The Skinny: Detroit and San Jose have met in the playoffs four times previously, as recently as last season. This is a rubber match of sorts as the two have split the first four down the middle. Last year, San Jose took advantage of a Detroit team that was gassed after two straight seasons of making the playoffs, and seeing almost half its team play in the Olympics and knocked the Wings out in five.
In the regular season, San Jose dispatched Detroit three games to one but the playoffs, Detroit is a different animal and have lots of rest after taking care of Phoenix in four straight games. With that rest, the Wings should have Henrik Zetterberg back in the lineup for game one and some rest for Johan Franzen who was on the receiving end of a shot into the boards.
San Jose were given all they could handle against the underdog LA Kings, and barely squeaked by on the strength of three OT game winners. When it comes to the playoffs, the Sharks are notorious for laying an egg, so it will be interesting to see what they’re made of.
Forwards: Detroit has vets who have won, and won often. With Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi, Johan Franzen, and Valtteri Filppula in the top six, the Wings have scoring capability out the ying-yang. On the bottom half of the forward group, Detroit has Kris Draper, Jiri Hudler, Mike Modano, Drew Miller, Justin Abdelkader, Tomas Holmstrom and Darren Helm to form one of the oldest, yet most potent 1-12 in the NHL.
With Datsyuk and Zetterberg, the Wings have one of the best one two punches up the middle and not only are they sublime offensively, they are two of the best defensive forwards in the game right now, Datsyuk’s selke nomination being indicative of that.
San Jose’s forward batch is no joke either. With Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi in the top six, the Sharks are potent in scoring ability. The only problem for San Jose is that Joe Thornton is one of the playoffs biggest disappearing acts. In 97 games, Thornton has only 17 goals, and 70 points scoring at a point per game clip of .72 points per game, well below his career average of just over one per game. The Sharks and their fans hope that Thornton shows up and if he does, that will go a long way in determining whether or not the Sharks move on to round three.
In the bottom half of the forward lineup, Kyle Wellwood, Scott Nichol, Torrey Mitchell and Jamaal Mayers lead the way. They need to become involved like Detroit’s bottom six and get in Jimmy Howard’s kitchen to be effective.
Defense: Dan Boyle is one of the best defenseman in the NHL, a perennial all-star, and a former Champion, Boyle has a quick first step, and supreme vision to set up the forwards for a one timer from the slot. He is the powerplay quarterback, and unquestioned leader of the Sharks defense.
In addition to Boyle, the Sharks have Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jason Demers, Nic Wallin, and the rough and tough Doug Murray to round out a decent defense group.
The Wings are the Wings. Nick Lidstrom is the best defenseman in the entire NHL and he’s only 40 years old. No one in the league is classier than Lidstrom and it shows in his play on the ice. Always in the right position, Lidstrom always seems to break up plays just by being in the right place in the right time.
Paired with Lidstrom since signing from New Jersey as a free agent, Brian Rafalski is an excellent complementary piece to Lidstrom. Rafalski may not be the biggest guy on the blue line, he also excels in positioning, and has a deceptive shot from the point that makes deflections for Tomas Holmstrom a whole lot easier.
After Lidstrom and Rafalski, all they have is Jonathan Ericsson, Nicklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and Ruslan Salei, all capable of scoring and solid in their own end. Detroit’s defense might be one of the best in the NHL.
Goaltending: Jimmy Howard is the Red Wings unquestioned number one and is trying to establish himself as a number one goalie in the NHL. One of the best ways to do so is to have playoff success. Howard hasn’t been great, yet he hasn’t been terrible enough for the Wings fan base to pile on him. Howard plays the standard butterfly game that most goalies play and while he usually makes the first save, he is prone to leaving a big rebound.
Antti Niemi was let go by the Blackhawks last season after an arbitration award put him out of the Hawks price range and that has been a gift to the Sharks who needed a goalie who has had playoff success to put them to the top. However, Niemi did not have the best first round against the Kings and was pulled twice and that could be a cause for concern against a much more potent Wings lineup.
Edge: San Jose
Coaching: Mike Babcock is a Stanley Cup Champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist and a two time Cup runner up. He is one of the league’s toughest coaches and it shows in his constant scowl. Babcock is a perfect fit for the Wings and will be there as long as he wants to be. An expert at matching lines, and finding the right match-ups and line combinations seemingly at will, Babcock is one of the best coaches in the NHL.
Todd McLellan is a former student of the Red Wings school of coaching, and is still trying to carve his niche as a top coach in the NHL. His teams are a regular season success, yet have not reached success in the playoffs, beating a rested Detroit would be a big confidence builder. But he still has a lot to work.
Series Outlook: The Red Wings are the class of the NHL. They have made the playoffs 20 straight years now and have won the Stanley Cup four times since 1996-97. Goaltending might just be their only weakness but other than that, the Wings are formidable and could once again be crowned champion. San Jose hasn’t been able to shake the moniker of playoff under-performers and if they could barely get by the Kings, then what chance do they have against the Wings?
Wings in five.
Vishal Hussain has been a hockey fan since 1987 and a Devils fan since 1990. A graduate of the critically acclaimed College of Sports Media in Toronto Ontario, Vishal has actively been a fantasy player since 2000, winning his first ever Yahoo! pool and continually finishing in the top 3 each year since. He watches every game, every night through NHL Centre Ice, both online and on TV and is an excellent evaluator of fantasy players and up and coming prospects in the league. Email Coach Hussain at [email protected].