I'm off to Detroit in the morning to catch up with the Wings-Sharks series, and judging from what I watched on TV on Sunday, Detroit is going to need to tweak its game plan to avoid another short series against San Jose. Some observations:
• With back-to-back 2-1 wins, the Sharks have six victories in their past seven playoff games against the Red Wings. Given the experience and number of championship rings in that Detroit dressing room, I can't imagine they are rattled. But losing those games to San Jose has to at least plant a small seed of doubt.
"I don't know about getting in your head -- when they beat you, they beat you," Wings coach Mike Babcock said after Sunday's loss. "Our belief in ourselves, in our plan and the execution we have, I don't question that whatsoever. But the bottom line is that we came to their building and they were able to win two games 2-1. I thought they were better than us last game, I thought the game was more even tonight. ... Now we're going home, we'll have our crowd, we have to do something with it."
Remember this: Sharks GM Doug Wilson greatly values the way the Wings have operated and won championships over the years, so he has built his team accordingly. The Sharks, like the Wings, are a high-end skill team that has adopted the puck-possession style Detroit nearly perfected. Wilson also went out and hired coach Todd McLellan from the Wings' staff three years ago to bring that Detroit know-how to the San Jose bench.
• The Sharks were an inconsistent bunch in the opening round against Los Angeles, which I thought was a concern for them heading into this round. Well, they just played their two best games of the playoffs and, shift for shift over 60 minutes, Sunday was their most consistent effort.
• In the past, Detroit has sometimes opted to load up star centers Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on the top line, and the Wings figured it that plan would give them an edge in the matchup versus Joe Thornton's top line.
But aside from Datsyuk setting up Nicklas Lidstrom in Friday's series opener, the matchup has essentially been a saw-off. That would be fine if the Wings had any secondary scoring, but they haven't had any so far in two games. The Sharks had the last line change in the opening two games and didn't shy away from the matchup of top lines, meaning they will care less if Detroit chases it again with the last line change in Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena. Let's see if Babcock decides to split up his two star centers to better balance his offense. Babcock said after Sunday's loss he would watch Game 2 video without emotion and decide what needs to change.
• Here's why I would consider a change if I were Babcock: Logan Couture's second line with Ryane Clowe and Dany Heatley is eating up the Red Wings. Detroit has had no answer for it. (The line was responsible for the game winner Sunday when Niclas Wallin scored 1:39 into the third period.) Let's put it this way, the Sharks can live with Thornton's line simply drawing Zetterberg/Datsyuk to a low-scoring draw in exchange for Couture's unit run wild on the rest of the Wings.
• Sharks goalie Antti Niemi has stopped 57 of 59 shots through two games and was tested more seriously Sunday. Detroit outshot San Jose 12-7 in the first period, but Niemi's steady netminding was key in allowing the Sharks to take over in the second period and survive Detroit's early push. Niemi's breakaway save on Darren Helm in the second period was also key. After looking shaky in the opening round against Los Angeles and being pulled twice, Niemi has looked more like the Stanley Cup-winning goalie of a year ago so far against the Sharks.
"That doesn't surprise me as a coach or anybody in our organization or locker room. We've come to expect that from him," McLellan said after Sunday's win. "Maybe because of his numbers in the first series, people outside our locker room got a little panicky about this guy. He's a solid goaltender and he plays extremely well."
• Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who was solid again Sunday, is allowing the Sharks to get under his skin with snow showers. He slashed Joe Thornton in the third period after yet another snow shower. It's the playoffs; Howard has to learn to ignore that stuff.
• I haven't mentioned this enough, but what a nice pre-trade deadline pickup Ian White has been for the Sharks. He scored Sunday's opening goal on a power play for San Jose. Truth be told, I would have preferred to see the Sharks pick up a more robust-type defender because I don't see a lot of sandpaper on this San Jose blue line after Douglas Murray. But White has been real solid in these playoffs. Only Dan Boyle played more than White's 22:16 ice time Sunday, so clearly he's earned Todd McLellan's trust.
• The Sharks have now outshot the Wings 37-18 in the middle periods of this series. The second period sees teams take long changes on the fly, so it's possible San Jose took advantage of better matchups since they were the home team. The long changes may have made it more difficult for Detroit to counter-react with the lines/pairings they want out there.
"They've been better than us both nights in the second period, for sure," Babcock said.
• Johan Franzen doesn't look right to me. He missed Game 4 against Phoenix with an ankle injury and doesn't seem to have the same net presence so far versus San Jose. Aside from a dangerous wraparound chance six minutes into third, he hasn't been noticeable.