The Malik Report
by George Malik on 10/28/13 at 04:13 AM ET
The Red Wings have a significant amount of work to do when they return to practice today, and they've got some 'splaining to do, too.
The Wings didn't anticipate facing "must-win" situations during what's going to be a particularly difficult Western Canadian Swing (the Wings play 4 games in 4 different cities over the course of 6 nights, starting with Wednesday's game in Vancouver and continuing on Friday in Calgary, Saturday in Edmonton and next Monday in Winnipeg), but dropping consecutive games to Phoenix, San Jose (albeit via a shootout), Ottawa and the Rangers--with three of those losses coming a home-stand--means that the 6-4-and-2 Wings need to right their listing ship as soon as possible.
As noted in the Wings-Rangers wrap-up, coach Mike Babcock was particularly disappointed with the high number of turnovers the Wings are committing between their own blueline and the opposition's blueline, suggesting that the team's tendency to give up 30+ shots an evening has everything to do with the team's inability to move the puck up ice without surrendering possession and control to their opponents.
This morning, the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness notes that Niklas Kronwall seconded his coach's remarks:
The Wings have also had issues with turnovers registering 116 giveaways through 12 games.
Only Toronto (166) and Winnipeg (126) have more giveaways this season.
“A lot of times we (have) the puck first and we put ourselves in trouble, didn’t make the right play, didn’t get the pucks deep, didn’t get it out of our zone and here they go again,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We (give) way too much space out there and that’s something we continually have to keep getting better at because right now we’re not good enough at it.”
Much of this has occurred over the Wings’ last four games where they’ve gone 0-2-2.
“We’ve got to get back on the winning track here, try to stay positive, just get back to the basics,” Kronwall said. “We’re a little bit too much all over the place and not getting the job done right now. So right now it’s just a matter of bearing down and getting back to the basics and start from scratch.
“It’s very disappointing, obviously,” Kronwall continued. “You play hockey to win games. Right now we’re not getting the job done. We have to be a lot more simple out there. Sometimes the best play might be off the glass and right now we’re trying to play ourselves out of each and every situation. It’s costing us a few goals right now.”
MLive's Ansar Khan also took note of the Wings coach and players' remarks regarding their turnovers...
“We spend too much time in our own zone; we turn over too many pucks and here they come,’’ Babcock said. “If we play in the offensive zone then they’re not getting any shots. When we played San Jose (1-0 shootout loss on Monday) we had commitment to detail. Once again (Saturday) we didn’t have any detail, like we wanted to stick-handle by everybody. Turnovers are absolutely killing us. Until we decide mentally what the right way for this group is to play we’ll have no chance.’’
The Red Wings have the third-most giveaways in the NHL (116). It’s a subjective statistic, but still demonstrates their difficulty.
“We have to get way better defensively, way better in our zone and way better taking care of the puck,’’ Babcock said. “If you don’t get through the neutral zone, you don’t make them turn around, you don’t spend time in their zone, and then you’re spending time in your zone. I don’t care how we get through it. We have to get through it each and every time. But if we’re stubborn and want to turn pucks over you’re going to put a lot of miles on your defense.’’
And make it much more difficult on your goaltender.
“We got to figure out a way to go out there and compete for each other,’’ Jimmy Howard said. “It’s going to be the guys in here that get the job done. I think it’s just believing in each other and not trying to do too much. Let guys do their jobs.’’
The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan addressed the topic in a "News and Views" column...
“In today’s NHL, when one team’s pressing and the other team’s on its heels, it’s tough to get over that,” said goalie Jimmy Howard, who was the reason the Red Wings even had a chance for a victory.
But he also addressed the necessity of the team getting the job done during the team's only regular-season trip to Western Canada--which Babcock suggested was both welcome and absolutely essential...
With an opportunity for a couple of good practices, and focusing entirely on hockey for a week, this could be a crucial part of the schedule.
“It’s nice to play all of these teams at once, go out on a good road trip, and play good hockey games,” forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We don’t go out there (western Canada) that often now. I’m kind of looking forward to go to those cities and play those games. It’s fun playing in those cities, in Canada where there’s a lot of attention to hockey, and then you know you don’t have to go back there, either (because of the distance).”
(A little forced bonding wouldn't be a terrible idea given that the Eastern Conference schedule allows the Wings to spend much less time on the road, and less time hanging out off the ice)
And Kulfan noted that, for better or worse, Stephen Weiss faces a significant amount of pressure to finally acclimate to the Wings' style of play while increasing his offensive output:
News: Through 10 games, former Red Wings forward Valtteri Filppula has four goals and five assists for nine points. In 12 games, Stephen Weiss has two goals, and is looking for his first assist.
Views: It’s nowhere near the Prince Fielder level, or maybe Filppula or Johan Franzen after recent playoff disappointments, or the frustration Detroit sports fans felt with Tigers Brandon Inge or Ryan Raburn. But we’re approaching the ground floor of those recent fan disillusionments with Detroit athletes.
They’re not booing Weiss yet. But judging from fan forums and social media responses, fans are growing impatient.
Weiss was signed to a five-year contract worth $24.5 million to replace Filppula and provide more offense that Filppula never could quite deliver. So far, Weiss hasn’t done it. Not close.
The Free Press's Helene St. James focused very specifically on Weiss's struggles, noting that while he may be 30, Weiss's status as a one-team player yields growing pains.
I'll add in Weiss's ready admittance of the fact that the Wings' man-on-man defensive system and significant skating requirements placed upon centers in terms of committing to defense once the puck is turned over--and the Wings sure as *#$%@& have been making Weiss skate back instead of forward thanks to all those damn turnovers--have been incredibly difficult for him to master:
“When you come to a new place and the place you’re playing expects to win,” coach Mike Babcock said, “that has a way to tighten you up. But that’s part of mental toughness, fighting through that, and he’ll do that. And we have to help him become comfortable. But he’s got to do his part, too.”
It doesn’t help that Weiss is basically regaining his footing after playing just 11 games in the 2013 season; essentially, he hadn’t played regularly in 18 months when this season began.
“You expect to step in and continue to play the way you always have,” Weiss said, “but I’m sure it has something to do with it. And then coming to a new team, sure, it’s an adjustment as well. At the end of the day, those things can be excuses, too, so you’ve got to find a way to be productive and help the team out. Still looking forward to when that starts coming and it feels a little bit easier. Right now, it doesn’t feel as easy as it should.”
Henrik Zetterberg sits next to Weiss in the locker room, and said that if Weiss, “has any questions, I’m there. When new guys come into this system, it takes a while to get used to it. He’ll be fine.”
As the Wings attempt to bounce back, Weiss is simply looking for one break.
“It’s going to be a little bounce around the net that goes in and all of a suddenly the game feels easy again,” he said, “and you feel like some weight has been lifted off your shoulders.”
DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose addresses "The Week Ahead in Hockeytown" quite literally, penning both previews of the Wings' first three Western Canadian opponents (take note: Jiri Hudler's Flames will be wearing their new third jerseys on Friday) and framing the road trip through players' comments:
Last season, the Red Wings were 5-3-1 against western Canada opponents, but 2-2-1 in enemy territory, so stopping the recent turnovers trend, which has led to an exorbitant amount of shots and scoring chances, must cease sooner than later.
“Obviously, we don’t go there that often now,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “I’m kind of looking forward to going to those cities and play those games. It’s fun to go there, to play in Canada, lot of attention on hockey. Then you know you don’t have to go back there. Nice to play all those teams at once. You have a good road trip, a fun road trip and play some good hockey games.’’
The opponents' beat writers also tend to frame the team in a different light, and they place spotlights on players who aren't necessarily the "home team's" primary focus, which is always refreshing.
Detroit (6-4-2) begins the week in fourth-place in the eight-team Atlantic Division, but only trails first-place Toronto by two-points. The Wings will conclude their four-game road swing through Canada a week from tonight when they visit Winnipeg for the first time in 17-plus years.
While the Wings have struggled to score goals – netting three in the last four games.
Goalie Jimmy Howard has been spectacular. Other than the 6-1 drubbing to the Senators when he was pulled in the first period, Howard has kept the Wings in every game this season.
“He’s very strong mentally and doesn’t let anything get to him,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said following Saturday’s overtime loss to the rangers. “I’m sure he wasn’t very happy about the last game, but no one in here was happy with that last game. I don’t think we can blame anything on any particular guy; it was a team effort. We played horrible, but tonight I think he deserved more and better.”
Howard has posted a 10-4-2 lifetime record in games after he was lifted. It’s too bad the Wings play the Flames and Oilers on back to back nights, because Howard likely will split those games with backup Jonas Gustavsson. In his career at the Saddledome and Rexall Place, Howard has a 7-1-2 all-time record with a 2.14 goals-against average. He is 5-3-1 with a 2.84 GAA at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena.
Where do the Wings go from here?
I hope the answer is "upward," especially in Calgary, where the Wings dropped a pair of incredibly embarrassing and almost playoff-spot-costing spots last year.
Howard's been fantastic, and Gustavsson's resurgent play has been a revelation, but Niklas Kronwall's concussion and now Jonathan Ericsson's status as out for 3 weeks with a partially dislocated shoulder have reminded us all that the Wings have 3 defensemen who are all of half-a-regular-season veterans in Brendan Smith, Brian Lashoff and Jakub Kindl, a Calder Trophy-eligible rookie in Danny DeKeyser and a player who has yet to discover the form that prompted Ken Holland to reacquire him in Kyle Quincey, whose past week can be summarized as follows, via CBS Detroit...
Image via CBS Detroit
Up front, Daniel Alfredsson's nearly a point-per-game player, but defensively, he's been up and down; Drew Miller didn't really look like his pre-broken hand self until Saturday, and Joakim Andersson's definitely dealing with something of a "sophomore slump";
I don't mean this in a bad way, but it's very evident that Jordin Tootoo knows his time in Detroit's almost up as a cap casualty;
I'd argue that Daniel Cleary had clearly believed that he was leaving the Wings, and while he re-signed with the Wings during training camp, he hasn't really "arrived" mentally yet;
Justin Abdelkader's had his difficulties playing away from Pavel Datsyuk, and while Johan Franzen came alive during the Wings' home-stand, he needs to keep up the pace while playing as a much more engaged player as a center;
Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are clearly leading the team, but they've spent the past half-dozen games either trying to do far too much on their own or passing up prime opportunities to shoot pucks on the net to set up teammates for "pretty" goals;
Tomas Tatar's just finding his comfort zone after trying to force plays to happen far too regularly, and as such, he's definitely stolen a spot from Mikael Samuelsson, who's little more than a contract and roster spot albatross at present;
You've seen Weiss struggle for yourself, and you know his story by now;
And while Todd Bertuzzi's been nothing less than exemplarly in terms of his effort, intensity and attention to detail over the Wings' first dozen games, MLive's Ansar Khan reported that Bertuzzi wasn't being benched due to groin or back issues on Saturday--he was being benched to send a mesage to the rest of the team after Bertuzzi, Tootoo, Andersson, Kindl and Lashoff stood around as Jimmy Howard booted a rebound designed to roll to a teammate right to Mats Zuccarello, who took advantage of an out-of-position goalie and out-of-the-play teammates to tie the game at 2 early in the 3rd period:
When Darren Helm comes back, presumably during the Western Canadian swing (he's from Selkirk, just north of Winnipeg), he's not going to look like himself for at least a couple of weeks, either...
Cap-wise, Capgeek estimates that the Wings have $1.406 million of LTIR space carved out due to their players' injuries, but we know that the Wings will have to move Tootoo to accommodate Helm's return--with little or no trade "return" as Tootoo and his $1.9 million cap hit for the next year-and-a-half will be a salary dump--and it's highly likely that the just-healthy Patrick Eaves will find himself waived or traded (he's earning $1.2 million this year) to make room when Jonathan Ericsson returns.
Gustav Nyquist hasn't exactly lit up the scoresheet in Grand Rapids, posting 8 points in 7 games, but if the Wings are to bring him up at some point, that means moving 3 bodies, not two, and I can't help but think that Holland has to find a way to convince Mikael Samuelsson to agree to be traded (note: his no-trade clause means that Samuelsson can submit a list of probably 8 or 10 teams to which he will refuse being traded to, but it is not a "no-move" clause, so he can be traded without total consent) while the Wings eat most of Samuelsson's $3 million salary if the team is to recall Nyquist.
The Wings would've been able to recall Nyquist while moving only 2 players if they hadn't re-signed Cleary, but it sounds like the coach, GM and players all signed off on complicating the roster and cap situation by re-signing Cleary to a $1.75 million contract because they all believed that he was irreplaceable.
Long story long, the last 4 games have shown us that the team's blueline past Ericsson and Kronwall still incredibly "green," that Alfredsson and Weiss haven't alleviated its difficulties finding reliable secondary scoring, and that 48 games and 14 playoff games scrunched into 4-months-and-a-couple-of-days didn't yield enough time for the team to truly establish its post-Lidstrom identity.
The Wings are a team that's still in progress and still in the process of determining what it is and who fits where, and as such, they're enduring some growing pains...
But as I said yesterday, losing 3 straight home games and 4 in a row remains unacceptable, because Hockeytown's high standards for its team do not change due to a roster still in flux, and expecting the team to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference at the very least is the kind of expectation that should be applied to the Detroit Red Wings on an every-season basis.
It's up to the Red Wings' players and coach to reestablish its defensive game, transition game, offensive panache and style of play as the dominant feature of every game it plays, and until the managerial staff can move bodies and carve out cap space, its present roster is the roster that's got to get the job done.
I don't anticipate the Wings making any moves that involve more than recalling players until the trade deadline, and that's when someone like Brendan Smith might find himself in play if he doesn't get his game in order because the presences of DeKeyser on the NHL roster and strong pushes by Adam Almquist and Xavier Ouellet and knowledge that Ryan Sproul, Nick Jensen, Alexei Marchenko and Mattias Backman all yield an ability to move a young defenseman in order to acquire a more veteran top-four defenseman.
For now, the Wings have to right their listing ship by themselves, and again, they've got to explain why they went from 6-2-and-1 to 6-4-and-2 to their fans, and then they need to put in the hard work necessary to back up their words on the ice.
The good news schedule-wise is that, after the 4-game Western Canadian swing, anyway (and the Wings have "swept" Western Canada only once), the Wings will play 8 of their remaining 11 November games at Joe Louis Arena, and 2 games against the Islanders, and games against the Bolts, Stars, Hurricanes and Sabres should afford the Wings the points with which to approach difficult games against Washington, Nashville, Ottawa and Boston with more confidence.
That's the hope. Ken Holland has always stated that he believes teams who are in the playoff mix at American Thanksgiving (given that the Wings play a 4 PM game in Long Island on Friday the 28th, that means Thanksgiving will take place on Thursday, November 27th) are going to make the playoffs, and those who fall short at that mark are in serious trouble.
I believe that statement wholeheartely, and the Wings have to get their asses to work and their asses in gear to be on the "not in serious trouble" side of the playoff line on November 27th.
Also of Red Wings-related note: The Detroit Athletic Club's website is a merchandising one, so you've been warned about that issue, because Richard Bak penned a fantastic article about Terry Sawchuk's troubled life;
I thought this was intriguing: Nicklas Lidstrom may be on his way to the Caribbean with 16 family members to celebrate his mom's 70th birthday (that's what Ken Daniels told Wings fans on Saturday), but he'll find himself in Tomas Holmstrom's basement after his vacation. According to the Wings' Facebook page, Lidstrom will appear at the Toast of Hockeytown on November 13th;
You may take the following Tweets for what you will:
And finally, this is going to be an in-and-out week for me. I have away-from-the-office obligations on every "off day" this week, so I will be away from my laptop for part of today, Tuesday and Thursday. I'll do my best to cover the Wings when I am able to do so.
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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.