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The Malik Report

Red Wings’ Mike Babcock defends his gold at expense of Wings’ tired Swedes

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.

Statistically speaking...

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:

Update: the Free Press's Helene St. James spoke to the Wings' Swedes:

"Right now, it doesn't feel great," Sweden and Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "I didn't feel like we gave ourselves an honest chance."

Canada, coached by Detroit's Mike Babcock, looked unshakeable after Sidney Crosby secured folk-hero status with a breakaway goal in the second period. Jonathan Toews and Chris Kunitz also scored.

"I thought we were fine after the first," Kronwall said. "Second period, we didn't win enough battles."

...

Crosby made it 2-0 on a breakaway late in the second period, burning Jonathan Ericsson for a turnover by slipping behind Canada's defense and striking fear into Sweden.

"Everyone is trying, but we're not coming together as a team," Jonathan Ericsson said. "I don't know how many turnovers we had in our own zone, and me on the blueline, too.

"The only thing that describes it best is disappointment."

Update #2:

 

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Comments

cigar_nurse's avatar

Will have to hear a bunch of chest thumping on XM rAdio about the double gold hockey wins now. This must make up for the fact the Canadians have not had a Stanley Cup winner since oh 92?
Congrats and let’s get back to the season.

Posted by cigar_nurse from Greenville South Cakalakee on 02/23/14 at 10:02 AM ET

Avatar

I’m really at odds over this.  I was not happy to see Babcock succeed at the Games. I was cheering for Sweden. Will he finally concentrate on the Wings now? Plus, it just goes to show that Babs is still an effective coach with an absolutely stacked squad (2008 Red Wings, 2010 Canada, 2014 Canada) but isn’t as good when the playing field is more level (2013 and 2014 Red Wings).  Jeff Blashill for the future!

Posted by ZandPasha11 on 02/23/14 at 10:45 AM ET

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Plus, it just goes to show that Babs is still an effective coach with an absolutely stacked squad (2008 Red Wings, 2010 Canada, 2014 Canada) but isn’t as good when the playing field is more level (2013 and 2014 Red Wings).  Jeff Blashill for the future!

This is undoubtedly the dumbest thing that I’ll read all day. It reads like an MLive post.

Posted by godblender on 02/23/14 at 11:08 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

I happen to believe that experiences like this force Babcock to grow, change, adapt and learn, and that he comes back to Detroit a better and more relevant coach as a result. The Wings need him to be this good when the schedule resumes on Wednesday.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 02/23/14 at 11:29 AM ET

SK77's avatar

’m really at odds over this.  I was not happy to see Babcock succeed at the Games. I was cheering for Sweden. Will he finally concentrate on the Wings now?

Posted by ZandPasha11 on 02/23/14 at 10:45 AM ET

I’d spend more time worrying about your perception skills and less about what Babcock does and doesn’t do.

Posted by SK77 on 02/23/14 at 11:56 AM ET

Figaro's avatar

as well as a pair of goaltenders who’ve gotten almost three weeks of rest in Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson

a pair of goalies that still got practice time against essentially All-Star teams.  I’m really ok with this.

Posted by Figaro from Los Alamos, NM on 02/23/14 at 12:22 PM ET

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this will be the first team since 99 to not get to 100 pts (minus lockout year). i put that more on holland than babcock. also a big part has to go on some of our seemingly un-passionate play, which you saw displayed by several European teams in this tournament. As well as the americans in the bronze game but that was slightly different.

Posted by brians neck on 02/23/14 at 12:27 PM ET

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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.