Krupa: Lightning confuse Red Wings defense

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Tampa Bay center Tyler Johnson can't get the puck past Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek in the second period.

The Red Wings played considerably better offensively against the Lightning in Game 2. But they could score only once.

The Wings played worse defensively in Game 2. And they allowed three more goals.

The teeter-totter play continues for them. Sometimes up. Sometimes down. Looking for all systems to be running well, but when one gets fixed another seems to fail.

What the Red Wings need in Game 3 is to bring their first complete game of the playoffs, and learn how to beat Lightning goalie Ben Bishop when they generate scoring chances.

The priorities after Game 1 for the Red Wings were better play in their defensive zone, fewer penalties, creating more offense, play more in the Lightning's end and skate better.

Skate, they did, and they also played more in the offensive end and generated a much better attack.

But six penalties are still too much, and the penalty kill can do well — as it did with four kills — and still not be perfect.

And while the Wings offensive play in their defensive zone was better, allowing them to transition to offense more quickly, the defensive play by both forwards and defensemen deteriorated.

Poor defense

Mistakes were made.

"I got him. You take him," is an expression in hockey intended to express the confusion that creates errors in deployment.

The Wings forwards and defenders had a lot of trouble deciphering how the Lightning were coming at them, and how best to array themselves to defend against the onslaught.

They allowed the most-proficient offensive team in the regular seasons to fly through the neutral zone, at times unabated. Then, often enough, the gap between the forward and defenders allowed the Lightning to create more mischief.

But the most noticeable difference from Game 1 was the lack of a tight defensive cluster directly in front of their goaltenders.

The Wings "chased the game" a lot on Thursday. But, when they got there, their constricted deployment in front of Mrazek allowed them to seal off scoring chances, and was crucial in their becoming the team with the worst shots-on-goal deficit to win a playoff game in 50 years.

That tight box was gone Saturday, and that allowed the skilled Lightning forwards and defenders free ice to maneuver.

On the Lightning's huge third goal by Andrej Sustr, all five Wings defenders were in the right faceoff circle or along that wall, while Sustr scored from Petr Mrazek's left.

The Red Wings yielded five goals, and an observer might assume Mrazek and Jimmy Howard had bad games.

They did not. The Wings defenders failed too often.

Offense arrives; too little 'finish'

By the second period the Wings were flying around in front of 6-foot-7 Lightning goalie Ben Bishop.

They eventually caught and at one point surpassed Tampa in shots on goal.

In fact, the Wings generated 58 attempts, but only 24 shots on goal.

The Lightning blocked 21 shots.

Bishop also had a better game than in Game 1, on the way to the first playoff victory of his career. He was particularly strong in the second period on two power plays, when the Red Wings threatened but failed to "finish" their scoring chances.

They need to work on getting shots through gaps, and making Bishop feel far more uncomfortable.

Deflections, screens, side-to-side

Tomas Tatar and Kyle Quincey teamed up to prove one thing on the Red Wings goal: Getting big Bishop moving laterally in the net helps open some fairly sizeable gaps around his body, and tipped shots just might fit into one of them.

Bishop and the Lightning were in their gravest danger all afternoon when short passes from side-to-side in front of the net, brisk cross-ice passes farther out and deflections got the huge goalie moving abruptly east to west.

The sort of passing and quick finishes that Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader were able to accomplish for much of the season, which was a considerable part of Abdelkader's vastly-improved goal scoring, is just the sort of tic-tac-toe the Wings need, now.

Bishop clearly takes full advantage of his size by setting up big, at good angles and stopping the first shot.

When the Red Wings scored three goals on him in less than four minutes in a 4-1 win at Joe Louis Arena this season, they harried Bishop with brisk back-and-forth play, often right in front of him.

It seems like "the book," on Bishop

Mrazek just fine

Mike Babcock said Petr Mrazek will start Game 3, and nothing he did in Game 2 suggested otherwise.

Mrazek could have been better on the first goal by Tyler Johnson, crouching a bit too early and lowering his right shoulder to allow the young sniper more scoring space.

But the defensive errors the Wings made throughout the game were evident on the play, and it is how Johnson came to be standing, unfettered, within a few feet of the young goalie, with ample time.

None of the other three goals Mrazek yielded were much his fault. Nor was Jimmy Howard much at fault for the only goal he yielded, when Valtteri Filppula was allowed to blaze through the neutral zone around Jonathan Ericsson and in on Howard.

Howard might well say he should have stopped it. But his mates should have stopped Filppula.

It was a matter of defensive miscues.

Missing big scorers

The continuing absence of Justin Abdelkader, especially with Erik Cole and Johan Franzen done for the season, is weighing on the Red Wings.

Big bodies, hard on the puck in the offensive zone, difficult to move from in front of the net and banging up against the Lightning's sizeable forwards are all attributes of attack the Wings are sorely missing.

The sense is Abdelkader's right hand may be so badly injured that he may be less than fully effective, even when he returns.

Meanwhile, Cole and Franzen on the ice is occurring only in anyone's dreams.

Injuries are not excuses, they are facts.

The Wings could use some size and finish in the offensive zone. And their three most sizeable finishers have not dressed so far.