The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/16/14 at 05:32 PM ET
I've been sidelined with a double whammy of sorts--I hate it when my illnesses take center stage, but I battle both a severe anxiety disorder and "major" depression--so I've spent the last week-and-a-half being the poster boy for, "Yes, it turns out that mental illnesses can be so physically painful that they can knock you off your feet."
I've been watching and trying to keep up with reading as best I can, I know theres a prospect catch-up post of doom desperately needed as Mattias Backman's Linkopings HC are playing playoff hockey in the SHL, Mattias Janmark's AIK Stockholm have to play for their spot in the SHL in the Kvalserien starting tomorrow, David Pope's West Kelowna Warriors have already been booted from the BCHL playoffs, and all of the Wings' Major Junior and NCAA-playing prospects know whether they're going to play playoff hockey or not (a certain Anthony Mantha finished his season with 57 goals, 73 assists and 120 points in 57 games played, and Andreas Athanasiou's 49 goals, 46 assists and 95 points in 66 games played placed him 5th in OHL scoring)...
With the Canadiens, Blue Jackets, Maple Leafs and Lightning continuing to win, the Wings head into tonight's game against Chicago (7:30 PM EDT on NBCSN with Eddie Olczyk doing an infomercial for subtle interference and deception, I'm sure) three points out of a Wild Card spot and have the Capitals and Devils breathing down their necks:
You might also notice that the 30-23-and-13 Wings not only have 12 games left--the Wings play in Chicago tonight, host Toronto on Tuesday, Pittsburgh on Thursday, play back-to-backs against Minnesota (also in a Wild Card battle in the West) on Saturday and Sunday, and then the Wings head to Columbus to tangle with those dastardly Blue Jackets a week from Tuesday, host the Canadiens on the 27th, head into Toronto on the 29th and wrap up the month with another back-to-back against Tampa on the 30th...
But the Wings' regulation-or-OT wins, that damn tiebreaker that Ken Holland battled so hard to establish, is just awful. 25 versus 30+ for every team the Wings are looking up at and 4 below the Devils' 29 to boot.
The Red Wings team that finds itself without Joakim Andersson, Todd Bertuzzi, Daniel Cleary, Pavel Datsyuk, Jonas Gustavsson, Darren Helm, Tomas Jurco, Mikael Samuelsson, Stephen Weiss and Henrik Zetterberg will probably have to win all of those above-listed games--9 games played in 15 nights--without at least Cleary, Datsyuk, Jurco, Samuelsson, Weiss and Zetterberg, with Andersson's broken foot possibly healing by the end of the month, Darren Helm's situation murky, Jonas Gustavsson's groin "better" and this bit of good news from the Free Press's Helene St. James serving as the only news from a morning skate-less Sunday:
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks expect to have this guy in the lineup...
And the Hawks are talking gloom and doom about their previous game, a 3-2 loss to Nashville on Friday:
"Q" would be Joel Quenneville, and NHL.com's Brian Hedger penned a game-day article for NHL.com's "At the Rink" blog setting up the coaches' takes by noting that Chicago's lost two straight games...
"I wish they had won 10 in a row so they would be taking us lightly," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told reporters in Detroit on Saturday. "They've dropped a couple in a row here and that's part of the business. Real good teams have some lulls in the season and then they usually get rolling again, and without question I'm sure they will."
Sitting just outside of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference, the Red Wings (30-23-13) hope it doesn't happen Sunday night. It will be a big game for each team, but the Blackhawks are stewing about going 6-7-3 in their past 16 games and 3-5-0 in the previous eight.
Holding a 12-2-3 record against Detroit since 2010, the Blackhawks know they've got some issues to iron out. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is unhappy about the past two games, and when he's unhappy the Blackhawks are unhappy. They spent the bulk of a 30-minute practice Saturday ratcheting up the intensity during 1-on-1 battle drills and hope it helps reignite an offense that leads the NHL with 3.31 goals per game.
"You address it all kinds of ways," Quenneville said. “We did a drill [Saturday] that is kind of the way we have to win hockey games. We've got to win some 1-on-1 battles. If you're looking for the perimeter and you're looking for a non-confrontational type of game, well, the other team will accommodate that. But you're going to be on the outside the whole game."
And listing the Hawks' lineup as follows:
Kris Versteeg – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell – Michal Handzus – Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp – Andrew Shaw – Brandon Saad
Brandon Bollig – Marcus Kruger – Ben Smith
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy- Michal Rozsival
Hedger didn't note that Corey Crawford's record against Detroit is something insane like 10-1-and-1 (or close to it), but the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc set up tonight's game as follows...
Last meeting: Wings won 5-4 in a shootout Jan. 22 in Detroit.
Probable goaltenders: Wings, Jimmy Howard, 14-15-10, 2.60 goals-against average; Corey Crawford, 25-12-10, 2.29.
Averages per game (NHL rank)
WINGS(30-23-13) CATEGORY HAWKS(38-15-14)
2.56 (18) Goals for 3.31 (1)
2.67 (15) Goals against 2.54 (11)
17.3 (17) Power-play pct. 20.7 (6)
84.3 (8) Penalty-kill pct. 80.7 (21)
Statistics through Friday.
Storyline: The Hawks have dropped five of their last eight games as they continue to battle the Avalanche and Blues in the Central Division. Andrew Shaw has a four-game points streak during which the forward has two goals and three assists. The Red Wings, who have lost 4 of 6, are banged up. Among players sidelined are Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Jurco, Darren Helm and Todd Bertuzzi.
And while the Wings were talking about the "fun" that is playing against Chicago in a conversation with the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan...
"That's the one thing I miss most," said goalie Jimmy Howard of the Red Wings’ move to the Eastern Conference. "Miss going to Chicago and St. Louis. It was always a tough battle with those teams, in those places."
Howard is a New York native, so playing the Rangers at Madison Square Garden is still his favorite road game. But playing the Blackhawks at the loud, excitable United Center ranks a close second.
"It's just a fun building to play in," Howard said. "There's always 20,000 plus fans in there and always a great atmosphere."
What is fresh in everyone's minds is last spring's classic seven-game playoff series in which Chicago won Game 7 in overtime, 2-1. The Red Wings held a 3-1 series lead, only to see the Blackhawks rally and go on to win the Stanley Cup.
"That whole series was great hockey," forward Gustav Nyquist said. "We played real well as a team, played with great team structure and good team defense and really frustrated them. Being up 3-1, you think back on it sometimes still when you watch them play (these days). It was a tough way to go out. We fought hard, two evenly matched teams, and it going to be the same way (Sunday)."
This quip Babcock gave to the Free Press's Helene St. James creeped me out as much as it creeped you out...
The other news to emerge from Saturday's practice was that Darren Helm's comeback appears to be on hold again. Helm joined his teammates briefly, but left before much action took place.
"I was told he'd be ready to go," coach Mike Babcock said. "I don't know what's going on with him. There's no sense getting ready for the summer. We're playing now. We need guys back."
Helm is fighting a concussion. He took part in Friday's morning skate, with expectations he'd build on it Saturday. However, it's common for comebacks from concussions to be unpredictable. Ken Holland told the Free Press Helm is still considered day-to-day.
In practice, Gustav Nyquist returned to skate with David Legwand and Johan Franzen. Riley Sheahan centered Tomas Tatar and Justin Abdelkader.
The Wings remain out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture as they head into Chicago. Other injuries include Henrik Zetterberg (back), Pavel Datsyuk (knee), Joakim Andersson (foot), Tomas Jurco (ribs) and Stephen Weiss (sports hernia).
There's little Babcock can do about it.
"They're hurt, they're hurt," he said. "Helmer would have been in a week ago if it was up to me. That's why I'm not allowed to be involved in that. But getting ready for summer isn't a priority. We need guys back. So how can we get them back? Well a guy with a broken foot and broken rib, they're not coming back. The head one, you never know. We could use anybody available."
(I'm glad you're not a doctor, coach)
And while I'm thrilled that the Wings admitted to Khan that their power play isn't doing shit because it's SLOW AS *#$%@& skating into the offensive zone, sending ONE player into FOUR defenders without any support (Khan also covered the "fun" angle)...
“I didn’t think we entered the zone at all last game (2-1 shootout win over Edmonton Friday),” coach Mike Babcock said. “We didn’t enter it good and we weren’t very smooth. It’s a fine line. If we have bad entries all night and we score a goal we think the power play is great. The power play wasn’t good (Friday) night, we talked about it and we met with the groups (Saturday), spent a couple seconds on it in practice to be ready for (Sunday).”
The power play has gone 0-for-11 the past three games, after going 10-for-30 in the nine games before that.
“We all know we got to be better on the power play,” Tomas Tatar said. “We practiced, tried to make some plays. Hopefully the breakouts work for us. We have to work way more. I think we have to put work before skill, just (get) a couple of retrievals; everyone has to battle to help each other.”
“We’ve been struggling to get in the zone and even when we had it in the zone we struggled to get chances,” DeKeyser said. “We have to get back to basics, be simple on it and get pucks to the net and get traffic because that’s how we’re going to score.”
On the bright side, the penalty kill has been strong; Babcock called it “all-world.” The Red Wings haven’t allowed a power-play goal in their past five games (13-for-13) and have given up only two in their past 11 games (32-for-34 on the PK).
But their eighth-ranked penalty-killing units will be tested by the Blackhawks’ firepower. Chicago ranks sixth on the power play at 20.7 percent.
The practice lineup Khan listed on Saturday is downright scary--the bad scary--when comparing it to Chicago's, Toronto's, Pittsburgh's, Minnesota's, Columbus's, Montreal's or Tampa Bay's...
Gustav Nyquist-David Legwand-Johan Franzen
Tomas Tatar-Riley Sheahan-Justin Abdelkader
Miller (filling in for Bertuzzi)-Luke Glendening-Daniel Alfredsson
Drew Miller-Cory Emmerton-Teemu Pulkkinen
Jonathan Ericsson-Niklas Kronwall
Kyle Quincey-Danny DeKeyser
Brian Lashoff/Jakub Kindl-Brendan Smith
Jimmy Howard (starting)
And as the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness noted, we're at the point where you and I simply cannot deny that injuries have taken their toll on the Wings' playoff chances, even if this team was fantastically erratic in November and played like every player was told to not give HBO a single quip's worth of elation in December:
Bertuzzi is the 10th player that’s injured on the Wings’ roster, joining the likes of Pavel Datsyuk (knee), Henrik Zetterberg (back), Tomas Jurco (broken rib), Joakim Andersson (broken foot), Jonas Gustavsson (groin) Daren Helm (concussion), Stephen Weiss (sports hernia), Daniel Cleary (knee) and Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder).
Datsyuk was shut down for three weeks at the trade deadline and Zetterberg won’t return in the regular season.
The Wings are second in the league in man games lost with 303, behind Pittsburgh (397), according to mangameslost.com.
Helm appeared to be the closest to returning, but suffered another setback Saturday.
As Kulfan and St. James noted, watching Riley Sheahan not only steal Luke Glendening's job but also steal Darren Helm and Jokaim Andersson's jobs, essentially becoming the team's second-line center, has been a beacon of hope...
No question, Sheahan is still learning on the job. But he’s looking like a productive NHL player a bit more each and every day.
“Every day here, it helps to be surrounded by so many good players and veterans,” said Sheahan, a 2010 first-round draft pick. “You learn from everyone, and the coaches. Every day you go a little step further.”
Sheahan centering a line of Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco (until Jurco was hurt two games ago) has been the Red Wings’ youngest, but also most consistent, the second half of the season.
Be it either offense, or sustained pressure and energy, Sheahan’s line has been a factor.
Sheahan, a 6-foot-2, 212-pound center, has been a key on the line.
“You earn the right to play all the time,” said coach Mike Babcock, who has raved about Sheahan’s development at the NHL level. “He’s been a real good player for us. We play him as a one or two (first- or second-line) guy and he’s played real well for us. Everyone thinks the coach decides who plays. That’s the biggest fallacy in sports. Players decide who plays. We just watch and when they play good, we play them more.”
And as St. James suggests, perhaps with the exeptions of Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff, whose "I wanna get to the press box first" shaky play of late has underscored the Wings' desperate need to add another top-four defenseman this summer, the kids really are all right. Even though Brendan Smith made that awful boo boo pass to Ryan Smyth on Friday, he's been steadier, Danny DeKeyser can be quiet offensively, but he's generally quiet defensively, and the one non-Kronwall-or-Ericsson "mentor," Kyle Quincey, has played downright...competently:
“You learn how to play your best in big games, and these games are so important so the intensity level is up,” Sheahan said. “Every day you learn something new just being around the guys and being around the coaching staff and it’s been an awesome experience. For me, my offensive game has always been something that I needed to improve, so just from the coaching staff and from the players, I’m learning different things, like standing in front of the net and using my body to my advantage in the corners and being in the right spots at the right time.”
Tomas Jurco, 21, was learning this before being sidelined last week by a broken rib. Gustav Nyquist, 24, is a class ahead, having been with the Wings as they sprinted into the playoffs last season in the last week.
“I remember how good team defense we played overall,” he said. “Last 10 games, nine or eight of those I think we gave up less than 30 shots and last 10 games, I think we gave up 13 goals or something like that. We played real solid, tight defense. That’s what you learn.”
Defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who turned 24 this month, was part of last April’s action, leaving him more comfortable as this season nears its zenith.
“We’ve got a good group of leaders in here, so you watch those guys and see how they maintain themselves and see their focus,” DeKeyser said. “The other thing it comes down to is that you can be dialed in, but a lot of it is you just have to go out there and play hockey. Every night could be our season on the line, so it’s a good challenge for us.”
No player has accelerated more over the past year than Tomas Tatar, whose effervescent personality infuses his astute play. He was with the Wings in February and March of last year, and after spending this October tucked away on the depth chart he has become a top-six force. The key for Tatar, 23, was realizing what coach Mike Babcock will and will not tolerate.
“I know him better, I know what I can do with the puck at different times now, and what I shouldn’t do,” Tatar said. “So you get more confidence because Coach trusts you more, too. He knows if you have a move, and the first two times it works but the third time it’s a turnover, he knows what you are able to do. Now, everybody knows you and you are way more confident so you can make some plays.”
And as the Grand Rapids Griffins have been emptied of their NHL veterans--no more Tootoo, no more Eaves, no more Emmerton, no more Samuelsson--the quartet of veteran AHL players who were sitting in the NHLers' steads are getting back to their job of preparing the next next wave (Callahan, Ferraro, Almquist, Frk, Marchenko, Ouellet, Sproul, Jensen, and sooner than later, Athansiou and Mantha) for professional success as the Griffins' winning machine is back in early-season form, as Triston Grant told TheAHL.com:
“I remember being younger, we had some older guys on our team that would say things like ‘Oh, you know, I shouldn’t be here,’ and stuff like that. And when you see it from a different angle, see that someone else is not acting the right way as a teammate, it’s easy to pick up on. It helps you to not act like that and learn how poor that is for a team. That sort of stuff is contagious. One rotten apple spoils the whole bunch. You just try to pick those guys up because it’s understandable.”
Grant polishes those bruised apples with the aid of “Triston’s Toy Box,” a cardboard chest in the locker room filled with Nerf guns, mini-sticks, toy guitars and hacky sacks, among other comical knick-knacks. The occasional prank is always in the works, too.
“When everyone is happy, you have more confidence, you play better and the team does better. At the end of the day, it’s about winning. A team is not going to win if you have guys who aren’t happy.”
With years of experience and wisdom to offset any frustrations, Grant maintains his signature infectious sense of humor to remind the team, and himself, that things aren’t so bad.
And the Griffins’ 39-18-2-4 record doesn’t hurt, either.
“I’ve been on teams where we’ve been just the worst team in the league, and it’s just not good. It’s not fun. Hockey is supposed to be fun,” Grant said. “We’re all fortunate that we get to do this for a living and come to the rink every day, so it doesn’t make any sense to come in and moan about things. That’s not good for any working habitat, whether it’s a dressing room or an office of cubicles.”
But the Toronto Sun's Rob Longley reports that Tuesday's opponent will come into town pissed off...
Once the afternoon nap was over, the Maple Leafs made it a decent hockey game Sunday in the U.S. capital. Unfortunately, the untimely snooze in the opening period put them in a 3-0 hole early, a deficit they weren’t able to completely recover from in a 4-2 loss to the Capitals.
Playing in just their second matinee of the season (the only other being the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day), the Leafs woke up in the second to make a game of it but couldn’t salvage a point from the struggling Caps.
The loss dropped Toronto’s record to 2-2 on the current five-game road trip that winds up with a date against the Red Wings Tuesday night in Detroit.
James Reimer, making the start in place of the injured Jonathan Bernier, surrendered goals on three of the first five shots he faced before settling down the rest of the way. He wasn’t alone in the blame, however, as two of those came courtesy of the potent Caps power play.
With the loss, the Leafs’ hold on second place in the Atlantic Division got thinner. With 80 points, they lead Tampa Bay and Montreal by one point, but the Lightning have a pair of games in hand and the Habs one. Montreal could move ahead of the Leafs with a victory in Buffalo on Sunday night.
(Again, the Red Wings have 73 points)
So it's no understatement to suggest that the Red Wings need to WIN two thirds of their remaining sixteen games, mostly against difficult opponents (April's schedule includes two games against the Sabres and tilts against Boston, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Carolina, and what may be 22-year-playoff-streak-make-or-breaking season-ending tilt in St. Louis on April 13th), or the Sheahans, Jurcos, Glendenings, Emmertons, Tootoos and Mrazeks will be heading down to Grand Rapids to bolster the Griffins' attempts to defend their Calder Cup Championship if the Wings don't at least take sixty percent to 2/3rds of the remaning points on the table.
While I was writing this, Babcock and Quenneville gave pre-game addresses to the media...
(You might want to move Alfredsson and Pulkkinen from your Mythical Productive Right Point position to the Shanahan/Yzerman one-timer spot on the left wing half boards so the Wings stop firing one puck at the net and then making Niklas Kronwall either do all the work and/or chase the rebounds down the ice because there's only one player manning the point, coaches Babcock and Renney, but that's just my opinion of the stupid *#$%@& Mythical Productive Right Point position's actual effectiveness)
(Teuvo Teravainen, Teemu Pulkkinen's former teammate with Jokerit Helsinki, just wrapped up his Finnish Liga career as Jokerit was ousted from the first round of the playoffs, and as for the Wings' prospects, I have this theory that Callahan and Ferraro remain in Grand Rapids so that Jeff Blashill can have somebody to score goals for the team).
Here's the Red Wings website's Game-Day Preview...
Ken Kal's Keys to the Game...
Weather the Early Storm - The United Center is a hornet's nest and the Blackhawks usually start fast. Detroit needs to match their intensity.
Solid Goalkeeping - Jimmy Howard has to make the big saves when tested. He'll need to have a strong night to win this one.
Don't Get into a Run-and-Gun Game - Chicago is the highest scoring team in the league. The Red Wings can't expect to win if they get into a high scoring affair.
And a telling quote in the Wings' game-day set-up:
"It's been 22 [years] in a row now and we're trying to get into the playoffs 23 in a row," Gustav Nyquist said. "That's what we do here in Detroit and that's what our expectations are every year. Right now we're in the playoff hunt with a lot of different teams and it's going to be a race right down to the end."
With just 16 games left, the Wings will look to earn two huge points tonight here in Chicago.
This is one of those times where "huge" is an understatement. I'll do my best to keep you updated along the way.
I'm sorry for my herky-jerky appearances, but I deal with a pair of chronic mental illnesses, and when they decide to play together, they can literally knock me on my butt. I'm just trying to grind along and take it "day to day" like a hockey player, and I'm doing the best that I can. I wish I could give you more, but right now this is the best I've got...
And I hope that I'm not transitioning to Minsk, Belarus time for the World Championships starting on April 14th or 15th. I really don't know whether this team can make the playoffs, especially given the fact that players will continue to go down with injuries as long as there are Blake Comeaus and Jared Cowans amidst the lineups of the Wings' opponents--i.e. players who believe that part of the playoff chase involves showing no respect for opponents who you deliberately attempt to injure--but by the time that we see two or three more Griffins on this team's roster, I sure as hell hope that the Wings are still fighting for a playoff spot instead of playing out the string.
That would be really *#$%@& depressing to endure, for all of us.
Quickie update: Per the Blackhawks website's game notes, Frederick L'Ecuyer and Dave Jackson will referee tonight's game, with Brad Lazarowich and Mike Cvik working the lines.
Also, from the Associated Press:
Crawford had won six straight regular-season starts with a 1.27 GAA against Detroit prior to the loss in January. Howard is winless with a 2.33 GAA in his last seven non-playoff outings versus Chicago.
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About The Malik Report
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.