The Detroit Red Wings may have taken Game 1 of their series against the Lightning, but if Tampa Bay continues to dominate play the way they did Thursday night, this series could turn in their favor in no time.
The Red Wings came into their first round series against the Lightning as huge underdogs. And even after Detroit’s Game 1 victory, it wouldn’t be crazy to still consider them such.
Entering the series, from an advanced statistical perspective, the Red Wings were one of the top puck possession teams in the entire Eastern Conference and one of the few teams who kept pace with the Lightning when it came to underlying numbers in the East. After the series’ first game, however, it’s more than evident there’s a huge discrepancy between the two clubs when it comes to ability to control the run of play. If Detroit can’t turn the tides in that respect, this series could be a quick one.
In the regular season, at 5-on-5, Detroit was the third best team in the league and the best in the Eastern Conference with a shot attempts for percentage of 53.5. Tampa Bay was only one spot back, third in the Eastern Conference, at 53 percent. In Game 1, however, Tampa Bay controlled the play to the tune of nearly 71 percent of the even strength shot attempts. Aside from the two special teams goals — one on the power play and the game-winner shorthanded — Detroit’s offense struggled greatly.
If it weren’t for Petr Mrazek, Detroit’s rookie netminder who was making his playoff debut, it’s entirely likely the Red Wings have to be digging themselves out of a 1-0 hole in Game 2. Instead, they stole the first game thanks to Mrazek’s 44-save performance. Over the course of the series, the Red Wings will need to do better than relying on a 23-year-old netminder playing the first NHL post-season games of his career.
While the playoffs are the one time of year when a hot goaltender can make the biggest difference, it will be infinitely easier for Mrazek to do so if he’s not being peppered with 40 shots per evening or sliding from post-to-post while attempts whizz wide.
For much of the game, the Red Wings were on the run. They spent large swaths of time in their own zone, chased the Lightning on several shifts in each period and there were only glimpses of Detroit carrying the play. Case in point would be Tampa Bay’s second goal, a Nikita Nesterov tally, where the Lightning controlled the play for what felt like an eternity before Nesterov finally buried a seeing-eye wristshot.
What Detroit may be able to prey on, though, is Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop. In 2013-14, Bishop had his coming out party as he posted a 2.23 goals-against average and .924 save percentage, with a 5-on-5 SP (.932) that was fourth best among starting goaltenders. This season, Bishop struggled.
29 goaltenders played at least 2,000 minutes at 5-on-5 in 2014-15. Of those, Bishop finished 22nd with a SP .920. The goaltenders around Bishop included Jhonas Enroth, Kari Lehtonen and Ryan Miller. Those aren’t spectacular numbers and the company leaves something to be desired.
It was clear, too, that Bishop could be the only weak link on an otherwise brilliant Tampa Bay team. With only 14 shots on goal, the Red Wings managed to find the back of the net three times. Pavel Datsyuk’s first period deflection that found net was gorgeous, Datsyuk’s early second period tally was a nifty move, but the Luke Glendening tally that stood as the game-winner was one that couldn’t go in.
No matter how shaky Bishop is, though, the Red Wings’ success will hinge on controlling the puck and flipping the script on the Lightning. Detroit coach Mike Babcock is a brilliant hockey mind and there’s no doubt he’ll make adjustments heading into Saturday’s Game 2. But if the Red Wings can’t start pressuring the Lightning, this series, no matter the result of Game 1, could be over in a hurry.