After the Detroit Red Wings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon, the playoff matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes was finalized. A rematch of last season's opening round, the Wings and the Yotes went to seven games before Detroit escaped with the series victory.
In 2010-11, the matchup is the same, but the end result will be very different. There are four good reasons for that, too.
Jimmy Howard won't step up this time: Howard had an incredible year in 2009-10, with a 2.28 GAA. This season, however, has been a different story. Despite playing only one more game the year prior, Howard made 79 more saves in 2009-10 than he did this year. It might be a blend of overall defensive quality, but the results are in: Howard hasn't performed at an elite level in 2010-11.
Nicklas Lidstrom has regressed on defense: Lidstrom has always been an elite offensive player, and this season was no exception. The talented defenseman notched 16 goals and 46 assists in 2010-11. The biggest problem? Lidstrom has a +/- of -3 for the entire season. In 2009-10, Lidstrom had a +22. Between his regression and Howard's dropoff in play, the potent Coyotes attack could cause heartburn in Motown.
Red Wings giving up the goals: It's not just Lidstrom who has lost some luster off his defensive reputation. Henrik Zetterberg has a +/- of -1 even though he has been involved in 80 goals this season (24 goals, 56 assists). Howard's save percentage of .908 is way down from last year when it was .924. The team will have to put a stop to the Coyotes, who have been known to fill the pot.
The Wings reliance on offense won't help them: Ilya Bryzgalov is having an excellent season for Phoenix, making nearly 2000 saves and winning 36 games over 68 starts. Bryzgalov has played eight season in the NHL and has never had a GAA over 3.00. His consistency and experience will help push the Coyotes over the top in this playoff series against the Red Wings.