The last time these two teams met, the script went about how we predicted: Calgary’s depth played well enough to make things interesting but in the end the Wings top-end talent prevailed. What wasn’t expected, however, was just how vulnerable the Wings bottom-end would be. That’s a weakness the Flames will likely hope to exploit in the second meeting tonight.
Calgary outplayed Detroit in the first period previously, spurred by the utter dominance of the Glencross-Backlund-Morrison trio. The rookie scored his first (and only two) goals of the season and the three of them probably could have had more besides.
While we’ve become used to the Flames third line creating havoc over the last year or three, it was somewhat eye-opening to see just how soft Detroit’s soft underbelly is. Daniel Cleary has been a quality player since he revived his career in the motor city and the return of Jiri Hudler was supposed to add another weapon to an already stocked arsenal, but things haven’t turned out for whatever reason. Cleary, Hudler and Modano have all struggled relative to their teammates, despite being fairly sheltered. In the case of Modano and Hudler, both guys have a zone start at about 60% thus far and yet are underwater in terms of possession. That’s remarkably bad given the fact that Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen do all of the heavy lifting on the club.
What’s more, the Wings have a fairly suspect bottom defensive pairing in Jakub Kindl and Doug Janik. The former is a 23-year old rookie still trying to compete at the NHL level while the latter is mostly an AHL journeyman who has bounced around the league for the last decade or so. Kindl in particular is getting hammered, as sometimes happens to guys taking their first steps in this league.
In order to exploit these issues, the Flames will need their top-end guys to saw things off with the big guns at the other end. It’s a tall order, particularly with the Red Wings top-six depth: Detroit’s aforementioned "big three" are some of the best forwards in the league and it means Babcock can send two hard minutes lines over the boards on any given night. Which is the reason, despite their underwhelming bottom-six, the Red Wings continue to be one of the best in Western Conference (it also helps that Lidstrom is apparently immortal).
In short, the Wings are excellent but there’s a chink in the armor. If the likes of Iginla and Jokinen can fend of Datsyuk et al, Calgary has a good chance to prevail.