Thursday, April 24, 2014

Red Wings' to insert Zetterberg, Bertuzzi to try to neutralize physicality of Boston Bruins

Detroit Red Wings' coach Mike Babcock says he wants to go up-tempo on Boston Bruins' goalie Tuukka Rask on Thursday night.

Stop me if you've heard this before...

Going into Tuesday night's Game 3 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals match with the Bruins, Babcock insisted that his team's Game 2 performance - where they got knocked around by the physical Bruins to the tune of a 4-1 blowout loss - was an aberration, that all his Red Wings had to do was to come out and skate circles around the plodding bears...
Detroit has found very little room to operate in the slot against Boston

...but instead they came out and tried to match the physicality of the Bruins - delivering 18 hits in the opening frame - an arrogant ploy that left them vulnerable to the relentless aggressiveness of the Bruins, who took advantage as all good teams will and sent them to their room down 2-0 in a game they eventually lost by a score of 3-0.

Obviously, they can't beat the Bruins at their own game - the Red Wings need to use their speed and, most importantly, not skate out of control and give up two easy goals as the result of being overly-physical with the most physical team in the league.

The Bruins are at their best when they turn defense into transition offense, so their approach is always going to be to challenge the entry into the defensive zone, guide the puck handlers to the wing and make sure Rask has a clear view at the shooters...

...because when he has the clear line of sight, very rarely do the pucks get past him, and more often than not he can gently direct the rebound to the side boards where the angles are bad and his forwards are waiting to start the rush.

"He's had light nights against us so far," Babcock said of Rask, who has stopped 80 of 82 shots in the series. "I really thought with the exception of Game 1 they've done an exceptional job of pushing us out of the middle and putting us on the outside. To me, that's not good enough."

But even when the Red Wings get inside for a shot or a second chance, Rask has been square and stoned the offerings because of the layers that Detroit has to go through to get to the front of the net dictates where the shots are coming from - and when Rask makes the save, the Bruins are there defensively in the slot to gather up the puck and head the other way.

It's a structure that can be frustrating to teams like Detroit that just don't have the bulk to muscle their way into the slot.

"You have to be harder, be on the inside, make the goalie work way more." Babcock continued. "We've gotta get on the inside to find out if Rask is doing anything. We haven't got to him."

Bruins' Projected Lineup


Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Jarome Iginla
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith
Justin Florek - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson
Jordan Caron - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Defensive pairings

Zdeno Chara -Johnny Boychuk
Matt Bartkowski - Kevan Miller
Torey Krug - Dougie Hamilton


Tuukka Rask
Chad Johnson

The only team to beat the Boston Bruins three times in regulation this season, Detroit has found nothing but tough sledding since the playoffs began - even in their Game 1 victory they managed only one goal, a spectacular individual effort from All World puck handler Pavel Datsyuk with 3:00 remaining being the difference in that game.

Since, the Red Wings have generated exactly one more goal in two games, which isn't going to get it done.

"There is a reason why they gave up the least amount of goals all year," 'Wings forward Justin Abdelkader commented. "They play a really well-structured, sound game, well-coached. At the same time we're making it easy on them."

The prevailing attitude with the entire Red Wings' organization is that they are simply giving the Bruins easy opportunities to score, but the fact of the matter is that it takes a disciplined team to take advantage of their foes' errors - and the Bruins' have made them pay more often than not.

Detroit scored an average of over three goals per game against Boston in the regular season, but in three playoff games, that number has dwindled to a microscopic .666, mostly due to the Bruins' defense at the blue line and Rask staying disciplined and square - a direct result of the defense in front of him keeping the lanes and crease clear.

If speed is the answer, they may not have much of a chance, given how big and physical the Bruins are at the blue line and along the boards and how structured they are in the zone - but there are whisperings in the hallways of Joe Louis Arena that team captain Henrik Zetterberg may be on his way back for Game 4 on Thursday night.

Red Wings' Projected Lineup


Henrik Zetterberg - Pavel Datsyuk - Justin Abdelkader
Johan Franzen - Darren Helm - Gustav Nyquist
Todd Bertuzzi - Riley Sheahan - Tomas Tatar
Drew Miller - Luke Glendening - David Legwand

Defensive Pairings

Niklas Kronwall - Brendan Smith
Kyle Quincey - Dan DeKeyser
Jakub Kindl - Brian Lashoff


Jimmy Howard
Jonas Gustavsson

Zetterberg, who hasn't played since before the Olympic break and had surgery on his back two months ago to repair a herniated disc, will apparently be in the lineup for Detroit as he was paired with Datsyuk and Abdelkader at their morning skate - and on the top line in practice for the past two days.

Also in the lineup will be Todd Bertuzzi, who will add needed bulk and size in matching up with the Bruins on the third line - moves that tell of either frustration or desperation - or both - on Babcock's part, as his line-shuffling in Game 3 had little effect on Boston, who just kept plugging along...

...hinting at the possibility of Zetterberg returning the lineup earlier than anticipated by pointing to the youthfulness of his team - he has been calling them "kids" recently - and not being satisfied with the product on the ice, regardless of effort.

"The Stanley Cup Playoffs are for men, each and every year," he said. "That's where you earn the right to be a good player in the League; not in the regular season, in the playoffs.

"When I first arrived here they said Pavel Datsyuk didn't perform in the playoffs. It takes you a while sometimes as a kid in this League to figure it all out and to score," Babcock continued, "but do you want to wait for it, or do you want to just do something about it now?"

It seems Babcock wants to do something about it now - because if he doesn't, there may not be a later.

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