With the Red Wings’ clinching 7th spot in the Western Conference, and a playoff berth on Saturday night, it is now time to look ahead to their first round match-up in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Anaheim Ducks will pose as the first challenge to the Red Wings’ aspirations to win the franchise’s twelfth Stanley Cup. However, there are three key factors that will determine whether Detroit wins this series, and I’ll be taking you through each of them.
The Zetterberg-Factor (or the Z-Factor as I like to call it)
Henrik Zetterberg must continue to play like the Zetterberg of late (and of old). He finished the regular season with 12 points in the final 7 games of the season, a big reason why the Red Wings were able to make the playoffs in the first place. However, the Red Wins’ captain had only 1 point all season against the Ducks (which came on the power-play), so he will have to step up his game against an opponent that has seemingly shut him down this season. He finished top-20 in the league in scoring with 48 points, and thus, has been a point-per-game player all year. He is second behind Pavel Datsyuk for centre-men on the team in face-off %, and will be counted on to win big face-offs in the defensive zone, during the penalty kill, and late in the game. But let’s not forget, for someone drafted in the 7th round, 210th overall in 1999, he’s not too shabby.
Wings’ coach, Mike Babcock, will lean heavily upon Zetterberg to match-up against Anaheim’s best line, including Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Daniel Winnik (or Bobby Ryan). Neutralizing the Ducks best scoring line is one way to tame the second-seeded Ducks, and if Zetterberg can do this, the Wings will have a great chance of advancing. The Ducks also had the fourth best power-play in the league, and Henrik will be extremely important on a Red Wings’ PK that was middle-of-the-pack during the season. He also had 2 short-handed points on the season, one of which came in the last game of the season against Dallas, and turned out to be the game-winning goal, sending Detroit to the playoffs for the 22nd straight year. Talk about a primetime player stepping up during a primetime game.
Henrik Zetterberg is a born leader and has taken on the captaincy in Detroit extremely well. He will have to continue to display the leadership that saw him push his team to new heights during the closing games of the season, which were crucial if they were to make the playoffs.
The Z-factor must be on display if the Red Wings are to have any hopes of advancing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. I have no doubts that the Z-factor will be alive and well come Tuesday night.
The Red Wings were the fourth-least penalized team in the league this season, averaging just under 10 PIMs-per-game, and it better stay this way when the playoffs roll around. The Ducks boasted the league’s 4th best power play, and with a top PP unit of Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, Beauchemin, and Souray, oh baby will the Red Wings better be sure to avoid giving these guys a man advantage. It’s not just these 5 that can hurt you with the man-advantage. The ‘Ageless Wonder’ Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, and Cam Fowler have all chipped in at least 7 PP points as well, so the Wings have many options to worry about. How easy was it for Teemu to score his 250th power play goal against Colorado in February? This easy…
The Ducks power play is lethal. On the other hand, the Red Wings gave up 30 power-play goals during the season, and even though this wasn’t the worst, it was still mediocre and Anaheim is capable of inflicting further damage if given the chance.
Detroit’s roster in the playoffs is younger than what we’ve seen in the past. Younger guys with not as much playoff experience may commit penalties (under pressure) they would not normally make in a regular season game. This is where the leadership from guys like Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Franzen is crucial in keeping the inexperienced players focused. As long as Red Wings can maintain the same discipline that made them the fourth-least penalized team in the league, the Ducks won’t have the opportunity to do damage on the PP. Less damage on the PP equals less goals scored against, which equals a better chance for the Red Wings to advance to the second round.
The goaltending situation for both teams is very different. Anaheim boasts a goaltending tandem, where Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth have split time all year. Fasth became THE guy when Hiller stumbled a bit at the beginning of the season, but Hiller bounced back and finished the season with a 15-6-4 record. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau can call upon either tender and have enough confidence that either will get the job done. Mike Babcock doesn’t have the luxury of having two equally-skilled goaltenders, but who he does have, is this guy…
Jimmy Howard has been sensational for the Wings in net all season (except for a season-opening 6-0 loss to the Blues, and a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Blackhawks at the end of March). He has no-doubtedlly, saved his best for last. He finished the season with 4 straight wins, giving up 3 goals in total during those 4 games, and had a GAA of 0.75 during that span. Along with Zetterberg, he was instrumental in Detroit’s playoff push. Jimmy finished the season with a stellar 21-13-7 record, .923 SV%, and 2.13 GAA. He IS the man in Detroit, and if he falters, well he’s staying in the crease, because I don’t think Mike Babcock can afford to look to back-up Jonas Gustavsson to shoulder the load. If the Red Wings are to have any hope of beating the high-powered offence of the Anaheim Ducks, Jimmy Howard will have to steal the show.
This series has all the ingredients of a classic match-up, two teams who have won the cup multiple times, have star players, star goaltenders, and star coaches. If Zetterberg and Howard can lead the way, and the Red Wings can play their solid, disciplined game-style, then an upset of the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks is very much plausible. First-round action starts on Tuesday night when the Red Wings visit the Ducks at Arrowhead Pond for Game 1; game starts at 10:30 pm (ET) and can be seen on TSN (for Canadian viewers), and on NBC Sports Network (for U.S. viewers).