The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/24/12 at 01:33 AM ET
Updated 3x at 2:25 AM with Brad Stuart talking on NBC: The Detroit Red Wings didn’t come out ready to play against the St. Louis Blues, but they finished the game like a team that understood what it was up against—a viciously physical team that was going to make a statement by beating up and beating on Detroit—defeating St. Louis 3-1.
It was a fitting result against a team that, and I mean this with all the deftness and delicacy of someone who’s spent the day hacking, coughing and feverish, plays chicken [expletive] hockey. The Blues are most definitely an incredibly talented and gritty team which merits respect, but they also play like any Hitchcockian team: they don’t want the puck. The Blues will very happily allow its opponent to possess the puck and skate int o the wall of bodies they amass at center ice, and more importantly, not having the puck means you have the opportunity to dole out “punishing” checks on your opponents.
The Blues wanted to run the Wings into the end boards every time a player had the puck, and after Wings players passed it, there was no, “Count to three and you should no longer hit the player who passed the puck”—ther was no count to five or count to ten in the Blues’ case, as is typical. They’ve worked their way to within a point of the Wings, and sometimes a point or two above them, by out-working, out-hustling and out-grinding their opponents, playing playoff hockey in December and January, pouncing and counter-punching like the predatorial team they were built to be long before Hitchcock happily joined the fray.
They came out playing playoff hockey, ready to hit and hit to hurt, ready to take the Wings out by roaring in on the forecheck, smashing whichever Wing had the puck off of it, and grinding the puck out front to jam pucks past Jimmy Howard—and the Wings weren’t ready for it. The Wings were coming off three straight shootout wins and getting away with just out-playing the Coyotes and Blue Jackets of all teams, and the Blues almost ran away with the game early because of it.
The Wings coughed up pucks, stood around far too regularly, cheated toward offense and mostly got pushed and pushed around. After the teams traded long shots and the Blues started to pressure the Wings to the point that they started making mistakes with the puck, Niklas Kronwall fired a puck toward center, missed the forward he was aiming for and witnessed a worst-case scenario happen as his defensive partner, Jonathan Ericsson, and the Wings’ forwards piled off the ice, and when faced with a three-on-one, Kronwall had to play the shooter. As such, Chris Porter chipped the turnover to B.J. Crombeen, he roared in on Kronwall and Jimmy Howard, Porter charged the net and Scott Nichol made himself available to deposit Crombeen’s cross-slot pass past Howard.
The Wings slowly but surely steadied themselves afterward, starting to skate harder and starting to at least avoid the Blues’ while standing their ground, and after attempting to nurse the game to the first intermission, Brad Stuart very cleanly hammered Alex Pietrangelo at the Wings’ blueline, and Chris Stewart skated off the Blues’ bench and made a beeline for Stuart, instigating a fight and bloodying and dumping Stuart before the Wings’ defenseman came back at him.
Stewart received an instigator penalty for his efforts, and while the Wings couldn’t capitalize on the first 21 seconds of their power play, the Wings were able to regroup in the first intermission, probably getting chewed out by Mike Babcock in the process, and the Wings came out in the second period ready to play.
Fifty-one seconds into the second period, Henrik Zetterberg mucked the puck around to Datsyuk, Datsyuk passed the puck back to Nicklas Lidstrom and made himself available for a return pass, and with Tomas Holmstrom in front, Datsyuk deked past Piterangelo, went to his backhand and roofed the puck past Halak [edit/update: that’s why players who use heel curves love ‘em: the flat toe means you can really roof a backhand shot!]. A minute into the second, it was 1-1 and the game was on.
The Wings plain old out-skated and out-hustled the Blues for most of the first half of the second period, with the Miller-Helm-Cleary line and Emmerton-Abdelkader-Emmerton lines doing yeoman’s work of getting the puck in deep and allowing the Blues to take it on occasion so that they could establish a physical forecheck of their own, mucking and grinding the puck down low and starting to push the Blues’ defensemen off the toes of their skates by absorbing hacks, whacks and cross-checks to carve out territory in the opposing team’s end.
A little under nine minutes into a second period all but devoid of penalties (and the usual mid-season fade in terms of enforcing obstruction, horizontal stick fouls excluded, helped the Wings’ opponent), Todd Bertuzzi worked the puck back to Jonathan Ericsson and he fired a point shot which landed pretty darn close to Johan Franzen, who dumped a Blues defenseman himself and deposited a backhander past Halak’s left toe.
The Wings couldn’t capitalize on the penalty resulting from Jamie Langenbrunner’s attempt to give Ian White’s stick to a fan as a souvenir by hacking it out of White’s hands, and the Blues came back at Howard and the Wings with a vengeance at times, utilizing their speed, skill and Backes, Oshie, Perron and their strong forwards’ skill to press the Wings’ defense and force Howard to make some brilliant saves—just as Jaroslav Halak did on an unlikely aggressor in Mike Commodore—but he wouldn’t bend and the Wings refused to break as their push-back lasted throughout the second period.
In the third, the Blues continued their attack on Howard and their physical assault upon the Wings’ puck-possessors, pushing, shoving and grinding their way into the Wings’ end and capitalizing on the Wings’ inability to clear the zone, testing Howard and pushing very hard to tie the game, but whether Todd Bertuzzi was attempting a little instigating of his own between plays, Johan Franzen was smartly taking faceoffs for Datsyuk for both leverage’s sake and because Datsyuk may or may not have been hacked on the wrist early in the game, the Zetterberg line overcame Jiri Hudler’s bad stick bounces all night long thanks to superb skating and hit-taking play from Valtteri Filppula, and when the Wings were pressured in their own zone, Mike Commodore was very, very solid, gaffe aside, Ericsson played very well, allowing the Wings to use some size of their own to counteract the Blues’ heavies, and Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart were equal parts physical and brilliant in pinching smartly to aid the Wings’ offense, Ian White skated strongly and Nicklas Lidstrom’s stick and positioning generally ruled the day in battles for puck possession.
The Wings started to surge in the second half of the third and really started to bang bodies with as much gusto as the Blues did, and Barret Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo in particular didn’t take kindly to Holmstrom, Helm, Abdelkader and Miller’s bumps and bristles. After David Backes took an ill-timed roughing penalty, Colaiacovo grabbed Darren Helm and wouldn’t let go after the two had tangled in the corner, and the Wings nearly scored because Colaiacovo didn’t realize that the play was still underway until the Wings had pulled Howard for an extra attacker.
On the resulting power play, with 39-year-old birthday boy Tomas Holmstrom parked in front of a superb Jaroslav Halak, Lidstrom gave the puck to Kronwall and he blasted a shot through Tomas Holmstrom’s legs and over Halak’s shoulder.
That goal barely fazed the Blues’ forwards, and as such Jimmy Howard faced some spectacular scoring chances against in the game’s final minutes, but the Wings stood firm, and when Pietrangelo, Backes (who fell past Howard in the second period to avoid a collision, with the Blues reacting predictably by piling into attempt to stir s*** with the Wings for a hit that didn’t happen) and Berglund crashed Howard at the same time, and when Pietrangelo punched Howard as he held a rebound, Howard did what Howard does—he came up swinging.
Update: Here’s Howard doing his job:
He, Backes and Pietrangelo all took roughing penalties, and with 2 seconds left in the game, the Wings took preventative measures on the final play, icing a line of Bertuzzi between Helm and Cleary and Commodore and Ericsson rode shotgun on defense. Nothing happened and the Wings celebrated their 17th straight home win and a 3-point lead on the Blues in what truly was a playoff game in January.
Sometimes you’ve gotta stand up against a bullying team that can’t take what it gives, and the Wings did a fine job of refusing to allow St. Louis to make a statement that the Wings aren’t tough enough to weather a heavy assault by bigger, stronger and meaner teams. Instead, the Wings let the rest of the NHL know that even if it takes a while for them to adjust, they can and do hold their own when called upon to “answer the bell.”
The Wings only have one game to go to wrap up their 11-games-in-19-nights slate, and it’s on Wednesday in Montreal. Here’s hoping that the Wings end their pre-All-Star break schedule on another winning note.
Here’s a slate of game highlights:
I don’t know if I’m gonna be well enough to do a wrap-up overnight, but I will do my best to at least post some links in the morning. Fatigue and bugs brought back home by the mom from the nursing home where she works (thank goodness she’s working less, because I don’t get sick as often) took their toll, and when you’re too sick to frickin’ blog, that tells you something.
Update: Here’s Niklas Kronwall talking to NHL Tonight:
Update #2: Here are post-game comments from Howard and the Wings:
Update #2.5: I don’t necessarily agree with Billy Jaffe too often, but he’s right about the Wings’ push-back:
Update #3: Brad Stuart’s interview with Pierre McGuire didn’t make the highlight reels but it’s here:
Here’s Niklas Kronwall speaking to the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell, too:
Shots 28-22 Detroit overall. The Red Wings and Blues tied 8-8 in the 1st period; the Wings out-shot St. Louis 10-7 in both the 2nd and 3rd periods.
The Wings’ power play went 2 for 5 in 5:46 of PP time; the Blues went 0 for 1 in 2:00 of PP time.
Jimmy Howard stopped 21 of 22 shots he faced; Jaroslav Halak stopped 25 of 28.
The 3 stars, per the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff, were Jimmy Howard, Jaroslav Halak and Pavel Datsyuk.
The Wings’ goals: Datsyuk (14) from Lidstrom (17) and Zetterberg (26), PPG;
Franzen (19) from Ericsson (8) and Bertuzzi (15);
Kronwall (11) from Lidstrom (18) and Datsyuk (39), PPG.
Faceoffs 26-15 Detroit (the Wings won 63%);
Blocked shots 13-10 St. Louis;
Missed shots 13-9 Detroit (total attempts 54-41 Detroit);
Hits 31-29 St. Louis;
Giveaways 7-2 Detroit;
Takeaways 8-1 Detroit.
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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.