Red Wings success rests on experience up front, youth in net

The Detroit Red Wings (47-25-10, 104 points) head into the Stanley Cup playoffs as the number three seed in the Western Conference, earning them home-ice advantage in their first-round series matchup against the number six seed Phoenix Coyotes. Winners of the NHL’s Central Division, the Red Wings have to be considered favourites to hoist Lord Stanley’s cup considering the tremendous playoff success they have achieved in recent years and due to the fact the team is stacked with both experience and talent.

Keys to success:

The Red Wings scored 261 goals during the regular season, a number surpassed in either conference only by the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks. Boasting a forward group that runs four lines deep, the Red Wings centre their attack around resident all-stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk but also rely on key contributions by the likes of Johan Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Holmstrom and Daniel Cleary in order to win games. With Stanley Cup winner and all-time American scoring leader Mike Modano anchoring the fourth line, the Red Wings have the depth needed in order to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup.

Things to improve on:

Unlike recent years where Detroit has been considered a defensive stalwart, this season saw the Wings allow 241 goals, the third most given up in the West behind only the lottery-bound Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers. This may be somewhat surprising given the team boasts a top-four defence of captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart, but given the sub-par play of goaltender Jimmy Howard throughout much of the season and injuries to the defence corps as well, the high goals-against number makes sense. If the Wings are to make a deep run in the playoffs, they need both their defence and goaltending to step up in a big way, or they will be hitting the golf courses earlier than expected.

Injuries:

Henrik Zetterberg will miss at least the first game of the series with a knee injury and although the Wings’ brass is optimistic, it’s not yet known when and if he will return at some point to the series. Zetterberg, Detroit’s regular-season scoring leader, had 80 points in the first 80 games of the season but missed the last two games of the regular season with the injury, sustained in last week’s loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Wings need Zetterberg to come back and be a game-changer if they expect to score goals against Phoenix’s stellar goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov.

Backup goaltender Chris Osgood, who has won three Stanley Cups with Detroit, was placed on injured reserve back in November, so if Howard stumbles it will be up to Joey MacDonald to shoulder the load. A career minor-leaguer, MacDonald has never played in a single playoff game during his NHL career.

Secret weapon:

Detroit head coach Mike Babcock won a gold medal at the IIHF’s World Championship in 2004, a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2008, and an Olympic gold medal the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, making him the only coach ever to gain entry into the illustrious Triple Gold Club. With plenty of big-game experience to his credit—in addition to the aforementioned achievements, he also coached the Anaheim Mighty Ducks to the finals in 2003 and Detroit to another Stanley Cup finals in 2009—Babcock knows how to win hockey games. He will not hesitate to rotate lines and bench players if he thinks it gives his team a better chance to win, and with a series between two very good and evenly matched teams in the Wings and Coyotes, the difference might just come down to coaching.