The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/20/11 at 02:37 PM ET
Update which supersedes all others for now: According to NHL.com’s Dave Lozo, Jimmy Howard leads All-Star write-in votes with approximately 144,000, but that still places him 5th among goaltenders. Nicklas Lidstrom has a better chance of leapfogging Kris Letang than Howard does of gaining any real ground in the ASG voting race.
Updated 3x at 1:17 PM: As we wait for some mid-afternoon (Eastern Time) updates from the Red Wings’ practice in Vancouver, the Edmonton Journal’s David Stapls gives us one more take on the Wings’ 3-2 win over Edmonton on Monday night via a rather elegant analysis of one of the Wings’ biggest systemic tweaks—-a layered screening of opposing teams’ goaltenders:
The Red Wings play a cagey game, with a masisve emphasis on making the most out of what the pro game will give you. It employs a screen-and-shoot attacking style, particularly a brilliant and highly-effective double-screen, the play that led to the winning goal against the Oilers.
What is the Detroit Double Screen? On [the Wings’ game-winner], the puck goes out to the point, most often to a d-man like Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom waits or moves to find a shooting lane. At the same time, one Detroit forward, usually Tomas Holmstrom or Daniel Cleary, stakes out a position right in front of the opposition goalie.
A second forward, usually a smaller skill player, moves out to the high slot, positioning himself in between the shooter, Lidstrom, and the net. Lidstrom then fires, with either the high slot screen man or low slot screen man having a chance to deflect the puck on goal.
On the game winner, Daniel Cleary screened low, while Drew Miller screened high and Lidstrom shot. Miller directed it past Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
Here is Lidstrom’s description of the goal to Oilers broadcaster Gene Principe: “I am trying to look for sticks. I am trying to find a lane and Millsy came right out towards me and kind of showed me his stick. I was just trying to shoot it at him, for him to get a piece of it.”
Staples believes that other teams ought to copy what the Wings were one victimized with by teams like the Sharks and Canucks, but have turned around, assimilated and begun to utilize on an every-night basis, perhaps to the tune of at least half a dozen wins:
[T]o do it consistently, it takes not only consistent determination on the part of the screening players, it also takes a brilliant blueline quarterback like Lidstrom to make the quick adjustments needed to avoid the shot being blocked and to get it low enough, accurate enough and hard enough for the shot to be tipped. Still, it would be wise for other teams to work this stragegy. It’s difficult to defend, as it’s not legal to tie up a man in the high slot before he touches the puck, giving the high screener opportunity to make a play.
I don’t think it’s an easy stylistic tweak to emulate unless you’ve got Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall and a puck-moving defense that has worked with Tomas Holmstrom to attempt to perfect for the better part of fifteen years.
Switching gears in a big way, two former Wings reflected on their tenures with the Wings, with Washington Capitals forward Mike Knuble—who’s about to play in his 1,000th game—recalling the raucous start to his career...
Like most NHL players, Capitals forward Mike Knuble has a collection of memories from his NHL debut—the opponent, his linemates and the final score to list a few. Compared to most though, Knuble’s first career NHL game included a few more colorful details.
“My very first game was Detroit against Colorado,” Knuble recalled last week. “Goalies were fighting and there was a huge brawl and I’m thinking ‘I thought I just left the American [Hockey] League.’ It was just bonkers.”
The March 26, 1997 meeting between the Red Wings and Avalanche—at the peak of their late ‘90s rivalry—featured nine fights, including a bout between goalies Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon. Detroit won 6-5 in overtime, securing Vernon’s 300th career win. Among those on the ice that night: future Hall-of-Fame members Steve Yzerman, Larry Murphy, Igor Larionov and Roy and others likely to someday join them in Toronto in Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Brendan Shanahan and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Scotty Bowman’s roster also included a wide-eyed 24-year-old rookie whose debut became nothing more than a footnote after Darren McCarty netted the overtime winner.
“We were down 5-3 in that game and we win in overtime,” Knuble said. “Looking back after [Detroit] won the  Stanley Cup—they felt like that was the game that propelled them.”
And now-Los Angeles Kings president of business operations Luc Robitaille spoke to Fox Sports West’s Joe Rosen about the intangible lessons he learned by spending two seasons with the Wings...
Joe Rosen:: When you were in Detroit, you won the President’s Cup and Stanley Cup in your second year. What did you notice about a team that wins the Stanley Cup? What has to come together—whether it’s the atmosphere of the team—that you took away from that year with the Red Wings?
Luc Robitaille: I think what I took away first of all was the message. You have to believe that the first day you get to work that your goal—set your goal high. So if you say “We want to win the cup,” you never know if you’re going to win the cup, because 30 teams are going for it, and only one team will. But that should be your first goal as an organization, to say “We want to win the cup.” The second thing was the quality of the people they had around them. As an organization they had nothing but very high quality people. Personally, I got to learn a lot from that standpoint. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to bring that every day and say that’s how we want to be as an organization. Their goal from day one was to say ‘whatever you want, we’ll get it done for you, because we want to win the Stanley Cup.’ They didn’t know if they were going to win the cup, but it certainly was a great message. As a player, you felt that way. The fans understood, the trainer understood, the PR person understood, the community relations—everybody had one common goal, and I really thought that was very special. And that’s the way we live, and that’s what we talk about in the LA Kings organization now.
At the other end of the spectrum, one could very well argue that Grand Rapids Griffins Tomas Tatar finds himself in a bit of a bind given that Chris Conner and Gustav Nyquist have leapfrogged him on the depth chart, but Tatar tells the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema that, at all of 21 years of age, the Danny Cleary-meets-Jiri Hudler-meets-Tomas Holmstrom mash-up has something on his side that he hopes might take him to the next level in oodles of pro experience:
“What can you do? I started in the league when I was 18 years old,” he said with a smile. “I guess I am the veteran here.I try to help the young guys, like, figure out what to do because the first year was kind of tough for me, too. I’m really happy that guys like Doug Janik helped me at first here, so now I have to do what they did for me.”
Tatar started this season slow with only five points (two goals, three assists) in the first 12 games. Since then, though, he has 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in his past 16 games, and now is tied for second on the team in scoring with Chris Conner, who currently is in Detroit.
“I had kind of a rough start. I don’t know why, it’s always tough to say after,” Tatar said. “I think I’m back. I’ve scored a couple goals, made a couple passes, so I’m at least producing and now the team is doing well. I’m feeling much better.”
Since [Chris] Conner’s Nov. 30 recall, Tatar has seen significant time on the Griffins’ top line, alongside Gustav Nyquist and Jamie Johnson.
“Tats has been playing with us for the last few games, and he’s obviously a great player,” Nyquist said. “He’s shown that for the past couple years in this league. It’s definitely fun to play with guys like that.”
“Looking to see if this kid’s going to get 100 points or something would be great, but look at what else he does for us,” [Griffins coach Curt] Fraser said. “He’s doing so many good things. Killing penalties, power play, his overall puck control has been tremendous and his work ethic has been real good. He’s been a good leader for us and he’s getting some good things done on the ice. I believe he will have a great second half.”
The Wings can’t keep Tatar in the minors without having to expose him to waivers next season, so given that Nyquist is still adjusting to the rigors of pro hockey both mentally and physically and given that, if he doesn’t stick in the lineup and steal somebody else’s job, Conner may head elsewhere, Tatar has a pretty good chance of earning a spot with the big club next season, and those intangibles might carry the day.
Tatar suggested to Zuidema that he’s more than happy to be patient and wait his turn…For now…
“I kind of hoped I could maybe get more chances at the NHL (by now). There’s still a lot of time,” he said. “I didn’t have a good start, so maybe it was tough for the Red Wings to call me up. I just need to work and continue what I’m doing. Maybe I’ll get called up again.”
Now we get, um, rant-y: ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun is no fan of the All-Star game (most of the journalists who get paid to cover an exhibition game where players are more or less forced to be extremely engaging with the media don’t seem to enjoy the event for some reason), but he offers a simple solution to the Jimmy Howard All-Star Ballot snub while answering some “reader rants:
shawnp422: So Jimmy Howard just won his 20th game of the year, which leads all goalies, and I decided to go vote for him in the All-Star game…AND HE’S NOT EVEN ON THE BALLOT? How can the goalie for one of the model franchises of this league not be on the ballot?
My take: Yes, it’s very surprising. There are other notable omissions as well. It’s never perfect. If the league’s hockey operations department (which selects the ballot) put everyone on there so that no one would have any complaints, there would likely have 200 names on it. My own suggestion, since most of the voting is now done online, is not have a ballot but rather have voters select from the entire 700-plus player pool. What’s the difference anyway? As for Howard, who has rocked the house for my fantasy team this year, check out Scott Burnside’s Trophy Tracker blog on Wednesday, when he’ll focus on the Vezina contenders. Pretty sure you’ll be happy.
The NHL’s very genuine explanation for said omissions involves the fact that they have to a) print tens of thousands of ballots to be distributed in arenas and b) are trying to keep everybody happy by balancing representation from among all 30 teams (see: James Reimer because Leaf fans adore him and it might be a “good story” if Leaf fans vote a player the media digs to the All-Star game’s starting lineup), so take that for what you will.
Of course, if I say this too loud, or even dare to say it on the air then all the HATERS will be quick to remind ALL that Detroit has been knocked out of the postseason in the 2nd round the last couple seasons and with everyone being a year older, there is no way that this year’s team could possibly hoist another cup. They will tell you how slow and small the Wings are and how the team’s style of play just could not succeed in this year’s NHL.
Well I disagree with all these people as usual! They may call me a “homer” or “blind” but I like to think of it as greater Detroit’s talent having the ability to prevail, especially in the Western conference. There is no team that I think Wings fans should be afraid of. Even the San Jose Sharks, the team that ended Detroit’s last two seasons is barley in any post season picture. Who is it Wings fans? Are you afraid of the Wild and Blues, both teams that can’t muster any offense? Or are you scared of the Blackhawks with Toews, Kane and Hossa? Nobody currently send shivers down my spine! And even though Detroit is only the 4th seed in the West, they are just 3 points out of first and are gaining ground quickly.
So, instead of just saying that I like this year’s Wings team and leave it at that, instead I decided to let you in on the madness in my head that leads me to think that way. Below I have listed my top 3 reasons that this year’s Wings team is better than in years past. Let’s see if you agree: (By the way, the following is in no particular order.)
New Lines! Mike Babcock is constantly tinkering, he is never satisfied nor should he be. But at least for the time being, the coach seems to be happy with what has taken place since the day after Thanksgiving. On Black Friday the Wings played the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins and in the third period of a very close game, Babcock did his thing. Lacking fire power on the top two lines, the 7th year head man told Pavel Datsyuk to center the top line with Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi, while the second line consisted of Henrik Zetterberg playing with Jiri Hudler and Valteri Filpula. And that is all that it took. Since that day in Boston, Detroit’s top two lines have been the strength of the team, something that any successful group needs. And of course since the top 6 forwards were scoring, that meant the third and fourth lines could focus on their job instead of worrying about being forced to carry the load like they had to early in the season. In case you were wondering Datsyuk, Franzen and Bertuzzi have combined for 34 points while Zetterberg, Hudler and Filpula are responsible for 37 points. If these top two lines can continue this production while continuing to be defensively responsible I believe that the sky is the limit for the Wings. It needs to also be brought up that Hudler and Filpula are having their best seasons as Detroiters, something that no doubt is related to the new lines that they play on.
Ian White: White is playing his first season with Detroit and has been a very welcome addition. After losing Brian Rafalski last year the team needed a replacement and 12 year vet has been dominant. White was a +2 Monday against Edmonton, making him a +23 for the season which not only leads all Detroit skaters but also leads the NHL as well. White, playing with Nick Lidstrom on most nights has scored 4 goals and 11 assists. No doubt, Nick makes any player better, but some could say in this situation that White adds to Lidstrom’s talents as well.
Jimmy Howard: I find it laughable that Howard was left off the NHL All Star ballot and now has to be a write in candidate if he were to make it to the game. Howard has been sensational this season sporting a 1.91 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. Howard leads the game in wins and ranks second in shutouts plus he is top 5 in goals against and top 10 in save percentage. Howard was responsible for keeping the Wings afloat before the offense came to life and now he continues to be almost unbeatable every night. Everyone says you really can’t call a goalie “good” until he proves it in the playoffs and I agree with that statement! However if the postseason is anything like how the regular season so far has been, I predict Jimmy will be called “good” in no time. Also don’t count Howard out of the Vezina trophy running as well.
And finally, for now, anyway, the Red Wings’ Twitter account wants you to know that tickets are available for their next Wings viewing party at the MotorCity Casino, which will take place on January 3rd.
Biggy Update: The Edmonton Sun’s Derek Van Diest (and you can take a look at the Sun’s 12-image Wings-Oilers gallery embedded in the article) discussed several topics related to last night’s game, including that bizarre stretch of play where Darren Helm earned a prime scoring chance despite the fact that Drew Miller was being assessed a penalty (the play should have been blown dead as soon as Helm touched the puck), as well as this little ditty about one Nicklas Lidstrom:
Heading into Monday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, Lidstrom had seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points on the year. He’s fifth in team scoring and has an impressive plus-16 rating.
“I take a lot of pride in my consistency,” said the 19-year veteran. “I think off-season training is important to try and get ready for a long year. You have to go through it and you have to try and stay healthy during the year too. It’s part of off-season training and it’s part luck. But I take a lot of pride in playing a lot of years and playing a lot of games.”
Lidstrom was taken in the third round—53rd overall—in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent- Hopkins and Jordan Eberle had not even been born yet.
“I didn’t think I would have played this long, not when I first came into the league,” Lidstrom said. “I probably expected to play for a few years and see what it was like here. I didn’t have any high expectations of longevity when I first came into the league.”
Lidstrom is currently on a one-year contract with the Red Wings and does not expect to make a decision on his future until this season comes to an end.
• And I didn’t talk about this, but Mike Commodore swore at someone who insulted him via Twitter on Saturday, and I thought that Commodore’s comment was completely appropriate. He spoke to TM Media’s Michael Hoffman as to why he dropped an F-bomb, why he apologized and why he deleted the Twitter post.
Quite frankly, if you’re going to bait a professional athlete, a celebrity or your friend, if you’re going to get into a tizzy because they respond like a human being from time to time, you’re just getting what you pay for in terms of the price of human interaction. Commodore apologized and explained why he did what he did, so in my opinion, that’s that.
Update #2: The Washington Times’ Stephen Whyno Talked to Knuble and Scotty Bowman about Knuble’s time with the Wings, too.
Update #3: I don’t need to tell you that the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crash was one of the reasons that the CBC’s Tim Wharnsby believes it was a “bad year” for hockey…
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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.