The Malik Report
by George Malik on 11/04/11 at 03:42 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings are very obviously in trouble. They’re playing indecisive, downright jittery hockey at times, with a confidence level so low that you can almost sense that when the opposing team either scores the first goal or ties the game up, all the air’s gone out of the S.S. HindenWing, and you might as well put the game in the “L” column and key up the cliches and roster tweaks (I think it’s Tomas Tatar’s turn in the rotation).
The 5-5-and-1 Red Wings are not, however, embarking upon the long downhill slide that the media’s been predicting for the past fifteen years, nor are they too old, too slow, too small or too ill-equipped to play by whatever the hell Evil Drew Sharp believes are the “new realities” of the NHL—which they’ve been dealing with for six seasons now.
Genuine concern is most certainly warranted for the Wings, who at least seemed to find their skating and competitive legs in the third period of their 4-1 loss to Calgary on Thursday night, and we their fans, but I think that—and I hate to agree with Evil Drew in any way, shape or form—these early struggles are somewhat necessary given the massive turnover in terms of the team’s leadership core, and that these teeenaged Wings, who are much younger and a bit taller than the pundits might assume, have a simple remedy for their myriad problems.
It’s the foundation of the blueprint that’s been engraved in feathers 1-7 of the Winged wheel since the days when Steve Chiasson, Yves Racine, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad McCrimmon were the team’s top four defensemen (with some dude named Vladimir Konstantinov and one helmet-less Brad Marsh rounding out the core) constituted Detroit’s blueline, and it’s a foundation which remains useful and effective for a team whose Lidstrom is now its 41-year-old captain.
The Wings have been called for so many offsides infractions and have turned over the puck so regularly through center ice and those danger zones within the first ten or fifteen feet of the bluelines—to obviously disastrous results against Calgary—that their transition game, power play and penalty-kill have been rendered ineffectual as well as ineffective, and one could very well argue that the Wings are trying to complicate plays to the point that they’re playing like the Harlem Globetrotters, save the fact that their opponents are no Washington Generals.
As such, I’d prescribe a simple remedy: get the damn puck through the neutral zone with speed, touching as few Wings players’ sticks as possible, and either charge into the opposing team’s end or retrieve a dump-in, and then do what works: get the puck back to the point, fire it on the net, and regardless of whether Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Mike Commodore or Ian White’s shots get through or they’re blocked, retrieve that puck and again, either put it back to the point so that the team can get traffic in front or start working some lateral passes down low to wreak havoc upon the opposition (if not draw a penalty instead of taking one) before working toward an ugly and effective rebound opportunity.
When the Wings are at their best, they seem to come in waves because their players abandon their artistic aspirations and plain old roar up the ice, utilizing one-touch passes or plain old hard work to lug the puck through the neutral zone, they get the puck in deep, and because they’re simply not a team that’s had tons of size, strength or inclination to grind along the side boards or simply charge to the crease themselves, the Wings tend to send the puck back to the point and let their defensemen’s shots and traffic in front to do the work for them.
It’s no coincidence that the best players on the ice not named Jimmy Howard (tonight’s performance included) for the Wings’ first eleven games have been Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall and Tomas Holmstrom. They know how to play Red Wings hockey and they know how to do so without over-complicating or forcing plays. They rely on smarts, patience, persistence, determination and hard work to stick with what works for them, their teammates and the team’s carefully-crafted style of play.
The Wings can play much better, much smarter, and more importantly, much simpler and more efficiently, and instead of attempting to force picture-perfect passes or shots, peeling off endlessly in the neutral, offensive or even defensive zones and waiting for someone else’s skill to shine through, making the kinds of doofy mistakes that have left Howard out to dry so very regularly, the Wings can crank up their offensive machine—and stem their defensive miscues—by going back to what works.
Get the f*** through the middle of the ice with speed and simplicity. Retrieve the puck if it’s dumped in or attain possession and control in the offensive zone. Send that puck back to the point and make sure that if a defenseman fires it wide, into a screen, or into a Wing, that rebound is retrieved and worked around so that the Wings’ forwards can create traffic and havoc…And then get that puck back to the point again and let it fly.
The weird and wonderful thing about the Red Wings’ system is simple: when its forwards are struggling to produce points and become indecisive, it removes the onus of shot production from them, and thus relegates them to a supporting and secondary scoring chance-generating role. Given what Lidstrom, Kronwall and White in particular can do in terms of pumping pucks toward the net at a time where the team’s confidence seems so very low and so very tending toward over-complicating the difficult task of scoring goals, it’s time to dig down to the basic brushstrokes which underline the team’s most fundamental style of play, and lean hard until new leaders emerge.
As for myself, I apologize again for being out of the loop…The fam’s been so ill for so long with this viral bronchitis stuff that my doc called in antibiotics to try to kick the, “Hack, cough and sleep for 14 hours a day” thing, and I’m not taping games and watching them later because I’ve got a fancy 4-head VCR. I’ll be back at work as soon as I’m able to play, if you will. I don’t need to be at 100% to do my damn job and I miss it and miss you all like nobody’s business.
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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.