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.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

Their struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.

Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings

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Not much offense — actually, just one goal midway through the second period as of the writing of this post — between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

But there has definitely been some animosity between the two clubs.

Tempers flared late in the first period, with Adam Erne and Andreas Athanasiou getting involved in a spirited scrap — and Athanasiou unsuccessful in his attempt at the take-down.

The bad blood continued in the second period with Greg McKegg and Anthony Mantha getting involved in a fight, and Mantha — given the instigator — landing a couple of shots with McKegg on the ice.

 

NHL, MLB player unions support U.S. women hockey players’ boycott

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Unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players are backing U.S. Women’s National Hockey team players’ decision to boycott next week’s world championships because of a wage dispute.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Read more: USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage, as dispute with women’s national team continues

The Twitter messages were posted a day after USA Hockey announced it would begin gauging interest of replacement players to compete at the tournament, which opens next Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period.