The Malik Report
The Grand Rapids Griffins found themselves playing an unfamiliar opponent after a 6-day break when they opened up their Western Conference Final series against the Utica Comets on Sunday, and a combination of rust and "not knowing your opponent" bit the Griffins in the collective butt.
Tom McCollum gave up a pair of weak first-period goals, and while Mark Zengerle's power play goal afforded the Griffins a 2-1 deficit going into the 1st intermission, the Griffins were absolutely checked into dust during the 2nd and 3rd periods, and because the Griffins couldn't get their offense on track, they dropped a 2-1 decision to Utica, and looked like a struggling team in doing so.
With Game 2 set for Monday night at 7 PM (on WOOD Radio and the AHL Live), the Griffins will have to make some adjustments to deal with Utica's suffocating checking in a hurry.
Dylan Larkin also made his pro debut, and he didn't dazzle, but he fit in nearly seamlessly with the better players on the Griffins' roster, and that was perhaps the only positive of the evening.
Here's an open thread to suit your needs and hopefully include some "alternate means" of watching the game.
The Grand Rapids Griffins posited a video preview setting up the Griffins-Utica Comets series, narrated by Griffins play-by-play man Bob Kaser, and it includes an interview with coach Jeff Blashill in which he parries a question about his potential future job status:
Also: the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner posited a list of "5 Things to Know About the Series":
The "aha" moment for me didn't happen until sometime late on Friday evening. I realized that the last thirteen months' worth of Babcock contract questions had yielded an unanswered question that became bigger than the team, and when someone, anyone becomes bigger than the team--and likes it when they remain that way--then it's time for them to leave.
A coach can be larger-than-life, a coach can be just as important to his team's success as the players, a coach can be a media phenomenon unto himself, but by December, Mike Babcock's future became a sideshow, and the few times the "verboten" subject and un-answerable question was asked and parried away, the coach did nothing to diminish its distraction-worthy qualities.
Is it realistic to blame the Wings' late-season swoon upon Babcock's up-in-the-air status? I don't believe so, but I do believe that the late-season swoon certainly illustrated that Babcock might have been a little burnt out as the Red Wings' coach, and perhaps his realization that his time was at an end yielded some dog-eared pages out of the playbook being leaned upon far too heavily by a team that didn't need to hear, "If we just stick with it, we'll be fine" for the third season in a row.
The Free Press's Jeff Seidel has written what I can only describe as the definitive profile of soon-to-be Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill, and this column deserves its own entry and all sorts of praise because this is how those of you who don't already know someone who allows people to call him "Blash" who exactly "Blash" is:
Blashill is the perfect choice — and not just because he is basically a younger, less-experienced version of Babcock, minus the hard-edged personality. Blashill checks all of the boxes you want in a coach. Well, all of them but NHL head-coaching experience.
He is demanding, a hard worker, highly prepared, detail-oriented, intelligent, a tremendous communicator, able to motivate, confident, even-keeled under pressure, loyal, able to make adjustments on the bench, focused, a proven winner and a coach whose players would run through a sheet of Plexiglas for him.
Ask anyone who has spent some time with Blashill, and they all come back to the same phrase: He just gets it. All of it. How to handle players. How to prepare for games. How to deal with the media. How to talk to the front office. How to develop players. And how to treat those who work under him with respect. He even lets someone videotape his pregame speeches and put them online (Youtube.com/griffvision).
"He's awesome," said Grand Rapids Griffins equipment manager Brad Thompson, who has worked under 10 coaches. "He's just a good guy, a great guy. I probably respect him the most of any coach, just for the fact that he doesn't look at us as the schleps or the grunts of the team."
Other than a lack of head coaching experience in the NHL, what's Blashill's biggest weakness?
It might be his golf game. "His golf game is not as good as he thinks it is and that's what gets him into trouble," Ferris State hockey coach Bob Daniels said, with a laugh.
Seidel continues, and this is a must-read
The Toledo Walleye are trying to make some playoff history, and Martin Frk's lending them quite the hand. Two games after scoring a hat trick, Frk registered yet another as the Walleye rallied from a 4-2 deficit to defeat the South Carolina Stingrays 5-4 in overtime on Saturday.
The Walleye have rallied from a 3-games-to-none deficit to close to 3-games-to-2, with the teams playing Games 6 and possibly 7 in Toledo on the 26th and 27th; on Saturday, Frk scored a hat trick and added an assist on 8 shots.
The Walleye's website posited a game recap:
The Grand Rapids Griffins begin their Western Conference Final series against the Utica Comets tomorrow at 7 PM (WOOD Radio, AHL Live), and the Griffins' YouTube channel posted a series preview...
And as Dylan Larkin will be making his pro debut with the Griffins on Sunday, the Free Press's
The Toledo Walleye are a hard team to figure out this spring. They've won two straight games after falling into a 3-0 hole against the South Carolina Stingrays, and now the Walleye are down 3 games to 2 thanks to a 5-4 win on Friday night...
But the Walleye nearly surrendered a 4-1 lead on Friday, and the game after scoring a hat trick, Martin Frk was held off the scoresheet.
The Walleye's website posted a game recap:
“Don’t get me wrong - I love it here, but I also think it was time for me,” Babcock acknowledged. “No matter how much I talked to (Detroit general manager) Kenny (Holland) and we went back and forth and he was great, I wanted a different challenge. I went through a long process. I made a decision that was best, I felt, for Mike Babcock and his family. I’m going to a different place with a new opportunity where I’m very, very excited to go.”
It wasn’t an easy decision for him to make, but in the end, it was the appropriate call.
“I went back and forth on it 100 times,” Babcock admitted. “I probably wore Kenny out being a pain in the butt and I know I wore my family out. It was gut wrenching. As much of it is emotional for me right now talking to you, I said it yesterday it was like I was 25. I was jacked up, scared to death. We’ll see. Only time will tell. I believe you put your foot on the gas and go get it and that’s what we’re going to do.”
And it's from this set of quips that we delve into two columns (and an interview) which concern themselves with the concern--for lack of a better term--that Babcock's departure strikes something of a death-knell for the Red Wings' playoff streak, if not an indication that this team can't go any higher than the 1st round regardless of who's coaching it.
For once, I'm going to point you toward the Grand Rapids Griffins' press release regarding their upcoming series with the Utica Comets, which begins on Sunday and Monday in Utica, NY, and let you read about the Wings' prospects-vs-Canucks-prospects series on your own...
And I'll let the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner explain why the hell the Griffins bused to Utica, NY (a 12-hour trip) for two games prior to next Thursday, Friday and Sunday's home games:
The AHL in the postseason gives 52 percent of the gate from games to the participating players. But certain costs, including travel, come out of those expenses. Taking buses is less expensive than flying and potentially leaves more in the pot for the players.
In the Griffins case, they took two sleeper buses. They pay for one and the other they plan to submit for reimbursed by the league, according to Tim Gortsema, the Griffins senior vice present of business operations.
Two years ago the Griffins bused their first trip to Syracuse, which is about 50 miles less than Utica. When they had to return a second time for a Game Six, the Red Wings provided their team plane. It worked. The Griffins won and took home the cup.
Either way, the bus trip to Utica is the longest of the season. The closest comparison would be Des Moines, which is about 500 miles.
The Griffins had nothing planned but travel today. They will practice Saturday ahead of Sunday's series open. They play the following night as well, and then head home taking the Southern route, which is longer but avoids crossing the border and gives the players uninterrupted sleep.
Wallner continues, noting the gulf of time between the Griffins' last playoff home game and their next one, Mark Zengerle's strong playoff showing and Zach Nastasiuk's health....
And Griffins broadcaster Bob Kaser noted that the Griffins arrived in Utica with a new face in the lineup:
About The Malik Report
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.