November 14, 2016
Lions, Red Wings toy
with our expectations
By KEITH GAVE
You remember the not-so-old joke about the Lions, ever since the National Football Team started giving teams a week’s vacation in the middle of the season. All the games would be over and we’d say, hey, at least the Lions didn’t lose. But only because they had a bye week.
Cue the laugh track.
What do we say today? After one of the most exciting games in a generation, that overtime win at Minnesota, the Lions might have had one of the most successful bye weeks ever. When they returned to work Monday after a week off, they found themselves at the top of the NFC North standings.
That was by virtue of their three divisional opponents all losing Sunday. The woeful Chicago Bears fell to 2-7 after a 36-10 defeat at Tampa Bay; Green Bay traveled to Tennessee and got beat up, 47-25, falling to 4-5; and Minnesota lost its fourth straight at Washington, 26-20.
Both Detroit and the Vikings stand at 5-4 heading into Week 11 of the season. But the Lions hold the tiebreaker because that thrilling, come-from-behind win in Minnesota, when a couple of Matts, quarterback Stafford and kicker Prater, rescued them from what appeared to be certain defeat. So the Lions have a half-game lead as they resume the second half of their schedule.
Which looks pretty favorable, by the way. The Lions play three of their next four games at home, starting with 2-7 Jacksonville on Sunday. The other home games in that stretch are against the struggling Vikings the following week and bad news Bears. The only road game in the next month is at 4-5 New Orleans.
If the Lions can only. . .
Cue the laugh track.
We all know how this ends, don’t we? And it’s not a joke. Just about the time good things like this happen and we start thinking of the possibilities of playoff football in Detroit, the wheels fall off and the bandwagon collapses under the weight of more than a half-century of false hopes and shattered dreams.
My point? Let’s just be realistic as we squeeze as much enjoyment out of this season as we can. And watching Stafford and Co. refuse to cash in their chips until they find a way
to win has been joyful indeed. The flip side of that is the Lions easily could have lost most of those games, in which case they would be arm-wrestling Chicago for last place.
This NFL season has been a lot of fun, so far. Let’s not ruin it setting ourselves up for another disappointment by expecting too much.
Speaking of expecting too much
It’s early, sure, just 16 games into the NHL season, but we’ve seen enough from the Detroit Red Wings to know their 25-year tradition of advancing to the Stanley Cup playoffs will come to an end next spring.
If you saw that 5-0 debacle Saturday night, when the Wings embarrassed themselves on Hockey Night in Canada at Montreal, you need no convincing.
With 17 points (8-7-1), they rank 16th overall among the league’s 30 teams, but their statistics suggest they belong much further down. They rank near the bottom of the league in nearly every major category. Their offense managed a paltry 2.55 goals per game last season. This season, the Wings are worse, 2.44, 22nd in the NHL. Both specialty teams are in the bottom 10.
Their only saving grace to date has been the goaltending, specifically with Jimmy Howard in net. Without him robbing opponents in three of his starts, the Wings probably have six fewer points. Without Howard, they would be fighting Arizona (10 points) and Calgary (11) for the bottom of the overall standings – and the race for being the favorite to get the first overall draft pick in next summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
In his fourth straight start Saturday, Howard was the victim of the absolutely ineptitude of his teammates. They couldn’t manage to get the puck out of their own zone consistently, let alone take it all the way down to the other end and score goals. Hell, they couldn’t get out of their own way most of the night.
Despite giving up all five goals, Howard remains among the league leaders with a 1.80 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage, both ranking fourth in the league. Nevertheless, he’s likely to get a night off Tuesday when Tampa Bay – the closest the Wings have to an actual rivalry these days. The Lightning ended Detroit’s season the past two years in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
What the Detroit Red Wings wouldn’t give right now to make it three in a row this spring.
Kill the laugh track, folks. This isn’t funny.