The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/19/11 at 08:46 AM ET
As an addendum to the Red Wings’ 4-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 3 of their first-round series:
The Red Wings’ “grinders” have enjoyed the lion’s share of coverage from the Red Wings’ press corps during the playoff run thus far, and while I mentioned Helene St. James, Ansar Khan and Ted Kulfan’s articles about Justin Abdelkader prior to the game, you may have missed ‘em, and they’re definitely worth your time.
This morning, the Free Press’s Michael Rosenberg focuses on Darren Helm, whose up-tick in scoring has resulted from admittedly slowing down, albeit ever-so-slightly, to let his hands catch up to his feet:
“I’ve always been maybe a little bit too fast sometimes,” Helm said Monday morning. “Just getting out of position sometimes, getting a little antsy—going after plays that weren’t there, trying to finish a check that didn’t need to be (finished). I’m slowing it down a little bit, getting my head up. There are still times that I get anxious out there, trying to do a little too much. It’s a work in progress.”
These days it seems like more progress than work. Helm has established himself as a steadying force on the ice—the Wings were up-and-down in the second half of the season, but they generally know what they will get from Helm’s line. He hopes so.
“We don’t get a whole lot of ice time,” Helm said, “but when we’re out there, we’ve got energy and we’ve got speed.”
Helm registered an assist, 2 shots, 3 hits, a takeaway and a +1 in only 11:38 of ice time on Monday night, mostly playing on the penalty-kill (3:12 of his ice time was spent killing penalties), and but just as Justin Abdelkader took a step forward after some ups and downs over the first half of the season, Helm, who debuted as a playoff performer in 2008, took a few years to re-establish himself as a regular-season performer. At 24 years of age, Helm registered registered 12 goals and 32 points during the regular season, and has 2 points over the course of the Wings’ 3 games against Phoenix, and he told Rosenberg that he’s learned to relax a bit…
“I can just play my game now,” Helm said. “If I play well, I’m in the lineup—it’s not what I’m worried about anymore, that I have to play well to be in there.”
But he does remain a player who’s earned his nickname, “Danger”...
Yeah, Helm has learned to slow down. But he also points out “at the same time, I’ve got that speed, so I can use it to my advantage.” It’s a skill the Wings are glad they have.
• Here’s what Mike Babcock had to say about Helm and Valtteri Filppula after Monday’s game, as noted by the CBC’s series blogger:
While Wings superstar centre Pavel Datsyuk was the star in the first two games, Detroit’s foot soldiers came to the fore in the Game 3 win. Three of the four goals came from the club’s bottom two forward lines—one from Drew Miller, one from Valtteri Filppula, and one from defenceman Ruslan Salei off a strong forecheck by Darren Helm.
“I actually thought Helm’s line and Fil’s line, which you’d consider to be our third and fourth [lines], were our best two lines,” Babcock said. “They were all over the puck and really skating.”
• MLive’s Khan also posted a quip about Drew Miller in his notebook…
Miller is determined to stay in the lineup. The grinding forward was a healthy scratch 15 times during the regular season, often rotating with Kris Draper, due to the team’s depth. But now he’s even beaten out a future Hall of Famer, Mike Modano, for a regular spot. Miller is off to a strong start in the playoffs. He assisted on a goal by Jiri Hudler in Game 1 vs. Phoenix and scored a goal in Game 3 Monday.
“Some of the guys are laughing that I haven’t scored a goal by a shot yet this year,’’ Miller said. “But I’ll take whatever I can. Sometimes dirty, garbage goals are the fun ones.’‘
And Khan offered an update on Henrik Zetterberg, who, as Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond reminded fans repeatedly on Monday’s telecast, is still less than two weeks removed from suffering a second-degree MCL sprain in his left knee that usually takes 3 weeks to heal:
Henrik Zetterberg participated in the morning skate Monday and appears to be progressing well from his sprained left knee. He isn’t expected to return until Game 6, at the earliest, if at all in the series.
“Anytime you come back from an ankle injury or any kind of leg injury or a shoulder, when you tweak it the first time you panic,’’ Babcock said. “I think that’s what happened to him (Saturday morning). He was out for five minutes, tweaked it, then came off, skated for 30 minutes and felt better the next day. That’s usually the process. You come back from injury you’re going to tweak stuff but to know it’s momentary, not long-term, is the issue. And then you just fight through it, and eventually when he’s ready he’ll tell us.’‘
• And regarding one Tomas Holmstrom and the Wings’ attempts to screen Ilya Bryzgalov’s field of view, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted that the Wings are doing their best to attempt to avoid having goals called back now that the NHL’s decided to crack down on, well, Tomas Holmstrom doing his job:
“To make sure there are no question marks,” said Holmstrom, who is among the best at screening goaltenders, but also gets called for more interference than he’d like to remember.
That’s why coach Mike Babcock put in a six-inch rule.
“We have a six-inch imaginary line,” Babcock said. “Same with (Danny) Cleary. You make sure they’re outside the paint, yet we want them to be active, but not disrupting the goalie’s play. Be there for rebounds and pushing the goalie back.”
The Red Wings have been successful this series against Bryzgalov in the sense that the 6-foot-3 goaltender is having difficulty seeing through the players in front.
“He’s a big guy and you want to be in front of him,” Holmstrom said. “You just want to make sure he has a tough time seeing the puck. He’s a good goalie. You can’t let him see the shot, he’ll stop it.”
• Shifting focus back to the Wings’ “grinders,” the Wings have more than a few prospects and a few alums grinding it out as “Black Aces,” and Kulfan spoke to both Derek Meech and Grand Rapids Griffins GM Bob McNamara about the Wings’ decision to give as many prospects a head-start in learning the “Red Wings way” as possible:
After stints with the Grand Rapids Griffins, they’re all eagerly putting in overtime with their pro counterparts. The Wings began the postseason with 15 Black Aces, and now are carrying eight — forwards Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak and Tomas Tatar; defensemen Doug Janik, Brian Lashoff, Brendan Smith and Meech; and goaltender Jordan Pearce.
“They’re exposing more guys to the culture than ever before,” [McNamara] said. “Even if it’s just through the first or second round of the playoffs, no matter how long the run goes, the Red Wings want our guys with them. To experience that, as a young player, is a big deal.”
McNamara points to Justin Abdelkader (109 career games with the Griffins) as a prime example of an up-and-comer who took hold of his Black Aces role, learned the ins and outs of playoff hockey, and never let go. Another Aces alum is Tomas Holmstrom, who has 42 playoff goals in 13 NHL seasons. He spent 74 games in the Swedish elite league and six with the Adirondack (N.Y.) Red Wings of the American Hockey League before his first playoff game in 1997. The following season, Holmstrom scored seven postseason goals to help Detroit earn the second of its back-to-back Stanley Cup titles.
“You just got to wait for your turn and work hard,” Holmstrom said. “Show what you can do and your time will come. Everybody has gone through it. You learn a lot, for sure, just by being around.”
The Black Aces travel, practice and work out with their pro mentors, and attend team meetings to understand coach Mike Babcock’s philosophy and strategies.
One of those mentors is Chris Chelios, who, according to more than a few reports from Kulfan, St. James, Khan and the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff, have put the Wings’ Black Aces through their paces, and the youngsters are learning from Kris Draper and Chris Osgood as well as a former Wing turned pro scout in Kirk Maltby.
• Duff spoke to Draper and Osgood about continuing to play without a dear friend in Maltby, which Draper says is plain old weird:
“Especially for myself and Ozzie (goalie Chris Osgood),” Draper said. “We played so much with him. On the road, it was automatic that we were going out for dinner. It was different this year. I got hurt early, then Ozzie got hurt. It was different for the three of us. Certainly, you realize how fortunate you were to play with a guy like Kirk Maltby. A great teammate, great friend. We’ve stayed in touch, we’re going to continue to stay in touch. He was a teammate for so long, and now I’m lucky to be able to call him one of my best friends. That’s rare and something I’m real proud of.”
After stumbling to the finish line, the Wings are off to a 2-0 advantage in this series, and sheepishly admitted that sometimes, it’s hard to get fired up for regular-season games.
“We talk about there’s no switch, but I think we step up at certain times in big games and big situations,” Detroit winger Dan Cleary said. Everyone loves playoff time, especially in this locker-room. It’s the most important time, the most fun time.”
Maltby and Chelios have admitted that it’s a bit strange for them to be sitting in the press box, too, but it’s wonderful that the Wings are keeping them in the fold. You can bet that the Wings will find a way to bring Draper (as a strength and conditioning coach) and Osgood (probably as a mentor for the team’s goaltending prospects) into the fold when they retire, too.
• There are a few things that I’ve chosen to specifically not cover in this series, and the biggest one is the turmoil surrounding the Coyotes’ ownership situation. I think that it’s simply inappropriate for me to make any comments regarding the Coyotes’ future if I am, as a Wings blogger, to stick my nose into such a sensitive issue.
I respect the Coyotes’ dedicated and passionate fans and respect the Coyotes’ right to exist as a privately-owned entity which remains in Phoenix over the long haul, and I think that the Canadian media’s decision to dangle the, “They could go back to Winnipeg” carrot in front of Winnipeggers and Coyotes fans alike is nothing less than distasteful.
The Winnipeg Sun’s Paul Friesen went to Phoenix to ramble about the Coyotes’ future and post a recap which played up the off-ice dramatics, but you’ll have to read them on your own, and the same can be said for the Arizona Republic’s Bob McManaman’s take on the situation.
The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan also mentioned the situation in his Coyotes notebook (and the stuff about Shane Doan on Mantracker just isn’t Wings news, so you’ll have to read that on your own, too), and I’m going to ignore Wings assistant coach Paul MacLean’s comments about the situation to the Arizona Republic’s McManaman, Sarah McLellan and Jim Gintonio and focus on this quip instead:
In the opener of their first-round playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings, the Coyotes managed to keep crafty center Pavel Datsyuk off the score sheet. But the Red Wings never were a one-trick pony. Their secondary stars proved that Monday night as they motored Detroit to a 4-2 win and a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Ruslan Salei, Drew Miller and Valtteri Filppula notched their first goals of the series. Johan Franzen, a perennial pest for the Coyotes, iced the victory 45 seconds into the third period with his second score of the playoffs.
“We obviously did a good job against Datsyuk, but they got plenty of depth up front, even on their back end,” Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. “They don’t just rely on one guy to score their goals, and they don’t rely on their power play. They score five on five. They do it every way.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock acknowledged his third and fourth units as the best he put on the ice.
“They were all over the puck,” Babcock said.
• In Swedish: Niklas Kronwall didn’t have anything earth-shaking to say to Expressen’s Gunnar Nordstrom in his main story about Game 3. He mostly emphasized the fact that the team’s glad to have a 3-0 series lead, but subscribes to the old hockey cliche that the fourth win is the hardest one, and he suggested that his two-point night didn’t matter as much as the team’s success.
He did say this about Henrik Zetterberg, however…
“Zata’s” hurt, so it’s important to spread our offense around to more players, and we’ve succeeded at doing that.And now we’ve got a 3-0 lead, so there’s no point in having him rush back till he’s completely recovered [from his injury].”
And Kronwall told Nordstrom that he’s not quite up to speed, either:
You were injured toward the end of the regular season, but you came back when the playoffs started, right?
“I feel better, but I’m still working on getting my conditioning back.”
Kronwall did spit a little venom about Shane Doan’s cross-check on Nicklas Lidstrom in Nordstrom’s blog, however:
What did you think about Doan’s cross-check to the back of Lidas?
“I don’t know what he’s thinking when he did that. It was so damn unnecessary. There’s no place for that kind of prank and I’m glad that the referees penalized Doan for it.”
• Kronwall also spoke to Aftonbladet’s Per Bjurman after the game, but aside from stating that Johan Franzen’s looks haven’t suffered as much as they should have given his injuries, he didn’t say anything in Swedish that didn’t make the English recaps.
• Regarding the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dejan Kovacevic’s suggestion that the Pittsburgh Penguins deserve to be called “Hockey-tahn” because they led the league in ratings for their first game as compared to the rest of the weekend’s ratings, I’d duly point out that Detroit’s 76,000 average viewers don’t include the people who tuned into the CBC to watch Saturday’s game.
• I find it downright bizarre that, in the KHL, their highest-level executives see no conflict of interest in the fact that they’re essentially the general managers of two of the league’s biggest powerhouses.
KHL president Alex Medvedev is both a member of the board of directors of the KHL’s biggest sponsor, the de-facto arm of the Russian government that is the world’s largest provider of natural gas, Gazprom-Export, and he’s the GM of SKA St. Petersburg, which has one of the biggest petro-dollar-sponsored budgets in the KHL.
CSKA Moscow, the old Central Red Army team, doesn’t have a budget quite as big as SKA’s, but its status as the capital’s heavyweight means that the KHL’s Chairman of the Board, former Minister of Sport, Vladimir Putin pal (just like Medvedev) and CSKA president Slava Fetisov just happened to both talk about the KHL’s future and his team’s personnel decisions with Sport-Express’s Igor Larin yesterday, and he told Larin that he’s pushing the team to sign Sergei Fedorov, who began his pro career with CSKA back in 1986. He’s also trying to bring Slava Kozlov back to CSKA, and he’s supposedly willing to poach Nikita Filatov from Columbus, and he suggests that he’d be happy to swipe Sergei Shirokov from Vancouver if he gets the chance;
• And after all this serious talk, I figure it’s best to end on a laugh. The Free Press’s Steve Schrader took note of the fact that defenseman Ruslan Salei was quite [ticked] off about the fact that Wings PR man Todd Beam pulled Salei aside after the first period to be interviewed by Fox Sports Detroit’s John Keating, and Salei, who’s a grumpy guy to begin with, practically growled at Keating about choosing to interview him because he scored a goal:
Wings defenseman Ruslan Salei, interviewed by Keating after a first period in which he scored his first playoff goal since ‘08: “Oh, now you guys want to talk to me, huh?”
He was peeved, very very very peeved, and very grumpy. It was utterly hilarious.
Update 8:20 AM: The Free Press’s Mike Thompson’s editorial cartoon caption contest for this week involves an angry Wings fan yelling at his TV late at night...
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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.