Posts filed under “GameDay”

Game Day Notes: @ Chicago

Update (6:14 PM): Okay, so this sucks: Helm is out, with a flared up back injury.

On the plus side, Brian Lashoff will stay in the lineup if Ericsson is good to go. Kindl’s time may be running out. I expect Lashoff will be watched closely tonight, though. - Matt

… This will be the first of just four meetings between the Wings and Blackhawks this season. I guess it was more important to get that extra game in against the Blue Jackets than against, you know, an all-time rival.

… The Hawks are off to a fast 5-0-0 start that includes a 3-2 win over the Blue Jackets last night. They last started undefeated after five back in 1971. A win tonight would set a team record.

… They’ve played on consecutive nights once already this season and put up six goals on night #2 on their way to outscoring opponents LA and Phoenix 11-6 on the road.

… Their 10 points leads the league, though San Jose is just two points back with a game in hand.

… Patrick Kane has 9 points already, which is more than he had over any other five-game span last season. That’s an 86 point pace.

… The Wings are just 2-2-0 and sit fourth in the Central. That’s just one point up on Columbus. You have to remind yourself that it’s early to avoid being too depressed about that.

… They played Friday and took out the Wild 5-3 in a bit of an offensive explosion you hope continues tonight against a Chicago team that hasn’t been super tight defensively (except on the PK, which is third at 94%*).

… It’s possible that Jonathan Ericsson will be back in the lineup tonight, which will bring the blueline close to full health. Just Ian White and his lacerated knee would be out in that case, unless you count Kyle “Crap Bag” Quincey as out with an injured hockey sense.

… An Ericsson return would likely mean Brian Lashoff’d be out. The Red Wings Way and all.

… Mikael Samuelsson (forgot about him, didn’t you?) and Jonas Gustavsson are out with groin injuries.

… The Wings showed they have it in them offensively to beat a highly-skilled team despite the defense being weaker than it’s been in forever. They’ll need something like the same kind of offensive output tonight.

*The Bruins and Islanders both are at 100% (!).

Game Day Notes: @ Columbus

… Tonight is the first of five games against the Blue Jackets in this shortened season.

… The Jackets are 1-0-0, having kicked off the season with a 3-2 shootout win in Nashville on Saturday.

… NBC Sports has picked up this game, because they know what a national viewing audience wants.

… It looks like Sergei Bobrovsky will get the start for the Jackets.

… The Jackets will go with the same lineup they used Saturday. Aaron Portzline has the scratches listed here.

… The Wings blew their first game badly, notching a 6-0 loss to their belt.

… They’re already down a few guys to injury and sickness, starting with Todd Bertuzzi and his bout of mono.

… Jonathan Ericsson is a game-time decision with a sore shoulder. He’d be replaced by Brian Lashoff, because apparently even a mostly-recovered Jakub Kindl isn’t preferable to a guy who probably maxed out in the AHL.

… Jan Mursak will be out a few weeks with a shoulder/collarbone injury courtesy of David Backes. Patrick Eaves will take his spot in the lineup and will see his first meaningful ice time since November 2011.

… Darren Helm is out of the lineup as well, with a sore back. Eaves is technically in because of that, too.

… Jonas Gustavsson is out with a sore groin and will be replaced on the bench by Thomas McCollum. Jimmy Howard gets the start.

… Ansar Khan has the lines used in practice here.

… So yeah, obviously, the Wings would do well to win tonight. A shortened season means a smaller margin for error. Here’s hoping the defense makes a 180 and let’s just go ahead and hope that for the offense too.

Game 4: vs. Nashville

Alright, so it’s Game 4. And it’s the most important game of the series so far.

The Preds have a chance to take a 3-1 lead and set up a potential series clinching win in Game 5. That’s their number one consideration tonight and is sure to have them playing their best.

Keys to the game for the Predators:

  • Rinne: He needs to play out of his mind, like he did in the third period Sunday.
  • Power Play: I’m guessing the Wings are going to have trouble staying out of the box again. Just a guess. The Predators need to take advantage.
  • Ping Pong Energy: From the Predators’ perspective, Todd Bertuzzi taking away the ping pong table might have been the best thing for them. Ping pong games can use up a lot of energy, you know. More seriously, the Predators just need to play with energy and be on the puck always.

The USS Hall Gill sailed today but it was just test maneuvers. He won’t play.

The Wings need to avoid going down 3-1 to the Predators, needless to say. As bad as they are on the road, they can’t afford to face an elimination game in Nashville. So, this is a must-win situation for them.

Keys to the game for the Wings:

  • Bertuzzi: Whether or not you believe the full story of the ping pong thing, there’s no doubt Bertuzzi was involved somehow. That’s a sign of irritation that I’m hoping will translate into something on the ice tonight. Make this your game, Todd. And bask in adoring chants of your highly chantable name.
  • Franzen: I thought he was more or less effective Sunday, but he needs to graduate from effective to dominant tonight. You’re due, Johan.
  • Datsyuk: The Wings’ third period was sparked by Pavel waking up. If he’s awake the whole game, it’s hard to see the Wings losing.

It was an optional skate today (which worked last time, if you recall. Sunday doesn’t count. There was no skate.). Babcock hasn’t settled on lines, but the media’s telling us to expect Top Line Cleary and Third Line Bertuzzi.

Apart from the three dudes named above, the Wings as a group need to be at their best from the start. They need this.

Game 2: vs. Nashville

Every successive game in a playoff series becomes the most important game of that series and this is no exception. Friday’s Game 2 had the Wings take control of home ice and tie things up, making this the first battle to hold on to that home ice and the one where they have the opportunity to take control of the series.

For the Predators, they face the challenge of winning a playoff game at Joe Louis Arena for the first time on their seventh try. With the momentum nominally on the Wings’ side, they’re closer to the edge of disaster and need a win to ensure they don’t go down 2-1 to such a strong home team, with the spectre of a 3-1 deficit looming Tuesday.

Keys to the game for the Predators:

  • Go to the Net: They did this a ton Friday night, but weren’t as effective as they could have been. If they’re in the crease constantly, that can only help them.
  • Solve the Power Play: The Wings’ PK has been a major difference in the series, forcing the Predators to leave a lot of golden opportunities on the table. They need to find a way to crack that nut today and take advantage of inevitable Detroit penalties.
  • Rinne: Game 2 wasn’t his best outing. The Predators will have success today if he plays out of his mind.

Looks like there may be lineup changes for the Predators today, but no word on what exactly yet. The author there suggests Jordin Tootoo, which would make sense.

Hal Gill did not skate yesterday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ still out.

I already went over the stakes for the Wings above. They’ve improved as the series has gone on and that rule needs to apply today as well. This has to be their best playoff effort yet this year.

Keys to the game for the Wings:

  • Puck Security: Especially in their own zone. They’ve been too free with the puck and too frazzled by the Predators forecheck. Better exit structure and crisper passing have to be the order of the day. There may be some difficulty with the ice since there was an unfortunate Nickelback concert at the Joe last night, but here’s hoping it’s not as choppy as Nashville’s. Whatever the ice is like, own the puck.
  • Special Teams & Beyond: My guess is the PK can’t kill off every penalty forever (obviously). If the Predators do break through today, it can’t act as a dam breaking. And the power play needs to click.
  • Datsyuk: Calling him out. He’s been close throughout the series, but it’d really help if he breaks through today.

Ian White didn’t skate yesterday, but is supposed to play. He took a shot off his skate in Game 2. Everybody else skated in a standard practice following the win and late flight home. Unless White’s not okay, there should be no lineup changes.

Tim Peel and Steve Kozari are the refs today. No change to the TV crew even though the game is on The Real NBC.

This one should be fun.

Game 2: @ Nashville

Tonight we get a better sense of where this series is headed. Will the Wings duplicate their strong effort of Wednesday night and be rewarded with a win this time around, or will the Predators get both the bounces and the hard work to take a 2-0 lead? Or some other combination? Between the Weber and penalty fest storylines, this should be a typically entertaining playoff game.

The Predators played a good game in the opener, but mainly won due to bounces. They may need a little more than that tonight if they want to keep on the winning side of things. Keys to the game for the Predators:

  • Forecheck: One thing the Wings have not been good with this year is defending against a persistent forecheck. The Predators have the speed to really cause the Wings’ trouble in their own end when attempting to break out. They need to use it tonight.
  • Rinne: I thought he seemed to be slipping ever so slightly late in the game. They need him to be as ridiculously sharp as he was before that, but all night.
  • Weber: The Wings will not go after him, but if he ends up having a standout game, it could throw them off. He’s been given a gift by the League. If he takes full advantage of it, the Predators will be in good shape.

The Wings are getting a break again: Hall Gill is out tonight.

For the Wings, this comes close to a must-win situation. They need a game on the road in Nashville and might as well make it tonight to avoid a two game hole. Keys to the game for them:

  • Puck on Net: The polar opposite of this key would be “Find the Perfect Play.” What they need to do is just put the puck on net and follow it there. Good things happen to those who crash the net with authority. This is how you make your own bounces.
  • Stay Out of the Box: You can rightfully argue that there’s only so much they can do about this one if the refs are going to call the game a certain way. But the best way to stay out of the box even on those whistle-happy nights is to hold on to the puck. Guys without the puck should always be looking to get the puck from the guy who has it. The puck is the thing.
  • Helm: Play like him.

The Wings did not have a mandatory skate today. Which is fine by me. It’s the playoffs and they should be reserving their bodies for the game. If they hadn’t skated yesterday, I’d be a bit more annoyed. But as it is, they did skate yesterday and worked on net front presence stuff, which was the big takeaway from Game 1. Today’s a game preparation day, which during the playoffs can mean conserving energy and resting. If they lose tonight, they’ll skate tomorrow and the loss will not be because they didn’t skate today.

Anyway, in lineup news, Gustav Nyquist is in, but on the third line. Chris Conner, the most comparable player to Helm that’s available, will sit out. That’s what happens when you stack four natural centers on the top two lines (not that I’m complaining about that: those lines work). Emmerton’s sole value at this point is he’s a center.

But as Brian Hedger notes, it is odd that Cleary’s still in given his condition. I didn’t pay close enough attention to him in Game 1 to really rip that move, but he didn’t stand out positively, either. Could swap him for Conner, no?

And finally, the refs are Brad Watson and Mike Leggo. So get ready for that.

Round 1, Game 1: @ Nashville

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?