The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/18/14 at 02:23 PM ET
As I'm writing this, Latvia's pulled a gigantic upset and will battle Canada on Wednesday (12 PM EST on USA Network and CBC), and Tomas Tatar's Slovaks almost pulled off a comeback from a 4-0 deficit, but they couldn't quite make it happen, losing 5-3, and as such, the Czechs will advance to battle the Americans on Wednesday (12 PM on MSNBC).
Pavel Datsyuk and Russia will battle the Finns on Wednesday at 7:30 AM (NBCSN), and Datsyuk's Swedish Wings teammates will tangle with Slovenia a little earlier on Wednesday (3 AM EST on NBCSN).
After Tuesday's practice, Sweden's captain spoke with NHL.com's Corey Masisak regarding the team's faith in Henrik Lunqvist, and Niklas Kronwall believes that the Swedes will be just fine because they know they can rely on their starting goaltender...
"It's huge, there's no doubt about that," Kronwall said. "To be able to go far and deep in these tournaments, you need the best goalie. So far he's been unbelievable for us. I think other teams the guys are pretty comfortable with whoever is in net because that's how the good the goalies are these days. We're fortunate to have the best goalie in the world."
And while I'm not going to translate it, Gabriel Landeskog admitted to Expressen's Magnus Nystrom that he did ask Daniel Alfredsson about the Swedes' quarterfinal collapse against Belarus in 2002, and Alfredsson suggested that the Swedes can't play being terrified of losing--they've got to just go out and give their best effort. That's certainly going to be true against the upset-happy Slovenes.
Prior to leaving for the Olympics, Daniel Alfredsson had this to say to the Windsor Star's Bob Duff...
Alfredsson and the rest of the Swedish team will face upstart Slovenia, the team of former Red Wings forward Jan Mursak, in Wednesday’s quarter-finals, looking to repeat the gold-medal performance the Swedes turned in eight years ago in Turin, the last time the Olympic hockey tournament was contested on a European-sized ice surface. Only Finland’s Raimo Helminen (six) has appeared in more Olympic hockey tournaments than Alfredsson.
“The first one you don’t know what to expect,” Alfredsson said. “Then after that I think it’s that you’re just excited to participate again. I thought Vancouver was going to be my last one, so you bring family and a lot of friends came as well to watch. That’s what’s great too, that family and friends get to experience being around the Olympics. It can be a logistic nightmare at times but everybody’s in a good mood and sharing stories and it doesn’t matter what country you’re from, so it’s a great feeling.”
There’s no more margin for error at this stage of the Games, with each game now a win or go home elimination scenario.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Alfredsson said. “It’s do or die. You’re there for a short period of time and you know you have to click at the right time and everybody’s trying to find tricks to do that as quickly as possible, to gel with your team.”
Given that the CBC's geoblocking its Olympic-related content, however, we won't be able to see this one in the U.S.:
As for the Russians, I did update the Russia-Norway post with some quips and quotes from captain Datsyuk, but they tended to stick to the kinds of quick quips that Datsyuk and his teammates issued to NHL.com's Corey Masisak:
Alexander Radulov had a great game Tuesday, particularly in the second period, and his line, along with Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, provided the necessary offense. Some teams will have one defensive pairing that focuses on defending one line, but Finland's top two pairings have been strong in this tournament and the team's defensive work in general has been commendable.
"[Pavel Datsyuk's] line played well and four lines had chances to score," Ovechkin said. "We just missed the net. That's our biggest mistake right now."
"Forget about lines," Datsyuk said. "We talk about our team. … We were OK."
Here's what Datsyuk had to say to the Free Press's Helene St. James:
"After first few games, lots of pressure, lots of nerves," he said. "Now it's tournament, more open."
Team Russia recovered from a sub-par first period to hammer Norway, 4-0, at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. The Russians had to play a qualification game after failing to place among the top four seeds following group play. The Russians haven't looked imposing yet, but Datsyuk sees progress.
He described today's score as "good result, what we needed," then spoke of needing to improve against Finland, the No. 4 seed that has rested since Sunday. The Finns lack offensive power, but their goaltending can leave opponents frustrated.
"They have good team, they skate well and have good goalie," Datsyuk said. "Lots of guys from NHL."
Datsyuk enters the quarterfinals with five points after four games. He came into the tournament barely able to skate because of an inflamed knee but, including the two games he played for Detroit before leaving for Sochi, he's now six games into a comeback. He has taken to answering questions about himself as synonymous to his team.
"We feel OK," he said. "We feel OK."
Regarding the Canadians, if it makes you feel any better, the Toronto Sun's Rob Longley reports that Canadian coach Mike Babcock, whose team will tangle with the winner of the Switzerland-Latvia game, is driving people nuts (see: Kyle Quincey is the Wings' "Iron Man"), as per usual, thanks to his personnel shuffling:
“We’ve changed our lines, in my opinion, same at the last Olympics, too much,” Babcock said following Canada’s practice Tuesday to prepare for Wednesday’s quarterfinal contest. “We’re trying to find the right way. It’s time to just let ’em go.”
Or perhaps let ’em be at some point?
While obsessing over Babcock’s line machinations has gone way over the top, there’s something to be said about comfort. It will be interesting to see how long he sticks with the latest set, but given that it’s only been three games against stingy opponents, it hasn’t been easy for the coaching staff to get a true read.
The latest shuffling isn’t all about Crosby, either. Babcock likes the idea of moving Jamie Benn alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The stronger the non-Crosby lines are, after all, the more challenging they will be to defend overall.
This also sounds familiar...
A potential cure for the lagging Canadian offence? How about a power play or three? “We spent half a week practising them,” Babcock said. “You almost wonder why you spend so much time preparing for them when they never come.” Through the preliminary round, Canada had the fewest number of man-advantage opportunities among the 12 teams with just four in three games. The Russians and Swedes, meanwhile, each had 13 through the first four games
As does this snark:
Babcock had no interest in discussing Switzerland prior to their qualification-round game, stopping that line of questioning in its tracks. “Did Switzerland win?,” Babcock said. “Oh, just wondered. They’re playing Latvia, right?”
This story seems kind of bummerific on its own, and it's worse given the Slovaks' elimination, but NHLPA.com (via RedWingsFeed) offered a story about Tomas Tatar's "Olympic motivation"...
Years before he skated in his first NHL game, the young kid with big-league aspirations had the good fortune of knowing Pavol Demitra, a revered Slovakian hockey star who had already carved out a successful career at the sport’s premier level.
Despite the difference in age and experience, Tatar found a mentor in Demitra, a big-time player without a big-time ego.
So, the day the roster was announced for Slovakia’s men’s hockey entry at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Tatar recalled the man who was one of 44 people, including several former NHL players, who died in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air disaster, on September 7, 2011.
“He was a good person,” said Tatar, of three-time NHL All-Star Game participant and veteran of nearly 850 regular season games. “I would want everyone to know he had a big heart. He wanted to help every hockey player in Slovakia. Everybody loved him. They still do.”
There wasn’t one particular meeting between the two that stands out for Tatar. Rather, it was Demitra’s constant words of encouragement whenever they spoke that he thinks of.
“He would always motivate me,” recalled Tatar. “There were so many times that I talked to him. And every time, I would feel very optimistic about one day playing in the NHL. He was very unselfish. He just made people happy.”
Tatar, Jurco and one Henrik Zetterberg will probably fly back to detroit on the same charter flight on Thursday, and if Zetterberg does miss game time (it appears that he will miss some time, though Pierre McGuire and Eddie Olczyk's ponderings regarding Zetterberg's "surgery timeline" required liberal use of a "Jump to Conclusions" mat), MLive's Ansar Khan pondered what the Wings might do trade-wise on Monday...
And the Hockey News's Lyle "Spector" Richardson riffed upon that theme, wondering what might happen on and/or before March 5th if the Wings have to place Zetterberg on the LTIR (10 games AND 24 days missed = minimum LTIR criteria), assuming that Johan Franzen is healthy (the Free Press's St. James reported that he's making progress) and that Stephen Weiss returns.
As you might expect, employing Capgeek.com's Wings roster chart is useful, despite the fact that the Wings' liberal use of LTIR cap space has caused Ken Holland to admit that the Wings are essentially into cap calculus as opposed to cap algebra or cap math...
Center Stephen Weiss ($4.9-million annual cap hit) is expected to come off long-term injured reserve (LTIR) following the Olympics, which would limit the Wings cap space. Khan pointed out that could be rectified by placing Zetterberg ($6 million) on LTIR. He noted, however, the trade options are slim and expensive.
The Red Wings are a team in transition this season. They’ve been hampered by injuries, while promising players such as Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Danny DeKeyser are still adjusting to the NHL level. Attempting to land a playoff rental such as Thomas Vanek or Mike Cammalleri would likely cost them one of those young players, a top prospect or their first round pick.
The Wings don't want to move that pick given that the team could find itself in the draft lottery if it doesn't make the playoffs.
Zetterberg’s absence and the apparent lack of a viable short-term replacement puts the Red Wings’ 22-year playoff streak in jeopardy. However, the expected return of Weiss and possibly winger Johan Franzen (concussion) after the Olympics should give them a boost. If key players such as Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Alfredsson, Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard remain healthy, the Wings still have a decent chance of keeping their playoff streak alive.
The Wings would also continue to lean upon the aforementioned Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco and probably Riley Sheahan.
GM Ken Holland could also opt to take the long view and stick with the current lineup minus Zetterberg. If he does make a move by the deadline it could be for an affordable depth player.
I still believe that the Wings will go after either a depth defenseman (the team may save its pursuit of a top-four defenseman via trade for the summer as that 1st round pick and top prospects aren't "on the table") or a net-front forward, but that's just my gut feeling talking.
More specifically regarding Red Wings prospects, I had to snicker at ESPN's Corey Pronman's Insider-only take on the development of Grand Rapids Griffins forward Teemu Pulkkinen,
who he's apparently not particularly fond of, though his concerns are very real:
Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, Detroit Red Wings
I've been up and down on Pulkkinen since his draft year. Over the past two seasons, I saw him as just a "fine" prospect, but not an elite one. His skill level has always been impressive -- and his shot elite -- but his awkward skating stride, small size, inconsistent defensive play and penchant for taking risks worried me. The latter element probably made me overly criticize his hockey sense and look past all the great plays he set up and the great instincts he displayed on the ice.
This season, Pulkkinen has been fantastic as a rookie AHLer and is a standout in the offensive zone. I still have notable concerns about him, but he is certainly one of Detroit's top prospects and a player who has a decent chance to become an NHL scorer.
Please see: He's still 5'11" and 185 pounds, but Pulkky Badger has 19 goals, 23 assists and 42 points registered over the course of 51 games played, leading the Griffins in scoring (he's a +15, too), all during a first North American pro season in which he was supposed to struggle because he's small and prone to taking hits to make plays.
[edit: Please also see: I know the feeling! Pulkkinen's defensive play still needs work and he most certainly isn't big by modern-day NHL standards, nor is his skating fantastic, so he needs to work on those things...But he's doing well, and it's honestly usually a good feeling to be "proven wrong" by a prospect you're convinced has more negatives than positives to offer /end edit]
And in the charitable news department, the Grand Rapids Griffins are taking part in a sled hockey game to raise funds for their Sled Wings team and the Griffins Youth Foundation this evening, and Grand Rapids Griffins coach Jeff Blashill announced two things this afternoon:
1. He's on Twitter;
2. He's putting his support behind a charitable initiative conducted by Western Michigan University:
Update: I believe that Luke Glendening can play with the Griffins as of this weekend, but it appears that he's making the rounds in the interim:
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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.