My husband, Guy, pays close attention to the things that NHL coaches do. Perhaps that’s because he takes his minor hockey coaching so seriously. Whenever I tease him for defending a move a coach makes, he always quips, incredulously, something like, “Sure! Be like the rest! Blame the coach!”
As for coaching in the 2016 NHL Playoffs, nothing we’ve seen may be more important than what the Detroit Red Wings‘ head coach, Jeff Blashill, did last night.
This year, the Red Wings — nearly reluctantly — made it into the playoffs as a wildcard. They’re up against Jon Cooper’s Tampa Bay Lightning in a déjà vu repeat of last year’s first round for both teams. Despite the Red Wings having been an Accidental-Tourist-kind-of-team coming down the home stretch of the regular season , both they — and the Lightning — have really come out to play in a fast paced, hard-hitting, extremely entertaining series. Going into Game 3 (of a potential best-of seven) Detroit had played well, but were already two games down. In between the pipes for the Wings for both games had been their #1 goalie, Jimmy Howard.
Last night, Blashill gave the goaltending job to his #2 goalie, Petr Mrazek. A couple of things happened. The Red Wings stepped up their defensive game, giving the Bolts just 16 tries at scoring. And it spurred on their offensive lines too — even the Wing’s Captain, Henrik Zetterberg, stepped up his game, scoring his first 2016 playoff goal. But Mrazek managed to SHUT OUT the Lightning which may be just what they needed to go from a team ready to clear out their lockers to being a series contender.
Babcock’s Shoes a Vintage Find
This is Blashill’s first year coaching in the NHL, landing in (what everyone thought) were the extra-large shoes of legendary coach Mike Babcock who left the Motor City for the Toronto Maple Leafs for the start of this season. Babcock’s shoes may have looked like they were custom made and 10 years old, but with that Mrazek move (and Mrazek’s subsequent performance) they’re looking like a vintage find. They’re not just comfortable, but look like shoes that Blashill can make some serious dance moves in.
Some would say that putting in Mrazek was a no-brainer move because they had nothing left to lose, already being down two games to none. But the Red Wings were coming home and everyone wants to perform for the home team. The crowd was loud and center ice had been painted declaring the franchise’s 25-year playoff legacy — and octopus were ready to be flung on the ice – a Detroit playoff tradition.
Last year, Mrazek was Detroit’s #1, and given the netminder duties for all seven games these two teams played in the 2015 playoffs. (The Lightning won that series, then beat the Montreal Canadiens, then the New York Rangers before finally losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals.) But that was then. This year, Mrasek hadn’t been goaltending as well as Jimmy Howard, and had become the team’s #2. Even so, putting in your #2 goalie instead of your #1 goalie in front of your home crowd could have been catastrophic — if it hadn’t worked out so well.
The Hockey Writer’s Jacob Messing said before the series started that this is Detroit’s “best chance of making it past the first round since 2012-13“. We will see. With Mrazek’s shut out and Tuesday’s Game 4 back at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, it will be the perfect opportunity to see if Blashill was able to manage a series momentum shift, pulling the right levers at the right time to not just get his players scoring, but shutting down the other team’s offence.
The tango continues.