The Nashville Predators may have home ice advantage, a dynamite netminder, and a 2-1 series lead, but the 3rd period of Sunday’s game 3 made it very clear that the team controlling the series is in fact the Detroit Red Wings.
After coming out flat and putting forth an uninspired effort through 35 minutes of play, the Red Wings took control of the game and forced the Predators back onto their heels the rest of the way, out-shooting them 19-4 in the final frame. While the push back wasn’t enough to dig themselves out of a 2-0 hole, and they would go on to lose the game, it did prove two things quite glaringly: The Red Wings are both the better team and their own worst enemy.
Nashville has in no way asserted itself as the top team in this series. Yet after several lucky bounces in game 1, a game 2 loss, and the aforementioned 3rd period spent attempting to weather the storm, they find themselves ahead in the matchup. Why? The storm came too late.
It’s a familiar synopsis for Red Wings fans. Play poorly early, fall behind, and then pour it on in the 3rd. It happened countless times in the regular season, usually resulting in a loss. Yet the team seems unable to provide answers as to why they’ve had trouble starting on time this year, and certainly haven’t found a solution.
But this time could be different. Instead of carrying the knowledge that they can dominate Team X into a game against Team Y, they’ll face the same team on Tuesday night with the memory of this game still fresh in their minds. The knowledge that they can outplay the Predators will be directly applicable, and hopefully enough to make a difference, and early.
A big step towards helping to control play early is the one Mike Babcock most readily pointed to during his post game comments: Faceoffs. Detroit lost early and often, and it kept the puck off of their stick and put them on their heels. Only Justin Abdelkader hit 50% success on the draw for the Wings, who particularly struggled in their own zone.
Another key will be staying out of the penalty box. The Red Wings have seen their regular season average of 8.5 penalty minutes a game jump to 14.3, and the time in the box is killing the league’s best 5-on-5 team even if the Predators aren’t scoring. The extra energy exerted is, especially for an older team like Detroit, a huge drain. More importantly though, it breaks up the flow of the game and doesn’t allow players to enter any sort of rhythm.
It’s true the Wings could use some help from the officials who haven’t made the best of calls this series, but they’ve taken several undisciplined penalties too. That’s something that can’t continue to happen if they want to be successful. Even though their PK has been reliable, it will let in goals. Avoiding that risk is only beneficial.
Getting the first goal of the game wouldn’t hurt either. In each of the 3 games so far the team to score first has gone on to win. The early start has been important because of the ability to control the game that it provides. Playing with a lead allows you to dictate the game much more easily.
The recipe for success is then clear. Start on time, control the puck, and stay out of the penalty box.
Will Detroit decide to flip the switch to ‘On’ at the start of the game, or the start of the 3rd? That’s the big unanswered question heading into Tuesday’s game 4. All they have to do is show up and perform at their highest level for a full 60 minutes and they’ll win. They’ve proven that level is too much for Nashville to handle. Can they do it? The answer to that will decide both the game and the series.