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.

Start the Carr: Habs recall another player from the minors

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There’s been a lot of movement between Montreal and Saint John’s lately and that continued on Sunday.

This time, it’s forward Daniel Carr who’ll be getting a stint with the big club.

Carr has no prior NHL experience.

The 24-year-old spent four years at Union College before joining the Canadiens organization as an undrafted free agent.

In his first season as a pro, Carr scored 24 goals (led the team) and 39 points in 76 AHL games with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2014-15.

This year, Carr has seven goals and 15 points in 20 games.

Montreal is without forwards Torrey Mitchell, Brendan Gallagher and Alexander Semin.

Campbell’s perfect snipe sinks Wings in OT


Brian Campbell doesn’t score as many points as he used to, but he came up with a huge goal against the Red Wings on Sunday afternoon.

With the game tied, 1-1, in overtime, Campbell skated into the slot and beat Petr Mrazek with a perfect wrister to end the game.

It was also a pretty nice passing play between Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Huberdeau and Campbell.

Dylan Larkin opened the scoring in the second period before Reilly Smith leveled the score with just over five minutes remaining.

The Wings have blown a lead in three straight games.

Detroit was up 2-0 and 3-2 in their last game, against Edmonton, before they finally closed the game out with an overtime goal by Niklas Kronwall.

They weren’t so fortunate against the Bruins on Wednesday, as they lost 3-2 in OT after leading 2-1 with under two minutes remaining in regulation.

This was the first meeting of the season between Detroit and Florida, but they’ll see each other three times between Feb. 4 and Mar. 19.

With Jonathan Bernier sputtering, we’ll meet Garret Sparks

Garett Sparks
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You can’t blame Mike Babcock for siding with the relatively unknown when the other option is Jonathan Bernier, a goalie who’s 0-8-1 so far in 2015-16.

With that in mind, meet Garret Sparks, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ expected starter for Monday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers.

Sparks was a seventh-round pick (190th overall) in 2011, a guy who was off to a great start in the AHL. That much wasn’t lost on Babcock.

Let’s face it, though; this is as much about the Leafs’ other two goalies as it is about Sparks (whose name inspired a very obscure reference in this post’s headline).

In Bernier’s case, there’s an “enough’s enough” feel:

Meanwhile, James Reimer‘s not quite healthy enough to play yet, so the window of opportunity is open for Sparks … a little bit.

Sparks will get a chance to make an impression, even if it’s just a small one.

Video: Dylan Larkin adds to his rookie goals lead

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So far, the 2015-16 crop of rookies is living up to the hype, if not exceeding it. Connor McDavid‘s unfortunate injury hasn’t even derailed this year’s crop.

The Detroit Red Wings are watching their own blue chip blossom, as Dylan Larkin is making an instant impact.

No. 71 scored his 10th goal of the season against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, fattening his rookie goals lead.

He still needs five points to match rookie points leader Artemi Panarin, though.