The Detroit Red Wings extended their winning streak to three games after a 5-2 win against the Nashville Predators on Saturday. The Red Wings got off to a fast start by scoring in the first minute of the game and piled it on with two more goals in the first period to chase Predators goalie Carter Hutton.
The power play continues to be a bright spot and the blueline is not only prohibiting scoring chances but creating scoring chances as well.
Avoiding Catch-Up Hockey
During their current three-game winning streak, the Red Wings have scored first in each game. Before that, they allowed the first goal in their last eight. During that eight-game stretch, they were 5-3, a respectable record given the fact they faced 1-0 deficits in each of those games.
However, any player or coach will tell you playing with a lead is exponentially easier than playing from behind. In fact, coach Mike Babcock echoed that very sentiment after a loss to the Boston Bruins last month.
“You can’t play catch-up hockey. It’s ridiculous.”
Getting that early 1-0 lead is key in winning games consistently. Constantly falling into 1-0 holes means you have to be more aggressive and take more chances later on, which can lead to mistakes on both sides of the puck.
By scoring first, you put pressure on your opponent to get back into the game, and you can take advantage of an overly aggressive opponent, which the Red Wings did with two power-play goals against Nashville.
Defense Leads to Offense
One of the biggest clichés in sports is “a good defense is a team’s best offense.” That adage certainly was true during Saturday’s game against the Predators.
The Red Wings scored within the first minute of the game, when Riley Sheahan made a nice pass to a streaking Gustav Nyquist on a two-on-one, and Nyquist buried it past Carter Hutton.
However, it was a great defensive play from Tomas Tatar that led to the scoring chance in the first place. Tatar, on the backcheck, intercepted a centering attempt and found Sheahan skating down the right side.
The Red Wings’ third goal of the game also came on a great defensive play. Niklas Kronwall pinched at the point and kept the puck in the offensive zone, Nyquist collected the puck, found Tatar gliding into the slot, who used the defenseman as a screen and wristed it past Hutton for his career-high 20th goal.
When the Red Wings play sound defensively, not only does it lead to less offensive opportunities for the opposing team, but it can create turnovers, which often leads to scoring opportunities for the home team.
Shots Against Too High
The Red Wings are one of the better defensively sound teams as far as allowing shots on their net. They are the third-best team in the NHL, allowing just 27.1 shots per game — the New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild are the only two teams who are better at 27.0.
Against the Predators, the Red Wings allowed too many shots to get to Petr Mrazek. In total, Nashville had 36 shots on goal. Luckily for the Red Wings, they got solid goaltending from Mrazek.
Okay, guys, Mrazek’s making some wonderful first-shot saves. Like 28 of them. That’s a little too much in 52 minutes of play.
— George Malik (@georgemalik) January 18, 2015
Nine of those shots did come when the Predators were on the power play, and only one of those was below the faceoff dots, but it’s a trend that cannot continue if the Red Wings are going to have sustained success.
The Red Wings played a near-perfect game after spending the past six games on the road. They’ll have two more home games against Buffalo and Minnesota before a much-needed rest for the All-Star break.
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Tom Mitsos is a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @tom_mitsos.