Red Wings do line dance
Because of the versatility of the Red Wings' forwards -- particularly Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg -- Detroit is one of the toughest teams to match up against for home teams. And that is something that the Predators will try to solve Monday night (7:30 p.m., FSN), in Game 3 of this Western Conference quarterfinal.
"It's the first time in my career that I've been on a team where the best players have been the best defensive players as well," said Dallas Drake, a veteran of 15 NHL seasons. "In most cases, teams' offensive guys are guys who (just) score goals. It's not the case with this team."
Datsyuk and Zetterberg played on the same line for Detroit victories in Games 1 and 2. Even then, however, there were times when Datsyuk played center and Zetterberg wing and times when Zetterberg was in the middle and Datsyuk along the boards.
But as often was the case during the regular season, Sunday's practice had Zetterberg centering one line -- with Johan Franzen and Mikael Samuelsson on the wings -- and Datsyuk centering another -- between Valtteri Filppula and Tomas Holmstrom.
But coach Mike Babcock said that he'll likely start Zetterberg and Datsyuk together on a line with Holmstrom. But how long that lasts will be determined as the game unfolds.
Babcock has frequently either put Zetterberg and Datsyuk together or split them apart in mid-game.
"We've been consistent over the last two years, sometimes they're together and sometimes they're apart -- whatever allows us to get the best matchup and get success," said Babcock. "We'll just see how the game goes. They'll start together."
All of which is going to test the versatility and depth of the Predators' forwards -- a group that was hurt when Scott Nichol broke his thumb in the first game of the series. Nichol is the NHL's top faceoff man and a solid defensive center.
With him gone, the Predators didn't use a fourth line in Saturday's Game 2 in Detroit. Coach Barry Trotz opted to work in one or two of his fourth-liners -- Darcy Hordichuk, Jerred Smithson and Brandon Bochenski -- with his third line. With David Legwand's return from injury a game-time decision, the Predators are thin up front.
The last time these teams played in Nashville (March 20), Datsyuk and Zetterberg played together and Nashville put Jason Arnott, Alexander Radulov and J.P. Dumont against them. The Red Wings won that game, 6-3, with Datsyuk scoring two goals and Radulov matching that total.
The Red Wings opted to play Datsyuk and Zetterberg against Arnott and Dumont and Jan Hlavac in Games 1 and 2. Detroit's top line won that matchup.
"The luxury that Babs (Babcock) has is if he wants to play Pav and Hank (Zetterberg) together, we know how dominant the two of them can be," said Kris Draper. "It's something that he can move around. It doesn't matter during the game, he can switch up."
In their penultimate regular-season game in Nashville (Feb. 12), the Predators put Nichol, Vernon Fiddler and Martin Gelinas against Zetterberg and Datsyuk. The Predators won that game, 4-2. Nichol and Gelinas, however, are injured.
It's difficult to find one line to contain Zetterberg and Datsyuk. It's harder to find two lines.
"Most of the time their shut-down line has to choose," said Zetterberg of he and Datsyuk splitting apart. "We have two lines that are kind of offensive. The other guy has to match up."
The Red Wings had the NHL's third-best regular-season road record this year with 54 points. That's four points more than Nashville earned in home games.
As far as the Red Wings themselves not knowing what their line combinations will be … Draper smiled and said it used to be worse.
"I played for Scotty (Bowman)," said Draper. "You would practice with a line for a couple of days, you'd do warmup with them and chances are you weren’t going to see them during the game. You just go out and play."