The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/02/11 at 06:29 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings left San Jose and landed at Metro Airport just after midnight Eastern time this morning knowing that they face a very steep uphill climb in their second-round series against the San Jose Sharks, who defeated the Wings 2-1 on Sunday, staking out a 2-0 series lead.
The Wings won’t practice on Monday, and the Sharks won’t arrive until Monday evening, because the teams won’t face off again until Wednesday, and while the Sharks can quite literally rest on their laurels if they wish, the Wings have quite a bit of thinking to do and adjustments to make, hoping that they won’t become the first team defeated in consecutive seasons since the 1999-2000 Wings dropped two straight playoff series to Colorado after dropping two games to a Sharks team that has simply out-hustled, out-worked, out-competed and out-played the Red Wings, on an almost man-for-man basis with the exceptions of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Jimmy Howard, in just about every aspect of the game.
The Wings have to win four of their next five games or they’re golfing, and the standard in Detroit and the standard for these Wings is higher than consecutive second-round losses.
I’m not big on symbolism when it comes to hockey—I’m big on the final score—but the media loves that symbolic crap, and in one instance, they have a point: the San Jose Sharks’ players have continued to spray Jimmy Howard at every opportunity, perhaps engaging in some sand-kicking, and while Howard hasn’t lost his cool or been shaken off his game, the referees have yet to penalize a Shark and not a Wing for doing so, and Todd McLellan offered a sneakily, “I mind if they take a penalty but i don’t mind if they do it” line to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch:
“When it comes to snow showers I have no time for gimmicks and that type of crap,” said McLellan. “If our players are doing that, they’re going to hear from me, but they’re going to hear from me even more when they don’t go to the net and stop on a loose puck. If you look, pucks are bobbling around. They know it’s not a circus and not a gong show. We want them going to blue paint. Just like the other team is.”
Somewhat symbolically, the Wings are plain old confused as to why the referees are biting on the Sharks’ sell jobs, but not the snow jobs:
While the Wings’ goalie kept his cool Sunday - after trying to take off Joe Pavelski’s head in Game 1 - captain Nicklas Lidstrom confirmed they’ve spoken to the officials about the fact the Sharks’ player keep showering Howard. There were at least four more incidents in Game 2.
“We’ve mentioned it - several times - and I don’t know why they keep allowing them to do it,” said Lidstrom. “We keep telling the refs. It’s up to the refs. They could stop it right away by calling it. It’s pretty obvious they’re trying to do it. It’s really easy for the refs to do something about it.”
“They’re trying to get under my skin, and I know that,” Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said. “But I’m not going to let them.”
That heavy tap on Joe Thornton’s ankle might belie that, but that’s what he said. And, yes, Howard thinks it’s no accident when he gets doused.
And here’s what Patrick Marleau had to say about Howard getting sprayed: “Obviously he’s a competitor and took it a little personal there and got a couple whacks at our guys. But we’ve got to continue to go there.”
But Mike Babcock, for the first time in this series, growled about the officials’ decision to only see red, and to not care about how one team treats the other’s goaltender:
“Every time I make a comment about any of that stuff, it’s come back to bite me in the butt,” Babcock said. “But I think that’s a really good question.”
Instead, the Sharks, who went 1-for-5 on the power play compared to Detroit’s 1-for-6, were instead upset that Ben Eager got a 10-minute misconduct for attempting to goad Todd Bertuzzi into a fight—after Eager and Bertuzzi got out of the box following a hard Bertuzzi hit on Heatley. McLellan fully supports Eager’s run-around-and-run-people style of play, of course…
“Ben’s an important part of our team,” he said. “He has a role to fulfill. He’s a big, physical guy. He gets in some scrums every now and then. He understands his job. We won the game tonight and he was part of it.”
McLellan also was asked if he though that some of the hatred that people said was lacking at the start of the series might be there now.
“I don’t like that word. It’s a competitive hard series between two very good teams. Hatred — everybody gets a little pissed off, if you will, at the opponent at certain times for whatever reason,” he said. “There’s a ton of emotion in the game and that’s what makes it great. I don’t see that going away at all.”
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Eager suggested to Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Ray Ratto, but he did sniffle about the officiating:
Ben Eager played one minute in the first period, and 10 seconds in the second. He managed to draw a roughing penalty and a misconduct in chats with Detroit’s Todd Bertuzzi in those 10 seconds, though, and did not play in the third.
“That’s what happens in playoffs,” Eager said. “It’s pretty intense. He (Bertuzzi) finished his check on Heater (Dany Heatley) there and I just went over to kind of give him a little shove and we fell into the bench there. It’s part of the game. I dropped one glove. I’ve seen that call from those guys before, nothing surprising, especially when it’s on NBC.”
With the Wings’ forwards not engaging the Sharks on the forecheck as they did in the last series—Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader haven’t been as effective, nor have Cleary or Franzen (who seems to be having a harder time adjusting to his visor than skating with a sore ankle), but Bertuzzi’s at least trying, and Eager told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser that he has no problem with the animosity at least a few Wings are starting to display against a very openly antagonistic Sharks team:
There were several little skirmishes in front of the net and six roughing calls in the game.
“You know, hatred builds quickly in a series,” Eager said. “You play guys three or four times in a row, it heats up.”
It hasn’t heated up fast enough on the Wings’ side, of course. Friday’s game involved a fantastic start and a bad finish, and Sunday’s furious final ten minutes didn’t blunt the fact that it was the Sharks who inflicted physical trauma upon the Wings, and as far as the Sharks are concerned, business as usual is a good thing, as they told the Mercury News’s Gary Peterson:
“We expected a better game from them and we got it,” McLellan said. “They played very hard minutes in our zone. The only way you can defend them is by using five guys. If you get down to four, or somebody is wandering out of position, you’re going to have some trouble.”
“That’s what it’s going to take,” [Ian] White confirmed, “everyone stepping up and doing the little things, things we talked about before the game. The details are what’s going to win you games. Every line, all four lines, all six D and (goalie Antti) Niemi have bought in.”
It’s a lot of Hockey 101 stuff, is what it is. It’s spacing on the ice. It’s making sure every opposing skater is covered no matter what the puck is doing. It’s hard living in the corners. It’s selling out. It’s playing the angles, pinning the other guy’s stick to the ice, body position and keeping your head up so you can be first to the puck.
“We’ve done that ever since January,” said Dany Heatley, who got the primary assist on White’s goal. “Guys have bought in to playing that style and don’t really care who scores the goals.”
White told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser that the Sharks know they’re in good shape thanks to a solid win punctuated by an early and successful 4-minute penalty-kill:
“Going up 2-0 instead of a split gives you confidence going into their barn,” White said.
“We did the job at home and now we have got to go to their rink for two,” Sharks forward Dany Heatley said. “And they’re going to come out hard.”
In the first period, second-seeded San Jose befuddled No. 3 Detroit through six minutes with a man advantage, giving the Red Wings all sorts of trouble in the neutral zone and contesting every entry pass.
“The first six minutes we spent on the penalty kill….if that gets away from you there and they get two or three goals, that takes you out, that takes away the crowd,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.
During one four-minute double minor on Benn Ferriero for high-sticking, the Red Wings managed just one shot.
Instead, the Sharks are the ones grinding down the Wings…
“We were taking away their time and space,” White said. “If you give those guys half a second, they make you pay. They’re pretty good at creating something out of nothing, so you have to stay on them like glue.”
And instead of the Wings getting timely contributions, the penalty-kill followed a goal by White, and preceded a goal by Niclas Wallin of all people, as NHL.com’s Dave Lozo noted:
“Different guys every night seem to be stepping up,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. “Everybody is going to be key. It’s playoff hockey, so you never know what can happen. It’s a huge goal by a defenseman.”
The Sharks were 7-for-7 at killing penalties before Zetterberg scored with 6:02 remaining in the third period. It’s been a pretty admirable job by the Sharks, who are facing a Red Wings team that was 4-for-15 with the extra man against the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round and boasts some of the best offensive talent in the League.
“It’s one of the biggest factors for how it’s going to go in this series,” said White, who blocked four shots Sunday. “They’ve got one of the best power plays, year in and year out.”
“The penalty kill did a good job,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “It was a big factor and I thought we did some good things on the penalty kill with the few adjustments that we made. If it gets away from you there, they get 2 or 3 goals, now you’re chasing the game again and it takes the crowd out of it. It was very important early in the game for us.”
So White was able to get a very, very, very clear lane to shoot on a very, very, very screened Jimmy Howard, as he told Lozo...
Q: Did you know your shot was in the minute it left your stick?
A: Yeah, I did. Actually, before I even shot it, all I could see was net and there was no one in the way. I figured if I could hit it anywhere close, it was going to go in.
And White and the Sharks would argue that they’re doing nothing less than putting on a clinic as to how to shut down the Wings…
Q: The Sharks seemed to have an answer for the way the Red Wings were trying to hit your defensemen. Do you feel that’s the way the game played out?
A: I think so. It just felt like we were doing a good job in pretty much every area on the ice. Our penalty-killing was outstanding. We used our power play to get us off and running. Our forecheck, backcheck, neutral zone—you can list all the areas, but that was a real solid all-round effort.
White and Dany Heatley told the Sharks’ website’s Tony Khang that their goal was a textbook case of
baiting the Wings into chasing after the puck carrier:
Heatley got the puck on the right wing and moved towards the bottom of the right faceoff circle. He turned right on his forehand, saw White open on the right point and passed him the puck. “The guy (Red Wings forward Darren Helm) came down pretty hard on me,” Heatley said. “So I knew Whitey was all alone. They (Detroit forwards) do a pretty good job of collapsing to the net. I just threw it back there knowing he would be there.”
White took a few steps to his left and saw that Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard was giving him the stick side on the left. White wound up for the shot and placed the puck top shelf. What also helped White was that Logan Couture was standing in front of Howard, providing him with a great screen. Of course, Couture’s screen played a role in White’s goal. So did the big hole on Howard’s stick side.
“I saw quite a bit of net on that one,” White said. “Their winger (Helm, who was chasing Heatley) was off his angle. Most of the time, you don’t get opportunities like that, but it’s nice to get a wide open look.”
At the other end of the ice, the Sharks would argue that Antti Niemi’s job has been made much easier by his defensemen’s work in front of him, as they told the Sharks website’s staff:
“I thought we played a really good hockey game today,” said Wallin. “We played well in front of our net and didn’t give up that many second chances.”
“We needed to have good changes,” said Demers. “We stressed not getting caught out there because they feed on turnovers and they feed on not giving us a lot of time in our own zone. We had to be quick and hard on them – you can’t give them too much time. We know that and we respect them. We did a good job doing that tonight.”
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi had a huge game for San Jose. The Finnish netminder had 33 saves in the victory and was impressed with the two-way play of his team.
“I think we played really solid in both ends and we just have to keep working hard,” said Niemi. “We played really strong in front of the net. When they (Detroit) had the chance, they had to shoot it and they didn’t get too many rebounds.”
The Sharks believe that they’ve started to grind upon their opponents’ levels of confidence as well:
“They’re a scoring team,” said Demers about Detroit. “They’re an offensive team and Nemo’s done a great job and so has the defense. I think frustration is going to set in on them.”
I wouldn’t argue that the Mercury News’s David Pollock’s suggestion that Antti Niemi was “spectacular” is accurate, but he did stand tall on Sunday, as Pollak noted:
Perhaps his most dramatic save came at 2:41 when Detroit was short-handed and Red Wings center Darren Helm stole the puck from Jason Demers at the San Jose blue line, only to be frustrated by the Sharks goalie on a breakaway. And two minutes after that, the Sharks goalie got in front of a quick shot from the high slot by Henrik Zetterberg.
Howard, however, was equally effective at the other end of the ice, stopping Patrick Marleau point blank and positioning himself in front of Heatley’s deflection of a shot by Douglas Murray. Early in the third period, Wallin gave the Sharks a little breathing room when he skated around Todd Bertuzzi and launched a shot from the right faceoff circle that hit Howard’s glove, mask and shoulder before finding the back of the Detroit net at 1:39. It was Wallin’s fourth career playoff goal—and the first that didn’t come in overtime. The Red Wings kept pressing, and Niemi came up big on one sequence when he got in front of a shot by Nicklas Lidstrom, then kept rebound attempts from Dan Cleary and Zetterberg out of the net.
“The first shot, I didn’t see that well, and it hit my pads,” Niemi said. “But I saw the rebounds.”
It’s questionable whether Howard saw Niclas Wallin’s game-winning shot until it cleared Niklas Kronwall (who was stellar otherwise, blocking seven shots), but Wallin duly pointed out to the Sharks’ website that he essentially earned a breakaway from the Sharks’ blueline in after Todd Bertuzzi lost him, and for some reason, Kronwall just kept backing in, giving a player with all the offensive panache of Ruslan Salei Joe Thornton-level respect:
“I kind of got the step on Bertuzzi and he saved it, but it got up and went over and went in,” Wallin said of the play. “You’ve got to keep shooting pucks. That’s what Benny (Ferriero) did last game, he shoots and it goes off Stuart. A lucky bounce, but you work hard and those bounces are going to come.”
Overall, the Sharks believe that they’ve held their ground, physically and otherwise…
“We’ve played each other both years and with good teams, there becomes a little bit of hatred in the game,” Joe Thornton said. “Nothing cheap , but guys are playing hard and that’s what you expect in the playoffs.”
“I think the last game, they didn’t engage as physically as they wanted to,” Demers said. “Tonight we new they were going to come out and be hard on us and they didn’t disappoint. Kudos to our team for pushing back. It goes both ways. We were ready for them. Everyone was contributing on the physical side of it.
While heading into a difficult building to play in on Wednesday, as they told the Sharks’ website’s Tony Spraco:
“We did the job at home,” added Sharks forward Dany Heatley. “Now they’re gonna come hard. We were in the same position last year. Nothing changes. Nothing changed after game one. We’ll just make some adjustments and get back out there for Game 3.”
The best-of-seven series now shifts to Detroit where the Red Wings will look to even the series. During the regular season, the Red Wings finished with an impressive 21-14-6 record at home although the Sharks captured both regular season meetings in Detroit with a 5-2 win on December 6 and a 4-3 victory on February 22. Although the Sharks have now run their record to an impressive 5-1 in the head-to-head match-up against the Central Division Champs, nobody in the Sharks locker room is taking the remainder of the series lightly.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” said Sharks defenseman Jason Demers. “This team (Detroit) can turn it around at anytime. We’re happy with the win. We played really well. But we’re going into a good building in Detroit and we’ve gotta be ready to go because they for sure are going to be waiting for us.”
Even Ray Ratto, who points out that Nicklas Lidstrom hit the goalpost with the Wings pressing late in the 3rd period, argues that the Sharks—who, depending on which set of odds you read, have something between a 6-in-7 or 5-in-8 chance of closing the Wings out—played their best game of their entire playoff run thus far:
“We were happy with how we played in Game 1,” the Sharks head coach said after watching his team win Game 2, 2-1 over the Detroit Red Wings, “but we played with better intensity, I thought, and we had a little more battle-a-bility, if that’s what you want to call it. And this was a harder game to play.”
In what way, you might ask, given that the Sharks essentially defined and controlled if not outright dominated the last 50 minutes?
“Detroit made it harder,” he said, ever mindful not to stir the distressed giant any further. “They had more sustained time in our end and against the boards. We had to do a lot more tonight with the penalty kill in six of the first 10 minutes. But yes, in some ways this was our best game (of the postseason).”
[T]his was also San Jose’s best performance yet. After spending much of the first 10 minutes down a man, including a four-minute high-sticking call on Benn Ferriero against Justin Abdelkader, the Sharks slowly but surely grabbed the game and choke-slammed it into submission—or as close to submission as the Red Wings will allow.
“Yeah, that’s fair,” Joe Thornton said. “Our second period was pretty good, we just got after it and stayed after it, and spent a lot of time in their end. That’s what we all talked about before – the team that spends more time in the other guy’s end is going to win the game.”
McLellan put things bluntly while speaking to NHL.com’s Lozo...
“We expected a much better game from them, and we got it,” McLellan said. “They were markedly better and played very hard minutes in our zone. The only way you can defend is by using five guys. If you get down to four or someone wanders out of position, you get in trouble. I thought our guys did an admirable job around the blue paint. They came much harder tonight than they did the other night. At the end of the day, the two teams are pretty darn even.”
While framing the loss from Detroit’s perspective—in that the Wings have let Jimmy Howard down:
Howard is 0-2 in this series, but has stopped 79 of 83 shots for a .952 save percentage.
“It’s disappointing,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said of Howard coming up short despite his sensational play. “But he has to continue to play well for us, and we have to do a better job in front of him, too, clearing out the people coming in there and try to push their shooters to the outside a little more.”
It’s here that we take a moment to pause before we totally shift focus to the Wings’ side of things. Yahoo Sports’ Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski (briefly), Sportsline’s A.J. Perez, The Hockey News, Pro Hockey Talk’s Joe Yerdon, SI’s Darren Eliot (at endless, slathering-praise-upon-the-Sharks length) and ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun weighed in on the game, but aside from allowing a few points from LeBrun…
In the past, Detroit has sometimes opted to load up star centers Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on the top line, and the Wings figured it that plan would give them an edge in the matchup versus Joe Thornton’s top line.
But aside from Datsyuk setting up Nicklas Lidstrom in Friday’s series opener, the matchup has essentially been a saw-off. That would be fine if the Wings had any secondary scoring, but they haven’t had any so far in two games. The Sharks had the last line change in the opening two games and didn’t shy away from the matchup of top lines, meaning they will care less if Detroit chases it again with the last line change in Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena. Let’s see if Babcock decides to split up his two star centers to better balance his offense. Babcock said after Sunday’s loss he would watch Game 2 video without emotion and decide what needs to change.
Here’s why I would consider a change if I were Babcock: Logan Couture’s second line with Ryane Clowe and Dany Heatley is eating up the Red Wings. Detroit has had no answer for it. (The line was responsible for the game winner Sunday when Niclas Wallin scored 1:39 into the third period.) Let’s put it this way, the Sharks can live with Thornton’s line simply drawing Zetterberg/Datsyuk to a low-scoring draw in exchange for Couture’s unit run wild on the rest of the Wings.
I’m worried about what the players and coaches have to say about the game, not what an expert is going to tell us, so with the exception of telling you that you can read Niclas Wallin’s conversations with Expressen’s Gunnar Nordstrom or Aftonbladet’s Per Bjurman on your own, let’s keep focus on what the game’s principals have to say about the affair as framed by the people who talk to them.
So the AP’s Josh Dubow kicks off the Wings’ take in earnest by summarizing the Wings’ main points of concern:
“We weren’t good enough,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “They won more battles than we did. By doing that they end up with the puck more times than we do. They held serve at home. We have to lick our wounds on the flight home.”
Jimmy Howard was again strong for the Red Wings, making 35 saves, but he got little help from his teammates. The Red Wings hope to change their fortunes when the series shifts to Detroit for Games 3 and 4 starting Wednesday night.
Detroit’s frustration quickly materialized as Tomas Holmstrom took a roughing penalty on Jason Demers to negate a power play, and Niemi kept coming up with the big saves. His best moments came when he stopped Nicklas Lidstrom from the point, and then Danny Cleary and Henrik Zetterberg on rebounds midway through the third. The Red Wings finally broke through with a power-play goal by Zetterberg with 6:02 remaining. They couldn’t get the equalizer, with the best chance coming when Lidstrom hit the post late in the period.
The sellout crowd was loud from the start and got more frenzied when the Sharks broke out to a rare early lead this postseason when White beat Howard with a blast through a screen on a power play with Justin Abdelkader in the box for high-sticking. That came after the Red Wings managed just three shots during six minutes with the man advantage in the first 10:23 of the game.
“We need to find answers,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We have to make adjustments. I don’t know what’s going on with the power play.”
Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji also summarizes things bluntly:
Everyone always talks about imposing your will on the other team. It’s quite obvious that it’s the Sharks doing all the imposing so far. The good news for the Wings is that the Sharks’ top players, such as Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau haven’t been doing much scoring — just two assists in two games from that group. That will have to continue. Howard’s excellent play will have to continue. Most of the rest, though, has to change for the Wings to even things up in this series.
“We just turn around and go home,” said Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who hit the post late in the third period. “That’s the way you have to approach it. You can’t feel sorry for yourself. We have to rebound as a team. It’s been two close games and they’ve got the break each time.”
That being said, as the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch noted, the Wings are facing an obvious question—are the Sharks putting the same kind of hex on Detroit that the Wings once had upon the Sharks?
“I don’t know about getting in your head,” said Wings’ coach Mike Babcock. “When they beat you, they beat you. We have a belief in ourselves, an execution and I don’t question that whatsoever. We came into their building, they were able to beat us in two games. This game was more even. We’re going home. We’ll have our crowd. We’ve got to do something.”
That “something” won’t happen if the Wings don’t make Niemi’s life more difficult, nor will it happen if the Wings cannot sustain possession and control of the puck in the offensive zone—especially on the power play, which was one-and-done all night long—as they told Garrioch
“They’ve got to get to four (wins). They won the first two at home. Now, we’ve got to go back to the Joe, take care of business and go from there,” said Zetterberg, who fired it by Niemi at 13:58 of the third on the powerplay. “We have to score more goals. That’s the bottom line. I had at least five or six good chances (Sunday) and I should at least be able to score more. If we bear down when we get the chance, we’re definitely going to have success.”
“We’re not getting the puck in (the zone) as much,” said Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom. “By shooting the puck or throwing the puck in, we have to have guys in front of the net. They’ve been doing a good job of kind of pushing us to the outside and giving us the outside.”
When the Red Wings began the power play, they were down 1-0 on an early extra-man goal by Sharks defenseman Ian White. A quick response would have changed everything. Instead, the Red Wings were on their way to finishing the game with eight shots and one goal in six power-play opportunities. The Red Wings were 0-for-2 in their Game 1 loss Friday. Detroit did score its only goal on the power play Sunday; Pavel Datsyuk fed Henrik Zetterberg in the slot for a snap shot past Antti Niemi with 6:02 remaining. But the Wings agreed they could have used more power-play production earlier in the afternoon.
“They’re tight in front of their goalie,” Zetterberg said. “We’ve just got to find a way to score more goals, get more pucks there, get there for second chances. We’re doing a lot of good things but we have to be better.”
So it’s shoot, shoot, shoot…
“(The Sharks) just kind of throwing the puck from anywhere,” said Stuart, who began his career in San Jose. “That’s what we want to do. It’s something we probably haven’t done enough of. That’s what they’re doing. They’re getting the puck and throwing it to the net. When you create scrambles it’s hard as defenders when the puck goes to the net, you don’t know where it’s going to go. It’s something they did well and I think something we can do better at.”
“We’re not getting the puck in there as much by shooting the puck in there,” Lidstrom said. “We have to have guys in front of the net, too. I think they’ve been doing a good job of pushing us to the outside and kind of giving us the outside.”
And, again, grind the opponent down before they grind you down:
“You pay a price if you play in your zone,” Babcock said. “It might not happen right at that moment, but it’s going to happen over time. We’ve just got to be harder on the puck in their zone, and the more of those 50-50 pucks you win the more time you’re going to have the puck.”
Lidstrom answered a pair of pointed questions from NHL.com’s Phillips...
Q: Coach Mike Babcock criticized the Red Wings’ forwards after Game 1. Did they do a better job in Game 2?
A: I think we can still get skating more as a group of five out there, get the puck in deep more and get on top of their defensemen a little bit more than we have in the first couple of games.
Q: Are you giving Jimmy Howard as much defensive help as he needs?
A: It’s a matter of bearing down and playing a little better defensively. And we’ve got to score more goals, too. Getting one goal, it’s hard to win in the playoffs. We have to get more shots and I think we have to create more traffic.
And after Mike Babcock elegantly summarized the Wings’ state of affairs, as noted by the CBC’s series blogger....
“I thought we were better, and yet we weren’t good enough,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “They’ve been better than us both nights in the second period for sure. Both nights, it came after power plays when they got momentum. Then they wore us out for four or five shifts in our zone. You’re not getting your D off, it’s a long change, and they got momentum from that. I thought we came here to compete today. I thought we skated better and had more opportunities, but we just weren’t good enough.”
A surprising source weighed in as to how the Wings might better challenge Niemi:
“He’s a very good butterflier, very good down low,” said Niemi’s opposite number, Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard. “He takes away everything, he’s got the long legs. When we get opportunities, we’re going to have to pass it off him or go upstairs on him, because he takes away the bottom of the net really well.”
I mention this because, as a Wings fan and a blogger, not an objective member of the media or any sort of journalist, I’m choosing to ignore Evil Drew Sharp’s insistence that Niemi’s been the best goalie in this series. Has he been the most successful? Sure. But has he played a more crucial role? NO.
I’m pretty confused about Pat Caputo’s suggestion that giving up a knuckler to Wallin somehow plants blame on the loss on Howard, too.
Ditto for Mark Purdy’s ramble about the Sharks being in the Wings heads, with almost no comments from players. Whatever. The Sharks have won 9 of their past 11 games against Detroit and are 2-and-0 in the series. Those numbers matter more than theories about intimidation. The Wings themselves aren’t curling up into balls and giving up, as Brian Rafalski told the Mercury News’s Mark Emmons...
It’s the exact same thing, we’re down 2-nothing again,” defenseman Brian Rafalski said. “But going home we’ve got to find a way to change that. Obviously we don’t want the same thing to happen as last year.”
If there’s a bright spot, Rafalski added, the Red Wings have yet to play their best hockey. Coming back in this series “is definitely doable,” he said. “You’ve seen it all around the NHL this playoffs. You win just one game, and it will put the pressure right back on them.”
And yet perhaps the most distressing development, from a Detroit perspective, is how the Sharks are making a habit of beating the Red Wings. Sunday marked the Sharks’ 10th victory in 12 games between these teams dating back to February 2010. At some point, that kind of dominance has to climb inside a hockey player’s head, doesn’t it?
“Maybe it will now that you bring it up,” forward Johan Franzen said. “But I didn’t know that.”
But the Wings are more concerned about nipping their own penchant for taking penalties in the bud, as they told the Free Press’s Helene St. James—with Babcock, again, nudging the referees for the first time in the series:
“When we engaged them in a scrum and knocked their helmet off, and we went to the box, I would have liked to see their guy go to the box when that happened, too,” Babcock said. “But I mean, that’s the way it is. We’ve just got to keep battling and keep finding a way to get involved and be as disciplined as we can. The penalties I don’t like that we take are when we take the high-sticking ones and the sticks on the hands—to me, those are just freebies you give away.”
“We can’t be killing penalties as much as we have been,” Brian Rafalski said. “They’ve got a good power play.”
The Wings do, of course, need to get their power play going, and it might be helped by putting Mike Modano back into the lineup, because he’s a great option as a point man. Babcock said he’d think about it during the flight home. The Wings like to use their power play as punishment against an opponent who takes liberties against them, preferring to skate away from the shoving and hitting that can break out after the whistle blows. It’s a mind-set they quickly need to restore.
“That stuff is senseless,” Brad Stuart said. “It doesn’t serve a purpose for us. We’ll probably talk about it, but I’m sure guys know already that we don’t get into that. It just kind of takes away from us. We just need to ignore that stuff. I don’t know what it is, if we’re amped up and trying to play with an edge—we’ve just got to find a balance of playing with an edge but not going over it.”
As for the face-washing? Howard had a simple answer for the Mercury News’s David Pollak regarding whether it’s getting to him:
“They’re trying to get under my skin, and I know that,” Howard said. “But I’m not going to let them.”
So does he think the Sharks are doing it on purpose?
“I would think so,” he added. “But, whatever.”
Instead, Howard was hard on himself, suggesting that he didn’t play well enough for his team, as he told the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:
“It’s not satisfying because you’re not getting W’s,” Howard said. “But you keep going and just get ready for (Game 3).”
Howard gave up a power-play goal to Sharks defenseman Ian White and a third-period snapper by defenseman Niclas Wallin that appeared to glance off a stick. Otherwise, Howard was superb, keeping the Wings close.
“He was excellent,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Both goalies were real good.”
Said Brian Rafalski: “It’s a good sign. He’s played well for us and we expect him to keep doing that, and we have to put pucks in the net.”
Howard explained the Wallin goal to the Free Press’s Helene St. James...
“It was coming in, it was knuckling, and it was between my glove and my ear,” Howard said. “It was just one of those spots where in order to try and catch it you’ve got to take your eye off of it for a second. It hit my glove, and then it hit my head and bounced into the net.”
While the Sharks have enough talented forwards to roll three scoring lines, Howard mostly has denied them all. He made four saves Sunday on Patrick Marleau, another four on Joe Thornton and five on Logan Couture. Dan Boyle was turned away eight times. After facing 118 shots total over four games—all victories—in the first round, Howard already has seen 83 shots from the Sharks.
“It’s disappointing, but he’s got to continue to play well for us,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I think we have to do a better job in front of him, too, clearing out the people coming in and trying to push their shooters to the outside a little bit more.”
And regarding Evil Drew Sharp’s, “Confident Sharks Own Red Wings take on the game? Let’s give it a look, but not linger on it for too long:
“Frustration is a waste of time,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s a waste of energy. You just get on with it.”
Yes, the Sharks are the better team right now, Evil Drew. Yes, they’ve out-played, out-hustled, out-worked and out-executed Detroit. The Wings know that, and they know all about the Sharks’ cycling game grinding them down, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James noted:
“The longer it goes on, the harder it is to stop them,” Johan Franzen said. “We’ve got to try to make their cycles as short as possible, have the effort to try to cut them off right away, otherwise it’s hard.”
“We have to push their shooters a little bit more to the outside, and get in front of their net ourselves,” Lidstrom said. “Getting one goal, it’s hard to win in the playoffs. We have to get more shots, and I think we have to create more traffic.”
The Wings were good, but not good enough, as Babcock reiterated to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:
“Bottom line we came in here and competed,” said Wings coach Mike Babcock, who wasn’t as satisfied after Game 1. “We skated better and had more opportunities. Maybe we just weren’t good enough. They won more battles than we did. By doing that they end up with the puck more than we did.”
“We need to score more than one goal a game. That’s for sure,” Johan Franzen said. “We have to get on pucks on net. They’ve done a good job of boxing us out. We haven’t really gotten to the second chances.”
“We have to score more goals, that’s the bottom line,” Zetterberg said. “We had at least five or six scoring chances.”
“We’re not playing our best, definitely we can go home and play better,” defenseman Brian Rafalski said. “It’s definitely doable.”
The Wings believe that their salvation may very well lie in simplifying their game, as they told Kulfan...
“They’ve been doing a good job of pushing us to the outside and we’re not getting in front of the goalie for the second chance that are lying in front,” Nicklas Lidstrom said.
“We have to get to the net,” Johan Franzen said. “We have to get through to get the rebounds. It’s hard to score on the goalie from the outside. We have to get more traffic and win the puck on rebounds.”
“We have to be sharp with first passes, we came in and gave the puck away and started all over again,” Johan Franzen said. “Maybe we tried to do too much.”
And MLive’s Ansar Khan...
The Sharks have outshot the Red Wings in each of the first two games and by a cumulative total of 83-59.
“They’re throwing the puck from anywhere,” Stuart said. “That’s what we want to do, probably something we haven’t done enough of. They get it, they throw it to the net, create scrambles. It’s hard as defenders, when the puck goes to the net, you don’t know where it’s going to go, then it starts to scramble around.”
“I still think we got to be harder (on the defense) for longer,” Babcock said. “I thought in the second period that’s what they did and you pay a price if you’re playing in your zone. It might not happen right at that moment but it’s going to happen over time. The more of those 50-50 pucks you win, the more you’re going to have the puck.”
Who noted that, this time around, you can expect Babcock to tweak the lineup:
Asked if he planned on any lineup changes for Game 3, Babcock said, “I got a little bit of time to figure everything out. I might as well watch the tape without emotion and figure that out.”
As the Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski suggests, the Wings believe that they have another gear within them, and they need to step on the clutch, grab the shifter and take hold of this series before it’s gone:
“We’re gonna go home and take care of business at the Joe and go from there,” said Henrik Zetterberg, who scored the Wings’ only goal on a power play in the third period. “We weren’t really ready the first game, but we played a lot better in this one. We skated harder and competed harder. This is the way we’re gonna play.”
“We’re not playing our best yet,” defenseman Brian Rafalski said. “It’s definitely do-able. You see some of the things that happened in the first round, and you gotta focus on that.”
The Wings tried to win two games out West with only Howard and Pavel Datsyuk playing really well. That’s not a very good formula, especially against a Sharks team that no longer is fazed by any Wings mystique. The Sharks beat ‘em in five games last year, and that seems to be a factor now, as they keep winning close clash after close clash.
The Wings aren’t just losing this series in the corners, where the Sharks chase down most pucks. They’re losing it in their legs and in their heads. The discipline has to be much better. The energy has to be sustained. For the second straight game, the Sharks dominated the second period, this time by a 19-9 shot margin. Slowing down the Sharks will not be easy, but it can be done. For the Wings to do it, they need to kick in that elusive gear and play as if their season is in jeopardy. Because there’s no doubt, it is.
Let’s reiterate Rafalski’s point, via the Free Press’s St. James...
Asked if trailing, 2-0, this spring was any different from trailing, 2-0, last year, when the Wings weren’t nearly as healthy, Brian Rafalski said, “It’s the exact same. We’re down, 2-0. Going home, we’ve got to obviously find a way to win Game 3. That’s our focus. Obviously, we don’t want to have the same thing happen that happened last year.” The Wings lost Game 3 by one goal at Joe Louis Arena and the series in five games.
And let’s allow the Wings to repeat their offensive mantras via MLive’s Ansar Khan:
“We need to score more than one goal a game, that’s for sure,” Detroit’s Johan Franzen said. “We’re having chances, that’s not a problem. They’ve been doing a good job boxing us out and we haven’t really gotten to the second chances. It’s hard to score on goalies from the outside. Get a little more traffic and try to win the puck on rebounds.”
“We have to score more goals, that’s the bottom line,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “I think I had at least 5-6 good scoring chances today. Should be able to score more.”
The bottom line is simple for Detroit:
“You can’t be feeling sorry for yourself or thinking that we blew a chance,” Lidstrom said. “You just have to recover as a team and regroup.”
The numbers are ugly. The Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa points out that the Wings were shut out for 115 minutes before their third-period goal. At least Ted Kulfan gave Jimmy Howard third star status—as you’ll see below, he was short-changed in the game’s three-star selection—the Free Press’s Steve Schrader offers some scary Niemi stats (and a grumble from Don Cherry about the Wings not protecting Howard), the Free Press’s Octometer isn’t doing so well today and DetroitRedWings.com’s Michael Caples offers some up-and-down stats, as well as this fitting closer, in his “Breakdown”—and again, some things, like this quip from Mike Babcock, are worth repeating:
“Well I don’t know about getting in your head. When they beat you, they beat you. I think our belief in ourselves and our plan and our execution we have, I don’t question that whatsoever. We came into their building and they were able to win two games. I thought they were better than us last night, I thought the game was more even tonight. ... Now we’re going home, we’ll have our crowd, and we have to do something with it.”
Highlights: ESPN posted a 4:26 highlight clip which includes comments from Matthew Barnaby;
TSN posted a 2:59 highlight clip;
The CBC posted a 3:02 highlight clip which includes post-game comments from Scott Morrison and Jeff Marek. Joe Thornton is apparently the new Steve Yzerman. Insert rolling eyes here.
NBC’s highlight clip is bizarrely only 24 seconds long;
Sportsnet posted a 1:35 highlight clip;
Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area posted a 2:32 highlight clip;
And NHL.com’s 6-minute highlight clip is narrated by TSN’s announcers:
The NHL network’s NHL On the Fly posted a short post-game analysis;
TSN posted clips of its panel simply wondering whether the Red Wings are being ground down by the Sharks, a 1:52 of Sharks post-game comments, a 1:39 clip of Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart, Todd McLellan’s full 6:52 post-game presser and Mike Babcock’s 5:23 post-game presser;
Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area posted videos of Joe Pavelski, Ian White, Jason Demers, Patrick Marleau, Ben Eager, Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton discussing the game, as well as Sharks coach Todd McLellan’s post-game presser, as well a as a clip of Henrik Zetterberg’s post-game comments:
WXYZ posted clips Babcock’s presser, Henrik Zetterberg, Brad Stuart and Nicklas Lidstrom’s comments…
And Mike Stone talking to Tom Leyden about the Wings’ struggles;
And the Red Wings’ website posted Babcock’s presser…
And comments from Zetterberg, Lidstrom and Stuart:
Photos: The Detroit Free Press posted a 21-image gallery;
The Detroit News posted a 39-image gallery;
the Mercury news posted a 53-image gallery embedded in its website’s recap;
The CBC posted a 6-image Flash gallery in its website’s recap;
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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.