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Retrievals, neutral zone keys to Game 2

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings will need more physical play out of guys like Niklas Kronwall, if they hope to send the playoff series to Detroit tied at one win apiece. (Photo by Getty Images)

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Wednesday was used as a day of reflection and rest for the Red Wings as they pondered what they could have done differently in Tuesday’s 3-1 playoff-opening loss to the Ducks at Honda Center.

“As a group we didn’t feel that we played very well,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We didn’t execute very well coming out of our own zone. We didn’t have a lot of speed, therefore we didn’t have attack time. We didn’t have good separation forwards and our D. We didn’t like our game very much.”

Players used the off day prior to Thursday’s Game 2 to clear their heads, choosing to throw footballs and kick soccer balls in the Southern California sunshine outside of the Ducks’ practice facility.

Still, with the Ducks having dominated play in the neutral zone throughout the first game of the Western Conference quarterfinals series, the feeling among the Wings’ players and coaches is that they need to turn up the intensity and do a better job at retrieving pucks and spending more time in the offensive end of the ice.

“I think we need to sustain more pressure in their end,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “There was too much one-and-done. They’re playing good defense. They’re clogging up the neutral zone pretty good, so we’ve got to get the pucks deep and go work in their end.”

Part of the issue is that five players made their Stanley Cup playoff debuts for the Red Wings on Tuesday, including a couple of guys still getting acclimated to the NHL level, let alone the fevered pitch of postseason hockey.

“We talked about that this morning for sure. We talked about it before the series started,” Babcock said. “I don’t think you have to get hit by a car to understand that it hurts. I think they’re aware of the fact that there is going to be more intensity, but sometimes just being involved helps you out.”

Veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall believes that the blue-liners will be fine, and that the young guys like Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl shouldn’t get caught up in the playoff hype.

“The less they think the better off they'll be,” Kronwall said. “Just go out there and play. If you start thinking out there you end up in trouble. I think they were pretty good yesterday and will get even better tomorrow.”

Too many turnovers at center ice gave the Ducks plenty of scoring opportunities and left the Red Wings scrambling to get back to defuse a few situations in Game 1. But give the Ducks credit, they were opportunistic on the forecheck that forced the Wings’ young defensemen into making low percentage plays.

Some of that responsibility falls on the forwards, Zetterberg said, who used the last four games of the regular season as examples of how the Red Wings have gotten it done recently.

“We have to be in right spots,” he said. “If we’re in the right spots they will give us the puck. At the same time we have to hold up their people. It’s not easy for them to make a good play if they have guys on them right away. So we have to be a little better in all areas.

“We took a step back from the way we’d been playing just before the postseason. We just have to get back to the way we did and do all the little things right.”

UNFRIENDLY ROAD: The playoffs haven’t been too kind to the Red Wings when they’ve started a series on the road. Aside from Tuesday’s 3-1 loss at Honda Center, the Wings have now lost six straight series-openers on the road, making Game 2 all that more important, Daniel Cleary said.

“The key for any team on the road is to get a split,” said Cleary, who scored the Wings’ lone goal in Game 1. “We've been here numerous times. We feel if we play the way we know we can play, things will work out. … We expect a better effort, better execution in Game 2.”

IRONMAN: While the Red Wings had five players making their postseason debuts on Tuesday, the Ducks also had a pair of playoff first-timers, including former University of Michigan forward Andrew Cogliano.

The former Wolverine hasn’t missed a single game in his NHL career, spanning 458 consecutive regular-season contests, putting him third in the league behind St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (636) and Vancouver forward Henrik Sedin (629).

“It was unbelievable. It was a great time,” said Cogliano of his first playoff game. “I obviously never experienced it before. But the overall excitement, you just feel like every play out there means something and it’s magnified that much more.”

Cogliano’s line, along with center Saku Koivu and forward Daniel Winnik, were given the responsibility of shutting down Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg.

“They’re so dangerous through the neutral zone that if you give them any time they’re going to make plays,” Cogliano said, following the Ducks’ Wednesday morning practice. “They’re so good with the puck, especially Datsyuk with things that you never really seen before. I feel like even when I have the puck on my stick and I’m skating out of the zone he’s always around or behind me waiting to take the puck off me.”

AGELESS WONDER: At 42-year-old, future hall of famer Teemu Salenne surprised nobody Tuesday when he scored the game-winner goal early in the third period. The power-play goal, which was his 42nd career goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs, came from a familiar spot on the ice.

“That has been my favorite spot,” said Selanne, of the left faceoff circle. “Lately I have been more in the middle on the PP but it doesn't matter.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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