Posted 8:44 AM ET | Comments 0
It’s 2010 all over again as the Detroit Red Wings will meet the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Semifinals. The seeding remains the same too, as the Sharks secured home ice advantage once again for this series.
The Red Wings have been resting up for over a week after sweeping the Phoenix Coyotes last Wednesday, and have been able to mend their bumps and bruises. It was announced Monday that Henrik Zetterberg will be available for Game 1. Also, John Franzen has been on the mend from a lower body injury and “hopes” to be ready for Game 1. I say, “hopes” because he only skated for 30 minutes yesterday on what I understand to be a sprained ankle. We shall see.
I don’t think there is need to rush the Mule’s return to the ice just yet. The Red Wings have been firing on all cylinders since the dawn of the Playoffs and were able to sweep the Coyotes in convincing fashion without the assistance of Mr. Zetterberg. This trend is likely to continue, and Mike Babcock can afford to sit Franzen for at least the first game until his injuries fully heal.
Detroit has had a tough time with San Jose this season, winning only 1 of the 4 regular season meetings, and the Shark Tank is a difficult arena, especially during the Playoffs. The Sharks have a very potent offense (much like the Red Wings) but also have solid goaltending from Antii Niemi. Los Angeles truly gave them a run for the money, with three of the six games decided in overtime. The true key for L.A. to have played so well is their goaltender Jonathan Quick, who stonewalled the Sharks a number of times to allow the Kings to hack away at Niemi. Jimmy Howard needs to watch those videos…
Howard knows full well the measure of the Sharks’ offense, and he is going to have to come up big again. In my preview of the Quarterfinals series, I mentioned that Howard needed to control his rebounds, which he did well and he’ll need to keep it up. The Sharks are very good at second- and third-attempts off rebounds, and Howard is going to have to gobble up the initial shots and hang on. One thing to take note of, however, is that Anti Niemi has looked a little shaky in his opening bid against the Kings. He was pulled twice in favor of Antero Niittymaki, and posts a 3.99 goals against.
Detroit needs to amplify all of its strengths to hang tough with San Jose. They need to be better on the power play, they need to play with more discipline and stay out of the penalty box. Howard needs to control the rebounds, and the offense needs to throw just as many pucks at the net as the Sharks do.
This will be an extremely tough test for Detroit. They need to prove that they can beat the Sharks at their own game. San Jose however, is still driven by a sour legacy of playoff flops. With the first two games in Silicon Valley, the Sharks have a clear advantage in taking the first two games from Detroit, and present the Red Wings with a very large hole from which to climb.
The difference maker in this series is going to be defense, particularly on the penalty kill. Statistically, the more pucks a team fires at the net, the more pucks that get through. It’s a battle of two teams who roll at least three scoring forward lines. The blueliners are going to have to be perfect. I predict a very close series chock full of one-goal games. Even a couple overtimes. At the end of the day though, I think San Jose will prevail.
Sharks in 7 (overtime).