The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/13/13 at 03:44 PM ET
This story wouldn't fit into the Red Wings-Flames game-day update post, and that's probably a good thing. The Globe and Mail's Alan Maki suggests that the Red Wings have essentially fallen from grace and fallen back to the pack due to their personnel losses over the past couple of seasons and/or salary cap restrictions, and their coach and players don't necessarily disagree with that statement (although it downplays the fact that Darren Helm and Todd Bertuzzi's absences severely limit the team's depth up front):
As head coach Mike Babcock put it when talking about his group: “Would you like to have three unbelievable players on three lines? Sure. That’s the Red Wings of the 90s.”
The Red Wings of 2013 are not the glory unit of old; too many retirements and defections have seen to that. What they are is a good team whose consistency has been hampered by injuries to keynote contributors Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula, both of whom are only now working their way back into the lineup. Darren Helm is another player whose effectiveness has been missed and proof that Detroit is no longer as deep and skilled as it once was. Babcock explained that, to win, the Red Wings have to fashion as strong a defensive game as possible.
“We’ve had to find a way as a coaching staff to win. We’ve been checking,” Babcock said of the team’s approach. “The last two games we gave up eight and five scoring chances. That’s unbelievable – and we lost both times. So why is that? Is that personnel? Are we checking Datsyuk and Zetterberg into a standstill? I don’t think so. I think we’re trying to play the game within the skill set we have.”
The Red Wings’ skill set remains high at the top end – Zetterberg has 27 points in 26 games while Datsyuk has 25 in 25 games. It’s the mid- to lower portion of the roster where the loss of players such as Jiri Hudler, now with the Flames, has made goal scoring more difficult. The current plan calls for Detroit to win by a 2-1 margin since goals have been hard to come by in the last seven games, four of them losses.
Dan Cleary, who started his career with the Red Wings when Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan were still there, insisted that losing Nik Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and Hudler before the start of this season has taken another bite out of things. But it has also allowed the organization a chance to look at many of its younger players, and that’s proven to be encouraging.
“It is the evolution of guys moving on and new guys getting their opportunity,” said Cleary. “For us, it helps that the core has been kept together and that we have Datsyuk and Zetterberg. With them, we’re transitioning into tighter, defensive team.”...
What Babcock and his players believe is that they’re poised for an upswing. With most everyone back and playing smart positional hockey, the forward lines can be planned with the right people being in the right spots to succeed. Filppula’s return from a shoulder injury is the key to icing the right combinations.
“I think Filppula coming back could really help (rookie) Brunner,” added Babcock. “Then you have Zetterberg and Filppula, Datsyuk and Franzen together and there’s enough for and there's enough for them to be who they are and capable. Brunns is a guy who can shoot the puck and he’s figuring out the North American game and schedule. You can imagine the wear and tear on him - not only on offence; he’s got to check. To play on our team, you have to check.”
I definitely believe that this Red Wings team is enduring a season that is as close to a "rebuilding year" as the management intends to get, with the brass allowing the veterans and youngsters alike to sink or swim while anticipating that the team will undergo more substantial changes via youngsters receiving full-time promotions next season and the cap going down yielding some subtractions and hopefully some meaningful additions from the crop of cap-compliance buyouts...
But I'm not sure whether this team is necessarily old and busted, either, especially given that it is, at least by Wings standards, so ridiculously young.
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