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!!!

Preview: Wings VS Coyotes, Round 1 Game 4

"When you turn over pucks, you don't have good defensive structure and your goaltender doesn't look as good." - Coach Mike Babcock

Coyotes Lead Series 2-1

On a dreary day in Moncton, New Brunswick, I'm hoping for a little ray of sunshine to peek through the clouds when Detroit steps back onto JLA ice for Game 4 of the Western Conference quarters between the Red Wings and the Coyotes. The series itself has been pretty bleak, with Detroit mounting very little energy and inspiration through the course of the previous three games. It hasn't been fun to watch, as I'm sure you Wingnuts are well aware. A win tonight is critical, as Detroit doesn't dare fall behind 3-1 and risk elimination.

With this in mind, let's go to The Geek's Winning Formula!

1.) Team Defense - This has been the biggest killer for the Red Wings so far this series. The Coyotes have scored at least 3 goals in every game thus far. This is unacceptable and hardly what you can call playoff caliber. Detroit needs to tighten way up and start winning some possession battles, stop taking eyes off guys sneaking in and watch positioning. This has lead to a majority of the goals against the Wings: quality chances for Phoenix due to inattentiveness by the Detroit defense.

2.) Maintain Pressure - Again we find the Wings apparently lacking inspiration to stay motivated. We need 60 minutes of playoff hockey, game in and game out. We have not seen that so far. The Red Wing forecheck has been very ineffective, with many of Detroit's goals coming from long-bomb passes through the neutral zone or one of the few fancy passing plays that isn't intercepted. Detroit needs to get bodies to the net and bang and crash for loose pucks. Granted we had one of those in Game 3 and it was disallowed (I can't stand the intent to blow rule...), that's what we need more of. The crashing, not disallowing.

3.) Minimize Mistakes - This isn't something only the defensive side of the Red Wings is guilty of. Offensively, there have been too many chances ruined by a reluctance by some players to shoot, or the numerous unnecessary offsides, or the blind, sloppy passing leading to turnovers. This is not the elite puck possession team I know Detroit to be, and they need to find themselves again. Phoenix has shown time and time again this series that if we give them a chance, they will gladly take it, so the onus is on the Wings to stop giving them those chances.

I'm looking forward to watching a much different team of Red Wings tonight, because if I don't...well, the sense of urgency in Game 5 will be there whether we like it or not. On the upshot, as I finish writing, the sun is starting to peek out and the skies are clearing. An omen, hopefully?

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