Looking at the outcome in hindsight, a strong argument could be made that even if the Detroit Red Wings have been able to ice their entire A-list lineup, they probably still would’ve lost to the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
That being said, the other fact of the matter is that going into the game, there was no reason to anticipate that the Panthers would be playing such a complete, dominant display like the one they were turning in while earning a 5-1 victory. That level of hockey hasn’t been evident in Florida’s DNA through the majority of the 2002-23 NHL regular season.
— WinLoseOrTie (@WinLoseOrTie_) December 9, 2022
All of which makes the following question a fair one to pose – what exactly was Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde thinking while he was filling out his lineup card for Thursday’s game?
Coming off one of the club’s most impressive performances of the season, a 4-2 victory at Tampa Bay over the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Lightning, Lalonde broke one of the cardinal rules of sport. He was opting to alter a winning lineup.
Panthers Contest Was Bigger Game For Red Wings
Entering play Thursday, the Red Wings were even with the Lightning and two points ahead of the Panthers. There was an opportunity for the Wings to put some daylight between themselves and Florida. That’s why of the two remaining games on Detroit’s four-game road trip, winning in Florida should’ve been the objective that they were targeting.
Saturday afternoon, Detroit is in Dallas. The Stars are a Western Conference team. They won’t be fighting with the Wings to get into the postseason. Not only is Florida in the Eastern Conference, the Panthers are in the Atlantic, the same division as the Red Wings. Thursday’s title was the proverbial four-point game.
That’s why No. 1 goalie Ville Husso needed to be between the pipes. And while Olli Maatta’s illness-induced absence wasn’t avoidable, scratching Jake Walman and reintroducing the leaky third defense pairing of Gustav Lindstrom and Robert Hagg was unnecessary.
Without a doubt, the Panthers performed well on Thursday. It’s entirely possible that there was nothing Detorit could’ve done to earn the win. That’s immaterial to this argument, though. Going into the game, this was the one from which the Red Wings most needed to get two points.
If Detroit is serious about being a playoff team, then the Red Wings needed to give themselves the best chance to win on Thursday. And that wasn’t what the team did.