheer from a writer they can’t hear. They deserve a standing ovation from their fans, who have witnessed a renaissance this season. The Wings are 13-10-3 and currently hold the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card playoff spot nearly one-third of the way through the season.
Think about that for a moment. Consider where this team is and what it’s doing. A lot of people wanted coach Jeff Blashill fired after last season. A lot of people’s patience was wearing thin with Steve Yzerman’s rebuild as they kept waited for promising prospects to pay off. And a lot of people were wondering if the Wings were ever going to learn how to score.
And what are we talking about now? Disappointment about one of the NHL’s longest winning streaks this season coming to an end against a playoff team last season? Whether Lucas Raymond, the rookie points leader, will win the Calder Trophy? How Little Caesars Arena is starting to feel like the hockey hotbed that Joe Louis Arena used to be?
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If you haven’t been to a Wings game, you’re missing out. It feels like Wings games used to feel like at the Joe, a palpable pregame buzz because of the excitement that comes with the expectation of victory. Blashill has credited the energized crowd for helping spur the team to victory at home.
Raymond isn’t Pavel Datsyuk and rookie defenseman Moritz Seider isn’t Nicklas Lidstrom. But they’re finding their way and learning to win and it’s very tantalizing to think they could be at the start of a path that puts them on a trajectory toward similar success.
And here’s the best part. They’re a little cocky and they don’t mind showing it. They launched their winning streak after a four-game losing streak because, as Seider explained, they simply “decided to be great.”
Seider is 20. Raymond is 19. Ah, to be that age again and full of so much confidence.
“We have a young group and there’s positive and negatives to that,” Blashill said Wednesday. “One of the positives is some of the young players have self-belief, and when you have self-belief you don’t let a loss bother you as much and you move on to the next one.”
Blashill didn’t touch on the negatives, but if the Wings’ young players are like most young athletes, they might struggle to learn from their mistakes. They’ll get their chance to learn soon enough when they play road games on consecutive nights at St. Louis and Colorado, two good teams that also made the playoffs last season.
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The Blues and Avalanche are veteran teams and they could try to play on one of the Wings’ weaknesses that Nashville exposed. The Preds used an aggressive and suffocating forecheck that pushed the Wings around held them to a miniscule 16 shots.
The Wings were never really in the game. Their defense and penalty kill struggled again, but mostly it was a lack of intensity from the start that did them in — something that the Wings had not struggled with during their winning streak.
“And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that,” Blashill said after the loss. “I didn’t think we did to start this game and you’re going to lose physical battles if you’re not ready to compete hard.
“They’ve got a big, strong team and so the learning lesson in that sense is quick puck movement, quick plays with the puck and shooting off the pass, not over-handling it, ready to shoot pucks right away. If not, you get into a grind game and they’re bigger than us.”
I don’t know if the young Wings are built to be much of a physical team. That may have to wait. A better defense is also probably on Yzerman’s to-do list. And while all the winning has been impressive, the Wings haven’t been devastated by injuries yet still have had to claw out too many narrow victories. They’ll likely have to do more of the same on their brief trip against two teams that are hot at home.
“I’ve been asked about measuring sticks at different times,” Blashill said Wednesday. “I think every time you go out there there’s a measuring stick and (Thursday) night against St. Louis on the road will be a good measuring stick and it will be a good measuring stick the next night against Colorado. They’re games for us to look in the mirror and say, ‘Where’s our progress been?’ ”
That’s easy, coach. Just look around. It’s right there in the stands at LCA, even in the nosebleeds. It’s also in the standings. And if you search carefully enough, high above the ice, there might be a sportswriter furtively cheering the efforts of a team that’s earned the applause.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.