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First Round Preview: Wings vs. Oilers

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings

(1) Detroit Red Wings vs.
(8) Edmonton Oilers

Analysis by Shawn P. Roarke | | April 19, 2006

The Skinny


Don't blink or you might miss an important play in this series, which will be played at a breakneck speed by two rosters full of individual talent capable of fitting into their respective team systems. Although separated by 29 points in the standings, the teams are very similar in the way they play the game. Plus, Detroit's point total is clearly padded by the fact it feasted on the weaker opponents in the Central Division, which boasted just two teams -- Detroit and Nashville -- with winning records.

The Red Wings went 25-3-4 within its division, taking 54 of a possible 64 points in the process. Edmonton, on the other hand, played in the rugged Northwest Division, which featured all five teams possessing winning records at the close of the season.

In fact, during the regular season series between these two teams, Edmonton claimed five of a possible eight points to show that it can play with the unquestioned class of the Western Conference. Most importantly, Edmonton has the speed and skating skills to keep up with Detroit's lightning-quick fleet of forwards and its transition-happy defensemen. It also has the heft on the back line that can neutralize a good deal of the cycling game Detroit is happy to play once it gains the offensive blue line.

Plus, this series features two young coaches that have shown the ability to get the most out of their rosters and change tactics on the fly to press the advantage. Detroit's Mike Babcock took Anaheim all the way to the Finals two years ago. Craig MacTavish has only 12 games of postseason experience, but has pushed his limited team to winning regular-season records in each of his first five seasons in Edmonton.

Detroit Game Breakers

1. Pavel Datsyuk: Detroit's speedy, crafty playmaking center leads the Wings in scoring with 87 points in 75 games. He hasn't played since April 3 because of a charley horse, but coach Mike Babcock has guaranteed his return for Game 1 of the playoffs. Datsyuk is the team's most-gifted puckhandler and must be countered by deploying a top-tier defenseman against him, opening up opportunities for scorers on other lines. He also is a staple of the Wings' first unit on the power play, combining with Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom. Datsyuk has 11 power-play goals, tied for third on the team.

2. Nicklas Lidstrom: Like Chris Pronger across the ice, Lidstrom eats up copious amounts of ice time, playing a touch more than 28 minutes per game. He is effective, yet understated in his own end, snuffing out forays toward the net with seeming nonchalance. He has a plus-21 rating. But, it is on the offensive blue line where Lidstrom, a perennial Norris Trophy candidate, truly shines. He is an adept mover of the puck, distributing it in a fashion that often leads to breakdowns by the defense as they chase his attempts to change the angle of Detroit's attack. Plus, he has a blistering, yet easily deflectable, shot from the point. It is one he uses with relish on the power play, where he has tallied nine of his 16 goals this year.

3. Tomas Holmstrom: Nobody likes playing against this big Swedish forward. Holmstrom has made enemies throughout the League because of his zeal for planting his big, immovable body at the edge of a goalie's crease and refusing to vacate that hard-earned patch of ice -- no matter the negative attention he receives from said goalie and his defenseman. Holmstrom has 29 goals, including 11 on the power play, and it is no exaggeration to say that more than two-thirds of those tallies have come from within 10 feet of the opposition's net. His 6-foot, 205-pound frame also wears out defensemen after a night spent leaning on them and suckering them into post-whistle confrontations.

Edmonton Game Breakers

1. Ryan Smyth: An elite power forward, Smyth is the type of player that can cause tremendous headaches for a defense, especially in a seven-game series. His willingness to play the body on the offensive cycle and crash the net with gleeful abandon wears down opposing defenseman over the long haul. Plus, Smyth has the ability to score from those down-low positions as evidenced by his career-high 36 goals this season and above-average 15.65 shooting percentage. With a career in Edmonton that dates back to 1995, Smyth is the on-ice leader for this squad of over-achievers.

2. Chris Pronger: This elite defenseman has been all Edmonton could have hoped for, and more, since his arrival this year in a trade with St. Louis. Pronger has become the stud defenseman Edmonton has always craved, playing 28 minutes per game and dominating in all facets of the game. Defensively, he is an excellent penalty killer and shot blocker and has the ability to handle even the biggest forwards in front of the net. Offensively, he can key Edmonton's lethal transition game and is devastating on the power play, where he has scored 10 of his 12 goals this season.

3. Dwayne Roloson: Roloson's arrival as Edmonton's savior did not start well, as he struggled in his first few games after landing with the Oilers from Minnesota at the trade deadline. In fact, Edmonton almost fell out of the playoff race as Roloson tried to find his footing. But, the veteran goalie has stabilized nicely. In his last six games, he has allowed more than two goals on just one occasion, a three-goals-against win against Chicago. In fact, during that six-game stretch, Roloson has allowed just 10 goals and stopped 156 of 166 shots for a spectacular .933 save percentage.

X Factors

Steve Yzerman (DET): Before being shelved for three of the final four games of the regular season because of a lower-body injury, Yzerman was a man on fire. He registered a point in 11 straight games, going 5-9-14 over that span with a plus-7 rating. If he can recapture that form upon his return, Detroit is an infinitely more dangerous team. Even when not scoring, Yzerman is a boost just for the leadership and experience he brings to the dressing room. But, his chronic bad knee and his susceptibility to breaking down on a fairly regular basis merit consideration and have to be a cause for concern in Motown.

Sergei Samsonov (EDM): Obtained at the trading deadline from Boston, Samsonov has used his speed and undeniable skill set to fit right in with the high-flying Oilers. In 19 games with his new team, Samsonov has five goals and 11 assists. But, the smallish Samsonov has found the sledding much tougher in the postseason, often struggling with Boston during the first seven years of his career there. He has just nine goals in 35 career playoff games and managed just two in 12 games during Boston's first-round elimination in each of its past two playoff appearances.

Oilers vs. Red Wings
Fri, April 21 7:00 p.m.
at Detroit (FOX2, OLN)
Sun, April 23 1:00 p.m.
at Detroit (NBC, CBC)
Tue, April 25 10:00 p.m.
at Edmonton (FSN, CBC, OLN)
Thu, April 27 9:30 p.m.
at Edmonton (FSN, CBC, OLN)
*Sat, April 29 3:00 p.m.
at Detroit (NBC, CBC)
*Mon, May 1 TBD
at Edmonton (FSN, CBC, OLN)
*Wed, May 3 7:00 p.m.
at Detroit (FSN, OLN, CBC)
*if necessary
-- All times Eastern
1. Elite Company -- Detroit's 124-point total is the fifth most in NHL history. Montreal holds the mark with 132 points in the 80-game season of 1976-77. Detroit registered 131 points during an 82-game season in 1995-96 and, Montreal managed 129 points in an 80-game season in 1977-78 and Montreal also had 127 points during the 80-game 1975-76 season.


2. Elusive Double -- Since the inception of the Presidents' Trophy in 1986, only six teams have won both the regular-season crown and the Stanley Cup in the same year. Detroit did it in 2001-02 when its 116 points led the League. A year earlier, Colorado (118 points) also did the double. Dallas (1998-99, 114 points), the New York Rangers (1993-94, 112 points), Calgary (1988-89, 117 points) and Edmonton (1986-87, 106) are the other teams to pull off this hard-to-duplicate feat.

3. Iron Men -- Edmonton's Chris Pronger and Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom are two of the three busiest players in the League when it comes to time on ice per game. Toronto's Tomas Kaberle, who will not take part in the postseason, leads all skaters by averaging 28:11 per contest. Lidstrom is second at 28:06 and Pronger third at 27:59. Fourth place is not even close with Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer averaging just 25:30 per game.

4. Long Time Coming -- Edmonton will be looking to get out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1998. That year, the Oilers beat Colorado in a memorable seven-game series before Dallas took the second-round series, 4-1. Since then, Edmonton has qualified for the playoffs four times, losing to Dallas in the first round on each occasion.

5. Fond Memories -- Edmonton has met Detroit twice in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, winning both series by a 4-1 margin. In 1987, the teams met in the third round of the playoffs and Edmonton won the final three games after a split of the first two in Edmonton to advance to the Cup Finals, where they beat Philadelphia in seven games. The next year, the two teams met in the third round again. This time, Detroit won Game 3 at home before succumbing. Edmonton advanced to sweep Boston in the Finals.

"Edmonton isn't the easiest place to play. The media is quick to get on you, especially if you're a new guy. He could have very easily folded it up and moved on to a different team, said it didn't work out here. But he stuck with it. Now, who knows what we can parlay this into."
-- Shawn Horcoff on Dwayne Roloson, who was imported in early March to give the Oilers a top-flight postseason goalie.


"The regular season is all forgotten, and we start from scratch, but the history between Detroit and Edmonton is we've always had close games. Both teams are really built on speed and skill. I anticipate a very difficult, very close series."
-- Detroit GM Ken Holland

Detroit Will Win if: It can keep this series short. The Red Wings must start out fast at home and put Edmonton immediately behind the 8-ball. Not only would the Red Wings love the extra rest that will come from dispatching the Oilers in four or five games, but they want to avoid any chance of Edmonton getting its confidence up and entertaining notions of pushing this series to a sixth or seventh game. Detroit must also find ways to get on the power play, where its devastating wave of man-advantage specialists -- who have combined to give Detroit a League-leading conversion rate of 22 percent --can wreak appropriate havoc against the Oilers penalty killers and wear down players like Pronger.


Edmonton Will Win if: Roloson stands on his head. Usually, upsets in the first round can be traced back to clear dominance in the goaltending department. Nobody is convinced yet that Detroit's Manny Legace is a proven playoff performer, After all, he has only 230 minutes of playoff experience and just two wins. So, if Roloson can continue his recent stellar form, and the Edmonton attack can rattle Legace, the Oilers could find themselves extending this series into the sixth and seventh games, where history has proven that anything can happen. Also, Edmonton will have to play the body at every turn, hoping to wear down Detroit's older players, as well as slow down some of the team's walking wounded.


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