The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/06/13 at 12:52 AM ET
Okay, so Justin Abdelkader's hit on Toni Lydman resulted in a predictable probable concussion and, as is customary in Wings-Ducks series, a 2-game suspension (and quite the meandering from one Mitch Albom, which was a good read, honestly), as well as a healthy discussion of the art of hitting in the Shanaban-era NHL.
After Sunday's worth of continued defense of the hit by Wings coach Mike Babcock, from a Wings fan's standpoint, anyway (and those of you who follow me on Twitter between and during games are finding out that I do in fact cheer for the team, rambling like an idiot included), I have to applaud Wings GM Ken Holland for not launching into the typical and almost trite three-paragraphs'-worth of continuing to defend his player's actions while speaking to the Free Press' Helene St. James, MLive's Ansar Khan and the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan:
"We believe it was not worthy of a suspension for a whole lot of reasons," Holland said. "But we respect the decision because that's what they (the NHL's player safety department) do for a living. We'll dress 20 players (for Game 4) and we have to find a way to win a game."
That is the bottom line here. Abdelkader is out for 2 games, and of the potential 4 remaining in the series, the Wings have to win three of them if they wish to delay their tee times and/or World Championship appearances.
As for my take on the hit?
Well, it's after the jump cut for a reason. I still believe that its intent was to plain old lay out Lydman, but in my opinion--and let's be honest here, folks, we tend to form our opinions immediately and allow the video to substantiate that 99.99% of the time because we are naturally subjective human beings here, so this is just my take, and ain't the objective truth--Abdelkader committed to the hit far too early and suffered as a result.
In my opinion, Abdelkader was hoping that Lydman's numbers would turn toward the hit and that he'd land a shoulder-on-shoulder smoking, but as Lydman both turned toward play and passed the puck, his body opened up and his shoulder dropped, so Abdelkader ended up only glancing Lydman's shoulder and made most of its contact with Lydman's head, all with Abdelkader's body lifting off the ice as he attempted to deliver a shoulder-to-shoulder hit that ended up being a shoulder-to-head charge--and a Jeremy Roenick-style, half-ice charge at that.
The NHL obviously viewed the hit differently, and perhaps as Ottawa's Erik Gryba received a 2-game suspension for his hit on Montreal's Lars Eller, the standard had been set, and just as we found out regarding the 5-minute major assessed to Abdelakder after the fact, the appearance of injury always weighs large in the minds of those assessing punishment for hits (we could get into an argument about the fact that the game was nationally televised and involved a team that's easy to "make an example" out of, but I think the former, "Who saw it and how bad do 'we' the league look if we don't suspend him?" optics issue is much more valid than the latter discussion in this instance).
So what can the NHL do to dissuade these hits in the future?
Again, this is only my opinion, and one person's opinion at that, but I think the answer lies in soccer. The rule as I was taught it growing up playing as the equivalent of a checking forward in soccer--and, just as I was a dirty hockey player, I was an incredibly dirty soccer player--was that one could make body contact as long as one kept one's shoulder and elbow flat against one's body.
That' an incredibly difficult task to master because we naturally want to stick our elbows and shoulders out to protect ourselves and propel force and momentum into people we're making body contact with, regardless of whether we're playing a sport or whether we're bumping into somebody that suddenly finds his or her butt flat on the sidewalk or in a hallway.
But keeping one's arms down when at all possible helps ensure that hard checks are body-on-body instead of elbow-on-body or shoulder-on-body (our elbows and shoulders naturally extend upward as well as outward simply because that's how our bodies move), and it keeps that transference of force more restricted to the torso, core and hips as opposed to the shoulders, head, or in equally ill-timed hits or attempts to avoid them, thighs and knees.
In my opinion, quite frankly, the NHL needs to do more than show videos of what to do and what not to do. If the NHL wants to re-teach hitting, it's got to emphasize education here, even if the athletes who end up watching how-to-hit videos or on-ice demonstrations feel like they're being treated like 8-year-olds.
There's a whole culture of, "A good hit is a high, hard hit that knocks your opponent down and knocks your opponent out" in the NHL, and if the league wants to take some of the literal and figurative concussive force out of the equation, it has to emphasize re-education.
All of that being said, as the Detroit News's John Niyo suggests, suggesting that the, "This is what happened and the video proves it" nature of human beings, never mind competitive athletes who will rally around their teammates regardless of what "the video shows," is probably impossible:
While the Red Wings awaited a verdict Sunday — one that finally came with a two-game suspension for Justin Abdelkader, following his controversial hit on Anaheim's Toni Lydman in Game 3 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series — the NHL, still bothered by its own blurry vision, is waiting for something close to clarity.
And to hear the players and coaches talk — here, there, everywhere — it's going to be a long, confusing wait. No verdict from Brendan Shanahan was going to change that, because about the only thing everyone can agree on, as Anaheim's Teemu Selanne noted after practice Sunday at Joe Louis Arena, is that the league's vice president of player safety has a "tough job."
No way to please all
I'd call it an impossible one, actually, even as former NHL general manager and coach Mike Milbury, now an NBC analyst who rails against the "pansification" of the league, was predicting a multiple-game suspension for Abdelkader on Sunday. ("I don't think there's any question about this one," Milbury said. "I think it's easy for Brendan Shanahan.")
Easy? Hardly. Look, I thought a suspension for Abdelkader was likely after Saturday's charging call. And I happen to think Shanahan has done an admirable job making the most of a thankless one. He's had his share of missteps as he tries to strike a balance between education and deterrence, with Shea Weber's wrist slap for his WWF move on Henrik Zetterberg last year among the more glaring examples in Detroit. But nothing's "easy" about any of this.
Really now, how do you change the culture of a sport when it's that culture that gets championed above all else? How do you protect players when they make it clear with their play — if not their words — they don't want to be protected? How do you eliminate the highlight-reel collisions the fans cheer without losing those cheering fans?
Late Saturday night, there was defenseman Kyle Quincey, suspended last April for an elbow to the head of Florida's Tomas Kopecky, admitting with a shrug, "Personally, for a defenseman, the risk-reward to hit anybody right now, there's no point. The chances of hitting a guy clean and not getting a suspension are very slim."
Even slimmer, though, is the chance we'll reach a point where everyone in hockey agrees on what they're seeing. Rewind, play, pause. It doesn't seem to matter, not even remotely.
It's never gonna happen. We see what we want to see.
And the other problem, as the Detroit Free Press's Evil Drew Sharp notes, is that it's not about the hit to begin with: it's about the perception of the injury, so the league's not really policing actions: it's policing unpalatable results:
The NHL wants players thinking in a game that’s often instinctive, reacting in split seconds. But it creates confusion and ambiguity in the enforcement of the rules when the league desires protecting its athletes — and its own financial interests — while also protecting the inherent physicality of the sport.
Some times head injuries occur on hits that never targeted the head. How do you police that?
The league blew it last year when it didn’t suspend Nashville’s Shea Weber for his thuggish head-smash of Henrik Zetterberg into the boards at the conclusion of Game 1 of a first-round series. The force of Weber’s actions was so great that it broke Zetterberg’s helmet. But Weber’s deeds merited nothing more than a menial fine primarily because Zetterberg got up, skated off and experienced no ill effects.
NHL director of player safety Brendan Shanahan defended his judgment in subsequent interviews, insisting that his relative leniency toward Weber didn’t precipitate the overtly excessive physicality that tinged the remainder of the Stanley Cup playoffs and resulted in a total of 11 suspensions even before the conclusion of the second round.
But I don’t doubt that it planted a subconscious seed in players’ minds that if the NHL didn’t think Weber’s clearly “non-hockey” act against Zetterberg warranted even one game benched then perhaps there was more latitude for aggressively running at players.
It’s tough enough meting out discipline in this murky new climate of promoting head safety, but sending mixed messages doesn’t help.
The NHL suspended Ottawa’s Eric Gryba for two games last week after he slammed Montreal’s Lars Eller in what initially appeared a legitimate shoulder-to-shoulder check. But after the blood and Eller requiring a stretcher off the ice, it became a five-minute major interference penalty and a game misconduct. If that’s the new punitive standard, at least there’s now precedent and that should offer more consistency.
Which ain't gonna happen any time soon.
As for the Red Wings who will actually play hockey tonight, what about them?
As Danny Cleary told MLive's Ansar Khan, regardless of the team's personnel--and the level of "Alanis Morisette irony" in the fact that Justin Abdelkader has become an indispensable forward and one of Pavel Datsyuk's favorite linemates over the past season is at an "ludicrous speed" levels--the Wings need to get their butts in Jonas Hiller's face and the Wings need to do a much, much better job of retrieving rebounds, underlining the other irony in the more classical sense that is the Wings' desperate, desperate need to import some sort of Tomas Holmstrom replacement this summer:
After each of his team's losses to Anaheim, Detroit Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary has remarked about the easy night Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller experienced.
“I’m glad they’re saying it because I’ve been saying that,'' Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “You can’t be as easy as we are to play against.''
That sums up their problems, why the Red Wings are trailing 2-1 heading into Game 4 of their Western Conference quarterfinal playoff series Monday at Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings lost the series opener 3-1 and dropped Game 3 on Saturday 4-0, getting shut out at home in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. They haven't made Hiller work hard enough for his saves or put Anaheim's defense under much duress in their two losses.
“You have to give them credit for keeping us away from the net, (but) we’re not going in there hard enough and we’re not finding enough loose pucks,'' Babcock said. We’re not winning enough second pucks back. We’re not having any sustained pressure in their zone to help them make some mistakes. Their D looked like they’re all big-time puck-movers. I’ve watched them play over the years and I know that isn’t true. But, if we don’t get on them we make them look pretty good.I don’t think we’ve been hard enough. I don’t think we’ve executed good enough.''
Their task was made tougher on Sunday, when the NHL suspended abrasive forward Justin Abdelkader for two games for his hit on Toni Lydman on Saturday.
The Red Wings mustered only 23 shots in Game 1 and just 22 on Game 3. This team isn't as offensively gifted as past Red Wings teams. It must work harder for its goals. But it didn't generate much attack in its losses.
“I think Hiller definitely had a night off (Saturday),'' Cleary said. “We have to be hard on him. I think the focus on Monday will be getting pucks to the net from all different areas, getting traffic. Just create some sort of chaos and confusion.''
I've been out of the loop and may remain out of the loop on Monday, but I do know that the Wings fired 23 pucks at Jonas Hiller and shot another 25 wide or into Ducks players on Saturday night, that they fired 32 pucks on Jonas Hiller in Game 2 and another shot another 29 wide or into Ducks players last Thursday, and in Game 1, the Wings fired 22 shots at Hiller and another 33 wide or into Ducks players, and those kinds of shot attempt numbers indicate that the team's shot selection is poor and that it's trying to make "cute" plays instead of attacking the net directly.
It'd be nice if players like Cleary took charge in that department, of course (there's a lot of blame to go around when your team struggles), but the Wings also know that they're screwed, quite frankly, if their power play continues to produce no result, as the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan noted:
Hiller had to face only 23 shots, and only seven of those came during a first period in which the Red Wings had five minutes of power play time. Before the power plays, Hiller made fine saves on Justin Abdelkader (between the circles) and Johan Franzen (breakaway) that set a tone of frustration for the Red Wings.
"Maybe we thought pass instead of shoot," forward Daniel Cleary said. "We had a lot of good chances last night. Hiller definitely had a night off."
The power play was a particular sore point for the Red Wings. Most felt scoring a power play goal, especially during a 40-second two-man advantage midway in the first period, would have changed the complexion of the game.
"I don't think we saw anything different," said forward Henrik Zetterberg of the Ducks' penalty killing. "We just have to keep doing what we do and throw pucks at the net."
The Red Wings came into these playoffs winning four consecutive games and arguably playing their best hockey of the season. But since then, it hasn't gone as good.
"We feel we can be better," Babcock said. "The whole thing with (playoff) series is about mental toughness, they're battles of will."
If the Wings can't rebound from the losses of Danny DeKeyser (he will have surgery on his broken thumb on Tuesday), Justin Abdelkader, the rust on Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson, Jordin Tootoo's so-so fit with the team down the stretch or the complete inability of Ian White or Carlo Colaiacovo to maintain the trust of the coaching staff, the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa believes that a single round of incredibly hard playoff lessons for what is, by Red Wings standards, an incredibly young team will bear fruit in the seasons to come...
Some angrily say the Red Wings were more fun when they had Yzerman and Lidstrom and Mike and Marian Ilitch could spend freely. Some say the Wings should have traded Valtteri Filppula, another player, a high prospect and a draft choice for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
But facts are observable and of consequence. Steve Yzerman is 47 and he works in a front office. Nicklas Lidstrom is 43 and lives in Sweden. The NHL adopted a salary cap.The Red Wings might do as well or better than Bouwmeester in the long run, without losing so much talent — an important consideration as they attempt to rebuild on the fly without using the word or talking much about it.
Rebuilding, they have won as many playoff games as they did last year. Their young pool of talent is better — perhaps significantly better — than advertised. And these kids are learning some tough lessons about how to play this game for this year and beyond, including when the Wings contend for a Stanley Cup, again.
This needs to be said out loud: please remember that those of you who want to "let the kids play" need to expect that the team's difficult roster decisions ahead of making full-time positions available for Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Tomas Tatar, Danny DeKeyser and Brian Lashoff yielding a highly probable summertime strategy of signing one top-four defenseman and one goal-scoring forward from the unrestricted free agent marketplace...
And essentially standing pat after that, save any compliance buy-outs or trades. Because "going with the kids" (as reluctantly as the Wings have embraced their youth movement) means "not signing some veterans so that the kids have places to play, too."
For the moment...
The task at hand, however, is winning three of the next four.
"I don't think, in this series, we've been as good as we're capable of being," Babcock said. "I don't think we've been hard enough. I don't think we've executed good enough. Now, the great thing about a series is there's our part and there's their part. We feel we can be better, with ours. The other thing about a series: Series are about mental toughness. They're battles of will. If you want to give in and be mentally soft, you do that. If you want to just keep competing, you turn this into a best-of-three and you get going."
Their young guys are learning about all that, too.
Before all is said and done, Wings coach Mike Babcock told the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness that he believes his team's still in it, and can make a statement-and-a-half on Monday night, weird 8 PM start included...
Wings coach Mike Babcock on how he views Game 4, where the Ducks lead Detroit 2-1 in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series.
“You can make this as a reporter as bad as you want or you can make it as good as you want,” Babcock said. “You just have to choose your attitude. I’m going to choose mine and say we were right there knocking on the door and we’re going to win tomorrow and make it a best-of-three.”
But the Wings' inexperience does not excuse them from criticism, either, and the Free Press's Helene St. James duly notes that the team's meltdown after Abdelkader's major penalty was simply unacceptable:
After Game 3, Justin Abdelkader’s hit on Toni Lydman garnered a lot of attention and the Wings found out Sunday Abdelkader got a two-game suspension. However, Abdelkader’s hit in no way should be allowed to define this series. The fact is, the Wings were down by one goal going into the third period, and went on to allow three more Ducks goals, one of them ignominiously enough shorthanded. The single most damning thing to take away from this series at this point is what has happened the last two third periods.
In Game 2, the Ducks trailed by three goals with 12 minutes to go. They hammered away until they tied the game. Sure, the Wings won in overtime, but the Ducks had just put on a display of their resilience. Fast forward to Game 3: The Wings trailed by three goals with 12 minutes to go. They didn’t score once.
Captain Henrik Zetterberg preached patience, saying that, “we have to stick with the program. Create more chances. We have to find a way to get in front to the net more and be there for rebounds. We got away from our structure a little bit.”
It’s the same old story that’s defined the whole season: Play well for stretches, but rarely the entire game. In response to being asked if this series mirrored the consistent inconsistency of the regular season, Babcock pointed to Johan Franzen having a breakaway Saturday, to Valtteri Filppula fanning on a shot into an open net, to Pavel Datsyuk hitting a crossbar.
“You can make this as a reporter as bad as you want, or you can make it as good as you want,” Babcock said. “You’ve just got to choose your attitude. I’m going to choose mine and say we were right there, knocking on the door and we’re going to win tomorrow and make it a best-of-three.”
Maybe so, but the Ducks have shown they’re pretty dogged. They didn’t give up in Game 2. The Wings, on the other hand, don’t have that swagger that used to be their calling card a few years ago, when they could be trailing late in a game and still pull out a victory. Their lack of depth is showing. They’ve barely been able to score in this series at all: They’ve got six goals, five of them from one game. The Ducks have 11 goals and have scored at least three every game.
The Wings played their best hockey the last week of the regular season, when making it into the playoffs was on the line. If they’re a team that wants to beat the Ducks, tonight must match that desperation.
As for me, I have absolutely no idea what my availability will be today. I would like to come back from my battle with the norovirus today, but what I've just written is the most I've done in eleven days, and I'm still physically exhausted as all hell get out by this thing.
Still not eating much solid food, either, and still not doing much in the way of daily tasks. On Sunday, I was deemed too mentally dopy to go to Wal-Mart, and that should tell you how severely this virus has affected me both physically and mentally.
I can't do much more than heal here, and I hope this is a warm-up for some more regular coverage, but I'm not in control right now. The body is, and it's still getting its ass kicked. I'd ask my family physician to prescribe me some antibiotics, but I have been seeing him for over 20 years now for a reason: he'd tell me that I have a virus, that viruses run their course, and that prescribing antibiotics, even for playoffs' sake, won't do anything other than reduce their effectiveness when I really need them.
So I'll see you sometime today. I hope.
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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.