The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/23/14 at 10:18 AM ET
Updated 2x at 10:53 AM: So Red Wings coach Mike Babcock's coming home with another gold medal. And the Wings' five Swedes are coming home with silver.
Jonathan Ericsson may most certainly deserve blame for one of his dangerous pinches yielding Sidney Crosby's 2-0 goal en route to Canada's capturing of a gold medal in Sunday's game against Sweden via a 3-0 tally, but, man...
Ericsson, captain Niklas Kronwall and Sweden's defense got absolutely no help from anyone not named Henrik Lundqvist as the Canadians turned the neutral zone into a Swedish Turnover factory and ground down Sweden along the boards, behind the net, and in front of it thanks to an endless set of 3-on-2's, 2-on-1's and near-breakaways.
I'm very happy for Mike Babcock as he's defended his gold medal, but as a Wings fan rooting for the team with the most Wings representatives, this game was absolutely infuriating to watch because Sweden was so incredibly inflexible.
For the first two periods, coach Par Marts essentially iced 3 lines and really did go with only 4 defensemen, benching Oliver Ekman-Larsson until the third period and Henrik Tallinder for the entire game...
And for all three periods, the Swedish offensive breakout was almost entirely keyed by defensemen carrying the puck up ice in the forwards' stead and skating the puck into the offensive zone via pinches, with absolutely no forward support if the defensemen dared turn the puck over under relentless Canadian pressure.
As Mike Babcock likes to say, teams have to have a strong "F3" to defend well, and Sweden rarely had any sort of 3rd forward helping out the defense.
Even when Marts released Ekman-Larsson from the bench to start the 3rd period and swapped out defensive pairs, having Kronwall paired with Erik Karlsson and Ericsson paired with Alexander Edler, the Swedes looked like they were desperately missing not only Nicklas Backstrom, but also Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin...
And while the Olympics may be a relatively short tournament, Marts' Swedes stuck with 3-and-a-half lines and 4 defensemen, 3-and-a-half lines and 4 defensemen, with the defense being asked to key the offense every game...
So they got worn down, made more mistakes with each and every game, and eventually, Lundqvist was going to break down bbehind an overworked and under-supported Swedish defense.
It's a hard way to go down, and it's just really disappointing to see the Swedes decide to go with the same-old-same-old when it wasn't working. It bit 'em in the ass and yielded a silver medal as a result.
Kronwall led the Swedes with 21:38 played, finishing at -2 with 1 shot;
Ericsson played 18:37 and finished at -2;
Alfredsson played 13:52, had 2 shots and finished at -1;
Nyquist played 10:12 and finished even;
And Jonas Gustavsson didn't dress.
On the other side of the coin, Babcock's personnel decisions may have aggravated a nation, but you saw what happened when a team bought into his system and when his team executed--they were unstoppable.
Here's hoping that Babcock reveals some of the tricks and tips he learned during the Olympics to the Wings' players, because they're gonna need all the help they can get to mount a playoff run.
For the record, here's Ericsson's gaffe:
If the Red Wings can mount even a sliver of Team Canada's forecheck, and if the Red Wings can be as tenacious as the Canadians were in the neutral zone, Captain Carl Henrik Zetterberg's absence shouldn't harm the team's ability to make the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive time.
The Wings will also have a very disappointed Jonathan Ericsson, Gustav Nyquist and Daniel Alfredsson, and as we already know by now, an absolutely infuriatedly frustrated Swedish captain in Niklas Kronwall--as well as a pair of goaltenders who've gotten almost three weeks of rest in Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson--and those players are going to want to take their frustrations out on the Wings' opponents.
So now Babcock needs to get his Wings to buy in to playing like Canadians (here's hoping that he knows how to solve Carey Price, too), and then the players need to deliver.
That, and Jonathan Ericsson has to be physically restrained whenever he attempts to pinch on the right side.
After all...The Canadians played like the Red Wings are supposed to play:
The Wings need to play like a puck-possession-hogging Big Red Machine down the stretch, from Howard to Datsyuk, and everywhere in between.
I sure hope we don't see this though--and let's hope that Kronwall has something left to give:
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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.