Tonight the Wings get a chance to wipe the slate clean on a season that was in many ways underwhelming. You can point to the home winning streak and the couple medium-length straight up win streaks and I can point to a team that hasn’t done it for me defensively most of the season.
To a team that has the offensive firepower to handle most anybody in a pinch and relies on that fact too much.
To a team that has one of the underrated goalies in the game and takes him for granted by their actions in front of him.
To a team that has had unaddressed systemic special teams issues all season.
I could go on. This isn’t your typical playoff day intro. I know that. I’ll counter all of the above with this: the Wings have everything it it takes to go the distance. The talent and experience are there. I don’t doubt that at all.
What has me kicking off post-season coverage this way is a nagging doubt that they can flip the switch on those aforementioned issues and bring it all together against an opponent as dangerous as the Predators. They flipped the switch in 2009, but that was against Columbus. Nashville is the real deal. Columbus was not.
To carry the switch metaphor forward, they’ve got a series of movie-style nuclear launch-type switches behind locked panels this year. They’ve got the keys. It’s just a matter of which key goes with which switch and can they do it before Nashville gets their missiles in the air.
We get a sense of whether or not that’s possible tonight, though there are at least three more nuke tradeoffs ahead. It’s going to be a tough series regardless.
Anyway, about tonight.
The Predators are geared for a run. With the return of Radulov to the lineup, the natural progression of their defensive maturity, the rock they have in net, they’re better set up for playoff success than they’ve ever been. The upside to that is the expectations and pressure have never been higher. An experienced team pantsing them at home in Game 1 might derail the effort. Be that team, Wings.
They may be without Hal Gill tonight, as noted yesterday. The team reiterated that he’s a game-time decision. All kidding about Gill’s brand of defense aside, that’d would be a significant development. A guy of his size could make things unpleasant for the Wings’ smaller forwards.
On the Wings’ side, we’ve got the potential return of Darren Helm to look forward to. Counter-balancing that is the presence of a largely ineffective Dan Cleary in the lineup. On the plus side, Abdelkader looks like the odd-man out on the third line, which should mean Emmerton gets to sit.
And that means more Gustav Nyquist. Though he’s banished to the fourth line.
Keys to the game for the Wings include:
- Attention to defensive detail: The thing that has been lacking all year as the Wings seem to be a little too reliant on Jimmy Howard now that he’s proven himself capable of being a full-time crutch. That’s not a sustainable policy. Cut it off tonight.
- Power play: Duh. Be less predictable. Somehow.
- Early synergy: It’ll help if from the onset, the guys are all in sync. Too many outlet passes and zone carry-ins have been made on different pages in recent weeks. Nashville will eat that up. If everybody’s on the same page, though, not many do it better.
Are you ready?