Heading into Game One in Glendale, Ariz., there were plenty of questions begging to be answered. When Thursday morning broke, many of them were addressed and the favored, albeit lower-seeded, Red Wings are facing a 1-0 deficit.
How could this be? The hottest team in the NHL was handed its first opening game loss in nine straight playoff series. And losing to a team from Phoenix?! Has the world gone mad?
Maybe if we settle down and look rationally at what happened, we can make sense of Game One. So here are some things we learned last night:
If there was any doubt that the Phoenix goaltender would show up and play well, he put an end to that real quick. His 38 saves against the Wings will prove that first goal Holmstrom flopped past him was a fluke. He quickly pushed that aside and stood on his head the rest of the game.
The Wings need to figure him out, and do it quickly. If he starts to get on a roll, he’s going to get in the heads of guys like Bertuzzi and Zetterberg. Once a hot goalie gets in your head, might as well stick a fork in you. You’re done.
In Game Two, look for the Wings to pepper him with shots, and Tomas Holmstrom to create even more havoc. He did a good job on Lidstrom's goal, but then disappeared for the rest of the game.
Who knew? Obviously, the Wings didn’t.
Going three-for-four on the power play essentially iced the game for the Coyotes.
Giving Bryzgalov any kind of lead is a dangerous proposition for the opposition. Getting pucks past the Phoenix goalie is hard enough, but when his defense packs it in knowing they don’t need any more offense? Good luck.
The unexpected power play production helped ease the strain on Phoenix’s five-on-five offense. Of the teams that made the playoffs, they had the second-lowest goals scored in the Western Conference. Contributions from any area were more than welcome.
On the flip-side, Detroit and its mighty power play went one-for-six. The Wings and their all-star laden power play are not used to having a 17% efficiency on the power play.
There’s no doubt Detroit will be spending some practice time on special teams.
Officially, the Wings were only credited with two turnovers, but there were plenty more than that Wednesday night/Thursday morning.
Phoenix’s speed and willingness to play the body clearly unsettled the Wings’ defensemen. The turnovers led to fantastic scoring chances. If it weren’t for stellar play by Jimmy Howard, the game could have easily ended 4-2 or 5-2.
If Detroit hopes to come away with a win on Friday, they need to take a hit and still make a play.
Wings D: Whether you make a good pass or not, you’re going to get hit either way. You might as well make a good outlet pass and put the puck on the tape of your forward. A good breakout starts with crisp passing.
Speaking of physical play, Shane Doan was all over the rink. He may not have produced a point on Wednesday, but he made the biggest impact, both figuratively and literally.
If the end-board glass had a winged wheel on it, I bet he would have tried to plow through it.
The Wings need to find someone to match him physically. Whether that means head-to-head against Doan or someone on a different line to add some energy and put a little fear in the Coyotes’ minds. It needs to happen, and happen quickly.
There was no answer for Doan, and it’s clear that he was a presence every time he stepped on the ice.
If the Coyotes pull off the upset and beat the Wings, there’s no doubt Doan will have played a huge role.
Being a fantastic rookie goaltender in the regular season is one thing. Doing it in a playoff atmosphere is something else altogether.
As stated before, Howard kept the Wings in the game when they really should have been behind more than one goal. His saves after Detroit turnovers spoke volumes as to his ability to step up and make a play when necessary.
He’ll need to keep that up if the Wings want to move past the first round for the fourth straight year.
Coming into the series, the stats showed the Coyotes knew how to keep the puck out of their own net: fifth best five-on-five goals for/goals against ratio and third best in goals against per game.
Most were ready to throw those stats out when the Red Wings were announced as the opening-round opponent, however. The Wings offense was on fire since becoming fully healthy. They were supposed to tear this upstart team apart and put on an offensive clinic.
Someone forgot to tell the Coyotes.
The Coyotes’ defense kept the Wings out of the middle of the ice, forcing shots from the outside, allowing Bryzgalov to make much easier saves, if he faced a shot at all.
His defensemen blocked eight shots, and the forwards got in front of seven more. When Detroit pulled Howard for the extra attacker, the Wings never mustered a shot on goal.
The defense got their names on the score sheet as well. Keith Yandle got Phoenix on the board in the first, tying the game 1-1. Derek Morris scored the game winner in the third.
While he didn’t earn a point, Ed Jovanovski made sure the Wings knew he was out there. His physical play in front of the net and in the corners clearly got under the skin of guys like Todd Bertuzzi.
After scoring the go-ahead goal at 17:41 of the third period, the Coyotes weren’t content to sit back, let the Wings come at them at in full force, and pray Bryzgalov and the defense could hold them off.
Instead, Phoenix adhered to the old adage: “The best defense is a good offense.” They kept the forecheck on, pressed the Wings, created some possession time in the other end and made Detroit play defense.
Too many times, teams with a lead are resigned to fall back, set up a defensive trap, let the opposition gain speed through the neutral zone, and come at them in full flight. More often than not, you’ll see that strategy fail miserably, especially against a team as talented as Detroit. Coach Dave Tippett allowed his team to play the style that got them to this point, and it paid off in Game One.