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What We Learned: Are Sharks simply better than the Red Wings?

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

 

The three things that come to mind most when I think of the Red Wings: Stoic and efficient professionalism, overwhelming skill and lots of wins.

But in this series — and indeed, their last playoff meeting with the Sharks as well — they've been out of their element, outplayed and out of luck.

The Sharks have now beaten the Wings in six of the last seven playoff meetings, en route to a 4-1 thumping last year and a 2-0 lead so far this season. That should be cause for concern in The D, because this is a team that has been consistently outmaneuvered, despite what tales the one-goal scorelines in Games 1 and 2 would have you believe.

When I wondered aloud whether these last seven playoff games against San Jose were of any concern to the usually stalwart-in-their-support Red Wings fans, I was told that this near-unprecedented domination could be a product of the fact that Sharks coach Todd McLellan was an assistant under Mike Babcock before he took Horace Greeley's advice and went west.

Maybe that's it … but couldn't it be that the Sharks are simply the better team?

(Coming Up: NHL bans Chara from enjoying Coke; Pekka Rinne is decent at best; Minnesota money problems; Kirk Muller watch in Dallas; Hurricanes in evaluation mode; Todd Marchant leans to retirement; Thrashers think checking is overrated; Blackhawks target Crawford; Rangers consider Drury buyout; Brian Boucher deserves 'boos' not 'Boosh'; Alex Burrows's beauty goal; a simply preposterous Sabres/Penguins trade; and Zach Parise does not feel The Force.)

After all, the Sharks' 105 points in a division where all five teams had at least 95 points is at least somewhat indicative that they're just a better squad than the Wings, who got 104 points in a division with two sides at 87 points or fewer. And shouldn't Babcock know at least some of his former assistant's tendencies anyway?

Maybe, to some extent, Wings fans are right, and McLellan just knows how to beat his old team. He's certainly laying out the perfect blueprint for doing it: Hit 'em. A lot. Like, a whole lot. Engage them in shoving matches after the play. Get under their skin. They react, shall we say, aversely. Often, whistles to stop play only serve to prompt a series of facewashes and little crosschecks.

The Red Wings do seem rattled. And not just by the ignominious prospect of now needing two wins at the Joe to keep their playoff dreams alive, but also at the Sharks' insistence on finishing every single check and doing their best to give Jimmy Howard a refreshing snow shower each time he covers the puck.

They are, it turns out, very easy to goad into penalties.

All that pestering has led the Wings to take an uncharacteristic number of penalties, creating many tough situations and tiring out the skill players who get used on the penalty kill so that they are less effective in other parts of the game. Given the way the Wings dissected the Coyotes' defense and goaltending in just four games, most would've thought it near impossible that they'd have just two goals and 59 shots through 127 minutes. They just don't have the same zip in this series, despite the fresh legs having a week off should have given the aging juggernaut.

And obviously, even when they're off their game, the Red Wings are an exceedingly difficult team to beat. Both games in this series have been 2-1, and one took overtime to decide. Their four losses in the conference semis last year were all by a single goal (and their only win, somehow, was a 7-1 whitewash.

However, there's little moral victory to be pulled from trailing 2-0 in yet another series, especially because the Sharks seem to find a mischievous joy in doing the type of irritating spadework in which they've taken to specializing against the Wings.

None of this, by the way, is to discount the work of the guys who aren't the team's shift disturbers. The Sharks' forward lines are nearly impossible for any team that isn't Vancouver to match up against safely, particularly when they have last change. The big guns of Thornton, Pavelski, Heatley, Marleau and Setoguchi haven't had a huge impact on the scoreboard, but they've consistently tilted the ice in San Jose's favor, making way for guys most people haven't heard of — Ferreiro and Wallin and White — to get all the postseason glory.

The Sharks may only be halfway there, but the way this series has gone, the Red Wings need a major course correction, and they need it Tuesday night. If not, they're going to have a major problem on their hands — and little to no time in which to fix it.

What We Learned

 

Anaheim Ducks: Sounds to me like Todd Marchant is leaning toward retirement. With 1,200 career games in 15 or so seasons and a Stanley Cup under his belt, I'd say that's a pretty decent career.

Atlanta Thrashers: I didn't know this before, but I guess Craig Ramsay thinks hitting is overrated and that there are better ways to separate the player from the puck. That might be true if you're Nick Lidstrom. That is not true if you're any defenseman that has ever been an Atlanta Thrasher.

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CHARA

Boston Bruins: Remember when Zdeno Chara was drinking that Coke on the bench? Yeah the NHL told him he can't do it any more because the league has a partnership with Pepsi. Also revealed: Chara drinks Coke once a month.

Buffalo Sabres: "I want to win a Stanley Cup with this city, and I'm not willing to quit yet," Lindy Ruff said. "That's my goal. My goal isn't to go somewhere else and win it. I want to win it here." Yes, Lindy. That's why you just signed the multi-year extension. Good stuff, buddy.

Calgary Flames: The Hockey Writers looked at the Flames' top prospects, and oddly, the page wasn't blank.

Carolina Hurricanes: So apparently Jimmy Rutherford is still in the "evaluation process" about this season and where the organization goes from here. Oooo, Jim! Pick me! Fire the coach and sign some defensemen! There, I've solved your problems.

Chicago Blackhawks: Apparently the thought is that the Blackhawks' first priority should be re-upping Corey Crawford. BUT WHAT ABOUT TOMAS KOPECKY?!?

Colorado Avalanche: "Is Ryan O'Byrne the next Don Cherry?" jokes the headline. Maybe. Depends how much he hates people who aren't from north of the 49th parallel and west of Quebec.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Rick Nash had a goal and an assist in Canada's first game of the World Championships, which just goes to show that if you put anyone competent on his line, he'll do really well. He has not often enjoyed this luxury in his time with Columbus.

Dallas Stars: The Stars might make Kirk Muller their next head coach, but regardless of what the Montreal Gazette would have you believe, that's not for sure.

Detroit Red Wings: I'm no expert, but my gut feeling is the Red Wings will need to score more than one goal a night over the next two games of this series if they want to avoid getting swept.

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers signed talented young Swedish forward Anton Lander on Friday. He's best pals with Magnus Paajarvi. He's also not a goalie or defenseman so the Oilers are still gonna be terrible next year.

 

Florida Panthers: Keaton Ellerby got a new one-year deal, and it's a one-way, which guarantees he'll be with the big club, or at least making big-club money in the minors. Said Ellerby, "This is the year we're going to make the playoffs and…" WHOOOOOOA buddy slow down there.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are trying to put together their plan for their offseason. I have a good idea of where to start: RE-SIGN DREW DOUGHTY FOR A MILLION YEARS.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are probably going to have money problems in the offseason. Bet they're really regretting having Niklas Backstrom carry the fifth-highest cap hit for a goalie in the whole league. Oh, and I guess a minority owner who controls two companies that are currently under SEC investigation. That also.

Montreal Canadiens: A "stats guru" has carefully examined why the Canadiens lost to Boston in the first round. And here's some of that groundbreaking analysis now: "[O]ne thing that came out was that centre Tomas Plekanec graded out consistently better in all categories than his $7.3-million-US-peryear teammate Scott Gomez." That's the kind of insight that's going to make advanced metrics take the hockey world by storm.

Nashville Predators: So this Rinne fellow is pretty good.

New Jersey Devils: News that will break Wysh's heart: Zach Parise has never seen a "Star Wars" movie. How terrible for him.

New York Islanders: Somehow Matt Moulson didn't get invited to play at the World Championships. Antoine Vermette did. I don't get it either.

New York Rangers: The Rangers are kicking around the idea of buying out Chris Drury. Don't they know he was once in the Little League World Series?

Ottawa Senators: Gosh, I sure wish we hadn't traded this oddly expensive 30-year-old role player-type third-line guy for a second-round pick in the middle of a rebuild!

Philadelphia Flyers: Headline: "Flyers' porous defense gives Bruins series lead." Well that's a nice way of saying, "Flyers' goalies porous, singlehandedly give Bruins series lead."

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Phoenix Coyotes: Don Maloney had a chat with fans on Friday. He revealed that the team would really like a top-line center. "We are always looking to improve," he said. "In fact, I had breakfast with Bryz and asked him to find us a center from Russia." I'm pretty sure it's exactly that easy, too.

Pittsburgh Penguins: This just in -- Losing your top three centers for extended periods of time is not especially helpful.

San Jose Sharks: Holding the Red Wings to just two goals in 127 minutes of hockey is a) impressive, and b) pretty much exactly how you want to start out a series. The Sharks sure do have the Red Wings' number in the playoffs of late.

St. Louis Blues: Carlo Colaiacovo is playing in the World Championships, which is notable because I barely remembered he exists.

Tampa Bay Lightning: No Simon Gagne in Game 2, but he hopes to be back real soon. That would be helpful.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Hey Leafs fans, don't hate John Ferguson Jr. as much as you think you should.

Vancouver Canucks: "Sedins need offense to run on all cylinders." And vice versa.

Washington Capitals: The Capitals started their own Tumblr. It's just a matter of time now until they're posting YouTube videos of Ovechkin giggling over LOLcats.

Gold Star Award

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Everyone on Boston's top line had a great afternoon on Saturday. David Krejci had two goals and two assists. Nathan Horton had a goal and a helper. Milan Lucic… well, he successfully made it to the game.

Minus of the Weekend

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Brian Boucher kinda shouldn't be in the NHL at this point, right?

Play of the Weekend

Just a nasty goal from Alex Burrows.

Great support work by Ryan Kesler too.

Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week

User "goldy2266" put on his thinkin' cap for this one.

To Pitts:
Tyler Myers
Zack Kassian
Luke Adam
Brad Boyes

To Buff:
Evgeni Malkin
Matt Niskanen
2nd Round draft pick.

Signoff

Do they give a Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry?

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can email him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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