This may have been one of the craziest seasons in the recent history of the Red Wings. With the big winning streaks, the big losing streaks, the deadline deals, those deadline players getting hurt, Howard being hurt, Mrazek stealing the starters position, etc. etc. etc. this season was a nail-biter. After all that, the Wings still managed to extend their post-season run to 24 straight seasons; but now they draw the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Wings went 1-2-1 against the Lightning this season, so right away it seems as though this series will go one way. However, looking at those regular season games, the Wings performed better later on in the season against the Lightning, ending the matchup with a 4-0 shutout win in Detroit. At that point in time, the Lightning hadn’t been shutout since December, 2013. Let’s look at the keys to this playoff matchup.
Looking at this Tampa team, it would be easy to say that they have one of the most high powered offences in the league. They led the NHL in goals per game at 3.16, and boast players like Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Ryan Callahan. Those 3 players are enough to strike fear into any team. However, in the 4 games they played against Detroit this season, they scored an average of 2.75 goals/game against the Wings. Tampa Bay scored 11 goals overall in those 4 games, 2 of which were empty netters.
In fact, their power play percentage sits only at 18.8%, good for 14th in the NHL. Very average. That power play percentage against the Wings this season? 7%. The Lightning went 1/14 on the power play against the Wings this season. Let that sink in. 1/14 with the likes of those same Stamkoses, Johnsons and Callahans.
The Wings, on the other hand, come into the post-season with the league’s 2nd best PP% at 23.8%. In their games against the Lighting this season, the Wings went 3/14 on the PP, good for 21%. There may have only been 4 goals scored on the power play between the two teams in their regular season matchup, but if the Wings want to have a chance in this series, they will need to keep up their above-average penalty killing against the Lightning.
Both Detroit and Tampa Bay hold an average of 29.6 shots per game, which is seemingly high, but that sits the 2 teams tied for 18th in the NHL. Both of these teams are offensive, but who has the advantage with their forwards?
The average age of the Lightning’s forwards is 25.6, with only 2 players over 30. The Wings forwards clock in at an average of 28, including 5 forwards over 30 (not including Franzen and Cole, both who are injured and aren’t expected to play in the playoffs). The Wings have the edge in experience, but they also have a crop of young players making their NHL post season debut in Pulkkinen and Ferraro. The Lightning have the youth, but will that turn into post-season success? Normally, the older, more experienced teams are the ones who go deep into the playoffs, however, no one can overlook the high-powered young offence that the Lighting possess.
Both teams have their youth players placed throughout their lineup. Tyler Johnson anchors the 2nd line for Tampa, flanked by Palat and Kucherov. Killorn plays the 1st line with Stamkos, and Drouin and Paquette are currently slotted on the 3rd line.
The Wings have most recently used Tatar on the 1st line, Jurco, Sheahan and Andersson on the 3rd line, and Ferraro on the 4th. Pulkkinen will see some playing time in this series as well, and has played on every line while in the NHL this season, so could realistically be slotted anywhere.
If the Lightning were to win this series…
…they would need their powerplay to improve. 7% against the Wings this season is awful. With the likes of Stamkos, Killorn, Johnson, Fillpula, Callahan, etc. this team needs to find it’s rhythm with the man advantage.
…they would need to expose the age of the Red Wings.The Wings have an old defensive corps. Marchenko is the only player under 25, and Kronwall, Ericsson and Zidlicky are all over 30 years old, with the latter being 38. Zidlicky’s defensive game is slipping, and guys like Ericsson and Quincy aren’t the most mobile players. With the amount of speed and youth the Lightning possess, they need to expose the older, slower players that the Wings have on the back end.
If the Red Wings were to win this series…
…Peter Mrazek will need to be outstanding. His 16-9-2 record doesn’t scream starting goaltender, but neither does Howard’s 23-13-11. Mark’s 0.592 winning percentage is only slightly better than Howard’s 0.489, but Mrazek has been the steadier goalie down the stretch. Mrazek seems more confident and significantly more calm in net than Howard, and thus he gets the nod for the beginning of the series. Babcock isn’t the kind of coach to have a quick hook either, so expect Mrazek to play most of this series unless he completely falls apart.
…they would need to score a lot more. The Red Wings only put 3 goals past Ben Bishop on 2 different occasions this season; the other 2 games they could only manage 1 each game. Bishop is a stalwart on the back end for the Lightning, and the Red Wings need to find a much more offensive punch against a team that boasts a 2.51 GA/G to go with Bishop’s season long 2.32 GAA. The Wings managed 2.82 GF/G, but an average of 2.25 against the Lightning this year.
Predictions are tricky. There are so many variables that come into play in a best-of-seven series. If a guy like Stamkos or Datsyuk goes down in game 1, that would immediately change the face of this series.
Given the history of these 2 teams this season, it seems as though the matchup will be quite good. 3 of the 4 games between the teams this season were incredibly one-sided (2 for Tampa Bay, 1 for Detroit) with the 4th game being a shootout win for the Lightning. In a long series, this would make for fantastic hockey.
When it comes to hockey, I am a realist. I tend to throw homer-ism aside and look at the facts. Based on the offence that Tampa produces, and the average defence that the Wings have, along with a young goaltender facing elite offensive players, I only have one direction I can go.
Lightning in 6.
I’m Osgood’s Bucket, and here’s hoping I’m wrong.