Detroit Red Wings Playoff Storylines
1. Petr Mrazek starting in net over former All-Star Jimmy Howard
Head coach Mike Babcock stirred up some controversy when he announced that backup Petr Mrazek would start Game 1 instead of two-time All-Star Jimmy Howard. While Howard has not had his most consistent season, he has a plethora of playoff experience that Detroit really could use between the pipes. Here’s how each goaltender did by the numbers this season.
Howard: 53 GP, 23-13-11, 2.44 GAA, .910 save percentage
Mrazek: 29 GP, 16-9-2, 2.38 GAA .918 save percentage
Mrazek has had the better season, but he was also showcased in a much smaller role. This seems similar to the Pittsburgh Penguins signing Thomas Greiss to backup Marc-Andre Fleury. Greiss was coming off a great season with the Arizona Coyotes as he went 10-8-5 and posted a .920 save percentage.
While those numbers were good, it was in a small dose and Pittsburgh has had a shaky and inconsistent backup this season. Greiss has appeared in 20 games, going 9-6-3 with a .908 save percentage.
While Mrazek looked good in his backup role, is he ready to start in the playoffs or is he a player like Greiss? If Babcock trusts Mrazek, I am not one to doubt him, but we will see if he truly is ready for playoff hockey.
2. Detroit’s lack of size and the injury to Erik Cole
The Red Wings (while experienced) are a physically small team. Their forward unit plays nine forwards under 200 punds and 6’0″ or smaller. That does not exactly sound like a playoff roster because playoff hockey is extremely physical and this shortcoming might appear against Tampa Bay in the first round.
The Red Wings blue line is better in terms of size, but they lack skilled puck movers. Only two of their starting defenders, Niklas Kronwall and Danny DeKeyser, were able to produce more than 20 points during the regular season. Trade deadline addition Erik Cole was supposed to solve that problem and bolster the team for the playoffs, but he suffered a season ending injury.
#RedWings Erik Cole (neck) has been advised by doctors to shut it down for the remainder of season and NHL playoffs.
— The Wheel Deal (@Bill_Roose) April 8, 2015
Is Detroit a big enough team? Only time will tell.
3. Mike Babcock and his future
It’s not secret that Mike Babcock is one of the best coaches in the entire NHL. What does remain a secret is where Babcock will land after the upcoming playoff run.
His contract is expiring and rumors have been floating around that he is not happy in Detroit any longer. The longest tenured coach in the NHL could possibly be behind a different bench next season. In his career he has coached 868 games and has a regular season record of 484-260-19 and a playoff record of 79-59.
Will this be his last run with the Red Wings regardless of the outcome of this playoff run or is all of this speculation?
Tampa Bay Lightning Playoff Storylines
1. Ben Bishop: Is he playoff ready?
Tampa Bay struck gold when they traded for goaltender Ben Bishop. In two seasons as a full starter Bishop has impressed with a 89-27-9 through 125 games played. Last year he posted a .924 save percentage and a 2.23 GAA, while this season he posted a .916 save percentage and a 2.32 GAA.
Quite impressive for a player who had not participated in more than 13 regular season games prior to that. Bishop has a proven regular season track record, but what will be tested is his playoff ability.
Bishop missed the entire playoff run last year after he revealed he had torn ligaments in his glove hand, an injury he tried to play through.
2. Injuries and key returning players
The Lightning are getting healthy at the perfect time. Alex Killorn and Andrej Sustr look ready to return for the first playoff game and a few others are close behind them. One of these players is Jason Garrison and his return will surely be a boost to the blue line.
Tampa is already perceived as a Stanley Cup contender even without many defenders. Imagine how good they will be when their injured players return.
3. Will the youth persevere?
One of the Lightning’s greatest strengths is their youth, but will the overwhelming inexperience show throigh in the playoffs? They are playing nine forwards under age 25, six defenders under the age of 28 and their goalies are 28 and 20.
This could either be a huge advantage or a handicap. It all depends on how well these young players adapt to playoff hockey and if they are mentally strong enough.