The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/22/13 at 05:14 AM ET
As Paul noted, the Red Wings are in deep trouble ahead of tonight's game against the Phoenix Coyotes (7:30 PM EDT, FSD/NBC Sports Network/TSN/97.1 FM, and tonight is Team Tootoo night at the Joe). Thanks to the Columbus Blue Jackets' 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, if the Wings win tonight and burn one of their two games in hand over Columbus (44 games played vs. 46 GP) the 20-16-and-8 Wings (with 18 Regulation-or-OT Wins) can only nudge to within a point of Columbus's 51 (Detroit has 48 points, and Columbus possesses a 22-17-and-7 record with 17 ROWs).
Just as disturbingly, the Dallas Stars--who've played in one more game than Detroit (45 to 44)--have the same points as the Wings (48) but have a better record (22-19-and-4) and more ROWs (20 to 18)--and if the Wings lose to Phoenix tonight, the Coyotes (44 GP, just like Detroit, 19-17-and-8, 15 ROWs) would pull into a three-way tie with Detroit for 9th place.
Long story long, the Red Wings rather desperately need to win tonight, preferably in regulation or overtime, they need to win Wednesday's game against Los Angeles, Thursday's game against Nashville and they need to carry Saturday's regular season finale in Dallas if they are to truly "control their own destiny."
The Wings' problem involves the fact that Phoenix is in the situation the Wings face if they don't win tonight--needing to both "win out" and requiring significant help from their opponents' opponents to somehow close the five-point gap between themselves and the Blue Jackets.
Phoenix took a 2-1 shootout decision over Chicago on Saturday, but they possess a 3-2-and-2 record since defeating the Wings 4-2 on April 4th, and the Arizona Republic's Sarah McLellan duly noted that the Coyotes are accentuating the positive while facing a must-win situation (and she reports that Derek Morris may miss tonight's game with a "lower-body injury")...
“As a group, we’re working pretty hard,” coach Dave Tippett said. “We always talk about earning those breaks. Hopefully that’s part of it.”
Take defenseman Rusty Klesla’s tee shot just before center ice in the first period of Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win in Chicago. The 100-foot dump-in would have resulted in an icing call if it didn’t skip on the ice and bounce over goalie Corey Crawford’s shoulder 46 seconds after the Blackhawks took a 1-0 lead.
Just 2:34 after that, winger Radim Vrbata scored his second goal in as many games. Vrbata had one of his more productive stretches last season during the team’s final five games in which he scored five times to help the Coyotes go 5-0 and capture the Pacific Division title.
“That would be good if he could get hot right at the right time,” Tippett said. “He’s shown in the past that when he does get hot, he can score in bunches. That’s a good sign if this keeps up.”
But the most telling turn was defenseman David Schlemko’s shootout winner in his very first NHL attempt — a twist of fate engineered by Tippett, like so many others of the past.
“He’s been good in practice,” Tippett said. “He’s a guy I’ve kind of had my eye on for a little while. Actually, earlier on in the season when he was playing in the Central (Hockey) League there, I know he scored a couple goals down there, too, in the shootout. So he’s been a guy on the radar for us. We just haven’t had a chance to use him, and I thought (Saturday) night we had to step out the box a little bit seeing as we hadn’t been very successful at them.”
What makes this matchup against the Red Wings particularly significant is it’s the last opportunity the Coyotes will have against a team they’re battling with in the standings. Based on their recent surge of good fortune, perhaps this challenge is coming at exactly the right time.
“Whichever team can get the win out of that will have a great advantage,” Tippett said.
While Fox Sports Arizona's Craig Morgan got down to brass tacks regarding tonigh'ts match-up:
Had things gone slightly better last week, tonight’s game in Detroit could have had huge playoff implications for the Coyotes. But even though the odds of a postseason berth have been severely diminished, there is still a ray of playoff hope left for the Coyotes, and if they wants to keep that faint hope alive, they must find a way to win against the Red Wings.
Detroit enters the game in similarly dire straits, having blown a chance to all but wrap up the final playoff spot due to a 3-4-3 slide over its last 10 games. The Red Wings now trail the Wild and Blue Jackets by three points apiece for one of the final two Western Conference playoff spots, although Detroit has two games in hand on Columbus and one on Minnesota.
Even with a win in Motown, the Coyotes will still be in 11th place in the Western Conference standings despite being tied with the Red Wings and Stars in points. Both those teams own the first playoff tiebreaker by virtue of their greater number of regulation/overtime wins. But if the Coyotes can pull even with those two, it could make for a very interesting final week of the season.
"It's do or die right now for us as far as making the playoffs," goalie Mike Smith said following Saturday’s shootout win in Chicago. "We've got to put our bodies on the line and do what we have to do to win games.”
Amongst his notes:
One to watch: Red Wings forward Johan Franzen has three goals in his past four games and eight points in his last nine games.
2.43: It seems odd to see a Detroit team so low in the league in goals per game, but that’s the case for the Red Wings this season. Detroit ranks 24th in the league in scoring and hasn’t netted more than three goals in a game since March 22.
NHL.com's Adam Kimelman sets up tonight's game as follows...
Last 10: Phoenix 5-2-3; Detroit 3-4-3
Season series: This will be the third and final meeting between the teams this season. They split their first two games -- the Detroit Red Wings won 3-2 in Phoenix on March 25, while the Coyotes won 4-2 at home on April 4.
Coyotes [team scope]: The lower-body injury that kept goalie Mike Smith out the past two games still is bothering him, but he plans on playing all four remaining games for the team, and hopefully more if the team can get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Smith returned to the lineup Saturday and made 38 saves, plus two more in the shootout, as the Coyotes defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 to remain alive for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
"It's do-or-die right now for us, as far as making the playoffs," Smith said following the game Saturday. "We've got to put our bodies on the line and do what we have to do to win games. Blocking shots is one of those things … so lots of credit to guys who get down and do that. It was a huge team effort."
Who's hot: Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata has goals in two straight games for the second time this season. … Red Wings forward Johan Franzen has three goals in his past four games
Injury Report: Coyotes forward Lauri Korpikoski is out with an upper-body injury. … The Red Wings are missing forwards Darren Helm (back), Bertuzzi (back), Mikael Samuelsson (pectoral) and Drew Miller (hand).
And the AP's game preview adds stats to the mix:
Seeking some much-needed points, the Coyotes will try to build on a win and earn their first victory at slumping Detroit in nearly 2 1/2 years Monday night.
The Coyotes, 2-0-2 in their last four road games, will next try to come away with two points at Detroit for the first time since Oct. 28, 2010. They've dropped five straight there, including two in the 2011 playoffs.
The Red Wings, though, are 1-2-3 in their last six and 3-5-3 since March 27, a stretch that includes a 4-2 loss in Phoenix on April 4. Detroit is also 1-3-2 in its last six home games, and plays three of its final four at Joe Louis Arena.
The Red Wings are averaging 1.73 goals in their last 11 games after registering 2.67 per contest in their first 33 and got their only score in a 2-1 shootout loss in Vancouver on Saturday in the final seconds of the first period.
Jimmy Howard will likely be in net and he might want to keep a close eye on Martin Hanzal, who has eight goals and an assist in his last eight regular-season games against the Red Wings. He had a goal and an assist in the win earlier this month.
Detroit star forward Pavel Datsyuk's 57 career points versus Phoenix are his most against any opponent outside the Central Division and fourth-most against any team. Datsyuk, though, has just one goal in his last nine regular-season matchups and two goals in his last 11 overall contests.
“Bottom line is we didn’t get that second point we would have liked to have got,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought our team had good process, played hard, was organized, spent a lot of time in their zone and did good things but weren’t rewarded with the second point. That’s part of life. Get on with it.”
“We all know where we are in the standings and know the points we can get,” forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We had one off the crossbar, two minutes later they had one off the crossbar, so we could have walked out of here with no points. But the important thing is we played better. This is playoff hockey. It’ll be tight games now, not a lot of open chances.”
For the time being, the one point did put the Wings, who have four games left in the regular season, a point ahead of Dallas in the Western Conference standings and moved them a point behind Columbus for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs.
“There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We are where we’re at. We just have to dig down and stay positive and play with a lot of desperation and urgency. I thought we did a lot of good things (Saturday),” Kronwall added. “We just have to stick with the program but there’s no time for feeling sorry for ourselves whatsoever. Stick with the program and work hard.”
“We know what we have to do and we will do it and come out and play a good hockey game,” Zetterberg said. “We don’t care how our (home) record is now. We know we’ve got to win games to get into the postseason. Of course we’re happier to be at home than on the road but we got to go in and focus on Monday.”
Detroit is just 10-7-4 this season at home.
And DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose's "The Week Ahead in Hockeytown" article includes both previews of the Wings' four games this week and notes that the Wings are attempting to accentuate the poisitive, too:
"We just have to stick with the program regardless of where we play,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We have to find energy and just go after them. There’s no need or time to do anything else. We have to focus on what we need to do out there and just get the job done.”
The Wings have a 10-7-4 record at Joe Louis Arena this year. They own a 5-3-1 record against the teams that they’ll face-off against this week, having out-scored them 24-16, with a pair of shutout victories and an overtime loss to the Predators. Detroit has split the remaining season series with the Stars, Coyotes and defending Stanley Cup champion Kings.
But the Wings aren’t interested in their home record. They need to play with urgency and desperation, captain Henrik Zetterberg said, following the team’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Canucks on Saturday.
“We don't care how our (home) record is now,” he said. “We know we got to win games to get into the postseason. Of course we're happy to be at home than on the road, but we got to go in and focus on Monday.”
Despite losing five of six games – including three in shutouts – the Wings have done some very good things defensively, limiting the opposition to nine goals, while holding them to 22.6 shots per game.
“I don't care where we got ‘em, we got an opportunity to look after business,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ll have a morning skate and get ready to play a Phoenix team that will be real competitive. We got to find a way to score more goals. Just continue to work hard and do good things and good things will happen to you.”
As the Free Press's Helene St. James notes, the Wings chose to stay in Vancouver on Saturday night in an attempt to avoid a sluggish home start after returning from a 2-game Western Canadian road trip...
Coach Mike Babcock said after the loss to the Canucks that when he first got to Detroit in 2005, he spent "tons of time" talking with former coach Scotty Bowman, "about what's the right thing to do and what's the wrong thing to do.
"We've tried them all. They're all the same. Be hard between your ears, fight through the first period, get playing."
Goalie Jimmy Howard said the most important thing players can do is "get as much sleep as possible. That's the biggest thing."
It's commonly held that it takes one day to adjust for every time zone traveled. The Wings traveled three. This is their first full day to adjust. The Coyotes, on the other hand, come into tonight's game having spent their Saturday playing in Chicago, a one-time-zone, 45-minute-flight away.
And both St. James and MLive's Ansar Khan noted that the Wings' shootout struggles may end up costing the team dearly:
The Red Wings are 2-5 in shootouts, where they have lost some valuable points. They suffered their fifth consecutive shootout loss Saturday in Vancouver, 2-1. Three of Detroit's past five games have been shootout losses.
Niklas Kronwall called the missed shootout points “painful,'' but said, “That’s how the game is played nowadays. It’s the same rules for everyone and we happened to be on the wrong end of a few lately. That’s just how it goes.”
The Red Wings were 9-3 in shootouts last season, thanks in large part to Todd Bertuzzi and his five goals, mostly on spin moves.
“It'd be nice to have, eh?'' Babcock said. “We used to have Bert doing that for us and we had Huds (Jiri Hudler). Huds isn't here and Bert is hurt, so that's the way life is and we just got to score more goals.''
The Red Wings have five goals on 23 shootout attempts (21.7 percent, which ranks 25th in the NHL). Pavel Datsyuk and Damien Brunner each are 2-for-7, Henrik Zetterberg is 1-for-5.
Detroit's save percentage of .636 (14-of-22) ranks 16th in the league. Jimmy Howard is 1-5 in shootouts, having stopped 11-of-19 attempts (.579 save percentage). Jonas Gustavsson is 1-0, stopping all three shooters he faced. Howard was 15-11 in shootouts coming into this season.
So the Wings admitted to Khan that the team is in a particularly desperate situation--and Khan reports that the Wings have an 0-3-and-1 record in their first games back from Western U.S. or Canadian road trips...
“If you’re one of these players who has a stake in the Red Wings, especially the ones who have put in a ton of time, they don’t want it (to end) on their watch either,'' Babcock said.
“I think everyone feels that,'' Zetterberg said. “It's been a long time since we missed the playoffs and you don't want to be part of that team. Definitely, I take big responsibility in that.''
With four games remaining, this is the closest the Red Wings have been to missing the playoff since 1990, the last year they did not qualify. The Red Wings have struggled down the stretch (3-5-3), primarily due to their difficulty scoring (19 goals in their past 11 games).
Still, a playoff spot is theirs for the taking. If they win out, they're in. If they don't win out, they'll need some help. The Red Wings are tied with Dallas for ninth place in the Western Conference with 48 points, and Detroit has a game in hand. Both clubs trail Columbus and Minnesota by three points, but the Red Wings have two games in hand on the Blue Jackets and one game in hand on the Wild.
Monday's game is particularly challenging because the Red Wings for years have not fared well in their first game back from the West Coast, especially with just one day off in between. They are 0-3-1 this year in the first game following a trip to the West Coast or Western Canada.
On the bright side, the Red Wings have outshot the opposition 64-21 in their past five periods plus an overtime.
“We’ve been doing a great job,'' Howard said. “We’re doing the little things, (keeping) guys to the outside. I think the main thing is that we’re keeping the third guy high in the offensive zone, so it’s been eliminating some of the odd-man rushes.”
And Babcock told the Free Press's St. James that the Wings have to grind it out mentally and physically tonight, which St. James finds appropriate given the Wings' status as something of a griding team this season:
"If you're soft between your ears," coach Mike Babcock said, "you can feel sorry for yourself. And if you're not, you just get on with it and choose your attitude and get going."
After the Coyotes comes a back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday set against the playoff-bound Kings and vacation-bound Predators. The season finale comes Saturday at Dallas. Three straight games at home ought to mean something good, except the Red Wings are just 10-7-4 at home -- almost an exact duplication of their 10-9-4 road record -- and they're 1-3-2 at Joe Louis Arena since March 7.
Wherever they roam, wherever they play of late, scoring has been a problem. The Red Wings have 19 goals in their last 11 games, which goes a long way toward explaining why that stretch has yielded just nine points. Saturday night in Vancouver, Cory Emmerton, a fourth-line guy, had the only goal in a 2-1 shoot-out loss. After talking about all the good things the Wings did against the Canucks -- starting well, sustaining pressure, playing a full game -- Babcock was left condensing the one problem that has been so pervasive: "We've just got to score more goals."
Babcock has juggled his lines to try to get better results: putting together Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, separating them. Either way, they deliver far more often than not. Both are right around a point-a-game performers. Johan Franzen had one of his best games of the season in Vancouver, playing tough and threatening around the net. He has eight points in the last nine games.
Damien Brunner has been in a long dry spell, but he fired the shot that Emmerton turned into a goal, and Brunner's line with Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist has been one of the team's best recently.
Valtteri Filppula, meanwhile, isn't giving the Red Wings any reason to invest money in an extension, contributing three points the past 16 games.
The Wings aren't an elite team. It has been hard for players to accept that. Within the room, some have wondered how they could have come out so flat last Wednesday in Calgary, against a team with so little bite. But the Red Wings have been consistent in playing down to their opponent's level, which is why they've been beaten by the Flames, by the Blue Jackets, and last time around, by the Coyotes.
The Detroit News's Gregg Krupa's similarly flummoxed by the Wings' inability to produce offense...
Last season, the Wings yielded 2.43 goals per game. This year, it is 2.44.
But, last season they scored 2.95 per game. This season, it is 2.43.
And the offense is ebbing, even as they have dropped in the standings.
In 10 games since March 30, the Red Wings are 2-4-4. They scored 19 goals.
In the previous 10, March 9-30, the Wings were 5-4-1. They scored 24.
In the previous 10, from Feb. 17 to March 8, they were 5-3-2. They scored 28.
In the previous 10, from Jan. 27 to Feb. 17, their record was identical, 5-3-2, and so were their goals, 28.
Krupa notes that while the Wings do miss Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom's puck possession, the Wings' "horses" have struggled, and while I can't quote his entire article, seeing Pavel Datsyuk on pace for 24 goals over the course of an 82-game regular season, Daniel Cleary on pace for 17, Johan Franzen on pace for 19 (and 44 assists), Henrik Zetterberg on pace for 17 and Damien Brunner on pace for 21 wouldn't look so terrible..
If the Wings' defense was producing more points, and the reality of the situation is that, aside from Niklas Kronwall's 26 points, Jakub Kindl's 13 and Jonathan Ericsson's 10, the rest of the team's defense hasn't produced much of anything (Smith has 7 points, Lashoff 5, Ian White 4, Kyle Quincey 3 and both Carlo Colaiacovo and Danny DeKeyser 1 in limited action), and when you add things up, any way you slice it, this team needs to score, and needs to score badly over this week's four games, or it's going to be cleaning out its lockers a week from today.
There isn't much out there in the notebook department, save the following from the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan:
Along with losing the game Saturday, the Red Wings lost forward Drew Miller to a broken right hand. Miller could be out for as much as two months — which means he'll either miss the remainder of the season or return if the Red Wings go deep into the playoffs.
With 12 healthy forwards, forward Patrick Eaves , who a healthy scratch Saturday will return to the lineup Monday against Phoenix.
The Red Wings can't recall anyone from Grand Rapids unless there's another injury, given they've used up their four post-trade deadline recalls from the Griffins.
Both Bertuzzi (back, leg) and Mikael Samuelsson (pectoral muscle) both are close to returning and could be ready at some point this week.
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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.