Analysis: Red Wings missed mark in Game 1 but showed no cause for big alarm

The Red Wings dropped Game 1 of their playoff run to the Anaheim Ducks in the early hours of Wednesday morning, losing 3-1 in a tightly fought game.

Anaheim sealed their win with an empty net goal from defenseman Francois Beauchemin, right after the Ducks won a key faceoff in their own zone. The Red Wings had a couple good chances to tie the game in the final minute, but that clean faceoff loss led to a goal from 165 feet away, to give Anaheim a 3-1 lead. Most notably, Justin Abdelkader had a couple whacks right in front of the net that were close to going in, the last in a series of good Red Wings possessions. But the shots just weren’t hitting the net.

The game-winning goal came early in the third period. A quick pass down low to the Ducks’ Teemu Selanne (future Hall of Famer, one of the greatest goal scores of his generation) led to a quick Selanne one-timer in the top corner of the net. Jimmy Howard really didn’t see the shot, due to the wide angle Selanne was shooting from and the inadvertent screen that the Wings’ Dan DeKeyser was providing. That goal was at the 1:29 mark of the third, as the Wings were still killing off a bad penalty from the second period.

Early on, both teams scored in the first period, as each team scored a power play goal from someone tipping in a defenseman’s shot from the point. For Anaheim, center Nick Bonino tipped in a shot from Cam Fowler, directly after a quick faceoff win and before the Red Wings’ radio broadcast could come back from commercial. For Detroit, winger Dan Cleary inadvertently tipped in a Jakub Kindl shot to tie the game, as Kindl skated in for a close shot on net. Both goals, while not mirror images of each other, came from the same style of power play goal.

The Red Wings were steadily attacking all game long, and had chance after chance to score. Each time, the Wings would blow a quality scoring chance by shooting the puck wide, or simply getting a weak shot on net. The Wings dominated this game in terms of puck possession and offense, managed to get enough room to score, but couldn’t finish.

While Anaheim did register more shots on net, with 27 official shots to the Wings’ 22, the Wings had far more chances. Detroit missed the net completely on 16 shots, while Anaheim only missed 8. Detroit also had 17 shots blocked, while Anaheim had 15 shots blocked. Assuming that all those blocked shots were going on net, the Wings had a combined 44 shots on target, the Ducks had 42 shots on target. When those missed shots are factored in, the Wings had 60 total shots, the Ducks had just 50. Ten more opportunities to shoot, ten more chances to score.

So, what happened? What were the biggest factors that led to this loss?
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Here are the five biggest takeaways from Game 1, positive or negative:

  •  Anaheim seemed to win every critical faceoff, leading to their first and third goals. While the Red Wings actually had a lead in overall faceoffs, winning 29 to Anaheim’s 27, the Ducks seems to win every critical one. Their first goal came three seconds after a cleanly-won faceoff, their third goal came four seconds after another faceoff win. The latter goal occurred on a faceoff that the Wings had to win, as they were fighting to tie the game. Instead, that faceoff loss clinched the win for Anaheim. While Anaheim had a slight advantage in faceoffs throughout the game, one match-up was won decisively by the Ducks. Pavel Datsyuk only won 10 of 21 faceoffs tonight (and only 7 of 16 against Saku Koivu). Those two matchups need to be evened out, especially against Koivu.
  • The Wings simply cannot take bad penalties. Anaheim had the 4th-best power play attack in the NHL this season, and the best within the Western Conference, scoring 21.5% of the time. While there will always be penalties over the course of a game, the Red Wings can’t make mental mistakes like Jakub Kindl in the 2nd period. Clearing the puck over the glass while in your defensive zone is an automatic penalty with no excuse for it. It’s not saving an automatic goal, it’s just a dumb play. That can’t happen again.
  • Anaheim’s main defensive strategy is to simply cause chaos in the their own zone, and hope to have a couple guys swarming the puck at all times. This plan is not entirely working on the Red Wings, as Detroit is still able create opportunities to move the puck around for an open shot. However, the Wings have a little more time than they think to shoot the puck. Instead of getting a shot on net, some of Detroit’s best opportunities have resulted in a shot that is wide of the net. (Again, 16 Red Wings shots went wide of the net. That’s a lot. That’s double the amount of Anaheim’s missed shots.) If the Wings pause for that extra beat, the shots will go in.
  • Detroit controlled the play for most of the night, as the majority of the game had Detroit in the offensive zone, doing their best to move the puck around Anaheim’s swarming defense. The Wings spent a lot of time trying to line up the perfect shot, and many times it worked. (But still, those shots ended up rushed and over the net.) On the other end of the ice, Anaheim’s goal was to just put the puck on net as much as possible, and to create the same kind of chaos that they use on defense. That worked for one of the Ducks’ goals, but the Wings kept the play in Anaheim’s end for most of the night.
  • Instead of matching top line for top line, Anaheim played their second line (Daniel Winnik, Saku Koivu, and Andrew Cogliano) against the Wings’ top line of Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Abdelkader. This effectively hid their top scoring line (Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry) from defensive studs like Zetterberg and Datsyuk. On top of that, Teemu Selanne got bumped to the third line, where he could outplay Detroit’s third and last defensive pairing. The strategy worked, as both of Anaheim’s power play goals came from these mismatches. (The home team gets the last line change before a faceoff. This strategy will come back for Game 2, but wont be traveling to Detroit.)

Ultimately, this wasn’t a terrible game. The Wings didn’t get outplayed; the Ducks didn’t easily win. For a road game to open the playoffs, with everything possible going against the Red Wings, this game was alright. Yeah, the Wings could have (and possibly should have) won this game. But with a couple slight adjustments, Game 2 could tie this series up before the games go to Detroit.

At the end of the day, it’s playoff hockey. Nothing is easy in the playoffs, especially with the high level of parity in today’s NHL. Tuesday’s other two games went into overtime, both ending in 2-1 scores where the home team won. One game, with #1 Chicago hosting #8 Minnesota, featured Minnesota’s Josh Harding, a backup goalie who played in only five games this season due to getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Harding held Chicago (the top team in hockey this season) to only two goals. The other game, between #4 St. Louis and #5 Los Angeles, ended with Kings goalie Jonathan Quick misplaying a puck behind his net, only to have a St. Louis Blue swoop in to score in the wide-open net. Last year, Quick was the playoffs MVP as he led Los Angeles to the Stanley Cup with lights-out goaltending. Truly, anything can happen in the playoffs.

It’s a loss. All losses are bad. Some are worse than others, though. The Red Wings will bounce back from this game, and hopefully make the little adjustments to win Game 2. Detroit already made the little adjustments to get into the playoffs. The team can do it again in the next two days.

Gordie fall is a sport columnist and avid fan of Detroit sports. 

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Gordie Fall

Gordon Fall has been around the Detroit sports scene for his entire life and even entered the world with a Red Wings hockey stick in hand. With a variety of connections around the Detroit area, Fall will be presenting the unspoken, yet optimistic truth of our city’s sports scene.