The San Jose Sharks are not dominating on the scoreboard, nor are they vastly out-playing the Detroit Red Wings in their playoff match-up, but they are continuing to win game after game after game. And while Red Wings players won’t admit the consistent losing is getting to them, you got to believe they are running out of answers.
On Wednesday night in Detroit, the Red Wings dropped Game 3 in eerily similar fashion to the way they did last season. A year ago to the date, the Red Wings lost 4-3 in overtime to the Sharks on a goal set up by Joe Thornton. That goal gave the Sharks a 3-0 series lead. This year, the Red Wings again lost 4-3 in overtime on a goal set by Thornton to fall behind 3-0 in the series.
Combining last year’s series with the first three games of the current series and the Sharks have now won seven out of the eight games with all their wins coming by just one goal.
With these teams so evenly matched, the outcome of one goal games shouldn’t be nearly this lopsided, right? After all, the Red Wings dominated the majority of the overtime period on Wednesday and out-shot San Jose for the first time in the series. Were they not due a one-goal win against the Sharks in the postseason?
If you believe in the notion of a player or a team being “due” for success, then obviously the Red Wings were due for a win and generally played well enough to be successful in Game 3.
However just because a team may be due for change doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. In hockey, we hear all the time about the “little things” or “the games within the game.” Unfortunately for Red Wing fans, their team has made it a habit of falling just short in these areas.
First and foremost, the Wings have yet to come out on the winning end of the special teams battle in this series. In Game One the Sharks went 1-for-6 on the power-play while the Red Wings went 0-for-2. The next game saw the Sharks go 1-for-4 while the Wings went 1-for-6. And on Wednesday both teams went 2-for-4 on the man advantage.
Both teams featured top five power-play units during the regular season with San Jose holding a marginally better percentage. However, the Wings had a better penalty kill than the Sharks. When you consider the gap between penalty kills was a little more significant, one would have to assume that the Red Wings would hold the advantage when it comes to special teams.
Thus far, that hasn’t been the case for the entire series, nor any one game in the series. And when you consider the Sharks were by far the better even strength team this season, it is no surprise the Red Wings keep coming out on the losing end of these tight playoff games.
Sharks are 4-for-14 on the power-play, and the Red Wings are 3-for-12. That has to change if Detroit is to make any sort of comeback in this series.
Not only do the Wings need to come out on the winning end of special teams but the best opportunity they have at doing that is staying out of the box themselves. During the regular season the Wings averaged 2.2 less penalty minutes per game than San Jose. But they have spent more time on the penalty kill than the Sharks this series, that has to change.
San Jose has had 12 different skaters earn at least a point in the series (not including Patrick Marleau). Conversely the Red Wings have only had seven different skaters get on the scoresheet.
This difference looks even more one-sided when you consider the Red Wings have gotten just five points outside of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom while the Sharks have gotten a whopping 17 points outside of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski. Secondary scoring? Detroit hasn’t gotten nearly enough, that has to change.
Shots on goal? San Jose has put 21 more shots in Jimmy Howard’s direction than Detroit had toward Antti Niemi. That doesn’t necessarily have to change for the Wings to get back in the series but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
What about faceoffs? Sharks have won the faceoff battle 52 percent to 48 percent thus far, and have yet to be under 50% in any of the three games in the series. Again, that doesn’t have to change for the Wings but faceoffs can be a good indicator of which team is winning the puck possession battle. San Jose has certainly been winning it thus far.
How bout blocked shots? Even in all three games. In fact the only game within a game the Red Wings are “winning” is in the hit column. But that statistic is extremely deceptive because one of the main reasons the Sharks have a 3-0 series lead is because they have been the better team along the boards. The Sharks have used their size and strength to out-muscle the Red Wings at both ends of the ice. Ryane Clowe, Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton (three of San Jose’s bigger forwards) have combined for seven points in the series versus Detroit’s trio of Todd Bertuzzi, Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary who have yet to chip in a single point between them. Therefore, nobody in their right mind will say the Red Wings have been the better physical team in this series.
Nor have they had the better netminding. Jimmy Howard has indeed been phenomenal in this series but Niemi has been just that much better, coming up with that one extra save.
Perhaps one statistic or “little thing” or “game within the game” in which the Red Wings have been better is in the giveaway/takeaway numbers but the Sharks have had the lions share of puck possession and chances in this series.
So while the Red Wings aren’t far behind in most of the games within the game, they are losing all but one of them with the other being a tie (blocked shots).
Essentially, one could say the Sharks are 7-0-1 when you break down the little things. And that is why they have a 3-0 lead in the series.
They haven’t been that much better overall but they are better when they have to be and that’s often a result of attention to detail or—winning the little things.