Depth chart dominance
Five Wings dominate top of plus/minus Top 10
During the Western Conference quarterfinals, the Red Wings roster was a combined plus-50 in their four-game sweep of Phoenix.
The Coyotes, meanwhile, were a minus-51. To put those contrasting differences in perspective, the next closest playoff teams – Chicago and Pittsburgh – are each plus-20.
The Wings’ even-strength dominance can be attributed to their depth, both at forward and on defense. There were 13 different players that scored a goal in the Coyotes series, and 16 of the 19 players recorded at least one point.
“Well I think any time when you can spread it out, it’s going to be good for anybody,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said of the balanced scoring. “That means we’re not just having one line scoring, so it will be tougher for the other team to defend. Right now we’ve got four lines rolling, and that’s huge.”
Because of their ability to distribute the scoring, four Wings sit at the top of the NHL plus/minus leader board. Pavel Datsyuk, Ruslan Salei, and Kronwall are tied for the league lead with a plus-6. Valtteri Filppula is a plus-5, and Tomas Holmstrom is seventh at plus-4.
While the Wings scored 18 goals in the series – the most of any playoff team thorugh Thursday’s games – Filppula credited the team’s defense and goalie Jimmy Howard for the astounding plus-minus numbers.
“I think we played well defensively,” Filppula said. “Our D blocked a lot of shots, and Howie played great … that was huge. Definitely I think as a five-man unit, we played well defensively, we didn’t give up too many really good opportunities.”
Henrik Zetterberg, who did not play in the first round with a lower-body injury, said being unable to help his teammates was a bit more bearable with the way they scored.
“It makes it a lot easier when they win,” said Zetterberg, who expects to be back for Round 2. “It is tough to sit out and especially in the playoffs, just being in the locker room while the other guys are out there, but it makes it a lot easier when they’re winning and playing good.
“I think we just rolled the four lines, everyone really contributed. It was tough for them to have a match-up for us, and no matter who we put out there, all the lines created and played good both defense and offense.”
Zetterberg’s return, along with the expected return of Johan Franzen, will only help bolster an already potent offense. In the two rounds of last year’s playoffs, the Wings had 13 players who scored a goal, and 15 who recorded points – numbers already tied or eclipsed this spring, even with Zetterberg out of the lineup and an ailing Franzen.
However, the Wings won’t be resting on their accomplishments from Round 1 while they await their next opponent. Coach Mike Babcock said he has been pleased by his team’s depth, but that they can still play “at a higher gear.”
“Well there better be, or else you’re not going to keep playing – it’s that simple,” he said. “Unless you’re here and until you’re stretched and pushed, you don’t know for sure. But I like our group, I like what’s happened as far as the bottom catching up to the top, and we seem to have good depth, and we’re getting some good hockey out of guys.”
The Wings will be focused on improving their penalty-kill during their days off. While dominating in even-strength situations, the Wings struggled to keep the Coyotes off the scoresheet while down a man. Phoenix scored on 33 percent of their power-play opportunities – tops in the NHL.
“I thought they were kept in the series by scoring on their power plays,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “So that’s something we have to adjust to and be able to tighten up.
“They were playing better, just finding openings. I thought we got a little bit spread out sometimes, and that’s when they find those lines for a shot or a pass for a quick shot, and out-manning us in front of the net.”
Kronwall said his team is not satisfied with their team defense, both even-strength and while shorthanded.
“Especially 5-on-5, I thought we played pretty well,” he said. “But there were a few times especially the last few games where the momentum switched, we weren’t as strong on the puck and in the defensive zone than we need to be, so that’s some of the areas we can improve, and obviously PK is something we’re going to have to do better.”
The Wings will have plenty of time to make adjustments before the second round. Three different playoff series are tied at two games apiece, which means at least a week off for the Wings. The players will have the weekend off, and Babcock said he prefers a long break to other situations the Wings could be in right now.
“Your other option is to be getting your D run tonight,” he said. “The chance of getting through healthy if you play a lot of games is slim, and this is much better.”
Follow Michael Caples on Twitter: @michaelcaples