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Monday, May 2, 2011
Wings' Babcock: We have to be better

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Mike Babcock spent three-plus hours on the flight home from the Bay Area watching video Sunday night. Then he got on the phone Monday morning with his buddies from the coaching fraternity.

They confirmed what he had already figured out by watching film.

"We were better in Game 2, but in saying that, I still don't think we skated at a high enough level," the Detroit Red Wings head coach told ESPN.com on Monday. "To me, they're skating better and winning more races and 50-50 puck battles than we are.

"They're up 2-0 and they deserve to be up 2-0, I believe. We have to be better."

He's bang on there. The Sharks only edged the Wings by 2-1 scores in both games, but the reality is that San Jose was markedly better in the key areas: puck possession, puck battles and sustained attack. It's the latter that really caught Babcock's eye when he poured over the game tape.

"When I watched it again and looked at the scoring chances, we had more than I thought," said the Olympic champion coach. "But we're like a power play that's one and done. In other words, you get a chance and then you don't sustain it. They are getting chances and they're grinding us. They've had a power play, especially in the second period, where after it's over they then spend the next four to five shifts in your zone wearing on you, wearing on you and wearing on you, taking over the momentum of the game. As much as we had a few chances and hit a couple of posts, the reality is they've been better than us. Their five-man game is better, we've been more stretched out than they have been."

Mike Babcock
"They're up 2-0 and they deserve to be up 2-0, I believe. We have to be better," Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

Babcock gave his team the full day off Monday. They'll return to the ice Tuesday for practice at which point we're guessing new forward line combinations will be featured. Babcock loaded up with his two star centers Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg playing on the same top line in the opening two games, but that was largely a saw-off with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. In the meantime, that allowed the Sharks' potent second line centered by Logan Couture to take advantage of the rest of the Wings' lineup. Surely, Babcock must tweak his lines now.

The Wings head coach told ESPN.com on Monday that he was still mulling over his options for another day. But my gut feeling, knowing Babcock, is that he'll split his two star centers in order to give the electric Datsyuk a little more freedom in a better matchup.

Zetterberg, who missed the first round with a knee injury, hasn't looked quite the same just yet, even though he did score on the power play Sunday. The Wings need more out of him if they're going to mount a comeback, as they do from Johan Franzen. The Mule missed Game 4 in the opening round with an ankle injury. Whether or not the Wings can still win this series depends greatly on what they can get out of their two beat-up stars, Zetterberg and Franzen.

They also need more team discipline. Babcock said that's an area that must improve.

"Whether you think as a player, as a coach, as a fan, that they're getting better calls than you … none of that means anything to me," said Babcock. "You got to be more disciplined. And I'm not just talking discipline in terms of not taking penalties, but also in terms of composure. It's a waste of time to be yelling at the ref."

Overall, there was improvement from Game 1 to Game 2 for the Wings. They had no business even being in overtime Friday night. On Sunday, they played much better despite falling short.

"Was it a good hockey game? Yes," said Babcock. "We're not really interested in good hockey games. We're interested in one thing only. We need to win on Wednesday and then it's series on. They held serve at home and we got to respond here. That's the facts."

A year ago at this very juncture, the Wings also arrived home down 2-0 to the Sharks. Marleau's overtime marker in Game 3 made it a 3-0 series hole that Babcock and his troops must avoid this time around.

Babcock understands the crossroads this series is at. The difference between 2-1 and 3-0 is monumental. In fact, he even noted after Game 3 in the previous round how much his team's win that night in Glendale likely was devastating in the other dressing room. Now he'll try to avoid that same hole.

"When you've been around like I have, and you've gone through it a number of times, you've got lots of experience to go back on," said Babcock. "Now, what does that mean really? It must just be hokey. But I remember being up 2-0 on Calgary [in 2007] and coming home 2-2. I remember being up 2-0 on Nashville [2008] and coming home 2-2. I remember being up 2-0 on Pittsburgh [2009] and losing Game 7. There's lots of hockey here. But we got to be better. I'm not taking anything away from San Jose, I think they've been good, I really do. They've played well and they've played hard.

"But we can be better, so let's be better."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.