The Detroit Red Wings are entering one of the most significant weeks in recent history. This is certainly the most important week of the season. They possess the opportunity to win two games and get into the NHL playoffs. Before we get too far, let’s focus on the first task at hand… The Philadelphia Flyers.
In my mind the Flyers are beginning to cool off. They are definitely on a mission and with two games in hand they are very much in the driver’s seat of the final wild card spot in the East. They have their top players playing at a peak level and their secondary scorers putting the puck in the net right up there with their top guys. Their defense is in my mind leading the way. Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere have been outstanding on the back end and have scored key goals to keep the chase alive. Among the performance of the players and their new coach Dave Hakstol doing good work with his new team, there seems to be one element to the game the Flyers possess that is really moving the train.
The Flyers’ forecheck is heavy, fast, and ruthless. They consistently bring two forwards down to line up both defenseman and have a lingering forward awaiting the turnover or set to close the gap between their own forwards and their defenseman. They press hard enough to where defensemen are forced to make a quick play. The result is turn overs and scoring opportunities. Most of the time their forecheck even buys enough time to draw the opposing forwards down low and set up a point shot. This is where the right handed Gudas has gotten some of his most recent goals. The best part about this style of play is it’s simple and allows for the bottom two lines to perform without exposing their lack of talent. Forechecking this hard keeps the puck down low and allows them to play most of their shift in the offensive zone. Did I already mention it’s simple?... because it is. It’s a style of play a team can rally around and get going before a major push for a playoff spot. The question now is how to counter it.
Puck possession has been the overall scheme for Detroit for the last 24 years. The system has worked great and with the veteran presence and high level of skill. It has driven the Red Wings to success for two and half decades. Unfortunately we don’t have nearly the amount of cool headed vets we used to. We have three rookie forwards who are still learning the two way game, and a young defense corps that is not as talented as the ones of the past. The best way to counter the Flyers forecheck will be to keep it simple and move the puck ASAP. Force the Flyers to make decisions in the neutral zone rather than come charging down on our defense. If the wings can break the puck out with good simple passes, it’ll render the hard forecheck ineffective. The Flyers will be forced to counter that with a more conservative forecheck and that is when the wings can break into their puck possession style. Once the Wings have bought the time they need, they can go into their break out plays that will generate offense.
With the season on the line the Red Wings will play hard. I have no doubt in my mind the like of Zetterburg, Kronwall, and Datsyuk can lead these guys to another playoff berth. The only thing they have to do is out work the flyers and the skill will take over, but first… they need to keep it simple.