Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Capitals wrap-up and overnight report: Wings fighting themselves, playoff math

The Detroit Red Wings’ 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Monday night requires quantification via another one of those “simple equations”: Wings going 0-4-and-1 in last 5 games and/or 3-8-and-2 since February 19th + Nashville and Chicago playing on Tuesday night = Detroit could head into New York to play the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers on Wednesday 4 points and 2 regulation or overtime wins behind their likely first-round opponent, the Nashhville Predators, and only 2 points ahead of their Central Division pursuers in the Chicago Blackhawks.

As such, the Red Wings must, must, must win the vast majority of their 9 remaining games to earn at least home-ice advantage in the first round, regardless of the absences of Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle, could return as early as Friday), Johan Franzen (back spasms, “day-to-day”), Jonathan Ericsson (broken wrist, out at least 3 more weeks), Jakub Kindl (strained oblique muscle, out one more week), Darren Helm (sprained left knee, out 4-6 weeks) and/or Joey MacDonald (back issues, will need clarification regarding MRI on Tuesday)...

Because after a while, it shouldn’t matter which players suit up, even if Nicklas Lidstrom’s absent. The Red Wings should be able to at least not give up multiple-goal deficits on an every-game basis, and they should be able to match the intensity and desperation of a Capitals team that pulled itself back into 8th place in the East, the Rangers on Wednesday, the playoff-desperate Hurricanes on Friday…

Ah, hell with it. Put bluntly, there are no excuses for the way the Red Wings are playing right now. Explanations? Sure. Excuses? None, especially when a team gives up a 3-goal first-period deficit and hangs a goaltender who had no chances on any of the 4 goals he gave up anything but either direct or indirect assists on every marker.

For the Capitals, who rebounded from a terrible start of their own during a 5-2 loss to Chicago on Sunday, their win over Detroit—on an admittedly muggy night and in a rink that was nothing less than hot and sticky—represented both the application of lessons learned, as they told the Washington Times’ Stephen Whyno...

“We needed it,” coach Dale Hunter said. “When you get down in this league, it’s tough. The first was important. The guys came out; the leaders took care of it and made sure they were ready.”

They weren’t ready Sunday night at the Chicago Blackhawks, when they endured probably the worst first period of the year and were down two goals before even registering a shot.

“We just didn’t want the start that we had last game, coming out timidly and playing with too much respect,” right wing Mike Knuble said.

So the Caps did the opposite, jumping on the Red Wings with three goals in a span of 7:03, including two by captain Alex Ovechkin. It was a textbook way to begin a game on the road, which begged the question of why Washington can’t play like that every night.

“It’s a good question,” said forward Keith Aucoin, who scored the game-winner. “I think we need to start doing that the last nine games that we have left.”

Something of a collective return to form, as they told the Washington Post’s Tarik El-Bashir...

“This is the team we’ve got to be,” said winger Jason Chimera, who had a goal and an assist. “I said to myself in the first intermission, ‘Wow, that is the Washington Capitals.’ That’s what we can be like. [Sunday] was a stinker in the first period. Today it was probably the best period we’ve played all year.”

The victory was the Capitals’ first at Joe Louis Arena since Nov. 24, 2003. In two games this season, they’ve now outscored Detroit 12-4, including a 7-1 win at Verizon Center on Oct. 22.More important, though, the win allowed the Capitals to maintain their grip on the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo thumped Tampa Bay, 7-3, to leap over Winnipeg and stay within two points of Washington.

“We knew after [Sunday] night we needed to come back and have a big win because there are a couple of big games being played elsewhere tonight,” winger Troy Brouwer said. “We have to keep pace and put some distance between us and them.”
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Ovechkin opened the scoring at 7:48 on the power play. The goal was made possible by Marcus Johansson, who split the Red Wings’ defense at the blue line, then made a perfectly placed pass to Ovechkin in the slot. The Capitals’ captain ripped a snap shot past Jimmy Howard (17 saves).

“Perfect pass,” Ovechkin said. “I knew when he gave me the pass, I knew it was going to be in. I saw the net and I have lots of time.”

Less than four minutes later, Knuble finished off a pretty display of passing that began with a Perreault drop pass to Chimera, who slid a cross-crease pass to Knuble, who netted his third goal in four games. Knuble had three goals in his previous 60 games.

“I wanted to get him a goal in his home state,” Chimera said. “He had a lot of people watching. Now he owes me one in Edmonton.”

A return to form on an individual basis for Alex Ovechkin, as El-Bashir suggested in his blog…

“I feel pretty good, you know?” said Ovechkin, who is on pace for 36 goals, which would be a four-goal improvement over last season but 29 fewer than his career high. “I don’t have so many chances to score goals. If I have a chance, I have to use it. Teams play against my line very hard. They put some pressure for me and for my partners. If I have a chance to score, I have to score.”

Against the Red Wings, that chance presented itself about eight minutes into the first period when Marcus Johansson sent him a crossing pass. And like that, the Caps were up 1-0.
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Ovechkin’s second goal also came on the power play and staked Washington to a 3-0 edge. It was the unit’s first multi-goal performance in 19 games — it had three tonight, including the final empty-net goal.

“He’s been scoring pretty regular right down the stretch,” Coach Dale Hunter said of Ovechkin. “We need him to score big goals and get our power play going, too.”

And as much a matter of sticking it out, as Comcast Sportsnet Washington’s Chuck Gormley suggests…

“There are nine games left and we need to try to win all the games and get into the playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “Everybody says go to the playoffs, that’s not our goal. This team wants to win. Somebody says we don’t have a chance in the playoffs, but you never know what’s going to happen. You can see how the last couple years we dominate the league; our power play was unbelievable; we beat everybody. But in the playoffs we don’t have the results. Right now for this team it’s not about the playoffs. It’s about how we’re going to play in the playoffs. The playoffs is a different game with different intensity and different speed and different emotions.”

Monday night’s game had all of that. The Red Wings cut it to 3-1 on a power-play goal by Kyle Quincey 5:15 into the second period, but Keith Aucoin restored the three-goal lead with 2:36 remaining in the middle period. Detroit again closed to within two when Todd Bertuzzi beat Holtby from the doorstep just 36 seconds into the third period and Danny Cleary turned up the heat when he made it 4-3 with 7:08 remaining with a goalmouth goal.

But [Braden] Holtby hung in there and Chimera iced the win with an empty-netter with 10.8 seconds remaining to earn Holtby his first NHL win since March 26, 2011 in Montreal.

“We knew it was coming,” Knuble said of the Red Wings’ push. “You either barely hold the fort down or they’re going to overwhelm you.”

As a tale of Holtby sticking it out on an 80-degree day in a rink situated all of a thousand feet away from the Detroit River…

“I felt good in the first two periods and in the third I don’t think I had enough fluids in me and I started cramping up through the whole period,” Holtby said. I tried to battle through it and the guys did a great job blocking shots. They could probably see I was fatigued a little bit.”

Capitals forward Keith Aucoin noticed it. He saw Holtby skate to the bench midway through the third period and ask the trainers for a hydration pill. Holtby said that no matter how many pounds he shed, he wasn’t going to be denied his first win of the season.

“You would have had to pull me off the ice,” he said.
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“We had all the fans going and the air conditioner going in the dressing room and it was still hot,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It felt like a game in Florida or Tampa.”

The Caps got through it, even though they had to withstand a pressure-packed final 4 minutes that included a tripping penalty to Mike Knuble, followed one minute later by a holding call on Henrik Zetterberg.

“Believe me, I was the happiest guy in the rink when Zetterberg took that holding penalty,” said Knuble, who may have played his final game in Detroit. “I caught a break there.”

And plain old pouncing on the Wings, as the Associated Press’s recap notes:

The Capitals scored on two of their first three shots.

“Good start for us, it was very important, especially after last night’s game, when we had two shots on the net after the first period,” Ovechkin said, referring to a 5-2 loss at Chicago. “We just wanted to make a cycle and find the puck and put it on net. Just shoot the puck, have a rebound and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Washington led 3-0 after the first period as the Capitals scored on two of their first three shots. Ovechkin opened the scoring 7;48 into the game with the first of his two power-play goals in the period. He beat Howard with a one-timed slap shot from the slot. Knuble scored from the slot with 8;35 left in the opening period after a bad line change left all three Detroit forwards behind the play. It was Knuble’s sixth goal.

An apparent goal by the Red Wings’ Cory Emmerton with 6:56 left in the first was waved off when Tomas Holmstrom was penalized for goaltender interference. Ovechkin capitalized for his second man-advantage goal of the game by putting in a rebound with 5:09 left in the period for his 32nd goal of the season.

“The power play worked pretty well today, especially in the first period,” Ovechkin said. “We have lucky bounce and we use it.”

Quincey’s power-play goal 5:15 into the second period put Detroit on the board. He beat Holtby with a one-time slap shot from the right point for his seventh goal that also broke the Red Wings’ 0-for-31 drought with the man advantage. It was Detroit’s longest stretch without a power-play goal since 1996-97, when it began the season 0-for-33.

The Capitals were only dissatisfied with their finish, as Chimera told WashingtonCapitals.com’s Mike Vogel...

“We didn’t finish the way we wanted to,” says Caps winger Jason Chimera. “Obviously we sat back a little bit too much in the third period. But the power play was big for us in the first period and it got us rolling.The first two periods we played really good hockey, and in the third we just sat back too much.”

Who took note of a historical achievement of a sort for Washington:

Monday marked the Capitals’ first win in Detroit since Nov. 24, 2003. Rookie Caps goalie Rastislav Stana won the first and only NHL game of his career in that contest, a 4-1 Washington win. Stana also became just the second Slovakian netminder in NHL history and the first to earn a victory in the league that night.

Coupled with the Caps’ 7-1 win over the Wings at Verizon Center on Oct. 22, Washington has now defeated the Red Wings twice in the same season for the first time since 1992-93 when the Capitals took two of three games in the season’s series with the Wings.

I should also note that Capitals play-by-play man Joe Beninati penned a “spirit of the thing” recap, but you can read that one on your own.

We’ll allow NHL.com’s Brian Hedger’s recap to shift our perspectives from those of the Capitals to the Red Wings’ takes on the game:

“(Sunday) was a stinker in the first period and then today was probably the best period we’ve played all year,” Chimera said. “It was a great period of hockey. We were saying, ‘Holy smokes. Keep it up, boys.’ I was really proud of the guys. It was a great period of hockey. I was really happy with it.”

Because it very literally doesn’t get worse for the Wings than the way they played on Monday night:

As for the Red Wings (44-25-4), it’s not a pretty picture right now with the season winding down. They’ve won just once in the last eight outings and are now 2-3-0 in five home games since Feb. 23, when the Vancouver Canucks ended their League record 23-game winning streak in overtime. They’re currently sitting fifth in the Western Conference tied with Nashville at 92 points and have just nine games left before the playoffs start. They’re also close to sliding even further down the conference standings with Chicago (88 points) on their tail in sixth.

They’re not making excuses, but it’s clear the Wings’ main issue right now is their litany of injuries. Detroit is without a slew of players, but captain and top defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle bone bruise), leading scorer Johan Franzen (back spasms) and checking-line center Darren Helm (MCL sprain) are all out and hold down key roles when healthy. The Wings are also missing defensemen Jonathan Ericsson (wrist fracture) and Jakub Kindl (oblique strain).

“You can’t look at injuries, you have to look past that,” said Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart, who finished plus-1 and assisted on Bertuzzi’s goal 36 seconds into the third that made it 4-2 Washington. “Every team battles injuries at some point. For us to use that as a crutch or anything is a mistake. We have enough good players in here to make up for that. We have to find a way to win some games. That’s the bottom line.”

They’ve come close to winning two times in a row, but have come up short in both.

“It’s great to come out feeling good about battling back and almost winning, but at this point that’s really not good enough,” Stuart said. “No one needs to feel sorry for themselves. We just have to keep working hard and work our way out of it, because that’s the only way it’s going to happen. You can’t sit around and hope something good is going to happen. You have to make it happen.”

Before you’re done reading or skimming this, you’re going to get your fill of Mike Babcock hockey philosophy, and I’ll start your journey down the Babcockian road with this:

“In the end we got a push, but we came up short,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “With the lineup we have, we can’t out race anybody to four or five. We have to win 3-2 or 2-1. We have to give up as little as we possibly can. I think we had lots of effort. No problem with that, but we can’t get behind and especially to a good team. We dug ourselves a hole.”

Now I’m feeling kinda funky—the bad funky—minus watching the team I’ve cheered for for 20 seasons struggling this badly, so I’m going to try to find the right balance of quips and quotes from what is practically an onslaught of Wings recaps after a 4-source-only West Coast swing by going with a little bluntness first and foremost, via the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell (who also penned a quote-less recap):

The Detroit Red Wings are simply a mess right now. While the Wings have tried to paper over the holes in their injury-riddled lineup for a month now, the cracks appeared a little wider and the confidence a little more fragile in Detroit’s 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals Monday at Joe Louis Arena. The loss is the Wings’ fifth straight and they are now in serious danger of being caught by sixth-place Chicago.

“We can’t sit around feeling sorry for ourselves,” Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “We have to find a way to come together as a group and move forward. We still feel we’re a really good team when we play the way we want to be playing the game. We have to find a way to be better than this.”

Having gone winless on their just completed four-game road trip, the Wings pretty much assured themselves they’d make it five before the game was 15 minutes old. By that time, the Capitals were up 3-0 and the ice was littered with examples of what is troubling Detroit.
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Detroit’s problems extend beyond the injuries that sidelined seven players Monday. Special teams remained a nightmare for the Wings and that’s an issue that’s lingered longer than the injury bug. Detroit’s defensive zone coverage and the gap control between forwards and defence was also deficient too often. Detroit surrendered goals on two of three Washington power plays in the first period while running its own drought to 0-for-31 by coming up empty on one chance. Ovechkin had both Washington power-play goals and sandwiched in between was Mike Knuble’s tally.

Ovechkin’s second goal, which came after Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard had made two saves, was particularly tough to take as it resulted from a Tomas Holmstrom goalie interference penalty that wiped out Cory Emmerton’s goal. Howard busted his stick over the crossbar in frustration, but it would’ve been put to better use if he’d clubbed his teammates up the side of the head to waken them.

“With the lineup we have, we can’t out race anybody to four or five,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We can’t get behind and especially to a good team. We dug ourselves a hole.”

One gets the feeling from Babcock’s comments to the press that he’s a man of strong faith in a higher power, but he tends to keep that to himself, so I was surprised at least to hear Babcock state what DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose noted was nothing less than the Babcockian equivalent of “Tebowing” after the Red Wings scored their first power play goal in 31 tries—and their first power play goal this month:

“Well thank God. It’s been the longest I’ve ever seen our power play not be very good for a long time,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We haven’t generated much offense. It was good to see us get one.”

It was also a relief to see Bertuzzi and Danny Cleary each score their first goals since the beginning of February.

“The other thing, Bert and Cleary both scored goals,” Babcock said. “They hadn’t scored in a long time so maybe that can help us out as well. We have to be better than we’ve been. We have to be better structurally and take care of the puck. If we do all those things we have a chance at being successful.”

Quincey was happy score his second-period goal, which helped atone for an earlier mistake that led to the Capitals’ first of two power-play goals.

“The first goal was very frustrating, I got a little tripped up there,” he said, “so it was good to get that back.”
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“Their first power-play goal we had it right there at the blue line, we couldn’t get it out,” Babcock said. “Quincey fell down and it ended up in our net.”

The Red Wings could not, however, convert on a power play doled out when the Wings were down 4-3 and had 3:15 remaining in the third period, and that disappointed them greatly:

“We said between the second and the third (periods) to just give ourselves a chance and we did that,” Quincey said. “We couldn’t get anything going on the past power play, but we gave ourselves a chance and we made it close. That’s all we could do and we came up short, obviously it wasn’t good enough.”

I’ve got to disagree with Quincey regarding the quip he made to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness about the Capitals’ power play goals, which more or less resulted from the Wings’ players depositing pucks on sticks or, on the even-strength 4-1 marker, Quincey accidentally interfering with Jimmy Howard

“They capitalized on their power plays,” Quincey said. “They had a few very good bounces and I think they got the majority of the bounces tonight for sure. I don’t think it was blown coverages or anything like that, I don’t know, I guess that’s what I saw. The power play was the big difference for them.”

Cue the, “Haven’t we heard this before?” machine:

“You can’t look at injuries, you have to look past that,” Stuart said. “Every team battles injuries at some point. For us to use that as a crutch or anything is a mistake. We have enough good players in here to make up for that. We have to find a way to win some games. That’s the bottom line.It’s great to come out feeling good about battling back and almost winning but it’s at this point that’s really not good enough,” Stuart added. “No one needs to feel sorry for themselves. We just have to keep working hard and work our way out of it because that’s the only way it’s going to happen. You can’t sit around and hope something good is going to happen. You have to make it happen. The only way we’re going to get out of it is keep working hard and keep our heads up. That’s how you get out of it.”
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“We had a few breakdowns, obviously we went to the box a little too much in the first period,” Niklas Kronwall said. “They’re an effective team … it’s tough when you’re down 3-0, you dig yourself a hole. We have to find a way to be a lot better than this.”
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“We can’t sit around feeling sorry for ourselves,” Kronwall said. “We’re not going anywhere that way. We have to find a way to come together as a group and move forward, still try to think positive, see things positive. We still feel we’re a really good team when we play the way we want to be playing the game. We have to find a way to be better than this.”

Kronwall offered a slightly more realistic assessment of the Wings’ play, both on Monday and over the last month, to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...

“We got ourselves into the game, but you have to play a lot sooner than that,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We dug ourselves a 3-0 hole on home ice. We just have to stick together as a team. We threw everything we had at them in the third period but we have to start the game that way.”

Who found Babcock vacillating between pluses and minuses taken from the affair:

“There weren’t a ton of chances for either team,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They capitalized on their power plays, and in the end we had a push but we came up short. With the lineup we have, we can’t race anybody to four or five (goals). We have to win 3-2 or 2-1, give up as little as you can, and be sound defensively. We dug ourselves a hole tonight.”
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Over their last 13 games, the Wings are 3-8-2. Along with falling behind Nashville for the fourth seed in the West, the Wings only are four points ahead of fast-charging Chicago for the fifth seed. With the injuries and losses piling up, there’s a need for the Wings to reverse the downward trend. There are no moral victories for Babcock.

“As a group, we have to be better than we’ve been,” Babcock said. “Structurally, and work ethic wise, and taking care of the puck, if we do those things, we have a chance to be successful.”

I have absolutely no idea whether you will think that Brad Stuart was embracing a tired, old cliche while speaking to Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Renger, but his tone was sincere:

“It’s definitely harder playing catch-up hockey than it is when you have the lead.  You’re spending more energy than you do if you have the lead,” said Stuart.  “We just back from California on Sunday and at some point it’s going to catch up to you,  It’s not an excuse, it’s a mistake for us to be playing from behind all the time.”

After Monday’s morning skate, Babcock told reporters that he thought his team was fragile and just needed to win some hockey games.  After falling short on Monday, Babcock was asked if he was encouraged by the way the Wings fought back.

“Anytime in pro sport, I think confidence is fleeting,” said Babcock. “When things aren’t going your way it’s amazing; some years you’ve got a good team and you lose a couple in a row and suddenly your confidence isn’t as good. We were so confident a little while ago at home and now we’re not the same group.  The bottom line is just embracing the structure of your team and the work effort and everything will be fine.”     

Babcock added that for all the good things the Wings did against the Caps, you can’t keep digging the puck out of your net.

“There are not a lot of moral victories in this sport,” he said.

Stuart eventually doled out a wise remark to the Free Press’s Helene St. James, who provides both a game narrative and a recap...

“Nobody is going to panic, but I think we need to have that desperation,” Stuart said. “There are teams that are creeping up on us, so we need to get the points just as badly as anybody else. That motivation shouldn’t be an issue for us.”

And St. James took note of the plays upon which the game hinged:

“Obviously, the power play has to be a lot more effective,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We got a chance there late in the third to tie it up, but we didn’t take it.”

The difference in the game was that the Capitals did, and early. Ovechkin notched first with a one-timer up the middle. Brendan Smith’s mishandling of the puck led to Knuble’s goal, and a goalie interference call on Tomas Holmstrom nullified what would have been a goal by Cory Emmerton and instead set up the Capitals’ second man advantage. Ovechkin converted that when he caught Brooks Laich’s rebound down low to allow the Caps to play with a 3-0 lead.

“We get a call that goes against us, and instead of it being 2-1, it’s 3-0,” Stuart said. “Those are things you have to battle through. At the same time, you can’t keep falling behind this time of year.”

Between MLive’s Brendan Savage’s quoteless recap and MLive’s Ansar Khan’s quote-inclusive recap, I think Khan made a wise point as to why Babcock talked about moral victories—because the Wings did indeed at least give their paying customers something to talk about by a spirited rally that just fell short, and the Wings did indeed give fans like you and me hope for better outcomes to come, just as they did in San Jose…

They battled back from a disastrous first period to make a game of it. They finally scored a power-play goal. They got goals from slumping secondary scorers Todd Bertuzzi and Danny Cleary. And, as far as they know, nobody was injured.

But the Wings have earned all of a point in the standings over the past 10 days and five games, and all of 5 points over the course of the course of 19 going on 20 days this month. That’s 5 points out of a possible 18, and that’s not going to cut it.

Point taken? Sort of.

“Again, we’ve got to find a way to be better at the start,’’ Detroit’s Brad Stuart said. “We stuck with it and battled back, but it was too little, too late.’‘
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“If our power play’s clicking today … we got one late there, we had a chance to do something about it and we didn’t,’’ Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall said. “Obviously, the power play let us down tonight.’‘
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“Every team battles injuries at some point,’’ Stuart said. “For us to use that as a crutch is a mistake. We have enough good players to make up for that. We have to find a way to win some games. That’s the bottom line. It’s great to come out feeling good about battling back and almost winning, but at this point that’s really not good enough.’‘

Stuart and Kronwall both said this is no time to feel sorry for yourself.

“We’re not going anywhere that way,’’ Kronwall said. “We have to find a way to come together as a group and move forward, still try to think positive. We still feel we’re a really good team when we play the way we want to be playing. We have to find a way to be better than this.’‘

Said Stuart: “You can’t sit around and hope something good is going to happen, you have to make it happen.’‘

Now I don’t usually like to end a survey of the MSM’s takes on the Wings’ games with a “spirit of the thing” article, but I have an English degree earned through somewhere between a quarter and a third of my 140-or-so credits’ worth of classes very specifically about the art of writing in its many forms, which means that I have a BA in BS, so you get more than enough “spirit of the thing” stuff from me…

But I’m out of answers and, “Don’t worry, it’s gonna be all right, I promise, because these are the Red Wings” platitudes to throw your way. I’m distraught, disillusioned and disappointed myself, so let’s see what the Detroit News’s John Niyo has to try to comfort Red Wings Nation with:

“We’re not gonna outscore teams right now with the group we have,” Babcock admitted. “That’s just not possible. So we’ve got to find other ways to win.”

The power play, for one. It’d gone from troublesome to worrisome to pathetic-and-then-some, mired in a slump that reached 0-for-31 proportions before Kyle Quincey’s second-period goal finally ended it Monday night. (“Thank God,” Babcock sighed, when asked about it after the game.)

Certainly, the absence of Lidstrom and Datsyuk and now Franzen has something to do with that. But more than a month ago, Henrik Zetterberg was telling me the Wings’ special teams were “stuck in a rut.” And even with Monday’s breakthrough, that’s still the case.

Just look at the way the game ended. After Kronwall drew a tripping penalty on Mike Knuble with 3:15 left and the Wings trailing 4-3, there was defenseman Ian White winding up for a slapshot from the point. But then his stick broke. A few moments later, Zetterberg was whistled for an iffy holding call that evened the sides up. And with the Wings scrambling for the equalizer with the goalie pulled, Washington’s Jason Chimera sealed it with an empty-netter with 21 seconds on the clock. What started as advantage turned 180 degrees on the Wings just like that. And so it goes. Another early deficit. Another comeback. Another bitter defeat.

“There’s not a lot of moral victories in this sport,” Babcock said, well aware that in another month, the playoffs won’t look too kindly on fragility.

No, they don’t, and given the tolls the injury bug, terrible special teams (going 1-for-4 on the PK did not help the Wings’ cause) and whatever undisclosed ailment is sapping the Red Wings’ focus, determination, attention to detail, intensity, effort, jam, moxie and their long-departed swagger and self-belief, I’m starting to agree with Niyo’s suggestion that the Wings might be better off finishing sixth and playing the Pacific Division winner instead of the stacked Predators.

Now my job entails that even if I throw a tantrum, throw something tangible, downright boo hoo or unleash a tirade of curse words after difficult or distressing losses, I still have to spend four or five hours watching, listening to and reading what the game’s participants have to say about what happened, so it’s a very bad idea for a blogger who’s still a partisan fan to get “too low” after losses, and when it comes to injuries, given that I’ve got to cover ‘em anyway, taking things like Lidstrom’s healing bone bruise as an excuse to freak out as opposed to “day-by-day” and day-to-day just jacks up an anxiety disorder that’s already cranked up like Michigan’s spring temperatures right now, so getting too bummed out wastes time and energy…

But the last month of play by the Red Wings has me genuinely concerned and genuinely upset, if not genuinely worried that, like the team’s inability to score on the power play, all these injuries have taken such a toll on the team’s psyche that no amount of coaching or early returns will shake a losing mentality that seems to have taken root between the players’ ears, and that particular ailment cannot be cured by any amount of talking, theory-making or proclamations of doom issued by fans, nor can it be talked out by the players during meetings, practices, team meals, on the bench or in the locker room. It has to be shaken out of the system through on-ice actions, and the Wings only have nine opportunities left to pull themselves out of the Detroit River, which, as the weatherpersons on TV keep reminding us, is still ice-cold.

Multimedia:

Highlights: Comcast Sportsnet Washington posted a 1:51 highlight clip;

And the Red Wings website’s clip is narrated by Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond:

Post-game: Comcast Sportsnet Washington posted a 2:40 clip of Capitals coach Dale Hunter’s post-game comments;

The Capitals’ website posted Huntr’s post-game presser and comments from Braden Holtby, Jason Chimera, Keith Aucoin, Mike Knuble, Alex Ovechkin and Jeff Halpern—and it’s a 10-minute-long clip!

The Windsor Star posted a YouTube video of Brad Stuart speaking to the media after the game;

Fox Sports Detroit posted Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond’s takes on the game, as well as post-game comments from coach Mike Babcock, Gustav Nyquist and Niklas Kronwall:

 

<a href='http://www.foxsportsdetroit.com/pages/video?videoid=6e0523ca-11af-435a-b91c-da9eb9fa20c0&amp;src=v5:embed::uuids' target='_new' title='Wings on loss'>Video: Wings on loss</a>

And the Red Wings’ website posted a post-game interview with Brad Stuart…

 

And Babcock’s post-game presser (MLive also posted a very short snippet from Babcock’s presser):

 

Photos: The Detroit Free Press posted a 7-image gallery;

The Detroit News posted a 26-image gallery;

Fox Sports Detroit posted a 5-image gallery;

Yahoo Sports posted a 10-image gallery;

NHL.com posted a 17-image gallery;

The Capitals’ website posted a 15-image gallery;

And the Red Wings’ website posted a 16-image gallery.

Statistics:

Shots 33-22 Detroit. The Red Wings out-shot the Capitals 12-10 in the 1st period, 10-9 in the 2nd period and 11-3 in the 3rd period.

The Red Wings went 1-for-3 in 4:55 of power play time; the Capitals went 3-for-4 in 5:26 of power play time.

Braden Holtby stopped 30 of the 33 shots he faced; Jimmy Howard stopped 17 of 21 and the Capitals scored a goal into an empty net.

The 3 stars, per the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff, were Mike Knuble, Danny Cleary and Alex Ovechkin.

The Red Wings’ goals: Quincey (7) from Smith (5) and Hudler (22), power play;

Bertuzzi (13) from Nyquist (4) and Stuart (14);

Cleary (12) from Abdelkader (4) and Smith (6).

Faceoffs 32-24 Detroit (Detroit won 57%);

Blocked shots 17-5 Washington;

Missed shots 8-4 Detroit (total attempts 58-31 Detroit);

Hits 32-21 Detroit;

Giveaways 7-6 Detroit;

Takeaways 7-5 Detroit.

Individual Stats:

Faceoffs: Datsyuk went 14-and-11 (56%); Zetterberg went 8-and-5 (62%); Abdelkader went 5-and-4 (56%); Emmerton went 4-and-3 (57%); Filppula went 1-and-1 (50%).

Shots: Cleary led the team with 8 shots; Miller, Stuart and Filppula had 3; Smith, Abdelkader, White and Zetterberg had 2; Datsyuk, Nyquist, Hudler, Quincey Janik, Mursak, Bertuzzi and Kronwall had 1.

Blocked attempts: White and Janik fired 3 shots into Capitals players; Quincey and Kronwall had 2 attempts blocked; Smith, Abdelkader, Cleary, Miller, HUdler, Zetterberg and Filppula had 1 attempt blocked.

Missed shots: Janik missed the net 2 times; Datsyuk, Nyquist, White, Quincey, Zetterberg and Kronwall missed the net 1 time.

Hits: Abdelkader led the team with 4 hits; Smith, Miller, Stuart, Bertuzzi, Emmerton and Filppula had 3; Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Kronwall had 2; Hudler, Quincey, Mursak and Holmstrom had 1.

Giveaways: Datsyuk had 2 giveaways; Cleary, Hudler, Janik, Zetterberg and Bertuzzi had 1.

Takeaways: Nyquist had 2 takeaways; Cleary, Hudler, Zetterberg, Bertuzzi and Holmstrom had 1.

Blocked shots: Stuart had 2 blocked shots; Cleary, White and Kronwall had 1.

Penalties taken: Zetterberg, Bertuzzi, Kronwall and Holmstrom took minor penalties.

Plus-minus: The Wings finished even as a team. Abdelkader, Cleary, White, Miller and Quincey finished at -1; Datsyuk, Nyquist, stuart, Bertuzzi and Kronwall finished at +1.

Points: Brendan Smith had 2 assists; Danny Cleary, Kyle Quincey and Todd Bertuzzi scored goals; Gustav Nyquist, Drew Miller, Brad Stuart and Jiri Hudler had assists.

Ice time: Kronwall led the team with 24:33 played; Stuart played 22:33; Datsyuk played 20:19;

White played 20:16; Fippula played 20:04;  Quincey played 19:24;

Zetterberg played 18:28;  Smith played 17:57; Hudler played 17:53;

Bertuzzi played 15:39;  Janik played 15:17; Cleary played 15:09;

Miller played 14:18; Abdelkader played 12:11; Nyquist played 11:57;

Holmstrom played 10:58; Emmerton played 9:36; Mursak played 7:43.

Part II: Red Wings notebooks: The Windsor Star’s Bob Duff choose to focus upon former London Knights coach Dale Hunter’s graduation to the NHL as the Capitals’ bench boss, but Duff’s story does include an intriguing theory about the fact that the road to the NHL is much shorter for coaches who have played in the league:

Babcock, after coaching in the WHL with Moose Jaw and Spokane, was farmed out to Cincinnati of the AHL for two seasons until the Anaheim Ducks took a chance on him in 2003.

“I think people like myself that don’t play in the National Hockey League have got to take a lot longer to get there,” Babcock said. “You’ve got to put in way more time, because you don’t have an understanding of how the league works. You don’t have instant credibility the second you walk in. You have to have a resume that gives you that.”

That, in Babcock’s mind, is why he thinks this will work for Hunter where’s it failed for so many others.

“His resume gives him that in two ways,” Babcock said. “He’s coached for a long time, and was a great, great player who was a big part of the history in Washington.”

• In the injury department, the Red Wings received very bad news on Monday regarding Darren Helm, who’s got a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, and GM Ken Holland suggested that the Wings are simply hoping that Helm can return at some point during the first round of the playoffs.

Uncertainty remains, however, regarding Joey MacDonald, who had an MRI on Monday which will require further clarification from a back specialist as to whether musculo-skeletal issues or perhaps a herniated disc are causing shooting pains down his leg. The Free Press’s Helene St. James took note of said developments...

“It’s great news there’s no ACL damage, no surgery needed,” Holland said. “It’s 3 1/2 weeks till the playoffs. Let’s hope he’s a fast healer.”

The Wings will miss Helm’s speed, energy, checking and penalty killing, but just as the injury to Franzen provided an opportunity for Gustav Nyquist to shine, Helm’s absence casts Justin Abdelkader into a greater role, centering the third line.

The extent of backup goaltender Joey MacDonald’s back problems aren’t clear. He had an MRI exam Monday and is to see a back specialist today.

• Johan Franzen didn’t skate on Monday, but the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan notes that Franzen at least felt encouraged enough by his progress in terms of recovering from back spasms to suggest that he might return by the end of the week:

Johan Franzen (back spasms) didn’t skate Monday but felt significantly better. Franzen missed his second consecutive game Monday.

“Things are going in the right direction,” said Franzen, who expects to resume skating later this week. “I don’t have a clue how it’s going to feel skating.”

The best injury news came in the form of Nicklas Lidstrom skating pretty solidly with his teammates throughout their morning skate on Monday, and Lidstrom reported significant progress in terms of recovering from a bone bruise that’s sidelined him since late February:

“It felt better,” said Lidstrom, who said the swelling subsided.

Lidstrom was sent home late last week and didn’t skate the entire weekend.

“The big test is when you put your skate on and you’re skating,” he said. “That’s when the most pressure is on it. I was able to pivot and do some turns. The most pain is from tying the skate, putting the pressure on where it’s hurting, trying to skate and push off your toes. That’s what’s been bothering.”

Lidstrom also spoke to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness about his progress made, and no, I don’t care if you’ve read this before. It’s good news and we’re bloody short in that department:

“That’s encouraging, especially compared to how it was that morning in (Anaheim) when I couldn’t really stand when I had my skate on,” Lidstrom said. “That’s an improvement for sure. I was able to stand out there, pivot and do some turns. It’s been slowly getting better,” Lidstrom continued. “The big test is when you put your skate on and you’re skating. That’s when the most pressure’s on it and you can really test it out.”

Lidstrom, who said the swelling on his ankle has gone down a bit, had another X-ray taken Friday and it showed no fracture.

“I can walk around and do all that,” Lidstrom said. “The most pain is from tying the skate, putting the pressure on where its hurting and trying to skate and trying to push off with your toes when you’re trying to skate. That’s what’s been bothering me.”

Lidstrom expects to return sometime before the playoffs.

“I need to feel strong in one practice and hopefully that’ll carry over to the next day,” Lidstrom added. “That’s how you want it to improve. As far as being able to play again that’s going to be up to the coaching staff and trainers.”
...
“It’s been hard, it’s been frustrating and hard to adjust to,” said Lidstrom, who will make the trip to New York with the team Wednesday if he can take part in the morning skate. “I want to get some games in before the playoffs start. It’s just a matter of getting better every day.”

The other good news? Holland believes that Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson—who also took part in the morning skate—will return before the first round begins:

“We think we’re getting closer with Kindl, we’re getting closer with Ericsson and we’re getting closer with Lidstrom so hopefully we’ll get some bodies back soon,” Holland said. “We’re grinding right now. We just have to keep grinding.”

Part III: Also of Red Wings-related note: I squeezed a bunch of stuff into the Joey MacDonald injury update thread, including articles from DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose and NHL.com’s Brian Hedger about Gustav Nyquist, a terrible interview Ken Holland had to give the Fan 590’s Bob McCown because McCown wanted to yell at Holland and the GM’s for not instituting no-touch icing, the Griffins’ weekly press release and the following presser from the Wings, which is worth repeating:

The Detroit Red Wings are hosting a school supply item collection on Saturday to provide children in low-income households with the necessary supplies to learn and participate in their classroom. The school supply drive will take place during the team’s home game on March 24 when the Wings take on the Carolina Hurricanes at 7:00 p.m. (FS Plus and AM 1270).

All donations will benefit Operation: Kid Equip, which has the capacity to serve 70,000 Metro Detroit students – more than 6,000 of these students are homeless. Operation: Kid Equip provides free school supplies, books, hygiene and food items for local children in need.

Fans are encouraged to bring new school supplies to Saturday’s game. The items most in need are pencils, markers, crayons and glue sticks. Volunteers from Operation: Kid Equip will be on hand at each entrance of Joe Louis Arena when the doors open at 5:30 p.m. to collect donations.

Fans who donate school supplies or make a monetary donation will be entered to win an autographed, game-used Justin Abdelkader stick on Saturday. Fans must be present to win.

Who: Detroit Red Wings and Operation: Kid Equip

What: School Supply Item Collection

When: Saturday, March 24, vs. Carolina at 7:00 p.m. 

Where: Each of the Four Entrances to Joe Louis Arena

• The vast majority of Monday’s power rankings are in the MacDonald thread as well, so go there if you want to read ‘em. Sportsline’s Adam Gretz tends to posit his list during the “games are going on” part of the evening on Monday (SI’s Adrian Dater tosses his off on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, and the CBC’s Tim Wharnsby has a Tuesday-to-Thursday range). Here’s what Gretz had to say about the Wings:

11. Red Wings [last week] 9: More bad injury news for the Wings: speedy winger Darren Helm is going to miss four to six weeks with an MCL sprain. Detroit has won just three of 12 entering Monday’s game against Washington.

Make that 3 of 13.

• The Grand Rapids Griffins’ press release duly notes that the team headed to Texas for a pair of games against the San Antonio Rampage on Tuesday (as in today) and Thursday and then a slate of back-to-backs against the Oklahoma City Barons on Saturday and Sunday, and they offered a handy-dandy summary of Grand Rapids’ playoff status:

Playoff Picture: Grand Rapids begins this week tied for 11th place in the Western Conference with the Milwaukee Admirals at 66 points, five points behind the eighth-place Rochester Americans and the final playoff spot. Along with Milwaukee, Grand Rapids has played the fewest games in the AHL (62), meaning it can make up ground with four games coming in a six-day span from Tuesday to Sunday. The Griffins have one game in hand over the Americans, but they have as many as three in hand over other teams in the playoff hunt, including Lake Erie (71 points) and Abbotsford (73 points). The conference’s final four playoff spots (5-8) are separated by just two points, while nine teams (5-13) are separated by eight points.

If you are interested, the Griffins also posted a video highlighting this past weekend’s games against Toronto and Rochester:

• Shifting focus back to the big club, given what happened against the Capitals, this “rant” answer from ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun seems particularly timely:

Ludlumtc: Good morning, Pierre. I appreciate the coverage you provide here on ESPN.com. I haven’t ranted in a while, but my rant this week is in regards to goalie interference, in specific to the call on Tomas Holmstrom Saturday night at the Shark Tank. Reviewing the video of the penalty, to me it seemed Antti Niemi basically stuck his stick out as Homer was skating by. If anything it should’ve been a delay of game on Niemi. I know there are only eight eyes in real time on the ice that are in control of that aspect of the game, but c’mon that is just a weak call. It seems there is too much grey area in that aspect of the game. The last few years, the NHL has done a pretty good job of cleaning and defining this stuff. When will this issue be clearly defined?

My take: There was some talk of this last week at the NHL GMs meeting. My understanding is that the league will once again make this a point of emphasis with on-ice officials over the rest of the season.

• Aside from lusting after the Wings possibly signing unrestricted free agent prospect Danny Dekeyser (who can’t sign with anyone until Western Michigan University is either eliminated from the NCAA playoffs or wins the tournament), some of you have started asking me what’s going on with the Wings’ draft picks. The Wings have to sign their 2010 draft picks before June 1st of this year, with the exception of their college hockey-playing prospects, so…

The Wings have already signed Petr Mrazek and Louis-Marc Aubry, and there is no way in hell that the Wings will do anything less than sign Calle Jarnkrok and Teemu Pulkkinen before June 1st. I don’t think they’re going to sign Brooks Macek, however, and while the Wings don’t have to sign any of their 2011 draft picks (see: Tomas Jurco, Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, Alan Quine, Marek Tvrdon, Phillipe Hudon, Mattias Backman, Richard Nedomlel, Alexei Marchenko) until next June, I would imagine that Ryan Sproul will be rewarded for his 50-point season with the Soo Grehounds with a contract sooner than later.

In terms of 2010 draft picks Ben Marshall (University of Minnesota) and Riley Sheahan (University of Notre Dame), the Wings don’t have to sign them until, I believe, August 15th after the year which they graduate. As a dynamic but still very undersized offensive defenseman, Marshall’s definitely going to return to Minnesota as a sophomore (the Wings drafted him when he was going into his senior year of high school, and he’s registered 3 goals and 9 assists for 12 points in 39 games for Minnesota, which is still playing), but Sheahan’s status is a bit more muddled.

He’s still a budding power forward who wasn’t utilized in an offensive role until this season, and as Notre Dame’s out of the CCHA and NCAA playoff mix, the Notre Dame Observer’s Matthew DeFranks asked Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson about Sheahan (who registered 9 goals, 16 assists and 25 points in 37 games on UND’s second line), and he received the following answer:

Jackson declined to comment on the status of junior center Riley Sheahan, who may sign with the Detroit Red Wings, the team who drafted him.

I have no idea whatsoever as to whether the Wings will sign him. He’s been used more as a checking center than anything else, but if he turns pro with the Griffins instead of returning for his senior year, he’ll be used as a checking center at the AHL level.

Part IV: Red Wings player assessments: The people I live with tell me that I appear to look particularly worn down after last week’s games, that I seem grumpy and extremely tired and/or worn/burnt out, and they tell me that I rather desperately need more rest. So I’m going to keep these incredibly short by my standards, and will note that these are again, subjective assessments using the Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink
 

Comments

squirrely's avatar

Any word on if Nyquist is hurt?  He took a big hit from Ovechkin late in the 3rd and I don’t ever remember seeing him after.  He’s the only bright spot from all these injuries, and it looked as if he’s got a dreaded “upper body injury” after that hit.

Posted by squirrely from Dirty Jersey on 03/20/12 at 08:13 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Thanks for all this great stuff, George.  Please get some rest.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 03/20/12 at 08:55 AM ET

Sal's avatar

Hey squirrely - Nyquist was back out there after that hit a shift or two later.  Didn’t look too much the worse for wear, though I think he had to take a minute to shake off the cobwebs.

Posted by Sal from the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains on 03/20/12 at 09:19 AM ET

Rdwings28's avatar

Datsyuk had 2 giveaways; Cleary, Hudler, Janik, Zetterberg and Bertuzzi had 1.

Takeaways: Nyquist had 2 takeaways; Cleary, Hudler, Zetterberg, Bertuzzi and Holmstrom had 1.

sort of a flipside ain’t it?

I just don’t want the Wings to become hockey’s version of last years Boston red Sox. They still ask Boston about that.

Posted by Rdwings28 on 03/20/12 at 09:28 AM ET

Rdwings28's avatar

another crazy thought..the Griffins make the playoffs and the W…..better not say it

Posted by Rdwings28 on 03/20/12 at 10:17 AM ET

HockeyFanOhio's avatar

Thanks for the write up George.  Dear Lord, can we please, please stop with the injuries?  Considering where the Wings were not that long ago, this has been one great fall.

Posted by HockeyFanOhio from Central Ohio on 03/20/12 at 10:38 AM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

I’m starting to agree with Niyo’s suggestion that the Wings might be better off finishing sixth and playing the Pacific Division winner instead of the stacked Predators.

There’s no doubt about it. A first round match-up against Dallas (or even Phoenix) is the only way the Wings make it to the second round. Who would have ever thought that finishing 4th in the central (behind St. Lose, Nashville and Chicago) could actually be a good thing.

The only bad news is that the #3 seed could just as easily go to LA or San Jose. And neither of those two would be easy 1st-round opponents.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 03/20/12 at 11:27 AM ET

MoreShoot's avatar

The only bad news is that the #3 seed could just as easily go to LA or San Jose. And neither of those two would be easy 1st-round opponents.

Yes yes, this is how it will be. The dreaded Teal will win the Pacific, and I dont’ want any more away series with them.  And I would willingly bet that the Red Wings, to a man, would say give me Nashville.  Plus, I don’t care any more for justification for losing.  I’m sick to my stomach over the mental fragility of this team.

Posted by MoreShoot on 03/20/12 at 12:21 PM ET

Avatar

George you keep referring to Quincy falling into Howard on one of the goals. Would that be the goal he was slewfooted by Caps player on? Hard to fault him for that.

Posted by Moocat on 03/20/12 at 12:44 PM ET

WingedRider's avatar

Howard is down again with Groin, Conklin recalled and has to clear waivers. If claimed. Wings will have to go with Pearce and McCollum!!!

Anyone not worried before should rethink the chances of Wings falling out of the race completely. 

For me I could see Howie had come back too soon.  He had trouble getting both legs down in the butterfly and push offs were weak

Posted by WingedRider from Saskatoon, SK on 03/20/12 at 01:25 PM ET

Avatar

Nothing is impossible.
I wish the Red Wings players watched this video before the next game to lift up their spirit and regain confidence.

www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=oQev3UoGp2M

Keep in mind, these creatures don’t have claws. And you have to go to south-west Morocco to see that. This video is not photo-shopped.

Also, Google Image “goats in argan”. This will take the pressure off and make your day. LOL

Posted by Alex on 03/20/12 at 01:35 PM ET

Avatar

Speaking of AHL, on Sunday the Captain’s farm club established the longest winning streak in the 76-year history of AHL with their 18th straight win, outscoring their opponents by a 76-29 margin.

Posted by Alex on 03/20/12 at 11:02 PM ET

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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.