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Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Shoot first, ask questions later

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- There's more to adapting to North American lifestyle than just learning the language and the cuisine of fast food.
There's also the size of the hockey rinks.
Europeans play hockey on a significantly bigger ice surface than those in North America. There's much more room between the faceoff circles and the boards. For a Finn like Red Wing Valtteri Filppula, the overall game is changes greatly when you cross the Atlantic Ocean.
"Rink size is the No. 1 thing," said Filppula. "The first year over here, I learned a lot in the AHL getting used to the size of the rink."
Filppula is still adjusting his game.
Coming over from Finland two years ago, Filppula was a standout in the American Hockey League. Last winter, he was an NHL rookie, a playoff regular on the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
This year, Filppula is the second-line center on the team with the best record in the NHL.
"That's a huge jump," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "When he figures out that when you shoot the puck, you have a better chance to score, he's going to be that much better. … He's kind of like (Pavel) Datsyuk. Datsyuk initially wouldn't shoot the puck ever."
Part of any European's instinct to hold onto the puck is the difference in rink size. There are many spots in the offensive zone of a European rink from where shooting the puck is nothing more than giving up possession.
There is also more north-south skating in the NHL than in Europe, where wider rinks allow for more east-west work with the puck.
The rinks are different enough that when Red Wing prospect Jonathan Ericsson participated in his first training-camp drill after arriving from Sweden, he skated backwards right into the side boards.
"Here, you come over the blue line and you start to have a really good chance to score," said Filppula. "Over in Europe, you're still quite far away. Here you can be at the hash marks and you almost touch the boards. In Europe, you're still a long way away. There's not a lot of shots from those angles. Especially the goalies notice it. The shots come a little different from different angles."
Babcock has been preaching for more shots from the entire team, even though the Red Wings lead the league in shots on goal. He has mentioned several times that Filppula is one of the players who most needs to pull the trigger more often.
Although Filppula's shots on goal per game are up from last season, so is his ice time. The sophomore's shots per minute played is slightly lower than a year ago.
"For me, I tend to look for better chances, but I should shoot from further away and get better chances for a rebound," said Filppula. "That's something I have to do better. You have to shoot to be scoring a lot. A lot of teams really pack it in their end, so there's not much room. You've got to shoot and go get the rebound."
The 23-year-old Finn has three goals in Detroit's last four games, entering Saturday's contest in Minnesota. One of those goals, however was a pass that deflected in off a defender.
Although his shots are not more numerous, Filppula's results have been more plentiful. The center has nine goals through 35 games after scoring 10 goals in 79 games last winter.


Anonymous Mike Canada said...

Great article!

The difference in rink sizes really do make a difference. Maybe that is one of the reasons why the Canadian (1998 4th place/ 2006 Quarter Finals loss) and American (1998 & 2006 Quarter Finals losses) Men's Olympic Teams fare so poorly when the games are outside of North America?

December 22, 2007 at 2:48 AM 

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