The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/15/12 at 05:28 AM ET
Thanks to the NHL’s desire for afternoon matinee playoff match-ups, the Detroit Red wings will hope to build upon their sloppy but tenacious 3-2 victory over Nashville on Thursday at a bizarre time—the game starts at 12 PM EDT (NBC—WDIV’s pre-game begins at 11:30 AM EDT/CBC/97.1 FM) and in less-than-ideal circumstances in terms of today’s ice surface, because Al Sobotka and the Wings’ crew will have had somewhere between eight and ten hours to prepare Joe Louis Arena’s ice for an 80-degree day and thunderstorms thanks to a Nickelback concert on Saturday night.
To some extent, the pressure really is on Detroit’s shoulders to hold its “home-ice” advantage after rallying from a 1-0 series deficit, and it’s going to take more than the huge dehumidifiers that the Wings park outside the Joe come April to ensure that the Wings don’t keep playing from behind in the race to four wins. There’s no doubt that the Wings were out-shot, out-chanced and have some work to do in terms of currying favor with what I think both teams can agree has been incredibly inconsistent refereeing (please don’t ask me to try and be objective about the Wings’ 6-to-2 penalty deficit in Game 2 while I’m wearing playoff tinfoil)...
And there’s little doubt in the Predators’ minds that their 0-for-6 playoff record in Detroit will no longer contain a zero after today, as they told the Tennessean’s John Glennon:
“It (means) the series now,” center David Legwand said on Saturday before the Predators departed for Detroit. “You have to win up there. That’s it. Bottom line. You have to win up there and get home ice back.”
The Red Wings were the league’s best home team during the regular season, posting a 31-7-3 record that included an NHL-record 23-game home winning streak. The Predators won one of three games in Detroit this season, earning a 4-1 victory on March 30 that just happened to be the franchise’s 500th.
“Obviously it’s a tough place to play,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we have a chance to win.”
The Predators were the league’s eighth-best team on the road during the regular season, with a 22-16-3 record.
“We’re going to do it eventually. The odds are in our favor,” Coach Barry Trotz said of winning a playoff game in Detroit. “We had a chance in one of the (playoff games in Detroit) in overtime, and I think the first game we ever had in there, we had them on the ropes. We don’t have any problem going on the road. We’ve been pretty good on the road. You look at the Western Conference and no one is winning at home. So we’ll take that and run with it.”
Trotz wouldn’t say whether Hal Gill, who didn’t practice on Saturday, will return from his “lower-body” injury today, but he may make some lineup changes, as he told the Tennessean’s Joshua Cooper, in an article posted on the CBC’s website:
With the Predators having lost Game 2 there is the possibility of some sort of changed lineup going into Game 3 in Detroit on Sunday. Coach Barry Trotz said he was considering making some sort of switch moving forward. Jordin Tootoo, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson have all been healthy scratches the first two games of the series.
“Are we contemplating some lineup changes? Yes, absolutely,” Trotz said. “One or two, but right now we’re just contemplating.”
If the Predators want to regain the advantage in the series, they’re going to need to win at Joe Louis Arena for the first time in team history in the post-season. The Red Wings finished the regular season with the top home record in the NHL. With several road teams having picked up victories in the first two games of the post-season, the Wings understand that home ice may not been such a positive in their favour.
Nashville defenceman Hal Gill will travel with the team to Detroit for Sunday’s game, but his status remains unclear at best. The 6-foot-7 Gill, who was acquired specifically for the post-season, has missed the first two games of the series with a “lower-body” injury. He did not skate at practice on Saturday.
“One of the things with certain injuries is sometimes you’re better off not skating in terms of that and letting it settle down,” Trotz said. “Every day goes by he is getting closer.”
The Predators also know that their top line of Andrei Kostitsyn, Mike Fisher and Martin Erat has to get off the scoring schneid while, for Nashville, anyway, hopefully continuing to neutralize the Bertuzzi-Datsyuk-Franzen line, as Fisher told the Tennessean’s Glennon:
“I think we’ve had some good chances, but we just need to bury them,” Fisher said. “We could probably do a little better job of getting in front (of the net) and shooting from different angles and not passing up opportunities. But really, we just have to bury them when we can.”
Through two games, the trio of Kostitsyn, Fisher and Erat has most often found itself matched up with Detroit’s top line of Johan Franzen (team-best 29 goals during the regular season), Pavel Datsyuk (team-best 48 assists) and Todd Bertuzzi (tied for team lead with plus-23 rating). Statistically speaking, the Fisher line has played the Datsyuk line close to a draw. Detroit’s top threesome has just two points (a goal by Fransen, an assist by Datsyuk) and has registered a minus-4 rating overall.
“It’s a tough task they have,” Predators captain Shea Weber said of Fisher’s line. “But they are our best players and that’s why they’re able to do that. They’re able to play solid defensively and shut down their top line, and at the same time, they’re still expected to produce when they get a chance.”
The offensive production hasn’t occurred in the first two games, but as Fisher said, there have been chances. The trio has posted a combined seven shots on goal, a total that doesn’t include at least one goalpost Erat hit and a couple of pucks that bounced over Fisher’s stick on backdoor situations during power plays.
[sarcasm]Let’s all be surprised that Trotz isn’t worried about his tip line’s lack of productivity [/sarcasm]
“When you go head-to-head, sometimes you might neutralize each other and in a lot of ways, that’s probably what happened with both (top) lines,” Predators Coach Barry Trotz said. “But every time you go out there, you’re trying to produce offensively and defensively. And by produce defensively, what I mean is that you’re going back to retrieve pucks, limiting (opponents’) options, that type of thing. If you’re not producing (offensively), you have to find ways that you can contribute. (Kostitsyn, Fisher and Erat) are contributing in a lot of different ways, just not so much on the scoreboard.”
The Predators aren’t particularly concerned about their power play, either, as ESPN’s Craig Custance noted:
No. 1 during the regular season, the Nashville power play is still looking for its first goal of the postseason. Detroit’s penalty kill is a perfect 12-for-12. What do the Predators need to do differently?
“Uh, score,” quipped David Legwand. “That’s the one big adjustment. Score when we get our chances and go from there. I think we need to start putting some pucks in the back of the net.”
Trotz said he wasn’t too concerned about the power play because he still sees a confident group and the Predators are getting chances.
“When you’re not getting chances on the power play, that’s when you start changing things,” Trotz said.
Or, as Trotz told the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa...
“Friday, we looked at the power play; we reviewed it. We could have had three, four goals. I mean, we had empty nets and we put it in their skates. When you look at it, in all the series, basically, the penalty kill has been big. There’s a lot of video on teams. You prepare for it.
“The guys are really committed. We’ve just got to finish. Friday, if we finish on our first two power plays, we could have scored on both of them. So, I’m not too worried. When you’re not getting chances on your power play, then you start changing things. If you get chances, you’ve just got to start burying the chances that you do have.”
The home-ice talk starts to bounce back and forth from here on out, so I’m going to engage in something I don’t usually do in mixing teams’ perspectives. We’ll start with this from Custance (you can watch his interview with Patric Hornqvist on your own, though you might like to know that the MotorCity Casino has replaced the Athenium and hotels in Dearborn as the visiting teams’ hotel destination of choice)...
“We’ve won here,” said coach Barry Trotz from the team hotel in Detroit early Saturday evening. “If you would have asked me 10 years ago about coming to the Joe, it was a little different animal. We’ve always been a big-time underdog the last two series in here. It’s a new year, the teams are different.”
They’re much more closely matched than the last time they met in the playoffs as the split in Nashville showed. Trotz echoed the words of Detroit coach Mike Babcock before Game 1, agreeing that playing on the road during the playoffs can be an advantage. It has certainly played out that way this spring, with teams like the Kings and Capitals playing well early on the road.
“We have to be ready to go at noon. It’s an early game,” said forward David Legwand. “We’re excited for tomorrow.”
And we’ll continue with comments gleaned from a report jointly filed by the AP’s Teresa M. Walker and Larry Lage:
“Obviously that’s a tough place to play,” Predators defenceman Ryan Suter said Saturday. “If we want to win the series, we’re going to have to win a game there. Going into it you’re not looking at it as, ‘Oh jeez we’ve never won there. We gotta win.’ But it’s just more the fact that if we play the way we’re capable of playing, we have a good chance to win.”
The Red Wings beat Nashville 3-2 Friday night in Game 2—to tie the first-round series—after losing 3-2 in the opener. Detroit has a chance to take control of the series by hosting games Sunday and Tuesday night.
“We’ve played fairly well at home,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “And in saying all of that, let’s not put too much into that. They beat us last time in here.”
In fact, the Predators dominated Detroit on the road last month in 4-1 victory that helped them finish two points ahead in the standings to earn home-ice advantage in the matchup of fourth- and fifth-seeded teams.
Weber, who was fined $2,500 for smashing Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass at the end of Game 1 on Wednesday night, insisted he didn’t know what kind of reception he’ll get in Detroit. The star defenceman did say the Predators’ confidence has not been shaken by losing home-ice advantage they earned during the regular season by allowing Detroit to split the two games in Nashville.
“Five-game series,” Weber said. “We’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
The Predators’ website’s preview is insanely thorough, so here’s a selection from their statistically-inclined missive…
PREDS LIMIT WINGS: After allowing 37 shots in Game One, the Predators held the Red Wings offense to just 17 shots on goal in Game Two. That is the second-lowest shots against total in franchise postseason history, after the Preds allowed only 16 shots on goal in Game Three of the 2011 WCQ vs. Anaheim (April 17, 2011). Friday night was also the first time Detroit has been limited to less than 20 shots on goal in the playoffs since 2007 – when they put 19 shots on goal against Anaheim in the Western Conference Finals.
The Predators put 26 shots on goal for the second straight game on Friday night. It was just the second time Nashville has outshot Detroit in the postseason (14gp).
PLAYOFF QUICK HITS
• This is the third Western Conference Quarterfinals series between Nashville and Detroit. The Red Wings have won both of the previous series – 4-2 in 2004 and 4-2 in 2008. Nashville has played more playoff games (14) against Detroit than any other teams in their seven trips to the postseason.
• Eleven of the 14 postseason games between the Predators and Red Wings have been decided by two goals or fewer.
• Nashville is returning 14 players from last season’s playoff team – Erat, Fisher, Halischuk, Hornqvist, Klein, Sergei Kostitsyn, Legwand, Lindback, Rinne, Spaling, Suter, Tootoo, Weber and Wilson. Francis Bouillon was injured and did not play during the 2011 playoffs.
• Martin Erat ranks second to only David Legwand on the franchise’s all-time playoff points (19), goals (7), assists (12) and games played (38) lists.
• Hal Gill – who missed Games One and Two – ranks sixth among active defensemen in postseason games played. He has skated in 105 career playoff games, making him the most experienced Predator in the postseason. Sixty-nine of those games have come in the past four seasons.
• Legwand is the Predators’ franchise leader in every postseason offensive category; he has posted 23 points (10g-13a) in 39 postseason games with Nashville.
• Ryan Suter (31gp) and Shea Weber (31gp) have each taken the ice in every Predators’ playoff game over their last four trips to the postseason – they are the only players to do so.
• Three players remain on Nashville’s roster from the 2004 WCQ series vs. Detroit – Erat, Legwand and Tootoo. Eight players who played against Detroit in the 2008 WCQ remain – Erat, Legwand, Radulov, Suter, Tootoo and Weber.
NHL.com’s Brian Hedger’s preview reads as follows...
Big Story: After heading into this series in the strange position as the underdog without home-ice advantage, the Wings have at least tentatively gained control of the home-ice factor. They won Game 2 on Friday night in Nashville 3-2 and now get ready to see if their remarkable success at Joe Louis Arena this season holds up. The next two games will be in the Motor City, where the Predators won the last of three games this season by a 4-1 margin. The aftermath of physical play in the first two games, including a controversial head-ramming incident by Shea Weber on Henrik Zetterberg after Game 1, was still a topic of conversation on Saturday. However, both teams said it’s time to concentrate on the remaining games instead.
Predators [team scope] : Looking back on Game 2 only reinforced the Preds’ feeling that they actually played better in that game despite losing than they did while winning Game 1. Nashville held Detroit to just 17 shots and did a good job defending in general. The game-winning goal was a shot by Brad Stuart that deflected off Johan Franzen’s left knee and into the net, while the Preds couldn’t buy a fortunate bounce - they hit the crossbar at least once and just missed several other opportunities, especially on the power play. The Preds finished the regular season with the League’s top man-advantage unit but are 0-for-12 so far.
Red Wings: It didn’t take long for the rough stuff to crop up in Game 2 following the hit by Nashville’s Shea Weber on Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg at the end of Game 1. Franzen caught an elbow up high from Mike Fisher that left him with a bloody nose and black eye early on, and then Todd Bertuzzi scrapped with Weber to stick up for Zetterberg. After that, Detroit scored goals in the first period by Ian White and rookie Cory Emmerton before Franzen scored the eventual game-winner midway through the second period—just 56 seconds after Andrei Kostitsyn got the Preds on the board. White got hit with a one-time slapper during a penalty kill late in the second and missed Saturday’s practice, but says he’ll play in Game 3. Meanwhile, Detroit hasn’t allowed a power-play goal in nine straight games including the end of the regular season - killing off all 12 Nashville power plays so far.
“Obviously it’s been a positive in two games,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said of his team’s flawless penalty-killing. “The negative side of it is we’re wearing people out penalty-killing and we’ve taken way too many penalties. We have to be more disciplined.”
Who’s Hot: Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom has recorded points in the first two games (one goal and one assist) and has tallied points in four straight contests including the last two games of the regular season. … Paul Gaustad scored a goal in Game 1 and added a primary assist in Game 2 while winning 16 of 28 faceoffs (57 percent) for Nashville.
Stat Pack: Detroit has killed off the last 37 power plays it has faced, including 25 straight during the last seven games of the regular season. … Nashville’s top defense duo and power-play points, Weber and Ryan Suter, haven’t recorded a power-play point despite combining for 28:22 of ice time with the extra man in the first two games.
We’ll stick with Hedger as we turn toward the Wings’ perspectives as he provides us with an update on Ian White’s status...
Defenseman Ian White missed the team’s brief practice Saturday in Detroit with a foot injury that happened while killing a Nashville power-play late in the second period of a 3-2 win Friday at Bridgestone Arena.
White blocked a hard, one-timed slapshot by Predators defenseman Roman Josi with the instep of his left skate with just 6:01 left in the period and was immediately slowed. White managed to finish the game, but couldn’t get his foot into the skate boot on Saturday morning for practice. White and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, however, expect him to play in Game 3 on Sunday of a Western Conference Quarterfinal series (noon, NBC)—which is knotted at one game apiece with the next two in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.
“Just a little tender,” White said. “Just take the day off and let it rest.”
White, who raised his foot off the ice to stop the puck, also said X-rays weren’t necessary.
“No, I’ve been hit in the foot by a puck many times, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t broken,” he said. “It was just one of those things that when you take a puck in the foot, it’s gonna hurt.”
And Hedger points out that just as the Predators believe their power play will break through, the Red Wings tend to believe that their penalty-killing will remain at least pretty damn good, though they don’t want to test it nearly as often—or rely on Jimmy Howard’s spectacular goaltending to bail them out as often—today:
“I have no idea how many in a row it’s been,” Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said of the penalty-kill streak. “The last two games there, have been a bit too many penalties we’ve taken. We don’t really want that.”
What they do want is to continue doing the things that have sparked such recent success while playing with less skaters—such as blocking shots in bunches, clearing out loose rebounds and winning faceoffs inside the defensive zone.
“I think we’ve just been doing a great job frustrating them, blocking shots, taking away passing lanes and just working hard out there,” said Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who’s also been a big part of the defensive special teams unit’s hot stretch. “I really think it’s the sacrificing [of] the body, the way we’ve been blocking shots. Guys have been putting their bodies on the line out there. It’s not easy to step in front of Shea Weber’s shot. Guys have been doing it.”
The Wings have also been doing it without the help of two top penalty killers—Darren Helm and captain Nicklas Lidstrom. Helm is out for the remainder of the playoffs after severing tendons in his forearm in Game 1, while Lidstrom isn’t playing on either penalty-kill unit because of a deep bone bruise on his foot that’s susceptible to getting hit again by a hard shot—which is what caused the initial injury.
“Not having [Helm] out there is a huge blow,” Howard said on Saturday. “With his speed and everything ... he gets up ice and then disrupts the flow of their breakouts. But at the same time, guys are stepping up and that’s great to see.”
There’s some irony in the fact that it took Jonathan Ericsson missing a month due to a broken hand for Wings fans to finally realize that while he may never be that top-pair, Vladimir Konstantinov/Jiri Fischer-physical guy we once envisioned him to be, it turns out that he’s a pretty damn solid #4/5 defenseman who is perhaps the key cog on the Wings’ blueline in terms of its penalty-killing unit, especially without Lidstrom in the mix. He’s been boxing out Patric Hornqvist very solidly…
“He’s just like [Holmstrom],” Howard said. “He’s really going to get his stick on pucks. As a goalie, he just makes your life miserable out there. He’s a hard guy to move as well.”
And accomplishing a goal he set for himself last September:
“That was one of my goals before the season and from the meetings I had, was to take a step on the penalty kill and become a bigger factor for the team,” Ericsson said. “That’s how I wanted to contribute. I think I got better throughout the year on the penalty kill, but you’re always working as a unit out there. Everyone has to work together. It’s not one player or two.”
As a team, the Wings are excited about finally playing at home, but they told MLive’s Ansar Khan that they’re not taking it for granted, either…
“I can’t wait to get in front of the home crowd and play tomorrow,” said defenseman Brad Stuart. “It’s huge. We did what we wanted going to Nashville and getting a split. But the series is a long way from over.”
The Red Wings had a 31-7-3 record at home during the regular season and Nashville was one of the few teams that beat them. The Predators won 4-1 in Detroit on March 3 during the Red Wings’ aforementioned home slump, when their record would have been worse had it not been for a couple of late rallies. They trailed Los Angeles in the third period March 9 before scoring the final two goals in a 4-3 victory; they scored the final four goals March 24 in a 5-4 victory over Carolina; and they scored twice in the final 8:11 of regulation in the season finale to force overtime before losing a 3-2 shootout to Chicago.
Slow starts have clearly been a problem in recent home games so changing that in Game 3 is a priority.
“It’s going to be important,” Lidstrom said. “We’re happy to get away with a win (Friday) night and I thought we played real well. It’s going to be real important to get a good start tomorrow, especially with an early start. You want to get your legs going early on.”
The Red Wings also want to put more pressure on Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne. They only had five shots on goal in the first period of their 3-2 loss in Game 1 – when they ended up outshooting the Predators 37-26 – and they were held to 17 shots in their 3-2 victory in Game 2.
“We stopped playing the third period, didn’t skate I didn’t think, got in a protective mode, which isn’t the way you want to do it,” coach Mike Babcock said of Game 2. “(But) in saying that, there’s just not a lot of room for either team and that’s what we expect. They’ll go make some adjustments, we’ll go make some adjustments, and we’ll both try to do better.”
The Wings emphasized the essential nature of a strong start to the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa...
“I don’t think in the first two games we’ve had as good a start as we wanted,” [Niklas Kronwall] said. “Hopefully, we can take care of that, here, on home ice. I thought the first game, second and third period, we played better. But we still needed to get some more traffic. Second game, I thought we did a little better job. But, of course, when you’re up a goal or two, the game is different. We’d like for it not to be, but that’s just the way it’s going to be played. We need to have a little bit more composure with the puck and not just making plays and giving it away.”
Because both teams know that the team that scored first won—though the team that scored first didn’t necessarily play the better overall game:
“You know, the series is 1-1, and I actually thought we were better in Game 1 than in Game 2, at least defensively,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We were harder on the net Friday night, but still we can be way better than we were. So I’m looking for us to take a real significant step in here, Saturday.”
“I think the biggest thing is that we had some good chances Wednesday, definitely, to win, and they got a couple of good, fortunate bounces on their goals just by virtue of working hard and going to the net,” said Wings rookie Cory Emmerton, whose first playoff goal Friday provided a huge 2-0 lead, 15 minutes into the game. “We were in the game Wednesday, we had a chance to win,” Emmerton said. “So I thought we just kind of carried that over into Friday and scoring early is pretty important in playoffs. And we did a good job with that.”
“First game, we played a good game and they got the win,” Franzen said. “We came out hard Friday and took it to them, and we are thinking we can do that in here, too.”
“Coming together as a group and everyone kind of working like we’re on the same page has been the big key for us,” [Brad] Stuart said of the first two games against Nashville.
“We got one game in there and now, coming back home, we’ve just got to take care of the home ice,” he said. “It is nice to get on the home ice and feel the energy coming from the fans, and it should be fun. I think at home all year we’ve had confidence and we’ve just played our game. Obviously, the slate’s wiped clean at this time of year, but we do have that to draw from. And I don’t think confidence should be a problem from us on home ice.”
Confidence involves shooting more pucks at the Predators’ net after firing all of 17 on Pekka Rinne in Game 2, as they told the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...
“Sometimes you see that in the playoffs where both teams are playing well without the puck, trying not to give up too much, try to push them on the outside,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Sometimes that’s the playoff style. You don’t want to open yourself up defensively to create chances offensively.”
Wings coach Mike Babcock said the team got into a protective mode in the third period and stopped skating.
“I don’t think there’s been a whole lot of room either way,” Babcock said. “We only had 17 shots on goal so we stopped playing the third period, didn’t skate I didn’t think, got in a protective mode, which isn’t the way you want to do it, but in saying that there’s just not a lot of room for either team and that’s what we expect.”
In Game 1 the Wings had 37 shots on Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.
“I thought they did a good job, they’re a good team defensively and play with good structure,” Danny Cleary said. “They’ve always got five guys back on the inside to protect the middle very well. It was a tight game, it’s been a tight series. We’ve got to try to shoot when we can and stay at the net.”
But those shots won’t necessarily be aimed at Pekka Rinne’s blocker, or so they told the Detroit News’s ,a href=“http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120414/SPORTS0103/204140393/1128/”>Krupa:
“No, it’s a coincidence,” said Cleary. “Listen, he’s an All-Star goaltender, a great goalie. It’s not a trend that you could say. We’ve just got to shoot on him.”
Asked before the series if shooting high on Rinne is important, Henrik Zetterberg simply shrugged.
“Getting the puck behind him is important,” he said.
(Babcock wants to see the Wings fire pucks at Rinne’s feet to generate rebounds, but what do I know?)
But the Wings know they’ll need to continue receiving four lines’ worth of offense if they are to continue beating Rinne given that the Fisher and Datsyuk lines have more or less negated each other:
“It’s important to get role players going for you, especially if the top two lines are shut down or they’re playing well defensively but not scoring,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “You’ve got to have that balanced scoring and it’s something we had during the regular season, and that was great to see how we got a couple of goals like that.”
While [Cory] Emmerton was pleased with his first career playoff goal, he said the importance of it was to get the lesser scorers some ice time, after all the penalties that were called in the first game, and to have them make contributions.
“The biggest thing, I think, was you saw their third and fourth lines score in Game 1, so it was important for us to get a couple of shifts early, five-on-five,” he said. “There were a lot of penalties in Game 1. Later in the game (Friday), the same thing kind of happened. But it was nice to get on the ice early and get some five-on-five shifts and kind of go to work. And we did the little things well and kind of got rewarded.”
After expressing concerns about their performance at the end of the regular seasons, and worrying about the loss of Helm and what it does to the bottom two lines, Babcock said he liked their play Friday, especially Justin Abdelkader’s line with Danny Cleary and Drew Miller.
“I thought Abdelkader’s line was the best line in the third period, and I actually took Abdelkader’s wingers away from him and gave them to Pav (Pavel Datsyuk, the first-line center) on the last shift. That’s what I thought of Miller and Cleary. I thought they were absolutely outstanding.
“I thought Gus (Gustav Nyquist) had a good game playing with Abby, as well. And then our fourth line — I mean, Millsie (Miller) played all over — but our fourth line, Emmerton was on for two goals for, which is very important for us. The game before, their third line got three and our fourth line got two Friday night. So that’s important.”
The third and fourth lines can, to some extent, anyway, give the Datsyuk and Filppula-Zetterberg-Hudler lines more time and space in which to work by grinding upon and grinding down opposing teams’ defensemen, as Justin Abdelkader told MLive’s Ansar Khan...
“We got to do more of the same, just be physical, bring energy, hang onto pucks, be simple,” Abdelkader said. “We can definitely contribute to this team. We have the group that can contribute offensively, and in the playoffs, that’s what you need, four lines going.”
The Predators have a deep group of forwards and like to spread out their talent. Their leading goal-scorer, Patric Hornqvist, plays on the third line. Paul Gaustad, whom they relinquished a first-round pick for at the trade deadline, centers the fourth line, bringing size (6-foot-5, 212) and strong faceoff ability. That makes it more challenging for the Red Wings’ third and fourth lines to match-up.
“You look at the line you’re matched up with and you’ve got to take it to them,” Miller said. “You’ve got to beat that line every time they’re on the ice. You want to play in their zone and keep them off the scoreboard.”
“You need your bottom lineup chipping in, being good defensively,” Cleary said. “Lot of times the top lines (cancel) each other out. It’s always some unheralded players that seem to be able to find a way, that score a goal, make a big play.”
“It’s important to get role players chipping in and scoring some goals, especially if our top top lines are getting shut down,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Spend some time in the opponents’ zone, work their D. They’ll bring that energy that you need, kind of a spark. Have someone who’s forechecking hard and kind of going after the other team a little bit. They’ve been doing that for us.”
While DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose filed a “look back” story regarding Todd Bertuzzi’s scrap with Shea Weber (gee, do you think he’ll be booed today?), the Wings insisted to the Free Press’s Helene St. James that their anger toward Weber’s over and done with, and that from here on out, especially given the penalties being called against them, they’re worried about winning games, not delivering “messages”...
“We’re not letting things like that be a distraction,” Lidstrom said. “We’re putting it behind us. We know it’s playoff hockey, where the next game matters, not what happened in the previous game. It’s such an important game and important series that you can’t have distractions like that. We didn’t focus on the wrong things.”
Of course, winning Game 2 doesn’t matter if it doesn’t translate into more victories.
The Predators never have won in the playoffs in Detroit, but for that trend to continue, the Wings have to realize that their sterling reputation after 82 games of barely taking any penalties apparently was overblown. In the playoffs, they’re in the group of most penalized.
The team’s penalty killers have been the stars of the first two games, but it’s an exhausting—and dangerous—way to play. For instance, Ian White couldn’t put on his skate boot Saturday after getting hit by a puck in Game 2.
“We’ve been doing a great job blocking shots,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “Those aren’t muffins coming in from up top there, either. Guys are standing in there and taking them, so I’ve got to tip my hat to the guys in front of me.”
The Wings did a great job bouncing back in Game 2. They did what they said they were going to do, which was build on Game 1—when they nearly rallied from a two-goal deficit despite having only 11 forwards available after losing Darren Helm in the first period. Now they’ve got to move on from Game 2 and take advantage of what carried them to such success during much of the regular season: playing at home. That was clear even to a guy with a bruised eye.
“It’s going to be fun going back, get the crowd on our side and maybe get some calls for instead of against us,” Franzen said. “It’s always fun to play at the Joe. We’re looking forward to it.”
And it’s here that we’ll pause for a second time, because just as Jonathan Ericsson is simply not a top-pair defenseman, just as it turns out that Valtteri Filppula is far more useful as a scoring winger than a second-line center whose fleet-footed puckhandling disappears when burdened with his defensive responsibilities, just as we’ve found that Jiri Hudler’s actually a better net-front man and stationary target serving as a catalyst for give-and-go players like Zetterberg and Filppula than he is as a sniper, passer, or really a skating winger, and just as we’ve learned this season that while Jimmy Howard’s a workhorse and a half, and that Darren Helm’s picking up Kris Draper’s mantle, the Wings still desperately miss Chris Osgood’s steadying presence as a back-up, Draper’s on-ice, on-bench and in-the-room coaching, and the team has yet to truly find a way to replace the hole in terms of both veteran savvy and especially a strong transition game from its defense to forwards through the middle of the ice (and on the power play, where Nicklas Lidstrom’s now being double-shifted) with a Brian Rafalski whose void is still apparent despite Niklas Kronwall’s steps taken forward and Ian White’s surprising, albeit human, performance…
Maybe we’d all be a little saner if we Wings fans would try to watch Johan Franzen play while expecting to him to be what one TMR reader accurately described him as—a stealthy sniper, not a pure power forward who continues to fail to meet expectations that maybe shouldn’t have been foisted upon a player who, I can assure you from my perspective as one of the first Wings fans to watch Franzen skate in North America, has always played looking disinterested and as if he’s going through the motions until he gets interested and suddenly, sometimes startlingly, begins to crash and bang his way toward the net.
Franzen is a stealthy sniper who can occasionally be prodded to play outside his comfort zone as someone with a social anxiety disorder (we tend to prefer to lurk in the background) and instead play like the power forward we’d all wish he’d want to be.
The other thing is that Franzen is still learning his craft at 32, because he was never really taught to play offensive hockey until he came to the NHL six years ago. So the fact that the work-in-progress and late-bloomer got pissed off and pissed off in a big way may serve as the x-factor for Detroit’s scoring prowess going forward.
Franzen readily admitted that he knew the Predators were going after his head on Friday, as he told MLive’s Ansar Khan, and from Mike Fisher’s elbow and stick combination that yielded a shiner and bloody nose to the various attempts to reenact Gary Roberts’ “elbow” him in the face, it woke a player who has a tendency to sleepwalk until he’s physically engaged:
“As long as they don’t call it, I would do the same,’’ Franzen said. “If I could throw an elbow at someone’s nose I would probably do it, too. I don’t know why they’re not calling anything, but you know, it’s getting a little old right now. I guess you’ve got to go down and scream loud to get penalties. I don’t know.”
As is often the case, the player retaliating gets caught.
“I usually do something back,’’ Franzen said. “If you get an elbow in the nose, you’re not too happy about it and you’re going to try to get the other guy and if the ref only sees what I do and not what they do, it’s going to get called. If they just do their job, everything will be fine.”
Franzen doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty this time of year.
“Oh yeah, I like that,’’ Franzen said. “I like the physical part of the game, either throwing a hit or getting one. That usually fires you up a little bit. I like that part of playoff hockey.”
Despite his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame, Franzen often is the target of physical abuse. Does he ever feel like going off on someone?
“If there’s a hit out there, you try to get it, but you know, you don’t just focus on running around and finding guys,’’ Franzen said. “You try to play your game and make it as hard on them as possible.”
Franzen made an odd comment about his up-and-down season, which was marred by back issues…
“Coach usually tells you if you (stunk) or if you looked good and you say, ‘OK, whatever. I’ll try to get better next year.’ ‘’
And Wings coach Mike Babcock didn’t spare any slings or arrows in his critique of the Wings’ resident playoff goal-scoring dynamo while speaking to the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa:
“He’s physical,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said, appraising Franzen’s play through two games. “I think anytime he’s involved physically, he’s a better player. When he moves his feet, he’s a better player. Those are two things we talk about on a constant basis. If he wants to have success, that’s what he has to do.”
Through two games, Franzen has a goal on six shots. In his career in the playoffs, he has 73 points (38 goals, 35 assists) in 85 games. He also is a plus-35. Asked whether he personally prefers to resort to aggressive physicality to exact revenge, or scoring a goal, Franzen laughed.
“It depends!” he said. “If there is a hit that is easy to get to, if there is a hit out there to get, you should try to get it,” he said of the possibility of throwing a heavy body check, in retaliation. “But you don’t focus on just running around and finding guys. Try to play a game and make it as hard on them as possible.”
Playing the game with the best results for the Red Wings requires Franzen to use his size — the 32-year-old lists at 6-foot-3, 220-pounds — to get to the middle of the ice and down low, inside the defenders, near the net.
“He has the ability to be a big-time player,” Babcock said. “Being a big-time player this time of year is real simple: Lots of guys have regular-season success and can’t have any in the playoffs, just because they’re not gritty enough and determined enough and they need more space. Well, there’s no space. You’ve got to dig in and find a way to do that. And so he has the tool set to do that and he’s always found a way to do that. And we need him to do that again, this year.”
Next year, in the regular season as well as the playoffs, but he has to dig in and start playing like a Mule this spring, first and foremost:
Franzen’s Red Wings teammates told NHL.com’s Brian Hedger that they expect “The Mule” to arrive and replace the player that some of you call, “Horse’s Ass” today:
“He takes it up to another level,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said of his fellow Swede. “He got the nickname for a reason. He’s a stubborn guy and he’s not going to give up. He’s very hard to play against.”
It’s just that for some reason or another, that part of his game fades sometimes for lengthy stretches during the course of a full season. And yet, he’s still led the Red Wings in goals the past two seasons – finishing this one with 29 goals and 27 assists. It’s in the playoffs, however, where Franzen has made his biggest impact – thanks to a couple of hot stretches that saw him score goals in bunches. Franzen scored 13 goals in the 2008 playoffs, which ended with Detroit’s most recent Stanley Cup victory, and he followed it with 12 more in 2009, when the Wings came within one goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final from repeating as champions.
After seven NHL seasons of watching his intensity level increase every year in April, Franzen’s teammates have come to realize there’s basically two versions of him – the regular-season Franzen and the playoff edition.
“I think something that he really relishes are big games,” said Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who’s gotten to know Franzen, a fellow Swede, pretty well. “That’s something that he’s been doing so well for us, ever since he got here. Any time the game is on the line, you want the ‘Mule’ to have the puck.”
“I think it’s just a matter of lifting his game to another level once the playoffs come around,” Lidstrom said. “I don’t know if you have to do something to get him going. I just think it’s playoff hockey that brings the best out of him.”
“This is his time of year,” Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader said. “He’s always been a big-time playoff performer. He’s a big body. That’s what you need in the playoffs, [a] big body that can really shoot the puck and create havoc. He definitely wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s an emotional guy.’‘
Not often enough for us Wings fans, perhaps, but he’s angry now, and that’s all that matters, as the Free Press’s George Sipple notes:
“It’s getting a little old,” Franzen said Saturday at his locker stall at Joe Louis Arena. “I guess you have to go down and scream loud to get penalties. I don’t know. You usually do something back if you get an elbow in the nose. You’re not too happy about it. You try to get the other guy, and if the referee only sees what I do and not what they do, you’re going to get called.”
Franzen acknowledged the physical play gets him fired up.
“If there’s a hit out there to get, you try to get it,” Franzen said. “You don’t focus on just running around and finding guys. Try to play a game and make it (as) hard on them as possible.”
Franzen scored Friday’s winner. Although he led the Wings in the regular season with 29 goals, Franzen doesn’t put pressure on himself to score.
“We all have to be good to go for a deep run,” Franzen said.
That starts with you, Mule, and that starts at noon.
Speaking of which, if you’re going down to the game, the Red Wings website’s playoff blog offered the usual, “Come down, it’s gonna be loud!” stuff, with a quip from Franzen himself in the process…
“It’s going to be fun to play in front of the home crowd,” Johan Franzen said of today’s game. “It’s so much energy, so much help for us on the ice. The fans are usually good for an extra chance or two out there, even if they don’t play.”
If you are going, in terms of rink availability…
10:30 AM – Doors open at Joe Louis Arena
11:30 AM – Player warmups
12:00 PM – Pregame Show
Immediately Following – Game 3 on NBC and 97.1 The Ticket.
And here’s the free promotional stuff type stuff:
GET HERE EARLY: Following the success of last year’s decorated stairs celebrating 20 consecutive years of playoff appearances, Joe Louis Arena will once again be decked out for the big occasion. Vinyl photographs of the Wings’ Stanley Cup championship banners and former Stanley Cup celebrations will don the East Gate, West Gate and box office doors.
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Thanks to MotorCity Casino Hotel for providing today’s multicolored glow wand giveaway. All fans attending Game 3 can find these on their seats as they enter the seating bowl.
I’m allowed to say this: that just sounds wrong.
WIN PLAYOFF TICKETS WITH 89X: Forget the worm! Early birds will have the chance to win tickets to Game 4 thanks to a special promotion that 89X is running on Monday morning. Starting at 7:30 AM, fans will have the opportunity to shoot on an octopus outside of Joe Louis Arena, with seats to Tuesday’s game up for grabs. If you aren’t able to make it, listen to 89X to follow along.
GAME SIX TICKETS Tickets to Game 6 (Round 1, Home Game 3) of the Red Wings-Predators series go on sale to the general public tomorrow at noon. Tickets can be purchased at the Joe Louis Arena Box Office, by calling 313-396-7575, or visiting http://www.ticketmaster.com.
PLAYOFF BEARDS: That five-o-clock shadow has given way to slow growth. It’s a good look this time of year, because playoff beards are officially in-style. And if you are growing one, why not do so for a good cause by taking part in the 2012 Red Wings Beard-A-Thon, with all proceeds going directly to the Detroit Red Wings Foundation
For more information, visit the Beard-A-Thon website here: http://bit.ly/IKB1Vm Thanks to Philips Norelco for supporting the 2012 Red Wings Beard-A-Thon.
I started growing mine when I was dealing with that health stuff in mid-March, so it doesn’t count.
Part II: In the AHL: The Grand Rapids Griffins’ second-to-last game didn’t end well. They dropped a 2-0 lead en route to a 5-2 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs, against whom they’ll conclude their season at a slightly saner matinee game hour (3 PM EDT).
Part III: Two takes on Howard: The Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp’s Wings column for the day didn’t make the game preview for a reason: it contains the usual slate of Evil Drew’s mixed sports metaphors. Sharp never seems to be able to talk about hockey without comparing it to the NFL, NBA or MLB, and in penning a column about Jimmy Howard’s arrival as an elite netminder, he pulls out ye olde, “The Detroit Lions’ quarterback and the Red Wings’ goaltending position are the two toughest places to occupy in Detroit sports” while talking just as much about Drew Stafford as he does about Howard:
Howard already is one of the top-five goalies in the game right now. Stafford’s another huge passing season and 2012 playoff appearance from perhaps joining that same upper echelon in the NFL. You’d have to go back about 55 years, to the days of Terry Sawchuk and Bobby Layne, to find a similar scenario when the Wings and Lions had one of the best goalies and quarterbacks at the same time.
The Lions have their first off-season organized team activity (OTA) Monday. Stafford is the franchise. The Lions made wide receiver Calvin Johnson the highest paid nonquarterback in league history last month, but it’s nothing compared to what Stafford will command if last season wasn’t an aberration.
Must we wait until Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement before officially recognizing Howard as the Wings’ franchise?
Before assorted injuries crippled the Wings’ playoff seeding, coach Mike Babcock thought this team offered his best chance of a Stanley Cup since the Wings were defending champs three years ago. That confidence started with Howard. He lacks Stafford’s swagger, and football lends itself to gaudy numbers that look more impressive. But it’s nothing short of extraordinary that the Wings have killed off their last 37 consecutive penalties in nine games. It’s not coincidental that seven games ago Howard returned after a groin injury shelved him for the second time in the regular season’s second half.
The Wings are 12-for-12 on the penalty kill against Nashville, ranked first in the league in power-play efficiency in the regular season. The Predators might have believed that they had a sizable edge in net with 6-foot-5 Pekka Rinne, but their inability to solve Howard with the man advantage has been the biggest difference through the first two games.
Howard stays humble, because he knows how long it took him to stick with the parent club. The patience that the organization exhibited in “overseasoning” him in the minors often was perceived as him simply not being good enough instead of simply not being ready. He deflects the gushing of impending stardom like an opposing wrist shot from the slot. But that won’t stop the peppering of praise in his direction.
The Oakland Press’s Pat Caputo offers a very different take on Howard’s rising star status:
Howard’s reputation has oddly been enhanced as the Red Wings’ collectively have been downgraded. Entering the opening round this spring, the Red Wings were considered a prohibitive underdog to the Predators. It’s not like the perception is Howard can’t lose because he is playing in front of such a great team. The notion is that if the Red Wings win this series, and others beyond this one, their goalie must be doing a tremendous job.
Such confusion about the Red Wings is normally not an issue. The Red Wings make the playoffs. They don’t often get knocked out in the first round. When they do, it is considered a monumental upset. This season, however, has been perplexing. And what is at issue is whether fans are buying into this version of the Red Wings.
The media clearly isn’t. I picked the Red Wings to beat Nashville in six games, but that was clearly a minority thought. The majority of the so-called experts have the Red Wings getting knocked out in the opening round for the first time since 2006, albeit in seven games.
What transpired in the first two games of the series — a split — didn’t necessarily clear up that issue. The first game was odd because of an inordinate number of penalty calls. The second game the Red Wings were solid.
Thoughts of the Red Wings impending demise looked like they were too soon. But in truth, we will know a lot more about the Red Wings after these next two games, Sunday and Tuesday, both at Joe Louis Arena.
What did the Red Wings have going more than anything else this season: Winning at home. They won more games than any NHL team. Their 23-game home winning streak was an NHL record. Whether the Red Wings remain a great team anymore doesn’t seem to be open to debate. The notion is they aren’t, that they are just hanging on before an inevitable fall.
What might be overlooked is their goalie. There are signs Howard might be a great player. Time will tell, but if he is, it won’t be much of a surprise if the Red Wings prove, again, they remain a great team.
Part IV: Also of Red Wings-related note: If you want to watch Don Cherry praise Ian White and then yammer on about Todd Bertuzzi not wanting to hurt Shea Weber, just fight him (I actually agree with Cherry on that one), Paul posted the clip, and videos of the Wings’ comments from Saturday are in the off-day thread (we’ve got bills to pay, and you just clicking the mouse to go to those webpages helps). This is new, however, and it’s from the Wings:
• I can only laugh at the Toronto Sun’s Rob Longley’s quip from Barry Trotz about what Shea Weber can expect to hear at Joe Louis Arena today (if you’re keeping score at home, alongside the Macomb Daily, Windsor Star and the local TV and radio stations, you can expect NHL.com’s Brian Hedger and Longley to wade into the fray here in Detroit):
“When you’re a great player, which Shea is - I remember Hall of Famers like Chris Chelios coming (to Nashville) and he wasn’t exactly loved here,” Trotz told reporters in Nashville on Saturday. “But at the same time you loved him for the fact that the other team does get bothered by you or your presence. You can use that to your advantage all the time. I’m sure he’ll be motivated by anything that happens.”
I don’t know if whatever hatred for Weber is displayed today can hold a candle to the disdain Predators fans had for old man Cheli (who will probably be at Cheli’s Chili in either Dearborn or Detroit after the game, as he usually is in the playoffs)...
• Speaking of local businesses, WDIV posted a story and video about the fact that three days’ worth of games at home means good economic times for local establishments:
Businesses are opening early for the fans headed to the Red Wings playoff game.
Game three with Nashville moves to Detroit on Sunday with a face-off at noon. The game will be live on Local 4 and the teams are even with one victory each. The game will bring 20,000 fans into downtown and bars and restaurants know how to cater to the sports crowd.
“I can’t wait. It should be busy. I’m excited for it,” said Mark Ryan at Harry’s.
Good service, quick and free parking with a shuttle is the business model. This playoff game is a bonus to the bottom line.
“Oh, it’s huge. Even when the Wings are out of town, fans come down for the game anyway” said Gerald Schmitz at Bookies Bar.
The businesses will open early, most at 10 a.m.
• Sticking with our NBC affiliates, if you will, Pro Hockey Talk’s Ryan Dadoun posted a “tale of the tape” and a game preview of his own, and both links come from an unofficial affiliate—frankly, they’re so important to my work that I should have ‘em on the sidebar for you to follow—in RedWingsFeed on Twitter;
• If you really, really, really want to revisit the Weber hit once again, the New York Times’ Jeff Z.Klein and Stu Hackel will indulge you, and if you want to read Larry Brooks suggesting that it’s terrible that Todd Bertuzzi could punch Weber in the head as retribution for a blow to the head that Brooks feels should have been suspendable amongst Brooks’ usual Sunday ramble…I would prefer to allow a sentimental favorite in the Free Press’s Steve Schrader (who also posted a “caption contest winner” among his Sunday sports stuff), to provide us with some Stevie awards for the week:
The “Throw the Pamphlet At Him” award: To Brendan Shanahan, who—for one week at least—made us miss Roger Goodell.
The “He Put His Nose Where It Doesn’t Belong” award: To Henrik Zetterberg, who fortunately escaped being fined or suspended for head-butting the glass in the Red Wings’ playoff opener at Nashville.
That’s not what Predators fans seem to think, but I guess booing the gu
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.