No Flow in Florida: Lightning 3 - Red Wings 1
The Wings took to the ice for the first time in 8 days, and did so against the Lightning in Tampa for the first time since their season ended last year. Just like in April, the Wings lost.
It was pretty clear that both teams had a week off, because the rust was evident and the pace was slow. Petr Mrazek made a strong save on Andrej Sustr on Tampa's most dangerous attempt of the period. The Wings had trouble generating offense early, but the 4th line was very strong. In a weird twist of events, Jonathan Ericsson was the best defenseman at controlling zone entries. The Wings got a lot of shots on Ben Bishop, but far too many were one and done. The Wings took the first penalty of the game when Teemu Pulkkinen for a light tap that the Tampa player embellished. The Wings killed it without the services of Drew Miller, a small miracle, and the Wings finished the period strong.
Shots: 10-4 Red Wings
Strong period: Jonathan Ericsson
Tough period: Teemu Pulkkinen
It was more of the same to start the period, with neither team giving the other one a lot of time or space. Unfortunately, the Lightning struck first early in the second. After an Ericsson turnover led to zone time for Tampa, Alexey Marchenko lost track of J.T. Brown, who converted a cross-ice pass to give the Bolts the lead. The Wings responded by pushing the pace, and their persistence paid off when Gustav Nyquist, a player who the Wings need to step up, scored on a rebound off a Tomas Tatar shot. The teams started to shake the rust off and play more entertaining hockey, which led to the Lightning getting their second power play of the game. It only took them 22 seconds to regain the lead, when Tyler Johnson was left all alone to receive a shot/pass from the point, and he made no mistake. The Wings got a power play of their own, but predictably did absolutely nothing with it. The period ended with Tampa owning a lead and the Wings looking very passive.
Score: 2-1 Lightning
Shots: 19-18 Lightning
The period started with some 4-on-4 action and neither team doing anything with it, but Nyquist took a dumb penalty on Cedric Paquette, and the Lightning power play went to work, this time getting a goal from Nikita Kucherov to make it 3-1 Tampa. Ryan Callahan was his usual pissbaby self after taking a blindside run at Darren Helm and getting knocked down, and they both took penalties. The Wings, down by 2 goals, started to push the pace, but no more goals were coming.
Points of observation:
I had a bunch of bullet points about the power play sucking (again), the penalty kill not being good tonight (thanks for nothing, Drew Miller), and other stuff. But I deleted it because what I saw tonight was a team without purpose. JJ wrote that this team is mediocre, and tonight, we witnessed a mediocre team play mediocre hockey. This is a team whose best players are a 19 year old rookie and a 23 year old goalie in his first year as a full-time starter. If the Wings end up making the playoffs, it will be almost solely due to their efforts, because the rest of the team is average at best. Their two veteran stars look like they are on the decline, with Henrik Zetterberg having a horrible game and Pavel Datsyuk not being much better. The first year coach has made some smart decisions, but still does head-scratching things like play Luke Glendening with Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist or keep Darren Helm in the top 6 or keep the power play the same. Their defense contains one borderline 1st pairing guy, four 2nd-pairing guys, and a 3rd-pairing guy who the coaches love because he makes a lot of money. Tonight's player of the game, Tomas Jurco, looks good on the 4th line, but can't show that same promise when given top-6 minutes.
At the end of the day, this is a team that can't score, can barely defend, has bad special teams, and will get carried to the playoffs kicking and screaming by their young goaltender. Tonight's game was a perfect microcosm of their season to date, as they put a lot of shots at the net, generated very little in the way of quality scoring chances, had defensive breakdowns that led to goals against at both even strength and on the penalty kill, and their power play was useless. It was a deserved loss to a good team, but a game in which the Wings didn't look to be on their opponent's level. Again.