The Malik Report
by George Malik on 10/07/13 at 02:58 AM ET
The Red Wings return to practice today after taking Sunday off, and they find themselves in the middle of the longest break between now and January. The Wings won't play until they entertain the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday and the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday--with those games kicking off a slate of 4 games in 6 nights, 6 in 10 (two-game road trip to Denver and Phoenix included) and, in total, 8 games played (and 11 in total) before the Wings receive their next multiple-day break near the end of the month.
Having defeated the Sabres pretty handily during the home opener, needing to count on late-game and overtime heroics to steal two points from the Hurricanes on Friday, and then having been soundly beat by the Boston Bruins, the both the Wings and their fans have just enough information about the 2013-14 team's ability to compete, its special teams play, its depth and overall "health" as an organization (no injury puns intended) to either agree that the team has much to improve upon but at least a solid enough performance that there's nothing to stay up nights worrying about...
Unless you're a player, coach or fan who just got used to last year's 48-game campaign, and you want to say, "THAT WAS SIX PERCENT OF THE SEASON ZOMG WE'RE TERRIBLE BY THE NEXT BREAK THE WINGS WILL HAVE PLAYED 22% OF THE SEASON FREAK OUT FREAK OUT FREAK OUT!"
Given the comments of Wings fans, we're all forgetting that 3 out of 82 is not 3 out of 48, and that 11 out of 82 isn't 11 out of 48, either.
That doesn't mean that the Wings were happy with the way that their performance seemed to tail off as their opponents' competition level increased, nor does the fact that their initial foray into their seven-instead-of-three-month-long schedule left them satisfied with the egg the team laid in Boston.
In his, "Week Ahead in Hockeytown" article, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose notes that the Wings feel that they've been thoroughly mediocre in terms of special teams play--nor were they happy with the fact that their status as earning 2 of 4 points in their first of 13 sets of back-to-back games was pretty close to earning 0 of 4:
“We know what it’s going to take,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve ever had to deal with a back to back (games). We’ve been through these for years. It’s early in the season, there’s no reason to get down about it, beat yourself up. Put it behind you and get ready for Phoenix on Thursday night.’’
But after three games, defenseman Niklas Kronwall said the Wings are still looking to play a complete game.
“We have a lot to work on. Obviously the power play needs to be a lot better. The whole game in general (Saturday) was not very good. The way we came back (Friday) was good for us. Showed we can do it. It’s just about sticking with the game plan for 60 minutes.’’
Through three games, the Red Wings’ power play is 0-for-8. They’ve mustered 11 shots in 15:58 of power-play time. It was more of a concern in the loss at Boston than it was in the Wings’ wins where they at least chances were created through puck retrieval and increasing shots.
“The power play, if we get some goals there, it will help,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Five on five will be tight. It’s not the first time it’s like that in this league. You got to have good special teams to score goals.’’
The Wings will practice on Monday and Wednesday before welcoming Phoenix and Philadelphia to Joe Louis Arena toward the end of the week. Straightening the power play will definitely be on the practice agenda, forward Daniel Cleary said.
“We need to get shots to the net and create traffic and get them moving around, and then we can start making plays,” Cleary said. “We have to work on a lot of things. It’s early in the season, but we have a few days to get a little rest and work on things Monday and Wednesday.’’
I hope that means the Wings get Tuesday off for their own sake. That's probably one of those CBA-mandated off-days, but this early in the season, there's no point in overdoing things, practice included.
The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan noted that the Wings' coach was less than impressed with the team's ability to deal with the trap-tastic Bruins' defensive tactics:
“We were on the outside too much,” said coach Mike Babcock, something he’s been disappointed with the opening week “I didn’t think we were good (Saturday), so making an assessment after a game you didn’t play very well in the overall probably’s not a healthy thing to do. They were better on the penalty kill and power play than us. They were harder on it, more efficient. They won more battles than we did.”
Said forward Henrik Zetterberg, who scored two goals in the three-game stretch: “They kept us outside and we couldn’t find a way to get in for rebounds and second chances.”
For all of the Red Wings’ skill, there’s always been an element of doing all the tough work around the net necessary to score tough goals and win games. Being harder and tougher on the puck is definitely on the to-do list.
“We’re normally a pretty hard team on the inside, always driving the net and hanging on to pucks,” Cleary said. “We have to get back to establishing that. We all know our identity in terms of what we bring to the team and what our role is. Sometimes you have to take a step back and realize it and just keep the game as simple as you can.”
As far as the power play, Babcock has shifted personnel and felt the opportunities were definitely there opening night against Buffalo despite not scoring. But the last two games, the power play has generated little pressure.
“It didn’t have much,” said Zetterberg. “In the other two games we at least created a lot of chances, but the puck hasn’t gone in. (Saturday) wasn’t good. (The) power play, if we get some goals there, it’ll help (the offense). Five-on-five will be tight, we know that. It’s not the first time it’s like that in this league. You have to have good special teams if you want to score goals.”
Babcock elaborated upon his points of emphasis while speaking with MLive's Ansar Khan, noting that the Wings' penchant for perimeter hockey both at even strength and with the man advantage yielded no forechecking, little sustained offensive pressure and/or puck possession...
And significant periods of time when of forwards and defensemen looking like they were on different chapters of the same book as opposed to different pages of the same chapter:
“(The Bruins) were harder on (the puck), they were more efficient, they won way more battles than we did,’’ Babcock said. “I didn’t think we handled their pressure at all, their forecheck. We didn’t execute. We weren’t good enough.’’
Babcock liked the look of the power play in the season-opening 2-1 win over Buffalo, but not so much in the next two games.
“They put the pressure on you and we didn’t break the pressure down,’’ Babcock said. “If you don’t break the pressure down all you do is break out. It’s not a skill competition. Their four guys are working as hard as they can. Your five guys got to work harder.’’
He added, “If you look at Boston’s strengths, it’s size on the back end, ability to box out and keep you from their net is key for them. So if we want to be small and play on the outside and not get involved and be light on the puck it’s a long night and we’ll spend the whole night chasing. If we’re on the inside and playing hard and being heavy, it’ll be a lot more fun for us.’’
The Wings didn't receive any sort of offensive pop from their third or fourth lines, either. Joakim Andersson and Todd Bertuzzi had some chemistry in games 1 and 2, but especially in games 2 and 3, they and Daniel Cleary didn't accomplish much of anything, and while I'm one of Tomas Tatar's biggest supporters, neither he nor Mikael Samuelsson provided "puck-hungry" play on a fourth line that looked like "Drew Miller and two guys doin' their own thing":
Tomas Tatar had no points and no shots on goal in 9:08 of ice time during his season debut Saturday. He played on a line with Cory Emmerton and Drew Miller, replacing Mikael Samuelsson, who the club said is not injured.
The only way Tatar can crack the top two lines would be as a replacement for an injured player. But playing on the third line is a possibility moving forward.
“Normally, I don’t change a winning lineup,’’ Babcock said.” I was just looking for more. I didn’t get it.’’
The Free Press's Helene St. James posited a Sunday afternoon column duly noting that we should know much more about where the team stands after their Columbus Day matinee in Boston a week from today (at 1-frickin-PM), and she didn't pull any punches in suggesting that the Wings didn't play the kind of focused, consistent or aggressive game they need to display to win against just about anybody and everybody...
The team was stung, 4-1, Saturday by the Bruins, so much so not one player tried to spin anything positive out of it. Coach Mike Babcock said a lot about how the Wings played — or rather didn’t play — but also said it wasn’t healthy to make an assessment after a game in which, “you didn’t play very well overall.”
Some players talked about a good first period, but only because Henrik Zetterberg’s goal overshadowed 20 minutes that otherwise saw the Wings direct just five shots on Boston’s net, while allowing 14 at Jimmy Howard. The Bruins used the whole game, pretty much, to show off. The Wings were forced into turnovers, rarely got out of their zone, and were schooled in how to play.
“Boston is maybe one of the most structured teams in the East,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.
Zetterberg echoed that, saying the Bruins, “play a good structure.”
The Wings pride themselves on doing the same, on every skater knowing his role. That structure is what got them three straight goals en route to a 3-2 overtime victory Friday at Carolina
Ultimately on Saturday, the Wings came away wondering how they might fare if they’d done a better job demonstrating their attention to details. It didn’t help any that they came in on legs that had played the night before.
Kronwall said after Saturday’s game that the Wings didn’t give themselves a chance, that it’d have been “a true test if we really showed something out there.” The good news is, there's only a week before another chance arises to do so.
And St. James' Monday morning column praises the Wings for their efforts against Buffalo and Carolina, but lay plain her concerns about the Wings' inability to put the puck in the back of the net (despite giving up 4 goals on Saturday, and despite his adventurous stickhandling, Jimmy Howard's been his superb self):
Why aren’t the Wings scoring more? Zetterberg is off to a good start, with two goals. That’s also a third of the offense produced by the team. Babcock has been unhappy after every game with the lack of hardness on the puck in the offensive zone. He threw Tomas Tatar into the mix at Boston, in place of Mikael Samuelsson, but it didn’t make any difference. There is scoring potential on every line, but actual production has come just from the top line, a trend continuing from last season. Pavel Datsyuk has a goal, as has Justin Abdelkader. Stephen Weiss’ overtime marker came during four-on-four play. The only other guy to have a goal was Samuelsson, as the fourth line helped out against Buffalo.
Alfredsson didn't score, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. He's registered 9 shots and has probably attempted a dozen more, especially on the power play.
What’s going on with the third line? Todd Bertuzzi, Joakim Andersson and Daniel Cleary make up a big, heavy line, with two wingers who love to shoot in Bertuzzi and Cleary and a very smart, very stable center in Andersson. This is a group that should dominate other third lines on many nights. It’s early, so give them time to gel and get going.
Then there's the power play, which is a disaster when Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Kronwall and Alfredsson aren't on the ice...
Oh, no, not the power play again: The inability to convert with the man advantage is a tired, irritating topic with the Wings. Answers generally come down to “if we knew, we’d fix it.” This was the case two seasons ago, it was the case last season, and it has segued right into this season after an 0-for-8 start. Power plays aren’t rocket science — get shots to the net, force the opposing penalty killers to move around, opening up lanes. Stop passing so much.
And we haven't even begun to discuss the adventurous nature and back-passing tendencies of Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith, nor the inconsistency from the sometimes-rock-solid and sometimes-skittish Danny DeKeyser and Jakub Kindl, but it's early yet.
What’s next? The Wings will work today and Wednesday on righting some internal wrongs. They don’t play again until Thursday, against the Coyotes, a team they should beat. After that, there’s a Saturday night game at Joe Louis Arena against the Philadelphia Flyers, followed by a second shot at the Bruins next Monday in Boston.
What’s good to remember: It’s opening week of an 82-game schedule. The Wings have beaten the teams they should, and the loss came on a back-to-back against a team that hadn’t played the night before. No one should look at Saturday and come away thinking it means the Wings are toast if the teams meet in the playoffs. Zetterberg and Datsyuk and Howard are off to good starts. Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson look like they’re fitting in well. The penalty kill has done a lot of good work. If everything was in tip-top shape, the reminder today would be the same — it’s too early to tell too much.
We've got enough data to suggest that the Wings "need some work," but something tells me that watching the Wings slip in the standings as other teams play games four, five, six and seven while the Wings rest is going to make you edgy.
Hang in there, folks, and enjoy the Tigers for a little whlie. The Wings will be back, and when they return, they'll be playing four games in six nights, and by the time Halloween comes around, they'll have played 10 games in 21 days and will find themselves taking part in their only Western Canadian road trip of the regular season (at Vancouver on October 30th, in Edmonton on November 1st, in Calgary on November 2nd and in Winnipeg on November 4th).
We'll have way, way, way more games-played "data" to chew upon and worry about sooner than later, I promise.
In the prospect department:
In Sweden, in the J20 SuperElit league, Rasmus Bodin didn't register a point in Linkopings HC's 3-2 OT loss to Malmo;
And Hampus Melen registered an assist in Tingsryds AIF's 8-3 loss to Farjestads BK;
Technically speaking, via DRW Prospects on Twitter:
And if you were wondering what Kevin Lynch, Trevor Parkes and Max Nicastro were doing, the Toledo Blade reports that the trio and their Toledo Walleye teammates will begin training camp this morning, ahead of the ECHL's season-opening weekend:
The Walleye's training camp officially opens Monday at Huntington Center. Toledo plays its first preseason game at Kalamazoo on Wednesday. The Walleye then host the K-Wings for their only home preseason contest on Saturday.
The Walleye open their fifth regular season on the road on Saturday, Oct. 19 at Fort Wayne. Toledo's home opener is slated for Saturday, Oct. 26 when the Walleye host Wheeling at the Huntington Center.
Also of Red Wings-related note: For what it'sworth, the Boston Globe's Amalie Benjamin reported that Mike Babcock and Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien compared notes prior to Saturday night's Wings-Bruins game:
While Julien and Detroit coach Mike Babcock didn’t spend any time talking about the upcoming Olympics — Julien is on Babcock’s Team Canada staff — they did get a chance to talk about the five-on-three penalty kill. “If you want to stay on the top of your field, you have to continue to grow and get better,” Babcock said. “When you get to be around Claude and Lindy [Ruff] and Ken Holland and Steve Yzerman and Jacques Lemaire last time, Ken Hitchcock. So when you’re around them, you’re going to learn a lot and they’re going to take something from you and you’re going to take something from them and in the end you probably don’t even know whose idea it was, as long as it’s a good idea.”
For what it's worth, part 2: MLive's Brendan Savage says that MLive readers don't believe that fighting should result in a game misconduct, by and large, anyway;
Because the IIHF is the IIHF, Lukas Aykroyd predicted the outcome of the 2014 Olympic hockey tournament, and he believes that Sweden will defeat Russia in the Olympic final on February 23rd, bringing gold to Sweden;
In the charitable news department, part 1: If you really, really, really have money to burn for a hockey-related charitable cause, the Waterloo Region Record's Greg Mercer offers an outlet for your funds:
Gordie Howe wore it in the 1960s, when he was dropping elbows and smoothly slinging goals for the Detroit Red Wings. Next month, Mr. Hockey's old jersey can be yours for just $175,000 — at least, if you pay its' accessed value, according to its owner Jeff Reitzel.
Reitzel, a local real estate and mortgage broker and author, is auctioning off his prized Gordie Howe game-worn jersey and giving all the proceeds to a Kitchener-based charity, Possibilities International.
He's owned the weathered piece of hockey history — complete with stick marks, burns and a few holes — for five years, after buying it from a collector who was retiring to Florida. It's believed the hockey legend wore the white jersey for several seasons in the early to mid 1960s.
After joining Possibilities International on a humanitarian mission in Ghana this summer, Reitzel was moved to help their cause in some way. He decided he'd part with his beloved Howe jersey, the most valuable asset in his extensive collection of Red Wings uniforms in his basement.
"That trip was really life-changing. I don't think I really understood what poverty was until I went there," he said. "I came home and was looking at this jersey, and was thinking, 'this could really help the charity.' "
Closer to home, per the Saint Clair County Voice:
St. Clair County Community College’s Alumni Association is sponsoring a series of hockey games to raise money for local charities. The newly formed SC4 Alumni Hockey Dream Team will take on teams from local non-profit organizations. The SC4 team is made up of alumnus and supporters of the college.
Proceeds of the first four games will benefit the charity opponent. Proceeds of a March 14 game with the Detroit Red Wings Alumni Association will benefit the SC4 Alumni Association and student scholarships.
All home games will be played at McMorran Place Arena, 701 McMorran Blvd., Port Huron.
Home games include:
7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, vs. Blue Water Area Young Professionals;
7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, vs. Port Huron High School and Port Huron Northern High School alumni;
7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, vs. Port Huron Police Department and Port Huron Fire Department;
7 p.m. Friday, March 14, vs. Detroit Red Wings Alumni Association;
An away game is scheduled at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, against Saginaw Spirit alumni at the Dow Event Center in Saginaw. Proceeds of that game will benefit the Jayden Lamb Memorial Foundation.
Suggested donation is $5 per game.
For tickets, call (810) 989-5760. Tickets also will be available for sale by members of the individual charities.
And closer still, per the Red Wings:
It’s difficult to find someone who hasn’t been affected in some way by cancer. Either through loss, or survival, cancer affects hundreds of millions of people each year.
Join the Red Wings and Van Andel Institute on October 26th for Hockey Fights Cancer Night at Joe Louis Arena. Support the fight against cancer by becoming a part of Van Andel Institute Purple CommunitySM through the purchase of a $100 Hockey Fights Cancer Night ticket package. Purchasing this ticket package helps raise funds for cancer research, as every dollar over face value of the ticket you choose will go to Van Andel Institute. One hundred percent of the proceeds raised by VAI go toward research and education.
Each ticket package features the following:
• A ticket to the sold out Original 6 match-up between the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings on October 26th at Joe Louis Arena
• A commemorative Red Wings Purple CommunitySM t-shirt
• The opportunity to join Red Wings Defenseman Jakub Kindl and other Purple CommunitySM members on the ice at Joe Louis Arena for a post game photo and form a purple ribbon to symbolize your support of Hockey Fights Cancer.
Join the Red Wings on October 26th by taking part in this very special ticket offer, and help us raise funds for Hockey Fights Cancer. To get your tickets, visit: DetroitRedWings.com/hockeyfightscancer and enter the passcode: PURPLE. Only 350 ticket packages are available for this night, as space on the ice post-game is limited.
I can only laugh when seeing this Tweet from the Free Press's Steve Anderson:
And finally, again, I am going to be absent for both Thursday and Saturday's games due to my friend Mark's wedding. I can't change the dates. I'll try to give you a solid recap of Thursday's game as that's the rehearsal dinner, but I'm going to be indisposed for all of Saturday. I cannot do anything about changing the schedules and I'm just not going to worry about Saturday as that's the day for me to worry about Mark.
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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.