The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/19/11 at 04:09 PM ET
Updated at 4:52 PM with More Lidstrom talk: The Detroit Red Wings literally withstood a physical assault from the Phoenix Coyotes in their 4-2 win on Monday night, and while the Wings understand that Tomas Holmstrom and their ever-improving grinding forwards are fair game in terms of having to deal with slashes, hacks, whacks, hooks, cross-checks, hits from behind and after-the-whistle punches to the head, it was surprising to say the least to see the Coyotes attempt to unnerve captain Nicklas Lidstrom by trying to knock him into next week (via Taylor Pyatt) and distract him via after-the-whistle stuff (see: Shane Doan).
Lidstrom simply doesn’t engage in that sort of thing, and, as the Detroit News’s Terry Foster suggests (via RedWingsFeed), Lidstrom’s one of the few players left in the league for whom a “you just don’t hit the guy” rule usually applies:
I know Shane Doan didn’t go there. Did Doan actually tap Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom a few times during the Wings 4-2 victory Monday night in Game 3? He popped him with a hard shoulder shot and bopped him a couple other times. Basically, Doan treated Lidstrom like a common NHL player. Oh, no he didn’t!
Lidstrom never gets hit. I’m almost certain there’s an NHL bylaw stating that Lidstrom can be rubbed but not clubbed. No one ever tries to get him to fight because everybody knows he’s the most disciplined player in NHL history. He takes a licking and keeps on ticking. The NHL could rename the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship to the Nicklas Lidstrom Trophy—and no one would probably mind.
He’s a good dude with great principles.
So far the Wings haven’t done much to protect their captain. That seems to be the Wings’ way. They want their opponents in the penalty box, so they can score and win games. However, there comes a point when someone (Are you listening Todd Bertuzzi?) must send Doan a message that the Wings captain is off limits.
The Coyotes—down 3-0 in the series—are all but history. But there’s going to be another player like Doan on the horizon who wants to rough up Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk or someone else. The Wings’ tough guys must protect their own, and I’m sure somebody will step up before this series is officially over.
You just don’t touch the Wings captain. If they do it again we might have to get Darren McCarty out of retirement.
If and/or when the Red Wings find themselves headed toward a fourth victory over Phoenix sometime this or next week, I would not be surprised if the Coyotes try to target Lidstrom again, and if the series’ result is no longer in doubt, someone will kindly inform Doan that he’s going to have to back up his bluster with his fits. The same may be the case for Taylor Pyatt.
• The other big Wings-related story prior to today’s practice updates involves the play of one Jimmy Howard in the Wings’ crease. It’s accurate to suggest that, after Howard struggled mightily to adjust to the intensity of and focus required to perform in the playoffs last season, Wings fans jittery, if not borderline panicky, about Howard’s ability to deliver in April and May, but Howard’s played supremely steady, if not borderline great-as-opposed-to-good hockey in the Wings’ crease, and Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner spoke to Red Wings GM Ken Holland about Howard’s ability to out-duel Ilya Bryzgalov—starting after Game 1—and the Wings seem to agree that Howard’s ability to “freeze” the puck instead of pumping out rebounds is the most illustrative example of his evolution into a playoff-capable netminder:
“So, what did you think?” Holland eagerly asked me[.] What I really liked about Jimmy’s game was that he looked like a veteran out there. There was no panic. He wasn’t jittery.”
Before the playoffs began, Howard was instructed to freeze the puck when in doubt, not try to make a play with the puck if there’s nothing there. Through the first three games, he’s been Mr. Freeze.
“I want to take as many whistles as I can for the guys,” Howard said. “In the playoffs, things can start to become a merry-go-round. So, I just want to help the guys and cover up as many pucks as possible. We’ve been talking about it, Jimmy Bedard (Wings goalie coach) and Chris (Osgood), about slowing the play down because they (Phoenix) have some really fast forwards that get on top of our D. I need to help them out.”
“You don’t have to gamble with it (the puck) if you’re not sure that you’re going to get the puck to one of our D or get the puck out,” [Nicklas] Lidstrom said. “Freeze it, hang on to it and take a faceoff instead. Jimmy has been really smart at playing the puck when he can, and when he can’t, he freezes the puck and stops the game.”
Howard’s confidant in the room, [Chris] Osgood, has a different theory as to why Howard has been asked to freeze the puck more.
“We almost have to (freeze the puck) in the first 10 minutes because we’ve been starting out pretty slow,” said Osgood. “That’s the first thing, to be honest. We haven’t been having the greatest of starts.”
That wasn’t the case on Monday, and if the Wings can match their superb start on Wednesday, they’re going to have an easier time defeating the tenacious, never-say-die Coyotes. The Wings aren’t begrudging Phoenix a millimeter in terms of their ability to rally from a 3-0 deficit on Wednesday, and that’s a very good sign.
• In the opinion department, MLive’s Rob Otto duly noted that the Wings remain a team that’s a work in progress—which is completely fine given that they’re still trying to find their playoff form after a difficult second half to their regular season…
From Mike Babcock’s perspective, this series is also pretty close to perfect because his team is winning games, but they are still making enough mistakes for him to be able to have things to work on at practice.
Too many penalties; trouble clearing the puck from their own zone; costly turnovers in front of their own net; trying to make one too many passes. These are all things the team can improve, and will likely have to if they want to make it past round two this season.
So almost the perfect script for the Detroit Red Wings so far. Just don’t tell that to Johan Franzen’s face.
• The Oakland Press’s Pat Caputo also spotlighted the fact that the Wings’ “depth” players delivered in a big way on Monday:
Detroit’s first goal was scored by 36-year-old Ruslan Salei, a stay-at-home defenseman, whose primary role is to provide a steady presence in front of goalie Jimmy Howard.
Salei plays on the Red Wings’ last defensive pairing. There were even some questioning whether he should be in the lineup for the postseason instead of rookie Jakub Kindl, who was scratched. The questions weren’t raised, though, because Salei is so bad, but because Kindl is so good - too good, honestly, to be scratched on virtually any other team. Kindl is an excellent puck carrier. He can skate it out of trouble. He is sound defensively, too. It was a matter of choosing style and experience over youth. The goal was gravy for Salei. Zone defensive coverage is his strength.
The Red Wings took a 2-0 lead very early in the game, not only because of Salei’s goal, but also a tally by Drew Miller. Miller, brother Buffalo Sabres’ goalie and United States Olympic standout Ryan Miller, and a former Michigan State star, was claimed off waivers by the Red Wings last season after their roster was decimated by injuries. It was the first waiver claim by the Red Wings in roughly a decade. Miller and Patrick Eaves, another veteran player picked off the scrapheap by Detroit general manager Ken Holland, have been in the lineup the first three games of the playoffs.
Eaves is 26. Miller is 27. These are players in their prime. Between them, they have scored 45 goals the last two regular seasons. More importantly, they are willing to serve roles.
Also, Howard is playing well. His save percentage has improved in the postseason from the regular season. He was solid as could be in the first three games of this series. The Red Wings’ goaltending may not turn out to be the issue many fans seem to think it will be in these playoffs. Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was a second-team all-star last season. He is one of the better goalies in the NHL. This is the second straight playoff series Howard has clearly outplayed him. Like their depth, it bodes well for the Red Wings.
• In the “late-breaking quotes” department, the Coyotes stated the obvious to NHL.com’s Jerry Brown about their precarious predicament in an article that didn’t hit the wires till almost 10:30 this morning...
After taking the Red Wings the full seven games last season, the Coyotes now have to think in terms of avoiding a sweep, and an inglorious end to the season, when the series resumes on Wednesday.
“Well I think we can relax a little bit now. There’s nothing to lose, eh?” said Phoenix winger Ray Whitney, trying to inject a little levity into a tough situation. “You play as hard as you can in Game 4 and hopefully extend it and do the same thing in Game 5. It’s not a position you want to be in, for sure, but we’re giving what we can. The fight was there. The energy was there. The crowd was there. But we got a couple of unlucky bounces right off the start and it really took the wind out of our sails.”
“We never really got enough of a sustained forecheck or anything really going five-on-five. That’s obviously been the problem the last couple of games,” said Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who played 21 minutes and was all over the ice, but came up empty. “We just weren’t good enough.”
The Coyotes did some things well. Martin Hanzal threw a rope around Red Wing magician Pavel Datsyuk, holding him without a shot in the first two periods and just two meaningless shots for the night. Phoenix outhit the Wings 36-27, cleaned up some of its neutral zone play and spent more time in Detroit’s end. But Detroit owned the first five minutes of every period, and that was enough to push the Coyotes to the brink of extinction.
“You have to win the next game if you want to see the next one,” defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. “We’re facing a big hole, but if we limit our mindset to one game at a time and don’t look any further … it’s a challenge but it’s been done before.”
• DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose also posted a few “overnight” quotes from the Wings and Coyotes:
RED WINGS COACH MIKE BABCOCK
On his team’s quick start: “Obviously we got off to a real good start. Helmer’s (Darren Helm) and Fil’s (Valtteri Filppula) lines were a real dominant force. They skated real well, were on the puck and in the end, that allowed us to get off a good start and take a little wind out of their sails. I thought they had a real good push for the last part of the first period and then in the second.”
On the play of goalie Jimmy Howard: “He made two exceptional saves in the first period. The previous game he didn’t have much work, tonight he had way more work and tonight was a tougher game for him. They had better traffic at the net and they played in our zone for longer periods of time.”
RED WINGS FORWARD TOMAS HOLMSTROM
On scoring early in the first and third periods: “Even in the third period we got one on the first shift and that kind of killed momentum right away. That was a key goal for us to get that fourth one early in the third period.”
On the aggressive play of Phoenix: “I thought we responded well as a team. We knew we were going to face that type of team; they were going to put in a good forecheck on us and be aggressive at times and we were just trying to respond to it and wait for chances.”
RED WINGS FORWARD JOHAN FRANZEN
On scoring early in the first and third periods: “They were coming pretty hard at us and we got goals on our first chances and that’s always hard to come back from.”
• If you’re interested, the Arizona Daily Sun’s Bill Harris posted a late-breaking recap from the Coyotes’ perspective;
• Via the Red Wings’ Facebook page, an Amway promotion is giving away a puck signed by Johan Franzen prior to Wednesday night’s game, and the Wings have received a new entry in their “Don’t Miss a Moment” viral video campaign:
While the Detroit Red Wings hope to win their 12th Stanley Cup title at season’s end, the club’s social marketing staffers have already raised a celebratory banner after picking up Facebook “like” No. 500,000 last week. To commemorate the achievement, the Red Wings are giving away playoff game tickets via Facebook in a partnership with their communications sponsor AT&T.
The National Hockey League franchise is using the social site in a manner that’s akin to a call-in tactic employed by radio broadcast stations for decades. For last Wednesday and Saturday’s playoff games, a team rep appeared at an AT&T store in Detroit. While there, the Red Wings posted a Facebook message stating that the first five people who arrive at the store and mention the post will get a pair of tickets to the next playoff game.
Rob Croll, director of corporate sponsorships and advertising for the Red Wings, told ClickZ that if his team advances to the NHL Playoffs’ second round, it will use Facebook again to comp five pairs of tickets for two more home games. That development appears likely, as Detroit leads 3-0 over its first-round opponent, Phoenix Coyotes, in the seven-game series. Croll said the two events held so far resulted in the tickets being given away in under 15 minutes. More than anything, this example underscores how Facebook’s large user base creates opportunities for brands to “broadcast” promotions to specific audiences. Croll said he believes that Facebook is helping his team reach a new, younger demographic.
“People responding to this promotion are high school and college aged,” he said. “In one instance, a mother came in because her daughter at home saw the promotion on our Facebook page. She called her mom who was out running errands…and asked her to stop by the store.” Croll described AT&T’s hand in the promotion. “Sports marketing is really moving from traditional sponsorship elements like signage to a social and online world,” he said. “As we’ve seen this kind of shift, we’ve worked with our marketing team to create these types of opportunities.”
Rob Mattina, director of marketing for the Red Wings, said his team has been able to increase its “likes” (or “fans,” in the former parlance) by 440,000 in two years without paid media. Mattina said the team’s public address announcer mentions Facebook.com/DetroitRedWings before each home game. Also, the DetroitRedWings.com masthead lets viewers click to visit the team’s Facebook page.
“Our growth on Facebook has been about delivering relevant content,” he explained. “This entails promotions, contests, and information that our core consumers cannot get anywhere else. It’s also important to entertain them with videos and other content.”
Mattina said getting the players involved is extremely important for his team’s social media efforts. “The younger generation wants to have more control and get more insider information… behind-the-scenes types of things,” he said. “They really love to see the human element of the players and their personalities.“The Red Wings have 53,600 followers on Twitter and regularly integrate Facebook efforts into the micro-blogging site. “But sometimes you’ll find out they are different audiences,” Mattina said.
• The Free Press’s Mike Brookbank posted an article in which most Red Wings fans suggested that the playoffs are their biggest sports focus at present;
• And if you’re interested—and I’m not—ESPN asked 5 “Page 2” panelists to weigh in on the NHL and City of Detroit’s crackdown on octopus-throwing.
Update 3:20 PM: According to @Mserven, neither Johan Franzen nor Pavel Datsyuk are taking part in the Wings’ optional skate today.
Also from Serven via RedWingsFeed:
Babcock apparently not happy with the Wings’ breakout efficiency. Breakout drills a plenty #redwings
Update 3:27 PM from Serven:
Franzen probably resting his face again. Datsyuk is here, not dressed. He was joking with the guys earlier. Maintenance day? #redwings
Update 3:32 PM from Serven: Sounds like the Wings are having an “optional” practice for whoever’s got bumps and bruises to me:
Wait for the full story before drawing conclusions. No Helm at practice either #redwings
Helm on the ice now #redwings
Update 3:47 PM: The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle duly notes that Bryzgalov’s stock as a free agent has taken a bit of a hit.
Update 4:51 PM: WXYT’s Scott “The Gator” Anderson agrees with Foster:
The Red Wings need to stand up for their Captain Nick Lidstrom. I’m not saying they don’t support him, I’m just saying that they need to protect him from further cheap shots that the Phoenix Coyotes are doling out.
As much as I respect Shane Doan and think he’d make an awesome Red Wing, this guy has to learn the hard way that you cannot take advantage of the Wings’ most valuable player. Too often in the three games to this point, Doan has targeted Lidstrom with slashes, cross checks, punches and whatnot, and it has to stop. You don’t want to see the Wings lose their collective cool and go all Inglewood Jack on them, but you do want to see a confrontation led by some of the more intimidating players on the team.
With a 3-0 lead in the series, there should be a premium on keeping Lidstrom healthy and sending a message to the rest of the league that targeting the Captain will not be tolerated. Getting to the next round would mean nothing if number 5′s health were compromised, so I’m looking forward to see what measures his teammates will go to to ensure his well being. As much as Lidstom, Datsyuk, and Helm should have their heads on a swivel, so should Doan, Pyatt, and Jovanovski.
It should prove to be a most interesting finish to the series!
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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.