Five Questions: IAmJoe on (2) Detroit vs (7) Columbus
Hey all, I'm Joe, and I don't actually have a blog of my own (though I've considered it several times), so I hang around the Battle of California and Mirtle's for the most part and comment a lot. I'm a Red Wings fan, having lived in Michigan until 2008, when I moved to Denver, Colorado. James has kindly brought me on to be a contributor around here for the Red Wings portion of the playoff festivities here at CLS.
Introductions out of the way, let's get down to business! Five questions from a Red Wings perspective about the upcoming DET/CLB series!
1. What will the Wings need to do to beat the Blue Jackets?
The biggest thing the Wings need to do is to not beat themselves. On paper, this matchup is easy, right? The Wings have so much more scoring depth than the BJ's, a better defense, and their goaltending should only be a step behind. But the problem is the Wings have a tendency to make some boneheaded mistakes. Unnecessary giveaways in their own end are the principal problem, and with a big guy like Rick Nash attacking the Wings defenders, he could easily steal a couple pucks and bury them behind Ozzie or Conklin. On offense, the BJ's will be trying to block shots and force the Wings to the perimeter, playing a style much like the Ducks, Flames, and Oilers have used to beat the Wings in recent years. The Red Wings have to capitalize on what power plays they get, and they have to be willing to pay the price and attack the net aggressively, because if they let themselves be kept on the perimeter, Columbus defenders will shot block them right out of the playoffs. If the Wings play smart, disciplined hockey in their own zone, and are willing to pay the price in the Columbus zone, the Wings will advance to round 2.
2. What would need to happen for the Blue Jackets to pull off the upset?
If the Blue Jackets are to win this series, there are two things they need to do. First of all, they have to play perfect in their own zone. The way the Wings have been beaten in previous years is by insane amounts of shot blocking perimeter shots, combined with absolutely relentless punishment of the net. In losses to the 2003 Ducks, 2004 Flames, 2006 Oilers, and to a lesser extent, the 2007 Ducks, you never ever ever saw a Red Wing successfully take control of the slot. If anyone stepped in between the faceoff circles, they got knocked down. If you weren't aware, its hard to score on your back... unless you're Alex Ovechkin. This punishing attitude in front of their own net by these teams forced the Red Wings to the outside, taking long shots, which were gobbled up by some hot goalies (seriously, those were some really hot goalies), if they didn't make it through all the shot blockers first.
Secondly, the BJ's will have to own the front of the Red Wings net. In those previous playoff losses, every single one of them was characterized by the Red Wings being outplayed in their own slot. Look at the elimination game from the 2006 Oilers, where the Oilers came back from a deficit and ended up winning the game and the series. Every single goal in that game (and seemingly, every goal in the series) came from an Oiler crashing the net, and being allowed to stay on his feet. The Red Wings kept letting guys skate to their net, instead of slamming them down and refusing to allow their opponents to use the slot. Especially with a serious power forward in Rick Nash, if the BJ's can take control of the Red Wings slot, they will have a very good chance to beat the Red Wings.
The other thing that can kill the Wings in this series is more of a mental thing. Anyone who has ever played hockey knows that when you see your goalie give up a softie, it hurts. You're flying, everything is great, you're unstoppable... and suddenly you've been punched in the gut. When that goalie gives up another softie, you might as well be dead. You stop skating as hard, you start overcompensating because you think the goalie is going to screw you again. You start doubting. Everything comes apart, and suddenly you've blown a lead, you've lost the game. You can make an entire youtube reel of Chris Osgood softies in the playoffs, and without looking, I'm sure one exists. If the BJ's get an early softie or two, Ozzie will be pulled and Conklin will step in, but the point is, it will be the biggest gut punch the BJ's could possibly deliver. There's no better way to make a great team stop playing great than to make them stop feeling great.
3. Fan Favorite
It's gotta be the Wonder Twins, right? Either of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk will be on the ice at almost all times. These two will be tasked with stopping Rick Nash from scoring, and given the thin BJ's scoring depth, they should be able to keep the Blue Jacket's scoring under control throughout the series. They win faceoffs, they score goals, and they do just as much as anyone on the blue line to keep pucks out of their own net. The two of them will lead the Red Wings through this series, and hopefully, onto another Stanley Cup.
4. Detroit's Goat-To-Be
There's absolutely no doubt here that its Chris Osgood, and probably Conklin as well. Detroit has a rich history, but part of that history over the last several years is walking a goalie out in front of a firing squad, when his defense may be more to blame for a playoff loss than he is. This was the case with Curtis Joseph in 2003, and with Manny Legace in 2006. Both goalies may not have played their absolute best (though CuJo did better than Legace, I think), but the problem was more to do with the Wings complete inability to score goals, combined with allowing opponents to own the front of their own net. Neither got any support at all in their series losses, but both of them were marched in front of a firing squad. This year, there is even more animosity towards whoever is in net, because of the heightened expectations this year, in combination with a cap situation that basically says that what you see is what you've got. If the Wings lose this series because of not supporting their goaltenders, the goalies will get all the blame. If the Wings goalies blow the series, the goalies will rightfully be blamed, and the won't just be blamed, they'll be absolutely crucified.
5. Top Storyline
The storyline in this series is going to be all about the goalies. We know that Mason is a pretty good young goalie. He certainly has the potential to steal some games here. The question is, can the Wings goalies also step up and play to that same level? I certainly hope so, because even if they don't play to that level here, they might still win, but they won't make it to another Cup without hitting that level.