The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/13/11 at 07:51 PM ET
Updated 4x at 6:20 with an intriguing quip from Jimmy: As the game-day post has fallen off the front page, here are some substantial “time-filling” articles that merit mentioning prior to tonight’s faceoff between the Detroit Red Wings and Phoenix Coyotes (FSD/Versus/CBC/WXYT), starting with an article from WXYZ’s Don Shane which attempts to put Wings’ fans’ April, May and June expectations Into perspective:
Today just feels different around town. The atmosphere, the anticipation, the excitement of the NHL playoffs is in the air throughout the city and all of metropolitan Detroit.
Trust me it’s in the Red Wings locker room as well. The players know, and the fans realize there is regular season hockey, then there’s playoff hockey. It’s two different games, two different beasts, two levels of intensity and we have all felt that experience around here for the last 20 years.
Let that sink in for a moment. The Wings have made the playoffs for 20 consecutive years. Pick a sport, any sport, and you’ll find very few teams who can match that streak. That’s playoff excitement 20 years in a row which is a remarkable record of being very good. A streak in which others are envious. A streak that has, to some extent, spoiled the Detroit hockey fan. Because it has gotten to the point where unless you win the Stanley Cup, the season will be viewed as a failure.
And while that high expectation might sound harsh to some, it doesn’t to the Red Wing players. Winning the cup is what they expect. It’s why they play the game, just ask them and they’ll tell you. They are good enough, they are experienced enough and they are realistic enough to know that goal can be reached. The 80 game regular season is a merely a prelude to tonight and the journey begins against Phoenix. Everyone involved hopes it ends with a parade down Woodward.
While Mike Stone and Darren McCarty of all people made playoff picks on WXYT [edit: ditto for Ken Kal and Pat Caputo], the Free Press kicked off a Red Wings fan contest, MLive’s Ansar Khan made his playoff picks and the Red Wings’ website followed up Babcock’s presser…
And a set of interviews with Nicklas Lidstrom and Kris Draper…
With a game-day feature from Ken Kal…
As previously noted, WXYT’s Jeff Riger also posted a game-day report whose videos could keep you busy till game time on your own:
Babcock and the Red Wings organization make no secret about the fact that their players and teams will be judged by what happens in the playoffs and that is how it should be. So let the judging begin… Below are some of the things that were overheard at practice…
-Jimmy Howard claims that he is calmer this postseason compared to last year’s playoffs.
-When I asked Henrik Zetterberg if he expects to play in the entire first round he seemed very unsure. Zetterberg has a lower body injury where it seems like the left knee is affected. He has been wearing a brace and has not been able to skate since injuring it and doesn’t know when he will.
-Nick Kronwall is chomping at the bit to get back in a game after dealing with a lower body injury and is a game time decision for Wednesday night.
-Nick Lidstrom was talking about feeling like an 18 year old because the playoffs are about to start and the regular season is finally over.
-Mike Babcock says that Joey MacDonald is the back up to Jimmy Howard for the time being but after Chris Osgood gets more practice then that could change.
Here’s Riger with Kronwall…
“I talked to [Wings coach] Mike [Babcock] and he explained it to me,” Modano said. “I totally understand it. It’s up to me now if I get the opportunity to give him a reason not to take me back out.”
Babcock didn’t easily arrive at the decision to sit someone with 174 games of Stanley Cup experience, but insisted it was best for the team. “I imagine it was very tough for Mike,” Babcock said. “It wasn’t easy for myself or the coaches to make this decision, either. It’s about the Red Wings and we’re going to do whatever we can to help ourselves win.”
Modano has struggled to find his game after missing the majority of the season following surgery to repair damaged tendons in his right arm after he was cut by the skate of Columbus Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger.
Modano admitted it’s been difficult to regain his game after missing so much time due to his injury. “The body doesn’t respond to things as well,” he said. “Then the mind slowly gets into the equation. It’s something you try to fight. I’ve fought it all season long, I’ll hang in there for a little longer and take it day to day. Hopefully something exciting and fun will be at the end of this.”
As well as a reiteration of the other personnel notes surrounding tonight’s tilt…
The Wings did get some good news. After partaking in the morning skate, defenceman Niklas Kronwall, out with an upper-body injury believed to be a shoulder ailment, was cleared to play Game 1 by the team medical staff. Centre Henrik Zetterberg was already confirmed Tuesday as an absence for Detroit due to a sprained knee.
The Coyotes will play without Derek Morris, who’s listed with an upper-body injury. Coyotes coach Dave Tippet indicated either David Schlmeko or Oliver Ekman-Larsson would replace Morris and that he was uncertain how the change would impact his defence pairings.
If you’re interested—and I’m not—you can go ahead and read Craig Morgan’s conversation with Darren Pang and Eddie Olczyk about the Wings-Coyotes match-up on your own, but I am surprised by the Goalie Guild’s Justin Goldman’s take on Jimmy Howard’s goaltending chops on NHL.com...
Goldman counters: For a while there, I was at a loss for words. I mean, how could I possibly argue against Ilya Bryzgalov? Compared to Jimmy Howard, his skills are in a different universe, while Howard is still stuck on the planet of what many would call the “slightly above average” goaltender.
Luckily for Howard, winning in a Red Wings uniform is less about skill and more about timing. He doesn’t have to stop a ton of high-quality scoring chances like Bryzgalov will be asked to do in every game. He just has to make a couple of big saves when it really matters. Because Howard isn’t nearly as skilled as Bryzgalov, I’ll rely on one juicy stat to shove my argument along. In three games against the Coyotes this year, Jimmy went 2-0-1 with a .925 save percentage, stopping 86 of 93 total shots. So with the regular-season series on his side, Howard will enter Game 1 with a solid comfort and confidence level.
One thing I do admire about Howard’s style is his aggressiveness. He loves to challenge shooters by launching off his posts and soaring beyond the blue paint to take away time and space. This aspect of his game frustrates his opponents, mainly because they know he’s not the most skilled goalie in the NHL, but still very well positioned in the net and capable of sheer robbery.
Another reason Howard is so effective in a Red Wings uniform is the communication with his defensemen. Because he is so aggressive, his defensemen understand how and when to eliminate passes on 2-on-1s and exactly when to seal off potential back-door passes. They also trust Howard to come out and challenge the shooter on a consistent basis, and he trusts them to stay true to their assignments.
What Howard lacks in skill, he compensates with confidence. He has a tinge of that cocky swagger you want to see in a Red Wings goalie and he knows how to handle the pressure of typical Detroit expectations. No, Howard is not the type of goalie that will beat the Coyotes with skill. But he’s a confident kid with the ability to make the big save at the right time.
And it bears noting that, as DetroitRedWings.com’s Dave Burke noted, Shane Doan’s, “I’m on a mission” status for tonight’s game has not gone unnoticed by the Red Wings...
Doan, 34, was having an impressive opening playoff series against Detroit last spring. He was physically punishing and an offensive presence with two points in three games, but a Grade 3 shoulder separation cut short his playoffs to just three games, a series Detroit eventually won in seven games.
“I think it’s something that was a little disappointing for sure and at the same time it’s a little ironic,” he said. “Looking forward to go back and try it again. For myself I have to be physical, I have to be physical on everybody and if that creates turnovers good, because that’s a huge part of our game.”
Does Phoenix coach Dave Tippett see this series as a chance at redemption of sorts for Doan?
“No, it’s just the playoffs,” Tippett said. “Before last year he went eight seasons I think without playing a playoff game and it didn’t matter who we were going to play, he wanted to play hard. It happened to be Detroit and he had a freak injury half way through the series and he couldn’t finish the series. So he’s excited to be back in the playoffs, that goes with out saying, he’s no different than any other player on our team. I think the history he has with our organization and missing the playoffs for so many years really fuels his fire right now.”
“We expect him to play the same physical style,” said Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, referring to Doan. “That’s the way he plays during the regular-season as well. He’s going to try and use his size to his advantage. It’s something we know going into this series.”
The Wings are also well aware of the fact that Keith Yandle provides a dangerous element of offensive panache on the Coyotes’ blueline…
This season has been a breakout year for the Boston native. After putting up a respectable 41 points a season ago, Yandle exploded on to the 2010-11 scene by finishing with a career-high 59 points – one point shy of team-leader Shane Doan. Although Yandle led defensemen in points for much of the season, the scoring has slowed down recently — he’s tacked on 5 points since March 1. He had 11 multi-point games this season, including a three game stretch in Janaury where he had a goal and five assists. Still, Yandle finished up the season third among defensemen – behind Anaheim’s Lubomir Visnovsky (68) and Red Wings’ captain Nicklas Lidstrom (62) – and is considered a top contender for the Norris Trophy.
“He’s been great,” Coyotes center Vernon Fiddler said. “He’s really broken out this year and he’s just one of those guys that kept seeming to get better and better as the year went on.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock knows that Yandle is one of the guys his team must pay special attention to heading into the series, along with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Shane Doan.
“I think when you look at their team guys that jump out at you right away are Bryzgalov, (who) is one of the best in the game,” Babcock said. “And I think Yandle is a kid who has really, really come on as a dominant player.”
And Babcock made sure to tell the Arizona Republic’s Jim Gintonio that his Wings don’t buy into the concept that their slightly deeper and slightly more star-studded personnel give them advantages against the hard-working Coyotes:
“I think it’s a team game, and you play a team game,” Babcock said before tonight’s series opener. “I think when you look at their team, guys that jump out at you right away, (Ilya) Bryzgalov’s one of the best in the game, I think (Keith) Yandle is a kid that’s really, really come on, a dominant player. I think people look to (Shane) Doan as being a guy - I think on our team, (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Nicklas) Lidstrom they talk about for sure - you want your good players to be good. I think the way the league is now where its’ all so tight, you need everybody to be good if you’re going to be successful. It’s about a team concept and a work ethic and execution, so I don’t know if that makes any difference.”
Lidstrom, meanwhile, is not surprised to see the Coyotes make a repeat appearance in the playoffs after having missed the postseason for the previous eight years.
“(It’s) how well they play their system, and they’re not giving you a whole lot defensively,” he said. “They play very sound defensively, they have good goaltending. They play their system right.”
And Tomas Holmstrom, of course, hopes to loom large in Ilya Bryzgalov’s field of vision, but that’s easier said than done for two reasons—first, Bryzgalov’s 6’3,” and second, the NHL’s essentially treating Holmstrom as if he’s subject to a circa-1999 crease rule:
“I’ve got to try to be outsides the crease and do my job there,” he said. “It’s tough if the D starts pushing me into the crease and into the goalie, so I got to play my game and do my job.”
“Yeah, 6-foot-3, you got to be a little more aware of where he’s standing.”
Asked how he would rate Bryzgalov, Holmstrom said, “He’s probably the best goalie in the league.”
The Wings aren’t lacking in respect for the Coyotes, but given the out and out rage Phoenix is bringing into this game, Detroit’s players will have to be on their toes, or they’ll be plastered against the boards in half a second.
And, put simply, as far as I’m concerned, the Red Wings very desperately need to get their hate on for Phoenix. In life, hatred, anger and resentment aren’t particularly useful motivators over a long-term basis, but in hockey, if you don’t at least intensely dislike your opponent and want to pummel them into a shivering, twitchy set of players curled up into balls, crying for their mommies, when all is said and done—regardless of whether you accomplish this task by physical play or scoring goals and keeping the opposition off the scoresheet, driven to distraction, frustration and needless penalties because they face supremely solid defensive play, effort, attention to detail, a higher “compete level,” more urgency and desperation than they can handle and a plain old higher level of play than the opponent can manage to attain for any significant length of time—you’re going home early.
The Coyotes are coming into the Joe tonight believing that they’re going to roar over their first-round speedbump with a tank and avenge both real and perceived slights, slings and arrows. The Wings have to flip the playoff switch for once and for all and rally around each other minus one of their best players in Henrik Zetterberg to defend home ice and start getting the job done of ensuring that it’s not the Wings who will be golfing two weeks from now, but instead, an angry, frustrated and mentally beaten down Coyotes team.
Update: From the Griffins:
As the quest for the Stanley Cup begins tonight, there’s a 50-50 chance that a former Griffin will once again be holding the coveted chalice when the dust settles in June.
In a remarkable streak that testifies to the caliber of talent that has graced Van Andel Arena over the years, a Griffins alumnus has had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup each of the last three years and in five of the last six seasons. In all, 13 players have won the Cup after playing for Grand Rapids, most recently Chicago’s Tomas Kopecky, who last June became the first alum to win his second Cup.
Eight of the 16 team participating in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs have at least one ex-Griffin on their roster. Most notable, of course, are the Red Wings, who for the first time in history could ice a lineup comprised completely of Griffins alumni. If they wanted or needed to, of course.
With Monday’s recall of a staggering 15 Griffins to serve as black aces, Detroit now boasts 25 former Griffins on its 39-man playoff roster, including all five goaltenders. Of course, the vast majority of black aces will never see action, less than half will travel with the Wings, and several will soak up the atmosphere around the Joe for only a week or so before heading home for the summer. But whether they start every night between the pipes or simply practice and watch a couple of games from the press box, they’ll all play a part in another glorious spring in Hockeytown.
The other seven playoff teams with former Griffins are Anaheim (Sheldon Brookbank and Andreas Lilja), Boston (Shane Hnidy and Chris Kelly), Buffalo (Matt Ellis and Patrick Lalime), Chicago (Tomas Kopecky), Los Angeles (Scott Parse), the New York Rangers (Sean Avery) and Philadelphia (Ville Leino and Danny Syvret). And should needs arise or AHL teams get bounced before their NHL affiliates, that list could eventually expand to include Montreal (Drew MacIntyre), Nashville (Chris Mueller) and/or Tampa Bay (Mattias Ritola).
Update #2: The Coyotes recalled ten players from the AHL to serve as their Black Aces…
Update #3: A programming update for Canadian Wings fans via the CBC:
Action begins at 7 p.m. ET as we split the country with two great series.
In Ontario-East (excluding Windsor), Martin St. Louis and the Tampa Bay Lightning look to return to playoff glory as they visit Marc-Andre Fleury and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Viewers in Manitoba-West (including Windsor) will see Shane Doan and the Phoenix Coyotes taking on Nick Lidstrom and the Detroit Red Wings at 7 p.m. ET in Game 1 of their series.
Update #4: A few more tidbits:
1. Ken Daniels spoke to The Fan 960’s “Boomer” and Rhett Warrener yesterday:
2. Quoth the Toronto Sun’s Mike Zeisberger:
The crowds are much louder, the games more intense and the number of gooey octopi chucked on to the Joe Louis Arena ice surface increase dramatically. Those were the significant lessons discovered by Jimmy Howard a year ago about the NHL playoffs, his first postseason run as the Detroit Red Wings’ first-string goalie. It was baptism by fire for Howard, whose Wings made it to the second round before being eliminated by the San Jose Sharks. As teammate Chris Osgood told him:
“The best tip I can pass on to you about the playoffs is that you have to learn on the go.”
Howard recalls that advice as he enters his second Stanley Cup tournament.
“Chris told me: ‘I can tell you about it but experiencing it is totally different. You have to go through the ups and downs to learn.’ Sure enough, I went through my own bumps and bruises last year. It was a unique experience.”
Given the Chicago Blackhawks won the Cup with unproven Antti Niemi between the pipes, it appears experience is no longer the key for playoff goalies as it was when Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy were in their primes. Now the most important element for successful postseason goaltending seems to be who gets hot at the right time.
“Exactly,” Howard said. “That’s what (all goalies) are hoping to do come April. I don’t think you necessarily need a guy who has been there before.”
one more thing: the Ren Cen going red? It’s true:
GM Salutes Red Wings from Top of Renaissance Center
… Wings Logo to Rotate With GM Logo on Playoff Game Days …
DETROIT – General Motors will salute the Detroit Red Wings from the top of its Renaissance Center headquarters as the Wings play Game 1 of their playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes.
The new LED sign on top of the GM World Headquarters will feature the Red Wings winged wheel logo for 30 seconds every two minutes beginning this afternoon and on days of the other playoff home games.
And amongst ESPN’s 75 things to watch in the playoffs:
4. Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom defying time once again
The 40-year-old Lidstrom almost certainly will be on the Norris Trophy ballot again this season, but the playoffs make no allowances for age, which is good, because neither does Lidstrom. A year ago, he was the best player on the ice for the Wings. His calming presence and patience with the puck will be keys to the Wings’ playoff chances.
37. Watching the oft-beaten, speared, crosschecked and pummeled Tomas Holmstrom pick himself up and stick his butt back in the face of an opposing goalie
The man has paid a price like few others near the blue paint during the past two decades. He’s also developed a reputation with the men in stripes. Detroit had a goal disallowed on April 2 in Nashville because Holmstrom was seen to have bothered goalie Pekka Rinne. This sets up for some possibly controversial calls involving Holmstrom in the playoffs.
46. Steve Yzerman in playoffs ... as GM
When Stevie Y retired after the 2006 playoffs, you might have thought you’d seen the last of him. You didn’t. The Hall of Fame player wasn’t done competing. After completing his management graduate work in Detroit under ace executive Kenny Holland, Yzerman set a new course for himself in Florida. He methodically retooled the Lightning in his first year on the job, leading them back into the postseason. Can he add another title as a GM? We’re not betting against him.
59. Mud Bruneteau
Outside of the fact that you have to love a hockey player whose nickname is Mud, we couldn’t have a stretch of extra-session heroes without mentioning the player who brought the longest game in NHL playoffs history to an end. The Red Wings forward scored the game’s only goal—16:30 into the sixth overtime!—to beat the Montreal Maroons in the opener of their Cup semifinals series. Bruneteau and the Wings would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
73. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk
Each an afterthought in his draft year, these puck geniuses have helped make Hockeytown a destination of last resort for opponents around the league. Among the handful of players who can pull you out of your seat, Pavel Datsyuk is a slippery wizard who could stickhandle through Times Square on New Year’s Eve. With less style but equal substance, Henrik Zetterberg is relentless in his pursuit of the puck. In the spring, “Pav” and “Z” drive their games to another level. What’s not to love about that?
Here’s Hradek and Melrose’s take on the series, too.
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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.