Niyo: Wings must shuffle deck before Game 3
Tampa, Fla. — It wasn't a doughnut on the scoreboard.
But it was starting to look like one on the ice.
And despite the Red Wings' insistence that they played better in a 5-1 loss to Tampa Bay in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series — better than they had in a 3-2 win in Game 1 — they head home in desperate need of some reinforcements. And some reshuffling.
Because while their young scoring line finally showed some signs of life Saturday, with Tomas Tatar scoring late and Gustav Nyquist creating a few chances as well, the middle of the Red Wings' forward lineup still got exposed.
Joakim Andersson's line with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Jurco was a problem again in Game 2, and as promised, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper did a better job finding the line matchups he wanted for much of the afternoon.
Coach Mike Babcock knows that'll have to change in time for Game 3, and he has a pretty good idea where it'll start. He said following the loss he expects Justin Abdelkader to return to the lineup Tuesday after missing the last six games with an injured right hand.
That likely will allow Babcock to split up Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, with a ripple effect throughout his forward combos. And while it remains to be seen who'll be the odd man out, whether it's Jurco or Andersson or Weiss, he may even consider other changes.
"It is what it is," Babcock said after Saturday's loss, when asked about the third line that's essentially his fourth. "We'll be fortunate we'll get Abby back next game, so we'll be able to move people around and put us in a little better situation that way, better matchups. Plus we'll have last change at home.
"I thought they did a better job with that today. The previous game we had better matchups than we did today."
Breaking the ice
Right from the opening faceoff, as Cooper opted to send out his fourth line centered by Brian Boyle — and not one of his scoring lines — to match Luke Glendening's pesky checking line.
The Red Wings quickly drew a power play, but couldn't score, largely because they declined to shoot. And the major scrum that followed early in the first period — "How we come out of that shorthanded is beyond belief," Babcock said — set up the game's first goal, a power-play marker by Tyler Johnson with just 3:05 gone.
"We'll be swinging for the fences," Cooper had promised after Game 1, "and we'll see what happens."
Well, everyone saw what happened from there, and it wasn't pretty, despite the Red Wings' postgame touch-up work. The shot totals evened up in Game 2, and the Wings fared far better in the faceoff circle.
But they made some egregious plays in the neutral zone, and in their own zone, and the Lightning — a team that led the NHL in scoring this season — made them pay.
"We gave up some slam dunks today," Babcock said. "You've gotta give your goalie a chance. You can't make those defensive mistakes."
Take the third goal, the one that effectively ended it at 14:48 of the second period. After a nice breakout pass, Valtteri Filppula dodged a check by Tomas Jurco along the boards, then threaded a a cross-ice pass to a streaking Andrej Sustr, who scored just the second goal of his NHL career.
"That was one of those moments you wish you can freeze in time," Cooper said, noting the jubilation on the Tampa Bay bench.
Gotta tighten up
But it felt like it did, really, the way the Wings defended the play. All eyes on Filppula, with no recognition by either Weiss or rookie defenseman Alexey Marchenko — who might need to take a seat Tuesday as well — of Sustr charging in from the blue line.
"We've got to find a way to tighten up a little more and not give up those quality chances," said Weiss, who was a nonfactor in either game in Tampa.
He played the fewest minutes of any Detroit skater in Game 1, and failed to record a shot — or a hit or a blocked shot or anything, really — in 18 shifts Saturday. That Andersson line nearly gave up another goal with 1:10 to play, when J.T. Brown clanged a shot off the crossbar.
But by then the score was already 5-1, Jimmy Howard was getting mop-up duty in net — Mrazek will start again Tuesday, as he should — and Babcock probably already had his mind made up about what he needs to do when the series shifts to Detroit.
First things first, though.
"I know I'll be in my hot tub by 10 tonight," he said, "the sun's gonna be up tomorrow, we've got a five-game series against Tampa, and it looks like it's gonna be fun."
Maybe so. But by the looks of these first two games, it's gonna take more than a change of scenery.