Archive for April, 2010

Game 1: Wings 3, Sharks 4

First Round Effort: As I suggested last night, the Wings’ played a game last night that probably would have been good enough to beat Phoenix. George put it better in his reaction post (well worth reading in its entirety):

… it appeared that the Red Wings thought that they were playing the Phoenix Coyotes for the game’s first twenty-five minutes, and instead, a San Jose Sharks team that’s more than just a cut above the Coyotes pounced all over the Wings as they belatedly adjusted to playing a bigger, stronger, faster, and more offensively talented team.

Bad Breaks: I think the Wings’ effort, early and later adjusted, may have been enough to beat the Sharks in a game where there were no bad breaks. But this wasn’t one of those games. As it was, they needed an even better effort to pull this one off. But since they didn’t, two plays (bad breaks, if you will) in particular stand out. You know what they are:

  1. Devin Setoguchi and Johan Franzen pass by each other at center. Franzen’s stick lightly taps Setoguchi’s leg. Setoguchi is evidently simultaneously sniped by hockey’s Loki. His stick clips Franzen’s face, cuts him. The ref calls Franzen for tripping and ignores the bleeding.
  2. Less than a minute later, Filppula’s stick catches Setoguchi in the shoulder/chest at best. Setoguchi, the unlucky sap, is once again simultaneously sniped by Loki. Or at least, his leg function is removed by the wily hockey god. He lays there stunned. Fortunately for him, Loki set the whistle as the signal for the return of his mobility for as soon as it blows, Setoguchi’s on his feet feeling pretty good about himself.

Now, obviously, the actual cause of those incidents is Setoguchi’s gutlessness and referee gullibility and self-hatred, not a retasked Norse god. And because I hate associating calls with losses, I wouldn’t mention them were it not for a couple things:

  1. If the refs wanted to call the trip on Franzen, fine. But send Setoguchi off for four minutes. Give the Wings their two minute power play (correct me if I’m wrong; I think that’s how it’d’ve wored).
  2. Setoguchi, who shouldn’t have been on the ice, then drew another penalty with his Oscar-worthy acting. Both penalties carried over to the third. And Joe Pavelski scored the deal-sealer on that 5-on-3. A 5-on-3 that never should have happened.

Call it whining if you want, but if you believe that, you know, it’s important that refs get things right, that sequence was a travesty. And no, that sequence was not the one and only reason the Wings lost, but it would be ludicrous to pretend it wasn’t a big factor. One I would have liked to have seen the Wings overcome, sure, but a factor nonetheless.

Datsyuk: Best Red Wing of the night. The guy looked on and like he wanted to win it all on his own. He did great thing offensively and great things defensively to round out a strong night and, I hope, set the tone for his second round performance. On a lot of nights, that could have been enough.

Franzen: Finally, the Mule we know and love made an appearance. That goal was vintage Franzen. And he had a few other chances that were, too. Here’s hoping that, combined with somebody making him bleed his own blood (h/t @stephtronic via @jennyquarx), sparks him for a big second round.

Fourth Line: Strangely enough, I thought this was the Wings’ best of the night, at least early on and in terms of shift-by-shift impact. Abdelkader and Company pinned the Sharks a number of times and really made themselves a nuisance. If they can contribute a goal like that every night, it’ll be a big factor in the Wings’ efforts to out-depth the Sharks.

Howard: Not his strongest night through four goals allowed. But he came up big aside from that on shifts when the Sharks had the ice tilted in their favor. We need Jimmy to tighten down his 5-hole, but if he does that, they’re in good shape against this team.

Nabokov: I gotta say, he looked shaky and perhaps the Wing’s biggest failure last night was that they failed to take advantage of that by creating followup chances. Nabokov often makes the first save, but how many times did he do that in a way that had him majorly out of position? Often enough that the Wings have to be kicking themselves a bit today. They need to create followup chances in Game 2 and beyond.

Thornton: Looked less like an inanimate corpse out there and at least more like one of those old-school slow-moving zombies that are still dangerous but only if you’re not careful. He assisted on the Heatley goal, but honestly the moment that stands out in my mind was his snowjob on Howard at the end of the first. I just wish the Wings’d fed off that for the remainder of the game, as it was one of the more classless moves of the night.

Cleary: Very fortunate he apparently doesn’t have a major head injury on a fluke play at center. The collision with Abdelkader was scary enough without the knee to the head by Blake (who made contact accidently. Not blaming him here.). When Cleary made it back to the bench, he didn’t look like a player with a head injury, so it makes me think he might have just torqued his neck.

Official interference: I don’t know about you, but I saw a Shark step off the bench, get tied up with an official and manage to trip a Wing flying down the wing on a rush at one point in the third. Seemed to me to be too many men, but I’m not an expert.

Pavelski: I said this last night, but it bears repeating: the Wings need to shut down that guy. Two goals is bad enough without all the space he was given. I don’t know what happened with the assignments, but they need to get Zetterberg and Lidstrom out there when he’s out, STAT. Let Datsyuk and Kronwall/Stuart take care of the top line.

Lines: Speaking of lines, Babs did some mixing at the end. I wonder if he’ll stick to it.

Setoguchi: Be aware, Wings, sneezing on, or in the general direction of, Devin Setoguchi will result in a penalty. Also, if you find his guts, burn them. He prefers to remain gutless.

In Summary: So, the Wings put on a good effort overall. They just need to ramp things up even further. This is the first loss of the playoffs I’m not going to freak out about. They didn’t come out flat like in Game 1, Round 1 and so we know that’s not the issue. What we saw last night was probably as much a product of the short break as anything. They still managed a stiff fight, but couldn’t kick in that extra umph needed to beat both the officials beating them and the Sharks’ restedness. That shouldn’t be an issue Sunday.

They can split.

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

Okay, taking advantage of the loss to utilize that wholly unoriginal headline. Haha, right? Sorry.

So. That’s how it’s going to be, eh? Now you know, Wings. Your Game 1 effort was good and would have beaten the Coyotes handedly. But the Sharks are good enough and got enough their way that a little harder push is needed. And if the refs are going to display such a lack of self respect that they fall for Setoguchi and Company’s antics in Game 2? You’re going to need to work that much harder to overcome that extra obstacle.

From this point on, the shutdown mentality needs to reign. For all the strength of the Wings’ offensive game, their defensive game was lacking. Specifically, the portion of their game involving Joe Pavelski. They need to quiet that guy.

There’s still a lot of series ahead of us. This is a sucky way to open the series, but I’m not concerned yet.

Game 1: @ San Jose

Due to the fast turnaround between series and lack of time, this is a combo post. My usual “keys to the game” will double as “keys to the series.” Which means they’ll be even more general than usual…

Sorry, Vancouver/Chicago, but this is the big series this round. You’ve got a Sharks team that for like the 10th year in a row will be trying to shake organizational demons, and a Red Wings team that salvaged a weak regular season to face an epic first round battle with a storybook team for a technical upset. I’m not sure a relatively boring Canucks squad can push their series with the more interesting Blackhawks over the top of those two storylines.

The Sharks come into this series having survived a scare put on them by the Avalanche, who forced six games out of the #2 seeded team. More specifically, it was Craig Anderson who did the forcing, but the point is, the Sharks momentarily had their playoff lives flash before their eyes once again, before they managed to close things out on Saturday. They’ve been idle since. Whether that’s a plus for them from a rest perspective or a minus from a groove-lost perspective remains to be seen, obviously (here’s hoping it’s the latter).

Keys to the game/series for the Sharks:

Joe Pavelski: Yes, a Shark that doesn’t choke in the playoffs. Incredible, eh? Five goals and eight points in six games isn’t history-making, but it surprisingly good for a Shark this late in April. If he can keep that up in the second round, they’ll be in reasonable shape.

Joe Thornton: The other Joe. It’s so easy to frag the guy for his playoff performances in the past, but one of these days, he might just turn it on and shut everyone up. It’d be handy for the Sharks if this was the series he does it. If Regular Season Joe shows up tonight and throughout the series, the Sharks will be well off.

Evgeni Nabokov: The guy used to be one of the best and I think he’s still got it in him to be up there. But the Wings seem to own him to some degree. He needs to overcome whatever it is that makes him look average when playing Detroit and start playing the way that makes the Sharks justify starting him 70+ games.

The Mercury News notes Jed Ortmeyer, Brad Staubitz and Niclas Wallin are questionable.

And I’ll just type this once for the record: Evgeni Nabokov is starting tonight. And for the rest of the series. A tough call, I know.

The Wings had a scare of their own. Despite being the 5th seed, they went into the series as a favorite and ended up nearly losing the thing when the Coyotes forced Game 7. It may turn out that we’ll look back on that Game 6 loss at home as the best thing that could have happened to the Wings, as they came out Tuesday night and laid such a smackdown on the Coyotes that the usual playoff series loser whining about breaks and calls was limited to a mere whimper, if that. The Wings might be awake now.

That might make having played Tuesday night an advantage for them, however crazy it may seem that there’s already a new series starting. Too much time off might have cost them their focus. And though too little time off could cost them in terms of energy, they might have enough left in the tank to start things off right tonight with the break until Sunday waiting for them.

Keys to the game/series for the Wings:

Eurotwins: They had strong opening rounds, and strong Game 7’s in particular. That has to carry over. Saying “your best players have to be your best players” is a quick way to get laughed at, but it’s true. The Wings need Zetterberg and Datsyuk doing their thing, at both ends of the ice, to be successful in this round against a deep Sharks team. The defensive angle especially may be huge: Z will need to be at his shutdown best.

Johan Franzen: In keeping with a theme of sorts from the Sharks’ #2 point, it’s time for the Mule to show up. I wouldn’t call his first round terrible, as he had some points and had some good looks, but he definitely held a gear or two in reserve. If that’s because of his knee, here’s hoping he hits his stride this round. The Wings will need more than just the Eurotwins to be on this round.

Jimmy Howard: Okay, this may look like a cop out, but I’m going to stick with the theme here, too. Jimmy had some rough patches against a Coyotes team that is notably less talented than the Sharks. Great work ethic, great as a unit, but less talented and thus less dangerous to a goalie. Yet those rough patches still happened. But so did some great patches. The Coyotes presented a strong intro level course in playoff hockey to young Jimmy. It’s time for the 200-level (or better) course. It may sound funny attributing that to the Sharks of all teams, but seriously: their talent will be a stiff test for Howard’s abilities. The Wings need him to pass it.

No lineup changes for the Wings.

The Sharks have lost four straight playoff home openers. The Wings need to make it five. And they need to do it with the same work ethic and poise that they showed in Game 7, Round 1. They played some of their best regular season games against the Sharks, and while those don’t count for anything now, it speaks to a trend they need to keep up here. They know what to expect from the Sharks and they know what it takes to beat them.

Put it together starting tonight, guys.

Ovadia: Be Like the Wings

Making Ovechkin a net-front player or finding someone else who can do that for the Caps would be smart. But Ovadia misses what from the Wings’ game would really help the Caps: a commitment to team defense.

They may not quite fill the stereotype that they don’t care about D at all, but there’s no denying that it’s a part of their game that’s neglected. The point of the game might be to outscore the opponent, as Caps fans put it to me recently, but hand-in-hand with that is preventing the opponent from scoring. Follow in the Wings’ footsteps and leverage crazy offensive talent together with hardcore commitment to defense and the Caps could be a true force.

The Caps’ issues in the Habs series went beyond defense, but the cliche that defense wins championships is, you know, actually true.

Dreger’s Got Big Red Wing News

Update (29. Apr, 8:25AM): George’s post here has more clarification on the specifics of 1) and 2). That is, slightly different takes than Dreger’s. - Matt

Two ways: 1) the Wings are letting the Lightning talk to Yzerman about their open GM position, and 2) Holland’s getting a contract extension.

That’s the first I’ve heard of 2) so it’s news to me. And big news, too. If you take Holland’s comments about leaving when Lidstrom leaves at face value, it might mean something for the negotiations with Nick (though probably not: Kenny’s mostly kidding, it seems).

But 1)’s the hot news that’ll the attention out of town. I guess it’s a big change in the status quo, for sure, but I’m still not convinced Yzerman’s going to bolt. I wonder how much of the Wings’ granting permission to the Lightning comes out of confidence he’s not going to leave.

However realistic outsiders may feel the chances of his being seduced are, I know for myself I’ll never really believe Yzerman’s leaving until I see him in a press conference with another team.

Followup

I got into a short debate with @jordanellel of Five for Howling on Twitter about the Yandle/Zetterberg play earlier tonight. Jordan then ended up sending me this email:

Matt,

This is just much easier than on Twitter.  I’m not disagreeing that Yandle made a stupid play and took out Zetterberg’s legs.  The more I watch it, the more I tend to agree that it was definitely intentional, although I don’t think he meant to actually trip him, just give him a nice whack across the shins.  It was dangerous, reckless, and he should know better.  But he is a 23 year old kid, playing in his first ever playoff series against a team that has been making runs at him since game 2.  There is a lot of frustration and anger that I’m sure welled up when that goal got scored by Stuart.  This doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t make it excusable, but it also doesn’t make it “classless”.  If this type of play had continued through the third period, or we saw similar incidents after the other Red Wings goals, I’d 100% agree with that designation.  But that was the dagger and I think it just exploded out of him.  Given the opportunity, I’d guess that Yandle wishes he hadn’t done it, based on my experiences with him…he’s just not that guy.  Jovo, maybe…that’s the only reason I don’t want to see this get blown out of proportion.  Yandle doesn’t deserve to have this be the thing that people think about when they hear his name.  He’s a great talent as an offensive defenseman and he’s going to be manning the blueline for Team USA, I would hope, at future Olympics.  I think that’s my major problem with the situation.

But I understand your take as well…and if Yandle gets suspended, I’ll understand that too I suppose. Anyways, congratulations on a great series, best of luck against the Sharks and we’ll see you next season…

-Jordan

My response:

Jordan,

Thanks for the email and for the longer version of your take on the play. You make a good case and I now regret my own recklessness in describing Yandle as classless in my game review. I still might call the play itself classless, as in a vacuum and if only as a momentary lapse in class rather than a real insight into Yandle’s character, but even that’s painting it with a wide brush. I’m as guilty as anyone in falling for the ease of utilizing “classless” as a cheap descriptor for an opposition that does things I don’t like. I was particularly sensitive to the Yandle play because of my specific bias for Zetterberg and horror of the chance of him getting hurt. There is probably a fine line between classlessness and recklessness (see the debatability of Ovechkin’s actions), but if half of what you say about Yandle is true, that doesn’t apply here. Fortunately for Yandle, I don’t think the League is too concerned about the play. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your point of view, but it’s probably a moot point.

Everything gets blown out of proportion in the bright lights of the playoffs. But that’s mostly from the perspective of the fans. Wings fans may remember Yandle that way for a while, but it’s doubtful his real reputation will suffer much.

With a few exceptions (really developed a dislike of Doan for his wrecking ball imitation, particularly his Game 1 hits–though at the same time, I came to really respect his passion; and Jovanovski), I came away with a really good impression of the Coyotes. They reminded me a lot of the ’06 Oilers in being a team that would have won me over had they not played the Wings. For what it’s worth, I might have been rooting for them in the next rounds, like I pulled for that Oiler team. What they did this season was incredible. For all the arguments against hockey in the desert, people forget people like you and the other fans there who would be robbed if the pro-move crowd got their way. That should weigh heavier in the scale on the “stay” side than people give it credit for. A sucky situation all around and like I respect the Coyotes for their efforts this season, I respect you and the other hardcore Coyote faithful.

Would you mind if I posted your email to my blog as a followup on the Yandle thing?

Matt

Jordan’s response:

Matt,

Feel free to post the email to the blog…and you can direct everyone that wants to rant at me to my email or to www.fiveforhowling.com

Certainly everything gets blown way out of proportion in the playoffs, but you do come away with respect for the opposition.  Not that I didn’t respect the Red Wings coming in, but it gets lost sometimes how good that team plays when it is clicking like last night.  It was disheartening to watch the Coyotes get outplayed that badly last night.

Regarding your feelings for Jovo, I can’t say that I wholly disagree, although he generally is dishing out what he is getting, and between Bertuzzi, Franzen, Holmstrom and Abdelkader, he received plenty throughout the series.  I don’t really understand everyone’s frustrations with Doan and his wrecking ball play…rarely were the hits late, and none of the hits (in my eye) were dirty.  And in the one instance where he could’ve been marginally dirty, he chose to leap over Howard and ended up taking himself out of the series.  Not that we wanted him to hit Howard, but in that situation, it certainly wouldn’t have been intentional and I would prefer he not injure himself in the future.

Hope you have an enjoyable run this year; can’t say I will be actively cheering the Wings, but I won’t wish them harm either…and if you do play the Pens again in the finals, beat the shit out of them for me….

The debate on Doan could go on forever, so I’m going to try not to get into that with Jordan. Just thought the discussion Yandle was interesting. It definitely caused me to soften my stance. Classy discussion of the situation rather than an attack.

And to your last comment, Jordan, count on it.