Photo courtesy of the Detroit Red Wings
It was apparent against the big, bad Bruins that the Red Wings were lacking in the physicality department. Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, and Kevan Miller pushed the Red Wings around and did not allow them to achieve consistency in their speed game. Since the Red Wings couldn’t play their game, they could not generate optimal scoring opportunities. Tuukka Rask is a world-class goalie and stopped everything the Bruins kept to the outside with ease.
Look at the teams still in the playoffs. Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Montreal all have complete teams with size and toughness to keep things in check. In Sunday’s Western Conference matchup, players like Brandon Bollig, Matt Greene, and Bryan Bickell keep everyone in line on the ice. There is no one player dominating or roughing everyone up. Those players police the ice, but have skills other than toughness.
Justin Abdelkader has similar attributes for the Red Wings, but no one fears him on the ice. He hits and fights more out of necessity than desire. Other than Abdelkader, the Red Wings really don’t have players that grind and wear down opponents physically, much like how the Grind Line was so effective for the Red Wings from 1997 to 2002.
Should the Red Wings invest in players to fill that role? Jonathan Ericsson, Drew Miler, and Brian Lashoff can be physical, but they don’t scare anyone. In the past, guys like Bob Probert, Darren McCarty, and Kirk Maltby created room for other players and lines to generate scoring chances. I think they need one more player to really wear down some teams.
Imagine an energy line of Darren Helm at center, Justin Abdelkader on a wing, and another player with grit. They could rough up a team with their up-tempo, physical style and create room for the other lines to score. Steve Downie, Steve Ott, and Brian Boyle cold all fill this role and contribute on the penalty kill if called upon. Boyle is currently filling this role for the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals. He gets under the skin of opposing players and has the physical strength to keep them from playing their game.
On the other hand, the Red Wings have not really employed this strategy lately. They tried with Jordin Tootoo, but he was too one-dimensional to fit the Red Wings system. In addition, Drew Miller is already slated for energy line duty and does not fit anywhere else on the team. Miller could play with Helm and an addition, but is slower and less physical than Abdelkader.
My vote is to add size. The players mentioned above would be good fits, as would Mitch Callahan on a line with Helm and Abdelkader. Speed and physicality will allow smaller players on other lines to do their thing without much resistance, or else those defenders would be dealt with. Detroit doesn’t need a fighter, just someone to scare the other teams.