The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/11/13 at 04:18 AM ET
The Red Wings' 3-2 victory over Los Angeles yielded the vast majority of the Wings media's coverage for the day by mid-evening, so I penned the wrap-up knowing that I wouldn't have an incredibly substantial overnight report.
Given that the Wings have played four games over the last six nights and afternoons, and given that today and Tuesday's "off" days before Wednesday's grudge match against St. Louis mark the team's last two-day break until February 25th and 26th, the team's taking today off completely (though we should expect updates regarding the status of injured Wings like Todd Bertuzzi and the obvious news that Joey MacDonald will clear waivers and head to Grand Rapids), and I'm guessing that the media plans treading lightly today. I do, too.
This morning's focus involves the Red Wings' pair of "best players," Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, because the team that Wings coach Mike Babcock has so very consciously deemed a "work in progress" at the 12-game mark, or the "quarter pole" of a 48-game season (all of 24 days into this 99-night demolition derby), has very clearly wrapped its emerging identity around the on and off-ice examples set by its pair of veteran leaders and superstars.
The Free Press's Helene St. James took note of Datsyuk's goal and Zetterberg's pair of assists (Zetterberg is tied for the league lead in assists with 13 and is third in scoring with 18 points over the course of 12 games played; Datsyuk has 5 goals and 8 assists for 13 points; Niklas Kronwall's not far behind with 1 goal and 9 assists for 10 points, and both Johan Franzen and Damien Brunner have 9 points) on Sunday, as well as the fact that the two players not named Jimmy Howard who looked something other than completely exhausted were the captain and his faithful friend:
"When you watch Pavel Datsyuk play, you talk about how skilled he is," Babcock said. "When I watch Pavel Datsyuk play, all I think about is how much will he has. And how determined he is. When I see Zetterberg, like he's the Energizer Bunny. He just keeps coming; he doesn't care what it is or who he's playing against. The best of the best are ultra-competitive, and they bring it every single day. Do they have it every day? No. But they bring it every day. And sometimes they don't have enough energy, but the good players, they come to play. Those guys, they're our best players; they drive the bus.
"I thought Pav really had way more energy here the last two games and Zetterberg has been unbelievable."
Datsyuk has five goals and 13 points in 12 games. With his fifth multipoint game of the season, Zetterberg is at 18 points. It's the kind of leadership the Wings were banking on when they named Zetterberg captain just before the season began.
Sunday's victory improved the Wings to 7-4-1. Every day, the examples are set by Zetterberg, by Datsyuk, by alternate captain Niklas Kronwall and goaltender Jimmy Howard.
"They're work-ethic guys," Babcock said. "You don't have to beg them to play. They come to play."
The Detroit News's Bob Wojnowski attended the game to offer a "spirit of the thing" column, which is something he does remarkably well, and while Wojnowski agrees that Sunday was in-arguably Jimmy Howard's day as he stopped 45 of the 47 shots he faced, Jonathan Ericsson's goal wouldn't have happened had Datsyuk, Danny Cleary and Valtteri Filppula worked so hard to muck a lost faceoff draw back to Ericsson (the goal remains bafflingly unassisted), and had Datsyuk not sprang back up to his feet off what I would call a hit that defines the "border line" between simply hard but smart, predatory and downright "dirty" hits, the Wings would've been a world of hurt...
And the newly-minted captain was the player who most readily admitted that while the team was physically and mentally exhausted playing its second game over the course of 22 hours and its third in four nights, the Wings did their best to actually out-shoot LA (the Wings were out-shot 23-9 in the second period but out-shot LA 11-9 in the third) and claw their way back in the play department in the 3rd (the faceoffs were listed at 27-18 LA after two periods, but they ended up at 37-27 LA overall, which means that the Wings went 11-and-10 in the 3rd period, and of the Wings' ugly 14 giveaways, ALL of them happened in periods one and two, and NONE occurred in the third) because there are simply no excuses for under-performing during Zetterberg's watch:
"I think you have to kind of trick your mind, because you're telling the legs to move and they're not moving," Zetterberg said. "You just have to battle out wins, and to do that, you need goaltending like we got. Howie was sensational. (The Kings) were physical, they came in wave after wave, and we couldn't really match it. But we stepped it up in the third."
This NHL season is about survival instinct, and the Wings still possess it in deep supply. It helps to have youngsters contribute, such as talented rookie Damien Brunner. And it helps to have a center as tough and skilled as Datsyuk, and a captain as composed as Zetterberg.
One of the best tandems in the league for years, Datsyuk and Zetterberg figured they'd have to deliver even more this season. So far they are. They play in every situation, log the most minutes of any forwards on the team, and can't be rattled. About a minute after the Kings' Drew Doughty clobbered Datsyuk and knocked his helmet off, the Wings' 34-year-old star sliced through the defense and scored the first goal.
"When you watch Pavel Datsyuk play, you talk about how skilled he is," coach Mike Babcock said. "When I watch him play, all I think about is how much will he has, how determined he is. And when I see Zetterberg, he's the Energizer bunny, he just keeps coming. The best of the best are ultra-competitive and bring it every single day. Those guys are our best players, and they drive our bus."
Zetterberg and Datsyuk have played together for a decade, but they really became the Wings' leading twosome after Lidstrom's retirement. This is their team now, and if they pull the Wings through this difficult transition and into another postseason run, they'll carve a lofty spot in Detroit's sports duo lore.
That's for later. For now, Zetterberg was just looking forward to a day off, while Babcock was marveling at how his team navigated a brutal stretch.
"Howie gave us an opportunity to hang in there and gut it out," Babcock said. "If you look at our captains, and (Niklas) Kronwall is one of them, and Howie too, they're work-ethic people. You don't have to beg them to play. Do they have it every day? No. But they bring it every day."
With injuries and fatigue, this season will be attrition by subtraction for most teams. In a test of endurance, the Wings might not be so deep and dominant anymore, but as long as their best show the way, they're certainly not done.
I ended up posting it very late because ESPN published Craig Custance's insider-only article so very early on Sunday morning, but he asked a pair of NHL scouts whether they thought that the Wings' opponent on Saturday, Edmonton, or the Wings themselves would survive injury epidemics and make the playoffs, and they picked the Wings because...
"I'd go with the experience," said one NHL scout.
The other agreed with his explanation just as simple.
"Datsyuk and Zetterberg," he said.
Both teams have star forwards, but the Red Wings' Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg come with the more developed two-way game and battle-tested experience. There's a difference between learning how to win and knowing how to win.
And also discovering new ways to win, which has been the case in Detroit this season. This version of the Red Wings doesn't have the huge talent advantage it's had in the past, which is the natural result when a future Hall of Famer such as Nicklas Lidstrom retires.
The exodus of talented defensemen Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart has been well-documented, but since losing in the Stanley Cup finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, the Red Wings have also lost forwards Tomas Holmstrom, Jiri Hudler and Marian Hossa. Start adding it up and it makes that puck-possession style they dominated with at times a little tougher to maintain.
There will likely be more line mixing and defensive pair jumbling in Detroit this season than there has been in a decade.
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean we can't win," said coach Mike Babcock when we chatted before Saturday's win. "We have to get our head around how we gotta win. They taste and smell the same at the end of the game. It doesn't look the same, it might not feel the same, but at the end when you're walking out, it's the same. So let's embrace it."
See also: Howard taking the team his back on Sunday, a goal and an assist for Datsyuk and two assists for Zetterberg during Saturday's 2-1 win, when the Wings played puck possession to the hilt, or the bottom six forwards stepping up in the team's 5-1 victory over St. Louis on Thursday, when the Wings mucked, ground, dumped, chased and checked their way to success.
The Wings have to find other ways to win, too, and while Kronwall, Ericsson and Franzen are facing unfair criticism as much as my fellow Wings fans are gushing like teenage fan-persons over Damien Brunner and every prospect that comes up from Grand Rapids, doesn't suck, and theoretically must replace veterans and/or injured players that have to be jettisoned by any means necessary (sorry, folks, the 48-games-in-99-nights marathon really is a demolition derby, and having Petr Mrazek, Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson and yes, Gustav Nyquist in Grand Rapids with healthy Mikael Samuelssons, Carlo Colaiacovos and Jonas Gustavssons driving you nuts during the regular season = good for the team over the long and injury-filled hall, especially come playoff time), all of the above-named vets and rookie are playing very, very well, and they're going to find their way into the, "Wings won because of Player X" equation over the course of the season, too.
You might be yet pleasantly surprised, and that's going to be true for me as well. For now, the good times roll with 3 straight wins and 2 home games to go in the 4-game home stand, but as the Wings face adversity, they're gonna need everybody they possibly can to step up in one form or another.
With Datsyuk and Zetterberg leading the way, there's no other choice for them other than performing up to and beyond their potential, and that's a good thing.
In terms of tidbits and tailings from Sunday's game, Jonathan Ericsson's goal secured the win, but his pee joke nearly stole the show, as Helene St. James noted:
The Wings came away from Joe Louis Arena on Sunday with a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings thanks mainly to the outstanding play of goaltender Jimmy Howard, who didn't give up the second goal until 53 seconds remained in regulation.
Players admitted they figured overtime was coming, but then Jonathan Ericsson came through with a big shot that trickled across the goal line with 4.5 seconds to go. Daniel Cleary had the puck along the boards, and when the puck was kicked loose, Ericsson took a shot that spelled relief for more than just the Wings.
"The funniest thing is actually that one of the linesmen was thanking me after I scored," Ericsson said. "He said, 'Oh, thank you so much, I really had to go pee. I wouldn't last overtime.' "
Coach Mike Babcock wasn't too happy about needing the Ericsson goal. "I couldn't understand how they could ever get under you at the net," Babcock said. "Then you go from 'OK, we're going to get a point,' to 'OK, we just got two points.' "
Henrik Zetterberg said, "It was not a great feeling when we saw them score with 50 seconds left or something. I think we all were prepared for overtime. But E got the puck on the blue line and he got the puck away and overpowered (goalie Jonathan) Quick."
And all of our bladders rejoiced.
More player quotes St. James? Sure, we can do that:
"That's just a great play by Big E throwing it on net; you never know what can happen when you put the puck on net," Howard said. ... "We knew it wasn't going to be pretty out there," Kronwall said. "Howie gave us a chance to win." ...
"Specialty teams have been a little bit better the last three games," Zetterberg said. "But still, they have been tight games. But we have won three games in a row and it feels good. Now we just have to keep on." ... "We knew at some point the energy wasn't going to be very good," coach Mike Babcock said. "They really took over and forechecked. We weren't very good in the second period and Howie made some great saves."
Given the Windsor Star's Bob Duff's Twitter activity, I had a feeling that he was going to pen a recap that wouldn't post until the middle of the night, and I was right. What's still pertinent in terms of "tailings?" This stuff:
"I knew it was going to be ugly," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "But I just wanted it to be an ugly win."
The Red Wings, coming off victories against Edmonton on Saturday afternoon and at St. Louis Thursday night, were seconds away from settling for a point after Henrik Zetterberg set up goals for Pavel Datsyuk and Damien Brunner in the first period.
Los Angeles, which got within a goal late in the first period on Anze Kopitar's tally, pulled goaltender Jonathan Quick to add an extra skater. Forward Kyle Clifford got off the bench in time to keep the puck in Detroit's end. Clifford's shot rebounded off Jimmy Howard and Alec Martinez scored on a put-back to make it 2-2 at the 19: 07 mark of the third period.
With Quick back in, the Kings failed to clear the puck and Ericsson took advantage with a slap shot from above the right circle that trickled in for the win. Ericsson refused to be hailed for the victory.
"We owe Jimmy this one," Ericsson said.
Howard made 45 saves, his highest total in more than a year.
"Every single night, points are at a premium," Howard said. "You have to get points to stay in the mix and stay in the playoff hunt."
The injury department remains a rather obvious main focus of concern for the team and its fans, and aside from noting that Jonas Gustavsson told MLive's Brendan Savage that he's doing better...
Detroit Red Wings backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who has been sidelined with a sore groin since playing the third period of the season-opening loss in St. Louis, might finally be making some progress. Gustavsson said he skated for 50 minutes Saturday morning prior to the Red Wings 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. That was his longest session since getting hurt and he reported no problems.
"We turned it up a notch," said Gustavsson, who has been limited to one appearance this season. "It felt good. Another step in the right direction. We're going to do something similar tomorrow, do some stuff on ice and go from there. Last 4-5 days, I'm doing more and more, been on the ice a few times. It's tough to know exactly when you're going to be back. I felt good, felt it's going in the right direction."
The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan offers both some updates and some more Wings-Kings tailings:
Holland said the Wings will likely have an update today on forward Todd Bertuzzi (back), who missed both games over the weekend.
… Forward Joakim Andersson , brought up to take Bertuzzi's spot in the lineup, played 10 minutes 58 seconds and was minus-1, but won seven of 10 faceoffs.
… After struggling most of the season, the Red Wings killed 10 of 11 penalties in the weekend victories including all three Sunday.
…Forwards Mikael Samuelsson (groin) and Jan Mursak (shoulder) and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) all are skating and could be ready to play within the next two weeks.
…Sunday's game was the 750th of Babcock's career. He is the 37th NHL coach to reach that milestone.
Brendan Smith (left shoulder), not so much. Darren Helm (back), nobody knows.
In terms of the Red Wings' tasks at hand, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose offers scouting reports regarding this week's opponents:
WEDNESDAY – vs. ST. LOUIS BLUES (6-4-1): The Blues, who are 0-3-1 in their last four, begin a stringent three-game road trip that starts in Detroit and winds through western Canada with games in Calgary and Vancouver. … Winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who was named the league’s first rookie of the month this season, now has 10 points, including two goals and an assist against Detroit. … The Blues’ leading point producers are defensemen with Kevin Shattenkirk (12 points) and Alex Pietrangelo (11 points) at the top of the team’s scoring list.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Center David Backes has never registered more than five points in the first 10 games of a season, but the Blues’ captain continues to contribute in more of a physical role on a forward line with T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald. Considered to be one of the best body-checkers in the league, Backes leads the Western Conference with 34 hits, including 12 against the Wings this season.
Yes, friends, the Blues play tonight against Los Angeles, so that should be...Interesting...Given Ken Hitchcock's gabba about "personal agendas" and the fact that, according to NHL.com, Jaroslav Halak may or may not start for the Blues this evening.
And yes, dear readers, Eddie "Subtle Interference" Olczyk, Doc "I'm my own color commentator" and Pierre "I'm creepy as *#$%@&" McGuire will work Wednesday's game on the NBC Sports Network.
FRIDAY – vs. ANAHEIM DUCKS (8-2-1): Despite having one of the league’s worst penalty kills – ranked No. 29 – the Ducks currently sit atop of the Pacific Division, one point ahead of San Jose. … By the time the Ducks roll into the Motor City, they will be nearing the end of their longest road trip of the season with six games in 11 nights. … Anaheim has split its goaltending duties, with veteran Jonas Hiller and 30-year-old NHL first-timer Viktor Fasth, who is 5-0-0 and ranked third in the league with a stellar 1.72 goals-against. … There are four Red Wings with former ties to the Ducks, beginning with Babcock, who coached in Anaheim from 2002-04. Forwards Todd Bertuzzi (2007-08) and Drew Miller (2007-09), and defenseman Kent Huskins (206-09) all played for the Ducks.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Teemu Selanne refuses to allow age to slow him down. The 42-year-old Finnish Flash can still pick a corner or victimize a defenseman and leave him in his wake. He began the season with a four point performance in a season-opening win at Vancouver, becoming the oldest player to record four points in a game since Gordie Howe (42 days, 326 days) did it against the Buffalo Sabres in 1971. Selanne has found chemistry with linemates Kyle Palmieri and Bobby Ryan, and leads the Ducks with 10 assists and 14 points. Selanne produced a second four-point game with a goal and three assists, helping the Ducks to a 6-5 shoot-out win at St. Louis on Saturday.
Fasth is the kind of goalie that needs to be made to move side to side, because he will lose his position in the net, and he's a goalie who needs to be stood in front of, because he is prone to tip-ins.
I actually watched him play for Sweden during the World Championships given that Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson were playing for Sweden at the Worlds, and Fasth was good, but he's anything but unbeatable.
SUNDAY – at MINNESOTA WILD (5-5-1): The Wild rolled the dice with a pair of high-profile signings when they out-bid other suitors to get forward Zach Parise and defenseman [Ryan] Suter in an off-season move that was meant to instantly catapult the Minnesota franchise into elite company. However, the Wild are still waiting for that first dividends check, as the team has struggled away from home, losing a four road contests, including a 5-3 decision at Detroit on Jan. 25. Detroit wanted to keep its roster stacked with talent, and last July the Wings made offers to Parise and Suter – the top two free agents of the summer – but the pair chose to play together in St. Paul with identical 13-year contracts worth $98 million. Still, Parise leads the Wild with six goals and 10 points, but Suter has a team-low minus-7 rating.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Goalie Niklas Backstrom hasn’t been at his best this season, producing a 4-4-1 record with a 2.53 GAA. It will be interesting to see if Wild coach Mike Yeo chooses to start the Finnish netminder against Detroit. In eight career starts against the Red Wings, Backstrom has just one win, the lowest such total for him against all Western Conference teams. Backstrom is 1-4-3 with a repulsive 3.24 goals-against. … The Wild’s alternative is to use Josh Harding, who has a slightly better lifetime record against Detroit at 4-6-2, but an equally disturbing 3.40 GAA
Is it just me, or do Wings fans have this unnatural urge to watch the Wild suffer, to watch "the team with the best prospects in the league" find that rushing young players into NHL action isn't always the greatest blueprint for long-term success, and to find that yes indeedy, as some have suggested, it turns out that a hundred and ninety-million-something worth of Craig Leipold's money doesn't necessarily buy you the two best players on the planet?
Yeah, I thought it wasn't just me.
I've got something to say about this: The Score's Justin Bourne mocked the moron who was waving a sign saying, "Look Ma, I'm On TV!" (Star Trek fans, we need not get into an argument about whether "on," "in" or "into" should be capitalized) during Sunday's game.
Those of you who watched Saturday's game know that the gentleman in the black coat was sitting in another spot with his buddy, a fellow Edmonton Oilers fan, on Sunday, and both of them had signs which they repeatedly raised into the camera's field of view during play.
The facts that security guards neither caught onto this, and that fans did not find a way to warn this person of bad conduct and/or maim him surprised the hell out of me.
Also of Red Wings-related note: Blick's Nicole Vandenbrouck spoke to Damien Brunner's parents, Kurt and Karin, who are in town for the team's four-game winning streak. According to Vandenbrouck, Brunner's parents were given a tour of the rink by Wings GM and "I won't make a trade until March, when we know what we've got on this roster" speaker Ken Holland, and his parents are basically giddy as hell that their son's playing in the NHL, and Kurt told Vandenbrouck that the pair were caught on Fox Sports Detroit taking pictures because Damien's grandma and grandpa want them to chronicle their trip as closely as possible.
Fox Sports Detroit's Larry Murphy will hold a chat on the Free Press's website at 11 AM on Tuesday. I have no idea whether he'll talk about hot dogs or his space man goggles, but you could always ask him;
And if you wonder why Paul Coffey's never mended fences with the Red Wings Alumni Association or the team, despite the fact that he was an absolutely integral part of the team from the time the Wings acquired him from Los Angeles during the 92-93 season until the Stanley Cup Final in 1995, and was Nicklas Lidstrom's first mentor after Brad McCrimmon...
The Detroit Athletic Club's Bruce Mason (yes, they also sell merchandise, yes, I would rather buy a jersey from them, Fanatic U in Garden City, SportsK online or the Wings' official jersey customizer, Sports Haven in Wyandotte, because both Hockeytown Authentics and Joe Louis Arena's customization yields jerseys with back numbers that are too small [they fit on human backs but aren't accurate, much like reading a student being told to write an essay in 12-point font trying to cheat page limits by writing in 14-point font looks ind of funny--and the Wings' customization is 10-point font on a 14-point font jersey], and no, they did not pay me to say that) penned an article explaining the lengths to which Coffey attempted to lobby the team and lobby Keith Primeau to refuse to be traded to the Hartford Whalers for Brendan Shanahan.
Wings coach Scotty Bowman told Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press that Coffey attempted to nix the deal with two phone calls: one to Primeau, who Coffey instructed to refuse a trade; another to Whalers GM Jim Rutherford, to express his displeasure and reluctance to play in Hartford.
Coffey didn’t wanna leave a Cup-worthy franchise at the end of his stellar career for the lowly Whalers. He was benched by Bowman for the Wings’ 1996 season opener at New Jersey and paid for his own plane ride home. His rage increased upon hearing Bowman say that it was Coffey’s choice to leave the team and fly back to Detroit. “An utter lie,” Coffey told Albom.
Four days later, he was traded – although Bowman never told him. He originally learned his fate from the sad expression of a Wings assistant equipment manager, according to the Hartford Courant.
“He did some things … probably to hurt me or whatever,” Coffey said about Bowman to the Courant. “He made it as difficult as possible.
“But anybody that has ever known me will say that I don’t look to knock people to make myself look better. For me to take shots at anybody would be a very insecure thing, and I’m not like that. It’s just not worth it.
“The way this was handled was very disappointing.”
Coffey was quickly traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, and he was on the receiving end of Brendan Shanahan's clutch goals as the Wings defeated the Flyers in the 97 Cup Final.
And finally, I'm going to lay very low today, so if I'm not absolutely on top of the "MacDonald clears waivers" story or news about Bertuzzi's back, please don't be too angry. After four games in six nights and two in two, I've literally got three sore fingers and a sore butt (my posture gets proportionally worse as my workload builds up), so I need to take some time to myself and rest a bit instead of sitting hunched over my laptop.
I'll try to get some player grades and/or some random "Radon Thoughts" out this week, but I'm not promising to do much of anything other than spare my dragging ass of one of the last week's 17-hour days today.
For your entertainment, if you want to relive the Wings-Kings game in abbreviated form, AWood40 on YouTube posted a 15-minute highlight clip. I didn't hear any mentions of the Wings' "subtle interference" plays, too many men infractions or any other "Wings got away with one" comments from Eddie Olczyk, but I can tell you that even the semi-objective media types on Twitter were suggesting that Olczyk's anti-Wings bias was driving them nuts and made them want to change the channel, too!
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About The Malik Report
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.