Well, now that the playoffs have started, it is time to look ahead—far, far ahead. How can the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup?
It is no secret that the Red Wings had a rough season. Although they did secure a playoff spot for the 22nd year in a row, it was not pretty. They come in as the seventh seed, the lowest that they have been during their playoff steak.
The great thing about the playoffs is that it is a new season. The Los Angeles Kings proved that last season by playing strong toward the end of the season and then riding the eighth seed all the way to a championship.
While the Red Wings would likely be the underdog in most series, there is no doubt that they have the talent to make a long run.
So how can they make this miracle run? Of course, the obvious answers of offense, defense and goaltending will rise to the top, but it needs to go beyond just those simplistic terms.
The Red Wings have a sad history of losing to lower seeded teams that are led by a hot goalie. I will save fans the pain of listing some of those goalies names that are burned into their memories. This season they have the chance to turn the tables on higher seeded teams.
Jimmy Howard has been playing some of the best hockey of his career. Over the month of April, he posted a 1.43 goals-against average. He had an impressive three shutouts over the final seven games that helped the team clinch its playoff spot.
If he can continue his hot streak, he could steal a couple of series. When a team has full confidence in its goalie, it allows them to play better and to focus on their aspect of the game. A team with confidence is a dangerous thing come playoff time.
How quickly the young players acclimate to the playoffs will be a major question for the team. If Damien Brunner, Joakim Andersson, Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl, Brian Lashoff and Danny Dekeyser can rise to the occasion then it will greatly help the team.
Having the energy and excitement of youth going through their first playoff runs can energize the rest of the team. Beyond energy though, these players need to contribute.
Brunner needs to add his scoring touch from earlier this season while the others need to show the lessons that they have learned throughout the season. For the team to make a cup run, at least two of these players will need to have a big postseason.
Over the final weeks of the season, the team showed more offensive aggressiveness. The team is lucky to have Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on the team. While they have amazing talent, they both tend to not score as much as their ability allows. It is great to be a good teammate, but sometimes thinking shoot first actually creates more opportunity for teammates.
Datsyuk has increased his shooting over the last month. This makes him a dual threat whereas when he just focuses on passing first then it is easier for the defense to guard him. He had four or more shots five times in April. He only had accomplished that six times over the rest of the season. This helped the team end the season on their best scoring run of the season.
Over the final seven games, the two of them combined for five goals and 17 assists. This was helped by them averaging a combined 7.8 shots per game. For the team to make a run at the Stanley Cup, both Zetterberg and Datsyuk will need to maintain the aggressive style that they showed toward the end of the season.
The fourth line is very important. It is no coincidence that the team’s strong finish happened when the fourth line was hot. Patrick Eaves, Jordin Tootoo and Cory Emmerton were great down the stretch.
Many like to claim that the players on the fourth line are energy players. That is too simplistic and does not really say how important their contributions are. They need to be more than just a line that runs around the ice hitting people.
That energy needs to become real pressure on the opposition. This forces them be on full alert at all times and can help wear them out. Instead of looking at the fourth line as a bit of a break, they need to be viewed as a weapon.
Patrick Eaves had 12 shots on goal over the final three games. It took him 15 games to accomplish that before his streak. That helped his line combine for two goals and two assists over those final three games.
They do not need to be leading the team in scoring; they just need to be a real threat. It forces the other teams to make adjustments to stop one more line.
As in earlier slides, Zetterberg and Datsyuk need to be aggressive. That aggressiveness will lead to scoring options for teammates. Those teammates will need to take advantage of those opportunities.
Even if not on their line, someone will need to step up. Danny Cleary, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Gustav Nyquist and Brunner are the most likely.
With so many possible options, the same person does not need to rise up every game. While it would be great for Franzen to return to his 1.15 point-per-game playoff average from earlier in his career, if more of these players step up more often, the team will be able to go rounds.
It is not always the team with the higher scoring players that wins the cup; instead, it is the team that gets their stars to play like stars while filling in with strong play from their next level players.
Filppula and Brunner are playing for contracts so watch for them to be especially aggressive.
There is no doubt that they are a long shot to win the Stanley Cup, but it is possible and if there is to be a surprise team this year, the Red Wings would be a leading candidate.