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Kitchen: Detroit-Dallas a chess match

by John McGourty

The Red Wings will travel to Dallas to take on the Stars Sunday afternoon.
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What a difference a week makes in the NHL!

For the second-straight week, the Detroit Red Wings will be featured Sunday on NBC's NHL Game of the Week, visiting the Dallas Stars at 3:30 p.m. ET. But while the Red Wings were viewed as a powerful juggernaut going into their game last Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks, this time they'll be viewed as a team that recently struggled through four-straight losses, including the nationally televised 3-2 loss to the Ducks.

Meanwhile, the Stars had reeled off eight-straight victories before losing to the Coyotes Thursday night.

Detroit, leading the Central Division, has the best record in the NHL and Dallas, leading in the Pacific Division, is its closest Western Conference rival. Going into the weekend, the Red Wings were 41-13-5 for 87 points, 21 points ahead of the Nashville Predators, the second-best team in the Central Division. Dallas was 35-21-5 for 75 points, four points ahead of the Ducks in the Pacific Division.

Detroit suffered two significant injuries in the past eight days that has impacted its play and threatens to continue to do so. Left winger Dan Cleary suffered a broken jaw in a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs a week ago Saturday and goalie Dominik Hasek is being rested to relieve pain in his hip. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Jan. 30, when he hurt his collarbone.

Tomas Kopecky has replaced Cleary on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler. But Cleary had 20 goals and 20 assists while Kopecky has four goals and five assists in 55 games.

Hasek's spot in the lineup was filled by Grand Rapids Griffins' callup, Jimmy Howard, with the expectation that Chris Osgood would man the net during Hasek's absence. But Osgood gave up three goals on four shots to Nashville Tuesday. Howard replaced him and stopped 18 of 19 shots in a 4-2 loss.

There are reasons why these two clubs are division leaders. Dallas has the best penalty killing in the NHL and Detroit is by far the best team during 5-on-5 play. Both teams rank well in most significant categories.

Former St. Louis Blues coach Mike Kitchen, now an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers, analyzes this week's NBC NHL Game of the Week exclusively for

"Injuries are such a factor in team success," Kitchen said. "Teams don't have the depth we had before the salary cap. It's affecting the Panthers right now. We have eight guys out of our lineup and it's been like that for awhile, between six and eight guys for two-and-one-half months. Substitute players can fill the gap for a short period but it catches up with you.

"When you look at Dallas, you see a team with seven guys who have 10 or more goals. Their scoring is spread out through the lineup. Then, they've got Stu Barnes, Steve Ott and Jere Lehtinen with eight or nine goals. They have good depth in their scoring. Mike Ribeiro is having a terrific year. Brenden Morrow, their leading scorer, always steps up and Mike Modano has found his scoring touch again. That's crucial to their success. Mike is such a good offensive player, an all-around player, and to have him chipping in this year has made a big difference."

"If you look at both teams, you'll see that the guys who are supposed to be the best players have been the best players, night in and night out. Detroit's top line of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom have 73 goals between them. That's outstanding. Cleary has been an outstanding addition. He's like Holmstrom, taking a position in front of the opposing net. He takes abuse and gets rewarded with goals.

"Kopecky? Detroit has always been able to find these good players in the draft. It's a credit to the scouting staff. Detroit also brings young players along slowly and they have to earn ice time. When they get the opportunity, Mike Babcock puts trust in them and allows them to develop at their own speed. Detroit has also been fortunate not to have a lot of injuries and that allows them to bring players along at their own rate."

"Dallas has important injuries on the defense. Sergei Zubov has an injured foot and Philippe Boucher had shoulder surgery. Zubov is a 25-minute guy and Boucher a 23-minute player. It's hard on the back end when you miss two players like that, but Stephane Robidas has done a terrific job of taking on added minutes and Trevor Dailey added minutes and did really well. Dallas's defense is a big part of the offense the way they move the puck."

"Dallas and Detroit are right at the top of the League in special teams. Both teams have effective power-play units and good defensive players to kill penalties. Dallas has Modano back on the point on the power play and good skilled players up front who are able to quickly move the puck around. Watch their time of possession on the power play, they're the best. They get in the zone, set up and zip the puck around. They can change sides quickly by going through the seams and then they converge on the net very well.

"The Red Wings are not afraid to shoot and get 35-40 shots frequently. That's what makes them so strong at 5-on-5 play." - Florida Panthers assistant coach Mike Kitchen

"Detroit has the two key guys on the point, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, that makes their unit a threat from every area on the ice and they use all their options. They've got the threat of the point shot coming through, then Zetterberg and Datsyuk are very crafty playmakers who are also effective shooters. So, they've got the pass or shoot option. With Holmstrom in front of the net, they are very dangerous. He's the best in the NHL at screening goalies. They move the puck quickly from the point, from the half boards, and in their down-low play. They like to put shots on net and then go for those second and third chances. They also converge on the net very well.

"Detroit is a puck possession team and you have to make them unload the puck. That's why they are so strong, 5-on-5. They'll pull you out of the middle of the ice, then play it back in the middle. They have a lot of east-west play whereas Dallas is more north-south and they will outwork you down low. Detroit has the same idea but they don't like to give up the puck very often. The Red Wings are not afraid to shoot and get 35-40 shots frequently. That's what makes them so strong at 5-on-5 play."

"Dallas has a good 1-2 punch in goal with Marty Turco and Mike Smith, who have been sharing the net. I would imagine they'll go with Turco here so he can ‘set his mark’ against Detroit. Marty handles the puck really well so he can pass through the Detroit forecheck and start play the other way. If Detroit gets in on the forecheck, he can break that up with his stickwork. He's very good at handling the puck.

"Osgood is a proven guy who had a bad night Tuesday. He's been there before, goalies go through that and he'll rebound. I coached him when we were with the St. Louis Blues and I know he's resilient and will step up. Detroit will play a tight, stingy game to support him."

"Both teams are well balanced and well coached and can play wide open or close it right down and play a strong defensive game. It could be like a chess match where the teams come out just feeling each other out and gradually start to open up. The teams know each other very well. At this time of the season, teams are getting into a playoff frame of mind and each would like to set their mark against the other in this game right here."


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