The Detroit Red Wings dropped their first game of the Western Conference Semifinals to the San Jose Sharks in overtime by a score of 2-1.
They also answered a few questions which have been flying around the last week. “Will 8 days of rest be too much for the Red Wings?” Not in the end. The Wings started slow, almost sloppy, and it took a penalty kill which allowed San Jose two very good short-handed opportunities to wake them up. I think the time-change caught up with them though, as they were never really as quick as they could have been, or were against Phoenix.
“Will Jimmy Howard be up to the task this year?” Yes…in spades! Though Pavel Datsyuk received the lone Detroit Three-Star nomination, Jimmy Howard was the real winner on the team, stopping 44 shots. Howard brought an extra suitcase to California full of solid goaltending and a load of confidence, even getting a little chippy after a Joe Pavelski snow shower, for which he received a 2-minute roughing minor. And yet, that overtime goal though, has got to be one of the softest goals of his career. I’d be willing to bet that he would much rather have gone to Game 7 with Phoenix than to let one of those in. I think Benn Ferriero simply caught Jimmy napping. Jimmy didn’t even move from his standard goaltender stance until the puck was between his knees. A really, really tough way to let a beautiful performance slip through. Still though….only 2 goals on 46 shots. Howard is prepared.
“Will the officiating be an issue?” No. Most everybody agrees that last spring, the Red Wings didn’t get a whole lot of help from the officials. Not much has changed, although the Sharks took some questionable penalties too. Namely, this whole snow-shower debacle. I didn’t think that Joe Pavelski was trying to snow Howard, it was more of a panic stop as he was about to lose control of his balance and just threw on the E-Brake. I did like Howard’s response. He felt he had been wronged and he responded, making a statement along the way, that he’s here to stay and not going to be pushed around. I whole-heartedly accept Jimmy’s roughing minor, but I really don’t think Pavelski deserved one. I’m not really convinced that Justin Abdelkader’s high-sticking minor in overtime should have been 4 minutes. Yes, perhaps he drew blood on Doug Murray, but none that anybody could see underneath that lumberjack playoff beard. He could probably have gotten more blood if he scratched himself with his own fingernail.
“Will they be able to handle playing at HP Pavilion?” Absolutely. I was a little surprised at how relatively quiet the Sharks’ faithful were last night. This is not the same crowd that usually shows up for a Playoff game. I didn’t see “proper” Playoff energy until late in the second, as Howard’s antics gave them something to stir about.
I predicted that the Defense would tell the tale in this series, and that’s exactly what happened last night. I don’t think there was a breakdown of Detroit defense, I just think that San Jose did a lot better job of corralling loose pucks in either end. Plus, they had a lot of power play time to work with (see comment on officiating above). At any given time, after the Sharks picked up some sustained pressure in the offensive zone, the Wings looked a little unnerved in trying to get the puck out. They took unnecessary chances, over reached, and wildly swung at pucks just to get them out of the zone. You’ll notice there were no breakaways whatsoever, and I can probably count the odd-man rushes on one hand. Both defenses played well, but the Sharks were tops in this department.
We shall see the reaction from both teams Sunday afternoon. Last night’s performance doesn’t change my series prediction, but I fully expect Detroit to adapt to the ways of their new opponent and take Game 2 at the Shark Tank by at least 2 goals (not counting empty-netters).