The Nashville Predators might need to do some thinking outside of the box when they face the Detroit Red Wings, but most of all they need to avoid spending too much time in the box.
The Red Wings thrive on the power play, gaining much of their offensive momentum from the man-advantage. If the Predators are going to come out of game one of the Stanley Cup quarterfinals tonight at the Joe Louis Arena with a win, they will have to avoid the penalty box. Game time tonight is at 6.
“In the last 15 games of the year we might be the least penalized team in the league,” said Predators coach Barry Trotz. “We had a few games when we didn’t take any penalties.
“Our discipline has been really good in not taking penalties. That has been a real strength of our team the last quarter of the season.”
The Predators, on the other hand, have struggled to score on the power play. A great deal of emphasis in the practice sessions for Detroit has centered on the Predators’ power play.
“The numbers for our power play speak for themselves,” Trotz said. “It hasn’t been very good all year. Detroit has a tremendous power play. If we can get our numbers better and bring their numbers down, we can get more of an even playing field in that specialty area.”
The Red Wings bring heavy offensive firepower with center Pavel Datsyuk with 31 goals and 97 points, left wing Henrik Zetterberg with 43 goals and 92 points and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom with 10 goals and 70 points. But they are only the top of a deep talent pool.
“We have had some really close games with them,” said Predators goaltender Dan Ellis. “They have more skill than we do, but we have a lot of character and a lot of grit that can combat that skill.”
Two players that Ellis is particularly concerned about are left winger Tomas Holmstrom and right wing Johan Franzen. Holstrom is back on the ice after a long layoff due to an injury. Franzen has been a thorn in the side of the Predators this season.
“The two of them make the goaltender’s job very difficult,” said Ellis. “They get in front of the net. They screen. They push people around. They cause a ruckus. We have to be able to move them out of the way so we can see the puck.
“Franzen has learned a lot from Holmstrom. They are very similar players. They are both big bodies. They are not afraid to stand directly in front of the goaltender.”
Trotz ranks Holmstrom as “the best guy in the league” in front the net.
“They have a great asset in Tomas Holmstrom,” Trotz said. “The biggest thing with Holmstrom is that he is able to anticipate where the shot is coming from. He really moves with the puck. He fronts everything. It is almost like he is a goalie. He also has great retrieval skills and the ability to keep the puck in play.”
The Predators and Red Wings have played eight times this season. Even with that familiarity, the Predators have worked on a number of scenarios they could possibly face.
“The guys are anxious to start playing,” Trotz said. “They have worked really well the past few days. There has been a lot of preparation for Detroit. We have tried to prepare for everything.
“Once the series begins there will be just small adjustments being made. There won’t be any wholesale changes. But you have to be flexible. Sometimes when things aren’t going your way you have to think outside the box too.”
Predators team captain Jason Arnott is expecting an emotional series between the two teams. In their last four meetings the Red Wings won three, but three of those last four games were decided by one goal.
“We have to play our style of game,” Arnott said. “We have to work hard and play solid defense throughout the whole game.
“Discipline will be a huge part of this series. If we can minimize the number of times we go into the box we will be better off. The refereeing let more stuff go near the end of the season to give us a taste of what the playoffs will be like. That is good because the playoffs should be hard-nosed and hard fought.”