The Malik Report
by George Malik on 09/15/13 at 06:12 PM ET
The Red vs. White game marks the official end of the Red Wings' training camp activities at Centre Ice Arena (the team will hold morning and off-day skates tomorrow and Tuesday at Centre Ice, but "team one" is headed off to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins tomorrow night at 7), and the 3-3 tie and/or 4-3 shoout win for the red team really serves as the first simulated game situation with which coach Mike Babcock--who watched the game from a suite with GM Ken Holland and several of the team's executives--uses as a first form of assessing his team.
It's the first quiz of the schoolyear for the PE-degree-holding teacher turned teaching coach, and like any teacher worth his salt, Babcock was not happy with the results of the pupils who hold the highest expectations going in, i.e. his second line.
The cuts, releasing of the names of the players who will practice from 10-11 and then fly to Pittsburgh tomorrow and the interviews with participants (as well as the team's GM) are what draw your and my attention, but after three days' worth of systems-teaching, Babcock was NOT happy with the Johan Franzen-Stephen Weiss-Daniel Alfredsson line, as he told MLive's Ansar Khan...
“Mule, Alfredsson and Weiss still are a work-in-progress, and I might need to change that around; we’ll know that in a little while, for sure,'' Babcock said. “We have a lot of players and we have to play 40 guys over the first two (preseason) games, and then at that time I’ll know a little bit more.''
Weiss, Alfredsson and Franzen went head-to-head against the top line of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader in two of the scrimmages, including Sunday's Red and White game, and didn't fare well.
“They got to be better than that,'' Babcock said. Asked what the issue is, he said, “I don't know.''
Datsyuk's line, which has excelled in camp, will play in Monday's preseason opener at Pittsburgh. Weiss' line will play Tuesday in Chicago. It sounds like Babcock won't wait long to juggle lines. He said a couple of times this week that he is considering replacing Abdelkader, who has been dominant in the scrimmages, with Daniel Cleary on that top line.
Alfredsson said he thinks camp has been going well.“I look at this as a time for players to get ready, get skating, and for me as a new guy get to know the systems, even through it’s pretty similar to what we had in Ottawa,'' Alfredsson said. “You just want to make sure you pick up as much information as you can and then get in shape. This is a team that’s going to play a high-paced game, a lot of skating, and I’m sure we’ll get enough of that these three weeks (before the regular season).''
He said it's difficult to assess his line's chemistry in just a few days.“Today was really the first day where it’s a little more structure,'' Alfredsson said. “I don’t think we’ve lit anything on fire so far. It’s just a process. I’m sure with a few new people, and for the coaching staff as well, just seeing where everyone fits in.''
Weiss felt that he didn't do a particularly bad job, either, as he told the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...
“They’re really great players so it’s not that difficult, but trying to do it in a new system can be a little bit tough at times especially playing against your own teammates that know exactly where you’re going and what you’re trying to do,” Weiss said. “We’ll get better as we go here.”
The club was hoping those two would help Franzen become a more consistent offensive threat.
“I look to run the offense,” Weiss said. “Whether that’s driving the middle and kicking it out and going to the net or being the shooter or whatever. We have to score some goals and help out the top guys that way. Whether that’s 5-on-5 or power play, we have to find a way to be productive offensively.”
And the Free Press's Helene St. James did some scene-setting on a very dreary day:
Alfredsson came away from Sunday’s event in one piece, which is good because at one point in the first half, he was flat on his back with a goalie stick in his skates and a body on top. “I had no idea what happened,” Alfredsson said. “I was laying down and somebody fell on top of me. My knee was going one way and my foot was going the other. I was a little worried, but whoever it was that fell on me let up pretty quick.”
Abdelkader came away from the day with a goal and two assists, and he along with Datsyuk and Zetterberg and goaltender Jimmy Howard will be among the group playing in Monday’s exhibition opener in Pittsburgh.
The Wings will stay in Traverse City through Tuesday to skate, using it as a home base for the first two exhibition games. A half-dozen players were sent back to their junior teams Sunday, and essentially, camp is over. Now the real stuff begins.
“You get to do things fast, we’ll get better quickly here now,” Babcock said.
Babcock said no one besides Datsyuk’s group has really shown any separation, but that’s because, “our third and fourth lines in the Red and White game are way better than we’ve had since I’ve been here. It’s harder to stand out for players.”
While the Wings played, the rain poured, and so players came off the ice and into their locker rooms and promptly were told the afternoon’s golf tournament had been canceled. Many said they’d use the time instead to watch the Lions game.
Was Babcock kind of blowing smoke to see if he could light a fire under, oh, I don't know, Johan Franzen's butt? Was he letting Alfredsson and Weiss know that they've got a whole other level to get to to play efficient Detroit Red Wings hockey? Probably yes, on both counts.
But I know that the person he sat down next to and talked to in the locker room after the game wasn't Franzen, Weiss or Alfredsson--it was Brendan Smith.
Welcome to the world of a coach having a media outlet, where he sends messages. And those of us who listen deliver them.
The Wings' second line is absolutely crucial to the team's success, and yes, it has to get moving and get producing in an incredible hurry for a team that was as goal-starved as Detroit was last season to succeed on a long-term basis.
But the first real "best vs the best" scrimmage isn't the end of the world. It's just a point in time where a coach who demands perfection can make his first assessment, and like any good teacher, he was left wanting more from his newest pupils.
In the notebook department, I get to say, "See, I told you, I don't make Tweets up!" though I must admit that I slipped out of professional character in noting what Ken Holland told everybody who spoke to him, including the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...
Wings general manager Ken Holland gave Tomas Tatar the vote of confidence he was looking for.
“Tats is going to be on the team,” Holland said. “It’s an important preseason for a guy like Tats because there’s a lot of depth. We’ve got decisions to make, but he’ll probably be one of the guys that’s one of the 14 left standing because he’s young, there’s upside potential. I like Tats. He plays hard and he goes to the hard areas. He wants the puck, he wants to score.”
Tatar, 22, is one of 17 forwards trying to earn a spot out of camp. Detroit plans to carry 14 forwards on its roster.
Tatar was named the American Hockey League playoff MVP after scoring 16 goals to go with five assists in 24 games to lead Grand Rapids to the Calder Cup.
“I think he’s been very good in training camp,” Holland said. “He played 18 games for us last year and scored four goals. That’s a 16-18 goal pace playing on the third line and not getting much specialty team. That’s a lot of goals.”
This part of Holland's scrum, as noted by Pleiness again, wasn't nearly as pleasant to hear:
Wings general manager Ken Holland had no update on Darren Helm (groin/back), who has yet to take the ice in Traverse City.
“No one’s said anything to me,” he said. “We’re just waiting a period of time.”
If he's still around, I haven't seen him. He doesn't golf, and I don't know if he likes to fish.
Wings coach Mike Babcock on whether Tomas Tatar has a chip on his shoulder.
“I don’t think he has a chip on his shoulder,” Babcock said. “I just think he can count. I think he played great. I thought he’s been really good every single day, but to me that’s not a chip. He can do the math. He wants to play and I don’t blame him.”
Let's end the text porition of this entry on a good note--or good notes, plural, perhaps--via DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose: Justin Abdelkader did play very, very well alongside Datsyuk and Zetterberg...
“The opportunity to play with both of them is just awesome, so I’m going to go out there and do my job and do my part,” Abdelkader said. “I know the areas that I have to go to, and just try to keep it simple.”
Abdelkader played much of last season with Datsyuk, who made it quite known at the time that he enjoyed playing alongside the former Michigan State standout. Encouragement coming from perhaps the best two-way players in the world certainly is a confidence booster for Abdelkader.
“For me, I just try to keep it simple, and obviously it’s always the best when him or Z have the puck on their stick. I know that,” Abdelkader said. “They’re so good whether it’s in the open ice or in the corners defensively, I just try to do my part and pull the rope. Like I said, I know the areas I need to go in and I know where my game needs to be, which is in the corners and down low in front of the net, strong defensively. So I try to build off of that. I know what I need to get better on each year and each game. I just try to better myself as I progress through my hockey career.”
Somebody has to pull the piano!
Whether Abdelkader begins the season on the top line may hinge on how the Wings’ second line fares during the exhibition season, which begins Monday in Pittsburgh.
“We have to have more than one group going, we have to have a bunch of groups going, so we’ll see what happens here,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Everyone’s got to command their share of ice-time, and obviously Abdelkader is off to a good start. A lot of people can see he’s playing with good players, but he’s playing with a lot of heart every day. That’s what he does, so when you play hard, you work hard, good things happen for you.”
Babcock was also pleased with the play of Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul, among other blueliners...
“Well obviously, I thought Sproul and Ouellet, those are good, good players, and Nathan Paetsch, who plays for us in the minors is a real solid, solid player,” Babcock said. “I thought (Brennan) Evans did a real good job out here for us. We have good depth in those spots and (Alexei) Marchenko looks like he might be a good player, so over time we’ll get it figured out. (Adam) Almquist is a real skilled guy. Ouellet and Sproul look like they’re going to be ready for prime time pretty soon.”
And it MUST be noted that Babcock is NOT thinking about who's going to fill forwards' spots thirteen and fourteen based upon position or salary:
Certainly, having too many players at a particular position in camp beats the alternative and creates competition that coaches like to see.
"I guess you could say that if you want to say it,” Babcock said. “The other thing you can say is the best players are going to play. That's what we've done every year since I've been here. We're going to do the same thing.”
And finally Grand Traverse Insider Photographer's Jim Schoensee did a lovely job of posting the anatomy of a second play--this time a Justin Abdelkader goal--and this one comes with some narration on my part:
Pavel Datsyuk: "Hi, Nathan Paetsch, my name is Pavel Datsyuk, and this is my friend, Henrik Zetterberg. Mule, you know us by now."
Datsyuk: "Ah yes, Nathan, I see you've gone with the obvious option: check the puck carrier. Yes, well I'll just leave this here for my friend Hank..."
Henrik Zetterberg: "Nate, Gus, we've met. This looks like a shot, but it's a pass. You'll see who it's going to soon."
Jonas Gustavsson: "Argh, I've bitten on the old shot-pass! These shorter pads are lighter and softer, but I'm not frickin' Gumby!"
Justin Abdelkader: "Oh, hi guys! I think I'll just put this thing in the net now!"
Abdelkader: "Yup. Puck in the net. I like turtles."
Datsyuk and Zetterberg, telepathically: "That went as expected."
Gustavsson: "Yergh! Over-rotating pad!"
Paetsch: "Ah, *#$%@&."
Brian Lashoff: "Ah, *#$%@&."
Puck: "Yes, I am familiar with this scenario."
Daniel Cleary: "Oh bloody hell."
Photographer: "End scene!"
Update: MLive's Ansar Khan noted Holland's comments about Tatar and other Wings:
General manager Ken Holland gave the young forward a vote of confidence on Sunday, saying he'll likely make the roster. Tatar has looked good in training camp.
"It's an important preseason for a guy like Tats because there's a lot of depth,'' Holland said. “We got decisions to make, but he'll probably be one of the guys that's one of the 14 left standing because he's young, there's upside potential. I like Tats. He plays hard, he goes to the hard areas. He wants the puck, he wants to score.''
Holland noted that Tatar's four goals during his 18-game stint in Detroit last season, playing mostly on the third line and not getting much power-play time, projects to 16-18 over a full season.
“That's a lot of goals,'' Holland said.
Tatar will skate on a line with Luke Glendening and Landon Ferraro in Monday's preseason opener at Pittsburgh (7 p.m., no local TV).
- Babcock, on veterans Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson, who combined to play in just 11 regular season games in 2013 due to injuries: “Well, obviously the exhibition (games) are huge for those guys because they have to find a way on the team, and when you miss so much hockey like they did last year and you’re not 25, it’s a work-in-progress.”
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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.