May 8, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Gregg Krupa

Wings' forechecking needs a boost

Detroit -- The Red Wings fixed a lot of things Monday. Their shooting and net-front presence, their energy level and goaltending were all better.

If they could check off one more thing on their to-do list, it would increase their chances of prevailing against the Ducks: They are not fully executing their forecheck.

While they spent much more time in the Ducks zone Monday, it was when they possessed the puck. They were better cycling, grinding down low, more difficult to move off the puck, and they shot more.

But once the Ducks regained possession in their zone, the Red Wings forwards were not harrying them.

It is a missed opportunity. A constant, robust forecheck is often the beginning for a good road game, in which teams try to keep things simple, play without mistakes and keep the pressure on.

The Ducks, meanwhile, are particularly susceptible to forechecking because their defensemen are not accomplished puck-handlers.

Pressuring them can force errors and could bottle them up in their zone. Mounting offense becomes more difficult.

"We're not winning enough second pucks back," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said last weekend. "We don't spend enough time on sustained pressure in their zone to help them make some mistakes.

"Their 'D' look like their all-big-time puck movers. I've watched them play over the years. I know that isn't true."

Injuries, inexperience

Like a lot of things this season, the forecheck has been there sometimes. Other times, not.

Injuries have not helped. Darren Helm coming over the boards and heading directly into the offensive zone to bug opposing defensemen is a familiar image.

His season-long absence has meant trying to replace Helm's speed and doggedness.

Todd Bertuzzi is also usually prominent on the forecheck, and he missed most of the season before playing in Games 1 and 4 against the Ducks.

The comparative inexperience of the Red Wings, with a young roster headed into the playoffs, also puts constancy at a premium, whether it is the forecheck or other aspects of play.

The Ducks have been better on the forecheck, pressuring the young Red Wings defensemen and forcing errors.

On Monday, the Red Wings had 11 giveaways to three for the Ducks. In Game 3, it was 9-3, Ducks.

Not all giveaways are caused by forechecking. But it certainly helps. And with the Red Wings, especially the rookies, making their share of mistakes, pressure from a forecheck would help.

"I think we've been doing it all year," said Ducks forward Matt Beleskey, who scored in Games 3 and 4. "That's how we're beating up on teams. We try to get them down low, work their 'D' and tire them out.

"We just have to keep doing that, get it deep and getting on the forecheck."

That pressure contributed to Beleskey scoring the first Ducks goal Monday night.

Painful moments

Meanwhile, the Ducks have been launching their attack too easily. The Red Wings did a better job of getting the puck deep Monday, but they were not getting on the Ducks often enough when they did.

A strong forecheck would help keep pressure off the back end, where three of the Red Wings six defensemen have played a total of 13 playoff games.

"If you go through the whole game, our young 'D' had moments that weren't very nice to look at or watch, honestly," Babcock said after the game Monday.

The Ducks have their own problems on the back end, which the Red Wings should be exploiting.

Cam Fowler, the Windsor native, and Sami Vatanen, a 21-year-old with eight career NHL games, are the only big puck movers on the blue line for the Ducks. Ben Lovejoy is about average, at best.

The Ducks even gave some consideration to playing Vatanen against the Red Wings, to add speed, puck movement and offense to the defensive corps. But he is too inexperienced and that would affect him, defensively.

Francois Beauchemin, Bryan Allen and Sheldon Souray are more in the way of classic defensive defensemen, who largely play a positional game in their own zone and keep offense to a minimum.

Beauchemin and Allen were judged as too slow to remain together against the Red Wings.

Regardless, the trio are not noted for quick outlet passes or deftly moving the puck. And they can be forced into awkwardness and mistakes.

That scouting report is what Babcock is thinking when he asserts the Wings would do far better if they could make the lives of the Ducks defense more difficult.

"But if you don't get on them," he said, "they look pretty good."

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

The Ducks were not happy with Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi. He is usually prominent on the forecheck, but missed most of the season before playing in Games 2 and 4. / Daniel Mears/Detroit News