The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/17/12 at 05:01 AM ET
As the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators prepare to face off tonight in Game 4 (7:30 PM EDT, FSD/FS Tennessee/CBC/CNBC/97.1 FM), which may very well determine whether the purported seven-game slugfest between Detroit and Nashville will in fact go the distance, or will, instead, be a short and disappointing series for Red Wings fans…
Aside from some potential line changes and maybe adding Hal Gill “lower-body injury” to the mix, the Predators rather obviously don’t plan on changing much of anything in terms of their game plan, including Barry Trotz continuing to issue complains to the referees and media about those dastardly Red Wings supposedly interfering with dear Pekka Rinne with the same determination the Predators displayed while laying siege upon Detroit’s ping pong territory.
Otherwise, the Predators spoke far fewer words to the media during their post-practice availabilities (link goes to the herculean off-day post) than the Red Wings did, and the reason for their relative silence is simple: the Predators know that they’re in control of their series, and feel that they’re well upon their way to slaying the self-made arch-rival dragon that is the Red Wings’ organization. They’re relaxed, confident and seem to assume that they’re going to set themselves up for a clinching game on Friday, as they told the Detroit Free Press’s George Sipple and Helene St. James:
Predators captain Shea Weber expects the Wings to bring their best effort to the series in Game 4 Tuesday. The Predators lead the series, 2-1.
“Obviously it would be a big difference to be 3-1 or 2-2,” Weber said. “It’s a long ways from over. They’re going to come with their best effort and we’ve gotta come with ours if we want to have a chance to beat them.”
Predators center Mike Fisher agreed.
“We know how big the game is tomorrow,” Fisher said. “So do they. We expect them to come out real strong. That’s going to be the toughest game yet. We know that. We’ve gotta make sure we’re ready and get on them early and play better than we did last game.”
Drastic line changes? David Legwand and Barry Trotz insisted to the Tennessean’s Joshua Cooper that the following tweaks...
S. Kostitsyn – Fisher – Erat
A. Kostitsyn – Spaling – Radulov
Bourque – Gaustad – Hornqvist
Halischuk – Legwand – Yip
Tootoo – Smith – Wilson
Which may portend Jordin Tootoo sitting out on Tuesday, aren’t a big deal:
At Monday’s practice, David Legwand was demoted to a more checking role with Brandon Yip and Matt Halischuk.
Nashville’s second-leading scorer during the regular season, Legwand had been on the second unit with Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn as his wings. The three were together for most games since Radulov’s return from Russia on March 22, including Games 1-3 against the Red Wings.
Nick Spaling was moved in between Radulov and Kostitsyn, and Paul Gaustad was slotted onto the third line in between Gabriel Bourque and Patric Hornqvist.
“It’s something we did today. Tomorrow is a new day, so we’ll see,” Legwand said. “I played with (Halischuk) a little bit during the season; he’s a hard worker, he’s going to get pucks to the net and around the net.”
It’s unclear if the move was made to motivate Legwand, who had six penalty minutes in Game 3. He also had a strange play where he grabbed Johan Franzen’s jersey from the Nashville bench while the Red Wings forward was on the ice during live action. Franzen speared Legwand on the ensuing play.
“We might just look to change things a little bit, a little different plan,” Coach Barry Trotz said.
Putting Spaling in between Radulov and Kostitsyn adds a little more defensive responsibility to that line. Spaling is known for his penalty killing and positional play in his own zone.
“He’s a hardworking guy,” Radulov said. “He can handle the puck and is a fast guy. I think we’ll be OK. It’s not about who we play with, it’s about work and working for each other and helping each other and battling there and win some hockey games.”
Radulov thinks that he’s going to be “OK” despite not regaining his late-season scoring form, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted…
Radulov has two assists through three games, and hasn’t scored in his last six games dating to the regular season, but insists he isn’t frustrated.
“I’m OK, we’re winning and that’s the main thing,” said Radulov, who returned to the Predators late from Russia, where he played the last three years. “Sometimes you’re not lucky. In the playoffs, there are games that are going to be like that.”
Radulov has continued to work hard at both ends, and his intensity and enthusiasm have given the Predators a jolt.
“He’s a real competitive guy,” coach Barry Trotz said. “At the same time, he’s about winning. It’s not all about points, it’s about trying to win the series and the game (tonight).
And Hal Gill? Well, he didn’t skate for the entire Predators practice, but Trotz’s outlook for his hobbled defenseman was downright sunny:
“He’ll be just day to day and we’ll see (today),” Trotz said of the 6-foot-7 Gill. “He said he felt a lot better. He was fine, he actually stayed out there for a while.”
The Predators are quite happy with Paul Gaustad’s dominance in the faceoff circle, as Sipple and St. James noted, though watching a player take draws wrong-handed baffled Trotz during his days as a juinior coach…
“I thought he was crazy,” Trotz said.
Trotz has a greater appreciation for that rare skill now that he sees Predators center Paul Gaustad winning draws either way on a consistent basis. Gaustad, who is left-handed, started taking some draws right-handed a couple years ago just to help make himself a better player.
“Guys are good at face-offs in this league, so you have to find new ways to win draws and it just started working out for me,” Gaustad said. “I’ve seen a couple guys do it. I know Dominic Moore has tried it a couple times. It’s taken a few years to get really confident at it, to use it regularly. I think I’ve gotten to that point now.”
Gaustad won 60 percent of his draws in Game 1 (12-for-20), 50 percent in Game 2 (4-for-8) and 63 percent in Game 3 (12-for-19).
“They want puck possession and we want it,” Gaustad said. “It starts with the face-offs. And it’s not just centermen, it’s the wingers helping out, defensemen as well. It’s a team effort on draws.”
The Predators are receiving significant help in the scoring department from their defense, and that leaves the Predators just pleased as punch with themselves, as they told NHL.com’s Brian Hedger...
Both teams tout active, productive two-way defense corps led by stars in the top pairing. So far, though, it’s been the Predators receiving the bigger edge from their blue line. Nashville has gotten three goals and two assists from its defense, led by captain Shea Weber’s two goals, while Detroit has gotten just one goal, by Ian White, and three assists. It hasn’t just been offensively, however. Weber and Ryan Suter are logging a lot of minutes without injured veteran Hal Gill playing, and the second two pairings also have contributed big plays and points.
“We try and chip in whenever we can,” said Kevin Klein, who had a goal and an assist in Game 3, and also saved a sure game-tying goal by deflecting a shot with the shaft of his stick. “Obviously [Suter and Weber] carry most of the load offensively. They create so many opportunities while playing solid defense. They’re two of the best defensemen in the world and we’re lucky to have them.”
Not just for the obvious reasons, either.
“It’s nice for the next four or five guys to just fly under the radar and do our thing and let them get all the praise,” Klein said. “It’s good. It keeps the pressure off the young guys, too.”
To the point that the usually quiet Ryan Suter patted himself on the back while speaking to the Tennessean’s Cooper:
“This is the best hockey I’ve played in a long time. I feel very confident out there and very comfortable,” Suter said. “You know when you’re playing well, and I feel like I’m playing good and making good passes and making the right plays.”
Though he has no points and has notched an even rating through three games, the subtleties of Suter’s game have gone beyond statistics. He has been on the ice for just one Red Wings even-strength goal, all while playing against Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg.
The 27-year-old Wisconsin native doesn’t like the spotlight, however, and doesn’t like to bring it on himself. During an interview last season, when Suter detected a line of questioning about his attributes, he backtracked. “I don’t like to pump my tire,” he said at the time. But Suter is surer in his leadership role this year and knows that in order for the Predators to advance past the Red Wings, he needs to play his best.
“I think the confidence is the big thing. The first two games I felt very confident,” Suter said. “I’m not trying to sound cocky by any means, I just feel good out there.”
“(Weber) gets a lot of the attention and a lot of the accolades, and that’s great,” Suter said. “I kind of fly under the radar, which is perfect. That’s how I like it.”
Are the Predators worried about the workload Pekka Rinne’s faced? Nope, as Rinne himself told the Macomb Daily’s Frank Costello (you can read his story about Kevin Klein’s mohawk on your own):
“A lot of times, the game gets a little easier when you face more shots,” Rinne said after Monday’s morning skate. “You stay in the game, and you don’t really have to think about anything else. You just stay in the moment. Some games, when you don’t face a lot of shots you really have to stay mentally focused.”
Game 3 saw Rinne play perhaps his best outing of the playoffs thus far. He finished with 41 saves on 43 shots. While he did get a great deal of help from his defense, Rinne didn’t let up any soft goals that hurt his team’s chances.Most goalies have some kind of quirkiness about them, or some odd habits that set them apart, in a way, from other players on the team. As far as his persona with the media is concerned, Rinne’s can be summed up with one word: calm. It apparently isn’t an act.
“He’s a guy that really stays in the moment,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s a guy that’s sort of able to just let everything go. You like him in the locker room, because he’s got that upbeat personality. You like him on the ice, because he battles like crazy.”
Nashville defenseman Jack Hillen was quite matter-of-fact when asked about assessing Rinne’s play, through three playoff games.
“I think he’s the best goalie in the game,” Hillen said. “For the amount of shots he sees and the workload that he faces, he’s up there. I’m so impressed with how big he is, quick he is, how well he moves and how much ice he covers. He’s the best I’ve played with. It’s nice knowing that he’s back there, that’s for sure. He’s a calm guy, but he does have a presence about him back there. He’s never panicked, and I think that kind of sets the tone for us.”
So all is well, basically speaking, for Nashville? Yup, as the Predators website’s statistically-inclined game preview suggests, the Predators have many good things to build upon…
• The Predators won their first playoff game in Detroit. They were 0-6 in the Motor City in their two previous Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Red Wings.
• Shea Weber potted the Predators’ first power-play goal of the series 2:48 into the opening period. Nashville’s captain now has goals in back-to-back games.
• Kevin Klein notched his first-career multiple point playoff outing. Klein put the Predators ahead 2-0 early in the second period. He then added an assist on Sergei Kostitsyn’s game-winning goal.
• Each member of the Martin Erat-Mike Fisher-Sergei Kostitsyn line recorded their first points of the series. Erat tallied the only assist on Klein’s second period goal, while Fisher notched the primary assist on Kostitsyn’s game winner. Kostitsyn’s goal was his first in 17 games (combined playoff and regular season), dating back to March 8, when he tallied the game-winner against Colorado.
Pekka Rinne notched his 10th career postseason victory on Sunday afternoon, turning aside 41-of-43 shots. Detroit’s 43 shots were the second-highest shot total Rinne has seen in his postseason career. He faced 47 shots in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals against Vancouver last season (May 3, 2011). During the regular season, Rinne was 5-0-2 with a 1.66 goal-against average and .958 save percentage in the seven games in which he faced 40-or-more shots on goal, including a 4-3 win over the Red Wings in Nashville on Dec. 15. He improved to 2-0 this postseason when making 35 saves or more. During the regular season, Rinne was 14-0-2 when stopping at least 35 shots.
• This is the third Western Conference Quarterfinals series between Nashville and Detroit. The Red Wings have won both of the previous series – 4-2 in 2004 and 4-2 in 2008. Nashville has played more playoff games (15) against Detroit than any other team in their seven trips to the postseason.
• Twelve of the 15 postseason games between the Predators and Red Wings have been decided by two goals or fewer. All three games in this year’s series have ended in 3-2 scores.
And hell, the Tennessean finds it silly that the Detroit Free Press would suggest that Red Wings fans are better than Predators fans, and I’m not going to do more than mention that MLive’s Brendan Savage found both Trotz and Wings coach Mike Babcock gushing about Shea Weber’s brilliance on Monday…
So, as NHL.com’s Brian Hedger suggests in a game preview which will serve as our pivot between the Predators’ and Red Wings’ perspectives, the Predators want to keep on keepin’ on:
Big Story: Detroit fans might still be sore about the incident between Shea Weber and Henrik Zetterberg after Game 1, but both teams have moved on from it and now it’s about the remaining games that will decide this closely-contested series. Each of the first three games has finished with a 3-2 score and the goalie pulled in the last minute with the trailing team desperately trying for the tie. There’s no reason to expect any different in this game, which could be pivotal if Nashville comes out victorious and goes back home for Game 5 leading 3-1 with a chance to close it out.
The Red Wings are trying to shake off a disturbing recent trend of sluggish starts putting them behind early, which is what’s led to both of their losses thus far. The Predators, who might make a couple of lineup adjustments prior to this game, just want to stick with the formula that’s gotten them to this point—building a lead and making it stand up with defense and Pekka Rinne’s goaltending.
Red Wings [team scope]: Detroit needs to score more goals, plain and simple. In the Red Wings’ two losses, they’ve combined for 80 shots and gotten just four goals. They also saw a number of good scoring chances go for naught in Sunday’s Game 3 thanks to poor aim, inability to handle set-up feeds or just bad luck. To further emphasize how close it’s been for the Red Wings in the playoffs of late, Detroit’s past 10 postseason losses were each time by just one goal—which is both remarkable and frustrating.
Predators [team scope]: Nashville got exactly the kind of start that coach Barry Trotz was hoping for in Game 3 and took a 2-0 lead early in the second period as the result of it. However, it was almost all Red Wings from about the 10:00 mark of the second through the rest of the game, as the Preds rode some outstanding work in net by Rinne and the defense in front of him to a big victory. In Game 4, the Preds are hoping to keep the same intensity and effectiveness to start—especially in the faceoff circle—but carry it through the entire 60 minutes this time.
“We know how big the game is and so do they,” center Mike Fisher said. “They’re going to come out real strong. This is going to be the toughest game yet. We know that and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready and get on them early and play better than we did last game. We know we’ve got to be better.”
Who’s Hot: Weber continues to play an outstanding series at both ends of the rink with two goals in the first three games and a team-high 12 shots on goal. Rinne has stopped 76 of 80 Detroit shots in the Preds’ two victories. … Pavel Datsyuk picked up his second and third points of the series in Game 3 by scoring his first goal and assisting on Zetterberg’s second goal of the series.
Stat Pack: Including the last 17 games of the regular season, the Red Wings have scored just two goals or less in 15 of their past 20 games. … Nashville has 15 players who have tallied at least a point in the first three games, including seven with two points each.
For the Red Wings, the story is very different, and as Hedger noted in a story that hit during the evening news cycle, there is at least one Red Wings player who feels that an incident on Sunday which provoked a penalty and eventually led to a 5-on-3 leaves him with nothing to apologize for…
Franzen went to check Ryan Suter near the Predators bench and only got a piece of him before slamming into the boards right in front of the Nashville bench. Predators center David Legwand was then spotted holding Franzen’s sweater with a tug—which prompted the Red Wings forward to yank free and drive his stick toward Legwand on the bench in a spearing motion. Did the heat of the moment cause his temper to boil over into making a bad decision?
“No,” Franzen said. “He held me. If he does it again, I’m going to do it again. He got called for it and I’m happy for that. We’re a good team 4-on-4, so if he’s going to do that again, I’m happy to do it. Maybe I’ll drag him out onto the ice and sit on him, I don’t know ... maybe do something else.”
Franzen said that by jabbing his stick in retaliation, he feels that led officials to look into what happened to start the incident in the first place—which resulted in a bench interference minor called against Nashville.
“The ref wouldn’t have called him if I wouldn’t have done that,” Franzen said. “He needed help from his [linesmen] and his partner to figure that out, so that would never have been called otherwise.”
It also happened to create 4-on-4 play, which has shown in this series to help Detroit’s top offensive stars—like Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg—create more scoring chances.
“I would take that any day,” Franzen said. “If I could get [Datsyuk] and [Zetterberg] out there playing 4-on-4 instead of 5-on-5, you’d play like that all day if you could. [There’s] a lot more room to create stuff on.”
The Free Press’s Helene St. James, who says that Franzen overcame his social anxiety issues and fear of public speaking to talk to the media for a whole eight minutes on Monday, growled about the inconsistency with which officials have meted out penalties—mostly to the Red Wings…
At one point, Franzen said it’s impossible to know what is a penalty, but after thinking about it for a bit, he said, “No, let me change it: You know what’s a penalty, but it gets called sometimes, and sometimes it’s not getting called.”
Asked if officiating is inconsistent, Franzen replied, “Very.”
But St. James points out that the Red Wings made some significant tweaks to their lineup—in addition to reuniting Ian White and Nicklas Lidstrom, and reuniting Kyle Quincey and Jonathan Ericsson, the line looked something like this by the end of practice:
Johan Franzen-Todd Bertuzzi-Danny Cleary
Valtteri Filppula-Henrik Zetterberg-Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller-Justin Abdelkader-Drew Miller
Gustav Nyquist-Cory Emmerton-Tomas Holmstrom
The lack of 5-on-5 play is why the Wings might make line changes tonight. They might move Danny Cleary up with Datsyuk and take Todd Bertuzzi off the line because it’s hard for a 37-year-old to sit 10 minutes without playing. Franzen is a huge part of whether the Wings have success this time of year. He may take the tradeoff that puts his team at 4-on-4, but it’s better for the Wings to have him on the ice.
At the end of his chat Monday, Franzen said he didn’t want to talk much about the officiating because he didn’t want to make it sound like the Wings were making excuses. As unflappable as Franzen is off the ice, on the ice he is at his best when he lets his feelings show. “Being emotional always helped me to play in the playoffs,” he said. “Try to get them out. That’s good for me.”
And Nicklas Lidstrom, who the Associated Press’s Larry Lage profiled in the inevitable, “OH NO HE MIGHT RETIRE PANIC PANIC!” story on Monday, had this to say about Franzen’s decision-making process to MLive’s Ansar Khan...
“That’s where you have to try to stay disciplined, and it’s hard sometimes,’’ Lidstrom said. “You’re in the heat of the moment and your heart rate is going 200. You’re so into the game, so it’s hard sometimes (to keep your cool), and that’s when you get sucked into those kinds of penalties.’‘
Needless to say?
The Red Wings are 15-of-16 on the penalty kill in this series, against the best power play in the NHL during the regular season, and they’re doing it without two of their best penalty-killing forwards.
Patrick Eaves suffered a broken jaw when hit in the ear by a shot from Nashville’s Roman Josi on Nov. 26. The jaw has long since healed by Eaves remains out with concussion-like symptoms. And Darren Helm’s season ended in Game 1, when tendons in his right forearm were severed by Alexander Radulov’s skate blade.
Their absence has formed the Red Wings to use Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg more than they would like on the penalty kill.
“Normally we could have Patty Eaves, used to be our best penalty killer, and Helmer, they eat up a ton of those minutes,’’ Babcock said. “So now Datsyuk and Zetterberg are doing it. I’d rather have them shooting it in the net than keeping it out of the net.’‘
One could very well argue, as the Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski does, that there’s nothing wrong with an angry Mule...
Franzen has a subtle sense of humor that can be mistaken for grumpiness, but he’s leaning toward the grumpy side now. At least it sure seems that way.
“Nah, I’m just frustrated with the questions, as usual,” he said. “I’m fine. Maintaining emotions? It usually helps to let them out, I think. Being emotional has worked for me as long as I’ve played the game.”
That’s why the Red Wings never mind when Franzen plays angry, although their margin for error has shrunk over the years. Pekka Rinne has outplayed Jimmy Howard just enough to squeeze out two victories. In fact, chew on this astonishing statistic: Since 2010, Detroit’s past 10 playoff losses have been by one goal.
The Red Wings have prevailed in close ones, too, but they dropped eight one-goal games to the Sharks the past two playoffs, and two more to the Predators. Every goal, every mistake, every slash counts. Nicklas Lidstrom reiterated the point Monday, as strongly as the quiet captain ever does.
“That’s why you have to try to stay disciplined, and it’s very hard sometimes,” Lidstrom said. “It’s the heat of the moment, your heart rate is going 200 miles per hour, and you can’t get sucked into it.”
The Red Wings haven’t really been suckered too much because the Predators have piled up almost as many penalties. But Nashville knows what it’s doing. If it’s not stuffing Detroit with Rinne, it’s agitating with rancor, going back to Shea Weber’s ridiculous head bash on Henrik Zetterberg at the end of Game 1. Franzen already had taken one slashing penalty when Legwand goaded him into another.
“It was a little gamesmanship, just trying to get him to take a penalty, and he did,” Legwand said. “I think everyone’s got a certain threshold for getting under their skin.”
That’s the problem, as the Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp—for once, sensibly—suggests:
Argue all you want about how unfathomable it is for one of the least penalized teams during the season to average five penalties a game. Insist that there are shadowy conspirators out there determined to make matters miserable for the Wings if that helps you sleep better at night. But the bottom line is, the Wings must adapt. They haven’t. They’re taking retaliatory penalties, looking like a team embittered that those nasty Predators have gotten under their skin. They lost their composure in Game 3.
“Maybe it’s our own fault,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “Maybe the refs kept the bar at the same level. But the intensity goes up in the playoffs, and you’d think that most players would prefer that when the intensity goes up, that the officials might let some of the things go. But that hasn’t happened.”
It was an ugly weekend for the NHL, after assorted melees, ejections, suspensions and a combined 158 penalty minutes between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on Sunday. The far-reaching violence overshadowed what has been a highly dramatic first round with the two conference favorites—Vancouver and Pittsburgh—looking at probably insurmountable 3-0 holes. Some analysts suspect that the NHL’s reluctance to suspend Nashville captain Shea Weber for smashing Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the boards ignited an attitude of tolerance of recklessness from the players.
“This has been a pretty tame series, except of course, for the head-smash,” defenseman Kyle Quincey said.
All of that being said…
“We’re still confident that this remains a very long series,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said Monday, “but we understand the urgency in that we’re approaching Game 4. There are things that we have to do better. You have got to stay disciplined. You’ve got to keep your cool and not get sucked into taking bad penalties.”
The Wings will readily admit on a team-wide level that discipline is one of their primary areas of focus heading into tonight’s game, as they told Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Renger…
Detroit has scored 40 more goals at even strength than they’ve given up, while Nashville has only scored 10 more goals in the same situation. As long as the Wings stay out of the penalty box, they should be able to control the game and score a few more goals than the Predators.
“It is called a little tighter, but at the same time we have to be more disciplined, we can’t be taking stick penalties or undisciplined penalties, we just got to be smarter,” said Wings forward Justin Abdelkader. “We can’t keep going on the kill, wasting time five-on-four when we could be playing five-on-five.’‘
“It takes a ton of energy to play four against five. Normally, we’d have Patty Eaves and Helmer, they’d eat up a ton of those minutes, so now Datsyuk and Zetterberg are doing it,” said Babcock. “I’d rather have them shooting it in the net than keeping it out of the net, so it’s a waste of energy, but the great thing about this stuff is we control all of it and we’re going to fix it.’‘
And Jimmy Howard may have thrown down a gauntlet of sorts at his own feet, surprisingly enough, suggesting that while Pekka Rinne can be more easily exploited, he shouldn’t have to say the same about himself..
“He’s 6-5 and very athletic. When you think you’ve got him beat, he can find a way to get a piece of equipment on it,” Howard said. “You’ve really got to bear down in front of him and his defensemen are doing a great job in front of him tying guys up. There’s some [pucks] that are just lying there we couldn’t get to. The opportunities are there. We’ve just got to dig in a little harder.”
Howard enjoys playing against Rinne because he’s a tremendous talent that challenges Howard to be at his best.
“It’s a lot of fun. It is,” Howard said. “He’s a great goalie and he’s played really well in Games 1 and 3 and now I’ve got to step it up.” “I could be better. I thought the first game, besides a couple of bounces, was okay. Game 2 was really good. Last night, if I make the 3-on-1 save, it looks a lot better than being (down) 3-1, so it’s just one save here or there.”
But the Wings aren’t as worried about Howard as they are about—and say it with me, folks—getting started on time, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted…
“It’s a priority for everyone, you want to get started on time,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s going to be a priority (in Game 4 tonight).”
Said defenseman Brad Stuart: “We saw our desperation level from the first to the third (period) is noticeable, the difference, because we needed a goal in the third. So why don’t we have the same kind of desperation from the beginning of the game?”
And the players offered similar statements to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...
“Our game plan is the same, prepare the same way, as long as we’re playing our system and our game strong we’re confident in our team,” Drew Miller said. “It’s tough playing from behind, you have to sustain the energy and momentum early.”
“We want to come out and have a way better start,” Tomas Holmstrom said. “We’re down 2-1, we know we need to win. We’re going to take it one shift at a time, but we have to play our best game to win.”
“Getting off to a good start, especially in the playoffs, is important, we saw our desperation level from the first to the third (period) is noticeable because we needed a goal in the third,” Brad Stuart said. “So why don’t we have that same desperation from the beginning of the game? Let’s have that attitude where we need to get the first goal, come out and throw pucks to the net, go to the net, create some havoc in their zone, instead of waiting until we’re down a goal. It’s just a matter of having that desperation level from the start.”
Detroit has fallen behind in eight of its last nine games and 16 of its last 20.
“I thought someone told me it was like 80 percent of the time during the regular season when you score first you win, so I don’t think that’s any different now,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s a priority for every one, you want to get started on time.”
“Every playoff game is a must win,” Jimmy Howard said. “It’s a sprint to 16. When we drop the puck we need to play like we did the last five minutes of the second period (in Game 3) and all of the third. It seems whoever scores first wins and whoever it playing catch-up hockey isn’t sticking to their game plan.”
And Babcock downright growled about the media-mentioned fact that the team’s lost its last 10 playoff…losses…by one-goal margins:
“It means we’ve lost by one goal lots,” he said. “We’d like to score more, we give up too many goals. There’s not many series going on where they score a touchdown every game, this is the first one I’ve seen in a long time (Pittsburgh against Philadelphia). Most of them are tight and you’ve got to score. The other thing is you’ve got to find ways for everyone to contribute. The night we won our fourth line got two goals (which was on the ice for Ian White’s goal). It’s a game of breaks. We score a power-play goal, but the period is over. We break our stick, give (Shea) Weber credit, he shot the puck and broke the guy’s stick, then we would have had it easy, it came right to (Pavel) Datsyuk, but we don’t have it out. That’s how fine a line it is. When Cory Emmerton has an open net and hits (Kevin) Klein’s stick. Every year we’ve won we never remember any of that crap, we just remember winning. … Just win.”
Part of that “just winning” may or may not involve sticking to the line changes Babcock employed in practice on Monday, as he told Kulfan...
“Whoever plays the best will play the most, it doesn’t matter what the name is,” Babcock said. “( Gustav ) Nyquist was in the top six group in (Game 3 with Cory Emmerton and Tomas Holmstrom ) ( Chris ) Conner was playing wing with (Datsyuk and Franzen), too, but I don’t think he’s in (for Game 4).”
Babcock also had Lidstrom practice with White — they played together in Game 3, too — but wouldn’t commit to playing them together all the time.
“We like ( Jonathan ) Ericsson and Lidstrom together on matchups, too, and when we need to move the puck a little crisper,” Babcock said.
But part of that “just winning” definitely includes getting secondary scoring, and Valtteri Filppula admitted to the Tennessean’s Josh Cooper (in an article appearing on the CBC; the Tennessean’s version is here) that he’s part of the problem:
Is his one point in three playoff games a more accurate barometer of his play against Nashville? The scorer who notched 66 points - third most on the Red Wings, and eight more than the highest-scoring Predator - this past season has found space tougher to come by during the playoffs.
“It’s a little different,” Filppula said. “Playoff hockey is always a little different, there’s always less room and you don’t get as many good chances as you do in the regular season.”
The Predators have mostly been able to keep the speedy forward to the outside, preventing him from taking the puck wide and cutting around the defence for scoring chances.
Filppula has taken six shots over the three contests, but his line, including Henrik Zetterberg and Jiri Hudler, has only managed three total points - two of which being Zetterberg goals. The trio is a minus-6 overall. The Red Wings’ top forwards have all struggled to some degree. Pavel Datsyuk has three points in three games, but has yet to display all his skills - save for his takeaway goal in Game 3. Johan Franzen, who had 29 goals in the regular season has just one score - his only point of the post-season.
“You have to have great chances to be able to score, but at the end of the day, they’re just chances, they don’t count,” Filppula said. “We’re trying to find a way to score and I hope we can do a better job with it.”
With Filppula, skating and speed are never the issue. It’s more getting pucks to higher percentage scoring areas in and around Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne. When he and his line start to do that, the offence could come more regularly for the trio.
“You can’t shy away from shooting the puck,” defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom said “That’s one of the areas we can still do a better job with, by getting pucks [at the net]. I think he’s moving his feet good and skating hard but more pucks at the net, when you’re driving more to the net you’re going to create more too.”
Babcock didn’t feel the need to single out Filppula per se while speaking to the Free Press’s George Sippple about his boatload of company…
“I think offensively when you look at the whole series, I think there’s lots of guys that had some trouble getting it going, wouldn’t you say?” Babcock said Monday after practice. “So I don’t know if you can pick one guy. This is what I’ve found over time. I’ve been fortunate to coach lots of good teams that played a long time in the playoffs and lots of times after Round 1, the guys you think would score more don’t have any, but by the time you’re done playing three and four (series) they have lots. That’s why you have a team.”
Babcock often talks about wanting his players to shoot the puck more. The Wings had 43 shots in the Game 3 but couldn’t get more than two goals past Pekka Rinne.
“The whole key at this time of year, to me, is real simple,” Babcock said. “If you’re on the outside you’re not going to score. If you’re on the inside, you’re going to score. When you pass up a chance to shoot the puck, when are you getting your next chance to shoot the puck?”
Shooting the puck is always the point for Filppula, as MLive’s Ansar Khan suggests...
“Playoff hockey is always different,’’ Filppula said. “There’s less room and you don’t get as many good chances as you do during the regular season. It’s tighter. The biggest thing is getting second shots and second chances and getting goals that way.”
Filppula has six shots in three games, more than his season average, but has passed up some good opportunities.
“My players would tell you I think no one shoots the puck enough for my taste,’’ Babcock said. “(Filppula) does what he thinks is right. He’s been a good player all year, he’s got to be a good player for us right now. The whole key this time of year is simple: If you’re on the outside, you’re not going to score; if you’re on the inside, you’re going to score. When you pass up a chance to shoot the puck, when are you getting your next chance to shoot the puck?’‘
But it’s the point for the whole team, and Lidstrom wasn’t the only Wing to second Filppula’s suggestion that the Wings haven’t generated nearly enough secondary or tertiary scoring opportunities on Rinne:
“You have to find a way to score,’’ Lidstrom said. “You can’t be going after it too much and leaving the defensive side open for two-on-ones and three-on-ones against us. (But) when we get those chances we have to continue to shoot the puck and try to generate those second chances.’‘
As such, “getting on the inside” means doing what the team has to do collectively to minimize its trips to the penalty box, doing what the team has to do to generate more speed through the neutral zone, doing what the team has to do to generate and sustain a forecheck and doing what the team has to do to defeat the Predators—skate, skate and skate some more, all while keeping their sticks down as they attempt to match Nashville’s energy, focus, attention to detail, and especially their senses of urgency and desperation:
Babcock said his net-front players must be more determined to fight through Nashville’s attempts to box them out.
“We showed our players today we weren’t at the net with the second guy enough, or we accepted box-outs,’’ Babcock said. “Everyone’s trying to box you out, we’re trying to box them out, too. Some guys accept it, some guys don’t accept it.’‘
The Detroit Free Press’s sports department leaves us with a positive message going into a game that might require some self-medication for some Wings fans to get through (I’ve got the extra anti-anxiety meds if you need ‘em…)...
The last five times the Red Wings have trailed, 2-1, in a playoff series, they have won Game 4. And the last three times, they went on to win the series.
And the Detroit Red Wings website’s playoff blog offers some hopeful comments regarding the Wings’ belief that they won’t turn Pekka Rinne into another Dwayne Roloson:
“Our job is to create chances and be a little bit annoying to play against,” Cory Emmerton said on Sunday. “I thought we did a pretty good job of that in Game 3, but we just have to build off of it.”
How do you do that?
“I think the biggest thing is to get the first goal,” said Kyle Quincey. “We got the first goal in Game 2 and we were okay there, so I think that’s a huge thing for us.”
Getting the first goal won’t just get the Wings on the board, but awaken the building, establish momentum and eventually, if all goes well, lead to a series-tying victory.
Also of note from the Wings’ preview:
10:30 AM – The Red Wings skate at Joe Louis Arena
11:30 AM – The Predators skate at Joe Louis Arena
6:00 PM – Doors Open
7:30 PM – JLA Pregame Show
Immediately Following – Game 4 on FOX Sports Detroit, CNBC, CBC and 97.1 The Ticket.
GET HERE EARLY: Following the success of last year’s decorated stairs celebrating 20 consecutive years of playoff appearances, Joe Louis Arena will once again be decked out for the big occasion. Vinyl photographs of the Wings’ Stanley Cup championship banners and former Stanley Cup celebrations will don the East Gate, West Gate and box office doors.
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Thanks to AT&T for providing today’s car flag giveaway. All fans attending Game 4 can find these on their seats upon entering the building.
I’m going to be honest with you, as I usually am: I have no real gut feeling as to which team will win tonight’s game, and this one really scares the f*** out of me. I’ll probably have more fun driving my mom up and down I-696 and I-75 to attend a wake this afternoon (I’ll be out of the office as of 3 PM, and won’t get back till nearly game time, so I’m sorry, but there’s gonna be a gap in coverage) than I will finding out whether we’re pondering Babcock adding Black Aces to the lineup on what might be the last game of the Wings’ season on Friday, or whether we’re talking about a series that will afford us another five days of hockey and maybe, just maybe, a chance to prove the doubters, worriers, media and the rest of us wrong about our very bad feeling about this series…
And all I can offer you is this: the Red Wings’ players are much less nervous about tonight’s opportunity than we are because they can affect its outcome…
And regardless of whether the Red Wings are cleaning out their lockers on Saturday or in June, I believe in my team, and should the Wings not win tonight and Friday, you’ll have to find some bolt cutters to unchain me from the bandwagon.
Here’s hoping that tonight isn’t the last time Wings fans see this:
Part II: On Darren Helm: The vast majority of the off-day news cycle involved Darren Helm’s first appearance since suffering severed tendons in his right arm in Game 1. MLive’s Brendan Savage allows Helm to recount the circumstances of his injury...
“At first I was scared,” said Helm, the Red Wings’ third-line center and one of the team’s top penalty killers. “I didn’t know how severe it was. I didn’t know if it went really deep and hit a nerve or artery. As soon as they slowed down the bleeding, I was able to wrap my head around the injury, how long I’d be out. That’s when I got frustrated, I got mad. I kind of sat there by myself and took some deep breaths and calmed myself down.”
“Having to watch again, that’s probably the worst thing of all. The way I tried to battle back after my knee and to come back and have this happen in the first period, it’s pretty tough.”
Helm, who called the injury a fluke thing, was cut with about 6 1/2 minutes left in the first period of Game 1 while killing a penalty at Bridgestone Arena. He checked Radulov along the left boards, Radulov went tumbling backwards toward the ice and when his feet flew up into the air his right skate caught Helm on the right arm. Helm started to turn back toward the play when he looked down and realized something was wrong. Then he skated directly the bench, throwing his glove to the ice along the way, and headed straight to the dressing room with trainer Piet Van Zant. Helm knew it was serious right away.
“It was pretty much as soon as I went off the ice and I looked down and saw a pretty big gash, blood was coming out pretty good,” he said. “As soon as I looked down, I knew it was a fairly serious injury and I just wanted to get off. I couldn’t do anything with one arm. I’ve definitely got one arm right now. I can’t do anything with it. I try to keep it elevated. I can’t really bend my elbow right now. It still hurts. I’ve got some people at home helping me out right now, which is good. I can’t use my hand at all right now.”
And as you can probably tell, Helm’s pretty upset, and given that he’s got 3-4 months of learning how to use his left hand instead of his dominant right hand, as well as quite a bit of rehabilitation and physical therapy to come, it’s less than surprising that Helm told the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness that he’ll be donning some new equipment in September:
I don’t know how many times this has happened in the NHL in the past 10 or so years, but it’s twice to our team in the last two, which maybe might be more than a fluke thing. It just happened where I came down as the steel was coming up. I have seen some Kevlar wrist guards that have been coming out,” Helm added. “I saw Fil wearing one. I’ve seen a couple guys wearing Kevlar-like sleeves with wrist guards. That is definitely something that I’ll be wearing in the future.”
Helm said he hadn’t heard from Radulov since the incident and doesn’t expect to.
“There’s nothing he could have done,” Helm said. “I don’t think he tried to do anything. It was a fluke thing, an accident. Move on. It’s not easy coming here,” Helm added. “When I get away from the game, it’s a little bit easier for me. When I have to watch a game, that’s when it’s the hardest. There aren’t a lot of people watching at my house right now. It’s difficult.”
Helm did speak to Mike Modano about the injury he suffered during his tenure as a Wing, and the Free Press’s Helene St. James found that Modano’s words gave Helm a little comfort:
Helm said he has spoken with Modano “a little bit. We didn’t really go into full details about his road to recovery, and how it’s going to affect me in the future. I did ask him how his golf swing was, and it didn’t seem to affect him, so I’m happy with that. I’ll talk to him a little bit more when things settle down for myself. I guess I’m not quite over what happened.”
Modano, who missed half the season last year, told the Free Press he tried to cheer up Helm. “I feel bad for him.”
“When I get away from the game, it’s a little bit easier for me,” Helm said. “When I have to watch a game, that’s when it’s the hardest. I do come down, I want to support the guys, but it’s difficult. Emotionally, I’m just trying to handle it.”
And Radulov had this to say to the Tennessean’s Joshua Cooper:
Radulov still appeared shaken by the frightening play: “I’m hoping he’s going to get healthy soon, and best of luck for him.”
Part III: Also of Red Wings-related note: Wings fans like myself weren’t exactly delighted to hear that Brendan Shanahan readily admitted that he would have suspended Shea Weber if Henrik Zetterberg had actually suffered an injury, and instead, the Red Wings’ honesty about Zetterberg’s condition yielded a $2,500 fine. The Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa found that several Wings players (unlike Brad Stuart) were pretty forgiving as to Shanahan’s discretion…
“I think right now it’s just teams going after it,” Niklas Kronwall said. “You know, everyone wants to win. There are a lot of emotions out there, and at the same time maybe teams don’t like each other, as much.”
Nicklas Lidstrom said he is surprised at the sudden excess of players targeting heads. But given the first playoffs after two specific rule changes aimed at protecting heads, Lidstrom also said, “It’s kind of learning process to for the league, as well, to see how they handle things.” As for his old teammate, Shanahan?
“Whatever he does he’s going to have one happy side and one unhappy side,” Lidstrom said.
If you want to read the rest of Krupa’s story, he gets into quite the rant.
• The Red WIngs did indeed recall 11 members of the Grand Rapids Griffins on Monday, and given their status as playoff-less for 3 straight seasons, the Grand Rapids Press’s Peter J. Wallner offered five reasons why Curt Fraser should keep his job as the Griffins’ coach.
The Griffins’ website accentuated the positive as well in its final weekly press release:
Thank You Fans!: After drawing 10,217 fans for their home finale on Friday, the Griffins are celebrating an attendance increase (average per game) for the fifth time in the last six seasons. The Griffins’ average of 7,253 ranked sixth in the 30-team AHL, as Grand Rapids outdrew such major markets as Austin, Charlotte, Milwaukee, San Antonio and Toronto. The team also welcomed in its five-millionth fan this season when Russ Campbell of Wyoming, Mich., walked through the turnstiles about 30 minutes before the Griffins’ 5-3 win over Hamilton on March 17.
Franchise First: Last Tuesday’s game in Rochester ended in dramatic fashion, with Doug Janik concluding matters 1:46 into overtime on a penalty shot. Not only is Janik the only Griffin to score on a penalty shot in overtime, but his attempt was the second ever for a Griffin in OT (Eric Himelfarb had the first versus Manitoba’s Drew MacIntyre in the playoffs on April 23, 2007) and the second ever for a Griffins defenseman. Aaron Schneekloth had the first attempt for a blueliner versus Cleveland’s Dimitri Patzold on Dec. 10, 2003, but he did not score.
Pare’s Point Streak: Griffins right wing Francis Pare was one of the team’s hottest players down the stretch, recording points in 10 straight games from March 24-April 13. Pare, who racked up 15 points (4-11—15) during his run, passed Gustav Nyquist (eight games) for the longest point streak of any Griffin this season and tied for the seventh-longest streak in franchise history. Pare’s 10-game run was the longest since Darren Haydar’s 10-game streak from Feb. 20-March 13, 2009 and tied for the fifth-longest streak in the AHL this season. Additionally, Pare’s two goals on Friday night versus Chicago moved him past former teammate Jamie Tardif and into sole possession of second place in franchise history with 80 goals. The Lemoyne, Quebec, native also sits among the franchise’s all-time leaders with 295 games played (6th), 113 assists (one shy of tying Jiri Hudler for fifth place), 193 points (5th) and 699 shots (5th).
Offensive Onslaught: The Griffins finished the season with the league’s second-best offense, scoring 245 goals for an average of 3.22 per game. The only team with a better offense was Norfolk, which won an AHL-record 28 straight games to close out the season and finished first overall in the league. Grand Rapids also led the league with a 34.08 shots-per-game average, almost one full shot better than second-place Worcester (33.25). The Griffins were also one of just two teams to have five 20-goal scorers (Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Chris Minard, Joakim Andersson and Jamie Johnson) this season, along with Peoria, which had six. It’s the most 20-goal scorers the team has had since logging eight in 2005-06 (Donald MacLean, Jiri Hudler, Tomas Kopecky, Darryl Bootland, Eric Manlow, Kent McDonell, Valtteri Filppula and Matt Ellis)
Minard Wins Hunt: On April 6, the AHL named Griffins left wing Chris Minard the 2011-12 winner of the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award as the AHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey. The award was voted on by coaches, players and members of the media in the league’s 30 cities. The 30-year-old forward missed the team’s first 36 games this season while dealing with the continuing after-effects of a concussion suffered during the 2009-10 season. The Owen Sound, Ontario, native rejoined the Griffins on Jan. 15 at Charlotte and tallied two goals in his second game back. Minard went on to capture the Reebok/AHL Player of the Month honors for February after racking up 13 points (8-5—13) and a plus-seven rating over 10 games during the month. He spent most of his first four professional seasons in the ECHL and Central Hockey League before joining the AHL full-time in 2006-07. Over his 10 professional seasons, Minard has skated in 371 career AHL contests with six different clubs, registering 272 points (159-113—272). He’s also appeared in 40 NHL games with Edmonton and Pittsburgh, serving as a “black ace” during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup championship season of 2008-09.
AHL All-Rookie Team: For the second straight season, the Griffins saw a player named to the AHL All-Rookie Team when left wing Gustav Nyquist was named to the squad for the 2011-12 season. Despite missing 16 of the Griffins’ last 19 games while with the parent Red Wings, Nyquist still tied for the team lead in scoring with 58 points (22-36—58) in 56 games. In his last game with the club – a 5-2 win versus Hamilton on March 17 – Nyquist recorded three points (2-1—3) to become the franchise’s all-time rookie scoring leader. The 22-year-old is just one of seven Griffins rookies ever to score 20 goals, and his 22 goals trailed only Francis Pare and Justin Abdelkader on the team’s all-time rookie goal scoring list. Nyquist became the fourth Griffin to be named to the AHL All-Rookie Team, joining current Red Wings Justin Abdelkader (2008-09), Jimmy Howard (2005-06) and Brendan Smith, who was named to the All-Rookie Team last season. The Halmstad, Sweden, native was also the team’s lone representative at the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic. The other members of the AHL All-Rookie Team are forwards Cory Conacher (Norfolk) and Tyler Johnson (Norfolk); defensemen Matt Donovan (Bridgeport) and Cade Fairchild (Peoria); and goaltender Eddie Pasquale (St. John’s).
Looking Ahead: The 2012-13 season promises to be an exciting one for the Griffins. The team will be beginning its third five-year affiliation with Detroit, an extension that was announced on March 7 and ensures that the relationship between Michigan’s premier hockey teams will continue through at least the 2016-17 season. The 10-year-old affiliation has helped produce a Stanley Cup and an AHL regular season championship, along with multiple division titles for both teams. Among other benefits to the Griffins, this new agreement transfers responsibility for all players and hockey operations staff – including coaches, equipment managers and trainers
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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.