Sunday, August 29, 2010

Season preview - first defense pairing

Today I'll take a look at our first defense pairing for this season, which, as always, will be Nicklas Lidström and Brian Rafalski.

Nicklas Lidström
Last three seasons
07/08 - Red Wings - 76 GP, 10 G, 60 A, 70 Pts, +40, 40 PIM
08/09 - Red Wings - 78 GP, 16 G, 43 A, 59 Pts, +31, 30 PIM
09/10 - Red Wings - 82 GP, 9 G, 40 A, 49 Pts, +22, 24 PIM

Last year
I think Nick got a bad rap last season. Yes, he had a scoring slump, no he didn't have too many points early on, but think about this. He played 82 games, and with a few exceptions he was still the Perfect Human in most of them. He lead a defense coprs that was filled with replacements, bad players, Brett Lebdas and youngsters for much of the season. Leadership and defense naturally became his first priority. He still logged massive amounts of ice time and when he started scoring he actually scored quite a lot. His point total took an upswing late in the season too. Defensively he was arguably NHL's best defenseman, only maybe beaten by Duncan Keith and if you look at his +/- it is higher than the team +/-. While the season wasn't his best, he was still a premier NHL defenseman and would have deserved to finish second, after only Keith, in the Norris voting.

The upcoming season
If I had to choose one defenseman for my team for this season and this season only (or the next 2-3), it would still be Nick. He chose to return which shows commeitment and motivation. With a better, more solid defense corps, Nick will also be allowed to think a little more offense and better offensive depth will also help out his offensive numbers, Defensively he will probably make mistakes now and then, but still so few that we get shocked when he makes one. I have a feeling this will be Nick's season. One where he shows exactly how good he still is.

What we need
This year we won't need Nick to carry the whole defense on his shoulders. I expect to see a fresher and better Rafa and this will also help him out. Hopefully the Wings will be good enough to let Nick rest a few games, but he will yet again be asked to log big minutes for close to 80 games. We need Nick as a point producer too and, while we don't need him to score at the pace he did late last seasonm we expect a higher goal total from him, the same goes for points. And with a better team, it is only fair to expect that his +/- will be even better too.

What we will get
A long summer of rest, a better team and new motivation. All these things make me very optimistic for Nick this season. He is back to take revenge for a season deemed to be his weakest in years, and with a great support cast I expect him to deliver exactly what we need. I expect him to be mentioned highly in the Norris discussion this year, and would not be surprised if he blows everyone away and takes the trophy home.

Prediction
77 GP, 12 G, 53 A, 65 Pts (0,156 G/GP, 0,688 A/GP, 0,844 Pts/GP)


Brian Rafalski
Last three seasons
07/08 - Red Wings - 73 GP, 13 G, 42 A, 55 Pts, +27, 34 PIM
08/09 - Red Wings - 78 GP, 10 G, 49 A, 59 Pts, +17, 20 PIM
09/10 - Red Wings - 78 GP, 8 G, 34 A, 42 Pts, +23, 26 PIM

Last season
It was a weird season for Rafa last year. He struggled with smaller injuries, missing a few games here and there and after a fantastic Olympic tournament he seemed tired for the rest of the season. He also had to play for a weakened defense and log time in shorthanded situations, which he usually avoids. He had a more defensive system around him than usual and this did hamper his offensive production a ittle. He did not have a bad season, but he didn't give us the stuff we expect from him either.

The upcoming season
This season I expect better from Rafa. He is well rested, should be healthy and getting Nick back as his defense partner, possibly for the last time, has to be a kick for him. Hopefully we can see him be more solid defensively and togeher with Nick he should be able to produce more up front.

What we need
We need him to log about the same number of games and amount of ice time as Nick. We need him to be defensively sound, not make Rafa vs. Rick Nash type mistakes, and continue to make our first pairing be one that no star player or top line wants to go up against. Offensively we need his numbers to go up a little and he needs to be a little better on the breakout passes.

What we will get
Rafa is over the top when it comes to full seasons of excellence, but I think he can be better than last year, be consistently good and at times give us fantastic stuff, like he gave Team USA. I expect him to be solid beside Nick and give us a slight upswing in numbers compared to last season.

Prediction
78 GP, 9 G, 42 A, 51 Pts (0,115 G/GP, 0,538 A/GP, 0,654 Pts/GP)

No preview tomorrow as it will be time for a new 25:19

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