It is widely known that the Tampa Bay Lightning scored the most goals in the regular season. Steve Yzerman built the Lightning to be a fast and striking team, and that’s exactly what they were in the regular season, scoring 259 on the season (3.16 a game). Why is it, then, that the Lightning have an average of 2.5 a game against the Red Wings? Save for the 5-1 blowout in game 2, the Lightning have only scored 3 goals in a game once this series (game 4). How are the Wings shutting down this high-powered offence?
Even with all the tools that the Lightning possess, their power play in the regular season was very average, operating at 18.8%. However, Stamkos had 13 of his 43 goals on the power play (30%) and Callahan had 10 of his 24 (42%) on that same power play, so a few of their players are relied on the power play to score.
In this series against the Wings, the Lightning power play is humming along at 9.5% (2/11). This has been the main reason that the Lightning haven’t been able to pour on the offence against Detroit; not surprisingly, both of the Lightning’s power play goals came in the 5-1 blowout win in Tampa.
The way Detroit is neutralizing the Lightning power play almost seems counter productive: they’re leaving the points open. It obviously worked during the regular season too, considering the Lightning’s power play percentage against the Wings was 7%. You read that right, 7%. 1/14 against the Wings in the regular season.
You can see here that the Red Wings are allowing the Lightning defence to play the puck, assuming they don’t get it to the likes of Stamkos, or Callahan. The deep forwards are covered well, as are the passing lanes from forward to forward. Detroit is forcing the Lightning defensive corps to make the plays on the power play, and it’s paying off greatly for the Wings, as the likes of Matt Carle have only 3 shots on goal all series.
When it comes to creating offence, most teams would rather have the puck as they enter the offensive zone, and keep it until it’s in the back of the net. The Lightning’s zone entry is usually one where they try to stack 2 forwards on the blue line, and have the trailer forward make his way through the opposing defence, much like Detroit’s zone entry.
Detroit has done a good job at stopping that entry, as you can see here and here. They always have a forward coming and applying back pressure to force the Lightning to make a play quickly. More often than not, the Lightning have tried to go right through the Detroit defence, which hasn’t exactly paid off all the time. This may be attributed to the lack of NHL experience that the Lightning have in their forwards, as their average age is 25.6, with only 2 players over 30.
Another factor is Petr Mrazek. When the Lightning realize they can’t cut through the Detroit defence, they attempt to go back to a simple dump and chase. Who’s there to thwart their attempts? Petr Mrazek.
Not only is Mrazek standing on his head this series, he’s also making frequent trips behind the net to stop the dump and chase, and get the puck to one of his teammates. It’s working well, as the Lightning haven’t been able to set up in the Detroit zone often. Much of their offence is coming off the rush.
Which leads me to my next point: the Lightning still won game 4. Obviously, they scored more goals than the Red Wings did, but how?
Once the Lightning caught on to the fact that they couldn’t go through the Detroit defence, they tried to dump and chase to get behind the Wings. When that didn’t work, they figured they’d play to their strengths: their speed.
Tyler Johnson had a career year this year, and it is in large part to his small stature and his speed. On Tampa’s 1st goal, you can see that Johnson recognizes the gap between him and Ericsson, and somehow beats Helm on the outside. Ericsson never closes that gap, and it results in Tampa cutting Detroit’s lead in half.
Something very similar happens on Tampa’s 2nd goal, as Tampa notices a gap in coverage, and exposes it. Not a single Wings player is looking at Palat, and he cashes in to tie up the game.
The overtime goal seems like a complete crapshoot, when in fact it is still partially due to the speed of the Lightning. Dekeyser goes to make a hit, but takes himself right out of the play, which puts the Wings in a 1-on-4 situation. For Detroit to come out unscathed from that one would have been a miracle.
So now the question is, will Tampa continue to exploit Detroit’s immobile defence? I wrote in a playoff preview for another site, the following about Detroit’s defence:
If the Lightning were to win, 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.
Game 5 will be a very interesting one. 1 team will take a 3-2 lead headed back to Detroit for an elimination game. This is when the big boys come to play, and when the games get incredibly exciting.
Game 5 takes place at 6 pm Eastern.