The Red Wings are normally lauded for their high skill, fancy game play. It's fluid, and enjoyable to watch. Forgotten in all of this is how much effort, quality coaching and grit is required to win puck battles and move that puck to the forwards. For all the attention to skill, the Red Wings clawed their way into the playoffs with solid defensive efforts, as they were 20th in the league in goals/game. Without further ado, let's look at the half year that Detroit's Defense turned in.
Brendan Smith, Kyle Quincey
Jakub Kindl, Danny DeKeyser
The obvious pair to watch is Kronwall and Ericsson. They'll log the tough minutes against the Twins and Kronwall will inevitably fling himself at someone's head in this series, probably Corey Perry. However, Kindl and DeKeyser might be the pairing to watch in terms of having an offensive impact. There wasn't a ton of offense from the Detroit blue line this year, except Kronwall killing it on the PP. However, Kindl and Dekeyser will probably draw the softer minutes and the Red Wings possession means that they might be able to get something done playing against Anaheim's second and fourth lines. What that pairing does could have a big effect on this series.
The Red Wings were one of the top defensive teams in the league, allowing 2.29 goals per game and only 27.5 shots per game. The rankings were fifth and seventh in the league, respectively. Their PK% was 81.7, good for 12th in the league. More importantly, they averaged almost three shots more per game than their opposition and their Fenwick Close of 53.17 placed them eighth in the league.
This is a team that knows how to possess the puck and keep the opposition on their heels. It's what carried them through the regular season when their 5-on-5 shooting percentage was a paltry 7.3%. They are a defensive oriented team that focuses on keeping the puck out of their zone, and they are pretty good at it. The defense carried this team to the postseason, and defense is a key component of winning playoff series. The Ducks are going to have to find a way to break this system.
Vs. The Ducks
It's kind of hard to look at career stats considering three of the Wings top seven defenders right now have less than a season of NHL experience between them. Also, Kronwall's role has changed a lot since Nicklas Lidstrom left, so any past stats might not be very insightful. However, the Detroit defense did play against us this year and here's how they fared:
Kronwall: 3 games, 0 points, minus-1, 4 shots
Ericsson: 3 games, 0 points, even, 1 shot
Quincey: 1 game, 0 points, +1, 0 shots
Brendan Smith: 2 games, 2 points, +1, 2 shots
Jakub Kindl: 3 games, 3 points, +2, 4 shots
The Three Threats
On a sidenote: I love alliteration. It's a wonderful literary tool.
1). Superfly Nikky Kronwall: Kronwall is a dirty player. He's going to throw a flying elbow in this series; it's just a matter of when. It's nothing anyone should take personally. Perry is going to slash someone. It's in their nature, just like Calypso abandoned Davey Jones, and I lost respect for the Pirates franchise after that debacle.
On top of that, his 16 points on the PP placed him fifth among defenseman. The Detroit PP may not have been the most efficient this year, but you don't put up a number like that entirely on accident either. Between his potential to take someone out with a concussion and to provide timely special teams play. Kronwall will be a real threat. Seriously though, I don't know how anyone is a fan of this guy. He's turned leaving your skates to make a hit into a career.
2) Jakub Kindl: I'm going to use the term Dark Horse twice in this section so we'll call Kindl the less dark Dark Horse. He was the second leading scorer for the Wings' defense, and he did almost all of it in even strength situations. He doesn't log tough minutes, but the combination of a low possession team like the Ducks against a strong possession team like Detroit might be the exact combination needed for him to find a few opportunities to hurt Anaheim.
3) Kyle Quincey: Speaking of defenseman who can hurt the Ducks offensively, remember when Kyle Quincey was guaranteed for 20 points from the backend. Then he signed a pretty big deal in Detroit and he hasn't been able to reproduce those numbers. But it's the playoffs, and old threats have a funny way of finding old mojo when the Cup is on the line. I remember one Steven Thomas whose career was supposed to be over in 2003.
Beating the Defense
I couldn't think of fancy alliterations for this one. I also can't think of three ways to beat the Red Wings Defense. Really I can only think of one, but I'm going to write it 3 times because it's the most important
1) Forecheck, Forecheck, Forecheck: Babcock runs a tight ship. Maybe the tightest ship in the NHL. This defense knows what it needs to get done to be successful. The best thing the Ducks can do is disrupt that rhythm and wear them down physically. More importantly, forcing them to put it off the glass will limit those long passes through the neutral zone that result in instant offense going the other way.
On top of that, Dekeyser and Smith don't have a full season of NHL experience between the two of them. If the constant pressure can get them to break, the Ducks have a chance to cripple this blue line. Babcock doesn't want to shuffle his deck. That's not to say he can't; I just don't think he wants to. If the Ducks' forecheck forces him to remove a rookie it might set off some dominoes. Keep the pressure up and deny that defense its smooth exits. Forecheck, Forecheck, Forecheck
2) Bring up the D: Ok, I lied. I thought of one other thing. I think Bruce should encourage his D to play a little more up in the neutral zone. Detroit is a possession team, and possession teams live by making good clean exits, transitioning well through the neutral zone and hemming you up inside your zone. The Wings are going to want to carry as much as possible. Don't let them.
By bringing up the defense in the neutral zone and attacking forwards after the Detroit D puts the puck on the glass, the Ducks can keep the pressure on Detroit in their own zone. If the defense can take pucks away in the neutral zone, gain the red line and start the forecheck all over again, they can take away the Red Wings' best weapon: their controlled play. It won't be an easy task, and the penalty disparity will make it difficult, but it's how the Ducks should attack this D.
Did I mention that Kronwall likes to kill people by leaving his feet when he hits? I just wanted to reiterate that since it will most likely be a factor in a series with two teams who hate each other.