Throughout the course of this young series, Detroit has had difficulty generating sustained pressure up and down their lineup. And for the most part, when that pressure has come, it's been from the top line of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Tomas Holmstrom.
As Jamie Baker said during our Fear The Fin Series Preview Podcast, the Sharks would likely be content with containing Detroit's top line at the expense of limited production from Thornton-Marleau-Setoguchi. The reason? San Jose's forward depth, which been an immense strength for the team with the rise of excellent play from Joe Pavelski, Torrey Mitchell, and Kyle Wellwood, matches up well against the rest of the Red Wings forwards on a pound for pound productivity basis.
"Let's say the Thornton, Marleau, and Setoguchi line shuts down Detroit's top line. Is that an advantage to San Jose or not?," Baker asked. "I say it is. I think San Jose's second and third lines have more depth scoring-wise than Detroit's."
With players such as Joe Pavelski, Benn Ferriero, Ian White, and Niclas Wallin accounting for all of San Jose's goals, the top line hasn't had to be the dominant force on the scoresheet that many other teams would need to succeed. And for the most part, the fact that Thornton et al have managed to keep Datsyuk from killing them on the scoreboard (you can only hope to contain the brilliant forward) has been a positive for the Sharks.
The Red Wings have had difficulty generating much of anything outside of their top line. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have accounted for three of Detroit's five total points (1 G, 2 A), with the other two points coming from a top line player (Holmstrom, A) and a perennial Norris Trophy candidate (Lidstrom, G), speculation has ensued as to what must be done to re-ignite an offense that has stagnated.
"While it's not like the Eurotwins are tearing the Sharks to pieces, their line has been the only one that has enjoyed any sustained offensive pressure in the Sharks' zone. However, when they're not on the ice, the Sharks have set up camp so much in the Wings' zone they're toasting S'mores," Winging It In Motown writer Amerindian states. "Putting Zetterberg on the 'second' line gives the Wings another line that should generate some quality scoring chances, and since the next 2 games are in Detroit, Mike Babcock can match up Datsyuk against Thornton (who has been pretty quiet in this series) and Zetterberg against Pavelski's line."
With Mike Babcock such an avid line matcher, splitting up Datsyuk and Zetterberg makes sense at home. It gives him an opportunity to pick and choose his matchups against a Sharks team that has been very committed to their defensive end. Dan Boyle, who had a self-diagnosed poor series against Los Angeles, has been very effective against Datsyuk in the defensive zone. Boyle has been ferocious along the boards this series, something that the blueline as a whole has emulated.
Attacking San Jose's blueline is a place where Detroit's potential lineup can benefit however -- although Boyle-Murray and Vlasic-Demers can handle assignments against a more balanced Detroit lineup, McLellan will likely want to avoid situations where White-Wallin is out against either Datsyuk or Zetterberg for numerous shifts at a time. Although White has had an excellent postseason thus far, and Wallin has improved dramatically from his play during the first round, they are the weakest defensive pairing for San Jose and can be exploited by the two superstars. Managing their even strength ice time will be a key for San Jose during game three in order to avoid these types of situations.
In terms of counteracting a potential change to the Detroit lineup amongst the forward group, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan doesn't have much to do when formulating gameplans. Besides being a Head Coach that doesn't delve too deeply into the chess matches that occur this time of year, McLellan has already implemented an offensive scheme that responds to any change his former coaching partner will throw at him.
By rolling three forward lines like he has done all postseason, McLellan consistently puts out a forward group that is able to keep their heads above water. All three lines can generate offense and play sound defensive hockey, something that makes taking a microscope to each shift more of a burden than a necessity.
Furthermore, it's been a blessing for the Head Coach that his top offensive player Joe Thornton has been a huge factor defensively, something that Thornton took upon himself when he was awarded the Captaincy at the beginning of this season.
With the Sharks strong down the middle, and rich in two-way forwards who play in all three zones (Thornton, Couture, Pavelski), San Jose is proving to be a formidable opponent for teams trying to gain a matchup edge.
Make no mistake, Detroit isn't on the run just yet. But as they face two must-win games on Wednesday and Friday, getting their vaunted offensive machine back on track is the first step towards getting back into this series.
Splitting up Datsyuk and Zetterberg might be one of the few options Babcock has left.