Here We Go!
Posted 8:33 AM ET | Comments 1
The Detroit Red Wings finished up their regular season with a win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center yesterday, solidifying their place as the number 3 seed. Next up will be the Phoenix Coyotes, a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals. The season series between these two clubs was split down the middle, with both teams grabbing two out of the four wins. Three of these games were decided in overtime/shootout, but the ‘Yotes grabbed the extra point out of the contests. Even more interestingly, all the wins in season series went to the home team.
Given Detroit’s struggles at the Joe this season, the fact that they haven’t faced the Coyotes at home since the beginning of November is a bit disconcerting. Let’s be frank – the second half of Detroit’s season, especially at home has been…well, “un-Detroit.” They’re still respected around the league as a tough team and as much a measuring stick as you can find in the NHL. However, it’s tough to stare that kind of record in the face when your season’s on the line.
Nevertheless, the Red Wings have a few days off to erase the old memories and frustrations and get down to what they do best…Playoff Hockey. The regular season is history, and anybody on the Coyotes roster will not be thinking about Detroit’s regular season woes, particularly the 10-3 shellacking at the hands of the now-golfing St. Louis Blues, not even 2 weeks ago.
If Detroit wants to keep the Coyotes howling at the moon, they need only turn to themselves. This is a very strong and capable team, playoff-savvy, and most important of all – refreshed! It’s a little difficult to think about this as a positive, but a few late season minor injuries have allowed a few of Detroit’s big guns to take a seat and rest for a few days before the dance begins. Quite a bit different from the desperate, break-neck pace of last season. We won’t see Henrik Zetterberg for a few days, but he’ll be strong when he does return.
As for Phoenix, they’ve been strong and consistent all year, and are now familiar with at least one round of playoff experience. I don’t think we’ll see the giddy group of youngsters as in years past. They will be looking to hand it to the Wings. The big story between these two will be goaltending and special teams. Ilya Bryzgalov has a bit better numbers than Jimmy Howard (2.48 GA / .921 S% to Howard’s 2.79 GA / .908 S%) but they’ve both come up big when needed. It seems like a few games, and maybe even the series, could be decided on one single breakaway. The one thing Jimmy Howard needs to concentrate on is controlling his rebounds. Of late, Jimmy has had a bit of trouble hanging onto those first hard slap shots. This will be critical, as the frantic goalmouth scrums tend to net the big goals against Detroit.
The special teams discussions is a short one. Detroit has the clear advantage. The Red Wings nets 5th in the league on the power play, going 22.3%, to the ‘Yotes 15.9% at 23rd place. Detroit’s penalty kill is also a bit better than Phoenix as well. If Phoenix can keep their discipline and stay out of the box, they will hang on to the best chance at advancing to the second round, which won’t be an easy task. Expect plenty of pushing and shoving after the whistle, and maybe a few gloves on the ice.
This is going to be an entertaining series, and Detroit fans are used to staying up late on weeknights to catch the action. However, the octopus hath charms…
Detroit Red Wings advance in 6 games.