Thursday, April 29, 2010

Preview: Wings @ Sharks, Round 2 Game 1

It's here. A lot of slappies didn't think we'd see this round, bashing on any Wing within swinging range, and yet the Red Wings are gearing up to face San Jose in the 2nd Round of the Playoffs tonight. Detroit will hopefully carry its enthusiasm from a spectacular curb-stomping of the Phoenix Coyotes in the 7th game of Round 1 into the opener of this WCSF matchup when the Wings hit the ice in HP Pavillion Arena.

The Sharks present a much different challenge for Detroit than the Phoenix team that preceded them. The key thing to watch for in this series is San Jose's attitude, as the Sharks are trying to shake a gorilla from their shoulders (it's far too big to be called a monkey now) in the form of a nasty reputation for Playoff nosedives. San Jose has consistently been one of the best Western Conference Teams in the West, yet they have also consistently been one of the worst teams in the West come Playoff time, with year after year of first and second-round exits and little to no overall post-season success to look back on. I expect this Sharks squad to be a bunch of vicious fishes come gametime, and Detroit needs to remember the lessons they learned in the desert about asserting their authority with both skill and physicality.

With this in mind, let's get to our first Geek's Winning Formula of Round 2!!

1.) Big Game Hunting - I'm not going to say that San Jose is a one-trick pony when it comes to their lineup...but I will say that San Jose's big trick is a hell of a lot better than the rest. The Wings cannot underestimate the Thornton-Marleau-Heatley line for the Sharks. The trio each had over 80 points, with Thornton pulling just one point shy of 90. No, this line has not gone crazy in the playoffs, but the offensive punch is there and may just be a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. If it does, Detroit will need an answer to slow them down. For right now the prime targets for a clamp-down are Clowe, Pavelski and Setoguchi, but we'll see how effective they are against a much better defense in Detroit's top 6.

2.) Make Them Doubt - They will never say it, but you CANNOT tell me that San Jose isn't still haunted by all the stigma around their team for all the choking they've done over the past few years in the Playoffs. What's the best way to dredge all that up? Sting them early. I really want to see Detroit come out with the intensity from the last game and smoke San Jose for an early lead. Plant that seed of doubt in the locker room and let it grow. Even if San Jose scrapes together a goal or two, if they feel they're being outplayed, this team is going to wind itself tight. The Sharks said themselves that they're still working on tossing aside the choking rep, and that they wanted to face Detroit for just that reason. I say make them eat their own words and see how long it takes to put the fear of another early collapse back in their heads.

3.) Out of the Desert, Kill the Droughts - One lingering thing that bothers me from the previous series is the number of players on the Wings roster that are still sitting at little-to-no point production. Our bottom two lines have been almost invisible on the scoresheet. This is not to say that they aren't working hard, but now that the stars are scoring, we need those depth players to stand up and be ready to put some pucks behind Evgeni Nabokov, because you know a lot of the clamp-down will be on Datsyuk, on Zetterberg, on Filppula. Supposing that San Jose comes up with an answer to our top 2 lines, we need the bottom 2 to respond in production. It's great to go out and create chaos and frustrate the other team as an energy line, but getting a goal or two helps pick your team up too. I personally have been watching Val Filppula closely in the recent games, and that boy looks hungry. I'm expecting an explosion of productivity from him in the near future, and tonight would be a prime time to see it happen. If it doesn't play out that way, though, I'm counting on those bottom 6 forwards to man up and get the job done.

The Red Wings took the season series with 3 wins (2 on the road) and 1 OT loss, so that's working in Detroit's favor. San Jose, however, ended the regular season with more goals-per-game, a better Powerplay and a better Penalty Kill. It goes without saying that Detroit will need to address this, especially the difference in special teams: limit the amount of penalties taken and damn-well cash in when San Jose checks in to the Sin Bin Hotel.

All in all, it could be an exciting series, but I'm going to make an impulsive (read: bold-borderlining-idiotic) prediction of the Wings taking the series in 4. Yes, I said it. My reasoning: there isn't a single game coming back to Detroit scheduled during the day! So to me, Detroit has no excuse to play poorly!! We'll see how that stands up as Game 1 draws near.

Till puck drop, Wingnuts!! Let's Go Red Wings!!!