The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/13/11 at 07:36 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings and Phoenix Coyotes face off for Game 1 of their first-round playoff series tonight (7 PM EDT, FSD/FS Arizona/Versus/CBC/WXYT) in what I can only politely describe as a downright “weird” set of diametrically opposed positions.
As soon as the Red Wings started taking their equipment off after Sunday’s regular season finale against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Wings began to repeatedly state that they respect the heck out of the Coyotes, that they simply won’t take a team that the Wings’ players would argue doesn’t get enough respect lightly in any way, shape, or form, and the Wings have insisted that they’re well aware of the fact that the Coyotes are out for revenge, all while quietly suggesting that the mistakes made and glaring weaknesses exposed in their seven-game series against Phoenix a year ago were exploited by the Sharks in the second round, and that the Wings simply cannot expect to play the same way against Phoenix that they did last year if they plan on earning a hard-fought series win.
The Coyotes, on the other hand, have sounded almost bitterly angry and almost borderline arrogant while insisting that it wasn’t that the Red Wings defeated Phoenix last year as much as it was the Coyotes that didn’t capitalize on their opportunities to wipe out the Wings and go on a long playoff run. If you read and/or watch the Coyotes’ interviews from Tuesday (never mind analyst Tyson Nash’s insistence that the Wings are scared of the Coyotes), there’s a sense that the Coyotes view their rematch with the Wings is an opportunity to gain a measure of revenge while driving over their previous playoff roadblock with a 20-ton tank, laying waste to the Wings before going on the long playoff run they were supposed to take last season.
As Fox Sports Arizona’s Craig Morgan notes, the Coyotes have already declared that they have the best player in the series by far in goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who mocked suggestions that he should fear the Wings’ stars…
“Bryz is probably the best player in the series,” captain Shane Doan said. “He’s the most talented goalie in the league, and when he’s on, he’s as good as anybody there is.”
While Detroit has a stable of game-changing stars in Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom, Bryzgalov is sleeping just fine.
“I’m not looking at the roster and saying, ‘Oh, my God, we play the Detroit Red Wings, they have Datsyuk, Zetterberg. How are we supposed to play? Oh, my God, let’s just quit, guys,’ ” he said. “You just play and take our chances. You try to limit their chances and maybe make some big saves and some blocked shots. We played against them last year, and we looked good. We had some chances to win the series, and unfortunately we didn’t. We’ll try this year again.”
And Morgan notes that the Coyotes do indeed plan on leaning heavily upon Bryzgalov while trying to keep the series as low-scoring as possible:
With only one 20-goal scorer, a poor power play and a dearth of blue-chip forwards, Phoenix plays it tight-to-the-vest, hoping to capitalize on other teams’ mistakes.
The Coyotes’ biggest star enters the playoffs with the 10th-best save percentage in the league (.921) and 2.48 goals against average despite playing behind a team that allowed the third most shots (32.6 per game) in the NHL this season.
Working in Bryzgalov’s favor this postseason is the Coyotes’ blue line. Not only has veteran Ed Jovanovski returned from a scary eye injury, the Coyotes acquired Michal Rozsival in mid-January and Rostislav Klesla at the Feb. 28 trade deadline, giving the defensive corps a wealth of size, puck-moving ability and experience. Of the Coyotes’ top six defensemen, only Norris Trophy candidate Keith Yandle is younger than 29. That should help limit the quality chances as the Coyotes get set to face Detroit for a second straight postseason. It should also give the Coyotes enough beef to clear away distractions like Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom from the slot.
Says the partisan Red Wings fan: if the referees don’t do it for him…
Anyway, as this set-up incorporates quite a few series previews, it’s not going to read as smoothly as usual, so please bear with the rambling road we’re about to embark upon.
The Arizona Republic’s Dan Bickley duly notes that Bryzgalov lives on his own planet, so to speak, but the eccentric netminder is firmly grounded in reality as to whether he believe he’s an elite player whose lack of Vezina Trophies don’t reflect anything more than perhaps, as the insistent underdog Coyotes might suggest, a lack of respect for his abilities:
“I know who I am and how I play,” Bryzgalov said. “I’m very comfortable with that.”
As the Coyotes’ starting goaltender, Bryzgalov has won 78 games over the past two seasons. He is 6 feet 3 and looks like a giant between the posts. His presence and impact is similar to how Randy Johnson once carried the Diamondbacks. With all due respect to Shane Doan and Keith Yandle, he is the only elite player on a roster full of solid contributors, on a team with only one 20-goal scorer.
“That puts a lot of pressure on a goaltender,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. Tippett then called his goalie “a pet rock with a big smiley face. He’s been a rock for us all season long,” Tippett said.
Bickley summarizes the series’ other storylines as follows:
If the Coyotes somehow upset the Red Wings, there would be no shortage of story lines. It would be redemption for Doan, the captain who was injured in Game 3 of last year’s playoff series and never returned. It would be another masterstroke from Tippett, the coach who likes to hop on his motorcycle and ride into the sunset alone.
A prolonged playoff run could help save the team from relocation, at a time when Sen. John McCain sounds very pessimistic and is declaring battle against the Goldwater Institute. But in the end, playoff series are decided by the elite players, and Bryzgalov offers the best chance to steal a game in Detroit, a necessity after the Coyotes squandered home-ice advantage. He offers the best shot at frustrating a better opponent. For the Coyotes to win, he must be the MVP of the series.
About that whole relocation thing, and the ownership issues…The Arizona Republic went so far as to file a gushy editorial suggesting that defeating the Wings could indeed save the franchise, all while quoting a University of Michigan sports economics professor (Mark S. Rosentraub) who suggests that, should the Coyotes leave town, Jobing.com arena would be doomed as well:
To genuine sports fans, the fate of the Coyotes is an indecency. The players, notably captain Shane Doan, and team management, notably coach Dave Tippett and General Manager Don Maloney, have performed miracles on ice in getting a team literally in ownership limbo into the playoffs two years in a row.
Hard reality gnaws remorselessly at this team. But, in keeping with its determined character, the team has a way of gnawing back. Speculation is rampant among the National Hockey League followers that this second consecutive playoff series against the mighty Detroit Red Wings may tip the scales one way or another on where the team plays next season.
This is the story making the rounds today in the hockey world: Beat one of the NHL’s most storied franchises in the series that begins tonight in Detroit and perhaps the gods of finance will find a way to sell the bonds that might keep the team in Glendale. Lose, and the team packs for Winnipeg. Or wherever.
In sports, you rarely get more drama than that. For most teams, the playoffs mean you win or go home. For the Coyotes, it may mean win or go homeless.
I don’t plan on addressing the Coyotes’ ownership issues more than once in this series, because this is a Wings blog and not a “Coyotes watch” blog, but while I readily admit that I’m an old Winnipeg Jets fan, I do not dispute the right of the Phoenix Coyotes and their legions of die-hard fans to survive and thrive in what is becoming, whether some are willing to admit it or not, a legitimate hockey market in its own right. I hope that Matthew Hulsizer can overcome the Goldwater Institute’s obstruction and buy the team so that it can stand on its own two feet and become a self-supporting and profitable entity.
I do not, however, believe that winning a playoff series has anything to do with securing the franchise’s future. If the Coyotes win the Stanley Cup, the currently NHL-owned and NHL-subsidized team would not gain as much as an inch of leverage against the Goldwater Institute. This is not about the Red Wings vs. the Future of the Phoenix Coyotes and its resulting economic impact upon Glendale and Phoenix, at least not as far as I’m concerned.
It is, however, a series in which the underdog-insistent media insists that pundits who seem to be favoring the Coyotes are engaged in a “Detroit slobber-fest,” and it is a series in which Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who was unable to finish last year’s series after injuring his shoulder in an attempt to avoid Jimmy Howard, will have no compunctions about the fact that he plans on hitting every Red Wing in sigh, and that he’s going to “finish his checks,” despite his suggestions to the contrary.
Doan spoke to the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan about his supposed shot at redemption in a Q and A format…
Q: Do you think this is the hockey gods giving you another shot at the Red Wings?
A: It would be nice if it was. If that’s what it is, then I’ll take it. But you look at how good their team is and how they are, you have to appreciate all their accomplishments. At the same time, we definitely feel as a group we have some unfinished business. You have them, so you might as well want them now.
Q: A year later, what sticks out for you from the previous series?
A: We had an opportunity to beat them, and we let it get away. We were up two games to one in Detroit. That was disappointing in the fact we didn’t find a way to finish that off.
Q: As a kid, you’ve dreamed about competing for the Stanley Cup. Do you have to separate that giddiness from a businesslike approach to the games?
A: It’s impossible to separate it. I mean, you sense it in the room. It’s in the room. It’s on the ice. I don’t care what happened to you this whole year, if you find a way to be good, it’s huge. Going forward you can’t wait for playoffs to start. Everyone’s so excited. It’s a youthful injection of enthusiasm and energy that every single player gets. I don’t care if you’re as old as Ray Whitney and Adrian Aucoin or the other older guys or as young as (Oliver) Ekman-Larsson. It’s an energy.
Q: So if the situation came up again in a game, would you collide with Jimmy Howard instead of veering around him?
A: I don’t know. I don’t know if I would do that. Obviously it would have really hurt him, and I don’t think no one would ever intentionally injure another player on another team. I wish I would have done something different, but not necessarily do that.
PhoenixCoyotes.com’s Dave Vest believes that the Coyotes’ other difference-maker and “X-factor” exists in center Eric Belanger, who believes, of course, that the Coyotes might very well have the Wings’ number:
Belanger, who signed as a free agent last summer, quietly played a key role in the Coyotes getting to the playoffs. In a season in which Phoenix lost center after center to injury, Belanger has been the constant, playing in all 82 games. He quietly set a career-high for assists (27) and chipped in 13 goals. On top of that, Belanger ranked 18th in the NHL in the faceoff circle at 55.3 percent, his plus-11 rating was third among Coyotes forwards, and he helped make every winger he played with, including Doan, more productive.
Game 1 of the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series is Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena. Belanger said he thinks the Coyotes will fare well.
“They’re a team that likes to play with the puck,” Belanger said. “They like to have control. Their defense is proactive. With our work ethic, I think we will match up pretty good with them. We know what we need to do to have success.”
He added, “I think we have a lot of depth. There is a lot of experience in here. We know goaltending makes the difference in the playoffs, and we have a great goalie. So, you never know what will happen. We played 82 games to be here. It’s a long, hard season, physically and mentally. Now there are 16 teams left and we’re one of them. We should be proud of what we did but it’s not the end of it. We want to be there for a long time.”
The Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan seems to suggest that between Belanger and former Wing Ray Whitney, the Coyotes have matched the Wings’ level of veteran savvy:
“Both those guys are huge,” captain Shane Doan said. “They play in big games, and they’ve had success in big games. And they’re both gritty guys that compete hard, and that’s what the playoffs are all about.”
Unlike Whitney, Belanger never has hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup but he was been on both ends of the playoff spectrum. Last season as a member of the Washington Capitals, the No. 1 seed out of the Eastern Conference, Belanger and the Caps were knocked out in the first round by the eighth-ranked Montreal Canadiens despite having held a 3-1 lead in the series. As a rookie with the Los Angeles Kings, Belanger scored an overtime goal in Game 4 in a first-round series against Detroit. The Kings rallied to beat the Wings in six games before losing in seven the next round to the eventual champs, the Colorado Avalanche.
“Everybody can beat anybody in this league,” Belanger said. “I think we match up great against Detroit, and we’re gonna go there with confidence. It’s gonna be a long-fought series I’m sure, but we have the confidence to beat them.”
McLellan also reports, however, that the Coyotes aren’t completely healthy on the blueline:
Defenseman Derek Morris did not skate Tuesday. Coach Dave Tippett said Morris is “day to day, nursing bumps and bruises.” The team recalled Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Nolan Yonkman.
And she suggests that the Coyotes will dress the following lineup against the Wings:
- Forwards: Whitney-Belanger-Doan. Lauri Korpikoski-Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata. Taylor Pyatt-Vern Fiddler-Lee Stempniak. Paul Bissonnette-Kyle Turris-Mikkel Boedker.
- Defensemen: Ed Jovanovski-Adrian Aucoin. Keith Yandle-Michal Rozsival. Rostislav Klesla-David Schlemko.
Yandle, who grew up idolizing Nicklas Lidstrom, told the Arizona Republic’s Gintonio that there’s no lack of bitterness toward the Wings on the Coyotes’ behalf…
“We have more expectations for ourselves,” defenseman Keith Yandle said. “We want to do better. We just don’t want to get in and be happy with taking Detroit to Game 7. Losing, I think we still have a little of a bitter taste in our mouth. We want to do what we can to win this series and play hard.”
Going down the stretch with a playoff mentality should help; in the postseason, he said.
“Basically, the whole year we played like that,” he said. “It was tough, it was draining, but it’s a new season now, and we know every game counts , every game is do or die basically, so we have to be ready for this seven-game series.”
The Coyotes reiterated that particular point to Gintonio:
We’ve been scratching and clawing for points, and in the playoffs you scratch and claw for wins, so we should be in the same mood exactly,” coach Dave Tippett said.
“We want to make our new excitement this year,” Tippett said. “There’s some things that we have to do for us to be successful, and Game 6 last year (a 5-2 win) was a good example of how hard you have to play to try to win.”
“We want to get out of the first round of the playoffs, and we have to beat them,” Doan said. “Obviously last year didn’t end the way we wanted it to. When you have the chance to redeem yourself, you want to take advantage of that.”
“Whoever you get, you’ve got to play well,” Tippett said. “Detroit, we know that team well. They’ve got a great deal of experience. They’ve been a top franchise for a long time, so we’ll have our hands full, but our group is very excited. They’re excited about this challenge ahead of us, and that’s the way we’ll go into the series.”
“Every game, every play counts,” he said. “It’s playoff time, it’s all marbles on the floor ... You got to play hard, and you got to sacrifice body and soul, do whatever it takes to win the games. It might be seven games, it may be four, you never know, but every game’s so important. You just have to battle every game, every inch.”
NHL.com’s Brian Hunter allows us to shift focus to tonight’s game from a straight match-up point of view…
Season series: The teams split four regular-season games on the 2010-11 schedule, but they’ve only met once since early November. Radim Vrbata scored the only goal in a shootout to lift the Coyotes to a 5-4 win over the Red Wings on March 5 in Phoenix. Both of Detroit’s victories came in overtime—Niklas Kronwall struck on the power play at 4:44 of the extra period on Oct. 16, while Henrik Zetterberg’s goal proved decisive on Nov. 8.
Big story: It’s the second consecutive postseason in which these teams have met in the opening round, and already there are a couple things different about the 2011 matchup. This time, Detroit has home ice—not that it seemed to matter a year ago when the road team went 5-2, including the Red Wings’ Game 7 win in Phoenix. And while Coyotes captain Shane Doan suffered a separated shoulder in Game 3 that caused him to miss the rest of the series, now the key injury may be on the other side: Zetterberg will be sidelined for Wednesday’s opener—and perhaps even longer—with a lower-body injury suffered last week in Carolina.
Who’s hot: Doan had a pair of multi-point efforts over the Coyotes’ final four games to finish with the team lead in both goals (20) and points (60). … Tomas Holmstrom and Drew Miller scored goals in both ends of the Red Wings’ season-ending series against the Blackhawks.
Injury report: Zetterberg is out and Kronwall (upper body) will be a game-time decision for Detroit. He missed the final five regular-season games. Goalie Chris Osgood (groin) has been practicing, but remains on injured reserve with Joey MacDonald backing up Howard.
Stat pack: The starting goaltenders in this series didn’t have a regulation loss between them in the regular-season series, as Ilya Bryzgalov posted a 2-0-2 record in starting all four games for the Coyotes and Howard went 2-0-1 in his three appearances.
Before talking about the match-up from the Red Wings press’s point of view, or taking note of their previews and predictions, there were and are three big personnel-related stories for the Wings going into tonight’s game:
• First and foremost, it appears that Henrik Zetterberg will at least miss Game 1 of the Wings-Coyotes series with what sounds more and more like a sprained MCL, an MCL which the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff suggested would normally take one to two weeks to heal…
• In a story where Duff revealed that, regardless of how far the Wings go in the playoffs, Mike Modano plans on hanging his skates up at the end of the Wings’ run;
• And then there is, of course, Jimmy Howard. Howard told DetroitRedWings.com’s Michael Caples and the AP’s Larry Lage that, with a new contract extension and the hard-learned knowledge that the NHL’s playoffs are a completely different animal than the regular season or playoffs at any other level of hockey, he’s ready to redeem himself to some extent this time around.
Lage rather inelegantly suggested that Howard is perhaps the worst goaltender he’s seen in some time in terms of controlling rebounds, but Howard suggested to the Bangor Daily News’s Larry Mahoney that he’s prepared to both rebound from last season’s disappointing playoff run and alter his play ever so slightly…
Howard made his Stanley Cup playoff debut last year when he went 5-7 with a 2.75 GAA and a .915 save percentage as the Red Wings were eliminated by San Jose in the conference semifinals.
“I feel great. I’ve been looking forward to this since Christmas. I’ve been chomping at the bit,” said Howard.
He matched his win total of a year ago, but his goals-against average (2.26) and save percentage (.924) were better last season. He said he went through a lull during the middle of the season but is playing well now.
“It’s tough to explain. Sometimes the pucks don’t hit you,” said Howard. “But you don’t change anything. You have to keep playing the same way and work your way through it. Maybe you have to be a little more patient or a hair more aggressive,” he added.
And Howard was the first to suggest that the Coyotes are a dangerous team after Sunday’s game in Chicago, and he reiterated that point of emphasis:
“They’re very well-structured and well-coached,” said Howard. “They work hard no matter what the score is.”
The Detroit News’s Bob Wojnoski focuses on Howard this morning, suggesting that Howard must match, if not out-play Bryzgalov for the Wings to survive without Henrik Zetterberg, all while proving himself as either the Red Wings’ go-to playoff goaltender or someone who must be supplemented, if not perhaps supplanted after his two-year contract extension expires.
Wings coach Mike Babcock readily admitted that the Wings will need help from their goaltender against the tenacious Coyotes…
“There are more shots in the NHL than ever, and that’s why I believe our goaltending has to be better now than it’s had to be in the past,” Babcock said. “We used to have the puck way more, and it’s more of a 50-50 game now.”
But he also believes in the calmer, more focused Howard…
“It’s night and day,” Babcock said. “He’s not trying to prove to us or prove to himself — he knows, and we know, he’s a good goalie. Since the (contract) negotiations have been done, he’s been excellent.”
And as Howard suggested that he’s ready and able to shoulder the expectations of Wings players, fans and the media (with Wojnowski suggesting to Howard that he may need to be the team’s difference-maker)...
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Howard said with a grin. “There’s a reason I took this position and relish being the guy. I’m a lot calmer this time around. Last year, I was just champing at the bit.”
Wojnowski duly noted that Wings GM Ken Holland doesn’t plan on turning the page on Howard if he doesn’t deliver this time around:
“Are we gonna judge everything on one playoff? No, I don’t think that’s fair,” Holland said. “The guy had a great rookie year, and other than six weeks in the middle this year, he’s played pretty well. I think he can give us the goaltending we need to win. Jimmy’s still in the process of finding where his career is. If we judged players before they’re 26 or 27, we’d have been cleaned out a long time ago.”
At the same time, again, Howard readily admits that his focus will be aided by the fact that he’s got a 2-year, $4.5 million contract extension in his pocket:
“Of course it helps to have the contract done,” Howard said. “It’s not in the back of your mind and you’re free to just go play. But there’s always work to be done, because you know there’s gonna be a younger guy that wants your position.”
As for Zetterberg and Kronwall, the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness covers their respective statuses. Zetterberg didn’t skate, but worked out with that dang brace on his knee, but Kronwall, who skated on Monday (when the rest of the team had a day off), engaged in a full practice:
“He’s not playing,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said about Zetterberg’s status for Game 1. “The good thing about it is we’ve got a couple days before the next game So he’ll continue to be day-to-day until he’s back.”
“It felt really funny when it happened,” Zetterberg said of the injury. “We’re working on it. We’re (making) progress. Hopefully, it will be shorter than what we thought.”
Kronwall believes that his “upper-body” injury has healed, but both Babcock and Kronwall suggested that he’s a “game-time decision,” and that whatever nagging injury has been plaguing him must be cleared by the Wings’ doctors for him to play:
“I’m going to see how it feels tomorrow,” Kronwall said. “Today, I felt really good, so I’m very optimistic right now.”
“Kronner was real good today, but we always like to see what happens after some time on the ice,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ll see how is is tomorrow and we’ll make that decision tomorrow night.”
Pleiness says that the Wings used these lines on Tuesday…
Johan Franzen-Pavel Datsyuk-Tomas Holmstrom
Danny Cleary-Justin Abdelkader-Todd Bertuzzi
Jiri Hudler-Valtteri Filppula-Drew Miller/Mike Modano
Kris Draper-Darren Helm-Patrick Eaves
And Kronwall reiterated his status to the Detroit Free Press’s George Sipple while pointing out that he’s as excited as anyone to get back to the business of playing hockey:
“You just want to play at this time of the year,” Kronwall said. “This is the best time of the year. I’m hoping that I’ll feel just as good as I did today tomorrow. I’m hoping I’ll get the nod from the trainers, and obviously Coach has to put you in as well.”
Kronwall simply isn’t quite sure if he’s going to hold up to contact yet, however, and that’s a little worrisome for a player that ESPN’s Barry Melrose suggests is the biggest and best hitter in the playoffs:
“I did a little one-on-one here at the end of practice, but just getting that game-time mode, it’s impossible to achieve that in practice,” Kronwall said. “It’s the game time when it matters. That’s when you really feel something.”
“I’ve been skating a lot on my own,” he said. “It is what it is. You can only do so much on the bike. I’ve been trying to keep it up skating as well. Game situations—you have to be in them to get that extra conditioning. I feel confident whenever they let me play, I’ll be ready.”
Instead, it was Chris Osgood, who will not be the team’s back-up goaltender in Game 1, who reported the most significant progress, saying that he’s finally able to push side-to-side
“I feel like I’m getting close,” Osgood said. “I’m not sure, though. Keep practicing. I feel like I’m in great shape. I feel like if I had to go in I could play good—that’s without a doubt. The biggest factor is I haven’t played a game in 2 1/2 months.”
“I got over the hump, finally,” he said.
Wings coach Mike Babcock put things simply to the Detroit News’s Chris McCosky...
“He’s not (ready to be the backup) right now, but once he gets practicing and gets going, who knows?” Babcock said.
And McCosky, citing Babcock’s comment about more shots being taken these days, argues that it’s the Wings’ defense that could be its “fatal flaw”:
For just the second time during this 20-year playoff run, the Red Wings have allowed more goals in the regular season than any other team in the playoffs. It happened in 1993-94, and it’s happened again. The Red Wings allowed 241 goals this season, the most since they yielded 275 in 1993-94. In addition, they allowed 30.7 shots on goal per game, their highest average since Nicklas Lidstrom joined the team in 1991.
The Wings insist that the team simply needs to bear down in terms of its fundamentals, bearing down on clearing attempts, minimizing turnovers, not chasing the puck carrier and doing a better job of taking care of rebounds—and Brad Stuart suggests that the forwards and defensemen have to bear the burden of the Wings’ defensive struggles equally:
“Too many turnovers in all three zones,” defenseman Brad Stuart said. “We just have to take better care of the puck. We haven’t been consistent enough with that.”
“It’s more a matter of playing your position right,” [Nicklas Lidstrom] said. “We’ve been looking at pucks too much and when you get caught doing that, somebody is going to sneak in behind you or get in front of you. We need to focus on just doing our job.”
“We’re an offensive team, a puck-control team,” [Chris Osgood] said. “We tend to try more passes and more plays than other teams. We’re not happy just dumping it off the boards and in doing that, we gave it away more times than we have in the past. Sometimes we have to simplify our game. Just get it off the boards and go chase it. You know, sometimes it makes it look like we have an all-star team and we’re blowing teams out. Other times it makes it look like we’re making mistake after mistake.”
“We’ve done it when we’ve needed to do it,” Stuart said of tightening the defense. “Now is the time to do it. Our attention to detail will be better. I know the guys in here well enough to know when things are on the line, things will come together.”
The Red Wings do believe, however, that their team showed tremendous progress in defeating Chicago 4-3 on Sunday, and Stuart and Danny Cleary suggested to the Free Press’s Helene St. James that the Wings have more or less flipped the playoff switch—and that they can overcome the absence of Zetterberg, which might be a series-long issue:
“I know the guys in here well enough to know that when things are on the line,” defenseman Brad Stuart said, “this team comes together.”
“That was a big game for us in Chicago, on the road, and now we’ve got to take care of things at home, and nothing better than Game 1 of the playoffs to do that,” Danny Cleary said. “We believe in ourselves. I think we realize now when we play with it and match the other team’s intensity and work hard and be smart out there, we have a great chance of winning every night.”
Cleary believes that the Wings do have enough offensive depth to make due without Zetterberg, for a little while, at least, not only in himself, Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Holmstrom, Valtteri Filppula, Mike Modano and Jiri Hudler, but also in Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller:
“We’ve got good depth,” Cleary said. “We’ve got guys who’ve really matured in their games throughout the season, which is going to be more evident as the series goes on. Missing Hank is a real big piece to our core lineup, but we’ve got good depth and guys who can move around and make different lines if need be. Right now we’ve got four lines that we feel is a good combination of physicalness, some speed—each line brings something different. We’ve just got to make sure we go out and play our system and play well.”
Stuart suggested that the Wings have no reason to doubt Howard, either…
“Howie is a good goalie,” Stuart said. “He’s a guy we really have confidence in. We as defensemen just need to do our job the way we know how. Yeah, turnovers have been a problem, but if you just take care of the puck, you’re going to take care of that.”
And while Babcock spoke about the preparation necessary to defeat the Coyotes…
“We’re optimistic that we’re a good team and that we’re going to be well-prepared and we’re going to play hard,” Babcock said. “If we don’t play hard, the team we’re playing, they’re a good team. We beat them last year in the playoffs. They’ve got a long memory just like everybody else. They’ve got real good goaltending, they’ve stabilized their back end, they’ve got veteran players and they work hard—they’re going to be a real test for us. We understand that. The big thing about these playoff series is, get prepared for the first game and make the adjustments you have to for Game 2. But we need to have a good game out of our guys and they understand that.”
He also pointed out that the Wings have a playoff “X-factor” of their own in Johan Franzen, as he told MLive’s Ansar Khan. Franzen had an up-and-down season, finishing with only 28 goals while spending the first half of the season still recovering from reconstructive ACL surgery which required a chunk of his right ACL to rebuild his left one, and then spending the second half of the season battling self-confidence issues, but the Wings know that springtime is when Franzen’s confidence returns in spades:
“He had a real good start to the season and, then, it didn’t go as good for him at the end. But the good thing about the Mule is he seems to really kick ’er in gear this time of year,” coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s a big body, can shoot the puck. He loves to score goals. He’s very capable.”
The Red Wings need Franzen to deliver, especially in the absence of leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg, who will miss Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals Wednesday against the Phoenix Coyotes. He might not play in the series because of a knee injury. Franzen led the team with 28 goals. But he wasn’t physically engaged often enough the second half of the season. He wasn’t hard on defenses or hard to knock off the puck.
“He’s a pure goal scorer,” teammate Danny Cleary said. “We need him to be skating hard, on the puck, physical and shooting whenever he can. When he gets on a roll, look out ... because he’s big, great hands, fast. When he gets going early in the game, he completely dominates.”
“I think everyone knows when he gets on a roll, it can get pretty good,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “He’s just one of those guys, get him in the right groove and he’ll get going. I have confidence it’s going to come in the playoffs.”
The Detroit News’s John Niyo argues that the Wings have one more “X-factor,” and it’s the man behind the bench. Niyo believes that Mike Babcock’s supreme confidence, if not occasional swagger, and take-no-prisoners mentality (he cites Babcock’s willingness to sit Kris Draper, Osgood, and of course Mike Modano, who won’t reach 1,500 games because he was a healthy scratch) give the Wings an edge that Dave Tippett can’t match:
So, then, are the Red Wings ready to make another deep playoff run? Ask Babcock, the team’s hard-driving, no-nonsense taskmaster, and he’ll tell you that’s really a trick question.
“You never know if you can get it done until you get in there,” said Babcock, whose four-year contract extension last fall kept him as the NHL’s highest-paid coach. “But I think we’re gonna find out a lot about our hockey club here.”
Here, and now. Because starting tonight, everything’s even again. The slate’s wiped clean. And though that’s a departure from even a few years ago for the Red Wings, flying a bit under the radar again heading into the playoffs, that’s just fine by Babcock, 47, whose opportunity-knocks mantra has always been about preparation and hard work, not history. That troubling sub-.500 home record (8-10-2) since Jan. 1? Doesn’t matter. The 237 goals allowed during the regular season, most of any playoff team? Throw ‘em in the garbage.
“You are what you are,” said Babcock, whose NHL teams have won 13 of 18 playoff series, including 10 of 14 since he took over the Red Wings in 2005-06. “And we’re optimistic that we’re a good team and that we’re gonna be well-prepared and we’re gonna play hard. And if we don’t play hard, the team we’re playing …”
Well, that hardly matters, either. If you ask me, the Red Wings couldn’t have picked a better first-round opponent for themselves, save for the injury-depleted Kings. The Coyotes certainly can skate and they’re well-coached — they won’t beat themselves — and they have an excellent goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov. But their special-teams units are hardly special and the next series they win will be their first since they abandoned Winnipeg. (Bryzgalov and Ray Whitney are the lone Coyotes with Stanley Cup rings.) But the point is, in today’s NHL it’s almost pointless to look at the first-round matchups and try to make any bold predictions about who’ll be playing in June.
“Those days are over,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said of the pre-parity NHL. “There’s too little to choose between the teams.”
Perhaps that’s the rub. I believe that the Red Wings will prevail in this series, but it’s not going to be easy, nor short.
As I’m writing this, the NHL has yet to list its referees’ or linesmen’s assignments for tonight’s game. I’ll update them after the morning skate.
Other series preview articles:
• The Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness offers three reasons why the Wings can defeat the Coyotes—highlighting Franzen, the power play, which the Wings must use to deter the Coyotes from running headlong into them, and experience—as well as three reasons why the Wings might not advance;
• Ted Kulfan’s five keys to the series include Franzen, special teams, goaltending, the Wings’ home-ice advantage this time around, and the fact that Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm have emerged as the heirs apparent to Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby’s grind line legacy. Kulfan also believes that the Wings have the “edge” in every category except for goaltending;
• The Detroit News also posted a series of playoff capsule previews, trends and players worth watching in every series, an interview with Coyotes-picking Versus analyst Keith Jones, and a slate of staff picks (they all believe that the Wings can defeat the Coyotes, but most believe the Wings won’t last more than two rounds);
• The Detroit Free Press’s George Sipple profiled Coyotes forward Andrew Ebbett as he’s a former University of Michigan forward;
• The Free Press’s Helene St. James gives the advantage in every category except goaltending to the Wings, every Free Press sports columnist is picking the Wings to defeat Phoenix, and the Free Press’s Steve Schrader offered a “Detroit vs. Phoenix Tale of the Tape,” a massive slate of tidbits and news items worth reading, the first “Octometer,” and this:
You’ve heard the Wings have made the playoffs for an impressive 20 straight years.
Nicklas Lidstrom’s personal streak now is at 19—every year of his career—which ties Brett Hull for second on that list (and breaks a tie with Larry Murphy).
He’s one year behind the leader, Larry Robinson. Unlike him and Hull, Lidstrom did it all with the same team.
• And I’ll post a selection from Michael Rosenberg’s ramble, but not the whole thing:
The Wings certainly have enough talent to make a Stanley Cup run. This first-round matchup against Phoenix will be a good test. The Coyotes are precisely the kind of team that doesn’t seem threatening but frustrates the heck out of more talented teams.
“They don’t give up 2-on-1s or 3-on-2s—or rarely,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “They just play a very sound defensive system, neutral zone and defensive zone. So it’s very tough to get scoring chances against them.”
It will be even tougher without Zetterberg. But that’s the only sure thing in the hockey playoffs: They will be tough.
Also of Red Wings-related note: In Sweden, Dick Axlesson registered an assist on the overtime winner as Farjestads BK defeated Skelleftea 2-1 in OT, giving FBK a 3-1 series lead;
• Back over on this side of the pond, Wings prospect Trevor Parkes scored the Montreal Juniors’ only goal in a 2-1 loss to Lewiston. Lewiston leads the series 2-1;
• In the WHL, Mitchell Callahan was held off the scoresheet as his Kelowna Rockets dropped a 5-4 decision to the Portland Winterhawks. The Winterhawks lead their series 2-1;
• Sticking with prospects, RedWingsCentral’s Matthew Wuest notes that HV71 defenseman Adam Almqvist had a difficult 2010-2011 season for HV71 in the Swedish Eliteserien, and Wings chief of European scouting Hakan Andersson believes that Almqvist lost the elment of surprise because his physical conditioning hasn’t improved:
“I saw the same as I did last year, reading the play well, anticipating, breaking up plays,” Andersson said. “I want to say the reason he didn’t have as many points was the other teams knew about him more, looked out for him a little bit more on the power play, and he hasn’t gained a lot of strength, so his shot is still a little bit weak.”
Almqvist, who had no goals and 16 assists in 52 games, was a sleeper pick in the seventh round (210th overall) of the 2009 draft. Andersson has raved about his offensive upside and calls his hockey sense “as good as I’ve seen in years.” Andersson said the 5-foot-11 174-pounder’s all-around game has improved with experience, but “not dramatically.”
“He battles well enough one-on-one, he just needs strength to be more effective when he battles,” Andersson said. “He’s really good with his stick. As good as he is passing the puck and everything, he also breaks up plays really well with his stick. One-on-one, he’s really effective with poke-checking the puck, which makes up a bit for his lack of strength.”
For all Almqvist’s accomplishments, he’s been completely ignored by the Swedish national team — left off the world junior roster in his final two years of eligibility — so Andersson isn’t the only one looking for more. The Red Wings project him as a Tobias Enstrom or Brian Rafalski type. But as Andersson has emphasized since Almqvist’s draft day, it’s all about strength.
“If he wants to get to the next level after this, without a doubt, he needs to hit the gym this summer, and the next couple of summers,” Andersson said.
• RedWingsCentral’s Sarah Lindenau also wrote a spectacular list of playoff Wing-Killers;
• Heading back to the playoffs via Lindenau, the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek is picking the Wings to win in seven games;
USA Today is picking the Wings in six;
• Fox Sports’ Spector is picking the Coyotes in six;
• Plain old good news via the Free Press’s George Sipple: Red Berenson will continue to coach at the University of Michigan;
• An FYI from the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby, regarding the possibility of another team in Toronto:
While insiders with the National Hockey League and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. concede another team in the Toronto area will happen eventually, it won’t be for a long time. So Brian Burke was quick to pounce Tuesday when asked about a University of Toronto study that says the Golden Horseshoe can support more NHL clubs.
“I think it’s a pile of Golden Horse-something,” the general manager snorted. “It’s nice that some university does this. (But) when the league feels the time is appropriate, then make the case that your not unduly harming our franchise, without crippling Buffalo, without hurting Detroit. The Red Wings advertise as far east as London, Ont. Detroit has 24% unemployment. No one has done that (study the threat to current teams) to this point and now they’re saying two or three more teams? They (authors of the study) aren’t in our industry, they don’t understand. People say there’s a waiting list for tickets here, but there’s not 18,000 people on it, folks. There’s not a whole building on our waiting list. We have unsold inventory in our building in terms of suites.”
• The CBC’s Elliotte Friedman says he can’t vote for Nicklas Lidstrom for the Norris because he was a -2;
• In charitable news, the Wyandotte Patch’s John Gorgon reports that John and BettyAnne Ogrodnick helped raise funds for the Wyandotte Pound last weekend;
• And then there’s this from the Free Press’s Sylvia Rector:
Can the coney cut it in Hollywood? Will the loose burger find love on Sunset Boulevard? Actor-comedian-director Mike Binder has no doubt they’ll be a smash hit when he and several other famous Detroit ex-pat pals open a 24-hour coney restaurant late next month in the heart of Hollywood’s nightclub district.
The 65-seat Coney Dog will serve natural-casing hot dogs and spicy chili inspired by Lafayette Coney Island, along with Faygo pop, Better Made chips, Stroh’s beer and several Detroit-area microbrews, said Binder, a Birmingham native.
“We’re doing it right,” he added. Joining him in the project as investors, he said, are comedian Tim Allen, “Spider-Man” director Sam Raimi, comedian Adam Sandler, Red Wings center Kris Draper and former University of Michigan football player Braylon Edwards, now with the New York Jets. All but Sandler have Detroit roots.
One more thing: Before I get a few hours of sleep, here’s an FYI fro m the Wings:
FOX TOWER TO SHINE RED THROUGH 2011 RED WINGS STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF RUN
MAKE OUR CITY SHINE RED, FANS!
(DETROIT, April 12, 2011) – The Detroit Red Wings are entering their 20th consecutive Stanley Cup playoff appearance, and to help cheer the team to victory, the fabulous Fox Theatre tower sign will shine red during the entire playoff run, which begins Wednesday, April 13 when the Red Wings take on the Phoenix Coyotes. The tower will switch from its standard multi-color display to all red Wednesday morning.
“Clinching their twentieth consecutive playoff appearance, the Wings have the longest post-season streak of any major professional sports team” said Tom Wilson, president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment. “This, along with the Wings eleventh straight 100-point season and having the best record in the NHL’s Central Division in nine of the past ten seasons, Hockeytown can stand proud. The energy in The Joe has been electrifying this season and now is the time for fans to continue to show their colors as we begin the quest for a 12th Stanley Cup.”
The Fox tower sign, originally restored and unveiled in January 2006 in anticipation of Super Bowl XL, can be computer programmed to perform over a million different color and light variations. The 18-foot sign will run completely in the color red in support of its hometown Red Wings team. The LED light tubes used to light the tower use less than half the power of an incandescent bulb and can last 10 years.
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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.