It’s no secret: Tampa Bay’s three-headed monster that is Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat has given the Red Wings some trouble since the line was formed last year. Whether it was this season, when they combined for 12 points in their four-game season series, or last year in the playoffs, when Tyler Johnson lit them up like a Christmas tree to carry the team through the first round, they’ve done an effective job of making Detroit look like fools.
However, the Red Wings seemed to have lucked out this year, as Tampa’s biggest scoring threat, Steven Stamkos, is out with blood clots, which gave the Lightning line up a shake. Now, we’re looking at a top six of Killorn – Johnson – Kucherov and Palat – Filppula – Drouin (according to DailyFaceoff.com), which should make it slightly easier for the Red Wings to handle.
The thing that makes the Triplets so dangerous is that they are all amazing players, and they all complement each other well. All three are good at possessing the puck, and converting it into goals. And who did the Wings send out to shut them down?
Chart via War-on-ice.com
A quick look at this matchups chart from last year’s series will show that two centers saw a fair amount – Pavel Datsyuk and Luke Glendening. You’ll notice a distinguishable difference between how well each match up went. When Datsyuk was on the ice, the Triplets were mostly held to their own zone, with no chance of scoring. But when Glendening was on the ice, the Triplets were in full control and had no issue with getting chances.
Now, that this line is spread out to two, it might make it easier for the Wings to defend against this group, especially with Stamkos out. With Killorn on in place of Palat, it changes up how Detroit can handle it. The line has seen better success with posession with Killorn on than Palat, as they boast a 58.13% CF% with Killorn, compared to a 56.43% CF% with Palat. However, their goal scoring drops, as the line has a 54.72% xGF% with Killorn, which isn’t close to the 58.14% xGF% with Palat. Now, I’m more of a believer that Corsi has much better long term predictive value than goals, but a four to seven game series is not long enough to hold much value to Corsi, so anything can happen.
Killorn definitely has the skills to be a top line player, but his main issue is his foot speed, which is something that makes the Triplets so threatening to Detroit, who has a lot of players who’ve seen their better skating days go by, especially on the back end. Killorn should hopefully slow down that line enough to lighten the load. And you could look at last year to say that Killorn has shown that he is capable of scoring, but remember that he played a good chunk with Stamkos, so he might not be as effective offensively as he was last year.
The new second line, Palat – Filppula – Drouin, could be a huge threat to the Wings, but they also might not. One thing to note is that when Palat and Drouin are on the ice together, they have a 44.56% CF% compared to Drouin’s 50.59% and Palat’s 52.22% when they aren’t together. This is under a small sample size of about four and a half minutes, so don’t read too much into it, but it’s something to look at. Drouin with Filppula is a different story, as they have a 51.06% CF%, but again, a small sample size of about a half an hour.
Also, Palat and Filppula have a 49.91% CF% when together on the ice, although with not even an hour together. Basically, under the limited time these players have seen each other, it hasn’t gone well, which might be why they don’t see each other often.
So, the lingering question: Who should Detroit use to match up against the top six of Tampa Bay?
First off, I’d put the Abdelkader – Datsyuk – Zetterberg line up against Tampa’s top line. Based on the data mentioned earlier, Datsyuk did a great job of shutting down the Triplets, so it should be easier with Killorn in for Palat, and adding Zetterberg on your wing. Zetterberg, by the way, was the guy who shut down Stamkos last year, and with him out, you can take advantage of Tampa’s decreased depth to stack up your “shut down” line.
Then, I’d rotate between the Tatar – Sheahan – Nyquist line, and the Helm – Richard – Larkin line up against Tampa’s second line. With Datsyuk and Zetterberg taking the heavy load, I’d try to match up Detroit’s other top scorers with the second line, as based on the early pulls, they may have issues defensively, and what better way to exploit that than with goals. You could put Glendening against them, as it might be an easier load for him, but if I was Detroit, I would play Glendening as little as possible, and up against the third and fourth lines, a role that he can handle better.
As for the defense, just throw out whoever and pray that it works, because there isn’t really an answer with that group.