The funny thing about hockey is that no matter what is wrong with a team, there's always a chance that you can outscore your problems.
The Tampa Bay Lightning don't have a lot of obvious problems, and the Red Wings have a ton of them, but at the end of the day, the team that scores more goals is the one that's going to advance past the first round of the playoffs.
With a full 82-game schedule in the books, the book is pretty much out on these two teams. One of them is a high-powered offensive juggernaut, while the other has all the components but struggled to consistently put pucks in the net. On paper it would appear that this is evenly-matched because both teams finished in the top 10 in the NHL in goals scored. Yet, it becomes clear that they got there in different ways.
As J.J. mentioned in his look at the defense, it's pretty difficult to separate out what defensemen do that forwards and goalies don't. However, when it comes to offense, it's pretty easy to see who is effective.
The Lightning were the highest scoring team in the NHL this season, finishing the season with a total of 259 goals, or 3.16/GP. Only 2 other teams scored more than 3 goals per game, and one of them didn't make the playoffs. Most impressively, Tampa was the best team at 5v5, scoring 2.25 G/GP.
The Red Wings also scored a lot of goals, finishing the season with 231 goals, or 2.82/GP. However, unlike the Lightning, the Wings were not nearly as successful at 5v5, scoring only 138 goals, more than half a goal less per game than Tampa. They did most of their damage on the power play, scoring 69 goals with a man advantage.
The following chart shows goals for and against, Corsi, Shooting/Save%, PDO and Zone Starts at score-adjusted 5v5 from war-on-ice.com:
Tampa and Detroit tied for 4th in CF% at score-adjusted 5v5, and they were separated by less than a full point in PDO. However, the Lightning had 179 goals at 5v5 and a goal differential of +42, while the Wings were......not as good. The Lightning have a nearly 2 percentage difference in shooting percentage, but that alone wouldn't account for the large advantage Tampa had over the Wings at 5v5.
A huge factor in this series (and in the playoffs in general) is whether either team can get scoring from unexpected sources. Here are the goal totals and percentage of team total for the top 6 forwards on each team:
|Player - T.B.||Goals||%||Player - Detroit||G||%2|
|Steven Stamkos||43||16.6%||Tomas Tatar||29||12.6%|
|Tyler Johnson||29||11.2%||Gustav Nyquist||27||11.7%|
|Nikita Kucherov||28||10.8%||Pavel Datsyuk||26||11.3%|
|Ryan Callahan||24||9.3%||Justin Abdelkader||23||10.0%|
|Ondrej Palat||16||6.2%||Henrik Zetterberg||17||7.4%|
|Alex Killorn||15||5.8%||Darren Helm||15||6.5%|
Both teams get the majority of their goals from their top-6, and if those percentages hold true in the playoffs, then offensive contributions from the 3rd and 4th lines will give one team a much better chance of winning the series. For the Wings, that means players like Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen will have to chip in with goals for them to have a chance at advancing. Tampa can counter with a third line containing Valtteri Filppula and Jonathan Drouin, 2 players who have a reputation of being skilled offensive guys. Surprisingly, the Tampa defense only outscored the Detroit defense by a single goal over the course of the season, although that number is skewed because it includes 7 goals from Jakub Kindl and Xavier Ouellet, 2 players not likely to see the ice at any point in this series.
Personnel and Usage
Here are the Score-Adjusted 5v5 usage charts from war-on-ice.com, starting with Detroit:
That 4th line is probably going to be the death of the Wings, especially when Mike Babcock believes that Luke Glendening has as good a chance as anyone at containing Steven Stamkos.
Here are the Lightning forwards, also at score-adjusted 5v5:
If that second line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov didn't scare you before, this chart should serve as a reminder that they are deadly. Coupled with the top line of Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan, the Wings will have a nightmare trying to match up forward lines. However, it's interesting to note that former Wing Valtteri Filppula has been relegated to 3rd line duty, and has a negative CorsiRel, although he is being used in a more defensive role with fewer offensive zone starts.
The Red Wings might be able to exploit the third line of the Lightning if they can get offensive contributions from Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco, 2 players who have the skill but didn't put up great numbers this year. Jurco in particular suffered from horrible luck, as he ended the year with a shooting percentage of 2.5%. However, the Lightning have a young player with skill who suffered a similar fate in Jonathan Drouin, who's shooting percentage at 5v5 was even worse at 1.6%. Both teams could be looking at these players as potential secret weapon who could tip the scales in their favor.
|Ryan Callahan||Steven Stamkos||Alex Killorn|
|Ondrej Palat||Tyler Johnson||Nikita Kucherov|
|Cedric Paquette||Valtteri Filppula||Jonathan Drouin|
|Brendan Morrow||Brian Boyle||J.T. Brown|
|Gustav Nyquist||Henrik Zetterberg||Stephen Weiss|
|Darren Helm||Pavel Datsyuk||Tomas Tatar|
|Tomas Jurco||Riley Sheahan||Joakim Andersson|
|Drew Miller||Luke Glendening||Landon Ferraro|
These lines for Detroit are expected for Game 1 based on yesterday's practice, but could be subject to change should Justin Abdekader be ready to go. If that's the case, he would take his usual place on Henrik Zetterberg's line and Weiss would either bump down or take a seat in the Leino Lounge. Teemu Pulkkinen is also available should the Wings need more scoring, especially on the power play where he would have room to wind up and unleash one of those slap shots of his.
Tampa used these lines for the most part this year, although Drouin did see some time on the top line with Stamkos and Killorn at times. That top-6 is as scary a group as the Wings have faced all season, and match ups will be interesting to watch. With Tampa having the last change for the first 2 games, Jon Cooper could either try to match strength-against-strength or get either of his top 2 lines away from Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. The smart money would be to try and match up the Triplets against the Wings' 4th line and exploit the hell out of a huge advantage in speed and skill, but I don't know enough about Cooper's tendencies to know if that's how he will deploy his forwards. We do know that once the series shifts to Detroit, Mike Babcock could try to put the Glendening line against either Stamkos or Johnson, which would be a massive mistake.
Forward is the one position that hasn't typically been a concern for the Red Wings this year, but scoring has been. What could have been an advantage for the Wings over most teams isn't one against Tampa, who boast a top-6 comparable to anyone in the East, perhaps the league. Further, Tampa was the best offensive team throughout the entire season, scoring more goals at 5v5 and overall than anyone else in the NHL. If the Wings are going to win this series, they have to severely limit the offense of the Lightning and avoid trying to keep up with Tampa offensively. The series may be a race to 4 wins, but if every game is a race to 4 goals, the Wings will find themselves losing ground to the Lightning very quickly.