“Rest is a good thing, but boredom is its brother.” — Voltaire
There are two camps when it comes to long breaks between playoff series: some believe the rest is essential and will keep a team healthy and fresh when it starts its next series; others think that too much time off creates laziness and rust, and it hurts the team in the first game, maybe even the second game, of a series.
This debate will be brought up again tonight as the well-rested Detroit Red Wings open up their Western Conference semifinal in San Jose against the Sharks. Detroit finished off a sweep of Phoenix on April 20. That’s only nine days, though it seems longer for Detroit’s fans.
San Jose, on the other hand, ended it series with Los Angeles on April 25.
Last year, the Red Wings endured a physically and emotionally draining seven-game series with Phoenix, then flew from Arizona to San Jose to face the Sharks on just one day of rest. San Jose proceeded to win the first three games by a goal en route a 4-1 series win.
Though the Wings may show some rust when they hit the ice tonight, it is likely better than the scenario they faced a year ago.
“It’s always a concern,’’ coach Mike Babcock told The Associated Press. “But I’d rather have that concern instead of playing last night.’’
The Wings may have a little rust on them in the opening minutes, but the rest had many positive effects on Detroit. It gave some of their older players (Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski) a chance to rest their legs after a long regular season, but more importantly, it allowed two key players to recover from injuries.
Leading goal scorer Johan Franzen (28 regular-season goals) was able to get some time to rest his left ankle injury, while leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg seems to be fully recovered from a knee injury that caused him to miss the entire series against Phoenix.
As far as the series goes, San Jose knows this year will be much more of a challenge than last year. Coach Todd McLellan, who was an assistant under Babcock in Detroit, is well aware of the differences between 2011 and 2010.
“If we fall into that trap of looking back to last year we’ll sorely regret it,” he told the AP. “They’re a healthier team they’re much more rested. They’ll have a revenge factor. There’s a lot of things that will be different this year. Our team will have to be very cognizant of that.’’
Five keys to a Detroit win
1. Stay out of the penalty box: The Wings took more penalties than usual against Phoenix. They will not be able to do that against a much powerful San Jose attack.
2. Jimmy Howard: The Sharks have five guys who scored 60 or more points during the regular season, and they are going to put a lot of pressure on Jimmy Howard. The Detroit goalie struggled against the Sharks in last year’s series, and has yet to prove he can be a top-notch playoff goalie.
3. Pavel Datsyuk: Datsyuk is arguably the best player in the world, but has battled injury throughout
the season. A healthy Datsyuk can be the best all-around player in the series. That is what Detroit needs him to be.
4, Henrik Zetterberg: Is Zetterberg 100 percent? Detroit needs him to be close to that, as he is a key to Detroit’s high-tempo, puck control attack.
5. Role players: Detroit has always been a Staley Cup contender (and winner) because of the play of its role guys. Sure the Wings have Datsyuk, Lidstrom, and Zetterberg, but without the likes of Dan Cleary, Darren Helm, Patrick Eaves, and Valtteri Filppula elevating their games, the Red Wings cannot win.
Five keys to a San Jose win
1. Goaltending: Antti Niemi, who led Chicago to the Stanley Cup last year, struggled mightily against the Kings, posting a 3.99 GAA and .863 save percentage. If that doesn’t improve significantly, the Sharks will be in serious trouble.
2. Play physical: The Sharks are a much bigger team and far more physical team than the Wings. To control the speed and skill and disrupt the Wings’ puck control game, San Jose needs to be physical.
3. Balanced attack: The Sharks have many weapons, and all of them will have to be firing on all cylinders to knock off Detroit. San Jose got significant contributions from Ryan Clowe, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Wellwood, Ian White, Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle, and Jason Demers in the opening round, and will need continued production in the conference semis.
4. Clear the front of the net: Detroit has two of the best power forwards in the game in Tomas Holmstrom and Franzen. The two park themselves in front, tip shots, and knock in rebounds. The Sharks need Dan Boyle, Doug Murray, Niclas Wallin, and Ian White to move these guys from in front of Niemi.
5. Joe Thornton: Though he has performed better in recent playoff appearances, Thornton still has many people who doubt his ability to perform under the big spotlight.
My Prediction: Detroit in 6