May 4, 2011
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Coverage begins at 4:30 on Comcast SportsNet California.
Sharks lead best-of-seven series, two games to none
Antti Niemi has quickly put his first round numbers behind him, and has allowed just two goals in two games for a 0.95 goals-against average and .966 save percentage. Hes been the beneficiary of some very good team defense in front of him, as well, which is probably the bigger reason hes been able to succeed.
Jimmy Howard has also been good for the Red Wings with just four goals allowed in the two games, but his mishandling of a shot from Niclas Wallin in Game 2 proved to be the difference. Typically, the high powered Red Wings usually win games in which they only surrender two goals.
San Jose defended its home ice in the first two games of the series with a pair of 2-1 victories. On Friday, Benn Ferriero was the hero with a goal in overtime, improving the Sharks to 4-0 this postseason when a game goes past regulation. San Jose had trailed for the majority of the game before Joe Pavelski tied it with a power play goal midway through the third period.
In Game 2 it was the Sharks who led most of the way, thanks to Ian Whites first period goal. Wallin increased that to 2-0 in the third period, and San Jose was able to withstand a late charge by Detroit.
Niemi and the Sharks defense as a whole has been the key to the series through the first two games. That includes White, who scored the first goal in Game 1 and is tied for the team lead in assists (5) and plusminus (6). Ryane Clowes nine points in the playoffs (4g, 5a) leads the team.
Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg have scored the only goals of the series so far for Detroit, but one player the Sharks will have to keep an eye on is Danny Cleary. The energetic winger was among Detroits most effective players in Game 2 on Sunday, firing five shots on net.
There was a whole lot of shuffling going on Tuesday in Detroit, and it had nothing to do with the nearby casinos in Greektown. The Sharks and Red Wings both made some notable changes to their lines at their respective practices as they seek to generate more offense, with just six combined goals between them in the series.
On the Sharks side, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were split up, as were Clowe and Logan Couture. Couture was bumped up to the wing to play alongside Thornton and Devin Setoguchi, while Marleau was between Clowe and Dany Heatley. Its a look that coach Todd McLellan used sparingly in the regular season.
The big change for the Red Wings is that stars Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were not together. Datsyuk centered Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom, while Zetterberg was in the middle of wingers Danny Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi. Whether or not the coaches keep these lines intact for the start of Game 3 is unclear.
Much has been made of the Sharks giving Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard repeated snow showers, when they put on the brakes in front of the goaltender, thereby spraying him with ice. Of course, thats just a byproduct of going hard to the net in search of rebounds, and theres no rule preventing such actions. Still, the Red Wings would be wise to try and rattle Niemi the same way, in the hopes of getting him out of his groove. When a goaltender is playing as well as Niemi, the key for the opposition is to create more traffic in front of the crease. Look for Detroit to put some of its big bodies in front of the net in Game 3, and maybe give Niemi a shower or two of his own.
Something else to watch will be whether or not the coaches stick with the line combinations they showed in Tuesdays practice and for how long, should things start going south for either team.
The numbers certainly favor the Sharks as they try to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the second consecutive season. They have won 10 of their last 12 games overall in Detroit, and the Red Wings are just 5-21 all-time when losing the first two games of a seven-game series. Still, the Red Wings arent getting outplayed by a very large margin, and getting in front of their home crowd could be the boost they need to climb back into the series.