The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/24/13 at 03:08 PM ET
Updated 14x at 6:24 PM: While the Red Wings flew to Chicago on Friday afternoon, the Blackhawks practiced while trying to rebound from Detroit's 2-0 win on Thursday night, hoping to stave off elimination in Game 5 on Saturday night (8 PM, NBC/CBC/97.1 FM, post-game on FSD) while the Wings hope to advance to the Western Conference Final.
The Hawks' practice was sparsely-attended (and you'll have to excuse the Twitter roll call)...
For the record, SB Nation's Travis Hughes posted the following:
It's been surprising just how easily the Red Wings have frustrated the Blackhawks -- and namely, Jonathan Toews -- in the last three games. Let's sum it up in one GIF.
Boy, does that ever "sum things up." Especially given that Toews' courage only comes to the fore when there are referees or linesmen present to serve as buffers.
While the Hawks practiced...
The Wings won't land in Chicago until 3:30 PM EDT, and that should yield an afternoon skate for the team, assuming that they skate at all.
''We're all frustrated. It's not about one guy,'' Hawks forward Patrick Sharp said after Thursday night's 2-0 loss to the Wings at Joe Louis Arena that dropped them into a 3-1 hole in their Western Conference semifinal series. ''We're a whole team team in here. Jonny's the first one to say that. We're all frustrated. We're not happy with the situation we're in. But no one's going to feel sorry for themselves. It's a tough task to find our way out of it.''
The Hawks have had several issues exposed in the last three playoff games. the power play is abysmal and getting worse; Toews is still scoreless in the postseason; Brent Seabrook's playing time is diminishing; Marian Hossa, who normally finds some way to make a difference, has been all but invisible.
But judging by the competitiveness of the past two games, even those issues do not appear to be anything that a well-timed goal or two could fix. It's not like they're playing like the Bulls did in Games 2 and 3 against the Heat. The odds are against them, but the Hawks look like a good candidate to beat them. But as they know all too well, they have to make their breaks.
''Lot of posts. Lot of big saves by Jimmy [Howard],'' Sharp said. ''We knew he was a good goaltender before the series and he's making big saves out there. There's no use hanging our heads about it. The only thing we can do is play better the next game.''
''As hard as we're working, something's got to go our way,'' Toews said. ''We've got to be positive."
Coach Joel Quenneville put himself on the spot by changing up the lines in Game 4 without any luck. Quenneville usually has a fine touch with line changes, but in the playoffs, there's a fine line between coaching genius and desperation.
''You look at both games [in Detroit], I think we played OK,'' Quenneville said. ''We've just got to find a way to get more out of everybody.''
We've also got a rumor to tide ourselves (well, me) over (while listening to the Babcock and Maltby interviews from the Wings-Hawks tailings post), though I'm not putting much into it given that the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson has been trying to "trade" Ales Hemsky for a long time now. Per the Hockey News's Lyle Richardson:
Jim Matheson of The Edmonton Journal believes Hemsky’s days with the Oilers are numbered, citing his injury history and the assumed unwillingness of GM Craig MacTavish to invest $5 million of cap space next season in a second-line player.
Trading him, however, could prove difficult. Matheson interviewed analyst Craig Button, who believes Hemsky’s market value – given his cap hit, injury history and the decline of next season’s salary cap to $64.3 million – could be low. Button doubts the Oilers could get a second round pick for the 29-year-old veteran.
Undeterred, Matheson suggested clubs in need of offense – the Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings (if they lose Valtteri Filppula this summer to free agency), St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes and Winnipeg Jets – could have interest in Hemsky.
If MacTavish hopes to attract trade interest in Hemsky, he’ll have to pick up part of his $5 million cap hit. Otherwise, going the buyout route – compliance or standard – is the only other option to shed his salary.
Matheson argues that a team like the Wings might be willing to bite if the Oilers eat $2.5 million of Hemsky's salary, but I'm not so sure about that.
If MacTavish uses one of his two compliance buyouts, he removes all of Hemsky’s salary from his payroll. If he goes with a standard buyout (two-thirds the remaining salary at twice the remaining tenure of the contact), the cap hit will be $1,333,333 for next season and $1,833,333 for 2014-15.
Could the Wings be interested in Hemsky if Filppula walks, or they trade his rights? You bet, but I believe that the Wings will look for their needed goal-scorer by surveying the cap compliance buy-out players who become available on the UFA market before considering making a trade...
Assuming, given that the cap's going down, given that the Wings at least have to re-sign UFA's-to-be Damien Brunner and Drew Miller (Filppula and Cleary are the other UFA's) and re-sign RFA's Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson, and given that the team's going to have to accommodate adding both Brian Lashoff's one-way contract and Tomas Tatar on a full-time basis, I really do wonder whether an unpalatable free agent market will yield one more summer of the Wings deciding to stick with what they've got--especially given that Danny DeKeyser's helped the defense and that Carlo Colaiacovo and Danny Cleary are redeeming themselves via the team's playoff run--and may wait until next year's trade market establishes itself before finding that top-tier goal-scorer and top-pair defenseman they're looking for prior to a summer in which the cap will probably rebound from $64.3 million to at or around this year's $70.2 million mark.
This is a strange place to note the following, from the Dearborn Press & Guide:
Darren McCarty, who helped lead the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cups as a “Grind Line” member, will appear at ValuLand, 22541 Michigan Ave., from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The appearance will include family activities.
McCarty, 41, played for the Red Wings for 15 seasons and the Calgary Flames for two. He was part of the Wings’ championship teams in 1997, ’98, 2002 and ’08. His final season was 2008-09.
He’ll also be appearing at the ValuLand stores at 31902 Gratiot, Roseville, from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and at 30780 Schoenherr, Warren, from 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday.
Visit http://www.shopvaluland.com for more information.
Anyway, now here come the Hawks' post-practice remarks:
We’ll never know exactly what Holland was thinking [early this season], but I’m guessing that it was something along these lines: “The team is completely beat up, the youngsters are improving and the goaltender is maturing the way we hoped. If we can get a little bit healthy and a little bit lucky at the right time, we could make this interesting.” Maybe that’s giving him too much credit. But you don’t get to this point in your career in hockey without knowing a little something about your roster. And while the rest of us were dissecting and criticizing his draft picks, Holland was likely being patient and waiting for them to come around. Which is exactly what they’re doing.
The Red Wings are playing well because of depth. And the roster is deep thanks to homegrown products. And those homegrown products are Holland draft picks that are maturing at the perfect time.
Gustav Nyquist is the speedy, scary forward that Red Wings fans have been waiting for. He played four games and registered one shot in his first postseason action last year. This year, he’s got two goals and two assists. Both goals were huge, one an overtime goal in Game 2 in Anaheim. The other, perhaps the biggest goal of this series in the pivotal Game 3.
Jakub Kindl was drafted back in 2005 and has been mentioned as a Wings prospect ever since. He’s a prospect no longer with a goal and three assists this postseason and a plus-3 in 11 games. The Red Wings defense was supposed to be the weakness this season with all the departures over the last two years. Kindl picked an excellent time for his arrival, and he delivered the game-winning goal in Game 4.
Damien Brunner was a shrewd, quiet pick-up by Holland this past off-season, but he’s been vital to this team. He’s got four goals and four assists and reminds me of the role Slava Kozlov played on the 90’s Wings teams. He doesn’t get the accolades or have the star power of the big names. But he scores key goals at the most important moments.
Justin Abdelkader was a popular whipping boy for Wings fans over the years. How could this 2005 draft pick earn top line minutes and earn the admiration of Babcock? Well, he’s shown how this spring with his physical play and a plus-5 rating in nine games.
And, of course, Howard. He’s got a postseason career-high .929 save percentage and career low 2.22 goals against. He recorded his second career shutout in Game 4. And he’s clearly crossed that line in Detroit where the fans now trust him instead of fearing him.
The Red Wings will be the first ones to tell you that they’ve accomplished nothing yet, other than to make hockey matter again in Detroit. If the Hawks win three in a row, this spirit of jubilation will quickly subside. But there’s little doubt that there’s a hockey foundation here, something that can be built upon in the years to come. And it’s equally clear that the foundation was laid by Holland who remains one of the very best in the business. Holland was heavily praised. Then he was heavily questioned. This spring should remind us not to make that mistake again.
Update #2: Amongst NHL.com's Corey Masisak's 5 reasons that the Hawks are down 3-1:
1. Power outage: The Blackhawks were a dominant team at even strength and on the penalty kill during the regular season, but they were a middle-of-the-pack club on the power play. It never really impacted the team's ability to score goals, but that has changed.
Detroit is stymieing the Chicago offense, and it is easy to point to the power play as the biggest problem. The Blackhawks scored on their first man-advantage chance of the series -- Marian Hossa on a one-timer from Jonathan Toews -- but they've come up empty in each of their past 14 power plays.
The Blackhawks were the team frustrating the opponent and gaining momentum with a strong penalty kill, and now that is happening to them. There is a fine line between desperation and frustration, and the big guns for the Hawks -- Toews (no goals in the series), Hossa (one), Patrick Sharp (one, an empty netter in Game 1) and Patrick Kane (two) -- are trying to stay on the right side of it to save the season.
2. Nothing to Crow about: Chicago coach Joel Quenneville described goaltender Corey Crawford's performance in the series after Game 3 in three words: "He's been fine." Well, the goalie at the other end of the ice, Detroit's Jimmy Howard, has been a lot better than fine.
Crawford was better in Game 4 than he had been in Games 2 and 3, but Howard still was better, turning away several great chances in a 28-save shutout. It is hard to pick on Crawford's play -- there haven't been glaring errors -- but he also hasn't made the highlight-reel saves Howard has to erase mistakes in front of him. If everyone else was playing well, "fine' would be enough from Crawford. They're not, and the Blackhawks are going to need him to meet Howard's standard or better him if they are going to win three straight to take the series.
3. Disappearing depth: The Blackhawks and Red Wings look like similar teams -- elite forwards, a strong No. 1 defenseman, an above-average goaltender who probably doesn’t get enough credit. Where Chicago was supposed to have the biggest advantage -- at least on paper -- was in its depth. The Blackhawks boast one of the deepest lineups in the League, and that was a big part of their success in the regular season.
Not only that, the Red Wings' depth looked outmatched by the Anaheim Ducks through five games of the first round. That has turned around in a hurry for the Wings, and their depth players are outplaying the Blackhawks' role players -- and at times by a fairly significant margin.
Detroit's third line of Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Damien Brunner is working over Chicago's third unit. The Red Wings' fourth line has provided a key goal and been essential to the penalty kill. Even Detroit's defensemen behind Niklas Kronwall have been better than Chicago's blueliners after Duncan Keith.
Update #3: The Free Press's Helene St. James has filed an off-day report which suggests that the Wings aren't practicing today:
Even the Wings are surprised they’re in this position. Not that they’ve lacked faith in themselves; it’s just the sheer improbability of suddenly being one win from the Western Conference finals after being so close to missing the playoffs entirely a month ago. Jimmy Howard, whose openness and honesty matches the fantastic goaltending he’s been providing, said minutes after shutting out the Blackhawks, 2-0, in Game 4 that he’d have picked the Blackhawks to win the series, too, were he a journalist.
“You know, I think if I were in your shoes, I probably would have done the same thing,” Howard said. “They had an unbelievable year this year. They were playing great hockey coming into the playoffs. They’re a great team.”
This is what’s special about hockey, though: Great teams don’t guarantee great results. It’s not like the NBA, where talent trumps tenacity. The Blackhawks came into the series with more depth, and they still have it. What the Wings have — in addition to Howard, who has added playoff MVP to his status as the team’s regular-season MVP — is that indefinable something that is seen so often in the NHL, when a lower-seeded team becomes unstoppable. Like the 2003 Anaheim Ducks and 2006 Edmonton Oilers, both of whom upset the-then mighty Wings.
It would be a disaster for the Presidents’ Trophy Blackhawks to lose in this round, and it would mandate organizational changes. The Wings, on the other hand, are playing with house money. They’re playing with such a hot hand, they barely remember they finished seventh.
“I don’t think we think about that,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “It’s more we go out and focus on playing hockey. We don’t really look at where we finished in the regular season. It’s a new season, playoffs, we know that. We’ve been through it a lot. We’ve been the top seed and lost in the first round. It’s a new season. You can’t really care what you did in the regular season. You’ve got to play good hockey when playoffs start, otherwise it goes fast.”
Zetterberg has set the tone for his teammates with the way he’s flustered Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. “That sends a message,” Howard said, “to the rest of the team.”
Pulling the rope or tying it around your neck?
Seabrook's playoff-low 12:03 of playing time in the Hawks' 2-0 loss to the Red Wings is an alarming number for a player of his caliber on a five-year, $29 million contract. The eight-year veteran averaged 22:00 of ice time in the regular season, second highest on the team behind iron man Duncan Keith.
''Maybe we're talking about the matchup,'' coach Joel Quenneville said when asked why the pairing of Seabrook and Nick Leddy (8:38) had limited ice time in Game 4. ''We've been looking at pairings across the board, whether we're looking for more even minutes as we go along. But moreso the pairing and the matchups were [why] their minutes were down the last couple of games.''
With the Blackhawks trailing 3-1 in the series and facing elimination, Quenneville indicated changes in the defensive pairings -- currently Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Seabrook-Leddy and Michal Rozsival-Johnny Oduya -- could be made for Game 5 on Saturday night at the United Center.
''We'll see,'' he said.
But pressed on the matter of Seabrook's playing time, Quenneville acknowledged it was a performance-based reduction. Seabrook, who had eight goals and 12 assists and was a plus-12 in 47 games in the regular season, has no points and is a minus-4 in the postseason.
''Usually it's reflection of your performance and your contribution,'' Quenneville said.
Update #7: The Chicago Sun-Times' Lazerus spoke to the Hawks about digging out of their hole...
Two springs ago, the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks found themselves down 3-0 in the first round against the Vancouver Canucks. The series was over. And then it wasn't. The Hawks won three straight games to force a Game 7, then Jonathan Toews scored with less than two minutes left to force overtime, before the Canucks finally escaped with a victory. Thirteen current Hawks played in that Game 7, and they hope to draw confidence from the experience.
"It's huge," defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "Everybody's counting us out now except us in here. That's the only thing you can really do, is look back at past experiences and go from there."
There have been 229 teams that have trailed 3-1 in Stanley Cup playoff history. Twenty have come back to win. It last happened twice in 2010, as Montreal rallied to beat Washington, and Philadelphia became the first team since the 1975 Islanders to erase a 3-0 deficit, beating Boston. Daniel Carcillo was on that Flyers team that eventually lost to the Hawks in the Stanley Cup Final.
Joel Quenneville's St. Louis Blues won a first-round series against the Phoenix Coyotes in 1999 after trailing 3-1.
"Things happen," Quenneville said. "Momentum -- we talk about how important it is come playoff time. [The Red Wings] obviously have it right now, but one game can turn everything around. And I think that's what we're looking for. I think the big picture looks pretty bleak, but at the same time, we've got two home games here. Go one at a time, and getting off to a big start is what we're looking for."
Said Jonathan Toews: "It just goes to show that things like that are possible, that we were very, very close to winning that series. I'm sure Detroit knows, and we know, that this series is long from being over -- that [Saturday] night's going to be the toughest game for both teams. We can keep that in our hip pocket, I guess, just knowing that if we win one game, we focus on one game at a time, there's a way out of it. We're not worried about winning three in a row yet, we want to win tomorrow and we'll go from there."
And NHL.com posted a clip of a smiling Toews, a determined Seabrook and coach Quenneville all insisting that the Hawks will win the series:
Update #8: Nine minutes of Quenneville from the Hawks' website. Joy:
Update #9: Ahem:
"We've got to find a way to sustain some momentum and get some pucks to the net.," Sharp said. "Raise our intensity level. We've got to outwork their four guys and right now we're not doing that and not coming up with a whole lot on the power play."
The Blackhawks are feeling as if they have no puck luck.
"Lot of post," Sharp said. "Lot of big saves by Jimmy (Howard). We knew he's a good goaltender before the series and he's making big saves out there. There's no use hanging our heads about it. The only thing we can do is play better the next game."
Meanwhile, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews still doesn't have a goal during the playoffs. He had a hat trick of penalties in the second period, one of which led to a Detroit power-play goal.
Blackhawks players say they believe they are playing well.
"I think we played OK," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "And we've just got to find a way to get more out of everybody."
Update #12: Captain Smiley Face, per ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers:
"What's there to be down about?" Toews said on Friday. "We're obviously not where we want to be in the series, but dwelling on that and feeling sorry for ourselves isn't going to do anything. We got a positive group and we've had a great season all year for that reason. We're going to stick to what helps us win hockey games. We're focused on [Saturday night,] nothing more than that."
Toews' optimism stems from the Blackhawks' play in Game 3 and Game 4. He thought the Blackhawks played well enough to win both games, but didn't have luck on their side. He believed they're bound to get a favorable bounce if they continue to play the same way.
"We're positive," Toews said. "There's a good feeling in the locker room today. The guys are very confident. We're very close to finding a way to win one game. When we do that, we know all the confidence, all that momentum is going to come rushing back. That's what we're focused on. We're doing everything we can. We're going to keep doing what we've been doing. I don't know how many times I got to say this, it's going to work for us. We're confident that we can turn things around."
Update #13: Powers also noted that Brent Seabrook and Nick Leddy aren't playing very regularly:
Leddy, who averaged 17:25 of playing time in the regular season, played a season-low 8:32 in the 2-0 loss on Thursday. Seabrook, who averaged 22:00 in the regular season, played a season-low 12:03.
Seabrook steered clear of answering most questions about his diminished playing time. His minutes have decreased in each game of the series.
"I don't really want to talk about that," said Seabrook, who has zero points and a minus-4 rating in nine playoff games this season.
When asked if the series had been a struggle for him individually, Seabrook simply said, "Yep."
Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Tracey Myers noted that the Hawks remain positive...
“Our best players need to be our best,” [Toews] said. “We need to lead, grab the rope and start pulling for the rest of the guys, and that starts with me.”
The Blackhawks’ top guys have continued to struggle in this series, in which the team has just two goals in their last three games. The Blackhawks had a team meeting before the optional today, where they talked about what’s already happened and what they need to do to keep their season alive.
“Momentum: we talk about how important it is come playoff time. One game can turn everything around,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That’s what we’re looking for. The big picture looks bleak but we have two home games here; one at a time. Getting off to a big start is what we’re looking for.”
The odds don’t favor the Blackhawks here. Teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series about eight percent of the time. The Blackhawks almost came back from a 3-0 deficit against the Vancouver Canucks two springs ago, losing to them in a Game 7 overtime. They’ll keep that memory in the front of their minds when the puck drops tomorrow night.
“It just goes to show that things like that are possible,” Toews said. “We were very close to winning that series. I’m sure Detroit knows and we know this series is long from being over. Tomorrow’s going to be the toughest game for both. We’ll keep that (thought) in our hip pocket.”
“We’re as upbeat as we can be; we’re just trying to focus on tomorrow’s game,” said Brent Seabrook. “We talked about past experiences and what we can do as a group and we have to come out with a strong effort tomorrow. This is what we play for: the Cup. It’s the best time of the year. Our season’s not over yet.”
And she noted that the Hawks hope to crowd Jimmy Howard's sightlines:
We’ve had some quality shots. We’d like more quality with traffic,” coach Joel Quenneville said following Friday’s team meeting and optional practice. “He’s been challenging. We’re getting decent looks, but more traffic would make it more challenging.”
“I think we have a lot of shots in these games, but maybe we have to go in and try to have a good screen on him and make sure he doesn’t see the puck,” Michael Frolik said. “We can be better with that. It’s hard, but he’s played unbelievable. We have to be better.”
Traffic, sticks, bodies, screens: whatever it takes, the Blackhawks have to do it. The usual stuff isn’t working. The perimeter shots, the one and dones, Howard’s seen them, stopped them and hasn’t allowed many rebounds on them. It’s time for the Blackhawks to get those ugly goals. Otherwise, it’ll be an ugly end to these playoffs.
“There are some instances where pucks come through, they hit the post and he doesn’t see them. We’re doing everything we can. It’s going to work for us,” Jonathan Toews said. “We’re confident we can turn things around.”
Update #14: ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers insists that no one should "count out" the Hawks...
If the Hawks panic or make more sweeping changes, they're done. As crazy as it sounds -- in a shutout loss -- they found some things that work. A first period forecheck caused nearly double-digit turnovers by the Wings. Most nights, one of those would lead to a score and a whole different game, but it didn't happen. Then an early second period power play actually drained the Hawks of their advantage in play while Toews' three penalties cemented the momentum switch to the opposition.
"I understand what happened in the second period wasn't a good thing," Toews said. "I was a little bit careless with my stick. It cost me, it cost our team. We're looking to have that controlled emotion."
So with those things going wrong -- from the captain having an awful night to Brent Seabrook getting quasi-benched and Marian Hossa having a tough game -- even with all that, still, the Hawks played a good game. The odds are they will be rewarded on Saturday if they can repeat that effort. And they should. It's as simple as that.
"They obviously have it right now but one game can turn everything around," coach Joel Quenneville said of series momentum. "That's what we're looking for. The big picture looks bleak but we have two home games here. One at a time."
And counting out Toews is done so at your own risk. He's never been in a position to be criticized as he is in now. It would be a shock if he didn't respond in a hugely positive manner in Game 5. As long as the psyche of the team isn't damaged beyond repair they are not down and out.
"He's a true leader and everything that represents our organization in the right fashion," Quenneville said of Toews. "You couldn't ask for a better captain or better competitor than Johnny. Sometimes his frustration shows because he wants to do things the right way."
Awwwwwwwww, per ESPN Chicago's Powers:
"Everybody's counting us out now except for us in here," Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "That's the only thing you can really do is look back at past experiences and go from there. There are a few guys in this room who have come back from 3-0 and given them a chance to win and stuff like that. We look back at the Vancouver series and being down 3-0. We gave ourselves a chance and a hard fought game in Game 7 and just missed out by one goal."
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews believes having been in a similar situation gives them confidence that it can be done."It just goes to show things like that are possible," Toews said. "We were very, very close to winning that series. I'm sure Detroit knows, and we know that this series is long from being over. [Saturday] night is going to be the toughest game for both teams. We can keep that in our hip pocket."
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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.