When two powerhouse teams like the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks meet, it seems only appropriate that Game One would go to overtime.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t feel anything like a playoff game between two of the best teams in the NHL.
Even the game-winning goal was anything but skillful. Benn Ferriero, who played just over five minutes in the game, threw a weak shot at the net from the side boards. The puck redirected, not from a smart offensive play, but instead on a fluke deflection off defender Brad Stuart.
Much of Game One was tentative, to say the least.
Although the Wings struck first, the Sharks controlled much of the game. As is often the case, the team with the most rest was a step behind. If not for Jimmy Howard, the Sharks would have dominated the game on the scoreboard as well.
In terms of storylines, or keys to the game, there are few. That just goes to show how different this game was compared to Game One of their series last year.
Going into Game One, goaltending was a question mark for both teams. Antti Niemi didn’t look at all like a Stanley Cup winning goalie in Round One, while Jimmy Howard was steady but rode strong defense to a series sweep of Phoenix.
Niemi has never been heralded as being elite level. He’s a starting goalie, for sure, but his awkward play is just that – awkward. Seeing one or two bad goals against Niemi isn’t entirely unexpected. That being said, he has delivered result s in the playoffs and will come up with big saves when needed. Throughout Game One, he had standard saves quickly turn into scrabbling scoring chances. The damage was limited only because of the strong defensive play by the players in front of him.
Howard has been seasoned in the AHL and quite honestly is a study in how to develop a young goalie. On Friday night the full Jekyll and Hyde act that is Jimmy Howard was on display. He had times of disarray early in the game where rebounds were completely uncontrolled. After the early trials, he single handily held off the Sharks’ offensive pushes. Head-to-head, Howard was by far better, and he got stronger as the game progressed. Ultimately, he was the reason overtime was needed – like the rest of his team, the rust needed to be worked off in the first 20 minutes.
Both goalies rely on strong defensive play and Game 1 exemplified the need for solid defense against these offensive systems.
A defense that boasts Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski is hard to compete with. But the Sharks did well to defend the shaky play of Niemi. The refreshed, rested and healed Wings were heavily outshot and many of the shots they did get were lower quality. In comparison, the veteran Wings defense was outworked and overwhelmed at times.
Limiting Detroit’s offensive chances is no small task. Pavel Datsyuk was the only Wings player to consistently break through the Sharks defense, but that is typically the case against any team.
The Sharks displayed a disciplined, complete game where their offensive pressure didn’t expose them defensively. They played a smart game.
The Wings will walk away from Game One knowing they didn’t necessarily play poorly, but they were outworked. For that group of veterans, this should only serve as motivation to come out strongly and with energy for Game 2.
Those who watched Game O can only hope they do.