Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Howard Finds Form, Shuts Out Phoenix 3-0 in Game 4

Jimmy Howard had a lot to think about coming into Game 4 of this series. Having sustained the Red Wings in their drive to the Playoffs, he was one of the best goaltenders in the NHL coming back from the Olympic Break. His post-season stats up to today, however, were far less stellar: 3.72 GAA, .889 SV%, Jimmy had a lot of people breathing down his neck looking to dub him the next Manny Legace or Norm Maracle.

Howard took all of that in stride and showed everyone, himself included, what he was truly capable of.

Thanks to Jimmy Howard's stand-out performance in Game 4, Detroit walked away with a 3-0 shutout over Phoenix to bring the series back to a draw at 2-2 and keep the Wings's Playoff hopes alive. Howard didn't win the game by himself though, as we saw a much improved Detroit team in many of the areas they were sorely lacking in previously: better defensive awareness, better forechecking, better communication. The Wings were a little soft on faceoffs, but luckily they did not let the Coyotes take advantage of it.

Let's take a look at The Geek's Winning Formula!

1.) Team Defense - Much, much improved. Detroit did an excellent job of finding guys and limiting options, not allowing a lot of quality scoring chances, and made sure to keep the flat-footedness to a minimum. Once Detroit took the lead, they clamped down on the Phoenix offense, only allowing 6 shots on goal in the 3rd period. The PK units were on fire, and were able to stun a huge 5 on 3 opportunity for the Coyotes that would have put them right back into the hockey game. Babs needs to go over the tapes of this game with the boys and drill some of the work they did tonight into their heads. If we can get this every game, this series is over in 6.

2.) Maintain Pressure - Also improved, Detroit is finding itself outhitting the Coyotes at this point in the series, and Phoenix doesn't seem to have an answer. The physical style of the Coyotes has seemed non-existent as Detroit's checking is dwarfing the resistance Phoenix is putting up. The Red Wings are battling better on the boards and causing havoc as the 'Yotes try to enter the offensive zone. It's looking more and more like Phoenix is struggling to move with the puck, and that's the way it should be, Detroit is the puck-possession team, so stop letting Phoenix play your game!

3.) Minimize Mistakes - Detroit passed in this area as well, though a couple scary moments, like Lilja's hook to set up the Phoenix 5 on 3, could have been avoided and should have. Other than the few nail-biting incidents, Detroit did a great job of making plays smartly and not creating chances for Phoenix to capitalize on. The passing was much more crisp, there was a lot less blind dumping of the puck, and guys weren't standing around so Phoenix's sneakers were stifled.

All in all, it was a very well-rounded game for Detroit that was accentuated by Jimmy Howard getting his first career playoff shutout. Now Detroit heads back to the desert for Game 5 and look to be the team to take advantage into Game 6. One of these teams is going to be on the brink after the next game, and if Detroit plays like they did tonight, it won't be them.

Till then, Wingnuts!! Let's Go Red Wings!!!