Game 1: @ San Jose

So we’ve been without Red Wings hockey since the 20th. That’s been both a good thing and a bad thing. Most of the bad is on the fans’ side, I hope. But we finally  get to see the guys back in action tonight, even if it’ll be on DVR in my case.

So, some thoughts on the series:

… The Sharks took six games to dispatch a Kings team playing without Kopitar, while the Wings swept the Coyotes. Even accepting that the Kings were likely a better team than Phoenix, that’s not a comparison in the Sharks’ favor. Had the Wings taken 6 games to eliminate a Doan-less Phoenix, I doubt we’d be seeing as much praise of them as we’re seeing of San Jose.

That it happened last year in seven games is obviously beside the point. This year, the Wings took care of business in four, and the Sharks stumbled into the second round in six. They hardly look like the better team through that lens.

… Another common thread I’ve seen in series previews is the trumpeting of the Sharks’ depth. A quick look at the numbers suggests that the trumpets aren’t sounding on the Sharks’ bench, as Todd McLellan held his fourth line to under 10 minutes each (ranging from 7:12 to 4:32 between four guys). Meanwhile, there wasn’t a single Red Wings skater with TOI under 10:00 in the first round.

That’s a line that extends back into the regular season, as the only guys to average under 10:00 on the Wings were Tatar, Emmerton and Mursak. Meanwhile, the Sharks had 8 and four of them played 30+ games.

The Sharks may indeed be deeper, but McLellan doesn’t play them that way.

… Some commentators say “depth” and others say “scoring depth.” I guess those latter folks need reminders that it was the Wings with 13 goal scorers in the first round to San Jose’s 10.

… I’ve seen some talk about how Nick Lidstrom can’t be on the ice all the time, and I say in return that neither can Dan Boyle, though McClellan sure tries at 27:10 average TOI in Round 1. Even accounting for OT games, that’s a lot. But the other point here is that Lidstrom wasn’t even the most utilized defenseman in the first round for Detroit: Nik Kronwall was. Nick’s sure to get more time in this series, as part of the reason he was held out against Phoenix was for this purpose, but the Wings’ defensive depth goes beyond Nick.

… The goalie comparison is another favorite of the “Sharks in 5-7” crowd. There’s no denying that a Cup winner is always going to look better than a guy who’s never gone the distance, so that alone gives Niemi the technical edge. But the edge can be overstated. After all, this is a guy who posted a 3.99 GAA and a .863 SV% en route to being pulled twice in the first round.

And it’s not like the Kings are some kind of offensive juggernaut. They came in 25th in goals/game in the regular season at 2.55. The Coyotes were up at 14th with 2.76. That’s not a wide margin, but the Kings’ relative scoring power was dropped by the loss of Kopitar, scorer of 25 of their goals.

Anyway, as I seem to recall plenty of “meh” reactions to Niemi’s Cup winning contributions, I’ll take Jimmy Howard’s 4-0 record, 2.50 GAA, and .915 SV% right now.

… None of this is to say that the Sharks are a fluff team, of course. They’re very dangerous and could very well win this series. The Wings are going to need to bring their best game, which is something we saw in flashes of varying lengths against Phoenix. They did mix those flashes with long sleepwalking stretches that cannot happen in this round. Phoenix was too incompetent to do much with those, but San Jose will not let the Wings slide in those cases.

The areas in which a lot of people see advantages, I see advantages for the Wings. But all of those depend on their mental game: can they remain focused from start to finish? Can they keep their heads in their own zone? Can they maintain coverage as required? Can they play positionally so that they’re not taking penalties? Does everything revolve around the puck for them? The answers to these questions have to be yes. The margin for error against a team as talented as San Jose is a lot thinner than it was with Phoenix.

I think the Wings know that and that they’ll be on top of things in this series. I guess the last question is this: how rusty will they be after such a long break? We’ll find out tonight.