I don't know about you, but I woke up feeling pretty good this morning. It's a beautiful day, the weekend is nearly upon us, for us Star Wars fans, we were treated to a new trailer for the upcoming movie.
The Wings entered Game 1 and this series as enormous underdogs, with several question marks surrounding the team. Could their goaltending hold up? Could they generate any offense at 5v5? Would they be able to contain the high-powered Lightning? Could they take advantage of the one area they are superior in over Tampa, special teams?
The Wings answered some of these questions last night, but raised just as many. It was a performance that can only be characterized as survival, rather than a statement that the Wings are just as good as the Lightning.
While coming down from the high of the win, we're taking stock of what last night meant and what it could mean going forward.
- Goaltending. There's zero question that the first and second stars for the Wings last night was Petr Mrazek. Making his playoff debut, he was the difference between the Wings winning and getting their lunch handed to them, making 44 saves. How big a deal was this? Brian Boyle and a screened shot by Nikita Nesterov. Beyond that he was perfect. Whether he can follow that up with a similar performance on Saturday afternoon is the real key.
- Special Teams: The Wings were tied for 3rd worst in the league this year in SHG against, and last night they gave up another one, this time to Boyle. However, they countered with a SHG of their own by Luke Glendening and got a PPG from Pavel Datsyuk. Even better, they held Tampa's power play off the scoresheet, which was key since they were getting dominated in possession at 5v5. Overall this has to count as a positive for Detroit, but they can't continue to give up SHG and, despite the laughable standard by the referees, particularly in the third period, they can't give Tampa 7 power plays a game.
- Depth Scoring: Pavel Datsyuk was his usual magical self, scoring the Wings' first 2 goals. But it was Glendening's work on the penalty kill and nifty backhand goal that turned out to be the game winner. As we talked about in our offensive comparison, if the Wings are going to win this series, they will have to get offense from other sources. Glendening is as deep as you can get in terms of offense (unless you want to go "center of the Earth" deep and say Joakim Andersson), so getting a goal from him was huge. Especially since the second line was virtually invisible last night.
- Tampa's offense at 5v5: The Wings were dominated in every aspect of possession last night. The final shots were 46-14 overall (28-9 at even strength), and the final CF was 40-17 at even strength. At 5v5, only 2 players had a positive CF%: Kyle Quincey and Tomas Tatar. Marek Zidlicky was at 0 and everyone else was negative. As we can see in this chart from Datarink, the matchups fluctuated, with Steven Stamkos playing nearly equal 5v5 time against the Datsyuk/Zetterberg line and the Riley Sheahan/Tomas Tatar/Gustav Nyquist line. The Tampa triplets got time against both the Dats/Z line and the 4th line. Regardless, no line for the Wings was able to drive possession at even strength in any way, and that's a very scary prospect going forward. The Wings are going to need something from the Kid Line if they're going to have any chance at winning Game 2 and coming home with more than a split. The defense was good overall, with Jonathan Ericsson and Danny DeKeyser looking better than they have in weeks, and Alexei Marchenko holding his own in his first playoff game, but there were still far too many odd-man rushes and quality scoring chances.
The bottom line is that last night's win was a great way to start the series, but there's a lot of work to be done. The Wings were outplayed by a wide margin at 5v5, and that makes more winning very unlikely. At the same time, there were positives to take away from last night's game, particularly the goaltending, which was without question the biggest issue facing the Wings prior to the series. While Tampa fans are predictably less concerned about the long-term potential of their team winning given last night's performance, let's also not forget that the Wings are also not likely to give up over 40 shots on a regular basis given they were one of the top shot suppression teams in the league. They're also not likely to get less than 15 shots a game even if they are playing another very good shot suppression team.
Ultimately all the Wings did was get a slight head start in the race to 4 wins. If they can clean up a few of things from last night, there's no reason to believe the Wings aren't fully capable of pulling off the upset and moving on to the second round.