As the commercials for the PGA Tour say — “These guys are good. . . ”
Detroit fired on all cylinders tonight in a 4 – 1 victory over the Jackets, aided by deflections off of Manny Malhotra and Jan Hejda.
For the first thirty minutes, this was a breathtaking hockey game. 27 shots fired in the first period — no goals. Columbussquandered some choice scoring opportunities, including 4 power plays, and Chris Osgood stood tall. Even when Detroit took a 1 – 0 lead on a 2 vs 1 breakaway, the CBJ responded right back with a beautiful give and go from Voracek to Umberger, who buried a nifty twisting backhand to tie it.
Unfortunately, within the next minute the two deflections found home, and after Franzen roofed a wraparound, Detroit went into shut down mode and stifled the Jackets for the rest of the way.
A loss, to be sure, and to a very good team. But the problems that led to the loss are fixable, and quickly. Hitch alluded to that in his post-game remarks, noting that there will be personnel changes for Game 2.
We inexplicably began losing faceoffs halfway through the second period, which deprived us of possession and allowed Detroit to dictate the pace, whicy we avoided for the first 30 minutes. Our defensemen, and even our forwards, were too quick to abandon the offensive zone, which deprived us of the opportunity to keep the puck in, force it deep and make plays.
Not being able to keep the puck deep, we could not establish the strong neutral zone presence that has worked so well in past games against Detroit. Methot, Tyutin and Hejda played nervous hockey in our own zone, and were too guarded on the first outlet passes. Detroit beat us at our own game by dominating the neutral zone for the last half of the game.
Despite the score, we were not blown off the ice. To the contrary, we proved that we could stay with them for long stretches of time, but need to bury our chances when we get them. Umberger and Voracek were huge, and Nash did everything he could with the defensive attention he was getting. Huselius looked like he had missed several games, as did Modin. Malhotra was invisible.
Next game, don’t be surprised if Boll sits, Malhotra moves down, and Williams moves up. I expect Novotny will make an appearance as well. We could also see Picard make his playoff debut, but I don’t envision seeing Filatov play in this series, at least not on the road.
No need to panic. We lost to a great team that played great hockey tonight, in their house, in our playoff debut. I don’t think anybody expected that we would waltz in and sweep the Red Wings in the Joe. We need to work tomorrow to fix the shortcomings, and attack with new vigor on Saturday, secure in the knowledge that we can, and have, beaten these guys, and took their best shot tonight.