The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/13/12 at 01:40 AM ET
George’s note: We’re having a blog hiccup. It should be resolved shortly. Sorry for the inconvenience!
Updated with trade talk from Pierre LeBrun at 10:48 PM: The Detroit Red Wings’ 3-2 shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes produced a lovely result in 100 wins for Jimmy Howard, 300 for coach Mike Babcock and a game that was, quite honestly, an incredibly spotty effort byt he Wings, who may have proven that you don’t need to go to the West Coast to play like your legs feel like lead and your brain just fuzzy enough to be sure that you can make the extra deke or pass back to a more open man instead of burying a puck and/or ensuring that you corral a rebound.
Don’t get me wrong, all the credit in the world can and should go to Coyotes goalie Mike Smith for a fantastic 40-save performance, but when the Red Wings are putting that much rubber on an opposing goalie, they’re not usually the ones rallying from two one-goal deficits, clutching their sticks too tightly on the power play (which still stinks), and, quite frankly, if the Wings had screened Smith more consistently or pounced on rebounds the way Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata, Mikkel Boedeker and Shane Doan did on Jimmy Howard, this game would have taken 50 minutes to win, not 65-plus.
I guess that’s the pleasant way of saying that the Wings were indecisive in too many crucial moments, and that they gave their goaltender far, far too hard a road to hoe despite the fact that Howard faced a not-so-slim 27 Coyotes shots.
The Wings started the game roaring through the middle of the ice—in no small part due to a lovely return performance from Jan Mursak, who looked pretty damn good for a speedy forechecker who dangled and deked as much as he forechecked and ground his opponents down—peppering Smith with 13 shots, but it was the Coyotes who scored the first goal, with Radim Vrbata being allowed to all but walk in alone (just as he did in the shootout, except with 5 Wings on the ice), split White and Kronwall and roof it over Howard, who (in regulation and the shootout) went down early.
Thankfully, Ian White and Valtteri Filppula combined on a steal-and-score play with under a minute left in the first period, and despite the fact that Mike Smith made some amazing saves on Wings in alone, too, there was a sense that the Wings didn’t make Smith’s life difficult enough.
In the second, again, the Wings started roaring out of the gate, but the Coyotes started mucking things up, slowing the Wings’ speed through the neutral zone and engaging in a heavy, hard forecheck which started to grind on the Wings and result in mistakes made which, again, made the shot disparity in the period not underscore the fact that Howard had to bail out his teammates on more than one occasion, too, especially when Doan, Daymond Langkow and the Coyotes’ defense started stealing the puck from lackadaisical Wings trying to clear the puck too casually on a regular basis. Instead, the Wings whiffed on two power plays and simply went into the second intermission playing, “Well, I guess we’re tied, we’ll be fine if we push in the third” hockey.
The Yotes’ effort paid off in the third period, when Kyle Chipchura and Taylor Pyatt capitalized on a bad pinch by Jonathan Ericsson and worked Cory Emmerton like the non-defenseman he was as Pyatt roofed the puck over, this time, a goaltender who had no chance because Jakub Kindl and Emmerton basically backed him up into his own net—a net which the Yotes would start crashing on a very regular basis.
The Wings picked it up and perked up after the goal against, and they did a lovely job of countering the Coyotes’ punches, sometimes literally, but in a game where both teams got away with their share of shenanigans—and the league seems to continue to be willing to let shi, I mean stuff go during the middle of the season, every season—the Wings went to the net harder, as was evidenced by Johan Franzen’s elegant tap in of a lovely keep-in by Nicklas Lidstrom that went around to Danny Cleary (he had a fantastic game himself) and Pavel Datsyuk, who feathered a seeing-eye pass to Franzen at the halfway point of the 3rd.
The Wings dialed their intensity back after that, however, and the Coyotes got more than their share of chances to ram the puck and/or, in Boedeker’s case, Howard into the Wings’ cage. Howard made some very “underrated” saves as his defense didn’t seem as willing to clear rebounds, so Howard chose to keep the puck himself instead of keeping play going as Smith chose to do.
The game also ground to a halt in overtime because the Wings continued to indulge in what seemed like endless loop-backs, passes back to defensemen and one-and-done shots and chances, leaving the Coyotes with exactly what they’d hoped for after a grinding game whose offensive flourishes by the Wings were shrugged off by Smith and his teammates.
In the shootout, Pavel Datsyuk went glove side on Smith and found the back of the net, but Jiri Hudler’s five hole opportunity went awry, as did Valtteri Filppula’s attempt to deke Smith on the blocker side, allowing Howard to be brought down and out by Vrbata.
In “shootout overtime,” however, Henrik Zetterberg did this…
And two lovely saves by Howard, first on Oliver Ekman-Larsson to ensure that there would be “shootout overtime,” and then Lauri Korpikoski, ensured that all of the Wings’ gorgeous plays and high-tempo offense, minus any willingness to actually put in the hard work that is putting pucks behind an opposing goalie who stops what he sees, did not go for naught.
Sometimes you take a win, especially when you’re in the middle of a stretch of games in which you play every other night, when your legs feel a little heavy, your brains feel a little fuzzy and you perhaps underestimate your opponents’ ability to counter your slightly shaky fit and finish with some surprising offense of their own.
The Yotes are going to make a hard push for the playoffs, and the Wings might want to take them more seriously when the teams meet a week from today in Glendale.
Do the Wings get credit for playing better defensively in front of Howard? Sure, but they also played a little too loosely to back it up with offense at the other end, sort of accepting that the Yotes’ goalie was going to play lights-out instead of doing something about it, and that’s…It is what it is.
Here’s the whole shootout, if you’d like to watch it:
Howard deservedly earned his 100th win, and Babcock earned his 400th win as well, but the Wings will have to play much sharper and be much harder in front of their opponent’s goaltender if they wish to defeat Chicago and tie a franchise record winning streak on Saturday afternoon. It wouldn’t hurt if Bertuzzi returns from whatever he’s got (lower-body something), either, because the Wings need all the jam they can get.
Update: Hmm, per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun:
The New York Rangers, we’re hearing, are looking for either a top-six forward who can put the puck in the net and/or a power-play defenseman with a good shot. Like most other contenders, including the likes of Philadelphia and Detroit, the Rangers are keeping a close eye on Nashville and what the Predators are going to do with either Suter (UFA July 1) or Shea Weber (RFA July 1). Needless to say, the Rangers would covet either one of those studs on defense.
The Detroit Red Wings have more cap space than they’ve ever had since this system was put in place in 2005. They’ll be looking to add, but not at all costs.
“We got cap space, I’m going to work the phones like I always do over the next six to seven weeks,” Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com Thursday. “If there’s a fit, we’ll do something, but if there isn’t, I don’t feel the urge to do something for the sake of doing something. I like our team.”
As I reported earlier this season, I believe the Wings have some interest in Oilers winger Ales Hemsky, who is UFA July 1. I also believe an upgrade on backup goalie Ty Conklin would be a target.
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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.