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Round 1 Wrap-Up…or Should That be Sweep up?

The Red Wings became the first team to punch their ticket to the second round last night when their 6-3 win over the Coyotes completed a round one sweep. The series played out almost perfectly for the Wings, with very little to complain about if you’re a fan of the team. After the break, we’ll take a look at how the Red Wings dispatched the Coyotes and look ahead to who they might be facing in Round 2.

How the Wings won:

-The stuck to their game, despite Phoenix attempts to drag them into extracurriculars. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Wings are a far superior team on paper, and should have had no difficult knocking off the Coyotes. Instead of getting caught up worrying about the ferocious (and sometimes illegal) Coyote forechecking, the Wings were happy to hold the edge in puck possession and capitalize on their opportunities.

-Their big players stepped up. In the absence of leading scorer and key defensive player Henrik Zetterberg, you knew the Wings needed the rest of their stars to come up big to win. Pavel Datsyuk nearly put the team on his back. Johan Franzen recorded three points in the two and a half games he played. Tomas Holmstrom scored twice among four points. Jimmy Howard was absolutely lights out for most of the series.

-Their role players made the most of their minutes. Guys like Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves showed up on the scoreboard, but made their presence felt with a stifling forecheck. Justin Abdelkader was held off the board but he battled all series long with Phoenix captain Shane Doan. Darren Helm was especially effective in both his checking game and in generating offense. In one play last night, he did both to set up Patrick Eaves first goal.

Things to work on:

-After game one, where the WIngs completely shut down the Coyote power play, the penalty kill seemed to have lost it’s edge. The Coyotes scored 6 power play goals over the final three games of the series, which is way, way too much. I don’t have an answer for why the Wings penalty kill struggled against such a poorly ranked Phoenix PP, but it’s something that they’ll need to get sorted out against whoever they play in Round 2.

-Starting on time. In two of the four games, the Wings fell behind early. They were able to come back and win both times, but that season long trend will kill them against stiffer competition. In fact, the Wings start was so bad in Game 1 that Mike Babcock received a text from an unnamed friend which said “Remind your team game starts at 7, not 7:45″.

Like I said before, not a whole lot to complain about if you’re a fan of the red and white. They basically dominated Phoenix for the majority of the series, despite missing leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg for the duration. From the sounds of things, Mike Babcock is cautiously optimistic that he will have Zetterberg for the start of Round 2, which will likely be in just over a week.

They also were able to overcome the loss of Johan Franzen for nearly half the series. He was knocked out for most of Game 2 by a Shane Doan check that sent him face first into the boards. He played Game 3, but then sat out Game 4 with a sore ankle, which he may have injured on that same Game 2 hit. Apparently he played Game 3 with the ankle frozen, but the medical staff decided not to risk it again with the Wings up 3-0.

Mike Modano came in off the bench for him, and made sure he was accounted for. He picked up the second assist on Tomas Holmstrom’s goal to open the game, on a play where Pavel Datsyuk dangled through the Coyote defense and left a pass in the slot for Holmstrom.

In addition to getting guys like Franzen and Zetterberg some more rest by finishing out the series early, captain Nick Lidstrom will get to stay fresh for the rest of the playoff run. In Game 1-3, Lidstrom played the 2nd least of any Wings defender, ahead of only Ruslan Salei. In Game 4, he had the second most ice time behind Kronwall, but in general he played far less this series than he is accustomed to, and is probably better off for it.

It was the strong play of Kronwall that allowed Lidstrom to play fewer minutes. Kronwall led the Wings in ice time in the series, and was strong in all areas of the ice. His 13 hits and 8 blocked shots were both team highs, as was his +6 (T-1st with Datsyuk and Salei).

Ansar Khan had a great article about it before Game 4, and Kronwall’s performance yesterday only solidifies the points that he made. I had my doubts at certain points this season that Kronwall would ever be a #1 defenseman, the way the Wings had been grooming him to be since he was taken in the first round in 2000.

Now, at age 30, Kronwall seems to have come into his own as a leader on the ice, and on the bench with the Wings. He even wore an A on his sweater for a game late in the year when both Henrik Zetterberg and Kris Draper (two regular alternate captains) sat out. I was predicting that Brad Stuart would be the next Wings defenseman to hold the honor of wearing a letter on his sweater whenever Lidstrom decides to hang up the blades, but it looks like Kronwall may have the inside track.

Finally, give credit to Jimmy Howard for sweeping Phoenix in just his third ever playoff series. People seem to forget at times that he is still very early in his career as an NHL goaltender. It’s a learning process, and Howard admitted that last year he was nervous in the playoffs. He didn’t get much help either, as the Wings played shorthanded for much of the second round series against the Sharks. Now, a year later, Howard looks much more confident and was a very big reason in why the Wings could so easily advance. He made some absolutely enormous saves in all four games, especially late in the contests, to preserve the wins.

In a post-game interview with John Keating, Jimmy Howard delivered the quote that should give you the most insight into where his head is at this year.

I’ll smile in June

The Wings can now cool their heels while they watch the rest of the first round unfold from the comfort of their own homes, and do some advanced scouting on the teams they could face. I’ll have a more detailed breakdown of each team the Wings could potentially face in the coming days, so look forward to that. For the record, it will be either the Nashville Predators, the Anaheim Ducks or the San Jose Sharks. So if you’re not a fan of 10:30 games, cheer like crazy for Nashville, who are tied 2-2 in their series with Anaheim.

The Off Wing View’s Round 1 Stars

As always, these three players are the ones who racked up the most three star selections in my post-game recaps. Before I get that started, though, now seems like the best time to bust out my newest feature, the No Guts, No Glory player of the series.

No Guts, No Glory – Round 1: Darren Helm

Somehow (I blame myself), Helm only made his way into the three stars once in the Wings four games. He definitely could have been in there more often, but when a team plays as well as the Wings did, sometimes players get left out who deserved to be included. Helm had a goal and two assists in the series, to go along with 11 hits. His biggest hit came on Keith Yandle in Game 4. He obliterated the Coyotes defender, took the puck and sent a pass out front to Patrick Eaves for the Wings second goal of the game. It was his never-ending motor that caused the Coyotes defense fits all series, and he is a worthy recipient of this distinction. I would not be at all surprised if he wins himself another one or three of these.

3. Valtteri Filppula 1G, 4A, +5 - Filppula was very good for the Wings this series, and he needed to be with Zetterberg out. He picked up third star honors in Games 3 and 4, where he had a goal and two assists and went +4. He also led the Wings forwards with nearly 21 minutes of ice time in Game 4.

2. Jimmy Howard 4-0, .915 SV%, 2.5 GAA

Howard was one of the three stars in Game 1 and Game 3, when he surrendered 4 goals on 58 shots, good for a .931 SV%. His numbers are a little off from the numbers I predicted in the last episode of Putting on the Foil, but he was still very, very good. Aside from the Shane Doan squeaker in Game 4, there really wasn’t a “bad goal” against him. Without some of his huge saves, this series could have turned out very differently.

1. Pavel Datsyuk 2G, 4A. +6, 6 Hits, 6 Blocked Shots

For me, there was no question about who deserved first star honors for the series, regardless of how the game-by-game stars were decided. There is simply not a better player on the ice on a shift to shift basis than Pavel Datsyuk. He tries things (and is successful more often than not) that others wouldn’t even think of. He led the team in scoring in the series, led the team in +/-, and didn’t back down from the physical play of the Coyotes, which targeted him especially. The fact that he isn’t up for the Hart Trophy on a yearly basis seems almost criminal. I consider myself lucky every single day that I wake up knowing I get to cheer for such an exciting, magical player.

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