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The Malik Report

Gut check? Up the gut, back to the point and fire away

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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Comments

EDJ's avatar

We miss you too George and we wish you and your family the speediest recovery.

Posted by EDJ on 11/04/11 at 03:02 AM ET

Alzy's avatar

I know we only just completed game #11, but I’m feeling like this could turn into an ugly reality:

RIP Detroit Red Wings consecutive playoff appearances, 1991-2011.

I know this is a major over-reaction, but with the way this team looks right now, how can you not help but think that? You hit the nail on the head George, as soon as the opponent scores, it just feels like we shouldn’t bother with the rest of the game, because it’s inevitably going in the loss column. I use to think, when an opponent scored the opening goal, or even got up 2-0, “they got this, no reason to worry.” But when I saw the 1-0 score on my phone near the end of the first, the wind was completely out of my sails, and all I was thinking was “here we go again.”

At this point, I would actually take the arrogant and sometimes lazy 08/09 team over this one, because at least that team had a 33% PP and the ability to score 3 goals in 10 minutes. I honestly don’t care if they have to win every game 9-8, I just want fuching WINS.

Posted by Alzy from Cambridge, Ontario, Canada on 11/04/11 at 03:42 AM ET

Rdwings28's avatar

I think it is a wonderful thing that WE (sic) have gotten one game past ten without any injuries. So there, something to smile about, and that   is   about   all.

Posted by Rdwings28 on 11/04/11 at 09:17 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

This is all major overreaction.

Or I’m finally mellowing out when it comes to sports fandom.

Probably a little bit of both.

As long as the talent is there (and it is—we saw in in the first five games, and a huge silver lining is that even through these losses, we’ve continued to watch Jim Howard prove he is a legit, above-average talent), and half the team doesn’t die like two seasons ago, they will be a playoff team, and a really good one, at that.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 11/04/11 at 09:53 AM ET

Jeff  OKWingnut's avatar

George - thanks for the post.  I pray you and your family recover from their illness quickly.

I pray the Wings recover from their illness quickly too.

Posted by Jeff OKWingnut from Quest for 12 on 11/04/11 at 10:11 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

George, great post!

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 11/04/11 at 11:16 AM ET

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George, great work as usual. Get well and back to us asap.

Yeah Jeff, I hope RW recover quickly, too!

Posted by wingsluver4ever from TC on 11/04/11 at 11:34 AM ET

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Thanks George its great to see any post from you! It’s been hard to get my Red Wings fix without you. I just got over bronchitis so I know how miserable that must be. My neck still hurts from all that coughing!
    I agree with most of the things you’ve said over the last couple of days but I also have this sinking feeling in my gut that just doesn’t want to go away. I could just be panicking but some of these problems look systemic and have been lingering since 08/09. The fact that they seem contractually obligated to give up at least 1 power play goal a game and Babcocks’ insistence in his skilled lines playing dump and chase have contributed to where we are now in my opinion.
    If you couple those things with the Wings emphasis on their young players being “over ripe” before being inserted into the lineup and their unwillingness to trade players and you have the stagnant mess you have now. This reminds me a lot of 99 through 01, same complacency in management, same reassurances to the fans, same results in the playoffs.
    Like I said hope I’m just panicking but this seems real familiar. Oh and one last thing does anybody else think there is something wrong with Zetterberg?

Posted by From The Hockey Wastelands from Cleveland on 11/04/11 at 12:03 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

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…

You’re absolutely right, George. That is the way the Wings play their best hockey. The problem is every team in the league knows it and has found a “simple” way to prevent it. They forecheck like mad men, often sending all three forwards below the faceoff circles to prevent the short, crisp passes that lead to a speedy breakout.

So, now the Wings’ defensemen are forced to stand behind the net looking for someone farther up ice to get the puck to. If they fail, it often leads to the forecheckers getting a scoring chance. If they succeed, you’ve got one, or maybe two players, with the puck way up ice and no support.

The fact that Babcock hasn’t figured out a way to defeat that kind of pressure is not a good sign. But then everything about his demeanor right now is a bit scary. As someone else said in the live blog thread, I’d feel a lot better if I saw more of the Babcock Death Stare and less of his ho-hum “We all need to be better” BS.

At this point, I won’t believe Babcock is serious about turning things around until he benches Bertuzzi…or maybe even Hank. Scotty woud have done it – just to make sure everyone knew he was serious. I’m not sure anyone on the team is taking Babcock or his new coaches seriously right now.

Or maybe there’s another explanation for the Wings poor play this year (even when they were winning). George has been sick all season. The Wings have sucked pretty much all season. Coincidence? I think not.

So you need to get better, George. The fate of the Red Wings depends on it. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 11/04/11 at 12:43 PM ET

bezukov's avatar

Good to see you back in action George.  Get better sir.

Hopefully the losing streak turns into in bucket loads of impetus down the stretch.  I know its hard to be positive about any of this, but a Red Wings team that has to fight for a playoff spot might be more dangerous than a Red Wings team that had a post season berth locked up in February.  This slide has to stop at some point… right?

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 11/04/11 at 12:46 PM ET

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i blame the ping pong table. go back to soccer warm ups my friends.

oh, and the rest of the league has been trying to emulate the wings for years…i think its showing now.

the opponents have added determined youth, veterans that get it (wings style), and a systemic goalie upgrade across the board and you have the wings funk.

the new coaches need to implement a new attack that relies on less passing and a new architecture like the ways of the old jedi, bowman.

its far from over….unless the system stays the same.

then yea…the 20 year is over.

last year the devils did the coach change….and were the most dangerous team and barely missed the playoffs after holding down last place. that was a style change in effect.

do, you must….try , you will not.

Posted by chad from albuquerque on 11/04/11 at 12:56 PM ET

AndrewFromAnnArbor's avatar

I expect most of the team is willing to adapt.  Most, that is, except for the coach, because I have never seen, and still do not see, any sign of such from him.  I’ve been a longtime Babcock supporter, but now even I’m starting to question what the hell he’s thinking.

If this continues much longer, we may yet see Barry Smith behind the bench.

Posted by AndrewFromAnnArbor from Fortress Europe on 11/04/11 at 01:24 PM ET

calquake's avatar

I know everyone is close to panic mode but… take a deep breath… take another…there now… we can look at this objectively and come to some conclusions.  The Wings are playing like do-do, they appear mentally fragile and Uncle Mike is lost in a fugue.
It is also true the Wings have, not one but two, new assistant coaches.  That in itself will cause bumps in the road as the players and coaches get used to each other.  If the losing streak continues, which I fervently believe it won’t, changes will be made.  But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Who in the hell are you going to replace Babcock with?  Ken “Capt. Kangaroo” Hitchcock?  Sure that might work for a year or so but look at his track record.  He alienates every team he coaches.  I don’t want to shake things up just because.  If after 20 games the Wings are 7-12-1 then serious moves have to be considered.  Not now.  We aren’t the “Dead Wings” nor are we even close yet.  After all the Wings have given me, the least I can do is be a little patient while the team sorts things out.

Posted by calquake on 11/04/11 at 01:45 PM ET

Jeff  OKWingnut's avatar

Uncle Mike today:

“We’ve lost six games in a row, I guess (since) the last time we won the Cup (2008),’’ Babcock said. “In saying that, I’ve never had a team that has played this way and lost, so we just have to stick with it.

A couple of things I notice:
1.  What fuching games has he been watching, and
2.  Literally reminds me of that old quote:  “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Posted by Jeff OKWingnut from Quest for 12 on 11/04/11 at 03:20 PM ET

Chet's avatar

not sure i agree with gm on this one. i suspect if you asked the wings, they’d agree that this is what they need to do and what they’ve been trying to do. it’s in the intensity and execution that this team is failing right now (that, and their power play is utter garbage and needs to be retooled).

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 11/04/11 at 03:27 PM ET

WestWing's avatar

Posted by calquake on 11/04/11 at 12:45 PM ET

Cal, I’m inclined to agree with you to this extent.  I think it’s reasonable to assume that this team, as they’re currently assembled, should at the very least be capable of making the playoffs and contending for a division title in the process. 

I also think there are some cracks that we’ve all been concerned with over the past three years that are now really starting to become apparent.  I’m concerned that they have grown complacent from the top down.  It’s as though there’s a sense of satisfaction that they have mastered their craft, that their way has worked in the past and will continue to work in the future.  It’s as of they no longer recognize the inherent need to evolve.

For example. the core of their roster (in other words. those players who are counted on most heavily and from whom a team draws its identtity) is virtually the same as it was four years ago.  Meanwhile most of their competition have gone about the business of getting bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled.  We bemoan the fact that they can no longer suffer defensive lapses and come roaring back with a three goal blitzkrieg to pull the fat out of the fire,  The unfortunate fact of the matter is that while the Wings have remained static in many ways, a good chunk of the competition has evolved, and as a result I’m afraid they’ve fallen behind the curve. 

Having said all that, I still think they should be a helluva lot better than what we’ve seen the past two weeks.  As I’ve said time and again, they should be at least good enough to compete.  But I’ve also said that, under the circumstances (i.e. what stands to quite possibly be Lidstrom’s final year, not to mention Datsyuk and Zetterberg in the prime years of their careers), I don’t think being merely a good team, or a playoff team should be good enough.  So while i don’t subscribe to the notion of panicking by firing coaches and running players out of town on a rail, I’d like to see a greater sense of urgency from the organization as a whole in terms of seizing the moment and capitalzing what amounts to a “window of opportunity”

I think a number of us understood that the conservative approach was something of a calculated risk and hoped that they would be at least good enough to weather the storm and hang in the race while things got sorted out.  And maybe it will still work out that way.  But we also have to face the possibility that a few more weeks of this and this thing could snowball in the wrong direction, in which case the gamble of standing pat will have failed very badly. 

Of course I hope that doesn’t happen.  But I also hope that at the trade deadline Kenny pulls the trigger on a deal that will get us a goal scorer to play with Datsyuk along with a fiery heart and soul player who will put the rest of the league on notice that you can’t kick sand in our faces any more.

Posted by WestWing from Portland, Oregon on 11/04/11 at 05:51 PM ET

calquake's avatar

Of course I hope that doesn’t happen.  But I also hope that at the trade deadline Kenny pulls the trigger on a deal that will get us a goal scorer to play with Datsyuk along with a fiery heart and soul player who will put the rest of the league on notice that you can’t kick sand in our faces any more.

Posted by WestWing from Portland, Oregon on 11/04/11 at 04:51 PM ET

If he doesn’t… I am sure we can count on you to bring the tar and I’ll supply the feathers.  Agreed?

Posted by calquake on 11/04/11 at 08:05 PM ET

dougie's avatar

For any of you who SERIOUSLY think our 20 year playoff run may be over….....Let me offer you 10 to 1 odds. You bet 10 bucks, and the day the playoffs start this season, without the Red Wings playing I will send you a hundred bucks.

Put your money up, or shut the *#$%@& up.

Posted by dougie on 11/04/11 at 09:45 PM ET

cigar_nurse's avatar

Still too early to write this team done like dinner for the season. I too didn’t like the complacency with this lineup . Let’s face it. Besides Richards, who was worth signing as a UFA? Wiz, Ehroff, or Leino? Nah. Moves will happen hopefully sooner than later.

Went to see the Turdledo Waleye last night and I wasn’t impressed by any of those players.Hell even McCollum was on the bench.

We must fix the rudder on the USS Hasek by Thanksgiving or the flogging and keelhauling will commence.

This would have been a great time for a long road trip but,  Thanks again Gary .Ass

Posted by cigar_nurse from Greenville South Cakalakee on 11/04/11 at 10:47 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I don’t think that the good ship Hasek is quite ready to spring any more leaks, but I really do believe that at this point, the Wings have become so indecisive and unwilling to step up with their collective confidence and respective individual confidences shot that setting up long bombs from the point and retrieving reduces the forwards’ responsibilities to trying to lug the puck up ice and then retrieving rebounds and/or creating traffic/screens, andit takes advantage of the fact that the Wings’ defensemen might be their most assertive players right now.

Media-wise, I think it’s hard to read the Wings just preach their predictable message over and over again…I’m glad that there are games mostly two days apart because when the going gets tough, the one downside of Nicklas Lidstrom’s Red Wings being Nicklas Lidstrom’s Red Wings is that they’re relentlessly and incredibly frustratingly positive. I’m sure that there’s been some paint-peeling, especially as new leaders try to emerge in Draper, Osgood and Rafalski’s stead, but they’re simply not going to say, “We suck” in public—and if you want me to be completely forthright here, their media handlers aren’t going to let the press, well, press the Wings that hard. Dissent (I’m sure there is some) is bad PR.

As for myself, I’m plain old grumpy, if not angry right now. I got over my depressive episode about three weeks ago, but mom brought home this uber-virus from work and they’re still sick, too (the mom has a nasty cough as well, so I’m lucky in that regard) and I’ve been unable to plain old get back to work because of this stupid bug. I may live “at home” but the financial strain isn’t fun and it’s just…You get used to doing something and feeling that you’re at least helping people you care about follow their favorite sports team and when you’re unable to do so for a long period of time, it’s f***ing frustrating.

All I can say—and I’ll say this when I’m back full time—is that when I’m here, I’m gonna work my ass off, and that if anything, I believe that I need to work harder and challenge myself to be a better writer (and interject more opinion into my entries). Otherwise, you know the line because it’s predictable: I may be proud of what I do for a job and I am confident in my writing skills, but I hate talking about myself and I think that the worst thing to do in this business is to develop an ego.

When this thing gets up and running again I hope we’re just discussing the team we cheer for and aren’t talking about my health or anything other than our hockey-related opinions and observations. This self-talk…It’s good for Facebook and emails and all but it’s not something I want to make a habit of other than to fulfill a certain responsibility regarding busting stigmas about some of the chronic health s*** I deal with…I won’t get preachy but I do kinda have to deal with that from time to time. Any suggestions regarding charities to advocate for or programs that can help would be greatly appreciated so that I can keep that kind of stuff in the sidebar.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 11/05/11 at 05:21 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

Todd Bertuzzi, no longer an “unlikely” leader, says the obvious, via St. James:

“It’s not fun, and we don’t feel proud of what’s going on,” Todd Bertuzzi said. “I know this city expects a lot more than that, and so do we. There’s only way to get out of it, and that’s hard work. I think it comes down to five-on-five, creating more, trying to get more chances off the rush and off the cycle. That’s important to build our confidence and get us out of this.”

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 11/05/11 at 05:49 AM ET

SnLO's avatar

Uncle Mike today:
  “We’ve lost six games in a row, I guess (since) the last time we won the Cup (2008),’’ Babcock said. “In saying that, I’ve never had a team that has played this way and lost, so we just have to stick with it.”

A couple of things I notice:
1.  What fuching games has he been watching, and
2.  Literally reminds me of that old quote:  “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Posted by Jeff OKWingnut from Quest for 12 on 11/04/11 at 02:20 PM ET

Reading that quote, this also came to my mind (again ref Babcock):
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
-Albert Einstein

Posted by SnLO from beyond the M-1 on 11/05/11 at 11:32 AM ET

Avatar

One thought: while you are still recovering, you could still post links like you did before (with less commentary/video with the links) and a 50% effort by you would still be better than most and tax you less physically/mentally.

Posted by Bugsy on 11/05/11 at 01:14 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

My health’s been so poor that I can’t even do that yet. As soon as I can more than half-ass it, I’ll come back.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 11/05/11 at 01:20 PM ET

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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.