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Columbus plans changes

by Larry Wigge

"Detroit wouldn't be good in drag racing, because of the Christmas tree factor. They'd get called for false starts all the time in that sport. After watching video, we decided we're going to cheat just like they do.""
-- Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock

DETROIT -- While you wouldn't normally expect to hear a drag racing analogy at a hockey rink, that's exactly what Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock used as an example in talking about changes that could help his team in winning more faceoffs.

"Detroit wouldn't be good in drag racing, because of the Christmas tree factor," Hitchcock said. "They'd get called for false starts all the time in that sport. After watching video, we decided we're going to cheat just like they do."

Changes are coming for the Blue Jackets, who discussed video sessions and working on drills to get more pucks to the net and stress that players from Rick Nash all the way down to the checking line players would go to the net to create a down-low presence for rebounds or follow-up scoring opportunities near the crease.

Changes: Whether it was stars like Nash or Kristian Huselius or checkers like Antoine Vermette or Jared Boll, the emphasis was getting shots to the net and following up those chances aggressively on the rebounds and with potential scoring opportunities down low. That's what often happens after a team winds up with a 7-1 edge in shots in the first 7:14, but is outshot 33-14 the record of the way. Twenty-one shots on goal against Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood just isn't enough.

"The pace of the practice was quick and lively," Nash said. "It's only one game. It was the first playoff game in this franchise's history. All I know is we feel this is going to be a long, hard-fought series."

Faceoffs Part Deux: The Blue Jackets won only four of 19 faceoffs in the second period, losing 10 in a row at one point. Detroit won 32 of 56 in the game, including 14 of 19 by Pavel Datsyuk. To give a skilled puck-possession team like the Red Wings the puck that much is like walking a tight rope without a net. Manny Malhotra had the fourth-best faceoff percentage in the NHL in the regular season at 58 percent and Antoine Vermette was sixth at 57.7. Malhotra was 8-for-18 in Game 1, while Vermette was 6-for-16. It should be pointed out that Detroit finished No. 1 during the season and it's four main faceoff guys were over 50 percent, with Kris Draper (out for Games 1 and 2 of this series with an upper-body injury) finishing second in the regular season at 60.3 percent and Datsyuk ninth at 56 percent.

"We looked at video this morning and the coaches went through the faceoffs…a lot," Vermette said. "Faceoffs don't just involve the centers. It's a team thing -- and they are very good at jumping in to gain control of loose pucks. We have to be just as tenacious as they are off the faceoffs as a team."

Checking changes:
Hitchcock told his players there would be subtle changes in the lines, but it was clear he wanted to compliment the Red Wings as well.

"Detroit is the best team in the league at getting shots and scoring chances from their defensemen," Hitchcock said of the goals by Niklas Kronwall and rookie Jonathan Ericsson in the second period of Game 1.

Hard work and checking are the keys to Detroit's success according to the Columbus coach.

Said Hitchcock, "They get a lot of credit for their puck possession, but their individual competitive nature in checking is their calling card."

Check, check and triple check: Changes are rarely necessary for the Red Wings, who have that great strength at center with Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula and Draper and just dominate up the middle of the ice against most teams. Then there's the Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Kronwall effect, defensemen who are ultimately responsible at both ends of the rink.

"There's a culture here of being disciplined and skilled and then trying to outwork everyone at both ends of the rink," said Dan Cleary. "That hasn't changed since I came in here when I was with Chicago and Edmonton and Phoenix."

For the Red Wings, the hat trick of goals they had coming into the series was: Get traffic in front of rookie goaltender Steve Mason, keep Rick Nash away from the scoring areas, and try to wear down Columbus' big defense.

Check. Check. And triple check.

"Making sure Nash doesn't hurt is one of the biggest keys to playing against them," Cleary added. "Nick (Lidstrom) and Raffi (Brian Rafalski) were terrific on Nash. He's big and strong and very skilled, but he's really great at catching people sleeping. You don't do that against Nick and Raffi."

Nash had four shots in the first period, but was angled off to one side most of the night by Lidstrom and Rafalski.

Still blocking shots: With their top five defenseman -- Fedor Tyutin, Jan Hejda, Mike Commodore, Rostislav Klesla and Marc Methot all 6-3 or taller and 216-plus pounds, Hitchcock's plan against the quicker Detroit offense is to clog up the middle of their own zone inside the faceoff circles. Apparently, that won't change, even if there is danger playing that way against the Red Wings.

"The way they're playing it’s like everyone is playing in goal. Everyone's inside. And everyone is trying to block shots," explained Wings coach Mike Babcock. "When you do that, you block a lot of shots -- but sometimes a puck or two wind up in your own net."
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