Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock’s preaching a new puck possession mantra

Perhaps the most interesting  "sidebar" story to emerge from the Red Wings' 4-3 OT loss to the St. Louis blues involved Red Wings coach Mike Babcock's declaration that his team's personnel changes (see; no Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart or Brian Rafalski, with no real replacements found) and injuries on defense (see: Brendan Smith, Carlo Colaiacovo, and at times this season, Jonathan Ericsson and Ian White) has required the Red Wings to adapt their puck possession system to accommodate a less-skilled puck-moving defensive corps.

Babcock doesn't believe that the team needs to abandon the system of puck possession hockey that's worked for almost twenty years and eighteen-and-a-half seasons, but Babcock told the Windsor Star's Bob Duff that his team plays a slightly different brand of "Red Wings hockey" now:

The Joe Louis Arena crowd went wild as former captain Nicklas Lidstrom was shown seated in the private suite of Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch at Joe Louis Arena during Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

It was recently-retired Lidstrom’s first chance to see how his old team is getting along without him, and it was likely an eye-opening experience. Minus the seven-time Norris Trophy winner, Detroit’s system now is about short passing plays, and tighter gaps between the forwards and defence.

"We have to be,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ve got to be tight, tight, tight. I’ve always wanted it, but we could get away with it before.”

Not now. Those tape-to-tape, blueline-to-blueline passes that defenders such as Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski were able to make as well as anyone who’s played the game are no more. The Wings are seeking a new path to success.

“We don’t move the puck as well, so it’s real simple,” Babcock said. “When you’ve got Lidstrom, Rafalski, Stewie (Brad Stuart) and Kronner (Niklas Kronwall), they go back, they turn the corner and they fire it to someone who hasn’t had to work quite as hard to be quite as close, to be in the exact position. We can’t play like that anymore. We have to be closer and tighter and more available, and better defensively. Sometimes it’s not very pretty, but that’s just the way it is.”

Babcock continued while speaking to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...

That has made the Wings dump the puck into the opposing zone more than they would like.

“We’d like not to dump the puck at all,” Babcock said. “The bottom line is the game’s real simple, the more time you spend in your zone, the less time you spend in their zone, the more time you dump the puck because you got no speed on the rush. If you’re efficient coming out and move the puck and you do it right once, you’re coming with speed, you don’t have to dump the puck, you probably get some sort of entry, or at least you give up possession and get it right back.

“Dumping the puck is awful when you’re just dumping it in and changing,” Babcock continued. “Just dump and change, dump and change, you spend the whole game in your own zone wearing yourself out. Our focus is try not to do that and yet there’s parts of the game every night you’re in a bit of a survival mode and you do that.

“We’ve got to help everybody,” Babcock said. “That’s what a team is. A team is helping everybody be the best they can be within the constraints of the team.”

And MLive's Ansar Khan:

“We're just in the process of trying to figure out a way for this group to play and be successful,'' coach Mike Babcock said before Wednesday's 4-3 overtime loss against the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena. “We're not as pretty to watch as we once were, but that doesn't matter anyway. You got to find a way to win games.''

...

When your defense isn't able to make those quick, accurate stretch passes like it did before, tighter spacing between defensemen and forwards is needed, allowing for shorter passes.

“That's got to be a focus,'' Babcock said. “We got to help everybody. I always ask them to find their game within our game. This year as a coaching staff, more so than ever, we've had to find a game to coach that is their game. So we had to find out what they were first, and we're still trying to do that so we can be successful.''

They would prefer to maintain their puck-possession style and not dump and chase.

“The game's real simple, the more time you spend in your zone, the less time you spend in their zone, the more you dump the puck because you got no speed on the rush,'' Babcock said. “If you're efficient coming out and move the puck and you do it right once, you're coming with speed, you don't have to dump the puck, you probably get some sort of entry, or at least you give up possession and get it right back. Dumping the puck is awful when you're just dumping it in and changing. You spend the whole game in your own zone wearing yourself out. Our focus is try not to do that, and yet there's parts of the game every night you're in a bit of a survival mode and you do that.''

Embrace what you are and do the best with what you've been given, Babcock said.

“Our best way to live is to live a little bit scared to death and just keep on grinding and competing,'' Babcock said. “And if we do that we're going to have a chance to hang in there.''

As we wait for the Wings to take to the ice at Joe Louis Arena for Thursday's practice, I've got two more tidbits to share with you:

1. Fox Sports Detroit reports that Wings director of pro scouting Mark Howe will be inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame tonight...

2. And Michigan Hockey's Matt MacKinder reports that the North American Hockey League's top prospect tournament will be held at the Troy Sports Center from February 18-20.

Regrettably, I have an appointment today which requires me to leave the home office at or around 12:30 PM, so Paul will be offering a practice update or two, and I will do my best to catch up when I return around 2 or 2:30 PM.

Update: I did smile when I read this quip from the Windsor Star's Bob Duff:

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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.