This Sunday, the NHL on NBC spotlights a rematch between the teams that contested the 2007 Western Conference Final, as the Detroit Red Wings
, the NHL’s top team, will host the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks
at Joe Louis Arena Sunday. The puck will drop at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Through 56 games, the Red Wings have the NHL’s top record at 41-11-4 and lead the Central Division by 24 points. That's 15 points better than the next most successful team in the West, the Dallas Stars, who lead the Pacific Division with 71 points.
The Ducks are tied for second place in the Pacific Division with a 29-22-7 record for 65 points. But to paraphrase John Paul Jones, they have not yet begun to fight. Or, they've just recently begun. That's because star defenseman Scott Niedermayer and star forward Teemu Selanne have recently returned to the team.
Both men pondered retirement long and hard after winning the Stanley Cup and then decided, during this season, that they'd rather play.
Niedermayer returned to the lineup Dec. 16 and the Ducks are 14-7-3 with him in the lineup. That record is deceptive, though. All the good came early and the team was on an 0-5-1 run when Selanne signed and played his first game Tuesday, a 3-0 blanking of the New York Islanders on Long Island.
Detroit downed the Ducks, 3-2 in a shootout at "The Joe" on Oct. 3, the first game of the season for the Red Wings. The Ducks had split a two-game series in London with the Los Angeles Kings during the previous weekend. Anaheim took 10 penalties in that Oct. 3 game and Detroit had eight. The Ducks then defeated the Red Wings, 6-3, on Oct. 15 at the Honda Center. The Red Wings took 13 penalties in that game to Anaheim's 11.
More recently, the Red Wings posted a hard-fought 2-1 victory Jan. 23 at the Honda Center. The Ducks took 11 penalties that night and the Red Wings had 10.
For more insight on the game, NHL.com asked Hockey Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman to break down the two foes. In the interest of full disclosure, Bowman is a consultant to the Red Wings.
Scotty says ...
There's a lot of emotion when these two teams play, especially after Anaheim won last year's Western Conference championship. It will be interesting to see how they play each other now that Anaheim again is close to having the lineup that won the Stanley Cup.
The Red Wings had a heck of a game in that last game in Anaheim. They had won the night before in Los Angeles and got a fast start against the Ducks. Then they were able to hang on in the third period.
Both teams are similar in that a lot of the offense starts with the defense. If you don't closely cover their point men, they'll get scoring chances. With Scott Niedermayer back, that's where it starts for Anaheim. They've got terrific point men. I don't think there's another team in the NHL that has as many defensemen who can play well in the other team's zone, making passes and taking shots. That creates a lot of the attack. It's hard to get the rush going against them and they play carefully.
Detroit doesn't give up a lot of shots, partly because the Wings get a lot of good backside pressure from their forwards. It's no secret now in this League that you can't spend a lot of time in your own end. Detroit's defensemen like to pass first to each other, then the forwards must be in position for the next pass. They work on puck possession every day.
Both teams have excellent goaltending, Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Anaheim and either Chris Osgood or Dominik Hasek for Detroit. Osgood has played a lot more this year because of Hasek's injuries. Osgood has come through for Detroit, leading the NHL with a 1.84 goals-against average. Hasek is next at 2.04. Giguere is very good (ninth) with a 2.31 GAA.
As Osgood has gotten older, he has gotten much better at controlling rebounds; something he may have learned from Dominik. That's an area where Dominik is very good. Chris has been practicing that a lot. He's changed his style a bit, too, to adjust to the new game.
I don't think it has been as easy for Giguere this year after they traded away his backup, Ilya Bryzgalov, who was a heck of a backup and is now proving he's a No. 1 goalie in Phoenix. They'll have to use Giguere quite a bit down the stretch. He had off-season surgery. But he's a clutch goalie, he's big and he gets in position quickly. When you play like he did and win the Stanley Cup, it gives you a lot of confidence.
Both teams are very good on the power play. Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski work the points on Detroit's first unit. Tomas Holmstrom has been a standout on the power play for some years. He stands in there and causes a lot of problems for the goalie and the defense. The way Detroit handles the puck, he's the No. 1 factor on the power play.
For Anaheim, Selanne's back and he had 48 goals last year. Down low, he's one of the best. They were using (Todd) Bertuzzi in front of the net. Let's see what they do now. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are very effective on their power play. And, there's no shortage of point men with Niedermayer, Mathieu Schneider, Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin. So, they have two very good units.
Detroit has used Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby to kill penalties for a long time. Dan Cleary and Valtteri Filppula have become very good. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are also good, but you don't want to use them all the time, in all situations. But Detroit has three good pairs of penalty killers.
Todd Marchant is a good, speedy penalty killer. Their best penalty killer is Sami Pahlsson and he's hurt right now. Rob Niedermayer is also very good. Rob doesn't get a lot of credit, but he is a very good player for the Ducks. He played with Travis Moen during last year's playoffs and they shut down some pretty good lines.
In conclusion, Anaheim has changed a lot, for the better, since the beginning of the year. Without Selanne, it was like giving up two goals a game. Now, he's back. The Ducks seem to be concentrating on making sure they don't give up a lot of goals. That's a good way to start. It shouldn't take Teemu too long to acclimatize.
Mike "Doc" Emrick will do the play-by-play, assisted by analyst Eddie Olczyk. Pierre McGuire will report from ice level, between the teams' benches. McGuire will also host NBC's studio show, teamed with Mike Milbury, the New York Islanders’ former GM.
"These two teams are the gold standard by which all others are judged," Milbury said. "The Ducks have tried to establish a physical presence against Detroit and we should expect the same strategy."