The Malik Report
by George Malik on 11/11/13 at 05:04 AM ET
I don't know what to think about the Red Wings right now. The team's 3-2 OT loss to Tampa Bay certainly got this reluctant, "Let's be patient, the coach and GM know more than we do"-leaning Wings fan on the, "For *#$%@&'s sake, if you've got no secondary scoring up here and Gustav Nyquist tied for 5th in AHL scoring with 17 points in 12 games, why is he down there?" bandwagon, and I woke from a couple grams' worth of Amoxicillin to say, "This may be the antibiotics talking, but I fully believe that the Wings *desperately* miss Johan Franzen and Jonathan Ericsson" on Twitter.
The way the NHL keeps records is...let's call it "nuanced." Its record-keeping methodology states that the Wings are 3-3-and-4 over their last 10 games, or, very technically speaking, 3-3-3-and-1.
That translates into the Wings have earned points in 7 of 10 games...But it also means that the Red Wings have lost 7 of their past 10 games.
I was glad that Paul posted Babcock's presser on Sunday. I heard it on 97.1 FM's post-game online stream, which I believe is just as much a mandatory "listen" as Fox Sports Detroit's post-game show is in its entirety. I thought that Babcock was plain old honest and forthright regarding the state of his team.
Henrik Zetterberg was equally honest while speaking in a new Tigers cap...
And Niklas Kronwall clearly wears an "A" because he brings a level of quiet-but-passionate level of righteous indignation--the good kind of, "This is our *#$%@& team and I'm angry, even if I say it politely" chutzpah--to the equation:
You can attack the Red Wings' struggles from a number of equally valid angles. The fact that Mikael Samuelsson's $3 million salary are in the locker room riding a bike more often than not, the fact that the only reason Jordin Tootoo and his $1.9 million cap hit are with the team is because the Wings are doing their damnedest to trade him instead of sparing him the indignity of being sent to Grand Rapids with Cory Emmerton (though the Wings will have to send Tootoo down to get back under the 23-man roster limit when Jonathan Ericsson and Brendan Smith return), never mind the fact that only Capgeek's estimated $2.453 million of carved-out Long-Term Injured Reserve space gave allowed the Wings to escape the self-imposed cap overage straitjacket they wandered into when--if we believe what we are told--the GM, the coach and the players all agreed that Daniel Cleary and his goal, 2 assists and +3 over the course of 18 games, at a cap hit of $1.75 million were invaluable from a leadership perspective...
All while Nyquist's $950,000 cap hit sit in the AHL, and the Wings will need to move another body after bidding farewell to Jordin Tootoo (will the Wings have to eat Samuelsson's salary to receive the marginal cap relief and roster spot freed up by sending him to Grand Rapids? Can they "eat" $1.5 or $2 million of Samuelsson's salary to convince him to waive his no-trade clause [which is NOT a no-movement clause]? Do the Wings have to make the hard decision to send Patrick Eaves and his $1.25 million cap hit away despite his speed, penalty-killing ability and the year-plus served battling post-concussion symptoms?) to accommodate "FREEING NYQUIST."
None of that speaks particularly well of the management's decision to a) over-build prior to the 2013 season, not realizing that the "kids" were ready, nor does it b) speak well of the management's decisions to not do what was necessary to clear cap and roster space by perhaps making some merciless and player-unfriendly moves during the summer to ensure that the best players available were on the ice from day 1 of the regular season.
But the coach also said that "the veterans win" battles for roster spots by default at the start of the season. We're watching Todd Bertuzzi play possibly the best hockey he's played as a Red Wing. We're watching a Jonas Gustavsson who, when he's not injured, is playing balls-out amazing.
We also forget that Danny DeKeyser's a Calder Trophy-eligible rookie, that Jakub Kindl may be 26, but that he's really and honestly got a 48-game-season's worth of, "I am a top-four NHL defenseman" experience under his belt--the two seasons prior to that, he was a part-timer or #6/7 guy--that Brendan Smith's a 24-year-old with less experience than Kindl, and that Brian Lashoff's played fewer games than Smith, and that puck possession defense and a strong, speedy transition game remains both the backbone and foundation of the Red Wings' offense and defense.
We forget that the guy the Wings now throw over the boards when the ship is sinking isn't Kris Draper or Kirk Maltby--it's Joakim Andersson, who's 24 and has 61 games of NHL experience under his belt. Justin Abdelkader's had half-an 82-game season's worth of his 275 games being expected to put pucks in the opposition net instead of keeping 'em out of his own. Tomas Tatar, who's become a go-to secondary scorer, is 22 and has played in 37 NHL games. Darren Helm, who's now the other guy getting thrown over the boards when the ship's sinking--or maybe centering the second line--has played in 5 games since the 2011-2012 playoffs.
While Stephen Weiss's struggles are seemingly baffling at 30 years of age, he's played for a dump-and-not-chase, play-zone-defense team from 19-30, and between the groin injury, the 20-stitch gash that had him wearing a visor for the first time since he was a junior-aged player, and the big block of hard plastic covering the pinky finger on his left glove--the left hand whose wrist was surgically repaired last season, yielding a 17-game 2013 season--isn't for decoration (somebody's been playing with what was probably a pretty badly broken pinky finger), and those issues certainly haven't aided his transition to a team whose defensive responsibilities are, according to some guy who's going into the Hockey Hall of Fame tonight at 7:30 PM (on TSN and the NHL Network), Chris Chelios, the most incredibly demanding on forwards and centers in terms of hauling one's ass back to cover opposing players, man-on-man, that he's ever seen.
That's 4 of the Wings' seven defensemen and five "regular" forwards. 9 of 23.
This is still a team in transition, a team amidst both an injury-forced youth movement that the management never forsaw (see: the guys on the roster who are the reasons Nyquist's in the AHL) that simply cannot play itself out over the course of anything less than a full 82-game season, a team whose "kids" are being asked to succeed the Drapers, Maltbys, Holmstroms, Lidstroms, Rafalskis and Stuarts, and a team whose post-Lidstrom-identity-finding process simply cannot play itself out over the course of anything less than a full 82-game season.
These are not excuses. This is Detroit, and these are the Red Wings. 9-5-and-4 and a 5-game home losing streak doesn't *#$%@& cut it, and it sure as *#$%@& doesn't cut it if you are the Detroit Red Wings, the team for which the, "To whom much is given, much is expected" quote above the locker room door when the players head out toward the ice must represent a standard of achievement and a standard to which the team pursues with every shift and every stride...
And it sure as *#$%@& isn't gonna cut it in this town given the price of tickets to watch the Red Wings look very, very ordinary.
How does the GM explain what's happened, and why Jimmy Howard, who's been nothing less than sensational, has a 5-5-and-4 record because the team in front of him's giving #35 no "run support?"
The Free Press's George Sipple asked Holland what's going on, and KH suggests that part of the Wings' record reflects the fact that the team hasn't played Eastern Conference opponents, who've made mincemeat of a team that's supposed to have its way with the East, in two years:
“Certainly I didn’t know a lot about the East, but I knew the West was very, very good and very deep,” Holland said Saturday morning at Joe Louis Arena. “When you look at the crossover record between the East and the West, the West’s record is almost 2-to-1 versus wins over the East. So obviously the West is a very strong conference. I can’t tell you that the best teams in one conference are better than the best teams in the other conference, but I certainly know being in the West (in the past), the West is very, very deep.”
The Western Conference was 72-28-11 against the Eastern Conference after Saturday’s games.
The Wings have played just as many games against the Western Conference as they have against the Eastern Conference after 18 games. The Wings are 4-3-2 against Western Conference foes and 5-2-2 against Eastern Conference opponents.
The Wings are coming off a 3-2 overtime loss to the Lightning on Saturday.
Jimmy Howard played well enough to keep the Wings in that game. The Wings wasted a huge stretch of power-play time in the second period and couldn’t get any secondary scoring, relying on Henrik Zetterberg’s two goals for their offense.
Holland said the Eastern Conference is still a bit of an unknown for the Wings: “Still learning it a little bit.”
“I’m glad that we got a western Canada trip out of the way when there was no snow,” Holland said. “We’re going to go to California in early January. We’re going to knock out both trips before we go to the Olympics. I like that. Coming back from the Olympics, most of our road trips are around the East. I like our schedule.”
Babcock was almost baffled by his team's performance after the game on Saturday, as MLive's Ansar Khan noted:
Henrik Zetterberg scored both Detroit goals – he leads the team with 10. The second one tied it at 2-2 with 4:12 remaining in regulation. The Red Wings had momentum, until Richard Panik stripped the puck from Kyle Quincey behind the Detroit net and passed in front to an open Purcell, who buried it past Jimmy Howard.
“We had the puck and Q was coming around the net and their guy was quicker and stole it from him,’’ Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “(Jakub) Kindl might have come to the front of the net, might have thought Q was reversing the puck, but it was a turnover.’’
Kyle Quincey. Search for him on Twitter and you get this:
Babcock lamented his team’s poor puck management.
“I thought even when it was tied 2-2, why would we be giving up opportunities?’’ Babcock said. “Makes no sense to me. We have to be way more efficient on the back. We got to get way more out of more guys. I think we’re a better team than (how) we played today. I got to give them credit, they played fast, they were good, their D was good, way more efficient than our D. Therefore they had more speed throughout their lineup. ... Their speed with our inability to move the puck from the back today made us slower.’’
The inability to move the puck from the back end without committing oodles and oodles of turnovers between the bluelines. 8 giveaways and 10 Tampa Bay takeaways on Saturday. That's below average these days, just as Saturday's 34 Tampa Bay shots and 4-0 overtime advantage are the new normal.
Babcock said Tampa Bay was the better team and [Steven] Stamkos the best player on the ice.
“We had outstanding penalty kill. Our power play wasn’t any good. Our goaltender was really good,’’ Babcock said. “In the end we got ourselves a point in a game we could have come up with nothing.’’
The power play's been awful, as Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner noted, with Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Bertuzzi, Alfredsson and Kronwall stunningly unable to retain possession of the puck after one-and-done opportunities, and the unmitigated disaster that is the second unit can't seem to get the puck past the half boards in the offensive zone, if it isn't turning the damn thing over:
Detroit’s power play is 1 for 20 in its last five games. Coupled with an anemic offense, the Wings need to play almost flawless hockey to secure a victory.
“Our power play was better tonight than the last game, but it’s something we have to work on,” said Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg, who notched both of the Wings' goals. “It’s really important to take advantage of that (power-play time) when you get the chances. We’ve got to practice it. We’ve got to put more time on it and bear down and score more goals.”
Zetterberg said that the Wings are working hard, but they might not be working smart. They have a tendency to skate, skate and skate when things aren't going their way, which causes them to make poor decisions and be out of position.
“It’s tempting to do that when you’re hunting and trying to chase from behind,” Zetterberg said. “But you have to trust your structure. It’s not always having to work harder. It’s other things too, that have to be better.”
We keep on hearing that. The Wings aren't happy about watching each other try to do each other's jobs instead of believing in the system that's supposed to transcend personnel. We keep hearing that "getting back to our structure" is going to set things right.
Then the Wings' skaters go in five different directions and "structure" disappears like a fart in the wind.
Red Wing coach Mike Babcock praised the Lightning for being a fast, relentless team, which caused the Wings to lose their composure and play slower. He also agreed with Zetterberg -- that his team plays hard but not smart hockey at times.
“There was nothing going on (in the third period)," Babcock said. "Neither team could get a shot on goal for like 10 minutes and then bang, suddenly we’re pressing. We were pressing because we were down. But when wecame back to tie it 2-2, why would we be giving up opportunities? It made no sense to me. We have to be more efficient. We need to get more out of way more guys.”
Maybe the margins for error are tighter with the team unable or unwilling to bring in a top-four defenseman. Given the team's existing cap issues, the utter lack of trades on a dead trade market (instead of seeking out trades, despite Bruce Garrioch's best efforts, despite the looming GM's meetings tomorrow and given the Wings' the before-American-Thanksgiving-it-isn't-time-to-panic mentality, I wouldn't be surprised if the Wings didn't make any sort of transaction not involving dumping salary until at least January, if not later.
If the Wings weren't in the same division as the Buffalo Sabres, and if it wasn't dollar-in-for-dollar-out, I'd think that they'd go after Christian Ehrhoff, but it'd be bloody awkward to have surrendered an NHL defenseman or two and a top prospect or three to a team that you're bound to face in the playoffs, if only eventually.
Last Wednesday, the CBC's Elliotte Friedman pointed out that 20 of the NHL's 30 teams are within $2 million of a salary cap that dropped from $70.2 to $64.3 million last summer, and the rest are "capped out" in terms of their internal budgets.
If nobody can take on salary at this point, and none of the few "selling" teams want to go "dollar-in-for-dollar-out," all of these facts and figures add up to no help coming on the horizon.
Other than "freeing Nyquist," barring some miracle trade cooked up at the GM's meetings, Team Greener Than You'd Think, Team Transition Is a Two-Year Process, the Detroit Red Wings, they're on their own until at least the New Year, if not the trade deadline.
Where do they go from here? Back to practice today, ahead of a rematch with Winnipeg on Tuesday--and a flight to Toronto to take in Brendan Shanahan and Chris Chelios's Hockey Hall of Fame inductions this evening--the Toast of Hockeytown on Wednesday, hosting the Capitals on Friday and a brief road trip to Long Island on Saturday, ahead of home tilts against the Predators, Hurricanes and Senators on the 19th, 21st and 23rd, all preceding a Sunday game in Buffalo on the 24th, a barometer game against the Bruins on Thanksgiving eve and a Black Friday matinee in Long Island.
Starting on December 1st, when the Wings head to Ottawa for the "freakshow" that will be Daniel Alfredsson's running of the Canadian media gauntlet, the HBO 24/7 cameras will be following the Wings in the lead-up to the Winter Classic, and instead of the three remaining 2-day breaks to practice and rest that the team will enjoy this month, they'll face a game-every-other-day (with two exceptions) schedule.
Seven of the Wings' next 9 games are home affairs. In theory, this is supposed to be the time when the Wings make hay, when they take advantage of the practice time and Joe Louis Arena's home ice advantage (when not losing 5 straight games for the first time since 1996) and right the damn ship amidst November's gales.
The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness noted that Niklas Kronwall and his teammates were good and pissed off after Saturday's loss, and they should be angry. They need to do something constructive with that anger, too, they need to channel it toward getting better:
There was palpable anger and frustration in the Red Wings locker room after the game. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall attempted to describe it.
“It wasn’t pretty out there a lot of times, but we found a way to get back at it,” Kronwall said. “We had a chance. (Howard) played unbelievable for us. We came up short again.”
The loss was the second overtime defeat in as many games; the team has not won a home game since Oct. 15. Detroit’s power play went 0-4 on the evening, including a five-on-three opportunity in the second period – which was capped by an unsuccessful four minute double minor.
“That’s where we lost the game, I think,” Kronwall explained. “If you get one – maybe two there – and it’s a different game. The power play is something I think we need to get clicking. Right now, we’ve got to get the puck to the net a lot more. We’ve got to get some second chances. It’s too much one-and-done.”
Paging Tom Renney. Tom Renney to the white courtesy phone.
Howard was the busier goalie on this night, facing 34 shots to Ben Bishop’s 27. Howard also had to thwart a pair of two-on-one breaks, evidence of a lax Red Wings defense. In addition, the team turned the puck over at a near-constant clip. Only the timely scoring by Zetterberg saved an otherwise miserable effort. Still, the captain was clearly frustrated with the result: yet another home loss.
“Obviously, we want two points at home,” Zetterberg said. “Somehow, we can’t find a way to really get it right now. We fought hard; it wasn’t perfect. We found a way to tie it up. Once again, we fell short.”
Zetterberg had to admit that even his mighty line's on the schneid, too:
“You’re going to go through stretches like that during the year,” Zetterberg said. “Our line didn’t do much for a few games, and other lines stepped up. I think everybody just needs to believe in themselves, and do their job, and I’m sure it will come.”
As the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan notes, "help," for better or worse, will take the form of Jonathan Ericsson--seriously, did you ever think that the man would go from Quincey status to the team's second-best defenseman and nothing less than a stalwart?--and the Gamblin' Man...
Ericsson and Brendan Smith (shoulder) are both expected to return to the lineup this week, likely stabilizing the back end.
“We’ve been making too many turnovers, creating turnovers all over the ice,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.
The power play needs to get clicking...
“We didn’t generate a lot,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We’ve got to find a way. The puck’s got to go in (in that situation).”
Both teams’ penalty killing units were good — the Red Wings 0-for-4, Tampa 0-for-3 — but that didn’t lessen the disappointment.
“We didn’t get anything going,” Zetterberg said. “Obviously you want to score a goal but the PK was good on both sides. But obviously you want the puck to go in, but the puck was sliding and we couldn’t find a way to (score).”
The ice was just like Winnipeg's on Saturday--surprisingly shitty, snowy, sticky and goopy, yielding pucks that either got stuck in sticky spots, skittered over snow or spun and peeled wide of their targets like curling stones.
The ice was, of course, the kind of playing surface Tampa Bay thrives on. Shit ice. A lack of flow. Trapping hockey and turnovers in the neutral zone yielding far too many 3-on-2's and 2-on-1's because the Wings' forwards were cheating toward offense, ten or fifteen feet ahead of where they should've been, yielding a wide "gap" between forwards and defensemen, and leaving defensemen without outlets. Any and all Wings in possession of the puck being far too easily steered into the boards and losing one-on-one battles for the puck minus support or passing outlets of their own. One-and-done, shoot-and-turn-away-from-the-net scoring chances. All the signs of a team struggling to find its "structure" and struggling with a lack of confidence.
As Kulfan notes, losing Franzen--who was surprisingly engaged at center and was averaging a point per game in the 5 games prior to his "unspecified" absence--and Weiss hurt, and as such, the Wings were relying on those youngsters to produce points.
Youngsters who Babcock suggested weren't particularly effective.
Those guys will pitch in goals,” Babcock said. “But until you do it year after year … we have to check better.”
Kronwall offered a telling comment regarding the team's inability to sustain puck possession, the kind of fundamental "structural" element that allows the Wings to control the game, while speaking with Michigan Hockey's Stefan Kubus...
“For 60 minutes, it was too much watching hockey at times today,” Kronwall said of the loss.
And Kronwall told DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose, who offers a fine "Week Ahead in Hockeytown"-framing article, that the Red Wings' main issues involve the players wearing Wings jerseys, and not their opponents...
For us in here it’s all about us right now,” said defenseman Niklas Kronwall following the Red Wings’ 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday. “We have to find a way to be better as a team in all areas of the ice. I feel the PK is pretty good. (Jimmy Howard) has been unbelievable for us, but in all other aspects of the game we have to work on our own game. It doesn’t matter who we play.”
The Red Wings have lost three consecutive home games to Tampa Bay, Dallas and the New York Rangers in the waning seconds of overtime. And like Saturday’s outcome, turnovers have helped perpetrate the last-second losses.
“I think this team is working hard, we got to work smarter, though,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Sometimes when it doesn’t go your way you just stake and skate and skate, so it’s tough to work harder but you got to work smarter. You can’t jump in plays, can’t go as the third man. It’s tempting to do that when you’re the home team and you’re chasing from behind, but you got to trust your structure.”
In Babcock's above-posted post-game presser, he mentions the lack of an "F3," that 3rd forward, be he a center, right wing or left wing, coming back to help the defense. Despite Weiss's offensive struggles, he's beeen a helluva F3, and his absence was very, very noticeable. As much as I like Luke Glendening, he's not quite NHL-ready in terms of his level of self-confidence and positioning (despite the Wings and Griffins' near-identical systems of play) against NHL players, and the Wings looked like a team down two centers on Saturday.
The Red Wings enter this week in third-place in the Atlantic Division with 22 points through 18 games.With two home games this week, the Wings would like to end their current losing skid at five games. Though the last time they lost six straight at home, they followed it up with a Stanley Cup championship.
In the middle of the 1996-97 schedule, Detroit had a six-game home winless streak (0-4-2-0), which was followed by another six-game dry spell (0-3-2-1) that crossed into Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series with St. Louis. The Wings finished with a 20-12-8-1 (W-L-T-OTL) regular-season record that season at Joe Louis Arena, but turned things around with a 9-1 home mark en route to securing the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title in 42 years.
I'm not quite that optimistic about this team's chances, but Shanny, Stevie (no, he's not going to play in the Alumni Showdown, if Saturday's comments didn't hammer that fact home, I don't know what platitudes will underscore the plain and simple fact that the man has no desire whatsoever to ever lace up skates and feel his right femur grind on his right fibula and tibia in screaming pain again), no Sergei, no Igor, no Nick, no Vladdie, no Drapes, no Malts, no Mac, no Vernie "backing up" Ozzie until the playoffs begin.
But hell, it's the cap era, and we saw what a team less-seasoned and a little shallower than this year's team did once they made the playoffs last spring.
“We have to take advance of it when we’re home and we haven’t done that so far and that’s something that we obviously have to look after here real soon,” Kronwall said.
Doing so involves understanding that tomorrow's opponents rallied from a 2-1 deficit, and that Friday's opponent is a whole other level of offensively proficient:
As for the Capitals and their Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin, who always pose an eminent threat, Kronwall said, “Ovechkin is a lot like (Stephen) Stamkos, shoots it from anywhere and has a laser and is able to find those open areas. Plus he has a guy in Nick (Backstrom) who is going to feed him non-stop all game. You have to do a very good job defensively to be able to contain those guys.”
I highly suggest that you read the rest of Roose's context-setting article, and if you want to watch the Oakland Press's Pat Caputo and the Detroit News's Terry Foster speak about the Wings' issues on Fox 2's SportsWorks--briefly--suggesting that the Wings are still in progress and that focus, determination and attention to detail are issues that are eminently fixable.
That's what I've got for this morning. I'll try to cover what I can today anddo some Hall-of-Fame catching up, but I felt that somebody needed to spend a couple of hours trying to examine the Wings' 3-and-7 record of late while suggesting that this isn't, "The End of the World as We Know It," nor is it any remotely acceptable "new normal"...
While honestly admitting that it's up to the players in the locker room to get their shit together and get their *#$%@& game in order, because the Wings' remotely possible roster reinforcements consist of Johan Franzen, Stephen Weiss, Jonathan Ericsson, Brendan Smith, and if we Wings fans are lucky, the inevitable and much-needed promotion of Gustav Nyquist.
Otherwise, these Red Wings are on their own, and they need all hands on deck, Quincey (I shit you not, I have like four pictures of the man flat on his stomach, desperately stabbing at opponents en route to breakaway goals, from this season alone, and while I root for everybody, he's starting to get on my nerves) and Samuelsson included, to right their listing but not sinking ship.
The schedule ahead should afford the Wings the practice time, rest time and opponents to get its collective shit together. To whom much is given, much more is urgently required, much smarter, more efficient and more personnel-transcending, stick-to-the-blueprint and/or structure-playing hockey, starting with hard work practiced today and implemented tomorrow.
Update: For the record, Expressen's Mattias Ek and Jens Dahlqvist report that Wings Mattias Janmark narrowly avoided a catastrophic knee injury when kneed by Finland's Leo Komarov at the Karjala Cup.
Initially it was feared that he'd strained or blown a knee ligament, but team Sweden doctor Henrik Vrehtling reported that Janmark received a bruise, and Ek reports that Janmark will receive further treatment in Stockholm and may miss some of AIK's games with some sort of sprain (the SHL resumes play on Tuesday), but Janmark himself simply reported that he was just sore. Marie Hallman reported that she checked in with AIK GM Daniel Rudslatt, and he said that Janmark said he was fine, but AIK will wait until their doctors have a look at Janmark before deeming him clear to play.
The Swedes were mostly pissed off about finishing 3rd out of the 4 teams taking part in the second leg of the Euro Hockey Tour. Janmark didn't register a point in 3 games, including Sweden's 3-2 OT win over Finland on Sunday.
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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.