Wings adjust on the fly to even series
NASHVILLE -- During the first intermission of Detroit's 3-2 win over Nashville, Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock gathered his penalty killers in the small office across the hall from their dressing room. Eleven players crammed into the room to watch video clips from the Nashville Predators' power play that had just happened. One that looked different from Game 1.
The Predators entered the series with the NHL's No. 1 ranked power play during the regular season but entered this game still looking for their first power-play goal of the series. There were no shortage of opportunities in the first period of Game 2. Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard noticed the Predators trying to find teammates with passes across the seam, and the Red Wings dodged a goal or two when the Predators couldn't connect on one-timers. Not burying those early opportunities would cost them.
As it was all happening, Red Wings assistant coach Keith McKittrick was in the coach's office gathering video. He was noting the Predators' adjustments and putting together a game plan to present Babcock and the penalty-kill unit during intermission.
"You saw tonight, their power play changed," said Drew Miller, who joined Pavel Datsyuk as the first forwards over the boards on the Red Wings' PK. "We adjusted to their changes on the fly. We're ready for those kind of adjustments. That's something you prepare for any team. When you're playing this many times in a row, you've got to know the things they can do."
When the Red Wings were faced with a second period in which they had four penalties and had to kill 30 seconds of a five-on-three, they were ready. A smart timeout from Babcock immediately before Nashville's two-man advantage made sure of it. Their aggressive pressure on Shea Weber and Ryan Suter helped neutralize those shots from the point that were so successful for Nashville during the regular season. They stepped into shooting lanes and finished the game with 16 blocked shots to Nashville's 10. Brad Stuart blocked four of them, two of which came from Weber, one of the game's hardest shooters.
When the game ended and Detroit had tied the series 1-1, the PK remained perfect. Nashville's powerhouse power play finished the game 0-for-6, pushing the Predators' drought to 12 power plays without a goal in this playoff series. Overall, the Red Wings' PK has now killed 37 consecutive power plays. For a team that finished the regular season with a very average 81.8 PK percentage, it's quite a development. If the Predators don't find a way to change things, it's a development that could be a series changer.
"We really thought our penalty kill was coming early in the year and then we lost [Howard] and [Jonathan Ericsson] and the wheels came off our penalty killing," Babcock said. "We're being aggressive here again now, to me if you're aggressive you have a great chance to kill. If you're real patient and you stand on the inside, especially with a guy like Weber with a bomb like that, they're going to get to you."
So far they haven't. And as remarkable as a number like 37 straight kills is, there is one even more remarkable number: zero.
That's how many seconds of penalty-kill time Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom has contributed during the playoffs. Detroit has completely blanked the league's best power play without once asking one of the best defensemen to ever play the game to pitch in.
It's not that they don't want him out there. They can't.
During the regular season, Lidstrom was sidelined with a bruised ankle after he was hit with a shot against the Avalanche in late February. The injury is on the right side of his right foot. Typically, Lidstrom turns his skate so that it's in the shooting lane when a shot is comin, but in his first game back from that injury, the coaching staff noticed he wasn't in the lane for a shot. He didn't want to expose his injured foot.
"As soon as we saw what he did, we talked to him about it," Babcock said. "He made it very clear he can't be in the lane. He can't be."
And that means he can't be on the penalty kill. For now, anyways.
"Until he tells me, that's the way it is," Babcock said.
It makes Detroit's perfect penalty kill that much more impressive.
"We're trying to save [Lidstrom]," said Danny Cleary, who played 3:31 of his 14:11 of ice time on the penalty kill. "Certainly we've got Nik Kronwall, Stewey [Stuart], Big E [Ericsson] -- they have been stalwarts."
In a seven-game series, the adjustments are constant and they will continue. Between games. On the fly. The Red Wings will have a short practice on Saturday before Sunday's noon ET start for Game 3. McKittrick will no doubt be busy gathering and breaking down more video of the Predators' power play. The same thing will be happening on the other side.
The Predators power play is just too good to be shut down for long. At least common sense would suggest it.
"We just have to keep working and make things happen," said Predators forward Alexander Radulov, who led all forwards with four shots. "The [power play] was much better today than game No. 1. We had a lot of chances, we just didn't bury it. There were empty nets we missed and some rebounds. Their goalie played well. We just have to battle through it."