I know this isn't the most timely of game recaps, but when there hasn't been a new post in over a year I feel like this is something of an accomplishment. That, and having a day to reflect on yesterday's game has helped put things in perspective.
Overall, I think the story of the series so far has been Jimmy Howard. To all the talk radio callers out there who think Howard is meh and not able to steal games, this is your series. Howard has stopped 79 of 83 shots over two games, good for a 0.952 save percentage. Of note is that two of the four goals he's allowed have been off of deflections, one off of Brad Stuart's stick in overtime of Game 1 and the other off of Howard's glove and helmet in Game 2. If the Wings lose this series and Howard continues to play this well, then he is far and away the player I'll feel the worst for this offseason. Enduring another summer of skepticism and criticism from the Wings fanbase is not something he should have to endure.
Editorial diatribes aside, the Wings were able to get virtually nothing going against the Sharks 5-on-5. I realized after watching the clip package from nhl.com that highlights of Wings chances at even strength were non-existent. It seemed like they spent the majority of the game backchecking, and when they were able to get the puck through the neutral zone they were either dumping it in and failing to chase or throwing an initial attempt at the net, and whatever rebound that may have been there was seemingly always swept aside to a Shark in wait.
Let's take a look at each goal and see what went wrong (and the one thing that went right).
SJ 1 Det 0; 4:54 1st period- PPG Ian White (1)- from Heatly (3) & Clowe (4)
We'll start with San Jose already on the powerplay. Heatley gets the puck near the blue line and carries it in towards the right faceoff circle. Helm is in the very high slot area and needs to move to his left to cover his defensive zone.
This next frame is where the critical error occurs. Helm needs to stop and swing back to cover the high slot area. At this point, he can let Heatley continue to move towards the next and reasonably expect the defenseman to step up and help.
Helm does start to swing up, but it's to stick with Heatley. The Wings defenders are bunched together too deep in the zone, leaving that huge amount of open ice circled in teal available in the high slot.
Heatly moves the puck back to the blue line, where White is waiting. Howard is screened by two Sharks and has no chance of seeing this puck. White winds up and connects, and the score is 1-0 San Jose.
SJ 2 Det 0; 1:39 2nd period- Wallin (1) from Clowe (5) & Couture (5)
This play starts behind the Sharks net. Wallin receives a cross-ice feed at the edge of the Sharks zone and carries it into the neutral zone. Bertuzzi spots him and attempts to close in, but Wallin blows by him and into the Wings zone.
This is good.
This is bad.
Kronwall plays this one fairly conservatively. He had the option of coming up and challenging Wallin a bit more than he did, but I can't say that I really blame him. The risk of stepping up is creating the potential for a Shark to slip into the slot area. Wallin takes a slap shot from the right faceoff circle, and after a bounce off of Howard's glove and helmet the puck finds the back of the net. See that little black dot with the red arrow pointing to it? Yeah, that should be in Howard's glove. Or deflected off his helmet in any other direction. Pretty much it'd be fine anywhere but that particular location. Sigh.
SJ 2 Det 1; 13:58 3rd period- Zetterberg (1) from Datsyuk (6) & Holmstrom (3)
Lidstrom starts the rush on the power play. He leaves a drop pass for Datsyuk near center ice, and Datsyuk carries it through the neutral zone. He passes to Holmstrom at the blue line, who walks along the boards on the right side. Here, Homer makes his pass to Datsyuk and cuts towards the net, drawing the attention of the Sharks defenders and likely Niemi.
Datsyuk notices that Zetterberg has moved into the slot area undefended and fires the perfect pass to him. Look at the attention of the Sharks defenders, in this frame illustrated with the straight teal lines. Three defenders are keyed on Datsyuk, and the other is looking at Holmstrom. If that doesn't speak volumes about the offensive threat that Datsyuk is, I don't know what does.
By the time anyone notices Z it's too late, as he's got his shot off and beats Niemi blocker side.
Being down 0-2 is frustrating and disappointing, but if recent playoff series around the league have taught us anything it's that a comeback is attainable. The Wings need to find a way to cycle the puck and create multiple chances on a single rush at even strength. If I were them, I'd stop trying to dump and chase so much and be more patient with the puck. We aren't winning those puck battles, so I'd pass back to a D-man and re-initiate an outlet pass rather than dump it in to the zone and essentially generate nothing but a turnover.
Who's in, who's out?
It looks like it's time to shake up the lineup. Having the last change at home will help, but it's not enough by itself. I expect to see Datsyuk and Zetterberg split up. While they're magic together, the second line needs help and also needs to be able to wear out San Jose's second line defensively, which hasn't happen thus far in the series. Additionally, I think sitting Abdelkader and putting Draper in the lineup is a move that needs to be made. Looking at their strengths, Abdelkader is a hitter and Draper a fantastic faceoff man. Right now the Wings need to hold on to the puck if they're going to throw San Jose's puck possession game out of whack. They have a better chance at getting the puck more frequently with Draper taking draws than they do with Abdelkader trying to race into corners and win puck battles. That, and Abdelkader hasn't put himself in anyone's good graces with the number of penalties he's taken so far this series.