The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/23/13 at 02:08 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings face off against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight (8 PM EDT, NBCSN/CBC/97.1 FM, and FSD will air a post-game show; tonight is also the "Fill a Boot" night fundraiser to help the family of Dearborn firefighter Brian Wohlke) knowing that "things will move pretty fast" from here on out. Starting with Game 4 this evening, this series will switch to the familiar play-every-other-day format, with Games 5, 6 and 7 scheduled to take place on Saturday (8 PM, NBC), next Monday and Wednesday...
So the two-day breaks' worth of bluster will soon be behind us (there were two practice posts, an evening multimedia post, injury updates and multiple discussions of the Wings' rebuilding-on-the-fly status for a reason; for the record, it's going to get up to 60 today with scattered showers, but the low for tonight's forecasted at 37 degrees, so the ice should be much better at the Joe, too), but Wednesday's practice chatter did end in something of a flourish from Chicago, where the Hawks still insist that they must play "angry," and where Joel Quenneville's decided to jump-start his power play and his team's scoring by adding Bryan Bickell as a net-front presence and prescribing more Andrew Shaw to get in Jimmy Howard's grill, respectively.
The Hawks didn't absolutely insist that the series will head to Chicago tied 2-2, but they came pretty close while speaking with Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Tracey Myers...
"Anything can happen; they’re only up 2-1. We just have to stay focused as a group, push and compete,” Andrew Shaw said. “We knew they were a skilled team; they took out Anaheim, another skilled, hard-working team. It’s a battle. We have to work for each other, and show it more than they do.”
Getting off to a good start, with a goal to show for it, is key.
“It’s going to be huge,” Marian Hossa said of the Game 4 start. “It’s going to be a big difference after Game 4: it’s either going to be 2-2 or 3-1. We know the stakes and we have to prepare. We did a lot of good things in Game 3, but they still found a way to be better than us. In Game 4 we have to be better than them.”
This is the longest losing streak the Blackhawks had all season; when they had them a few times in the regular season, they bounced back very well. To do that again, they need some individuals to break out of their respective slumps. They need that power play to start generating goals. They need to be at their best.
This is new ground for the Blackhawks this season. Enough of them were here last season, when they went through a nine-game winless streak that ultimately cost them a top-four playoff spot and then were eliminated too soon against the Phoenix Coyotes. But this year there hasn’t been a big need for a fortitude check. Until now.
The Blackhawks will draw on whatever they have to for motivation in Game 4. But the thought of going down 3-1 in this series should be enough.
“All year long we’ve been in a favorable position. We haven’t been up against it in many areas, be it stretches of being down or in a series. It’s a good test for us, a good challenge for us,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “The adversity right now, we have to find a way to overcome it. It’ll be a good challenge at the end of the day to find out about everybody.”
The Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash suggests that the Blackhawks will create a "defining moment" in their playoff run this evening, just as the Hawks rallied from a 2-1 deficit against the Nashville Predators along the way to their 2010 Stanley Cup win...
‘‘Each round you play, there’s probably a defining moment that got you over the hump or turned it in your favor, whether you captured the momentum or sealed the momentum,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said.
The Hawks were in a similar bind as they are today when Quenneville’s defining moment occurred in 2010. With their opening-round series against the Nashville Predators tied 2-2, the Hawks were seconds away from losing at the United Center and facing an elimination game in Nashville, when Patrick Kane scored a short-handed goal to tie the game with 14 seconds left in the third period. They won in overtime, when Marian Hossa came out of the penalty box after serving a five-minute major to score the winning goal.
‘‘To me, it was a defining moment for that round and all of the sudden, it seemed like we took off at that point,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘That momentum and excitement, you can gain a lot as a team and whether it’s confidence — you feel it. And the guys rally around a certain thing, but you progress as you go along and that momentum and excitement can be huge. When you look at the past and why you won or didn’t win, it’s always a defining moment that got you going in the right direction.’’
The Hawks don’t need a finish as fortuitous as that memorable narrow escape tonight against the Wings. Better results from the same effort they gave in Game 3 would be enough to turn the momentum back in their favor. But the overall degree of difficulty is higher here. The Red Wings, though seeded seventh, are a better team than the Predators were in 2010. And they’ll be at home.
The Hawks don’t look at history for inspiration. They’re hockey players. Inspiration comes from within. Every challenge is nothing more than the next one. Jonathan Toews, who achieved his greatest glory during the 2010 run to the Stanley Cup, speaks about that team as if he was not even on it.
‘‘The 2010 team didn’t really know what was ahead of them,’’ Toews said at the beginning of the postseason. ‘‘I think they just took it one game at a time. We’ve got to just try and get through every series.’’
‘‘I can’t even remember that far [back],’’ Duncan Keith said. ‘‘It’s just living in the moment and competing and knowing that we just need to win one game and that starts by having a good first five minutes and going from there.’’
The Chicago Daily Herald's Barry Rozner has volunteered to step up in the bluster department, and here's what he thinks about the Red Wings and the Hawks' chances tonight, via a "spirit of the thing" column...
The fact that the Hawks are complaining about the Red Wings' physical play is not only evidence that Detroit is in their heads, it's also laughable.
This is the Detroit Red Wings were talking about, not the Lions. The Wings are the softest team in the league not named Chicago, so how would the Hawks handle it if they survived this series and faced Los Angeles, San Jose, Pittsburgh, New York or Boston?
Seriously, the Wings are being too mean and physical? Wow. The Hawks better get it together mentally, fight through some checks — illegal or not — and play like the NHL's top seed. And, honestly, stop whining about the refs or the Wings' tactics.
If a team with less talent and speed is slowing down the game with a neutral zone trap, you beat them with long passes and take advantage of your skating ability. You win the race to the puck, and you win some puck battles.
The Hawks began to do that in Game 3, which was at least one game too late, but they adjusted. In Game 4, they must do more of that and prove they have the mental makeup to win the biggest game of the year on the road.
"Playoffs are long. Not everything is going to go your way," said Duncan Keith. "We've been through some adversity in our lives and over the past few years. We've got to use it to our advantage and dig down and do whatever you can to get some goals and win the next game."
And while we're in the land of absurdity, the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc decided to talk to Marian Hossa, addressing Hossa's bravery in battling through boos at Joe Louis Arena because those dastardly Wings fans still view Hossa as something of a turncoat for leaving the Wings in the summer of 2009:
"There are going to be boos — that's how it is," Hossa said before delivering a line that concluded with a hearty laugh. "(Hawks teammate) Patrick Kane told me he hopes he can experience something like that once."
Hossa did indeed address the lessons he'd learned by losing to the Wings in 2008 and losing with the Wings in 2009:
"The losses, especially big losses, you learn from it and push you further," Hossa, 34, said. "You become a better player and better person when you face adversity. You come back next year recharged, and you go through that again and you're already in that situation, so you know how to handle some things and good things will happen."
That certainly was the case when Hossa helped the Hawks capture the Stanley Cup the following season. He continues to play at a high level and has a whole new group of coaches and teammates singing his praises. Bryan Bickell's stall is next to Hossa's in the Hawks dressing room, and he had a quick answer when asked what kind of teammate Hossa is.
"A great one," Bickell said. "He gives me all the scoops on what to do and what not to do. As a friend and hockey player all around the league, a lot of people respect him. He's just an overall amazing guy."
With the Hawks trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, Hossa is looking to kick up his goal-scoring output, having been limited to one power-play score in the series. He'll do so while ignoring the jeers from Wings fans
"I just try to play my game and I don't look around," Hossa said. "I try to focus … and be myself."
[sarcasm] Touching, truly touching. [/sarcasm]
We'll conclude our Kleenex-worthy portion of this game preview with the Chicago Daily Herald's Mike Spellman's column about the high esteem in which Captain Pork Chop is held despite his scoring struggles thus far:
"He's the heart and soul of that team and sort of sets the tone for them," Howard said. "I think when it comes to him, just him going out there and working hard gives that team success. ... They're such a deep team, they've got so many guys that can go out there and score for him. He's one of those guys where you got to go out there and outwork him."
"He does everything," Bryan Bickell said. "He's not trying not to score a goal. He's definitely trying, but the bounces aren't going his way. With the way he's been working, though, the bounces will go his way. He's been doing it all year. He's our backbone. He gets everybody fired up with his work ethic. Hopefully they start going in here."
Rookie Saad, also without a goal in the postseason, absolutely feels Toews' pain.
"I'm sure he's put more pressure then anyone on himself but he plays both ends of the ice," Saad said. "He's playing well defensively, not getting scored on. He's a good faceoff guy. He does all the little things. The goals are going to come. Obviously you want your top guys to produce, but in the playoffs you've got to have depth, you've got to have all the lines chipping in a little bit. I don't think it's really a big deal that he hasn't scored. We've still had success."
The Blackhawks did spend a significant portion of Wednesday's practice altering their approach to the power play, as noted by the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus, and the Hawks believe that adding both Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw to the mix will improve their output significantly:
At Wednesday’s practice, the Hawks’ top unit had Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith at the points, with Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell up front.
The second unit featured Michal Rozsival and either Brent Seabrook or Nick Leddy at the point, with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Andrew Shaw.
“We’re just looking for a little more balance on the units,” Quenneville said.
The Hawks are just 3-for-22 on the power play this postseason, including 0-for-6 in losses to Detroit in Games 2 and 3. Even a unit featuring all-stars Keith, Sharp, Hossa, Toews and Kane struggled to get anything past Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard.
Shaw and Bickell suggested that they'll do a fine job of screening Jimmy Howard...
“Howard’s playing great, he’s a hot goaltender right now,” Shaw said. “Getting big bodies like Bicks in front of the net and finding those loose pucks and putting them home, I think it’s going to be great for us. … They have big defensemen and they can move you pretty well. We’ve just got to battle and compete and try to take his eyes away as much as possible.”
As also noted by the Chicago Tribune's Kuc and Brian Hamilton:
"I'm excited," Bickell said. "Our power has been struggling as of late. We're just emphasizing on getting the puck to the net. You see goals around the league on the power play and they haven't been tic-tac-toe (into the) empty net. They've been the greasy ones."
Bickell was on a unit with Keith, Sharp, Hossa and rookie Brandon Saad while Shaw skated with Toews, Kane, Nick Leddy and Brent Seabrook.
"(It's) tying to pull a guy in, it's a two-guy screen — it's pretty tough," Shaw said of standing in front of Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. "They're big defensemen and they can move you pretty well. You just have to battle and compete and try to take (Howard's) eyes away as much as possible."
The Chicago Daily Herald's Mike Spellman noted that the Hawks' forward lines are in flux, too...
If Wednesday's practice was any indication, it looks like the move of Patrick Sharp to the top line and Brandon Saad to the second line is official … or maybe not.
"We'll see about the lines," was all Joel Quenneville would provide afterward.
If it is a go, Marian Hossa sounds like he is all for it.
"I thought we created something there," Hossa said. "Having him there, little things changed and having Saader on the other line something changed too."
As did Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Tracey Myers:
Patrick Sharp went through the Blackhawks’ drills to the left of Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa as part of the team’s top line. Brandon Saad took his place on the second line with Dave Bolland and Patrick Kane.
It could’ve been a ruse. It could’ve been a sign that coach Joel Quenneville liked what he saw when he rolled those two combinations during Game 3 on Monday night. Chances are it’s the latter. It doesn’t matter, really: one way or the other, the Blackhawks need to find a way to score goals. And if these combinations do it, then the Blackhawks will go with them.
The Blackhawks shook up the top two lines (slightly) during Wednesday’s practice before they departed for Detroit, where they’ll face the Red Wings in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal series on Thursday night. The Blackhawks have struggled offensively the past two games, in which they have just two goals. That’s not good enough to win many games, and especially against the Wings.
The reasons for the Hawks' moves? Detroit's defense:
"They block you out going to the net; we have to find a way to get there,” Quenneville said. “Traveling in that tough area, you have to be willing to get there and make sure we’re in that sight line of the puck.”
“They’re doing an extremely good job defensively. They’re playing well in their zone, and we have to find a way to get inside,” [Hossa] said. “I felt we had some good chances, and it was too bad on the disallowed goal. But give them credit. We have to find a way to get inside.”
“We had some bounces (in Game 3), had three posts or crossbars and a disallowed goal. But quality’s going to come from the traffic and second opportunities,” Quenneville said. “It doesn’t have to be a pretty goal because they’ve been checking well. We have to be determined in those areas. When one or two slide through, that’s what we’ve got to look for. But the pretty goals aren’t going to be there.”
“We played well, we kind of feed off each other,” Stalberg said. “We just keep working hard, grinding teams down. I think we’ve got scoring ability, too, on that line, to make things happen. Sometimes the big boys get the toughest matchup and you kind of get behind there and you get a little easier matchup, and I thought we did a good job taking advantage of that all year long.”
It’s an interesting mix. Bickell brings the size, Shaw brings the agitation, and Stalberg brings the speed. They were kind of thrown together during the five-day post-lockout training camp, but quickly clicked into a unit that wasn’t just defensively responsible — as a checking line has to be — but was surprisingly effective in the offensive zone.
“We’ve got every aspect we need — speed, size, quickness,” Shaw said. “We’re all aggressive in puck areas and we all throw the body around. We just try to get Vik as much room as possible to skate wide and make plays. The chemistry we’ve built over the year has only grown. Every game, I think we get better as a line.”
It’s been Detroit’s third line — a young group consisting of Gustav Nyquist, Damien Brunner and Joakim Andersson — that has been getting the attention, scoring in all three games as the top lines neutralize each other. But with the Hawks in a hole, the Hawks’ third line is hoping to return the favor.
“I think three different styles thrown on one line, sometimes it clashes, sometimes it mixes well,” Bickell said. “This year, we had that good chemistry and a good year. What we did during the regular season, we need to bring back.”
Shaw, however, has been told to stay out of the penalty box, as Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Myers noted:
After recording just two penalty minutes in the Blackhawks’ first-round series against Minnesota, Shaw has taken 18 against Detroit, including 14 in an emotionally charged 3-1 loss to the Wings on Monday night. Shaw knows that can’t happen again.
“I’ve gotta keep going to the net and keep my hands down, also,” he said following Wednesday’s practice. “It’s a physical battle in front of the net and I can’t take stupid penalties. I have to move forward and move past the last game. We have to stay disciplined.”
Emotions were running high in Game 3, especially at the end. It was a frustrating end for the Blackhawks and Shaw, who was also whistled for being in the crease on what would’ve been, at the time, the game-tying goal. That call was definitely a bad one. But the frustration penalties were the main concern.
“Shaw plays with energy, he goes into the hard areas and brings that passion to the game we like. But he has to know there’s a line that you make sure you travel and don’t cross it,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He pushes the envelope. He’s not a big guy, so he has to find ways to keep pushing. At this time of the year he’ll do everything he can to try and make it work.”
Both Shaw and Bickell insisted that they'd be positive difference-makers this time around, as they told the Chicago Tribune's Hamilton:
"I took two (minor) penalties last game," Shaw said. "I hate taking penalties. It puts the team down. It kills the momentum we had going for us. They've talked to me about it. I have to keep doing what I'm doing but just stay on the right side of the line."
Some aggravation is understandable. Shaw has been sent to the box for an elbow that, upon consulting a replay, connected with nothing but the glass. He was whistled for interference in Game 3 to negate a goal when replays showed he didn't appear to make contact with the Red Wings' Jimmy Howard.
"We were a little frustrated last game," Bickell said. "The calls were going their way. We just need to keep it positive going into (Game 4) and keep our sticks down and just play hard through the whistle."
If you're interested, you may most certainly read the Chicago Daily Herald's Spellman's Q and A with Hawks color commentator Troy Murray, but I'd prefer to move on to NHL.com's Brian Hedger's game preview:
Blackhawks [team scope]: It wouldn't be the same as falling behind 3-0, but that's the way Chicago is approaching the fourth contest in this series. Lose it and the Blackhawks come back home down 3-1 with the possibility of being knocked out in front of their own fans on Saturday night. Win it and come back home to United Center tied 2-2 with two of the three remaining games on home ice. Finding a way to put pucks past Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard is the foremost concern, after scoring just two combined goals in back-to-back losses.
"We need to score," forward Viktor Stalberg said. "That's the main thing, to be honest. We can't score two goals in two games and expect to win. We've got to be better. We've got to work harder to get those bounces. We feel like if we keep working, we're going to turn it around."
Red Wings [team scope]: Fans, players and coaches of Detroit used to always have the same complaint whenever their highly-skilled team would run up against a defense-oriented bunch intent on clogging up the neutral zone, slowing the Red Wings down and beating them up with hard hacks and whacks -- during play and after the whistle. Now it's their turn to do the same, only they're still loaded with highly-skilled players that can make you pay offensively. Detroit is patrolling the neutral zone aggressively, stopping the Blackhawks before their rush game gets really cranked up and keeping Chicago's shooters to the outside for the most part. Don't plan on the Red Wings changing that strategy, either.
"We're just worried about what we're going through and making it as hard as we possibly can on [Chicago]," coach Mike Babcock said. "We got enough to do to keep our group focused and understanding how important the game is. In the playoffs, it's all about the next game. During the year it is, too, but the playoffs are really about that."
Who's hot: Chicago's Patrick Kane has scored goals in back-to-back games. ... Gustav Nyquist continues to showcase the skill and athleticism that drew raves from Detroit's coaches and front office during training camp prior to the 2011-12 season. His goal in the second period of Game 3 gave Detroit a 1-0 lead and completely flipped momentum, leading to a quick second goal by Drew Miller.
And Hedger's column about the Red Wings' power play issues will shift our perspectives from those of the Blackhawks to those of the Red Wings' players and coach:
When the seventh-seeded Red Wings knocked off the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks in seven games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, power-play goals were plentiful for each side. Through three games of the Western Conference Semifinals, led by Detroit 2-1, the Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks have combined for one extra-man goal -- and that one from Chicago's Marian Hossa came 9:03 into the series.
Since Hossa scored, the Red Wings and Blackhawks have combined to kill off 20 consecutive chances with the man-advantage.
"It has been [different]," Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "I think both teams have had their chances to score some goals, but they haven't really been able to do that. Some part is the goaltending. They've been playing really well on both teams. It is going to come down to special teams eventually. We have to bear down when we get the chance and the same thing, we have to have a good [penalty kill] if you want to win games."
"It's obviously something that we need to work on," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "Sure, we've had some good looks, but we haven't scored yet. That's what it's all about. We have to find a way there to get the job done. [The Blackhawks] do a pretty good job of getting into the lanes. They oftentimes have a layer of guys just trying to block shots. That's something that we have to work on."
The Red Wings are a wee bit more worried about keeping the Blackhawks off the scoresheet than beating Corey Crawford at this point, as Kronwall told Hedger...
"Well, [Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard] has been clicking, I'm sure that helps," Kronwall said. "But I think we've been doing some good things, too, to disrupt their breakout a little bit, to make it hard on them to enter the zone with puck possession. That's something that we want to keep working on and just getting better every game.
"They have so much talent and so much firepower really up front, and even on the back end there with Keith on the blue line and [Brent] Seabrook, it doesn't matter who, [Nick] Leddy, the list goes on. So we have to keep doing a good job of being in the lanes and making sure that they stay to the outside."
But in the playoffs, goal-scoring tends to determine games more than goal-prevention, and that's why Wings coach Mike Babcock told the Free Press's Helene St. James that his team's switching things up personnel-wise after spending a significant amount of time watching video and attempting to determine what's not working:
“We went through every single scoring chance we got on the power play this series here this morning,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We talked a lot about our power play. We’ve had individual power-play meetings, kind of to run through, and let the guys see what’s going on and try to make adjustments.
“We’ve had some real good looks. We haven’t scored yet, but sometimes when you get real good looks and you don’t score, you stop shooting. So, to me, it’s the opposite way. Let’s get a good net-front presence, let’s pound the puck, let’s throw it in there, let’s create some chaos. We’ll get one and everyone will loosen up and get going from there. But right now there’s no question that our power play needs to be a bigger factor than has been thus far.”
Special teams often are a difference-maker in the playoffs, and the Wings have been able to count on their penalty kill, which has left Chicago’s power play 1-for-9. And it’s not like the Wings are alone in feeling thwarted by Chicago’s penalty kill; the Minnesota Wild, Chicago’s first-round opponent, didn’t get a power-play goal in that five-game series.
The Wings used their man advantage to great success against Anaheim, scoring six times on 25 opportunities. The Wings don’t lack for net-front presences in Johan Franzen and Daniel Cleary, but it’s getting shots through to them that has been a problem.
“We have to find a way to get through the layers of players that they present when we try to take a shot,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We haven’t done a good enough job of that.”
While speaking to the Detroit News's ever-thorough Gregg Krupa, Zetterberg stated the regrettably painfully obvious:
"I think both teams had their chances to score some power play goals, but we haven't really been able to do that," Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said of the semifinals. "I think some part is the goaltending. They've been playing really well on both teams. But it is going to come down to the special teams. You have to bear down, if you get a chance."
Early in games, Zetterberg said, chances are coming.
"I think later in games, when we have the lead and we get a chance on the power play, we are a little too cautious," he said. "We've just got to be on our toes and keep playing and go for the next goal. We've been better on that 5-on-5. Now, we've just got to do it on the power play, too."
And both Jakub Kindl (who's getting power play time) and Brendan Smith (who's not) agree that putting more shots on the net from the blueline might hold the key to success:
"Every time I get the puck up on the point, my first thought is to get it through because these days everyone is going down for them," Jakub Kindl said, referring to the growing inclination to block shots on the penalty kill. There's not a lot of time to find a hole or get the puck through. You get maybe half-a-second when you have the line and you've just got to take advantage. Once the rebound comes, we've just got to be ready for it and bang it in."
Another point man, Brendan Smith, said an additional problem with blocks is that too often they are essentially giveaways.
"You're trying to look for an open area because if you get a shot blocked, it's going the opposite way," Smith said. "You've got to make sure it gets down toward the net or behind the net, because then it's not coming back on us."
Obviously, part of changing up one's approach involves changing personnel, so in theory, the Wings' top two lines at even strength will be their top two lines on special teams, the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness noted:
If things remain the same from practice, Justin Abdelkader will be added to the power play, skating alongside Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen.
“I don’t know, we’ll see, it was just one practice,” Abdelkader said when asked if he will see power play time in Game 4 Thursday at 8 p.m. at Joe Louis Arena. “If I get the opportunity I’m just going to do what I do, go to the net, retrieve pucks and be hard on the puck.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Abdelkader added. “Things are constantly changing, constantly trying different things. If my name gets called I will be ready.”
The Wings are 0-for-12 on the power play this series, registering 16 shots on goal.
“Chicago does a good job blocking shots,” Abdelkader said. “We just have to find ways to get the pucks on the net, create second and third chances by getting pucks back. They’re a good penalty killing team and any team that’s that good on the penalty kill for that long is doing a lot of good things. I think just commitment to their system is why it’s working. We have to find a way.”
Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula and Daniel Cleary made up the other unit up front, while the blue line parings remained the same – Damien Brunner/Niklas Kronwall and Carlo Colaiacovo/Jakub Kindl.
Regardless of who plays with whom, the Wings know that not scoring on the power play allows the Blackhawks to essentially get away with playing as nastily as they wish, and with Jordin Tootoo and Todd Bertuzzi not playing in favor of the slightly more versatile penalty-killers that are Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves, the team has no other real enforcer.
So they've got to, "Get 'er done," as they told MLive's Ansar Khan:
"We have to find a way to get through their layers of players that they present when we decide to take the shot,'' defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We have to get the pucks in there. We haven't done a good enough job of that. We have guys in front that are doing a great job and we have to make sure we get the puck in there.''
Carlo Colaiacovo, who plays the point with Jakub Kindl on the second power-play unit, said: “They do a really good job of fronting shots with both forwards playing in behind each other and the D fronting shots. Sometimes the best thing is to just get it down there, whether it’s on net or not on net, and create some chaos with their penalty killers. When you’re retrieving pucks off rebounds or off chaos that’s when the penalty killers move and things open up.''
Henrik Zetterberg said his team is generating chances on power plays early in games, but not in the third period.
“Later in games when we have the lead and we get the chance on the power play we're a little too cautious,'' Zetterberg said. “We just got to be on our toes, keep playing, go for the next goal.''
Colaiacovo said it's important to at least gain some momentum from the power play, if they don't score on it.
“That’s what a power play is for,'' Colaiacovo said. “You want to take advantage of the extra man, but you also want to make sure the momentum that comes off it stays on your side.''
In all situations, the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan points out that the Wings have owned the Blackhawks in the faceoff circle--well, when they've won, anyway...
"It is important because you want control of the puck," said Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg, who has won 55 percent this series (22 won, 18 lost).
The numbers back up Zetterberg's claim: In the Game 1 loss, the Red Wings had a 32-29 advantage;
In the Game 2 victory, the Red Wings had a 31-25 advantage; and
In the Game 3 victory, the Red Wings had a 37-29 edge.
"It's definitely a factor," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We've got to get better in that area. It's definitely an area that is a point of emphasis moving forward. All (zones are) critical, special teams, PK (penalty kill), offensive … We've given up a couple of goals the last two games (because of lost faceoffs)."
The Red Wings are ranked fourth in the postseason in faceoff percentage at 52.6 — they are at 54.6 percent in this round. The Blackhawks are 11th overall at 48.3 percent. (The Bruins are No. 1 at 58.6 percent.)
So, what's the secret to succeeding in the circle?
"You try to find out what (players are) going to do," Andersson said. "You have to do different stuff against different guys in each game."
And thus far, the Red Wings' third line has been its difference maker, as MLive's Ansar Khan suggests, and it may have to hold sway over the Stalberg line for the Wings to persist and defeat the Hawks:
The matchup of third lines could be pivotal in deciding this series. The Red Wings have the edge so far. Brunner scored in Game 2. Nyquist scored in Game 3. Andersson assisted on both goals.
“Andy, he’s the worker on the line,'' goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “Gus, he’s got the skill, the vision. And Brunner, he’s just a natural goal-scorer. When they put them together at the end of the season, you could really see them come together.''
Said defenseman Niklas Kronwall: “Our third line has been great, providing offense and playing solid D. Andy in the middle is really a responsible two-way guy, really smart, and he’s got two guys on the ends that are flying around and really creating some great chances.”
Zetterberg called Andersson “the brain of that line'' because he takes care of the other two.
“With those guys I got to focus on defense, for sure,'' Andersson said. “But what I want to do better in the NHL, what I did more in the American League, is to control the puck. I got to find confidence to do that more here. If I can do that, our line will be even better, a more dominant line.''
“We can't be relying on the top two lines all the time,'' Nyquist said. “We have young legs and it's the playoffs, so just try to skate as hard as possible.''
“As long as we can play offense, the (Blackhawks' third line) don't want to play in the defensive zone, Stalberg and these guys,'' Andersson said. “As long as we can play down low, that's good.''
At the other end of the ice, even the New York Times' Joanne C. Gerstner suggested that Jimmy Howard's been the Wings' most important player in this series...
"I’m just trying to breathe and make sure I keep doing it back there,” Howard said Wednesday on the eve of Game 4 in Detroit. “This is when it is fun to play. The crowd is going crazy; everybody’s flying around; stuff is happening everywhere. You just want to be a part of it and do your job.”
He added: “I take two good, deep breaths during the national anthem, really get calm and focused, and then it’s time to go.”
In Game 1, the top-seeded Blackhawks took advantage of the Red Wings’ turnovers and poor defense to earn a 4-1 victory. But Howard was sharp in Games 2 and 3, limiting the high-powered Chicago offense to one goal in each game. Howard has a .923 save percentage and a 6-4 record during the playoffs. He helped the Red Wings prevail in a seven-game first-round series against the Anaheim Ducks, winning three of four overtime games.
And Gerstner spoke to Wings GM Ken Holland and goalie coach Jim Bedard about Howard's maturation into an elite goaltender:
“What I like about Jimmy is you know what you’re going to get; he’s consistent,” Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland said. “It’s not an accident. He’s done his time, moving up from college at Maine, to the minors, to learning from Ozzie, to taking over the job himself. He’s always had confidence, but there’s something different about it now,” Holland added. “He’s calmer, more assured. The play comes to him, and he knows what he needs to do.”
Bedard has known Howard for more than a decade, first as a scout who recommended that the Red Wings draft him. Howard was chosen 64th over all in 2003. Being steady and staying calm have helped Howard along.
“You can’t go to the experience store and just buy some,” Bedard said. “Jimmy’s come through to this point because he’s had to learn from everything. And those who can’t get through that process get left behind.”
The Detroit News's Bob Wojnowski, penning a "spirit of the thing" column, suggested that Howard's got to be sensational to stop the Hawks' offensive machine...
"I don't hear much but I hear some things, and most of the time it's about our goalie in this city," Zetterberg said Wednesday. "I don't know if it's a tradition here of not really believing in goaltending, but I don't know what he needs to do to get people believing. He's a really good goalie, he's been showing it all year and he's taking another step every game."
Mike Babcock has done a terrific job rallying this team, and Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall and Daniel Cleary are excellent leaders. But the guy who stands to gain the most is the 29-year-old goaltender who just signed a big contract and vowed to earn it.
Howard and the Red Wings repeatedly have said they weren't content sneaking into the playoffs, weren't happy to win one round and aren't satisfied just giving the Blackhawks a tussle. If it's extra motivation to finally be the overlooked upstart, the Red Wings are in no mood to admit it.
"Whatever," Howard said with a shrug. "I don't think it really bothers us all that much. A lot of people have counted us out for many years, saying our leadership is getting too old. And those guys just go out and prove the naysayers wrong. A lot of people picked the 'Hawks to sweep us, and we're playing great hockey against them now. We just gotta keep it up."
As Wojnowski notes, Howard's taken on a Chris Osgood-like borderline arrogant demeanor, but Osgood learned to act that way from Mike Vernon and Dominik Hasek, and both goaltenders understood that withstanding the pressure that is being the Detroit Red Wings' goaltender or the Detroit Lions' quarterback involves puffing up one's chest protector on occasion.
So Howard's not lying when he's having fun...
"I think it's fun, it's different," Howard said. "Most years, the Red Wings are heavily favored. This year I think the fans are having a lot of fun with it too. You can definitely hear the excitement in the barn. But (no pressure) is not the way we look at it, in any way shape or form. The bar has been set so high from the guys before us, you can always just sense the heart and the passion in the dressing room."
But Wojonowski duly notes that both the Wings' goaltender and the players in front of him have to play well and play particularly disciplined to win the battles on the ice and between the ears as the referees will probably clamp down on some of the extracurriculars they allowed to occur on Monday evening:
I'm not sure the Red Wings caught the Blackhawks by surprise — like I said, that's no longer possible after what the Kings did last season. But their feistiness is more agitating than most expected.
"I think the referees are gonna be ready to set the tone right away and not let that extracurricular stuff happen," Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said. "I think emotions will run high, especially at the beginning, but teams will want to stay disciplined and stay out of the box."
If the upset really is going to occur, this is probably when it will happen, and this is probably where it will happen — between the ears and the pipes.
Even the Chicago Daily Herald's Tim Sassone noted thatHoward and the Red Wings are really playing up their "underdog's" role..
"A lot of people have counted us out for many years now, saying we we're too old and our leadership is getting too old, but those guys just go out there and prove the naysayers wrong," Howard said. "A lot of people picked the Hawks to sweep us in four and here we are playing great hockey against them. It's different. Most years the Red Wings are always the heavy favorite. The bar has been set so high from guys before us. You can sense the heart and passion the guys have in the dressing room — we want to go out there and not only play hard for our fans, but for the guys that were here before us."
The Red Wings expect to see the Hawks' best effort in Game 4 on Thursday.
"We know they're going to come out flying," Howard said. "It's going to be on us to focus in even more and get the job done. Don't overthink anything, don't get too excited, keep our emotions in check. Just go out and continue that same style of playing fast and getting on top of them."
And the Toronto Sun's Rob Longley also noted that the Wings want to play the spoiler's role...
"Whatever," Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard said when asked about the new role after practice Wednesday, the eve of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinal against the Chicago Blackhawks. "I don't think it really bothers us all that much. A lot of people have counted us out for many years now, saying we're too old and our leadership's getting too old. Those guys just go out and prove the naysayers wrong. A lot of people picked the Hawks to sweep us in four and we're playing great hockey against them right now."
Howard has noticed one difference, however. As they might feel if they got up some coin at a Greektown Casino craps table just down the road from the Joe, Detroit fans can't help but feeling they are are rolling with house money now. Even with a 2-1 series lead against the top-seeded and regular-season champion Hawks, prior to Wednesday's action the Wings were fifth in odds to win the Cup among the eight remaining teams.
"I think it's fun, it's very different," said Howard, who with stellar performances in the past two games is a big reason his team holds the edge. "Most years the Red Wings are heavily favoured so this year the fans are having a lot of fun with it, too. You can definitely feel the excitement in the barn. It's not the way we look at it though. The bar has been set so high from guys before us. You can always just sense the heart and the passion the guys have in the dressing room. We want to go out there and not only play hard for our fans, but play hard for the guys who played here before us."
And yes, the Los Angeles Kings' 8th-seed-turned-Cup-Champion run has emboldened the Wings somewhat...
"With how playoffs went last year and L.A. winning and being the eight seed and just the way that the league is so close now, I don't think there is such a thing as a huge underdog," Detroit winger Drew Miller said. "Our fans are very excited and I'm sure they had their doubts at various points in the season. But in this locker room, there was none of that kind of thought. It was 'Get in the playoffs and let's see what can happen.'"
But the Wings' coach told the Globe and Mail's David Shoalts that, given the enormous importance of winning Game 4, the Wings have to keep the Hawks' stars in check, first and foremost, and that's going to come from a bottom-up push...
“Well, we had wide posts the other night,” the coach said, citing a play when Wings defenceman Jonathan Ericsson knocked Toews down in front of the net only to see him pop back up and hit the post on a scoring chance.
“Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa,” Babcock said. “They have a whole bunch of depth but those are the four guys up front who can’t have space. [If] we give them space, they’re going to hurt you eventually. What we focus on is limiting opportunities, not [who] is scoring. If you limit the opportunities, that is your best bet.”
On the other side of the stopping-the-stars coin, the Red Wings are drawing many benefits from the play of their third and fourth lines. The third line of centre Joakim Andersson and wingers Gustav Nyquist and Damien Brunner and the fourth line of centre Cory Emmerton and wingers Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves have produced nine points in three games. Plus, the fourth line is serving as the Red Wing penalty killers, limiting the Chicago power play to one goal on nine opportunities in the series.
“What I feel is at playoff time is as long as you have depth, you can do lots of things,” Babcock said. “Having Miller and Eaves and Emmerton on the fourth line the other night, they were a factor because you can play them on the penalty kill all the time, you can really use them.
“You can play people at different spots when you have depth. When you have no depth, your hands are way more tied at playoff time. All you have to do is look at Boston [Bruins], how important their third and fourth lines are. They are a deep team and [Los Angeles] is the same thing.”
And as Babcock warned the press about his team getting far too cautious during the final period of Game 3, you can be certain that he's demanding a 60-minute effort from his players, regardless of the fact that they probably want to put on a show for their home crowd:
Since the Red Wings will be playing in front of 20,000 of their own fanatics at Joe Louis Arena, they have the home advantage, although in recent years the chances of the home and road teams winning are about equal. The early returns in this playoff year show the home team has won 67 per cent of the games, but Babcock is not convinced it’s an advantage.
“This is what I think of home ice: I love having the crowd behind you, I love getting fired up and having last change,” Babcock said. “But what I don’t like is sometimes you get so fired up with the crowd going you lose your emotional control. I think it’s way easier to have emotional control and stick to the plan on the road. Sometimes at home you try to do too much individually instead of doing your own simple little part and letting the team game take over.”
According to the Free Press's Mitch Albom, the Wings should have no problem keeping their emotions in check, because they are reminded to do so before, during and after every game:
“That’s why after every game in the playoffs,” forward Daniel Cleary told me, “Hank Zetterberg always says, ‘Guys, it’s even keel. Not too high, not too low. Keep it straight in the media. No bulletin board material. Make sure you’re saying the right things, doing the right things.’ ”
Zetterberg says this, according to Cleary, just before the media are allowed into the locker room. It may explain why the quotes coming out of that space often sound mimeographed.
“Hank’s got a great sense of timing,” Cleary said, laughing. “On and off the ice.”
Of course, Zetterberg himself is the very definition of an unrockable boat. As was Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman before him. Other sports may make captains out of the loudest, brashest or boldest player. But hockey — and especially the Red Wings — has long celebrated the understated, the even keel. Zetterberg is perfect. He often sounds as if he’s answering a civil service exam question.
And so here we go tonight at the Joe. Another Most Important Game. The Blackhawks have every reason to hoist their season on the stick and say, “This is who we are!” After all, if they lose, they’ve got a huge mountain to climb. And the Wings? Well, to the fans it may be house money they’re playing with, but not to them.
“Just because we have a No. 7 in front of our team doesn’t mean we can’t beat a No. 1,” Cleary said. “I’ve been on the other side of that.”
It was 2006, and the Wings got upset by the Oilers, a No. 8 seed, in the first round. I remember the night it happened. We were calling it The Most Important Game.
And going forward?
Well, as the Wings told the Free Press's George Sipple, they're more than willing to let the balance of this series play out at an accelerated pace, with the team possibly playing as many as four games over the course of seven nights:
“I wish we were playing today,” Babcock said after Wednesday’s practice. “Once they gave us the break, I like playing every other day because I don’t like to practice during the playoffs. I like to pregame skate and just go. But, what’s happened in the U.S. anyway, and I’m not in Canada, so I don’t know (there) — the opportunity to watch TV is so great now. It’s unbelievable because of the way they’ve spread them out and the NBC thing. You can go anywhere and get a game.”
Babcock said before the partnership with NBC “you went from bar to bar to bar when you were on the road to find where they could have a game on.”
Teammates Justin Abdelkader, Brendan Smith and Damien Brunner actually spent part of their day off together.
“I was with Smitty and Brunnes for dinner,” Abdelkader said. “I had my family in town during the day, so I got to spend some time with them.”
Abdelkader said he was glad to get time off.
“It’s just nice to get away, especially this time of year,” Abdelkader said. “You’re at the rink so much during the season. It was such a condensed schedule, when you get days off away from the rink it’s big.”
Smith said getting a rest is good in the playoffs.
“Rest is a weapon,” he said. “It’s huge. It’s hard not to think about hockey, but for the most part you just shut your brain off and just relax and hang out.”
One might argue that the Red Wings need to do exactly that tonight against Chicago: relax, play like they know they're able to play, execute and allow the Blackhawks' emotions to get the better of them.
Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note: As noted on Wednesday afternoon, the Darren Helm's back has not improved, but MLive's Ansar Khan reports that the Wings aren't planning on going the surgical route to resolve Helm's back issues:
“I feel pretty good and feel that I can go out onto the ice and get going,'' Helm said Wednesday. “But, we’ve proven three or four times already that that doesn’t work. Just (taking) a different approach and hopefully this one works.”
Helm won't return during the second round against Chicago but hasn't given up hope of coming back later on if the team advances.
“I feel better a little bit each day by doing what everyone is telling me to do,'' Helm said. “So, it’s progress. As long as I stay off the ice for a while it will get better, I hope.”
He continues doing rehab, trying to strengthen his back, which he injured working out off-ice a few days before training camp. He has played only one game, on Jab. 25.
“Sitting on the bike hurts, so (he's doing) elliptical,'' Helm said.
Helm said there has not been any discussion of having surgery this summer. No structural damage has been found.
“They haven’t found anything that warrants to go under the knife,'' Helm said. “We’re just doing what we’re doing, and it’s slow and not fun, but it needs to be done as I look forward to my future and the few years that I have left here.''
It is possible, however, that Danny DeKeyser may return from his broken right thumb if the Wings manage to knock off the Blackhawks.
DeKeyser practiced with the team on Wednesday, and he was to have the cast removed from his right hand afterward. He told the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness that surgery actually accelerated his recovery process...
“It’s healing pretty good,” DeKeyser said. “There’s a plate and screws in there, so it’s pretty sore still. The surgery is helping it heal quicker than if I didn’t have it.”
The original diagnosis had him out 6-8 weeks, which would have sidelined him to the end of June.
“I’m not ruling that out,” DeKeyser said when asked if he could return for the next round if the Wings advance. “I’m not 100 percent sure on that. As it is right now, I’m not ready yet, but if it keeps progressing like it has been, I think I might have a chance to do that. I can’t say for sure yet. I just need to see how it is another week or two.
“I tried to stay in shape and kept working hard,” DeKeyser added. “I wasn’t doing a whole lot of skating a week or two ago. Now I’m on the ice every day, so I’m getting my lungs back and my skating legs back. So I think that’s a benefit for me right now.”
DeKeyser told MLive's Ansar Khan that fans' expectations might be tempered a bit given that his grip strength is still a work in progress, however:
“Once this (cast) comes off, I'll have a lot more range of movement and we'll see how tight I can grip the stick, and hopefully I can shoot the puck and take slap shots.''
DeKeyser is making sure he is prepared, just in case.
“They told me it would be 6-to-8 weeks, that would put me out until the end of June,'' DeKeyser said. “I didn't know if that was going to be the case or not. I tried to stay in shape, keep working hard. I wasn't doing a whole lot of skating a week or two ago. Now I'm on the ice every day, so I'm getting my lungs back and my skating legs back.
In news regarding Wings prospects, at the Memorial Cup, the Portland Winterhawks' 4-2 win over the Saskatoon Blades allowed Martin Frk's Halifax Mooseheads to advance to the Memorial Cup final due to their round-robin record (2-and-1). The Mooseheads won't play that game until Sunday;
Ahead of the Detroit Grand Prix on June 2nd, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose and the Detroit News's Tony Augusty noted that Swiss IndyCar driver Simona di Silvestro readily admitted to the press that she's an Anaheim Ducks fan, and as such, the fact that Damien Brunner helped knock off her pal Jonas Hiller's team pissed her off.
It might not surprise you that, when Brunner was informed of her comments, he related the following to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:
“Oh,” Brunner laughed when told she wasn’t a fan of his. “Maybe she should become a Red Wings fan.”
You may take this comment from the Hamilton Spectator's Steve Milton for what you will:
Dan Cleary, the former Hamilton Bulldog who turned his pro career around with what was essentially a walk-on tryout with the Red Wings in the fall of 2005, doesn't have many parts of his body that aren't mangled, but is a key part of Detroit's chances of upsetting Chicago. Cleary, who has played in the NHL longer than any ex-Bulldog, is a free agent at the end of the year and the Wings might not be able to afford him but GM Ken Holland loves the example thatthe first-ever Cup winner from Newfoundland sets for younger players (which the Wings will be full of for the next couple of years).
In the "shout out" department:
And finally, Paul will be handling the morning skate duties as I have to take my mom to a doctor's appointment at 9:30, and as the doctor's in Sterling Heights, which has no real direct route from South Lyon, and as the doctor's usually quite late...
I'm probably not going to get back until 12:30 or 1 PM, and will be playing catch-up at that time. Until then, Paul's going to have to tide you over during the morning skate (which starts at 10:30 and usually wraps up by 11:10 for the Wings, and starts around 11:30 and wraps up by 12:15 for the Hawks). Sorry.
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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.