Detroit Mixes Lines for Game 6

Bruce MacLeod, the hockey beat writer for the Macomb Daily, reports that the Detroit Red Wings will formally shuffle their second, third, and fourth lines for tonight's Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. The top line, composed of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Tomas Holmstrom, will remain unchanged.

The main move is the promotion of Jiri Hudler from the fourth line to the second, where he spent much of Game 5. He'll skate on Valtteri Filppula's wing with Dan Cleary.

With 13 points, the diminutive Czech is Detroit's fourth-leading playoff scorer despite averaging just 10:58 in ice time troughout the postseason. He scored the only Detroit goal in Game 5.

Hudler has long produced consistently at a rate out of proportion to his ice time, but has had trouble gaining a second line spot on a deep Detroit squad. He has a bit of a reputation of having a poor work ethic and is considered to be among the weakest Detroit forwards in his own end. The first charge is largely unfounded, as Hudler generally shows a lot of hustle. There's something to the second charge, but he has made enormous strides since hitting the NHL. Apparently, not enough, as his continued relegation to fourth line purgatory indicates.

As a consolation, head coach Mike Babcock lets him out of the doghouse long enough to quarterback the second power play unit. He has matched Zetterberg's power play production this post-season.As a result of the Hudler promotion, Swedish forward Mikael Samuelsson will be knocked down a peg to the third line, where he'll join Dallas Drake and Kris Draper.

Samuelsson is one of the few players on the roster Detroit fans have found themselves able to complain about. The main complaint is that he has trouble hitting the net. He is also notoriously streaky. His puck handling ability is underrated, however, and he's reasonably strong defensively. Still, a Drake-Draper-Samuelsson line seems a bit strange because two out of the three forwards are primarily defensively-oriented. Perhaps a better move would have been to just swap Hudler and Samulesson.

As the projected lines stand, however, Kirk Maltby has been moved to the fourth line instead. This breaks up one of the most effective lines the Wings have had in the Conference Finals, the Drake-Draper-Maltby group. However, it puts together what looks to be a strong unit on paper: Maltby-Darren Helm-Darren McCarty. Speed and physicality will be hallmark of that line.

It also appears likely that a change will be coming on the blueline. Chris Chelios is a game-time decision after apparently experiencing leg pain today. Chelios has not been at his best in this series, so it is possible that this injury is a cover. If he is not able to play, Andreas Lilja, a favorite scapegoat for Red Wings fans, will take his place in the lineup. Lilja is unique among Detroit defensemen in that he has very few offensive instincts. He is very much a defensive defenseman and a slow one at that. To be honest, his presence on the blueline against a speedy and opportunistic Dallas squad is not very reassuring.

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The Wings mixed up the lines during their first round series against Nashville. For Games 3 and 4, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were split up to center their own lines in an attempt to retain favorable matchups. The effort did not work out well as Detroit lost both games. Since then, they have, for the most part, stuck with the same lines in an apparent adoption of the philosophy, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

They were forced to make a change as a result of the onset of Johan Franzen's headaches, but the existing units remained in tact through the Colorado series and into the Dallas series. It was working until the past two games. They can now no longer dare the opposition to stop the lines as they stood, making a change necessary once more.

This is further evidence that the Stars now hold the steering wheel in the Western Conference Finals. It will be the job of these new Detroit units to keep Dallas from taking the driver's seat entirely.

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