If you woke up this morning and looked at your calendar and thought "why does it say 2011 when it feels like 2010?", then you're not alone. The Red Wings emerged from their slumbers facing the same 0-2 deficit they encountered last season against the San Jose Sharks, and the series has that eerie feeling of deja vu.
The Wings have had ample opportunities to win both of the games, but have come up short against a hungry Sharks team desperate to prove that last year was no fluke. While San Jose deserves a ton of credit for how well they have played, I believe the Wings have yet to play their best hockey.
In case you didn't read it, Lambert decided to devote his column at Puck Daddy to the Wings and wondered aloud whether the reason for the Sharks being up 2-0 is simply because they are the better team. Is he right? Follow the jump for the answer.Hell no he isn't right. At least not entirely. I'm not going to sit here that the Wings are miles ahead of the Sharks in terms of talent, because these are two teams that are about equal. However, regardless of whether you believe the Wings or Sharks are the better team (a debate that could go on endlessly), there's no question the Sharks have been the better team in the first two games of this series.
However, all is not lost. The standard line (cliche) is that you're not in trouble until you've lost a home game, and the Sharks did what they had to do and held serve in San Jose. It's up to the Wings to defend their home ice and get back in this series. More importantly, it's about putting some doubt in the minds of the Sharks players who probably believe that they have the upper hand mentally between these teams, and about reminding the Sharks (and the rest of the NHL) that Joe Louis Arena is a house of horrors for visiting teams.
So how do the Wings go about righting the ship and earning a win in this series? It's pretty obvious that the strategy from Games 1 and 2 is either wrong or being executed improperly. I believe it's more a case of the latter, because the Wings' style of play has allowed them to be pretty successful. However, I think some adjustments could be made that will help the Wings.
1. Split up Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg
There's no question that these two players are as good (actually, they are better, but I'm trying to be pragmatic) than any pair of players on the Sharks, but the Wings have only scored 2 goals in 2 games, so they need to spread the offense around. While it's not like the Eurotwins are tearing the Sharks to pieces, their line has been the only one that has enjoyed any sustained offensive pressure in the Sharks' zone. However, when they're not on the ice, the Sharks have set up camp so much in the Wings' zone they're toasting S'mores. Putting Zetterberg on the "second" line gives the Wings another line that should generate some quality scoring chances, and since the next 2 games are in Detroit, Mike Babcock can match up Datsyuk against Thornton (who has been pretty quiet in this series) and Zetterberg against Pavelski's line.
2. Reunite Jiri Hudler with Pavel Datsyuk
Hear me out on this one. The Sharks are an extremely fast team that is physical, but they don't hit nearly as much as the Coyotes do. Jiri Hudler is not that fast, and he hates physical contact, but he does have offensive talent. He and Datsyuk performed really well together earlier this year, and a player with Hudler's skills could create some openings for Datsyuk to weave his magic, or Datsyuk could create some room for Hudler to get open and get some shots directed towards Antti Niemi. To go with this, I think Tomas Holmstrom should play on the fourth line when it's 5-on-5, because he doesn't have the speed to race to loose pucks in the Sharks' zone, and he's not great defensively. Combine that with the 2 offensive zone penalties he took in Game 2 and you've got a player that is not contributing positively to the team. However, his presence in front of the net is absolutely necessary on the PP, and he should remain on the top unit when the Wings are given a power play.
3. Sit Johan Franzen if he's not healthy
When the Mule is at 100%, he's the type of player that can change a game (witness his 4-goal game just under a year ago against these same Sharks). However, in this series he's been largely ineffective, so much so that he did not register a shot or hit in Game 1. We all know he sustained an ankle injury in the series against Phoenix, and he seems to still be fighting whatever is bothering him. Franzen at 85% or more is too big a talent to take out of the lineup simply because he's in a slump. At this point, the entire team is slumping, and they can't bench everyone. However, if Franzen is anything less than at 85% health, then he should sit out and allow Mike Modano to get some playing time and contribute. That way, Franzen will have a week off and be ready for Game 5 in San Jose next weekend.
4. Get Kris Draper back in the lineup
The Sharks are winning all of the battles and races for pucks all over the ice, and Draper's presence in the lineup will infuse a spark to the team as a whole (because he never takes a shift off and is a good emotional leader) but will also energize Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves, who have looked a little lost out there in the first 2 games. The big question is who to sit? Personally, I think Justin Abdelkader needs to get a game off. He's been caught twice with his stick too high and taken penalties, and he is not the borderline reckless force the Wings need him to be, instead just being an ineffective center who is not creating offense but not providing energy. I know Drew Miller is the one who is often mentioned as being the odd-man out, but he's been good on the penalty kill and has created the odd offensive chance when given some ice time, something that's been lacking from the Abdelkader-Cleary-Bertuzzi line.
5. Stop taking dumb penalties
I'm not about to go all tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist here and say that the referees have "cost" the Wings the first two games of this series, because it's been the Wings' play that has done that. However, in a series where some of the calls (on both sides) have been, shall we say, mind-boggling, giving a team like the Sharks a free 2 minutes of offensive zone time due to a dumb play is asking for trouble. Things like high-sticking and shooting the puck over the glass are automatic things that are completely avoidable and should not occur several times a game by a smart team.
As our good buddy Disch pointed out at TPL today, now is not the time to panic. The Wings are down, for sure, but they are not out, and they have not lost a home game yet. They have not been outplayed to the extent that some people believe, and were it not for a freak bounce in Game 1, this series could be tied. The Wings have a great chance to turn things around in Game 3, get a win and get this series headed in the right direction. As Babcock is fond of pointing out, it's not a best of 7, it's a race to 4; the Sharks just have a bit of a head start.