When asked about the key players in the Red Wings-Blackhawks series, many will immediately say stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp lead the way for the Blackhawks while Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are going to be on everyone’s list of important contributors for Detroit.
Well, there’s one player everyone seems to forget about that the Red Wings cannot win without: left winger Johan Franzen. Detroit needs their “mule” (a nickname given by Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman) to come up big in the next few games if they’re going to upset the Western Conference favorites.
It’s not like Johan Franzen came out of the blue and shocked anyone with four goals in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. After all, he was behind only Datsyuk and Zetterberg in points on the Red Wings with 31 in the shortened 48-game regular season.
One of the main ways Franzen produces and contributes to this team is on the power play. Six of his 14 goals in the regular season were on the power play, and 58 of his 164 career goals were by way of the man-advantage. He averages 20 minutes per game, which definitely makes him one of the core players on this team.
His skill comes more from an outstanding work ethic and desire for improvement, as well as a 6-3 frame, gigantic compared to a player like Datsyuk who was given more God-given ability than almost any player in the NHL. “For him,” Jimmy Howard said to the Detroit Free-Press, “it’s just about getting to the net and using his big body to his advantage. When he’s using his big body to open up the ice, he can get to those soft spots and there’s not too many people that can shoot the puck like him.”
Zetterberg told the Free-Press that Franzen plays better when he’s a little angry, saying that the Wings want to irritate Franzen because “he plays his best hockey when he is a little bit grumpy. We think maybe it’s up to us to get him a little bit grumpy before games.” Their favorite way to do this is by having team dinners and “suggesting that Franzen foots the bill.”
Whatever the Wings do to make Franzen angry must be working this postseason. He’s scored four goals, three in the Ducks series and a clutch one in yesterday’s Game 2 win over Chicago that gave Detroit a two-goal advantage. That one wasn’t on the power play, but all three against Anaheim were.
The 33-year old, like most NHL veterans, performs so well in the playoffs because he favors the playoffs over the regular season. He told the Free-Press that this time of year is “more fun. It’s tighter out there. More energy out there, and that’s fun. When you win, it’s fun. That’s all I care about, is if we win.”
And he’s certainly done a lot of that, winning the Cup with the Red Wings in ’08 and setting the NHL record for most goals in a 4-game playoff series (9). With that record he tied Gordie Howe for the Red Wings franchise record for consecutive playoff games with a point (12). He also tied Howe and Ted Lindsay for a Red Wings record for consecutive playoff games with a goal (5), and set the Red Wings record for most game-winning goals in one playoff year in 2008 with five.
Johan Franzen scoring goals is key for Detroit because they can’t win the Cup this year without him. They need him on that second line because they are very shallow at right wing right now. After Daniel Cleary and Franzen, Detroit has Patrick Eaves, who has yet to produce since replacing Cory Emmerton on the fourth line, and a scratched Todd Bertuzzi. That is a very mediocre group for the Wings, but #93 has been able to anchor it and pick up the slack. I see this series going seven if Johan Franzen can continue to contribute.