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.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.