Thursday, October 06, 2005

New-Look Wings Keep St. Louis Blue

The way I see it, Manny Legace is the most overpaid Red Wing on the team.

At least, if last night’s 5-1, Opening Night victory over the St. Louis Blues (what an appropriate name for that team, by the way) is any indication, Legace should collect his paycheck wearing a mask and toting a gun.

Manny talked about being nervous leading up to his first Opening Night start. He seemed to speak almost longingly of the years when he could relax and enjoy the pregame festivities, instead of having butterflies on the ice, between the pipes. But we still don’t know how Legace handled his first Opening Night as a starter, because he didn’t do anything -- because he had nothing to do.

The Wings could have talked Jimmy Rutherford into suiting up once more, for all the action Legace saw for 60 minutes against the Very Blues. Mostly, the game went like this: Red Wings control the puck for several minutes, pepper the St. Louis net, score a goal here and there, the puck occasionally gets tipped into the Detroit zone, and Manny plays it to a defenseman.

Yes, you too can be an NHL goalie!

Of course, it wasn’t Legace’s fault that he saw about as much action as a pimply-faced Chess Club member at a singles dance. The Red Wings came out jumping, they pressured the Blues, and gave them barely a cube of ice with which to work. If this were a heavyweight bout, it would have been called midway through the second period, because the Blues played as if they were on the final leg of a grueling west coast trip.

Also good to see were contributions from new Wings like Brett Lebda and Mikael Samuelsson, who each scored a goal. And this kid Daniel Cleary is like a Kris Draper Mini-Me for the way he bounces around the ice like a pinball. But it was the veteran Brendan Shanahan who reminded the youngsters what NHL justice is like, when he took the Blues’ Keith Tkachuk to task for cheap-shotting Pavel Datsyuk as the whistle blew. It’s always nice to see teammates cover for their own, especially the small scoring machines.

Not every game this season will be as easy for Legace, or Chris Osgood, or Jimmy Howard, as last night’s systematic destruction of the Blues. Heaven forbid. But for as much criticism as the Red Wings rightfully took after melting against the Flames in the 2004 playoffs, it was heartening to see a roster infused with youth and speed and hustle blending in with the scorers and graybeard veterans and playing such a precise, aggressive match. And for one game, new coach Mike Babcock is a genius, of course.

But if this continues, Manny Legace might need occasional oiling to repel the rust.

Meet me in St. Louis.

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