The Detroit Red Wings are in fourth place in their division and could use some fight.
Well, at least some scoring fight.
The Red Wings have had a few memorable fights already this season, with two coming in one game last week against Calgary, resulting in a 10-game suspension for Luke Witkowski.
No, Witkowski did not go “Dr. Hook McCracken” on anyone, he simply left the bench to fight and that is an automatic 10-game suspension by the NHL. Of course, Witkowski had barely stepped onto the bench after his first fight of the night, but as he walked toward the Wings’ tunnel, Calgary forward Matthew Tkahcuk speared Witkowski in the back of his legs, and Witkowski responded by turning around and going back onto the ice. The rule is made to keep fights from escalating to brawls, as this one did.
But how can a hockey player two steps onto the bench that is getting jawed at and speared with a stick not come back out? The answer is, he can’t.
Witkowski clobbered Tkahcuk after already winning the other fight minutes earlier. Maybe that is what the Red Wings need.
Last year, there was seemingly a lack of punch and it was the first non-playoff team in a quarter century. Justin Abdelkader scraps sometimes, and so do some of the other guys, but they need a physical presence like Witkowski. The greatest Red Wings teams have had plenty of muscle – and they are still the fan favorites.
At the final game at The Joe, Darren McCarty got some of the loudest cheers. He has a special place in Red Wings’ lore. No one will ever forget the brawls he and the Red Wings had against Claude Lemieux and the Colorado Avalanche. We might not ever see any prolonged beef like that ever again in hockey. That bad blood spanned years and included countless brawls.
The Red Wings have balanced their skilled players with protection for decades. Of course, Gordie Howe did a lot of his own dirty work. In the more recent years, Bob Probert, Joe Kocur, and Martin LaPointe were enforcers. How about Vladimir Konstantinov? The most recent Red Wings dynasty was loaded with muscle.
Witkowski is clearly providing that. He grew up in Holland, Michigan, watching that latest Red Wings dynasty. Now, it’s his turn to be the scrapper.
When interviewed after the game, he called his play “Old-time hockey.” Maybe he watched Slapshot the night before and was listening to the Hanson brothers say that very thing. Whatever the reason, the Red Wings could use some old-time hockey.
They have a lot of young talent, led by Dylan Larkin. With one or two physical pieces around that young talent, the Red Wings could be in the early stages of building the next championship team.
Will the Wings return to the playoffs after their first miss in a quarter century? I wouldn’t bet against it. Especially since Witkowski has sported a playoff beard since day one of training camp. He is ready, confident and scrappy. If the rest of the Wings can get there, it will be a fun season.