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On the captaincy and handling rough losses in public
Rebuilds can suck, that's why certain players face the music.
The Detroit Red Wings epically collapsed Thursday night.
Detroit led 2-1 in the second period, was tied 2-2 going into the third, and was playing well in the first five minutes of the final stanza. Then Detroit allowed six goals in the final 15 minutes to lose 8-2 to the New York Rangers.
I’ve covered bad losses before, many in fact, and typically the post-game meeting with the media is about as dour as the performance that preceded it on the ice.
But after the loss on Thursday, Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde and captain Dylan Larkin weren’t mopey or moody with the media. There was disappointment with a good game getting away from them, sure, but the tone and body language sent a positive message if you are paying attention.
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The Red Wings are still building, it’s a young team that talent-wise, knows it’s not in the NHL’s upper-echelon, Lalonde even admits that himself frequently without prompting in press conferences.
There will be days like this, it’s going to happen, but how the team reacts will be vital to the potential long-term payoff.
And so much of that comes down on Larkin, who is going to take the brunt of the blame and responsibility throughout this process. Lalonde is a new coach, fans and the organization have accepted it’s a multi-step process for him and the long-term messaging from the coach, and GM Steve Yzerman, is easier to digest in the public sphere.
When fans need someone to blame, someone to holler at — and fan is short for fanatical — Larkin becomes the target. Wearing the “C” on your chest is both an honor and a target, one that some handle better than others when it comes to expectations.
And when Larkin stands in front of media members for close to seven minutes after an 8-2 loss, answering insightfully and honestly, he’s both protecting his locker room and setting an example.
Jonatan Berggren made his NHL debut on Thursday in that loss, actually played well and had an assist before the wheels fell off. He could have been the one pulled in front of the media, and likely would have in a win. Moritz Seider had an awful night, he could have been put to task with questions, maybe he should have.
But instead of players in their early 20s taking heat, being forced to answer for a team collapse, Larkin is the one that publicly faces the music. He’s handling the role that Henrik Zetterberg handled for him, giving protection as the sacrificial media lamb while younger players learn and adapt to wins and losses behind closed doors.
As a media member it can be frustrating at times, same goes for fans, we want to see the process as it happens, we want to tell and hear better stories from the collective group. But from a human side, and we all are humans, it starts to make sense.
The rebuild process, in hockey and in life, can suck. There are moments that will bring you down and being forced to live in those moments publicly, can take away from the larger picture, blurring out both the positives and the long-term vision.
So a rebuild, like the one in Detroit, has needed someone like Larkin to put on that shield for himself and others. He’s starting to see some of the rewards this season, Detroit is better and could be in a playoff conversation at the end of the campaign, but the Red Wings road map is still set for the long-term course.
There will still be major bumps in the road, six-goal collapses like the one against the Rangers, and Larkin will be the one that answers for it, for better or worse. And if his handling of things on Thursday was any indication, which I believe it was, the Red Wings are in decent hands.