Tondar's Daily Rant

Prepare yourself for the writings of Tondar the Destroyer, Baron of Atlanta, Rightful Heir to the Throne of Spain, from whom all babies come. As his will be blogged, so let it be done.

Friday, April 25, 2008

WINGS PLAYOFF PREVIEW: EPISODE V,THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

From Seth...


So I've been asked to make a prediction for the Wings/Avs series that starts tonight.
As with any Wings/Avs post, I am obligated to first bring up this:



Link?


Link.

So back to this year...
Keeping with the Star Wars analogy for 2008, I think this series will be the best of the playoffs -- poignant enough to be directed by Irwin Kirschner, but still Star Wars nonetheless. (David Prowse, you will be playing Petr Forsberg.)

Colorado has some scorers who are downright scary, plus speed, plus Sakic, Forsberg and Hejduk of course, but I think the Wings are coming into their playoff selves right now, and our defense is the best in the league, and our goalie is the hottest in the league, and those are the first things you look for in playoff success.

Goaltending: Wash
Jose Theodore can elevate himself, but he's not going to be Patrick Roy. He's been playing hot, stopping 94 percent of the shots coming his way, but it wouldn't be the Red Wings in the playoffs if we weren't playing a hot goalie in triple-size pads who has seen a gazillion shots (just as it wouldn't be an Avs playoffs without 5,000 overtimes).

Osgood, on the other hand, has been lights-out. He hasn't faced as many shots, but the ones he has seen have been good ones. Since Ozzie got put in for Hasek, he has allowed one goal in three games, and that one (with two Nashvillains crashing the goalie in the closing seconds of Game 6) would have been disallowed by any rational human being, and most irrational ones too. Ozzie is the consummate streaky goalie; catch him at the beginning of the next wave of awesome in the playoffs...

Forwards: Colorado
It'll be clutchy-grabby, as well as hitty-whacky. Ryan Smyth (you may know me from such series as Edmonton '05) is known for having his hand on his opponents' sticks as often as his own, and Sakic might as well leave his maroon No. 19 at home, since he'll pretty much be wearing a red and white No. 30 all series. Ian Laperierre (you may know me from such classless hits as the one that knocked out Lidstrom last February) and Tyler Arnason are big punishing forwards we will learn to hate quickly (in case you missed your chance during Arnason's days with Chicago).

The Sakic/Wolski/Brunette unit has popped into one of those lines that usually gets a nickname (how's that coming, by the way?), which gives them two of the best scoring lines in the NHL -- Forsberg/Stastny/Hejduk being the other one (again, got anything better than "Hey-Hey, Foppa and the Stastinator?").
Things drop off considerably after those first two lines, though. The Smyth line is capable of shutting down one good offensive line, but they also take a lot of stupid penalties (Smyth is an all-pro grabber, but if they had an award for finesse defense, I don't think Arnason or Laperierre would ever be up for it). Like us, their fourth line is the kiddies and specialists, and doesn't get a lot of ice time.

The Wings are more balanced. Datsyuk/Zetterberg/Holmstrom is the best line in the game when they're together (Babcock likes to switch things up a la Scotty Bowman). But your top six of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Homer, Filpulla, Franzen and Hudler isn't up to Colorado's snuff. The Red Wings get some ground back with their back-end offensive pairings, but not a lot. Most of that ground is covered by Dan Cleary, the quintessential playoff performer. Mikael Samuelsson is a special teams specialist. McCarty has been hot lately, and Draper is up there with Smyth and New Jersey's John Madden as the NHL's best defensive forwards. Maltby will be Maltby. The new kid Darren Helm has drive but is prone to mistakes. The Wings miss having Kopecky here (though the Avs miss Svatos more) who gave them three solid scoring lines. That's enough to let Colorado maintain its advantage from the Top 6.

Defense: Detroit x2
Colorado is completely missing that superstar on the blue line that's so essential to winning the cup. Their top blueliners are Adam Foote, Scott Hannan, Ruslan Salei and J-M Liles, backed by Jordan Leopold and Kurt Sauer. Count Leopold and Sauer as a poor man's Brad Stuart and Brett Lebda. Liles, their only true scoring defenseman, compares most favorably to our Kronwall, except Kronwall does everything down to wiping his ass better than Liles. Then give the Avs one point back for Foote being a younger Chris Chelios. That means you're left with Ruslan Salei standing against the hands-down best defenseman in the game in Lidstrom, and a bruiser named Scott Hannan instead of a slick Norris candidate named Brian Rafalski. I'd say it's the difference between an A-minus defense and a B-minus defense. Or better yet, their D is exactly like our D when Lidstrom and Rafalski were out, and Kronwall was hobbled last February (and the Wings went on that February losing streak).

John L. Smith Special Teams: Detroit
Colorado took advantage of the Wild's weak penalty killing unit to win their series. Their awesome forwards make them really hard to stop on the power play. But now they're going up against one of the best PK's in the NHL. You have to expect a dropoff there. They have a good PK unit themselves, but again, they'll be going against the best power play team in the NHL, when they were facing one of the worst. Colorado's special teams are better than most teams', but Detroit's PK and PP together were the NHL's best this year. You have to give them the advantage.

Intangibles: Detroit
Both of our teams had 6-game series, but theirs was played a lot quicker -- the Avs have had almost a week off to recover from the series of many overtimes, which should be an advantage for them, especially Foppa the Floppah, who took some beatings.

On the other hand, I think Mike Babcock can motivate his guys better than can Quenneville, who is the Flip Saunders of the NHL. Coaching in the NHL doesn't mean as much as in other sports, since very few coaches have a real, obvious effect on their teams' success. Babcock is one of those few. In fact, he might be the best of them.

This rivalry was enough to motivate the Wings to a 4-0 record versus Colorado this season, including three shutouts. But take this with a grain of salt: they didn't have Foote and Salei and Forsberg for any of those games. They're a different team since the trade deadline. Forsberg as a winger with Stastny has been a difference maker for them. Of course, be easy on the salt; they did have Svatos, and we were without Lidstrom for three of those, two of which were the lone bright spots during the dismal February. Around here, this rivalry is second only to Michigan/Ohio State.

The Avs rivalry gives Detroit what it sometimes lacks in early rounds: an off-the-wall Joe Louis Arena. Thanks in part to the fact that since the jobs all left, we have nothing to do in Detroit but drink beer and yell at hockey games, the Joe is one of the six greatest home ice advantages in the NHL; when playing Colorado or Toronto, it's the first. Since the Tigers' bad start and the Pistons' false start, this town has gone back to seriously waving the red flag (when not making fun of the Lions, of course). Out of the potentially four games that will be played in Detroit in this series, I seriously doubt Colorado can win two of them.

Enfin
You have to give the Wings two games for their spectacular defensive superiority, and another game for the fact they play their best hockey versus this particular team. Give the Avs one game for their better top-6 forwards, one for the Wings v. Hot Goalie Factor, and the standard deduction of one game for the refs trying to find some way of not having to spend the playoffs in Detroit, and it comes down to Game 7 at the Joe.

And of course, we all know what happens to the Avs when playing Game 7 in Detroit:
Wings in Seven.

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