The Malik Report
by George Malik on 09/14/13 at 06:11 PM ET
While Wings coach Mike Babcock gave me a healthy sneer when I suggested that after today--the Red vs. White game takes place tomorrow at 11, and after that, the Wings will reassign most of their junior-eligible players to their respective rights-holders, and hold "morning skates" prior to road exhibition games in Pittsburgh and Chicago--he might have to pare down his teaching somewhat, insisting that he'll "work on details" (trust me, coach, I didn't think you'd be tossing off fluffernutter) and incorporate more systems drills (duh)...
Today was the last day in which the Red Wings' sure-fire NHL'ers, their "bubble boys," their AHL'ers and even their new-to-the-system skaters were all on one ice sheet and all available to have drills hammered into their brains for teachings' sake.
Things shift toward performance-based assessment in incredibly short order, so I have no doubt that Babcock, Bill Peters, Tom Renney, Keith McKittrick, Jeff Blashill, Jim Paek, Spiros Anastas and the rest of the coaching and advisory staff worked very hard to ensure that today would at least introduce players to the third and final part of the Wings' foundation of systems play. From what I gathered in speaking to players, that was indeed the case, and the players revealed what they were working on: backside pressure and retaining possession in the offensive, defensive and neutral zones through defensive and forward support.
"Backside pressure" is essentially a nice way of saying that your defense as well as your offense come from making sure that each and every forward keeps the "gap" between himself and an opposing player narrow when not in possession of the puck, and that each and every forward works hard to ensure that they gain body position on their opposing forwards to be more open for pucks and passes...All while the defensemen do their best to serve as something of a pressure outlet, with their forwards knowing when to drop pucks back to the defense to either send it in a different direction or even drop back as an "F3" (3rd high forward) to allow defensemen to pinch.
Having a good "F3" is the way you ensure that your team has a third forward--regardless of his position--coming back to help out the defense, and having good "backside pressure" yields turnovers
After an extensive amount of intense video prior to each practice (I can now tell you that they use "Pulse Video HD" software, but what they use it for, I am not allowed to tell you)--and during the middle of the "long" one for the Franzen-Weiss-Alfredsson-Kronwall-Ericsson-heavy Team Howe--Babcock and the coaches had the players involved in the kinds of drills that had me scratching "NO" or big "X's" in my notebook, and Babcock and the coaches were stopping drills more than I'd ever seen him stop drills.
I've got J's, squares, squiggles, fish-hooks, U's, circles, all sorts of X-Y-Z zig-zags and everything you could hope for in the notebook of a student who got "C's" in art class for drawing blue dogs and not being able to cut straight with right-handed scissors. In other words, it's not pretty, but in short summary:
After some very simple, "Overload the boards and have the team in possession of the puck conveniently surrender it to the other team, which drops it to its defensemen and skates all the dang way up the ice..." drills...
Defensemen stood at or near the center ice dot, they'd make a lateral pass to a forward at the far blueline--a forward who'd skated from the opposite blueline--and a second forward would join that first and receive either a lateral or drop pass to shoot.
The second drill was downright wacky: with "banks" of forwards stationed at the four half boards locations, defensemen would have to skate in a circle skating backward from the blueline with the puck, and as they make a clockwise rotation, they'd fire the puck diagonally to a forward skating up from the repository closest to the puck's line of travel.
When the white board was brought out for the first time, players were set up deep in the offensive zone with the puck along the wall, halfway between the half boards and goal line, and the team down low with possession would give the puck away--and the "offensive" forwards who'd achieved possession of the puck would skate all the way up the ice and make forward-to-forward or forward-to-defenseman passes after having achieved possession in control in the other zone.
Then a dump-in drill involved defensemen wrapping the puck around the boards and then joining the play to get the puck to a single forward--who was joined by TWO players coming off the bench--as the 5-on-3 became a 5-on-5 situation, and two of the "full strength" wingers would go off leaving one compatriot when the drill reversed.
My best description of the drill went like this: "Exit zone, dump, chase, reverse, exit zone, dump, chase, reverse."
Babcock was very, very, very emphatic while explaining these drills to the younger players, including the junior-aged ones.
The next drill required significant extra explanation to Niklas Kronwall, and yielded, "3 forwards, rim the puck, reverse the puck, board battle when the other team possessed it in their end." Daniel Alfredsson needed some clarification.
The dump-rim drill eventually involved the far side defenseman or winger pinching to assist, and the best description of the trajectory of the puck was a fishhook J, with both wings utilized.
That drill soon included a lateral forward-to-forward pass when two forwards achieved possession at the opposing team's blueline.
During another drill, three forwards dumped the puck in, and the first forward in on whatever side of the boards he was pursuing would reverse play to his other winger, in almost a crescent "U," and that forward would slide the puck to a 3rd forward who'd roar up the gut.
Kronwall and Ericsson weren't exactly heavily involved in the drill, but they were very, very vocal.
Add in some puck possession leading to end-to-end play and players were colliding regularly, including Emmerton, Alfredsson, and a few others...
And at one point, there was a situation where 4 players (2 D's and 2 F's) would skate in with a 3rd forward coming off the bench, against 5 men...
Then defensemen began to pinch at appropriate times to fire pucks diagonally up the other wing--in a "pinch and spin" drill.
After the second video drill, things got messy...
But Babcock was no less emphatic in his gesticulation, his willingness to stop drills to correct players' positioning (there was no yelling or screaming, just correction and clarification, regardless of whether Alfredsson or Goodrow were involved) or his insistence upon perfect execution of said drills.
Put simply, defensemen who retrieved dump-ins would fire diagonal passes up to centers or right wingers opposite them--after a reversal of puck flow--and sometimes the defensemen would pinch.
In one iteration, the right defenseman would pinch and drop to his left defenseman, who'd moved laterally to line up behind him, and while 1 forward rotated down to help block an outlet pass, another would charge toward the net front.
On top of this, Daniel Alfredsson was being used on defense to emphasize that these drills can and would be used on power plays; sometimes the goalie would make passes, or there could be 1 to 3 passes from forward to forward before dropping it to a defenseman, and the d would go side-to-side...Or both defensemen would pinch aggressively and a "last forward" would have to pick up the slack.
Or the drill would involve a pinching defenseman sending the puck up to a left winger, who'd send the puck up to the "center" via a diagonal pass, and the puck would be dumped in with the goal being that the defenseman on the OTHER side would pick up the puck, fire it against the grain diagonally--and that first defenseman? He'd pinch and head toward the net.
More and more regularly, as the drills became more power-play emphasized, the defensemen were as active in the play as the forwards, free to jump up into things and as free to make forwards' lives difficult by requiring a forward to drop back to cover opposing teams' outlets.
During all of these drills, Babcock insisted that loose pucks must, must be retrieved...
And then things got even more complicated, because the drills went end-to-end, and some required what Bill Peters called "east-west travel," drop passes, the use of an "umbrella" formation of 2 defenseman and a forward on the PP, and during the final drill...
The puck moved in a "W" before taking a hard right hook.
That's the best I can do to explain these drills. They were fourth semester hockey shit, and they were utterly remarkable in their complexity and in-motion...
Elegance. They were really beautiful, really beautiful drills, just gorgeous to watch.
In terms of what I thought about individual players, albeit briefly--and the names in all-capitals indicate shifts in position:
Franzen Weiss Alfredsson
Johan Franzen: Watching Franzen practice reminds me that for all the offensive shit we give him, he is in fact a pretty good defensive forward, and when he's engaged, and again, when he is willing to GIVE the puck and then GO somewhere, he's tremendously effective. He's starting to understand that Weiss and Alfredsson need to carry the puck and carry the mail here. Even just starting to figure that out is huge.
Stephen Weiss: He just works hard, REALLY hard. The difference between Valtteri Filppula and Stephen Weiss involves work ethic. Filppula may be more skilled, but Weiss works like he's Drew Frickin' Miller, not like he's the already-baptized second-line center. He's been soaking in the detail work during his training camp experience and he uses his short stick to his advantage in terms of both knocking down pucks and sweeping pucks into offensive positions.
Daniel Alfredsson: Today was a very hard day for Daniel Alfredsson, but he also worked like a grinder in terms of attempting to figure out how the systems work and where he needs to be. And again, his level of "hockey sense" is silly high, like Datsyuk-Zetterberg high.
Miller Emmerton Eaves
Drew Miller: The hockey gods gave Drew Miller battle drills today and drills in which he could out-hustle his opponent, and by dammit, he out-battled, out-willed, out-hustled, out-worked and out-executed. He knows these systems like the back of his hand, but it doesn't mean he's going to do anything less than work his ass off to re-learn them. There is no half-assing it in Drew Miller's vocabulary.
Cory Emmerton: I still can't figure out whether he's gained that 5 to 10 pounds' worth of upper body strength and pushing and shoving ability. These drills show very little in that regard, and he's been great in terms of his work ethic, but he's got to prove that he can go into the corner with a 6'5," 230-pound guy and dig the puck out successfully. That's exhibition season stuff.
Patrick Eaves: Fast, diligent, and perhaps for the first time in his career, hesitant, because he seems to know that he's an endangered species.
Mantha Athanasiou Pulkkinen
Anthony Mantha: Confident. Mobile. Fast at times. Big hard shot. Roars to the net. Soaked in the detail work and asked for help when he needed it.
Andreas Athanasiou: Still. Won't. Use. His. Teammates. Tries. To. Make. Everything. Happen. Himself.
Teemu Pulkkinen: He gave no quarter to Miller or Eaves or anyone in the grit department, he forechecked, he backchecked, he was in the right positions, he was chipping and chasing, digging and grinding, he's ready for all of this stuff. He's a pro.
Bertuzzi Goodrow LYNCH
Tyler Bertuzzi: Did surprisingly well in the drills. He is, again, a very good player when he gets out of his way. Also incredibly skinny.
Barclay Goodrow: Goodrow needed a LOT of help and got a LOT of help, though most of it was unsolicited. He and Parkes are just power checkers, and he may very well earn an AHL deal. Exhibition season will tell.
Kellan Lynch: He was very fast and very gritty during the drills. That's all I've got.
Niklas Kronwall: In charged. Very much so in charge. Kronwall ground his butt off in terms of attention to detail in drill after drill, and seeing that literal command performance is exciting. He is incredibly comfortable being the #1 guy now. I only wish I could have asked him if he wants to play less than 27 minutes a night.
Jonathan Ericsson: Ditto. In command. Head-manned the puck. Pinched properly. Comfortable with his status.
Xavier Ouellet: Needed the skill work, still getting hit and banged around. Learning. Working. He will be a consummate pro. He is putting the work in. He's just gonna struggle.
Brennan Evans: Meat-and-potatoes. He's not exactly elegant but he gets the job done.
Gleason Fournier: All hands and feet. Not sure what's between. He skates like Ouellet and passes like Ouellet. But he's still skinny.
Max Nicastro: Good good good. He's been as sharp as a tack from stem to stern. Stay-at-home guy trying to channel skill.
Howard: This was not a thrilling day for Howard, but he was engaged in the drills and talking to his defensemen and talking to his forwards and stopping shots. His pads are softer but the slightly smaller thigh rise isn't hurting him a bit.
Coreau: Got lit up without anything to focus upon other than stops and starts.
Injured: Trevor Parkes: Saw him in workout clothes, saw Nick Jensen, saw Willie Coetzee in civvies, saw Jeff Hoggan in civvies. Darren Helm has vanished.
Nyquist Andersson CLEARY
Gustav Nyquist: When Nyquist is called upon to be the grinder on the line--to be the Cleary--he will do so and will do so very very well. And he likes it, Mikey.
Joakim Andersson: Roars up and down the ice like a "power center" himself sometimes. And has underrated as hell playmaking sense.
Daniel Cleary: Still has a fire lit under his ass. As it should be.
Jurco JARNKROK Ferraro
Tomas Jurco: Still working on proving that he's a playmaker. And is reliable defensively. Check, check and Slovak. He's going to have a really good second year.
Calle Jarnkrok: He just gets shit done. Smoothly and speedily and enthusiastically, he gets shit done. Glitter on a stripper does work, too, you know.
Landon Ferraro: Scored a pretty scrimmage goal, which he needed to do. He's got to make a hard, hard push for a roster spot this year, and that means scoring goals.
Grant Nastasiuk TVRDON
Triston Grant: is again, a hunk'a man. Pissed people off immediately.
Zach Nastasiuk: No fear of the vets. Heady, smart grinding center. Improving. Will fill out. Maybe the most pleasant surprise.
Marek Tvrdon: Tvrdon is finding himself comfortable in his skin and that's excellent, because the Slovak Power Forward Factory seems to have another product in the making, though he is rebuilding himself very slowly.
Bertuzzi Sheahan Tatar
Todd Bertuzzi: He's worked on his hands. If that makes any sense, I think he understood that, despite his back pain, he had to make sharper passes, smarter passes, and take harder and better shots. And he's doing those things.
Riley Sheahan: Seemed to play with some panache today, some excitement and pep in his step, and was a playmaker again. Good to see the Riley of the prospect tourney reemerge.
Tomas Tatar: DETERMINED. Tatar is bound and determined to earn a roster spot, and man, you do not want to get in front of the blazingly fast forward with a wicked multi-species shot, heads-up passing and a tenacious bite to him.
Kyle Quincey: Didn't gamble today. Which was good.
Brendan Smith: Gambling rambling man. Which wasn't so good.
Adam Almquist: Almquist was quieter today, but he played HEAVY, and I've never said that about the tiny but incredibly talented Swedish defenseman. I was impressed.
Ryan Sproul: Sproul's having his share of Ouellet moments--and I said the same thing yesterday--but he's working hard and is getting the picture.
Richard Plutnar: Wasn't visible in the scrimmage. That's not good.
Richard Nedomlel: Was a boulder in the scrimmage. And had fun doing it.
Petr Mrazek: There are parts of Mrazek's style that drive me nuts, but he makes it work, and this year he is making it work with much more conservation of momentum, movement and energy.
Jake Paterson: Better today. Still got beat like his pants were hanging from the clock. That's NHL competition for you.
Cam Lanigan: Practiced. Works hard. True pro at 21. Hope he finds a home.
Injured: Helm Hoggan: Where in the World is Darren Helm?
Zetterberg Datsyuk Abdelkader
Henrik Zetterberg: He is elegant, he is eloquent when he's not firing from the cliche machine, and he's reliable and responsible. He's the damn captain.
Pavel Datsyuk: Giggle-inducing moments galore.
Justin Abdelkader: Quieter but no less physically or offensively impactful.
Samuelsson Glendening Tootoo
Samuelsson: We forget that Sammy is 6'2" and over 200 pounds. He is in fact a physical player at times, and he's not going away.
Luke Glendening: Fast but quiet for the second day.
Jordin Tootoo: Ran over people, ran into people, scored a goal. Still imprecise. I wonder if his skill level will let him down.
McIntyre Aubry Frk
David McIntyre: Again, a meat-and-potatoes AHL center. Or winger.
Louis-Marc Aubry: Confident, capable, a few steps away from an NHL call-up, more like a season, perhaps, but finding his stride as a pro and then some--and as a big one at that.
Martin Frk: He shot the puck! He cherry-picked! He made things happen! Hi, Martin, nice to see you again!
Hudon Nestrasil Callahan
Phillipe Hudon: Muck muck muck, grind grind grid, surprise you with a slick play.
Andrej Nestrasil: Seems to be determined to stick in the AHL as a 4th-line center for now. If that's what he wants to do, more power to him..
Mitchell Callahan: Scored a gorgeous goal. Understands that he's 2-3 seasons from NHL duty. Expects to have to prove that he can be a reliable defensive forward who can pick his spots. That's all good.
Danny DeKeyser: I keep saying that he's calmer, and he is. I haven't said that he's bigger, and he is. He's just...Chill out there. It's good to see him not making plays so rushed.
Jakub Kindl: Again, I like the fact that the chip on his shoulder has not shrunk despite having earned an extension. He feels that he has to prove people wrong, and that's good.
Brian Lashoff: Ditto and ditto. Very very determined, very proud, very capable. Exhibition play and the season will tell the tale.
Nathan Paetsch: He will probably be given a 2-way deal once the roster glut is alleviated, and he can work in a pinch.
Marc McNulty: No fear at all at 18, chippy on occasion at 6'6" and 186 pounds, smart, speedy. Very promising.
Alexei Marchenko: He was the good quiet today, just very solid, adapting and progressing in his adaptation to North American hockey.
Jonas Gustavsson: Looked very solid in 30 minutes of play. He's letting pucks stick to him more, and he's booting them into the right spots when they don't.
Tom McCollum: Clock's ticking and he still needs 2-3 years. :(
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About The Malik Report
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.