Patrice Bergeron, Jimmy Howard

Red Wings and Bruins take wildly different paths to success

It’s understandable that sports teams attempt to “Keep up with the Joneses” by instituting copy-cat strategies to get an edge in the uncertain world of professional athletics. Yet that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to see every NFL team institute its own version of the “Wildcat offense.”

(This compulsion to follow trends and conventional wisdom is especially disappointing when a brilliant or truly different team dilutes what makes it special and successful to try to win like everyone else. I’m looking at you, 2010-11 Washington Capitals and trading-for-Shaquille-O’Neal-era Phoenix Suns.)

For anyone who wants proof that there’s more than one way to skin the cat in hockey, just look at today’s Game of the Week between the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings. These two teams institute strategies that or almost diametrically opposed, yet each squad leads their respective divisions and has a legitimate chance at a deep playoff run.

In this corner: “The Big Bad Bruins.”

Some absolute unintentional comedy took place when Bruins fans chanted “U-S-A!” as the Canadian-heavy Bruins pummeled the American-heavy Canadiens last week. It might have been more accurate for the fans to show a semblance of solidarity by chanting “North America!” because the Bruins provide a solid embodiment of that grittier style of play.

This post gets deeper into the details about Boston’s increase in fisticuffs, but to make a long story short, the team is tied for second place in major penalties this season. It’s not as if there’s no reason to their violent rhymes, either; the Bruins don’t take an outrageous amount of minor penalties when they’re trying to behave.

Boston walks an interesting line between chaos and controlled aggression, making them a team that is becoming a nightmare to play against.

In that corner: The high-skill Red Wings.

The Red Wings can be a nightmare to play against too, but it’s because world-class players such as Pavel Datsyuk can make you look stupid (as opposed to simply slapping you stupid).

While the Tampa Bay Lightning made a big fuss about keeping their gloves on this season, Detroit obviously laid out that template for Steve Yzerman & Co. The Red Wings only have eight major penalties this year, the least in the league by five. In fact, you need to combine their major totals for the last four seasons to top Boston’s current 2010-11 output (60 to 56, if you’re wondering).

Yup, the common assumption seems accurate: the Red Wings really do avoid fighting and taking penalties, preferring to hurt opponents by lighting up the scoreboard on the power play rather than solving issues by dropping their gloves.

Other differences

In the grand scheme of things, the Red Wings often play a very “European” style. They rely on positioning and clever stick work to befuddle opponents in their own end, although their team defense has declined a bit. Most of all, they rely on their outstanding forwards to use their skill and intelligence to beat opponents. Meanwhile, the Bruins are a great example of the “North American” style. They seem at home when it comes to gritty play, getting in fights and playing a dump-and-chase system.

Detroit got a hearty first laugh with their dominant 6-1 win on Friday, but this afternoon’s game should be another interesting clash between two very different clubs. Considering the talent and quality coaching on both sides, it wouldn’t be surprising to see these two polar opposites collide again, either.

Only next time, it would be for the Stanley Cup.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
1 Comment

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.