The Malik Report
by George Malik on 10/08/13 at 10:23 PM ET
How many times can one reiterate the same points?
Based upon Justin Abdelkader, Brendan Smith, Jordin Tootoo, Dany DeKeyser and Jakub Kindl's Tweets, the Wings spent Tuesday golfing and watching the Tigers play during a CBA-mandated day off, and that's very important given that Thursday's game against Phoenix marks the start of a slate of 5 games in 8 nights--again, "And 6 in 10, 7 in 12 and 8 in 14, including back-to-backs in Boston and against Columbus, and then a road trip to Denver and Phoenix."
While it would be a gross oversimplification to suggest that the Wings' dissatisfaction with their 2-for-3 start to the regular season is much ado about a start that "doesn't matter" given the premium on small margins of points over the course of even an 82-game regular season, it is still very early, and regardless of whether you're playing a 48-game season or an 82-game one, over-practicing early is a recipe for players tuning out and suffering in-practice injuries.
When the Wings do get back to practice on Wednesday at the Joe, preparing for Thursday and Saturday's home games against Phoenix and Philly (respectively), the back-to-backs in Boston on Columbus Day (October 14th; game starts at 1 PM) and against Columbus the day after (Tuesday, October 15th; game starts at 7:30) and then their first multiple-time-zone trip of the year (in Denver on Thursday the 17th and in Phoenix on Saturday the 19th)...
The Wings have enough playing time under their belts to know that they can't expect to take 65-70% of the points on the table over the course of the the 8 games unless they get their power play in order and find some scoring depth.
First and foremost, as the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness notes, the Wings are going to ensure that they maximize their R&R given that the schedule-making computer chose to make the Wings pay for their early-season respite in a big way...
“To start the season with three (games) in four nights is pretty tough,” said Jimmy Howard, who started all three games. “That first back-to- back is probably the toughest of the year. (I) definitely felt it in the third period (Saturday). Now that we got it under our belt and a few extra days off, it’s good to re-energize us.”
After opening the season last Wednesday, the Wings played at Carolina Friday and Boston the very next night, going 2-1-0 in that stretch. Prior to that, Detroit also crammed in eight preseason games in 13 nights after a week-long training camp.
“It gives us an opportunity to work on things from the first three games, fix some things and be sharp again on Thursday,” Daniel Alfredsson said. “It’s usually like this at the beginning of the year, it starts fairly slow and then, with Olympic year, it’s going to get pretty hectic once we get going. Three games and then a little break, we should be pretty fresh come Thursday.”
“That’s the way it is,” Niklas Kronwall said. “I’m sure there’s a reason why. We’ve had three games, we know a little bit more what we need to work on, just got to stick to the game plan, keep working and move forward.”
As Pleiness notes, the next 4-day break between games comes in January, and the "Olympic year" part of the schedule involves a total of 30 back-to-back games--so there are 28 more back-to-backs and 14 two-day stretches of 2-in-2 to go.
As such, the Wings have to take what rest they can get:
In the 82-game schedule, Detroit has a four-day break between games just two other times and only twice this season will they have three days between games. Detroit goes back to playing three games in four nights again starting with Saturday’s home game against Philadelphia.
“In the beginning here it would have been nicer to get a little more rest between a couple of games like this,” Jonathan Ericsson said. “But it is what it is. We just have to deal with it the best that we can, and now we’re getting a lot of rest before the next game so we should be really fresh and energized.”
“There’s going to be nights where you don’t have your energy on top but you can fall back on your structure,” Kronwall said. “It’s a lot easier. That’s something we have to keep working on as we move forward. That’s something you can never work too much on.”
That's been the word the Wings have hammered upon so very regularly, really since the start of training camp: structure.
With its third and fourth lines in flux due to injuries (Helm, Tootoo, Eaves) and the team's young blueline after Kronwall and Ericsson still very much so amidst a learning curve, it's all about reestablishing the fundamentals of "Red Wings hockey," because "structure" transcends personnel.
The Wings discussed the structure-establishing aspects of their practices and pre-and-post-game meetings with MLive's Ansar Khan, noting that they'll continue to address the team's 0-for-8 power play and their mediocre PK on Wednesday, suggesting that getting away from their "structure" is what cost them 2 points against Boston...
“We didn’t like the fact that we didn’t stick to believing in our structure and doing what we do in Boston,’’ Babcock said. “You have to give them a ton a credit, they played way better than we did. We really felt we gave away goals with turnovers.’’
Kronwall said offense will come from structure. The Red Wings have scored six goals in three games, well below their average of 2.54 per game last season, which was their lowest output since 1976-77.
Part of the problem is a power play that has gone 0-for-8, registering only 11 shots in 16 minutes.
“We’ve done some good things, but we haven’t put the puck in the net,’’ Daniel Alfredsson said. “It’s not big changes we need, it’s small adjustments. It’s one of those things where I believe it’s a new look (with himself and Stephen Weiss on each unit) and all we need is a couple to go in and we’ll feel great. Last game we didn’t do a good job of getting zone time and then it’s tough to score. But overall we’ve done a good job in zone and it’s just a matter of getting it to the net a little bit more.’’
The structural breakdowns were particularly evident on the penalty kill, where the Red Wings started strong, going 7-for-7 in a 2-1 season-opening win over Buffalo, but went 4-of-7 in the next two games.
“Our first penalty kill goal (vs. the Bruins) we ran around, the second one we turned the puck over in our zone,’’ Babcock said. “To me, that kind of thing doesn’t make sense. You have to trust one another and trust your structure and keep playing hard and be mentally strong.’’
Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner offers the team's other point of emphasis in kick-starting their third and fourth lines:
If they should be concerned about anything this early in the season, it has to be their third line of Joakim Andersson, Daniel Cleary, and Todd Bertuzzi, which has failed to register a single point.
“Every year, we get excited about Pav (Pavel Datsyuk) never scoring in this game, and look at the record book at the end of the year and he has 80 points every year," analogized Babcock, who's not ready to panic about the play of his third line yet. "Let things evolve here and it’ll work out. I think they’ve played pretty hard.”
One Wings player who agrees with Babcock’s assessment is Cleary.
“It’s been OK," he said of his line's play. "Obviously, you want to be good at both ends, but it’s three games in. Not that concerned.”
The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan also discussed the third line's inability to use its size and strength (see: Bertuzzi's 6'3" and weighed in at 229 pounds at training camp; Daniel Cleary may be six feet tall, but he really does weigh 208 pounds, and Joakim Andersson's at least 6'2" and 206 pounds) to cycle the puck down low...
But things come back to "structure"--as in puck possession hockey, which is supposed to be the foundation of the team's "structure"--in determining why the third line hasn't done much:
The Andersson line is the biggest physically of the Red Wings' four lines and has the ability to control the puck down low. But right now, they're not in possession of the puck enough.
"I want to shoot as much as I can (but) we just have to find more opportunities to shoot the puck," Andersson said. "If we get down low, in their end, more often we're going to get chances to shoot the puck. We have to start getting in their end more. The last two games, it's been kind of like ping-pong, back and forth too often. That's not the game our line wants to play too much."
Amen. The last two games were indeed "like ping-pong," with the Wings trading chances with the Hurricanes and Bruins, and the Wings succeed when they sustain possession and control of the puck in the offensive zone. One-and-done scoring chances, followed up by surrendering multiple scoring opportunities against, well that's a recipe for losing.
If the line uses its size, gets in on the forecheck and plays hard around the net, said Babcock, positive things will happen.
"Do all those things and good things will happen," Babcock said. "Bert and Cleary have played on the power play most nights, too. They've had opportunities."
FYI (given that I posted the Griffins' weekly press release; the Griffins play in Rochester on Friday, and that's that, and the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner discussed the goaltending options for the Mrazek-less Griffins):
It's been a good start for the Red Wings' minor-league affiliate in Grand Rapids. The defending Calder Cup champion Griffins are 1-0-1 through two games last weekend, scoring an AHL-high 11 goals.
Sent to the minors because of the Red Wings’ salary-cap issues, Gustav Nyquist hasn't sulked. He leads the Griffins with four points (one goal, three assists).
Anyway, back to the third line, per the Free Press's Helene St. James...
"I think we can do a lot better," he said. "I thought we started the first game, good game. Second game was all right. Last game was not as good as we want to be. We have to be stronger on the puck and better down low in their zone and get there more often."
As for offense, "both Bert and Clears are good players, and they're strong on the puck, so we should create some scoring chances," Andersson said.
Andersson, Cleary and Bertuzzi each stand at least 6 feet and top 200 pounds. Andersson is as tenacious as they come in the defensive zone — he's trusted to kill off 5-on-3 power plays — and Bertuzzi and Cleary both love to shoot the puck.
Play to size and skill — forecheck, grind, drive the net — and, as Babcock put it, "good things will happen to you. Bert and Clears have played on the power play most nights, too, so I mean, they've had opportunities."
The important thing is to play well on both sides of the puck. "We've got to get the offense going, that would be a good momentum changer," Cleary said. "We've got all the right components. It's important for us to provide a little offense, take a little pressure of our top six."
And St. James did post a video of Andersson addressing his line's shortcomings:
I happen to think that the Wings need their fourth line to play more consistently, too--over the first three games, regardless of whether Tomas Tatar or Mikael Samuelsson were playing, it was, "Drew Miller and that guy who wins faceoffs but doesn't do much else" to me--and I also happen to believe that the "structure" will improve in a hurry if the Danny DeKeyser-Jakub Kindl and Kyle Quincey-Brendan Smith pairings start passing to forwards and clearing the puck out of the defensive zone instead of passing to each other and drop-passing the puck to no one--but that's just me.
In the prospect department: In Sweden, Mattias Janmark didn't register a point in AIK Stockholm's 5-3 loss to Frolunda, and that may be the first time he's gone pointless this season. He did play 22:43, which is a ton of time for a forward;
Mattias Backman didn't register a point in Linkopings HC's 2-1 shootout loss to Vaxjo, but he did play 22:26;
And in the WHL, as I'm writing this, the Kelowna Warriors are trailing the Spokane Chiefs 4-1 [edit: Kelowna lost 6-3], and Mitchell Wheaton (shoulder) isn't scheduled to make his debut for the team until Friday, per DRW Prospects:
RedWingsCentral took note of Janmark's scintillating start, and they point out that Janmark was drafted in the 4th round and as a 20-year-old, so the Wings feel that they grabbed quite the steal in a late-blooming offensive machine:
Janmark, who is his second full season with AIK and will turn 21 in December, was a high scorer at the 20 SuperElit level in 2011-12 before posting breakout numbers last season with 31 points in 55 games last season.
Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson raved about Janmark’s skill and intensity after the draft.
“I like what he can do with the puck, but that goes along with the fact that he plays with intensity all the time,” Andersson said. “Those two things, that he’s good with the puck and plays with good intensity — that’s what I like.”
The 6-foot-1 189-pounder can play both center and wing but ranks just sixth on AIK in faceoffs taken. He also as 32 shots and is a plus-2.
Janmark has already received two auditions with the Swedish national team and it would be a big step forward if he can continue at his torrid scoring clip and earn a spot on Sweden’s IIHF world championship roster at season’s end.
Janmark took part in the Czech games, the first part o the Euro Hockey Tour, and the tournament will resume at the Karjala Cup mini-tournament, which takes place from November 7th-10th. I think it's safe to say that Janmark will be playing for Team Sweden at that time.
The Hockey News's Ryan Kennedy took note of Mitchell Callahan's attempts to add more offensive pop to his game, too:
Mitch Callahan, RW – Grand Rapid Griffins (AHL): An underdog from the get-go, Callahan has begun his third pro season with promise after an exemplary junior career with Kelowna. The California native plays the game with grit and doggedness and has turned up the offense early in Grand Rapids with two goals and three points in two games. Drafted 180th overall by Detroit in 2009.
Otherwise...This should be interesting, per the Wings...
Amongst ESPN's Craig Custance's chat answers...
Jason (Indiana): Do you think this will be Alfredsson's final season?
Craig Custance: I do, but you never know with these guys. I thought last year was going to be his last year. He can still play though, I don't blame him for sticking around.
Riley (St. Louis): With the Team USA goalies not looking so hot this early, do you expect the goal tending race to run until the Olympic break?
Craig Custance: I really think it's only a race for spots No. 2 and 3. Unless he starts letting in a bunch of goals like last night's (which he won't ever do again), he'll be the American starter in Sochi. They're going to announce the roster at the Winter Classic but I fully expect the race to go right until January 1.
joe (cubicle hell): Are the Bruins that much better than the Red Wings? How much did 3 games in 4 nights contribute to the game?
Craig Custance: Hey Joe - Which stage of hell is cubicle hell? To answer your question, no. Can't measure those two teams on one game, especially when one was playing as much as Detroit was at that point. I expect both of those teams to battle for the division title right until the bitter end.
For what it's worth, it's somewhat amusing to read Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz play up the Minnesota Wild as a fine replacement for the Detroit Red Wings in the rivalry department, all while speaking with NHL.com's John Manasso, and the Chicago Daily Herald's Tim Sassone and Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc report that the Blackhawks are playing up their rivalry with the Blues;
Via RedWingsFeed, I can't deny that this made me smile...
And I hate to keep harping on this, but again, I will not be available for a significant chunk of Thursday evening due to the rehearsal dinner for my friend Mark's wedding, and as the wedding takes place on Saturday, I will not be blogging at all on Saturday.
I didn't schedule what is probably going to cost more than a nice car, and I have no input as to whether I'm allowed to sneak away to watch parts of the game, so it is what it is. I wouldn't schedule a wedding without checking the NHL schedule first, but my idea of a fancy wedding is much, much, much lower-key, too.
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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.