The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/19/13 at 02:54 AM ET
As Wings coach Mike Babcock might say, the Red Wings (20-16-and-7, 47 points, 18 Regulation-or-OT Wins, 5 games left) sit in 10th place in the Western Conference standings because the Dallas Stars defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Thursday (Dallas is 22-18-and-3, has 20 ROW's and the same 47 points and 5 games remaining as the Wings, so they're in 9th place now, and the Wings play in Dallas during the regular-season finale), the Columbus Blue Jackets at least remain within reach thanks to a 2-1 loss to LA but remain ahead of the Wings (21-16-and-7, 16 ROWs, 49 points, 4 games remaining, yay), and the Phoenix Coyotes inched closer to the Wings via a 2-1 shootout loss to St. Louis (18-7-and-8, 15 ROWs, 44 points, 4 games remaining, including Monday vs. Detroit), "And that's the facts."
If I may take off my pretend professional blogger's hat and speak as a fan, the facts *#$%@& suck donkey balls.
The Wings really do need to win 3--or preferably 4--of the team's remaining 5 games, starting with a big ol' Hockey Night in Canada game against Vancouver on Saturday (10 PM EDT, FSD/NHL Network U.S./CBC), to make the playoffs.
And if I may remain blunt, when Jimmy Howard threw up his hands in exasperation when Damien Brunner made a poor change, Kyle Quincey skated away from the net and Howard found himself all alone against Steve Begin--and then Howard's frustration yielded the game-winning goal in the Wings' 3-2 loss to Calgary--that was the first time I thought, "Wow, this team is *#$%@&."
Between the runaway train of bad habits, litany of injuries, youngsters proving that they're not quite ready to be the Wings' key contributors down the stretch, the excusable disappearance of Brunner and the inexcusable disappearances of Danny Cleary and Valtteri Filppula, the team's ridiculous inability to score, inability to show up "on time" and/or not give up the game's first goal and/or game-tying goals in the 3rd period, and the team's struggles to beat playoff-bound teams and the fact that the team-wide lack of confidence has spread to Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who are now passing up prime chances to score in order to make plays that don't work, are committing giveaways in all three zones while trying to be "too cute" via Filppula-quality drop passes or peel-offs, and are doing what almost every other Wing not named Johan Franzen, Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Niklas Kronwall or Jakub Kindl of all people do in turn away from the net after they shoot and happily allow themselves to get mooshed into the side boards while battling and losing one-on-one battles for pucks and retrievals of rebounds...
I'm starting to think that the reason the team's management chose to leave the Wings' current players to their own devices and hold onto that 1st-round draft pick because they fully understood that the team's performances against Columbus, Calgary, etc. over the course of the season meant that the team had a 50-50 chance of making the playoffs at best, and that that 1st-rounder had at least an even chance (the "experts" at SportsClubStats estimate the Wings' chances of making the playoffs to be 34.9%) of being a pick subject to a draft lottery for all non-playoff-bound teams.
All of that being said...
I am not on the, "Hey, no playoffs for the first time since 1990 mean more substantial changes," (see: the contract talk thread), "Yay no playoffs, let's tank!" train.
I became a Red Wings fan during the 1991-92 season, and I've never seen the team clean out its lockers prior to a first-round series.
I despise the the thought of the Wings losing the playoffs. And again, taking off the pretend professional hat, it nauseates me, it infuriates me, it depresses the hell out of me and it breaks my damn heart.
With all respect given to the MSM, reading ESPN's Scott Burnside or the Hockey News's Adam Proteau say, "Ooo, the Wings missing the playoffs, isn't that an interesting story!" makes me hear, "Ha ha ha, after fifteen years, our predictions of the Wings' downfall are finally proven right! Ding, dong, the witch is dead! *Giggles*" and it makes me very very angry.
I'm doing my best to keep my shit together and to not let my emotions get the better of me because that's part of my job. When the Wings lost the Cup in 2009 and I still had to get up the next day and talk about Sidney Crosby lifting the Cup at Joe Louis Arena, I learned that I have to hope for the best as a Wings fan and prepare for the worst as a blogger.
But it still sucks. It stil hurts. And I'm still upset, angry, frustrated and flustered by the team I pledged my hockey heart to when I was 13, because they're breaking it a little bit at a time, with every mistake, every goal surrendered, every loss.
Wings coach Mike Babcock was on The Fan 590 on Thursday night, and it's hard to listen to the resignation in his voice, his preparation for the worst.
The Wings will get back to practicing today, and Babcock and the players will put on brave faces and insist that their fate lies in their hands. I don't know what they're really thinking, but I hope they believe that, I hope that they deliver on their promise, as outlandish as it may seem right now, and as much as the rest of the world needs this not particularly religious person's prayers, I'm still stuffing in a little, "Please, please, please let the Wings make the playoffs" into the mix.
If you feel betrayed by this team, if you feel "owed," if you feel like the world is even more messed up and unfair and hard even though we're talking about a kid's game, because following athletes who play a kid's game is a big part of who we Wings fans are, how we define ourselves, the family of fans we count ourselves as members of and, to some extent, a way of life because we spend a significant amount of time, energy, emotional and financial investments following this team...
I feel the same way.
So when you're arguing with each other or venting toward me, trying to figure out what the hell all of this means as you deal with the concept of possibly being a Wings fan during a non-playoff year--which we can all agree is an inexcusable and unacceptable outcome--please know that I feel the same way. I'm just not saying much in that regard because I'm supposed to pretend to be professional.
So the Red Wings and their beat writers received a day off on Thursday--possibly the last "off-day" of the regular season as the Wings will conclude their 48-games-in-99-nights demolition derby with 5 games played over the course of 8 nights--but they still penned columns about the Wings' dire straits, with MLive's Ansar Khan stating the obvious, that the Wings have blown far too many games to believe that this team will make the playoffs without significant help from their playoff-spot-competitors' foes:
The Red Wings have squandered too many points that were they're for the taking. There is no better example than Wednesday, when Steve Begin doubled his season's goal total in the third period on a pair of blunders – a poor exchange behind the net between goaltender Jimmy Howard and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, and then a play on which Howard fanned on an outlet pass from behind his net.
Afterward, Babcock was asked if he had anything left in his bag of tricks to extend this franchise's playoff streak that began in 1991 and is the longest current run of the four major team sports.
“I don’t pull out any tricks,'' Babcock said. “I deal in realism and the facts. The facts speak pretty clear. This is an urgent moment for us. We take a lot of pride in being a real competitive team and I think we’ve been competitive this year. We’re not at the level that we’ve been in the past, for sure, but we’ve still competed hard. I thought we competed hard (Wednesday). We didn’t start on time and we made a couple of mistakes.”
Yes, as Khan points out, the Wings have absolutely smoked the Canucks during their two meetings thus far, but I'm not sure that these Wings, at least mentally speaking, are the same team that defeated Vancouver 8-3 on February 24th and 5-2 on March 16th.
“If you take away the first period (Wednesday), we've been playing pretty good lately,'' captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “But, we got to get points. We can't just play good and not get points. We need to gather two-pointers and it all starts on Saturday.''
The Red Wings have been outscored 2-0 and outshot 56-39 in the first period of their past five games.
“We just have to find a way through it,'' defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We got to stick together and try to stay positive. We got to play 60 minutes. … If we don't want to go home we have to do a lot better than that in the first period.''
The Free Press's Helene St. James admits that she was shocked by the way in which the Wings blew Wednesday's game, too:
The Wings couldn't overcome a slow start Wednesday, thanks to a pair of incidents that defy the odds.
First it was an exchange between Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Ericsson that went wrong, when Ericsson went behind Detroit's net to pick up the puck. When he tried to push it through Howard, the puck got stuck in Howard's skates, and he ended up kicking it into his own net. Howard called it "an unfortunate break. That's no one's fault. I guess Big E said it handcuffed him a little bit."
The second was gob-smacking. During a Detroit power play, Howard went behind his net to catch the puck. Damien Brunner had bailed on his shift a touch early, and Niklas Kronwall was late to get on the ice. Kyle Quincey was on the other point. With the puck skipping along the end boards, Howard caught it and appeared to think he'd rim it around to Quincey.
Instead Steve Begin, all alone, swooped in and got the puck, then swung out front and found the net wide-open. Howard called it "a total mistake by me," but that's hardly fair. He got no help from any teammate.
"I assume Bruns thought it was going to get rimmed to Howie, and Q thought the same thing, and Howie thought he was in a bad spot when it was dribbling towards him," coach Mike Babcock said. "It's a big mistake. You can watch hockey for years and never see two of those plays in one game, never mind in one year."
Unfortunately for the Wings, those plays happened in a year they're chasing a playoff spot headed into the last week of the regular season. Now they set their sights on climbing back into the picture over the weekend.
"It's a tough thing to swallow, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," Howard said. "I've got to get ready for Saturday night in Vancouver."
The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan also discussed the Wings' desperate situation...
"I've heard all year we're not consistent," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We are consistent. You go through each month we're one game or two games over (.500) each month. This is what we are."
And he's right. By month, the Red Wings are:
3-2-1 in January;
7-6-2 in February;
7-5-2 in March; and
3-3-2 in April.
And if the Red Wings miss the playoffs, remember Wednesday's 3-2 road loss to the Calgary Flames. Two third-period misplays by goaltender Jimmy Howard around the net led to goals by Steve Begin.
After the Stars' victory over the Canucks Thursday, the Red Wings are in 10th place in the Western Conference.
"We have to get points," Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. "We have to get two pointers."
The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness noted Babcock's acceptance of his team's status as a borderline playoff team, at least for this season...
Wings coach Mike Babcock on the team feeling any pressure about reaching the postseason.
“Pressure, when you’ve got 125 points and you drop the puck in the first round, there’s pressure,” Babcock said. “Pressure usually means you have a chance. Pressure on us is to maximize our potential and play as good as we’re capable of being. I think we’re where we should be. I’ve heard all year we’re not consistent. We are consistent. We’re one game or two games over each month. This is what we are. We’ve got to find a way to crawl into the playoffs.”
And the ever-verbose (in the best sense of the term) Detroit News's Gregg Krupa duly noted that we Wings fans ought to cheer for St. Louis tonight, because they'll be hosting the Stars, all while very accurately suggesting that the vast majority of the Red Wings' roster going forward will consist of many of the same players we've watched play this season (sure, Valtteri Filppula, Danny Cleary, Ian White, Mikael Samuelsson and a few others may exit, but the Wings seem to believe in their youth movement, and aside from targeting a top-pair defenseman and a goal-scoring forward, it's conceivable, if not probable, that the Wings will continue to "go with the kids," albeit reluctantly), and they did indeed, "Learn a cruel lesson" in the "debacle" against Calgary.
So, the resolve deep in the chests and heads of all Red Wings must be: First, no more taking deep breaths before starting.
No more defensemen losing the puck, like some live grenade, into the feet of their goalie, where he is left to kick it about while he skates back to his crease.
And no more Jimmy Howard panicking when his mates have completely abandoned him on a shoot-in. Last night, they did and the puck came the corner where goalies are forbidden to touch it, while an opposing forward sped at Howard.
Handling the puck is not Howard's forte. It likely never will be. No one knows that better than his teammates. Making it harder for him is unwise and courts disaster.
It has been clear for months that this Red Wings' roster is capable of more mistakes than the team has made in many years, if only because of all the new faces.
All the more reason for the older guys to play flawlessly, especially now.
Red Wings notebooks: If you missed it, the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness notes that the Detroit chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association named Patrick Eaves the team's nominee for the Masterton Trophy, which acknowledges perseverance and dedication to the game of hockey. Eaves spent over a year battling post-concussive symptoms after blocking a shot broke his jaw:
Patrick Eaves’ life changed on Nov. 26, 2011.
That was the night Eaves took a slapshot off the stick of Nashville’s Roman Josi, breaking his jaw and also giving him a concussion.
Nearly 14 months later, Eaves’ was finally able to continue his playing career.
“I couldn’t be a parent, I couldn’t be a father, I couldn’t be a husband,” Eaves said. “I think that was probably the worst part. I was in a dark room for a while. That was the worst part of the whole thing. My wife held the ship together, ran everything and took care of me.”
Eaves has been nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL player who demonstrates perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. The selection is made annually by the Detroit chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
“She was pregnant the whole time and then we had a one-year-old too, so she should be nominated for this,” Eaves said when he learned he was being nominated for the award. “I just got hit in the head with a puck. She deserves all of the credit.”
USA Today's Kevin Allen penned a list of "10 key factors in the NHL playoff race," and in doing so, he explained why the Wings hold out faint hope that Todd Bertuzzi might return from his back and leg injuries, and why it's kind of hard to pick on Johan Franzen right now:
10. Saddling up the Mule: The Detroit Red Wings have qualified for the playoffs for 21 years in a row.
However, that streak is in danger, and the Red Wings are hoping that someone steps up in the final 10 days to give the team a scoring boost. It might be Todd Bertuzzi, who is expected to return to the lineup after missing most of the season with a back injury.
The Red Wings also hope Johan Franzen, nicknamed the Mule, might rise up. His scoring numbers have been down slightly this season, but he has three goals and five assists over his past eight games and has shown signs of regaining his offensive spark.
Even if the Red Wings make the playoffs, their ability to survive beyond the first round would require improved secondary scoring.
In the prospect department, Ryan Sproul's turning pro with the Grand Rapids Griffins and will be a full-time Griffin next season, but his Major Junior hockey career came to a superb conclusion as he was named the Ontario Hockey League's defenseman of the year. The Sault Star's Peter Ruicci spoke with Sproul about the honor, which Ruicci reports is an award that makes Sproul eligible to be named the Canadian Hockey League's best defenseman later this spring:
The former Soo Greyhounds standout amassed 80 of a maximum 95 points, en route to winning the Max Kaminsky Trophy as the Ontario Hockey League's most outstanding defenceman for 2012-2013.
“To win this award is a huge honour,” said Sproul, a 20-year-old, Mississauga, Ont., native who spent three seasons with the Greyhounds. “I want to thank the organization for helping me with my development.”
With a booming shot and impressive skating ability, Sproul led all OHL defencemen with 20 goals, 46 assists and 66 points in just 50 regular season games.He also added two goals and three assists in six post-season tilts.
Voting for the award is done by league general managers, who're not permitted to vote for their own nominee. Players received five points for a first-place vote, three for a second-place selection and one for a third. The league does not announce the number of first-place votes a player receives.
Scott Harrington of the London Knights placed second with 59 points while Dylan DeMelo of Mississauga was third with 17.
As Ruicci notes, Sproul suffered a broken arm in October, but he returned quickly from the injury, just as he essentially "played through" a broken jaw during the 2011-2012 season...
And Yahoo Sports' Neate Sager wrote a lengthy and comprehensive article about Sproul's development over the course of his junior career:
"It's been tough for myself with the injuries," Sproul, who's been with the Red Wings' Grand Rapids Griffins AHL affiliate since the Soo's season ended, said on Thursday. "I have to give all the credit in the world to Rich Rotenberg, our head therapist. He always knew what to do. If he didn't think I could do it, he wouldn't let me. I just kept pushing. To overcome those injuries is tough, but I can't get out of the game for that long. If I can feel like I can help the team out, I'm going to do it."
The Greyhounds were certainly grateful that Sproul was a quick healer. They were 6-11-1-0 (.361 point pct.) during the 18 games he missed over the entire season. When he was able and willing, they went 30-15-2-3 (.650).
"I don't know if I ever seen a player... push so hard to come back early from injuries," 'Hounds GM Kyle Dubas said. "Richard Rotenberg, our head therapist, he commented on the same thing. When Ryan was hurt and you set the timeframe for that injury and the average comeback time, Ryan always beat it. Not by days, but by weeks. That's a credit to Ryan, to Rich and our staff and his parents and the process he went to with the broken jaw last year and the broken arm this year.
"I don't know if people know how bad Ryan's arm was broken [when he was injured on Oct. 6]. It was an eight- to 12-week injury and he was back in 6½ weeks. And every time he came back, he had an impact right away."
Sproul receiving the honour is also a win for later blooming players. Now listed at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, he was a midsized defenceman coming out of midget four seasons ago and initially looked into pursuing U.S. college hockey at the University of Michigan. He committed the Greyhounds early in 2010-11. Following a coaching change, the first of two over his time in the north, he blossomed into a rare commodity, a tall offensive D-man.
Fellow Wings prospect Nick Jensen was named to US College Hockey Online's Second All-Star Team as well, and Jensen was named the WCHA's defenseman of the year, too.
Jensen's exploits of late prompted fantasy hockey expert Darryl Dobbs to pen a profile of the 6'1," 190-pound, right-shooting defenseman, who's 22 years old:
Observations: April 2013- One of Detroit’s prospects you may not have heard much about, but that changed this season as Nick Jensen helped lead St. Cloud State Huskies to their first ever Frozen Four championships. Unfortunately the outcome didn’t turn out as hoped as they were ousted by the number one ranked Quinnipiac Bulldogs in the frozen four semi-finals. However Jensen enjoyed another successful season scoring 4G-27A-31PTS and a plus- 22 rating while also collecting WCHA’s Defensive player of the year, WCHA’s First Team All-Star and NCAA (West) First All-American team. Better make some room for all that hardware.
Fantasy Outlook: C
Very smart, agile and capable defender with the ability to contribute on the offensive end due to his smooth skating stride and soft touch. Working his way up the Red Wings prospect ranks after a spectacular Junior season for the Huskies leading them to the Frozen Four.
It is entirely possible, if not probable, that Jensen will be named Saint Cloud State's captain next season;
In terms other playoff-playing Wings prospects, in the OHL and QMJHL, Sager also penned a preview of the OHL's Eastern Conference Final, which pits Andreas Athanasiou's Belleville Bulls against Alan Quine's Belleville Bulls, and he previewed both of the QMJHL's Conference Finals, which include Martin Frk's Halifax Mooseheads battling the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Xavier Ouellet's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada battling the Baie-Comeau Drakkar;
Two prospects are playing playoff hockey elsewhere: Mike McKee's Lincoln Stars are tied 1-1 in their USHL first-round series against the Sioux Falls Stampede (McKee's going to play at Western Michigan University next season), and James De Haas' Penticton Vees trail the BCHL's Page Cup Final 3 games to 2 after dropping a 2-1 OT decision against the Surrey Eagles on Thursday;
And the Red Wings' AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, will wrap up their regular season with a slate of three games in 3 nights, hosting the Peoria Rivermen tonight, heading to Cleveland to play the Lake Erie Monsters on Saturday, and then busing to Chicago to play the Wolves on Sunday.
And he talked to the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner about the team's playoff-bound status as well:
“What I’d say right now is that we’ve earned a spot – and I want to emphasize the word ‘earned,’ ” said Blashill, whose team hosts Peoria on Friday in the final home game before the playoffs. “That’s what you want to do at the beginning of the year. Now we have an opportunity to win a division title, which puts a stamp from this team on the organization and that’s an important thing. And it also includes a higher seed, and that’s a good thing, too.”
The Griffins secured the franchise’s first playoff berth in three seasons last week, despite losing both games last week.
The Griffins, at 40-25-4-4, need only a win Friday to clinch the top spot in the Midwest Division and the franchise’s first division title since 2005-06. The best the Griffins can do in the Western Conference is second. The top three spots belong to Texas (97 points), Toronto (91) and Grand Rapids (88).
After Friday’s game, the Griffins have a long weekend. They travel to Lake Erie for a game Saturday and then turnaround and finish Sunday at Chicago. Francis Pare, who has been with the Griffins five seasons, said the recent past has not been enjoyable.
“You don’t feel ashamed but it’s just a bad feeling when you see a lot of your good buddies are still playing and you’re not,” he said. “Now, this year I just feel pride. To be back in the playoffs, and we’ve had such a great season this year, and we have a great bunch of guys.”
Also of Red Wings-related note: Again, the Red Wings are holding a street food event called the "Hockeytown BrewHaHa" tomorrow, April 20th, at the Joe;
Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner is no fan of the NHL's plan to hold six outdoor games next season, though he knows that he holds an unpopular opinion...
There is a term in economics called the law of diminishing returns, which can be explained this way: You love ice cream cones. After you eat one, you decide to have another and you enjoy it, but not as much as the first cone, but you still have a craving, so you down a third cone, then a fourth cone and by the time you reach your fifth cone, you’re questioning what you saw in ice cream cones in the first place.
Hockey is a great game. It confounds me that its popularity lags badly behind the other three majors.
But, my fear is by having six outdoor games in a year will not grow the game or attract new fans. It may be good for the league, but does it help the game?
Playing six outdoor games in one season will come off as a marketing ploy — a money grab, which doesn’t play well to an untapped fan base.
Many of my colleagues believe that I’m missing the point. The Winter Classic has been an enormous success and every team in the league clamors for an outdoor game.
An outdoor game generates millions for the host city and commemorative merchandise flies off the shelves. In the eyes of the NHL, now is the time to strike because the popularity of outdoor games will never be any higher. That is something that the NHL and I can agree upon, because they’re destroying the uniqueness and interest of the outdoor game.
And, for the record:
Update: Lest I forget, Jordin Tootoo's Team Tootoo charity is holding a special night to raise awareness of and funds for suicide prevention on Monday:
Cross your fingers and take care of honoring your superstitions, fellow Wings fans. Our team's gonna need all the help it can get over the next nine days.
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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.