The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/19/12 at 05:36 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators may or may not be thanking the TV scheduling gods as NBC’s likely desire for a Sunday matinee (though Game 6’s starting time is “to be determined” literally as well as figuratively) as the teams received a something that rarely happens in the playoffs—a genuine “day off”—for both teams to rest the nagging injuries that just about every player is suffering from at this time of year, and for both teams to catch their breath after Tuesday’s 3-1 Wings loss.
Because the Wings have, in theory, anyway, out-played as well as out-shot the Predators by a significant margin thus far, Red Wings executive Kris Draper and GM Ken Holland took to the airwaves on Wednesday, preaching a party line which they essentially have to espouse given that Detroit’s season is on the line thanks to the team’s 3-1 deficit:
Both Draper and Holland suggested that the Wings need to stay their course, continuing to pepper the most dominant goalie the Wings have faced since Dwayne Roloson in 2006 with shots, assuming that, should the Wings eventually break through the thus-impenetrable Pekka Rinne while focusing on only winning one game on Friday night, the Wings may in fact join the 8.73% of NHL teams which have rallied from 3-1 deficits to win series, including, as the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness pointed out, the 1991 and 1987 Wings as teams which successfully rallied from that 3-1 hole to advance past the Minnesota North Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively.
Could the Wings best last year’s team, which rallied from a 3-1 deficit to San Jose before ultimately dropping Game 7? Sure, but the Wings’ stumbles down the stretch cost them home ice, and DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose noted that playing at Bridgestone Arena might further stack the deck against Detroit:
#RedWings are 1-9 on the road, 7-12 all-time in Game 5 when trailing series 3-1. Since coming back on #Leafs in 1987, they are 5-4.
As I said in the evening off-day post, there’s no small irony in the fact that Friday’s Red Wings viewing party in Rochester Hills is sponsored by Absolut Vodka as Wings fans might need to imbibe to get through Friday night’s game, both before, during and afterward.
In the evening post, MLive’s Brendan Savage noted that the Wings do indeed plan on staying the course, though Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji pointed out that Jimmy Howard does indeed need to help his team survive their mental mistakes to win the one-goal games the Wings face every playoff season, and the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell suggested that it might help Howard’s cause if Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler and Johan Franzen step up to give the Wings some badly needed secondary scoring.
Both 97.1 the Ticket’s Jeff Riger and NHL.com’s Brian hedger offered a total of ten reasons why the Wings can dent Rinne and the Predators while minimizing their own defensive mistakes, perhaps pulling off a miraculous comeback, but ensuring that, as the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness reminded us, that Friday night’s game represents neither Tomas Holmstrom nor Nicklas Lidstrom’s potentially final appearances in Detroit uniforms will be anything but easy…
And the Tennessean’s John Glennon made sure to note that the Predators have every intention of closing out the series and ensuring that Detroit does not become the 3rd team since 2010 to successfully overcome a 3-1 deficit…
“You’re definitely not comfortable when you’ve got a talented team like Detroit trying to win,” defenseman Kevin Klein said. “If you lose Game 5 and all of a sudden you end up back in Detroit with Game 6, then anything can happen. So right now our whole focus is using the crowd and coming out as strong as possible Friday night, correcting the things we didn’t do in Game 4 in the first two periods and trying to take a little pressure off (Pekka Rinne). I think we’ll be better.”
For the record, the Red Wings have twice rallied from 3-1 deficits to capture best-of-seven series, battling past Toronto in 1987 and Minnesota in 1992. Last year, the Red Wings rallied from a 3-0 deficit against San Jose to tie the series, but lost to the Sharks in the decisive Game 7.
“To finish them off in Game 5 would be huge,” Klein said. “That’s our ultimate goal right now and we have to go from there. You don’t want to give this Detroit team too many opportunities. They’re a good team and we know that and home-ice advantage is huge. We have to use that on Friday.”
In no small part because Predators coach Barry Trotz suggested to Glennon that the Predators can do much more than rope-a-dope their way to another Rinne win built on Pekka Rinne’s shoulders:
The Predators have a 3-1 playoff series lead on Detroit and will be on home ice for Game 5 on Friday, but Coach Barry Trotz isn’t ready to say his team feels in control.
“No, no,” Trotz said on Wednesday. “The two games in Detroit, we could have been on the other end. We’ve had some good goaltending. We’ve had some timely goals. We’ve had some pretty good penalty kill.”
“Puck management and puck support go hand in hand,” Trotz said. “We can hang onto the puck a little bit longer in terms of our puck-possession skills down low. Detroit is doing a real good job in the neutral zone and we have to support the play a little better than we are right now. Our chances have come on counters for the most part and on the rush, Kevin Klein jumping up … You’ve got to play down in those trenches and hang onto (the puck), and force yourself and will yourself back to the net, get pucks to the net and people back to the net. We haven’t done a good enough job in the Detroit games … I know we’re capable of it.”
David Legwand also told the Associated Press’s Teresa M. Walker that his team can’t continue to allow 35-40-plus shots and 60-70 attempts from a Red Wings team that, in theory, anyway, will eventually break through:
“He seems to be on top of the game when he gets a lot of shots,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said of Rinne. “We don’t want to give up that many shots.”
“We got outplayed the first two periods [Tuesday] and just kind of hung around,” Nashville centre David Legwand said. “We hung around, and Pekka kept us in it. We came up big in the third period. That’s fortunate for us. We’re OK with that. He did a great job for us.”
Legwand said Pekka has been the difference in the series. The Red Wings agree. They have peppered Rinne with pucks from the start. Not that facing shots bothers Rinne after facing more during the regular season than any other goalie in the league. He has made saves of 35 and 41 before making 40 more Tuesday night in a 3-1 victory, stopping 130 of the 138 shots faced in this series for a .942 save percentage. Now the Predators want to spend more time on the other end of the ice to keep the Red Wings from peppering their 6-foot-5 goalie more and give him a little rest.
“They were shooting until their arms got tired last night in the first two periods,” Legwand said. “We kind of settled down a little bit in the third and things were pretty even. But being in their end and winning more draws and doing those things will help us a little bit.”
As the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan notes, the Predators believe they can assuage the mistakes they made against the Chicago Blackhawks two years ago, due to a Game 5 loss, by continuing to shut the Wings down as they did late in Game 4:
“You saw the last couple of minutes of (Tuesday’s game),” Predators forward Martin Erat said of the 3-1 victory in Game 4. “That is what we didn’t have when we played against Chicago. That experience and those plays along the boards and what you have to do in the zone chasing pucks, like (forward Mike) Fisher did chasing the icing down (late in the game). That’s the thing you have to do in the playoffs. Guys stepped up and have learned from the past and you can see the experience coming out.”
Nashville returned to the playoffs last season and defeated Anaheim in the first round, the first time the Predators won a series.
“Along the road of being a franchise you go through a lot of hard lessons,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “I know Detroit really went through some hard lessons when they had some really good teams and they learned from that, and they’ve been real strong franchise ever since and they’ve won some Cups and did all those things that we aspire to do. There’s not that many guys left from that group (series loss to Chicago), but those are still lessons for our organization and guys remember that.”
Now, it’s up to the Predators to take those lessons and end this series as quickly as they can.
“You want to use your home crowd and definitely get on them early next game, but we definitely have to improve on (Game 4),” defenseman Kevin Klein said. “We can’t get away with sitting on our heels and watching.”
The Tennessean’s Glennon also notes that the Predators have received the kind of clutch scoring the Wings are missing from an unlikely source in rookie Gabriel Bourque...
One thing Predators fans have quickly come to learn about rookie left wing Gabriel Bourque: He’s not the type to be overwhelmed by an occasion. Heading into Friday’s Game 5 against the Red Wings, it’s the 21-year-old Bourque — as opposed to the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg or Alexander Radulov — who leads this Western Conference quarterfinal series in goals.
His two goals in the series opener included the game-winner, and his goal in Game 4 on Tuesday gave the Predators a third-period lead. Pretty impressive stuff, but it’s actually just the latest example of Bourque producing big points in big postseason games — whether those games happen to be on the junior level, the American Hockey League level or in the NHL.
“He’s been awesome for us,” center David Legwand said. “He plays the game the right way, hard and straightforward. That’s what you need in the playoffs. He was real good for us through the course of the season, and there really wasn’t much of a fall-off in his play at all (in the playoffs). That’s huge for a young guy coming up from Milwaukee.”
And Bourque plans on keepin’ on keepin’ on…
“I’ve tried to keep things simple and just keep going to the net,” Bourque said. “The game is way faster than it was in the AHL and in junior, but it’s been pretty awesome so far. Three big wins. I could not have asked for a better quick start.”
As do his teammates and coach, because Trotz told the Nashville City Paper’s David Boclair that his team can and will improve upon their efforts in Games 1-4:
“We haven’t played our best yet,” he said Wednesday. “That’s the exciting thing about it. We have played very, very well at times. We’ve played well in segments of the game and other times we haven’t played as well. To me, we can amp that up and the great thing is the group thinks we can amp that up as well. We’re looking to find our real consistent play as a team right now.”
Virtually everybody has contributed offense at some point. Ten different players have multiple points and only two have a minus rating. Then, of course, there has been goalie Pekka Rinne. As of the start of play Wednesday, no netminder had faced more shots (138) or made more saves (130) thus far in the postseason than Rinne, who stopped at least 40 in the last two games — both Nashville victories — at Joe Louis Arena.
“I think Pekka and timely goals [are the difference in the series],” center David Legwand said. [Tuesday] night we got outplayed the first two periods and hung around. We just hung around and Pekka kept us in it and we came up big in the third period. That’s fortunate for us and we’re OK with that.”
Okay with it, but not satisfied, especially knowing that losing on Friday means going back to the Joe:
“You know if you lose Game 5 then all of the sudden you end up back in Detroit with Game 6 and then anything can happen,” defenseman Kevin Klein, one of the early heroes, said. “Right now, our whole focus is on coming out as strong as possible Friday night, trying to do the things, trying to do the things we didn’t do in Game 4, certainly through the first two periods, and try to take a little pressure off Pekks. I think we’ll be better.”
The Predators have almost slain the dragon that is their self-made arch-rival and team they’ve built their own roster to best in the playoffs, especially via trade deadline acquisitions, and after an open practice on Thursday, Trotz believes that the Wings will finally surpass Detroit come Friday night:
“We have a lot of respect for the Detroit Red Wings and their team and all that,” Trotz said. “It’s going to be about how we respond. We have to bring our ‘A’ game to the next level.… This will be the hardest thing we have to do in terms of effort, detail and commitment, to get the fourth win in this series.”
For the Red Wings, if they are to ensure that Joe Louis Arena remains in its playoff cladding (the link goes to a nice gallery of the vinyl decals adorning the Joe’s doors and the original Al the Octopus, sitting at the West entrance, by WWJ’s Kasey Stoddart), survival hinges upon several goals they’re determined to accomplish on Friday (the Wings will fly to Nashville after practicing at the Joe today, and yes, it could be Lidstrom and/or Holmstrom’s final full practice at the Joe).
1. First and foremost, the Wings want to ensure that their shot totals on Rinne don’t drop, as they told the Free Press’s Helene St. James:
“The bottom line is, we spent a ton of time in their zone and we had the puck a lot,” Babcock said. “Their goaltender was the difference. We’ve got to find a way to get it past him.”
Player after player sounded the same message: Stick with it. The Wings have tallied 84 shots on goal the past two games, many of them from around the net. Something’s gotta give.
“It is tough,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “Once again, we get a lot of chances, and can’t really get the puck in. We’ve just got to keep doing the things we’re doing. We had 40 shots, and a lot of them were quality chances. It’s tough when we’re getting chance after chance after chance and then they go up and score goals. The momentum really goes over to their side, and it’s tough to fight back.”
Yes, the Wings know that Pekka Rinne’s playing out of his mind, but the Wings do indeed believe that they have more to give offensively:
Nicklas Lidstrom called Rinne Nashville’s “best player. You’ve got to continue to get pucks at the net. You can’t shy away from that. I think we’ve got to get even more traffic in front and get some of those second chances. We talked about that, but he’s playing real well for them. We have to score some goals.”
The Wings were careful to point out all they can focus on is winning the next game.
“I think you don’t really need to put it in words,” Niklas Kronwall said. “If you start getting frustrated, the more you think about it, obviously you’re going to put yourself in a worse spot. We have to keep our heads high and just stay positive here. We have to stick to the program here and keep believing in what we do. We feel like we have a good team, and if we just keep playing like this ...”
Don Cherry of all people pointed out (at the 3:20 mark of Thursday’s Coach’s Corner) that the Wings need much, much more traffic on Rinne to generate secondary and tertiary scoring opportunities and score some “ugly” goals. As the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan suggests, doing so requires receiving contributions from a long list of players who haven’t really been scoring on a regular basis since mid-February, when the team lost its identity:
Through the first four games of the first-round series against the Predators, the Red Wings have eight goals. This after Detroit managed 11 goals the final six games of the regular season. In fact, the Red Wings scored more than two goals five times their final 17 regular-season games, when they went 5-9-3. While Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne has been solid, the Red Wings offense has just been nonexistent.
“We have to score some goals,” defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said Wednesday as Detroit prepares for Game 5 on Friday in Nashville, Tenn. “You’ve got to continue to get pucks at the net. You can’t shy away from that. We’ve got to get even more traffic in front and get some of those second chances.”
The power outage hasn’t come from one source, either. Many players expected to produce offense simply haven’t. Henrik Zetterberg has two goals, and is leading the Red Wings. Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Cory Emmerton, Ian White, Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler all have one. Niklas Kronwall has two assists.
Valtteri Filppula hasn’t scored. Danny Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi are looking for their first points, as is Lidstrom.
“If you start getting frustrated, you’re going to put yourself in a worse spot,” Kronwall said. “We have to keep our heads high and stay positive here.”
2. At the other end of the ice, the Red Wings’ catastrophic defensive mistakes have doomed Jimmy Howard, but Howard has challenged himself to return to the playoff form he displayed last spring, but he’s received little help from the six men tasked with not giving up easy goals to their playoff opponent.
Howard’s defenseman agree with MLive’s Ansar Khan’s assessment that minimizing the Predators’ opportunities to score via stifling the trend of self-inflicted wounds. As Khan suggests, it’s not as if Rinne will start giving up 4 or 5 goals a game, so winning 2-1 or 3-2 instead of losing 2-1 or 3-2 has to take top priority:
“That’s the first thing,” Pavel Datsyuk said. “We have to play solid D and try to take care of our chances.”
Coach Mike Babcock said before the series that his defense was deep and the strength of the team. It looked that way on paper, but it hasn’t played out that way. The Red Wings have played in Nashville’s zone most of the series, but they have lost too many puck battles in the corners and behind the net in their own zone. They have committed too many turnovers. They have left players wide open in front of the net too often. After Tuesday’s 3-1 loss in Game 4, defenseman Niklas Kronwall lamented giving the Predators too many “freebies.”
“Obviously, we want to clean up our game in our own zone,” Kronwall said. “It feels like we’re giving them a few goals for free. We want to make sure they have to work a lot harder for the goals. You got to give them credit, they’re making good plays. But at the same time I thought they didn’t have to fight that hard to get their goals.”
Do some of the Wings’ defensemen need to play better? You bet, and the list of names starts with a player whose skates may be out the door…But it continues with someone who looks like he’s playing on one leg as Nicklas Lidstrom’s bone bruise is clearly acting up:
Brad Stuart has a minus-5 rating. He has been on the ice for eight of Nashville’s 11 goals – all coming in the Predators’ wins. Lidstrom has no points and doesn’t appear to be as mobile on a bad ankle (deep bone bruise) that is preventing him from killing penalties. White hasn’t been as strong as he was the first half of the season. Kronwall can be better. Kyle Quincey, inconsistent since he arrived on Feb. 21, had one of his better games on Tuesday.
“I don’t think you change a whole lot,” Lidstrom said. “I think you have to play better defensively. I thought we played well, but we had a couple of breakdowns and they scored on some of them.”
Their effort can’t be questioned. The Red Wings have worked hard the whole series, particularly the past two games. And it’s silly to blame their predicament on bad “puck luck.” They simply aren’t making smart plays in their own zone. That must change in a hurry.
There’s some irony that it’s taken until April for Brad Stuart’s replacement to out-play him, but that’s no excuse for Stuart’s play, nor White’s seeming slow-down or Kronwall’s lack of results. The Wings have been double-shifting Lidstrom and Kronwall on the power play and really relying on Quincey more than White because he’s the only Wing who bucks the, “Let’s pass the puck back and forth endlessly unless we’re Nicklas Lidstrom!” trend, and that’s got to change…
But the minuses and Wings defensemen’s willingness to chase puck carriers, over-commit to one side of the ice, be beaten on one-on-one battles against Nashville’s cycling game and down-low grind, and especially surrender the same passes to pinching defensemen or forwards who wriggle free of the forwards assigned to check them, all in the Wings’ slot, cannot continue for one second of Game 5.
3. Howard did indeed challenge himself to try to recapture the form he seemed to lose between suffering a broken index finger in early February and groin injuries which plagued him down the stretch. Howard knows he can’t be discouraged by the breaks going against the Wings—and their goalie—thus far:
“[Rinne]‘s a good goalie,” Howard said. “You’ve got to give him credit, he’s doing a great job down at the other end. But we’ve got to keep battling, we’ve got to keep going, we’ve got to remain positive in this dressing room and just find a way to win one. We just have to keep crashing, be resilient. Have that can-do attitude and the work ethic we know everyone has in here.”
Howard is 1-3 with a 2.78 GAA and .879 save percentage. He hasn’t played poorly, and has been victimized by his skaters’ poor decision-making, especially on the second goal in Game 4. But he hasn’t distinguished himself, either, and the Wings could use the boost from a game-stealing performance. Howard put up such good first-half numbers this season that he was selected to play in his first All-Star Game. His second half was defined by injuries, but he returned in time to finish the regular season. He is capable of making a bigger difference in this series—and said as much after Tuesday’s game.
“I’m not the type of person to just roll over,” Howard said. “I’m going to give it whatever it takes next game. We’ve just got to try to win one now.”
Tuesday’s 3-1 loss was challenging for Howard only in how cold he got at times, especially in the second period, when the Predators got just three shots on goal. They finished with 17.
“I’ve been in that situation before,” Howard said. “I know how to handle it. For me, it’s coming back here to work tomorrow and remain positive for the guys and try to get a win on Friday.”
Howard was a huge part of the Wings’ rally against the Sharks last spring, and he all but shut down the Coyotes’ offense, so he can and should play more solidly.
4. The Wings also know that a team facing elimination cannot afford to worry about winning more than one game at a time, and, during Friday’s affair, winning period-by-period and shift-by-shift. That’s what they told St. James:
“Just try to win one, and then try to win another one when we get back here,” Howard said. “But we’ve got to start with Friday, and not get ahead of ourselves. We’ve been in this situation before, and we know what we’re capable of.”
We’ve heard this a million times before (or so it seems), but the start of a near-miraculous comeback involves—say it with me—”Getting started on time”:
“We’ve got to try to win that first period, get ready for that first period and go from there,” [Lidstrom] said. “We know we have to win one game to bring it back here again. So that’ll be our mind-set, just go down there and win one game. We’ve got to look at it that we just have to win one game. You can’t look any further than that, because if we lose, we’re done.”
5. So how do the Wings bring these disparate elements together on Friday? An unusual suspect offers a simple answer to St. James:
“I want to play like leader,” he said after a 3-1 loss in Game 4 left the Wings trailing, 3-1, in the best-of-seven series. Game 5 is Friday at Nashville. Datsyuk’s points stem from a goal and an assist in Game 3, which the Wings lost, and an assist in Game 2, the game they won.
Coach Mike Babcock said before Tuesday’s game that Datsyuk needed more support, which is why Babcock put Danny Cleary on his line. Johan Franzen is on the other wing.
The Predators have keyed on Datsyuk, of course, using Shea Weber and Ryan Suter against him in an effort to limit his maneuverability. He’s so skilled with his stick—like he showed in Game 3, when he schooled Roman Josi—but it doesn’t do any good if his linemates don’t finish his passes. Franzen has one goal in the series, and that stems from having Brad Stuart’s shot go off a skate.
Datsyuk said the Wings need to “take care of our chances” as they prepare for Game 5, and cautioned that now more than ever, the Wings need to play as a team.
“I think everybody overplay,” he said of Game 4. “I think everybody want to help each other. We need all trust each other.”
In terms of the “spirit of the thing” in a hopeful tone, the Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski offers this assessment of the Wings’ collective ability and individual abilities to finally break though:
No, this isn’t hopeless. You can’t watch the last two games and say the Red Wings have no chance of forcing a Game 6 in Detroit, where anything could happen. It’s not about getting tougher or luckier. It’s about getting smarter. Cripes, the Red Wings are getting beat right now by Predators defenseman Kevin Klein, who has two goals after scoring four the entire season.
The Red Wings are playing too much like Calvin Klein, nifty and nice, looking good on the runway but not in the crease. The Predators defense is keeping them away from the ugly areas in front of Rinne, and when the Red Wings do get there — as they did in the scoreless first period of Game 4 — they’re misfiring badly.
“(Rinne) is a big man and he’s seeing a lot of pucks,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We can’t keep punishing ourselves thinking about it. We’ve got to stick to the program here and keep believing in what we do.”
That’s the theme, repeated over and over, year after year. The Red Wings have won a ton sticking to their program, but the past is chasing them now. Lidstrom says he won’t even consider retirement until several weeks after the season, same as usual. He’s still the leader, still effective, but like a lot of his teammates this series, things are getting more difficult.
Experience at playoff time generally is a good thing, a motivating thing, because veteran players don’t know how many chances they have left. The Red Wings showed some of it last year, when they wiped out a 3-0 deficit against the Sharks before losing Game 7. That’s encouraging. It also should be discouraging, because they dug that hole the same way they dug this one, with inexplicable defensive lapses and limited scoring.
“We believe in our core, and we gotta have that sense of urgency like we never had before,” Red Wings forward Drew Miller said. “We’re out there working hard, putting shots on net, and sooner or later, they’re gonna go in.”
Sooner had better come sooner, because later is creeping up fast.
If Friday marks the end of the Wings’ season, however, regardless of Nicklas Lidstrom or Tomas Holmstrom’s decisions about their playoff futures, the team’s coaches and management will have to admit that:
1. On the ice, the team could not overcome the losses of Kris Draper (see: faceoffs, defensive play, ability to kick the puck along the boards, fiery leadership), Brian Rafalski (see: offense from blueline, strong transition game via stellar passing skills, meaning less time spent defending, quiet leadership) and Chris Osgood (see: spelling Jimmy Howard while mentoring him, leading by offering trademark Wings arrogance, defiance, and keeping the room loose via humor), especially given the fact that Ken Holland was not able to replace any of the three players via free agency or at the trade deadline, thus embarking upon an experiment to thrust Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller and additions Ian White and Ty Conklin into leadership roles and roles as clutch performers which they only partially successfully filled, all while “breaking in” Cory Emmerton, Jakub Kindl and Jan Mursak, who experienced varying levels of success as de-facto rookies.
2. On the bench, Wings coach Mike Babcock’s decision to attempt to replace his right-hand man since his days with Anaheim in Paul MacLean and a stronger-than-we-thought coach in Brad McCrimmon with completely unproven “new voices” in Jeff Blashill and Bill Peters was only partially successful, especially in terms of reviving the Wings’ inconsistent power play and penalty-kill.
3. Regardless of whether Nicklas Lidstrom or Tomas Holmstrom return, the Wings seem to be missing a clutch scorer up front, as much, if not more than the Wings desperately miss the defensive chops of Darren Helm and the forechecking abilities of Patrick Eaves, and the Wings’ defense just hasn’t found a replacement for Rafalski.
If the Wings are to make changes, aside from “breaking in” Brendan Smith, hoping that Kyle Quincey and Ian White will find more consistency on the blueline, Joey MacDonald will stay healthy, and deciding to re-sign Jiri Hudler, the Wings need someone with Draper’s gravely voice barking on the bench, too…
And while the Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp buys into, “This is the end of Hockeytown as we know it, and I feel fine making comparisons to other sports while insisting that you fans have been spoiled and taken your Wings for granted instead of enjoying every minute of a 21-year playoff run” (which just might continue for years to come because, by ccap era standards, winning over half your games, making the playoffs every season and hoping to win a couple of rounds is, in the land of 3-point games, shootout wins and “parity,” the equation that adds up to a contending franchise which continues to draw players who want to come to Detroit to win every year, make the playoffs every year, be disappointed if they don’t make at least the Western Conference finals and enjoy a fantastic atmosphere where rebuilding is not an option, usually for less money than they could make on the open market) line…
He also points out that, should the Wings lose in the first round for the first time since 2006, and below their Western Conference Final standard for three straight seasons, Ken Holland does indeed need to do more than hope that, next season, the experience his younger players and assistant coaches have accumulated will add up to winning without tweaking the roster:
Ken Holland must consider more than the customary subtle personnel tweaking once the off-season arrives ... whenever it arrives.
Shots on goal is one of sports’ more overrated metrics. Although true that you must shoot to score, it’s not really such an indicator of dominance if you’re primarily firing shots on net from outside the defensive perimeter.
It’s like a boxer methodically jabbing and jabbing, looking eventually for that soft spot to land that punishing blow inside. The Predators have patiently absorbed the punches thrown at them. Their strategy has been to sit back defensively, eliminate open space in front of the net and let the Wings stew in their frustration when scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity falls short. Then the Preds seize upon that frustration in the Wings’ defensive zone.
Everyone assumes the Wings have thoroughly outplayed the Predators based on their 138-91 shots advantage. They’ve controlled puck possession. But somehow I doubt we’d apply that same rationalization if the heavy-hitting Tigers lost a series despite averaging twice as many hits as the opposing team, but only averaging one run a game.
But that speaks to how spoiled Hockeytown has become. We easily make excuses for the Wings because it’s hard accepting this consistently reliable franchise might be slipping.
But waiting too long in admitting the need for an influx of fresh blood would be far worse. Ask the Pistons about waiting too long.
I don’t buy the bulls*** about fans being spoiled. I try to watch as many games as I can, attend as many as I can afford, spend my money buying Wings merchandise and spend my time watching even those awful 7-0 defeats to the last second because I know that this team is still special. I try to enjoy every second of being a Wings fan, and I know that many of my friends and readers feel the same way.
I do buy the theory that the Wings need more scoring up front, more puck movement from the blueline, a grizzled leader and, for the first time since perhaps that first-round loss against Edmonton, a conscious decision to play the UFA market and overbuild the franchise to the point that the Kindls, Emmertons and Mursaks of the roster have to worry that not only the Wings’ top prospects, but also their summertime acquisitions might mean that there is no room on the ship for them, nor the necessity to bring Gustav Nyquist or the ever-suffering Brendan Smith up from Grand Rapids unless they can prove that they’re every-night players during training camp and the exhibition season.
The “standard” for the teams Ken Holland has customarily built in terms of personnel involved packing the roster with so many good players and spending money on so many stars (even with an uncertainty regarding the parameters of the finances he’ll have to operate under when the next CBA takes effect) that the team would almost inevitably lose a player or two on waivers because the roster was bulging at the seams in September, and was so strongly built that, come April and May, a team full of self-confidence would go into the playoffs poised for a long run instead of an, “Oh hell, we’ve ran into a team that’s as overbuilt as we usually are” match-up situation.
The Predators look like the team whose GM chose to buy a 4x4 pick-up with a V-8 in July, and the Wings admittedly look like the team whose GM went with 2-wheel drive and an underpowered V-6 hoping for a Michigan winter as warm as the one we’ve just experienced.
If the Wings do not make that miraculous comeback, Holland must pray with the rest of us that Nicklas Lidstrom will return for one more year to play in a Winter Classic and captain a team he still believes is able to make a long push come playoff time, and then Holland must be aggressive at the Entry Draft and on July 1st to give the Wings an “overbuilt” roster.
If the Red Wings lose on Friday, Sunday or Tuesday, they will not tear down the ship and tank seasons to accumulate high draft picks and extremely young players. It’s too damn dangerous to dismantle the Big Red Machine when the team’s player development system works, and besides, neither you nor I would pay for a team which, once it stank on ice, chose to place its future title hopes upon prospects who may not deliver, yielding an extended stretch of no playoff appearances and no legitimate hopes of being the kind of organization that expects to make Western Conference finals and draw players who want to come to sunny Detroit for below their potential market values to win, win and win some more.
But if the Wings lose this series, and even if they win it, I think we can all agree that the Wings require more “oomph” to earn some revenge against the Predators a year from now, never mind rewarding the hard-working fans who adore every second of being a Wings fan with the promise of a strong regular season after no hockey for Detroit in May or June and an off-season that will be four months too long by the team gathers for training camp in Traverse City next September.
The Wings simply cannot go from a team that was unbeatable at home and pretty good on the road to a team that lost its identity in February and never recovered in time for the playoffs. That’s as unacceptable as not reaching the Western Conference Finals, and first round failure necessitates change.
Because it should be noted that Nicklas Lidstrom had this to say about his desire to win while speaking to NHLPA.com…
“It never changes in that you want to win it all,” said the 41-year-old native of Vasteras, Sweden, who holds the distinction of being the first European-born and trained NHL captain to win the Stanley Cup, as well as the first European player named playoff MVP. “It’s a great feeling, one you never forget.”
Lidstrom’s never missed the playoffs in his 19 years in the NHL. While the faces have changed over the years, Lidstrom and his current Detroit teammates, who teamed together to deliver the franchise its’ 12th consecutive 100-point campaign, are eager to deliver the city championship No. 12.
“You kind of start it from scratch again,” said Lidstrom, of the year following a Cup victory. “You want to get up that mountain again and you start with the first round. You can’t start looking too far ahead about what you can face again. You have to focus on that first round, just look at that. That’s how we’ve been breaking it down in previous seasons.”
And Lidstrom offered this take on his team’s chances of defeating the Predators:
“We don’t mind being the underdogs,” offered Lidstrom, who has 13 shots after four games in the series. “Nashville had a real strong regular season, finished ahead of us in points. It’s a tough challenge to face Nashville in the first round.”
“I think our team defence needs to be better,” said the man who became the 17th player to join the elite Triple Gold Club, an honour that recognizes players and coaches who have won an Olympic Games gold medal, a World Championship gold medal, and the Stanley Cup. “We have to play better without the puck, especially against the quick forwards that Nashville has got. And we have to take care of our own net first. We kept our core group of guys together for a long period of time. I think that’s been one of the keys to our success in the last 16 years, not too many turnovers with the players. I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve had the consistency of making the playoffs, finishing as high as we can.”
While consistent play and a few lucky breaks can go a long way in determining the longevity of a team’s playoff run, Lidstrom, who has 183 career playoff points, acknowledges the health factor as a major key to Cup success.
“I think it’s hard to put a percentage on it, but I would rank it right up there with being the most important thing to get deep into the playoffs,” offered Lidstrom. “You want to have depth throughout the lineup. You’re looking for different players to step up at different times, have the role players win games for you sometimes. I think health is the most important thing to go all the way.”
His health has faltered for the first time this season thanks to a fluky bounce that left him with a bad bone bruise on his right ankle, and health has hurt his team in the playoffs yet again in the forms of injuries to Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves, as well as clear difficulties in terms of Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Danny Cleary, and maybe even Johan Franzen and Jimmy Howard’s play thanks to late-season injuries…
But here’s hoping that Lidstrom finds the fire within to return to a reinforced Red Wings team for another run at the Cup—and expectations of nothing less—regardless of what happens on Friday night. He hated being in the press box while he was sidelined for the better part of a month, and I really hope and pray that the experience of sitting and watching instead of making a difference on the ice will play a part in a decision to skate in front of 113,000 screaming fans next January and skate in front of frenzied fans with stronger Cup hopes a year from now.
Part II: Also of Red Wings and Predators-related note: Again, by Gord, there’s no way that the Wings’ fans should do anything less than win a Polldaddy.com poll determining whether the Wings or Predators have “better fans” in the estimation of the Tennessean and Free Press;
52% for Detroit to 48% for Nashville? Are you kidding me?
• If you want to read the Free Press’s George Sipple’s profile of David Legwand, you may do so on your own;
• Go figure: Predators broadcasters Pete Weber and Terry Crisp spoke to the Predators’ website about Gordie Howe’s career and legacy:
• If the Wings do lose, expect post-season scuttlebutt to surround the players who might play for their respective countries at the IIHF World Championships, which are slated to take place in Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland starting on May 4th;
• One of those players earned praise from the Hockey News’s Adam Proteau for his playoff performance:
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit: The Wings are on the verge of elimination, but it hasn’t been because of their star center. No playoff performer has won more faceoffs than Datsyuk (59), who also leads his team in takeaways (six) and points (three). Can he do more? Yes, but not that much more.
• Two Red Wings prospects are still playing hockey on this side of the pond (Calle Jarnkrok and Brynas IF can win the Eliteserien title by defeating Skelleftea AIK tonight): Tomas Jurco and the Saint John Sea Dogs will begin the QMJHL semifinals against the Chicoutimi Sagueneens;
And in the OHL, Petr Mrazek’s Ottawa 67’s open the Eastern Conference Final against the Niagara IceDogs on Friday. Yahoo Sports’ Neate Sager believes that Mrazek is facing a superior goaltender as he breaks down the goaltending match-up in his series preview:
Visentin will go down in junior hockey annals as the netminder who was voted OHL goaltender of the year and broke a 63-year-old record for shutouts in a season, but not in the same year. The two-time Team Canada ‘tender had some off nights in the first round vs. Oshawa but bore down in the second-round sweep of Brampton. The 20-year-old has a 2.25 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in the post-season.
Mrazek, AKA Mrazzle Dazzle, has a 2.41 average and .925 save percentage in 13 playoff games. He has shown a propensity for letting in the long shot during the playoffs. At the same time, he has a high peak, as the hockey-watching world saw when he nearly led the Czech Republic into the semifinal of the IIHF under-20 championship in January.
• Also in the prospect department, Hockey’s Future has this to say about Gustav Nyquist’s late-season and playoff performances with the Wings:
Gustav Nyquist, LW, Detroit Red Wings (NHL)
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2008
Playing in his first professional season, Swedish winger Gustav Nyquist made quick work of the American league with 22 goals and 58 points in 56 games with Grand Rapids. That point total still leads the team in large part because of his consistency, going consecutive games without a point just four times all season long. At 5’10 and 169 pounds, Nyquist may not look the part of a pro player but has been effective due to his hockey sense and confidence with the puck.
Injuries in Detroit led to 18 NHL games over the course of the regular season, including shifts on Datsyuk’s wing down the stretch. His dependability on the defensive side has made him an effective player in a checking role as well, making him a versatile addition to the Wings forward groupings.
With Darren Helm out of the playoffs after surgey to repair lacerated tendons in his arm, the 22-year-old Nyquist returned to the lineup for game two of Detroit’s first round series against Nashville. He skated limited minutes and was held off the scoresheet in his first two appearances, but the playmaking forward may yet have another opportunity to provide a spark for the Wings.
• If you didn’t already think that Brian Burke was a jerk, here’s what he had to say about the Shea Weber non-suspension to USA Today’s Kevin Allen, while defending Brendan Shanahan’s record as the NHL’s disciplinarian:
“It’s impossible for fans to be rational at this time of year,” Burke said. “It’s impossible for Detroit fans not to be outraged when Shea Weber wasn’t suspended. But I don’t think he should have been.”
Right, and anybody who suggests otherwise is irrational. Sure, Burkey, whatever you say…
Now I need to state the following: ladies, I have no problem with you enjoying the appealing looks of hockey players—why the hell not enjoy the eye candy?—but please, please, please, don’t take anything that Cosmo says to you about men and relationships seriously. Men who take relationship advice from Maxim might serve as a comparison, except that Cosmo is more like taking relationship advice from…Pure evil.
Update: One more thing: if the Red Wings do lose and fly home on Friday night, maybe some of us could to match Predators fans’ dedication by meeting Red Bird III at Metro Airport’s corporate terminal on Middlebelt…
Babcock, analyzing the Wings’ situation on “The Mitch Albom Show” on WJR: “When you’re down, 3-1, to a team, and you think they’re better than you are, you think you’re getting outplayed, I think that’s when you start questioning yourself. I could be wrong and I’m probably biased in some ways ... I don’t see that in this series.
“I thought the game that they had the most chances in, we won. The other three games, our chances have been there for us. We haven’t been able to put it by him. We gotta find a way to put it by him.”
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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.