Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gustavsson leads Wings to 3-2 win in Boston.

**I'm a little backed up with everything going on in Detroit sports right now plus work obligations but I will be catching up asap!!**

The Red Wings were not happy with their performances against Boston and Phoenix so Mike Babcock switched up his line up against Philadelphia and it paid dividends with a 5-2 victory.  The
Red Wings were hoping that their line changes would help them avenge a loss just 10 days earlier in the same building against the Bruins.  Lets break down the action in each period:

First period:
One line up change was made for this game and it was an unexpected one, as the newly activated Jonas Gustavsson got the start for Jimmy Howard, who is nursing a bruised left hand.  Boston  had the first chance and tested Gustavsson early as Chara hit the post to the right of Gus and the puck bounced harmlessly to the corner and was cleared by Detroit, who came back down the ice as
Abdelkader skated up the near boards and threw a pass over to Franzen on a two on one but Franzen sent the wrist shot wide of the net glove side.  Marchand had a great scoring chance as he was able to walk into the slot from the half boards and send a wrister on net but Gustavsson made the save, and Chara skated in from the blue line but sent the rebound just wide of an open net.  Drew Miller had a good chance at the other end, throwing the puck from the slot between a bunch of legs that Rask had to fight off with his right pad, then Brian Lashoff, playing his second consecutive game replacing Brendon Smith, jumped in from the blue line to keep the puck in the zone and had a blast on net that Rask was able to hold.  Chara had another big rip from the point with a screen set in front but Gustavsson was in the right position to make another save on the big defenseman.  Datsyuk then stole the puck from Bergeron at center ice and turned back into the Boston zone, dipped his shoulder to get around the 6'9 Chara and backhanded a pass across to a streaking Zetterberg, who was patient before taking a sharp angle shot that beat Rask and rattled in off the far post.  Boston responded by ratcheting up the pressure as Siedenburg blasted a shot from the point but Gustavsson flashed his glove and held on.  Boston pressured Detroit behind the net and forced a turnover that came back to the half boards to Boychuk who stepped in and threw the put towards the net and it deflected off of Loui Eriksson's knee and past Gustavsson to tie the game 1-1.  Kindl was called for interference and Boston went to the power play for the first time with 4 minutes left in the period but they created no significant chances and the period closed with the score still tied 1-1. 

Second Period:
Jonathan Eriksson got the first chance of the period but his slap shot from the right point sailed over the net.  David Krejci tipped a shot into Gustavsson on the other end but the Red Wings goalie was able to cover up.  Dekeyser had a nice shot through a Bertuzzi screen but Rask was in position and was able to make the save.  Iginla took a cross ice pass from the half boards into the slot and was wide open for a one timed snap shop but Gustavsson came across the crease and made a huge save.  Daniel Paille streaked up the near boards and blasted a shot at from the top of the circle but again Gustavsson was in the right position to make the save.  Tory Krug had an opportunity to give Boston a lead as he came in from the point after a scramble in front of the Detroit net and collected the puck but his shot was denied the open net by Alfredsson saving Gustavsson, who was sprawled on the ice.  Back down the other end Franzen entered the zone and pulled up waiting for help, he found Weiss behind two Bruins defenseman and Stephen Weiss was able to chip the puck over the far shoulder of Rask into the top corner for a 2-1 Red Wings lead.  Just two minutes later, Alfredsson controlled
the puck behind the Boston goal and centered to a streaking Dan Cleary, who snapped the puck passed Rask to push Detroit's lead to 3-1.  The Bruins went back to the power play after Tory Krug's
shot from the point was tipped over the net and into the corner, Brian Lashoff was called for cross checking.  The Bruins power play was set up in the Detroit zone and they moved the puck well but it did not lead to many open chances or shots on goal as the Detroit penalty killers closed down shooters and blocked shots all game long.  After the penalty kill Thornton skated up the right wing and blasted a shot on Gustavsson that he kicked aside with his right pad.  A turnover off of a linesman by Franzen at center ice led to a Krug chance and a scrum in front of Gustavsson that ended with matching roughing minors for Dekeyser and Krejci.  It was 4 on 4 for the last 30 seconds of the period but nothing of note transpired, the period ended 3-1 Detroit.
Third Period:
Bergeron Started the period with a good chance from the top of the circles but Gustavsson made the save.  Jordin Tootoo made his presence felt as he flew around the ice in his limited action but he
had a good shot on Rask and Datsyuk followed up with a spinning backhand that Rask had to stop with his right pad.  Kronwall was called for a penalty 5 minutes into the period and Boston went to their 3rd power play of the game.  Six seconds into the penalty, Dan Cleary was called for a tripping penalty as he took out the skate of Matt Barkowski giving the Bruins a near full 2 minutes of 5 on 3.  The Bruins peppered the net with heavy shots as Chrara had four blasts from the point that were either stopped by Gustavsson, blocked in front or shot wide of the net.  Iginla also had two chances blocked in front, and one knocked away by Gustavsson.  The Wings were able to escape unscathed from the danger and killed off both penalties.  Shortly after, Bertuzzi intercepted a pass in the slot and went right in on Rask but he was stopped and pushed over top the Boston goalie and his face smashed into the far goal post, then the ice.  He left to receive 9 stitches on a cut over his right eye.  The Bruins, trailing by two had zero shots on goal for nearly 10 minutes after the 5 on 3 kill, until the Wings were called for their 5th penalty of the game when Alfredsson was whistled for boarding.   Boston could not create any chances again on the 5 on 4 advantage as Glendening and Miller had big clears for the Wings.  With 1:30 left in the game, a bouncing puck found its way to Milan Lucic in the slot and he was able to back hand it past Gustavsson's left shoulder into the top corner to cut the Wings lead to 3-2.  The Red Wings would hold on under the Boston pressure the last 90 seconds and escape with a 3-2 win in Boston.

Game notes:
  • Shots: Detroit 27, Boston 30.
  • Faceoffs won: Detroit 24, Boston 22.
  • Power plays: Boston 0-5, Detroit 0-0.  Seriously, no penalties for Boston?
  • Abdelkader's streak is broken after just 5 games, recording only 2 hits.
  • Gustavsson was outstanding in net in his first start of the year.  This will be a big confidence booster coming off an injury in the preseason. 
  • Detroit blocked 22 shots, they were much better as a team defensively then the last time they played in Boston.  
Up next:  The Wings return home Tuesday night to host the fellow newcomer to the eastern conference, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wings beat Flyers 5-2 as power play wakes up

The Red Wings were coming off back to back losses in which they were out played and outworked in each game.  That obviously didn't sit well with Mike Babcock and he made some line up changes going into the game Saturday night with the Flyers, looking for improved effort from his team.  Lets break down the action in each period:

First period: 
Bertuzzi was moved up to the first line not as punishment to Abdelkader but to help the second line of Weiss and Franzen get going.  Alfredsson moved down to the third line and Emmerton was replaced by Glendening, Tootoo replaced Samuelsson on the 4th line.  On defense, Lashoff replaced Brendan smith, who had been too turn over prone in the early going of the season.  Speaking of turnovers, Dekeyser drew an early penalty for hooking after turning the puck over in his own zone, sending the Flyers to the power play.  Philadelphia created only one chance, a shot from the point was deflected by a screen in front by Simmons but Howard was up to the task, helping to kill off the penalty.  The Flyers controlled the action early, continuing to throw pucks at the net from any distance but none of the shots posed any real threat to Howard.  The Red Wings got their first power play 6:49 into the first period as Raffl was called for hooking and Detroit became the last team in the NHL to score a power play goal as Kronwall entered the offensive zone with speed but the puck was knocked off his stick and ended up behind the net where Bertuzzi picked it up and wrapped it around and into the net between Emery's legs.  Howards left pad kept the Flyers at bay on consecutive stops of Brayden Schenn and Tye McGinn as Howard made reflex saves kicking the puck out of harms way.  Zetterberg had a chance breaking in on goal after Datsyuk took the puck away at center ice and fed it to Abdelkader at the near boards at the blue line who centered to the Detroit captain but the puck was poked just wide of the net.  Andersson and Alfredsson had a nice give and go before McGinn drew a tripping penalty to put the Wings back on the power play.  Zetterberg sent a rink wide pass to Alfredsson streaking in from the point and he tried to feed a wide open Bertuzzi in front of the net but the pass was just out of his reach and the Wings couldn't create any other opportunities this time, but would return to the power play with 25 seconds left in the period as Coburn drew a holding penalty.  Datsyuk had two shots that were stopped by Emery before time ran out on the period with the Wings leading 2-1.
Second Period:
The Detroit power play carried over from the end of the first period and Kronwall had the best chance on the man advantage but shot the puck just wide of the net off the one time pass from Zetterberg.  Read had a short handed chance when Alfredsson gave the puck away at the blue line and had to race back to prevent a better chance and Howard was there to shut the door.  Glendening, making his NHL debut out of the University of Michigan, was whistled for holding shortly after the Detroit power play had expired.  Howard was sharp and busy, making a glove save on Brayden Schenn down the wing, then stopping Schenn again on a one timed opportunity just above the circles, before blanking Raffl and Schenn one more time.  The Wings needed a good shift and they got great puck control in the offensive zone from Zetterberg who was supported by Datsyuk and Bertuzzi was able to work his way to the front of the net with the puck and draw a penalty.  The Wings took advantage with sharp passing and after 3 or 4 good chances on net, Alfredsson sent the puck across the ice to Kronwall moving in from the point and he blasted it short side over Emery's shoulder into the net for a 2-0 lead.  That lead wouldn't last long as just 43 seconds later Philadelphia would tie the game as the Flyers amped up the pressure and Howard stopped shots by Schenn and Raffl before Erik Gustafsson threw a bouncing puck at Howard from the right point and it hopped over his stick and pad and under his arm into the back of the net.  Read broke in shortly after the goal and nearly tied the game going down the left wing, backhand to forehand off the short side cross bar and over the net.  Philadelphia kept the pressure on as Sean Couturier missed over the net aiming for the far corner after he walked out from behind the net untouched in front of Howard.  Eriksson then coughed up the puck trying to break out of the zone and drew a penalty for hooking because of the turnover.  The Flyers were set up in the Detroit zone but didn't create any chances before Simmons was whistled for holding trying to keep the puck in the zone.  The 4 on 4 play was uneventful, and Datsyuk had the last chance of the period for Detroit on a 2 on 1 but the shot missed just wide, hitting the side of the net as the Wings took a 2-1 lead to the 2nd intermission.     

Third Period:
The Flyers started the third with a flurry of good chances, the first by Nicklas Grossmann but Howard was in position for the save.  The Flyers set up after a faceoff win in the Detroit zone and the puck was thrown off the end boards and bounced right out front to Simmons who's shot was stopped by Howard off of his left arm and Lashoff did a great job at the side of the net tying up Raffl, not allowing him to slam the puck into the open net as it continued to bounce around and Simmons had another attempt on goal but the puck bounced off his own player standing in the crease.  On the other end of the ice Todd Bertuzzi drew another penalty battling for the puck, a high stick grazed him from Coburn.  The Wings would again take advantage as Kronwall and Alfredsson passed the puck across the blue line before finding Datsyuk in the between the circle and he spun and back handed the puck past Emery who was screened by Bertuzzi and never saw the puck.  The Wings led 3-1 but two and a half minutes later the Flyers would bring it to a one goal game again as McGinn would backhand the puck into an open net as Howard had come out to save a slap shot from Giroux and the puck deflected off his blocker right to the open McGinn.  Kronwall made a great defensive play to break up a 2 on 1 opportunity shortly after the goal for the Flyers after Bertuzzi's errant pass at center ice led to the odd man rush.  Schenn came off the boards and drew a slashing penalty to put the flyers on the advantage with 10 minutes left in the period.  Glendening made a great read on a 2 on 1 play right in front of Howard to take the puck away as he and Miller created a 2 on 1 the other way but nothing really came of the opportunity.  Shortly after the penalty was killed off, Datsyuk skated into the offensive zone down the left wing and threw the puck back towards Zetterberg who took what appeared to be a harmless shot at Emery but he whiffed and the puck went under his glove into the net for a 4-2 Detroit lead.  The Flyers pulled emery with a faceoff in Detroit's zone and 2:11 left but the Wings never allowed the Flyers to get comfortable on the puck and eventually Zetterberg would break free on a pass from Datsyuk and fire the puck into the empty net to close the game, 5-2 Detroit. 

Game notes:
  • Shots: Detroit 30, Philadelphia 34.
  • Faceoffs won: Detroit 36, Philadelphia 27.
  • Both teams were coming off loses to the Coyotes.
  • Abdelkader had 7 more hits, leading the Wings for a 5th straight game.
  • Howard was fantastic, saving 32 of 34 shots.
  • Detroit was 3 for 7 on the power play, Philadelphia 0 for 4.
  • The Wing have not allowed a power play goal at home this season, killing off all 13 short handed opportunities thus far.   

Up next:  The Wings travel back to Boston to take on the Bruins in a columbus day afternoon game.

Week 6 preview and prediction: Lions vs Browns

The outcome of this game isn't as simple as figuring out if one person is playing or not, but it could be.  If Calvin Johnson does not suit up again this week as the Lions travel to Cleveland to face the surging Browns, Detroit will be hard pressed to score enough points against a stingy Browns defense to win the game.  If Calvin is in the line up, that doesn't make playing the Browns easier, but it makes winning the game a possibility.  Cleveland's offense had been improved with Brian Hoyer taking over at quarterback and Willis Mcgahee taking over in the backfield after the Browns traded away Trent Richardson.  However, Hoyer suffered a knee injury that ended his season on Thursday night in week 5, so the Browns once again hand the ball the Brandon Weeden, and there lies the Lions path to victory.  The Lions faced the Browns in a preseason game and were thrashed by the Browns offense and Weeden, but the Lions seemed to be holding something back, knowing these teams would meet in the regular season.  Weeden has been sacked 16 times in the three games he's played, has thrown three picks and fumbled twice.  If the Lions pressure Weeden with their front four, the defense might score enough points to win this game for Detroit.  In the preseason meeting, and thus far early in the regular season, Browns tight end Jordan Cameron has played about as well as any tight end not named Jimmy Graham, or not playing in Denver.  Cameron has more catches and touchdowns then Calvin Johnson, and is averaging more yards per game, that's pretty impressive.  With Weeden and Johnson both in the line up for their respective teams, Detroit has the clear advantage, but if CJ cant go, this game will be close.  Here are 5 keys to watch:

Pressure Weeden: 
We mentioned Weeden's propensity for being sacked and that will have to be the game plan for Detroit defense.  The Detroit defensive front is one of the most terrorizing in the NFL without question but last week they were burned with draw plays and a scrambling quarterback.  Weeden is not nearly as mobile as Aaron Rodgers in escaping the pocket so Detroit should get home more often this week.  Weeden only completes about 54% of his passes and the Lions have had success making big plays on defense this year against inaccurate or pressured quarterbacks. 

Consistency from secondary play makers: 
Regardless if Calvin is playing or not, Detroit's backs, receivers, and tight ends need to catch the balls that hit them in the hands in order to sustain drives to score points, something they did not do last week in Green bay, recording five dropped passes.  With Tony Scheffler missing the game with concussion issues, Joseph Fauria and Ryan Broyles should see increased roles and they are two of the Lions most sure handed players.  Reggie Bush and Joique Bell need to grind out yards on the ground, avoiding negative plays, and Scott Linehan needs to create miss matches in the passing game to exploit Bush more.   

Win first and second down:  The Lions 3rd down defense was not as strong as it had been all year against the Packers last week because the Packers ran the ball effectively on 1st and 2nd down to set up manageable 3rd down opportunities. Willis Mcgahee has been the primary ball the past two weeks for the Browns but has not been very successful running the ball, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry.  If the Lions can create third and long situations, the Browns only convert 34% on third down as it is, and the browns don't have a lot of playmakers that will consistently sustain drives, much like the Lions without CJ and Burleson.     

Detroits Offensive line:  This seems to be a broken record, but Detroit's offensive line did not play as well as they had all year last week against the Packers and will need to be better if the lions hope to win in Cleveland.  The Browns defense is strong across the board ranking 4th in the NFL having given up just over 300 yards of offense and just 18.8 points per game.  However, Cleveland has faced only one top 10 offense all year, Minnesota in week 3, and gave up 27 points.  Cleveland has 18 sacks this season, tying them for third in the NFL and that's been a big reason they have only allowed 206 passing yards against per game.  Detroit's offensive line is going to have to be better opening holes in the running game to take the pressure off Stafford, as well as giving him the protection and time he needs to throw the ball.  I think the rushing total will again be indicative of how the Lions offense, and line, is playing.  If the Lions can run for 100 yards, they will have a good shot to score enough points to win, if they are in the 70 yard range, this game will look just like last week.  

Punting and field position:  This could be an ugly offensive game, especially if CJ is out.  The Lions special teams has been much better the last three games and Sam Martin has emerged as one of the best punters in the league just five games into his career.  Martin is averaging 49.5 yards per kick, 2nd best in the NFL and the coverage units have a done a great job as the Lions lead the NFL with a punting net gain of 47.1 yards.  The Browns are second in the NFL with a 15.1 yard punt return average, so which ever team can control the field position while Detroit is punting could play a huge role in determining the outcome as in a low scoring game, field position can make all the difference.  The browns are averaging just 40.8 yards net gain per punt while Detroit has averaged 9.5 yards per punt return.

Game Notes:
  • Speaking of Jimmy Graham, he is leading the NFL in receiving yards with through 5 weeks with 593 yards, which puts him on pace for a 1897 yard season.  We will keep an eye on Calvin's record if Graham keeps having big weeks.
  • Injury news for Detroit, Scheffler is out, Jason Fox is doubtful, and Riddick is out.  Cory Hilliard would get the start for Fox at right tackle.
  • The browns Jabaal Sheard is questionable, if the Browns were to lose him up front that would be a huge blow to their defensive front 7.
  • The winner of this game moves to 4-2 and would be in good shape to play meaningful games in December.
  • This is the first of back to back games vs the AFC North for Detroit as they host Cincinnati next week.
  • This will be the Lions 4th road game of the season, against only 2 home games thus far.  If the Lions come out of that stretch 4-2, they will like their chances the rest of the way with 6 games still to be played at Ford Field.    
Prediction:  Assuming CJ plays, the Lions win ugly, 20-13.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tigers vs Red Sox: ALCS preview and prediction

The Tigers are headed to their 3rd straight ALCS against their third different opponent, Texas, New York and now Boston.  While the Tigers were the preseason favorites by many to win the World Series, Boston was the odds on favorite as the postseason started.  The Red Sox are the most complete team in baseball, they can beat you on offense with power or speed, their starting pitching is strong when healthy and their bullpen has grown over the year and Uehara has been terrific.  The Tigers will be the underdog
Starting pitching:  The Red Sox have good starting pitching, the Tigers have great starting pitching.  With Justin Verlander looking like his old self and Max Scherzer pitching like the AL Cy Young winner, the Tigers have two guys who can shut down an offense every time out.  Anibal Sanchez becomes the key to this series for the Tigers.  If he can return to his regular season form and find his command, the Tigers will be tough to beat 4 times in 7 games.  If he gets beat up like he did against Oakland, the Tigers might not make it past 5 games.  The Tigers have struggled against left handed pitching this year and Lester pitched well against the Tigers in early September in Fenway Park.  The Tigers would have Scherzer and Verlander lined up for games 6 and 7 respectively, if they can get that far, they would have the clear advantage.  Boston hitters struck out every 4.34 at-bats throughout the course of the regular season, The Tigers pitching staff struck out the most batters in the history of baseball.  
Advantage: Detroit

Bullpen:  The Red Sox bullpen has been mostly Breslow against lefties, Kazawa vs righties and Uehara to close it out.  Uehara was nearly unhittable in the regular season but did take a loss in the ALDS giving up a home run to Jose Lobaton in the 9th inning of game 3 in the ALDS.  The Tigers bullpen has mostly consisted of Drew Smyly against lefties, Al Alburquerque and Jose Veras agasint righties and Benoit as the closer.  Benoit, like Uehara, was promoted to the closers role midway through the season and has done a nice job, but they both will be tested in pressure packed moments in this ALCS unlike anything either has seen. The Tigers trust Smyly but the rest of the middle relief has been shaky.  The best bet for the Tigers is to have their starters go 7 innings, Smyly in the 8th, and Benoit in the 9th.  Breslow and Tazawa were very strong out of the bullpen for the Red Sox in the ALDS, pitching 6 total innings, allowing just 3 hits and striking out 6. 
Advantage: Boston

Offense:  The Tigers had the higher team batting average throughout the season but the Red Sox scored the most runs in MLB.  The Red Sox score more runs then Detroit because they run the bases much better then do the Tigers.  The Tigers offense showed a few signs of life towards the end of the ALDS but they will need to get more production from the top of the order if they want to keep pace with the Red Sox.  Ellsbury, Pedroia, and Victorino are a terror on the base paths and while the middle of the order is deeper for Detroit, Boston has the clear edge when it comes to table setters.  Boston scored 26 runs in 4 games against the Rays while the Tigers scored only 17 runs in 5 games against Oakland.  If Miguel Cabrera was 100% healthy, this is nearly a pick em, but he's not and while he hit a huge home run in game 5, the Tigers are going to need extra base production from the middle of the line up consistently if they want to find themselves back in the world series.  
Advantage: Boston

Defense:  The Tigers are a better defensive club then they are given credit for.  Boston and Detroit had identical fielding percentages of .987, tied for 7th best in the Majors.  Boston has a slight advantage because they play the ball off the monster 81 times a year.  Perlata will almost assuredly not be in left field with the green monster behind him in Boston, but it will be interesting to see how Jim Leyland plans to use Iglesias and Peralta as well as Kelly and Dirks between the short stop and left field positions.
Advantage: Push 

Intangibles:  The Red Sox won 53 games at home this season, most in the AL.  The Red Sox clinched early and are rested while the Tigers are flying across the country after game 5 in Oakland.  The Red Sox pitching got healthy late in the season, and their bats have been red hot the last two months.  The Tigers have struggled at the plate as of late, Sanchez struggled in his only start in the ALDS, Cabrera is still hurting, Austin Jackson stuck out 4353257645 times in the ALDS and the bullpen is still a question mark as Rondon is still unavailable.
Advantage: Boston

Prediction: The Tigers are the underdog's and will have to be at their best to beat Boston but starting pitching is the great equalizer in the postseason. Lester vs Sanchez will split 1-1.  Scherzer vs Bucholtz will split 1-1.  Verlander vs Lackey will go 2-0 Verlander.  Tigers win game 7 in Boston. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Wings cant win a face off, lose 4-2 to Phoenix

The Red Wings had four days off to practice and rest up after their beat down in Boston last Saturday.  Phoenix is the first western conference game for Detroit this season and they should be used to the Coyotes having played them in the playoffs just two seasons ago.  Lets break down the action in each period:

First period:  The wings started the Franzen, Weiss, Alfredsson line hoping to get the second line going offensively but it was Abdelkader and Zetterberg who hooked up for the first scoring chance of the game as Zetterberg was alone on the near boards at the blue line and broke in on Phoenix goalie Mike Smith and hit the crossbar on the forehand, as the puck bounced into the stands.  Phoenix controlled most of the play in the first ten minutes of the first period, winning nearly every face-off in the offensive zone and blasting pucks on net from the point on multiple trips down the ice.  Derek Morris scored on one of the shots, as it went through a crowd of players legs and past Howard to the far post and into the net.  The next face-off in Detroit's zone was won by the Coyotes and the puck rang off the crossbar from the point and the Wings narrowly avoided going down 2-0.  Datsyuk put the moves on the Coyotes defenses, crossing over inside then outside and looked to have a shooting opportunity but passed across to Abdelkader who was stopped by Smith.  Phoenix continued to throw pucks at the net from the point as the Coyotes won 20 of 27 face-offs in the first period.  Abdelkader and Kyle Chipchura got a little chippy after the whistle at center ice and it led to matching minors and a 4-on-4 but neither team was able to score with the extra open ice.  The Wings had the next scoring chance as Dan Cleary skated up the right wing and flipped a back handed centering pass to Stephen Weiss.  The puck got underneath the pads of smith and the Red Wings forwards jammed away but the officials ruled the whistled was blown and the puck had not crossed the line.  Datsyuk again raced up the middle and as he tried to split two defenders, he drew a penalty to put the Wings on the power play.  It was short lived however as Franzen was whistled for hooking just 15 seconds into the man advantage, so we went back to 4-on-4 with 2:31 left in the period.  The play was up and down the ice the rest of the period but no real chances emerged the rest of the period as Phoenix took the 1-0 lead into the intermission. 

Second Period:
Kyle Quincey started the second period off with a diving defensive play to knock the puck away from Mikkel Boedker who would have had a wide open scoring chance in front of the Detroit net.  Drew Miller followed that up with a great chance as he skated across the blue line and let go of a wrist shot that bounced off Smith's shoulder.  Kindl then took the puck up the right wing and flipped the it to a hard charging Cleary in front of the net, the puck bounced off Smith and Andersson slammed home the rebound top shelf to tie the game at 1.  Just 53 seconds later, Jonathan Eriksson held the puck in at the point and threw it at the front of the net where Abdelkader was standing alone for the redirection, but he missed the puck all together.  However, the distraction was enough to fool Smith as the puck sailed passed him for a 2-1 Detroit lead.  the lead was short lived as Phoenix came right back a minute later and off a deflection in front of Howard, the puck squirted free to Boedker and he patiently waited for Howard to sprawl to the ice, found the open side of the net and tied the game at 2.  Play was fast and furious with no stoppages for over seven minutes as the Wings had two point blank scoring chances from the Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Abdelkader line.  First Datsyuk took the puck up the right boards and fought off a defender all the way to the end line before centering the puck across the front of the crease to a wide open Abdelkader who was absolutely stoned by Smith.  On their next shift, Datsyuk passed to Zetterberg at the blue line next to bench, he sent the puck across the zone to a streaking Abdelkader who passed back to Datsyuk and the puck went underneath smith but just wide of the far post.  DeKeyser made a great defensive play on a wrap around attempt, knocking the puck off the  stick of Vrbata before he could put it into the wide open net, keeping the game 2-2 at the end of the second period.

Third Period:
The first 5 minutes of the third period were up and down the ice but no team really created any scoring opportunities until the Coyotes had a 4 on 2 but failed to move the puck and settled for a fairly easy save by Jimmy Howard on Lauri Korpikoski .  Phoenix had another odd man rush but Andersson hustled back to negate the 2-on-1 and the centering pass sailed harmlessly to the corner.  The Wings got their offense going as abdelkader missed just wide of the net glove side from the right circle after a Coyotes give away in their own zone.  Weiss, Franzen, and Alfredsson had a beautiful break out passing play that led to a wide open chance for Daniel Alfredsson who is still looking for his first goal with his new team, but Smith was up to the task with a big right pad save.  Detroit got its first full power play with 12:06 left in the third as Kindl was tripped behind his own net, but the Wings failed to get set up in the offensive zone until there was only 30 seconds left on the man advantage, and managed only one shot from Zetterberg.  That shot hit smith on the left wrist and he was visibly hurting the rest of the game.  Phoenix went on the power play with just under 7 minutes remaining as Weiss was called for hooking in the offensive zone.  Andersson broke his stick on the penalty kill but Howard made a congested save on a wrist shot and held on to stop play.  The Wings technically killed off the penalty but before Weiss could get out of the box and back into the play, Michael Stone's slap shot from the right point sailed past a screened Howard and off the far goal post and into the net for a 3-2 Coyotes lead.  The Wings didn't really create any significant chances the rest of the way, even as they pulled Howard they couldn't keep the puck in the Coyotes zone and Phoenix would add the empty net goal to put the game away 4-2.

Game notes:
  • Shots: Detroit 30, Phoenix 38.
  • Face-offs won: Detroit 24, Phoenix 46.
  • Detroit has allowed 75 shots against their last two games, both losses, compared to just 45 in their first two wins. it feels like the wings don't have that same aggressiveness on defense right now to close down time and space, they are sitting back and waiting for things to happen.
  • Phoenix had lost their last two games by a combined score of 10-2, they held a players only meeting and they sure came out with energy and fire tonight.
  • Detroit's power play is now 0-10 on the season.
  • Abdelkader had another 5 hits, leading the team for the 4th game in a row this season.
  • The Franzen, Weiss, Alfredsson line was on the ice for each of the Coyotes 4 goals. 

Up next:  The Wings host Philadelphia Saturday night, looking to end their two game skid.

Verlander, Tiger's pitch way into 3rd straight ALCS.

The Tigers and A's were in a familiar place, game 5 in Oakland in the ALDS, Justin Verlander on the mound.  Oakland was hoping the result would be different this time around and turned the ball to rookie Sonny Gray, after a great game 2 start, bypassing Bartolo Colon.  Lets break down the series deciding game:

Game 5:  Detroit 3, Oakland 0.
It didn't take long for Justin Verlander to find his grove.  JV was locating his fastball, kept hitters off balance with his change up, and mixed in his curve and slider when he needed to as Verlander retired the first 16 batter he faced before finally conceding a walk to Lowrie in the 6th inning.  It was also clear early that Sonny Grey did not have the same command tonight that he had in game 2.  He still pitched well enough to keep his team in the game, giving up 3 runs in his 5 innings.  There's one pitch that he really wishes he could have back.  After Torii hunter singled back up the middle, Gray left a fastball up and in to Miguel Cabrera and Miggy took him out to leftfield.  Off the bat I thought the ball was gone, but it hung up in the air for what seemed like an eternity, and it looked like Cespedes might have a chance but it was a thing of beauty to see the ball hit the concrete beyond the wall.  The way Verlander had dominated the A's, that must have felt like a 10 run home run to Oakland and the Tigers.  The Tigers added an insurance run in the 6th inning as Martinez and Peralta reached with back to back singles and the A's could not turn a double play of the bat of Infante and the run scored to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.  Verlander shut the door from there, only giving up one hit, striking out 10 through 8 dominating innings.  The Oakland bullpen was strong as usual, as Otero, Doolittle and Balfour pitched four scoreless innings in relief.  But the damage had already been done as Gray couldn't find the command with his curveball and had to almost solely rely on his fastball.  The Tigers offense has struggled since September, but its hard to beat anyone with just one pitch.  Benoit came on for the Tigers in the 9th as Verlander had thrown 111 pitches.  This was one of the biggest innings for Benoit and it was a little shaky, giving up a double to Lowrie and hitting Cespedes to bring the tying run, Seth Smith, to the plate, but Benoit induced the fly ball to end the game and the Tigers move on to face the Red Sox in the ALCS. 

Game notes: 
  • Verlander now holds the record for consecutive scoreless innings in the post season against one team, with 30 against the A's.
  • Peralta started at shortstop for Iglesias, going 2-4 and hitting .417 in the series.  Had one of the three biggest moments of the series when he connected for the three run home run in game 4.
  • Tigers pitchers set yet another strike out record, recording 56 strikeouts in the ALDS, beating the previous record by 1. 
  • The Tigers had been good with runners in scoring position coming into game 5 but were 0-6 in the finale.  Fortunately, it didn't matter.
  • Jackson finished the series with 15 strikeouts.  It will be interesting to see what Leyland does if he continues to struggle in game one in Boston.  Do you move Torii up and slide Omar into the 2 hole?
  • Tigers won the season series from Boston 4-3, but the last time the tigers went to Fenway, they were beat 20-4.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lions miss Johnson, lose in Green Bay 22-9.

The game started, some men ran around on a field while others tried to tackle them, then they stopped.  Is this blog boring you yet, because I'm really trying to get the feel of the first half of the Lions and Packers  game from Sunday into words.  That was a brutally boring first half, neither team was able to accomplish anything of significance and the Lions were especially inept on offense.  If you would have told me Detroit was going to hold Green Bay to 22 points at Lambeau, I would have told you Detroit wins two-thirds of those games.  However, when the news broke that Calvin Johnson was going to be out, there was just a sense that the Lions had no chance to win this game, and all the history behind it.  But throughout this week when people asked me if I was upset about the game, I responded by simply saying no.  For what Detroit had on the field, I didn't expect much more.  The offensive line played below average for the first time all year.  The receivers dropped passes but when you target Tony Scheffler and Kris Durham 15 times total, what do you expect?  All these guys played to their ability, average.  Sure Calvin was out but when you combine that with Nate Burleson missing, it's hard to really blame the Lions for losing this game.  It was ugly on offense and if CJ is out again this week, I don't see it getting much better against a Browns team that has won 3 games in a row, has a strong defense, and destroyed the Lions in the preseason when Calvin was out.  Detroit managed just 286 yards of total offense, over a hundred yards below their season average and scored just 9 points, over 20 below their season average.  The defense did enough to keep Detroit in the game for a long stretch, but when you play Green Bay it usually comes down to big plays and the Packers hit on a couple that changed the game in the second half.  The Packers had been running a delayed handoff to Eddy Lacy all game and he was having success but he's not a back you fear running away from you, though he did a nice job chipping away and controlling the clock throughout the game.  At the start of the third quarter the packers ran this same play with Randall Cobb in the backfield and he broke free for a 67 yard gain up the side line to jump start what had been a stagnant Packers offense.  The Lions secondary busted a coverage as Chris Houston was playing on a bad hamstring and Delmas was supposed to play over the top but was sucked up by the inside receiver and James Jones just out ran Houston to the end zone.  The game was 9-3 at that point and the Lions were hanging tough, but with how bad the offense struggled it was a back breaker for the Packers to score such an easy touchdown and go up by two TDs.  Stafford has been getting called out on local radio for not elevating the play of the offense and those around him, but seriously, he got no help.  No protection, no running game, and drops galore.  With a full compliment of weapons, Stafford then becomes the difference between a good or bad Lions team.  but he's not Payton Manning or Tom Brady, he cant go out there and win with a bunch of nobody's.  He is a top 10 NFL quarterback right now with Calvin Johnson but he's not a top ten ever guy.  He's one of the best quarterbacks the Lions have ever had, and may go down as the best when his time is done, but very few, probably not even Aaron Rodgers could have won with the help Matt got on Sunday.  With that being said, lets break down the position groups:

Quarterback:  The numbers on the surface don't look that bad from Stafford.  He completed 62.5% of his passes, despite 5 drops, no interceptions and a touchdown.  The problem is that his 25 completed passes went for just 262 yards.  It wasn't the lack of chunk plays, the Lions had 7 different players catch a pass for longer then 10 yards, it was the lack of consistency to sustain drives to score points that was the biggest issue.  Stafford took 5 sacks, he had only taken 3 in the fist 4 games combined.  He missed a couple of throws, but overall he did his job with what he was given.  Stafford has still thrown for over 300 yards a game and has thrown just 3 interceptions in 5 games.  But his touchdown numbers are still down, only 8 in 5 games, as the offense needs to get into the end zone more consistently.

Running Backs: With out Calvin in the line up to take the top off the defense, Reggie Bush instantly became the target of the Packers defensive game plan.  The Packers safeties were more frequently in the box but weren't that involved in stopping the running game though.  The Green Bay front seven dominated the Lions front and Bush and Bell had little space to operate, often times getting stopped in the backfield.  The Lions ran for just 64 yards, with 20 of them coming on the Bush reverse, which had huge potential had he not slipped.  There weren't many open running lanes but sometimes you have to cut your losses and take stalemate and stop cutting back and losing yards.  Neither Bell nor Bush was much of a factor in the passing game either and the Packers were keyed in on a couple of the lions screen plays to the backs.

Wide Receivers:  Durham, Broyles, Ogletree, and Edwards, I'm not sure that Jacksonville would switch starting wide receiving units with us.  Sure he made a couple of catches and scored a touchdown late but Durham is a 5th string wide receiver, maybe a 4 at best.  When he leads your team in targets, you know you have an issue.  Durham was targeted 8 times and caught 3 balls, for 30 total yards, that's not a great ratio.  The depth at wide receiver was looked at as a potential issue coming out of the preseason but Nate Burleson's production early in the season quieted that talk, then he went down with an injury and Pettigrew and Broyles and Fauria, and Durham stepped in and did a serviceable job.  But when you take out one of the top 5 players in the NFL, its going to really effect your depth and Kevin Ogletree could add decent depth but he's not CJ, or Burleson for that matter. 

Tight Ends:  Pettigrew made a couple nice plays and Tony Scheffler was targeted a season high 7 times.  They combined for 8 catches and 113 yards on 12 targets.  That's actually pretty good production.  Still, there were no targets for Fauria, the most sure handed of the group.  If the Lions got this production out of this group with their receivers at full strength, they would be happy.  The run and pass blocking did suffer this week, as the tackles both needed more help, but that comes down to the play calling and isn't always on the tight ends.  Outside of Stafford, the tight ends were the next best position group.  That's not saying much.  Tony Scheffler received a concussion late in the 4th quarter and will be questionable against Cleveland, potentially opening the door for Fauria to get more snaps and targets. 

Offensive Line:  I don't know if it was karma, but the Lions offensive line was completely over matched against Green Bays defensive front with Raji, Matthews, Hawk, Perry, Neal, Jones, and Jolly living in the backfield, shut down all running lanes and collapsing  the pocket from the edge all game.  Stafford was sacked 5 times, and if you take out the Bush reverse, the Lions yard per carry would be a measly 2.44.  Not many teams are going to win running the ball that poorly and not protecting the quarterback.  Raiola has been rumored to have verbally abused the University of Wisconsin's marching band before the game so, if that's true, this group got what was coming to them.  Sure not having Calvin out there hurts, but this unit has to be better.  Jason Fox was not impressive in his return from injury and Riley Reiff struggled with the outside pass rush all game. 

Defensive Line:  The defensive line was not as dominant as they had been in their previous 4 games, but some of that is due to Rodgers, and his escapability.  He got out of the collapsing pocket several times and either ran for first downs or got rid of the ball avoiding negative plays.  The Packers running game chewed up the Lions to the tune of 180 yards but the Lions played mostly bend don't break all day, holding green bay to 5 field goals and their only touchdown was an 83 yard pass.  The defensive line rushed the passer with too much reckless abandon and didn't really make adjustments to the Packers draw delayed handoff, or to keep Rodgers in the pocket when they did apply pressure to the Green Bay quarterback, he seemed to consistently slip out of their grasp.  Green bays running attack set up a ton of third and short, and the Packers were able to convert at a 44% rate, which was more then double the success rate the Lions had been giving up coming into the game.   

linebackers:  DeAndre Levy is having a career year, he has easily been one of the top linebackers in the NFC this season and had a career high 14 tackles against the Packers, as they rushed the ball 33 times and the defensive line let the ball carrier get to the second level far too often.  Stephen Tulloch has had two consecutive strong outings and had double digit tackles again this week.  The numbers on the ground look bad but these two guys cleaned up a lot of the mess the front four let slip through the cracks.  It could have been a lot worse.  Detroit and Cincinnati are the only two teams with two linebackers in the top 20 in the league in tackles.  Levy is tied for 12th with 42 total tackles, Tulloch is tied for 16th with 39.

Defensive Backs:  Its hard to say, if you take away X amount of plays they did a good job, but if you take away four or five plays the secondary was pretty good considering they were playing the Packers potent passing attack.  A couple of those plays were Louis Delmas, and a couple of them were Chris Houston.  We know Houston was struggling with his hamstring but if you are on the field, you cant make excuses.  Rodgers picked on the hobbled Houston a couple times deep with James Jones and Jones made a couple nice plays to catch the ball over the top.  Delmas took a poor tacking angle on Randall Cobb on his 67 yard scamper down the sideline, it seemed Detroit was unaware that Cobb was in the backfield and still thought it was the plodding Lacy.  On James Jones' touchdown Delmas was too aware of Cobb, as both he and James Jones went vertical, but when Cobb pulled up on the inside, Delmas checked up with him.  Chris Houston thought he had safety help deep outside, which he should have had, but Delmas was caught and Jones was in the end zone. 

Special Teams:  No real complaints from the special teams department.  The return game isn't giving the Lions much of a boost but its not hurting them either.  Sam Martin was fantastic, averaging 51.8 yards per punt.  The coverage units were strong too, only allowing 3.5 yards per punt return.  Akers made his only field goal.  Overall the Lions would take this performance every week from the special teams.

Game notes:
  • With the Chicago Bears losing to New Orleans, the Lions still hold the division lead, and would now host the Bears in the first round if the playoffs started today.
  • The Lions have set themselves up to be a playoff contender, and look to be one of five teams that will fight for three playoff spots.  With Arizona, San Francisco, Chicago, and Green Bay battling for the NFC North and two wild card spots.
  • Calvin missed just his 5th game in his career.
  • The Packers averaged 22.5 yards per completion.  The Lions just 11.4.  Ouch.
  • Green Bay had just seven sacks in its first 3 games, then five against the Lions.
  • Detroit's offense fell to number 10 in the NFL in points, and 9th in yards after their brutal showing.
Up next:
The 3-2 Lions take to the road again, facing the 3-2 Browns in Cleveland.