The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/20/12 at 01:42 PM ET
In light of the Detroit Red Wings’ troubling performance in their 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Monday, The Oakland Press’s Chuck Pleiness, via RedWingsFeed, offers an assessment of the injury-marred Red Wings’ difficulties in terms of not being able to scrounge together wins without Nicklas Lidstrom…
So now we know exactly what the Red Wings’ NHL-record 23-game home winning streak means in retrospect. The Red Wings are 3-7-1 since it ended following a 5-3 home loss. The streak was a nice middle-of-the-season accomplishment, but, in less than a month, it has become a distant memory. The Red Wings have played at a considerably less than .500 pace since in a league where the vast majority of teams are above .500 overall because of the overtime and shootout rules.
They have gone from fighting for the first seed overall throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs to a tight race with the Nashville Predators for the fourth seed in the Western Conference, which would mean the home ice edge in the first round. By the Red Wings’ high standards, this is a collapse. There are reasons for it. Injuries, in particular, have been the main factor. It’s not an excuse, either. Just the truth.
Snip and re-set:
What is difficult to finger about the Red Wings’ problems is they have been ineffective on specialty units. Their lack of spark on the power play has gotten a lot of criticism, but their penalty killing unit is just as bad. Alexander Ovechkin’s production is down from his 60-goal season, but he is still an enormously gifted threat. On those goals, he was just allowed to move into the slot. On the second goal, the Capitals’ third, he gathered his own rebound uncontested and scored.
Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, whose best season so far has also been derailed by injuries, appeared more than a little frustrated by what was happening in front of him. It was understandable. It was so un-Red Wing like.
It points to the value of Lidstrom. The Red Wings were blown out in Montreal when he missed a game earlier this season. The Red Wings had lost a couple games before he went out again, but were already without Datsyuk. It has reached epidemic portions of late without him as a steady force on the blue line.
It’s understood how much he is missed, but the Red Wings depth is far better than most teams.Lidstrom or no Lidstrom, they should be playing better.
You may continue reading if you wish…
“I know he’s a good guy and good player too,” said Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk. “Lots of skill. He’s one of best KHL players for (the) last three years. Big help for Nashville Predators. Not good for us.”
And ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reacted thusly to Datsyuk’s comments…
LeBrun: Well, I think Datsyuk nailed it at the end of his comment there, saying “not good for us.” The way the Wings are playing right now, and with a first-round date against Nashville likely at this point, no wonder the Wings organization was privately fuming last week when the NHL announced its Radulov decision. If it is Preds-Wings in the first round, I can’t think of a more compelling Western Conference series. And I know you’ll be covering it. If the Preds knock out the Wings in the first round with Radulov playing a starring role, you have to wonder how that would play out in Detroit. On the Nashville end of things, I’ve had readers ask me about whether the players in the Predators dressing room would be reticent to welcome Radulov into the fold, given that he’s parachuting in late and given the fact he bolted on them four years ago. In fact, I’m told, led by captain Shea Weber, the Preds’ players have been very supportive of Radulov returning—focusing on the bottom line: winning now. Let’s remember the big picture context here: the futures of Weber (RFA July 1) and fellow stud blue-liner Ryan Suter (UFA July 1) are very much tied to the success of the club this season. If Radulov means a deeper run, all the better, as far as Weber and Suter are concerned.
Custance: I think chemistry is certainly a concern as is the transition from the KHL to the NHL. Jaromir Jagr made it look easy but here in Detroit I saw some of the struggles Jiri Hudler dealt with in his return from the KHL last season. It certainly wasn’t instant success for Hudler. As talented as Radulov is, it might be asking too much of him to come right in and make a huge impact. But you’re right, I don’t think David Poile would take this risk if he didn’t have the support of his team.
And here’s what the pair have to say about the Wings’ struggles:
Custance: I covered another game that had a playoff feel to it in Detroit where the Capitals beat the Red Wings in a game both coaches desperately wanted. Before the game, Detroit coach Mike Babcock called his team fragile, which is a far cry from the Red Wings team that broke NHL records at home earlier this season. Nicklas Lidstrom skated yesterday and is making progress in his recovery from a deep bone bruise on his foot. It certainly was strange to see him in the press box watching instead of playing last night, then carefully walking down the Joe Louis Arena steps to the locker room after the game. The injuries are definitely piling up for Detroit, with Johan Franzen (back), Darren Helm (knee) and Jonathan Ericsson (wrist) among the group of injured Red Wings. It’s a serious concern for a Detroit team that has Stanley Cup aspirations. Playing a depleted lineup didn’t diminish the Capitals’ win, though. They bounced back from a lifeless performance against Chicago to earn a huge road win, a rarity this season for Washington.
“I can tell right now, they have a good team. I just enjoyed the game tonight,” Ovechkin said after beating the Red Wings. “When I was on the bench, I saw how they play, how they control the puck. They’re a great team.” With Buffalo steamrolling the Lightning, a win was necessary for the Capitals’ playoff hopes. They continue to cling to that No. 8 spot.
“It’s nine games left,” Ovechkin said. “We have to try and win all the games if we want to make the playoffs.”
LeBrun: Before we end our chat today, back to the Wings for a moment. Lidstrom’s injury and Detroit’s struggles during it gives us a glimpse of what life will be like in Hockeytown once the legend retires. Scary, is what it is for the Wings. It puts even more pressure on GM Ken Holland to try to nab Ryan Suter in free agency July 1 if the Preds blue-liner doesn’t re-sign in Nashville. But that’s a conversation for another day. We’ve got great playoff races to focus on first.
If you’re interested, ESPN’s Custance penned an article discussing the Capitals’ attempts to win the Southeast Division;
The Washington Post’s Tarik El-Bashir penned an article about the Capitals’ win in retrospect;
The Score’s Daniel Wagner talked about the Wings’ road difficulties;
Detroit’s training table ought to have its own Twitter account. Imagine the 140 characters it would be tweeting these days with so many players jumping on for treatment. The Red Wings’ injuries largely have been to blame for their 1-6-1 slide.
The latest to go down is center Darren Helm, who will be out 4-6 weeks with a left knee injury. Helm does so much as the Red Wings third-line center that he’s almost irreplaceable. He plays with a great amount of speed, takes and wins a lot of faceoffs, and uses all 200 feet of the ice well while playing 14:30 per game.
Detroit clearly has no one that can replace Nicklas Lidstrom’s minutes and effectiveness. The captain has missed 10 straight games with a bone bruise in his ankle that is taking much longer to heal than he initially thought.
The good news is Lidstrom took part in the full morning skate Monday and he’s expected to take part in the full practice Tuesday. Lidstrom said he couldn’t even stand with his foot in his skate boot last week. Jonathan Ericsson (fractured wrist) and Jakub Kindl (oblique strain) also are on the mend, but not quite ready to return.
Detroit is fifth in the West, and if the Predators are going to get better with the possible addition of Radulov, the Red Wings will have to man-up without some key players in order to finish in the top four and get home-ice advantage in the first round.
—LW Valtteri Filppula was strong on the puck and generated several good scoring chances for his line in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to San Jose. He scored the tying goal by corralling the puck in the neutral zone, skating it over the blue line and firing in a wicked wrist shot with 11:48 to play in the third period. It was his 23rd goal, adding to his career-high total.
—D Ian White has been slumping lately, a malaise that coincides with the absence of his defense partner, Nicklas Lidstrom, who has an ankle injury. White posted a minus-2 rating on Saturday and is minus-6 over the past four games. He is having difficulty moving the puck out of his zone, committing too many turnovers.
—G Jimmy Howard was not happy with himself for allowing Martin Havlat to score on a long-range wrist shot in the first period. But Howard settled down after that goal and played a solid game, making 32 saves to give his team a chance to win. Still, Howard is just 1-3-2 since returning from a broken right index finger.
• Shifting focus back to last night’s game, The Hockey Writers’ Andrew Johnson reports that CSN Washington’s Alan May ripped into Tomas Holmstrom last night;
• MLive’s Brendan Savage re-took-note of a specific comment made by Mike Babcock when the team broke an 0-for-31 stretch of power play futility….
Until Kyle Quincey scored Detroit’s first goal with a manpower advantage in Monday’s 5-3 loss to Washington, the Red Wings were scoreless on their previous 31 power plays. That’s their worst streak since they started the 1996-97 season 0-for-33.
“Well, thank God,” said coach Mike Babcock. “It’s the longest I’ve seen our power play not be very good for a long time. We haven’t generated much offense. It was great to see us get one.”
The power play hasn’t been the only problem. While the power play drought covered all or parts of nine games, forwards Todd Bertuzzi and Danny Cleary were both battling even longer slumps until scoring third-period goals that cut the deficit to 4-3 before Washington sealed the victory with an empty-net goal in the final minute. Both had gone 15 games without a goal.
“They hadn’t scored in a long time and maybe that can help us as well,” Babcock said. “The bottom line is as group we’ve to be better than we’ve been. We have to be better structurally and work-ethic wise and taking care of the puck. If we do all those things, we have a chance to be successful. We’re not going to outscore teams right now with the group we have. It’s just not possible. We have to find different ways to win.”
• And bringing our focus back out to a longer-view level again, the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman talks the Radulov situation to death, including this quip amongst his “30 thoughts”...
2. Even though other NHL GMs are angry about this, the ones I spoke to Saturday admitted they’d do the exact same thing if they were David Poile. A couple of them even laughed as they said it. Said one exec, though: “I wouldn’t want to be Gary Bettman if an owner calls after Radulov kills his team in the playoffs.”
And he adds a pair of Wings-related quips as well:
17. Good news for Detroit that Nicklas Lidstrom skated Monday. Red Wings GM Ken Holland admitted Saturday he was “frustrated” by the franchise player’s lack of recovery from an ankle bruise. (Holland is not quoted anywhere else in this blog). Asked him about the worst-case scenario, ie. Lidstrom missing playoff time, and Holland didn’t think so, because that means the captain would be out seven weeks. Detroit doesn’t think it’s that bad.
18. Get ready to see more officials conferences after scores when there’s contact with the goalies. After the GM meetings, a memo was sent to all referees and linesman to consult with one another to make sure they get it right. For example, linesman will be allowed to tell referees if it should be no goal because there was a penalty on the play, even though they’re not allowed to call one. Just the same, if one of them sees a defender was responsible for pushing an attacker into the net, the goal can stand.
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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.