Let's get physical
Now if the Western Conference semifinal playoff series between the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks — Game 1 is at 7 p.m. tonight on Versus — causes as much friction, it should be a good one.
“We don’t fight, so it depends what you call feisty,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. “If you call playing hard and going to the net and boxing out and finishing checks and all that (feisty), I expect lots of that.”
The Red Wings certainly do not fight.
This season was the fifth straight that Detroit finished last in the 30-team NHL in fighting majors. Marian Hossa was tied for third on the team in fights with one and the team’s top two regular-season fighters — Darren McCarty (five) and Andreas Lilja (three) — haven’t played this postseason.
Anaheim, on the other hand, was first in the NHL with 82 fights this season. The Ducks finished second last season and first in 2006-07 — Anaheim’s Stanley Cup campaign. You’d have to add the Red Wings’ last six seasons total of fights to equal the number of fights that the Ducks had this season alone.
But fighting is not the only element of a physical hockey game.
“I wouldn’t say we’re not physical because we have played in a lot of physical series, last year and years past, where we throw our bodies around,” said Detroit goalie Chris Osgood. “I just think we don’t get involved in the ridiculous stuff like you see in some other series around the league where you see flying elbows after the whistle, some stuff that’s needless and doesn’t have much to do with the game. You’re not suddenly going to win a game because you throw an elbow after the game’s over or you take somebody out with a cheap shot. I think hockey’s meant to be played hard when the puck’s dropped in between the whistles. Then you get yourself ready to go again. That’s what our team is about. We had to learn that.”
In their series clinching victory over San Jose, the Ducks waited just until the puck was dropped for the opening faceoff to fight — Ryan Getzlaf against Shark Joe Thornton. Fighting has given the Ducks a physical reputation. As has moves like Duck Chris Pronger driving Red Wing Tomas Holmstrom’s face into the glass during the Western Conference final two springs ago — a hit that drew Pronger a one-game suspension.
The Red Wings, on the other hand, are looked at as a high-skill, low-aggression group.
“It seems that every year, how physical we are always gets brought up,” said long-time Red Wing Kirk Maltby. “The first Stanley Cup run (in 1997) we had against Philadelphia, no one thought we had a chance because they were so big and strong. It just seems to be something that gets brought up — whether it’s because we have a few more Europeans than most teams or we’re not an overly big team or we don’t have a legitimate heavyweight (fighter). It’s something that in this dressing room is something that we know that we can do. Our version of being physical varies from what a lot of other people think is being physical. We go out there and wear teams down. I think that’s what we did against Columbus. That’s what we’re going to try to do against Anaheim.”
Asked if the Red Wings were up against the most physical team left in the playoffs and Henrik Zetterberg didn’t bat an eyelash.
“I think we’re the most physical team out there,” countered Zetterberg. “ You have to play physical or else you won’t win. You have to play physical, but play in between the whistles. ... Of course, against Anaheim, it’s always physical games, fun games and high-paced with physical play. Special teams are huge. They have a good power play. Our power play has to be good too and we have to take care of PK.”
And that line between finishing checks and taking penalties, between moving players from the front of the net and interference could play a big role in this series.
The Red Wings’ power play was first in efficiency during the regular season. It was tops in the league in the first round of the playoffs.
Anaheim’s power play ranked fifth during the regular season.
When these teams met in the 2007 playoffs, there was an average of nearly 12 power plays combined per game during the six-game series. That came during a season in which Detroit’s power play was down to 21st best in the league.
This time, that many opportunities could lift the Wings.
“It would be good for us if they took penalties and we used our power play,” said Pavel Datsyuk. “That would be nice.”