During a frustrating game one defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings’ defenders weren’t aggressors in the offensive zone nearly enough. In two off days, they apparently cracked a major code to their team’s success, which was readily evident in Saturday’s convincing 4-1 victory over Chicago.
Saturday, the team’s offensive inefficiency on defense would finally change in a big way, as the Red Wing defenders took plenty of chances early, trying to jump into the play and looking to make things happen. Brendan Smith got burned initially in the game on Chicago’s first goal, but credit him and Detroit for sticking to the game plan through two solidly played second and third periods of solid pressure.
In the second period, Jakub Kindl was aggresive from the point, throwing a shot on net that was deflected by Damien Brunner into the net, tying the game. Later, Smith atoned for his earlier sin by wisely jumping into the play and depositing a Henrik Zetterberg one timed feed into the net. On Detroit’s crtitical third goal, Jonathan Ericsson whipped a long precision pass to Johan Franzen after playing catch with Nicklas Kronwall, and Franzen iced the game with a beautiful wrist shot over Corey Crawford.
When all was said and done, the Red Wings’ defenders had contributed a goal and three assists to the cause, and were the major reason behind Detroit’s clutch 4-1 victory, which evened the series at one. Previously, Detroit’s defenders had shrunk to the offensive and defensive challenge required against the deeper Blackhawks, but thanks to a few days to refocus, the Red Wings managed to find a new approach.
What’s the only way the Red Wings will continue to push Chicago to the limit? If the defenders continue to show up on both ends of the ice. With Duncan Keith, Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook in the Blackhawks’ fold, players like Kindl, Ericsson, Smith and Kronwall need to fire away, safely join the rush when possible and maintain an offensive touch. Detroit’s first victory over Chicago in eight games looked effortless by the end, mostly because for the first time in the days since Nicklas Lidstrom, their defense actually managed to drive the offensive effort.
In game one, Chicago’s defenders were the offensive aggressors, contributing a goal and two assists. Saturday, Detroit’s blue liners responded in a very big way, stunningly outdoing the Blackhawks’ back end. As the series shifts to Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings will have a major advantage if the play of their defense stays strong while in the opposite zone.
Best Play In Chicago: Henrik Zetterberg’s slick play helps Brendan Smith redeem himself. After a dismal game one, Smith started game two in the worst possible way, as his error helped set up Chicago’s first goal of the game. Thankfully, Smith stayed aggressive and jumped into the play, depositing a wonderful feed past Crawford for the critical second goal of the game. It was fitting that Smith would score on nearly the same type of play he was victimized on, and proof that hockey the gods do often pay attention.
What Must Change In Detroit: Faceoffs. The Blackhawks have dominated the first two games in the faceoff circle, winning game one 32-29 and managing to take the second match up by a convincing 31-25 margin. Lost draws have led to plenty of offensive chances for Chicago in Detroit’s zone, and giving the Blackhawks time to set up will only lead to trouble with the offensive fire power on the ice. Though they managed to tie the series losing the face off war, things will have to change in that department if the Red Wings want to take a commanding series lead on home ice.
Stat To Watch: Shots. A very telling stat in this series, as alluded to in our preview by Chris Burke, will be shots on goal. Game one featured the Blackhawks winning in a romp on the scoreboard due to Jimmy Howard being placed in front of a 42 shot shooting gallery. Game two was a different story, as the Red Wings stifled Chicago’s attack with a more confident defensive effort, only allowing 20 shots in all. In Detroit, the Red Wings must find a way to play solid defense and keep Chicago around or under 30 shots. That number’s fluctuation, it would seem, looks to indicate either Blackhawk dominance or struggle in this series.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax