The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/04/11 at 07:53 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings face what is doubtlessly their most important game of the 2010-2011 season when they face off against the San Jose Sharks tonight (8 PM EDT, FSD/CSN Bay Area/TSN2/“joined in progress” after the Bruins-Flyers game on Versus, so Center Ice/GameCenter Live are unlocked for the game). If the Wings continue to lose puck battles, take penalties and struggle to stop the Sharks’ cycling game while losing the battle for possession and control of the puck, they’re all but certain to shake hands with San Jose sooner than later.
The Wings have only rallied from a 2-0 series deficit twice in franchise history, with the most recent coming against the Vancouver Canucks in 2002, but the Sharks have no desire to become the third team in the Wings’ 20-year and 19-season streak of playoff appearances to surrender the lead to the Wings. After a Tuesday’s worth of practices which included line changes by both teams—at this point it appears likely that Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk will play on separate lines, and Kris Draper will join the Wings’ lineup—the Sharks insisted that they’re not only in control of this series, but also plan on ensuring that there’s a handshake line at Joe Louis Arena on Friday night.
In a plain old strange story by the Mercury News’s Mark Purdy, which includes talk of parking spaces (Nicklas Lidstrom parks in Steve Yzerman’s old spot) and appeals to casual sports fans, undersized Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle suggests that he and his teammates have been able to prevent the Wings from getting to the front of the Sharks’ net by sheer force of will:
“It’s just wanting to win,” Boyle said. “I don’t know what to tell you. “... I’ve never practiced it, I just do it. You see what works and what doesn’t.”
Whatever is working, the Sharks need to stay with it, as forward Ryane Clowe will tell you. “We feel there’s a certain way we have to play against Detroit,” Clowe said. “And if we play that way, we’ve got a good chance. To say it is one thing, though. You’ve got to put it into action. We almost play desperate against Detroit because we know we have to play that way. Otherwise, we know we’ll get it handed to us.”
That sort of meat-and-potatoes stuff is the most important element of the series, not the yappy folderol about “snow showers” being created by Sharks to rattle Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard. Does anyone else find it funny that in a sport where men routinely lose teeth, slam bodies into glass and incur multiple stitches to their face, the same players somehow get offended by “... shaved ice? Snow cones at the county fair must really tick them off.
It’s always a trip to see hockey here at The Joe. The place is dripping with tradition and lore, the crowd on top of the action, seats covered with the finest 20-year-old vinyl known to mankind. But it has hardly been a building of postseason dread for the Sharks. You could say that two of their top five road playoff victories occurred here—the 1994 series-clinching stunner with Jamie Baker’s goal, and Patrick Marleau’s overtime winner in Game 3 a year ago, which gave the Sharks a 3-0 series lead. None of that, of course, means that the Sharks will ever win here again. The next one is so crucial. Going by NHL playoff history, teams that trail a series 2-0 come back to win 13.5 percent of the time. But if a team is behind just two games to one, those odds go up to 30.6 percent. And they drop to 1.8 percent for teams that trail 3-0.
“We expect them to play better in the next game,” Boyle said of the Wings. “So we’ve got to be better, too.”
Then he looked around the dressing room and smiled.
“A lot of things have gone down in this building,” Boyle said.
The Sharks told the Mercury News’s David Pollak that they’re well aware of the importance of closing the Wings out now…
Players on both sides didn’t need anyone else to spell out the importance of Game 3 with the Sharks leading 2-0.
“You can’t give any games away here, and we definitely need to win this next one,” Sharks defenseman Ian White said. “You’re either up 3-0 or you’re up 2-1 and still have another game to play in their barn.”
Draper noted that with a Detroit win in Game 3, “we put ourselves in a series and we go from there. We know that, it’s no secret.” But going down 0-3?
“That’s a whole different ballgame,” he said, “and there’s a reason why it’s happened only four times in sports.”
Draper cited Detroit’s experience—good and bad—in taking hope while being down two games to start the series. In 2002, the Red Wings lost twice at home to Vancouver, then won the next four games of their first-round series en route to the Stanley Cup. In 2009, Detroit won the first two games of the finals against Pittsburgh, only to lose the series in seven games.
As for the line changes, MLive’s Ansar Khan spells them out, with the Wings engaging in more moves than the Sharks:
Coach Mike Babcock said he has yet to decide on his lineup. Mike Modano, also scratched the first two games, said he doesn’t think he is playing. Here are the lines they skated with:
Franzen-Datsyuk-Holmstrom (Modano working in)
Draper-Helm-Eaves (Miller working in)
Brian Rafalski did not practice but is expected to play in Game 3.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he might shuffle his top two lines. He separated Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau during Tuesday’s practice:
Ryane Clowe-Patrick Marleau-Dany Heatley
Logan Couture-Joe Thornton-Devin Setoguchi
Torrey Mitchell-Joe Pavelski-Kyle Wellwood
Ben Eager-Scott Nichol-Benn Ferriero
Brian Rafalski didn’t practice on Tuesday, but Mike Babcock said that he’s going to play on Wednesday.
The Sharks basically shrugged off the Wings’ line changes while speaking to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun...
“I think Detroit might make changes with their lines,” McLellan said after practice. “They’ve got a couple of veteran players that have played in these situations before that may be in the lineup, so we have to be prepared to react and be ready to go on Wednesday. We’re not sure what we’re doing yet; we’ll wait and see.”
Babcock has to do something—his team is down 2-0 in its Western Conference semifinal series. The Datsyuk-Zetterberg pairing produced only one goal in the opening two losses at San Jose, so to split them up makes sense if only to spread out the offense and give the Sharks two lines to worry about instead of one. But if Babcock sticks with Tuesday’s practice lines, the move also might have been instigated by the way San Jose’s second line of Ryane Clowe, Couture and Dany Heatley has terrorized the Wings in their offensive zone with an effective cycle. The line has had the puck most of the time.
“I feel like, as a line, we’ve spent a lot more time in the offensive zone,” Clowe said Tuesday after practice. “The biggest strength of our line overall is our wall work. It’s been good.”
“We’ve been interchangeable all year long, so it should be easy,” Marleau said. “We all play the same system. It’s not a big deal.”
Then again, McLellan in the past has sometimes changed lines on a practice day only to revert to the previous lines on game day. Which one will it be this time?
“We’re not sure which way we’re going, but we’ve got options,” McLellan said.
There are no secrets between these two coaches. McLellan was an assistant coach under Babcock for three years, and the two celebrated a Stanley Cup championship together in June 2008. They know each other’s philosophies and tendencies. Watching them strategize against each other in last year’s playoffs and again this spring has been fascinating. For one, despite having the last line change in San Jose, McLellan didn’t fight the Zetterberg-Datsyuk versus Thornton-Marleau matchup. He went mano a mano, and the decision paid off because the matchup was largely even. That opened the door for Couture’s line and Joe Pavelski’s third line to get more offensive freedom in the Detroit zone. Babcock knows it, and that’s why he is leaning toward splitting up his two star centers. On Tuesday, Datsyuk skated between Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom, while Zetterberg was with Todd Bertuzzi and Daniel Cleary. If it’s Datsyuk versus Thornton again Wednesday night, McLellan’s idea of putting Couture on the wing for that top line might be based on having a little physicality against Franzen on the opposite wing of that new line.
“We’re real comfortable with Logan anywhere, wing or center,” the Sharks’ coach said.
Instead, Devin Setoguchi reminded the Free Press’s George Sipple that he’s had success at the Joe while playing with Couture:
Setoguchi and Couture said the last time they could remember playing together was in Detroit, a 4-3 win Feb. 22. Setoguchi scored the Sharks’ final two goals, with Thornton and Couture assisting on both.
“We scored a couple goals together, maybe (McLellan) is trying to spark a little offense or something like that,” Setoguchi said. “That was the first thing we remembered—a positive. Our top six have all played together in the last couple years. We know how to play together.”
Setoguchi said Thornton always plays the middle on that line combo, and it gives Couture the opportunity to generate more scoring chances on the wing. Couture said he was surprised to be back on the wing in practice, but remembered those Setoguchi goals.
“Everyone can play with anyone, that’s the way this team has been all year,” he said.
“They’re going to be tough—home building,” Couture said about the Wings. “Obviously they don’t want to go down, 0-3. We expect them to come out hard.
And the Sharks told NHL.com’s Brian Hedger that the Wings’ decision to split up Datsyuk and Zetterberg won’t change the way they play:
“They’re both high-end players and they’re going to try and do different things to try to get a win,” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. “That might be one of those things that we see. I think we feel pretty confident with the six d-men we have back there that we don’t have to overthink the matchups and on the forwards side, same thing. We’ve got some lines that can handle what they do.”
Still, Zetterberg and Datsyuk can cause problems in a hurry if the Sharks don’t stay as disciplined as they’ve been in their own zone for the first two games. That, said San Jose’s Douglas Murray, is because the Red Wings’ “Big Two” are both gifted with immense hockey intelligence.
“Pick your poison,” Murray said. “They’re both very skilled players. They might not be very big in stature, but they’re strong on pucks and what sets them apart from a lot of people is they’re so smart. You can’t really defend them the same way all the time, because if you get stuck doing the same thing, they’ll find a way to take advantage of it.”
The way Murray described what it’s like defending them, it sounds similar to the way the guards in the movie “Jurassic Park” tried to cage in the Velociraptors, which kept testing the high-voltage electric fence to see where its weakest points were.
“You almost got to play a little chess game with them, too,” Murray said of Zetterberg and Datsyuk. “If you make the first move, they’ll counter with something.”
After a plain old weird occurrence—the Wings, as illustrated by the Detroit News’s David Guralnick, lowered and then raised their 2007-2008 Stanley Cup banner for “repairs” during San Jose’s practice (I guess you can’t paint the locker room every year)—Murray told Hedger that the Sharks want to win as much as the Wings do, if not more...
“After all their Stanley Cups in the rafters and on that team, I don’t think you can question their want or will to go and get more,” Murray said. “I think I’ve mentioned to them at some point, like, ‘Well, you’re probably getting tired of winning the Cup,’ and they say, ‘You never get tired of that.’ They want it just as much as we do.”
So then how does he explain San Jose’s recent dominance—especially the Sharks’ ability to win a spate of one-goal nail-biters?
“They had our number for a long time before that and those were tight games then, too,” Murray said. “Why did they win all the time? It’s tough to explain. You can’t say when the teams are so even, ‘Oh, that team is much better.’ It could be a confidence thing. It could be a swagger thing. I really don’t know. I don’t have an answer for it … but I hope it keeps going.”
And the Sharks, who were “loose” enough that they played a prank on Torrey Mitchell,/a> during practice, told the Detroit News’s Eric Lacy that they feel “at home” at Joe Louis Arena...
Joe Thornton , San Jose’s 6-foot-4, 230-pound space-eater, appears to take seriously Detroit’s track record of success at Joe Louis Arena. The quirkiness of the 31-year-old venue can bring out some magic in the home team.
“It’s not really like anywhere else in the NHL,” Thornton said. “It’s a real fun place to play, an old building, lots of character.”
Several players, including Ryane Clowe , said they would have to get used to how pucks play off the boards.
“The biggest strength of our line overall is our wall work,” Clowe said. “It’s been good (during the series).”
McLellan stated the obvious to Lacy regarding the Sharks’ control of the series…
“We have to understand that we cannot let our guard down,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “I’ve reminded our guys that probably 200 times already.”
Ryane Clowe also suggested to the Sporting News’s Craig Custance that San Jose may very well have a blueprint down as to how to beat the Wings, given that the Sharks have won 6 of their 7 playoff games against the Wings over the past two seasons:
“We’ve earned that confidence. We’ve built it up over the last couple years,” Sharks forward Ryane Clowe told Sporting News. “We feel like there’s a certain way we have to play to beat Detroit. If we play that way, then we have a good chance. And we have been.”
It’s not disrespect coming from Clowe. Quite the opposite, really. He said games against the Red Wings bring a sense of desperation that the Sharks don’t always have. In Round 1 the Sharks battled inconsistency against the Los Angeles Kings, and perhaps part of the issue was that playing against the Kings doesn’t bring the same focus into the Sharks room playing Detroit does. The Red Wings have noticed.
“They seem to get up for us,” Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said. “I don’t know what the record is in the last two years but it’s probably not good for us. We can use that as a bit of a wake-up call for ourselves. Let’s get better. Enough is enough. The time is now. It’s kind of do or die.”
I hate to even bring it up, but the media asked the Sharks about their intent to snow Jimmy Howard whenever possible, and, as the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness noted, the Sharks simply suggested that it’s Jimmy Howard’s fault if the Sharks stop skates-first while looking for loose pucks…
“I have no time for gimmicks or circus acts or anything like that,” McLellan said. “We’ll address it with our players. My feedback from them is there’s no intent. We are going to the blue paint. No one’s going to take that away from us. We’re going to stop in the blue paint and we’re going to stand there and nothing’s going to change moving forward. I guess we have to be a little more cautious of where we stop in that blue paint, but that’s not changing.”
Forward Joe Pavelski said, “I don’t know if it’s a penalty. If you come in and the puck’s been there for a long time it’s unsportsmanlike conduct, but I don’t think that’s been the case. I don’t think it’s a big deal. We just keep going hard to the net when the puck’s there, there’s nothing to call. You can see their guys spraying (Antti Niemi),” Pavelski continued. “As we’re going they’re coming to stop and trying to have net play. I think Nemo’s probably been sprayed a few times, too. It happened in the first round, it’s happened here and it’s probably going to happen again.”
And Joe Thornton, who Sharks fans will argue is easygoing and this Wings fan will argue is an arrogant blankety blank, acted like his typical dumb-butt self, telling the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch that he didn’t know what Garrioch was talking about before again, suggesting that it’s Howard’s fault:
“I don’t even know—what’s snow showering?” San Jose captain Joe Thornton said. “It is part of the game. You see a lot of pucks by him. It’s not like it’s hitting him and he’s swallowing it. There are a lot of loose pucks there.”
Sharks winger Ryan Clowe said nothing is being done purposely.
“If you look at the plays, we’re shooting and driving the net for the rebound,” Clowe said. “You get there and you stop. You don’t want to pass by a loose puck laying around the crease.”
Thankfully, the Wings don’t really give a rat’s ass about the concept that battling for loose pucks apparently involves stopping with one’s skates in attempts to kick the puck in instead of trying to get their sticks on pucks, nor do they care about the Sharks’ out-and-out lying or the media’s preoccupation with something that clearly isn’t working.
Jimmy Howard’s probably been the Wings’ MVP during the series thus far, and he simply told the AP’s Larry Lage that the tactic’s not working:
Are they bugging the Detroit goaltender?
“Nope,” he insisted Tuesday.
Part of the game?
“Yep,” Howard said. “They’re just trying to get under my skin. I don’t care. They can come in and pitchfork me all they want. They can do whatever they want. They’re not going to take me off my game.”
Mike Babcock refused to say anything other than that he’d defer to Ken Holland regarding the issue during his off-day press conference—and ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun says that Holland will probably politely bring up the issue with series supervisor Kris King on Wednesday morning—but the only Wing who was willing to enter the fray in terms of talking about responding in kind was Danny Cleary:
“Maybe we should start snow showering,” Detroit forward Danny Cleary said. “The referees got to make a decision. We don’t want them doing that. If you let them get away with it, they’re going to do it again. So, you have to take liberties.”
Quoth the target, ironically enough…
“If you can do it during the play, you can make the goalie blind for a second,” [Antti Niemi] said.
Other Wings, however, preached caution, as noted by the CBC’s series blogger:
“The stuff after the whistle, we’ve got to stay away from that,” defenceman Niklas Kronwall said.
Added Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom: They’re trying to get under [Howard’s] skin. It’s part of the game.”
As it turns out, Holland did speak out about the issue, to the Detroit News’s Eric Lacy, and he did something very simple and very elegant.
He called out the league while insisting that the Wings aren’t worried about it:
“We aren’t trying to win a snowfest,” Holland said “We got to win a hockey game.”
But, Holland’s response doesn’t mean he would rule out reminding the playoffs series supervisor today this practice should be reviewed.
“In my estimation, if the league doesn’t want it to happen, it won’t happen,” Holland said. “All they got to do is warn both teams and penalize both teams if they feel it’s an issue.”
If you’re looking for real bluster, it comes from Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Ray Ratto, who argues that McLellan has established himself as Babcock’s equal, and only needs a Stanley Cup ring to cement that status:
[T]he Wings have seen this before. But McLellan’s approach is working because he has the personnel to carry out his instructions, and having broken them down in January after three and a half months of bad hockey, it has been easier for him to get the Sharks to do as they are told. Not consistently, mind you. The Sharks still have a bad player on their shoulders who likes to whisper, “Fore-checking is for weenies; let the defensemen play defense. It’s in the name, for God’s sake. Go on, take another neutral zone circle. Gliding is fun.”
But they do best with scares, and McLellan knows that. They got scared unnecessarily against Los Angeles, and they have decided that for Detroit, greater adherence to a harder-edged more physically engaged game is the only way to go.
Again, a coaching decision that both coaches saw coming up Broadway. But this is where it gets interesting. Babcock has owned the Western Conference for years now, and having lost to those relentless underachievers from San Jose a year ago and now halfway to doing the same thing again, he is going to find the differences that separate him from McLellan when it comes time to finding summer fishing partners.
There is plenty to draw from here, most notably when Bo Schembechler left Woody Hayes to seek his own fortune at Michigan, just up the road from here. Or Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight. They were close, then they let competition intrude, and then they weren’t for a long time.
Ultimately, they are bound for the long term by the shared experiences, and they know that whatever enmity they will learn to deal with in the next few years while they fight for the same thing year after year, and more likely than not they will have to go through each other to get it. In short, their heartfelt howdies are going to get less frequent, and their gamesmanship will be more involved the odd snow shower or between-games line changes. If this was once mentor v. pupil, it is now near equals having at each other. We say near equals because McLellan’s Stanley Cup ring came from Babcock. If/when he gets one of his own, this will get fun.
We’ll shift focus from the Sharks’ side of things to the Red Wings’ takes via NHL.com’s John Kreiser, who provides an objective game preview:
Big story: The series returns to Detroit with the Wings desperately needing a win after losing back-to-back 2-1 decisions in San Jose.
Who’s hot: Niemi has stopped 57 of 59 shots in the first two games. ... Datsyuk leads Detroit in postseason scoring with 8 points and has assists on both of his team’s goals in this series
Injury report: The Sharks are as healthy as a team can be at this stage of the season. ... Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski (knee) didn’t skate Tuesday, but coach Mike Babcock said he will play in Game 3.
Stat pack: Detroit is just 5-21 all-time when losing the first two games of a playoff series and only 2-6 when facing the same situation during their 20-year run of postseason appearances. ... All four playoff goals scored by San Jose defenseman Niclas Wallin in his career have been game-winners, including his third-period goal on Sunday.
As of the time I’m writing this, the NHL’s media website hasn’t updated itself with the referees’ assignments. I’ll post ‘em during the morning skate update.
The Red Wings offered their fair share of comments and self-criticism regarding their difficulties against San Jose thus far, but they insisted to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness that the Sharks’ play has not sapped their confidence in their ability to rally:
“It’s not something we’re worried about,” Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said. “They have played well against us, no doubt. They seem to get up for us. We need to use that as maybe a bit of a wake-up call for ourselves to get better. Enough’s enough. The time is now. You don’t want to go down 3-0.”
“You’ve got to have the killer instinct in the game,” Stuart said. “That was pretty tough to overcome (last year). If you’ve got the team where you want them, make sure you take care of it.”
“You have to play with confidence,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “You can’t be uptight. You have to make plays when they’re there or get the puck in deep. You’ve got to work hard.”
The Wings are 5-15 all-time when losing the first two games of a best-of-seven series.
“You’ve just got to win the next game and you go from there,” Detroit defenseman Ruslan Salei said.
Babcock very bluntly addressed his team’s precarious position, as the Ottawa Sun’s Garrioch noted...
“All I know is they won 4-1 last year (in a playoff series) and they’re up 2-0 this year. By my math, that’s 6-1,” Babcock said. “So the bottom line is we’ve got to win a game and we’ve got to win our next game. That’s the way were looking at it. Let’s get prepared and relaxed (Tuesday) and prepared for the first shift (Wednesday) and get after it. There’s no question what the body of work describes: They’ve been better than us. If we want to keep playing, we’ve got to be better than them.”
Zetterberg skated on a line with Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi while Datsyuk was between Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen. The Wings have to find a way to get offence, especially from Franzen, Zetterberg and Datsyuk.
“We need to score more than one goal,” a frustrated Datsyuk said. “Getting three or four goals would help us a lot and we’ve got to get the power play going as well.”
Kris Draper, who seems to steady Darren Helm, said that he’s excited as can be about playing again…
“I want to do anything I can to help us win Game 3 and get back in this series,” he said. “I’m just a spoke in the wheel. I just want to try to use my energy, my enthusiasm and go out there to try to grind. If I get a chance to hit somebody, I’ll hit somebody. I’ve played a lot of hockey with these guys. We’ve just got to be stronger on the puck, more determined on the puck and we’ve got to make those guys play in their own end.”
And while the Sharks insisted that they’re ready to withstand with the Wings’ effort…
“We expect a strong push,” San Jose winger Ryan Clowe said. “We expected a strong push from them last game and they came out pretty hard. Sometimes you can get it in your head you’re so ready for a strong push you kind of forget about your game and just weather the storm. We have to look to stay on the attack, stay on the offence and try to pin them in (and) kind of kill momentum a bit.”
And McLellan growled at the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa when asked a pointed question:
[T]he enigmatic Sharks were both warm and cold again for about the last month, including against the outmanned Kings in the first round. Asked about having won three games consecutively, and if that suggests it is time for losing again, McLellan nearly choked on his words.
“I don’t know,” he said, managing sort of a half smile. “Do I need to worry? Is that what you’re insinuating? The players, again, have to pay attention to detail. Just do their jobs. Do it for the right amount of time. Don’t overextend anything. And if we do those things, then we have the opportunity to be consistent.”
It was, at times, an odd season in Detroit, with the Wings only average at home and uncharacteristically battling a bad case of turnovers much of the year.
“There must have been some stuff we did during the winter that might have been, let’s say, grinding, at times — for them and for me,” Babcock said before the series. “Now, we’ll find out how much we really know how to play as time goes on, and how much will and determination we have.”
There are two bottom lines for Babcock, obviously…
“The bottom line is, we’ve got to win one game and we’ve got to win the next game,” Babcock said. “That’s how I look at it. So, let’s get relaxed today, get prepared for the first shift tomorrow and get after it.”
“There’s no question what the body of the work describes: They’ve been better than us,” he said. “If we want to keep playing, we got to be better than them.”
The Wings insisted to DetroitRedWings.com’s Michael Caples that they’re well aware of the fact that they have yet to truly challenge Antti Niemi and the Sharks’ defense, with Pavel Datsyuk suggesting that the Sharks haven’t changed their “blueprint”...
“It’s no difference,” Datsyuk said. “It’s us. We need to change it.”
Through the first two games of the Western Conference Semifinals, the Red Wings have only been able to generate two goals. At the same time, they have been out-shot 81-59. Datsyuk has set up both of the Wings’ goals in the series with passes to Nicklas Lidstrom in Game 1, and Henrik Zetterberg in Game 2. He leads the team in postseason scoring with eight points in six games.
“We need more, make traffic,” Datsyuk said. “They so far have it a little easy to play with us, we need more traffic and more shooting to net - go to net.”
Because of the Wings’ low shooting percentage, Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi has become one of the focal points of the series. Through two games, Niemi has a save percentage of .966, and a clean 1.00 goals-against average. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall says those stats are misleading.
“We’re not testing him enough,” Kronwall said. “He’s a great goaltender, but he hasn’t been tested enough yet. That’s something we have to do better.”
“We’ve had some shots, but we haven’t had any traffic,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We need to be there for the rebounds and second chances and create more traffic in front of him. I think we can do a much better job of getting pucks there, but having people there as well.”
And while Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg called themselves out as the players who’ve necessitated line changes due to their lack of offensive production, as NHL.com’s Brian Hedger noted…
“If you go back the last two or three years, I think most of the time we’ve been apart,” said Zetterberg, who missed Detroit’s first-round sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes with what’s believed to be a knee sprain. “It’s nothing new for us. We’re used to that.”
“I need to take more shots,” said Datsyuk, who has set up both of Detroit’s goals against San Jose with precise feeds to the slot from the side wall. “I’m too casual. Need more shots and go to the net.”
Asked if his game changes when Zetterberg is healthy enough to play, Datsyuk disagreed.
“Not really,” he said. “It’s like, (Zetterberg) comes back and it’s a big help for us, but it’s not about me or something. Everybody need more shoot and go to net. Make it harder for them.”
Zetterberg, who said he felt much better health-wise in Game 2 than in Game 1, couldn’t agree more. He said if the Wings are going to climb out of the hole they’re in, it’s going to take a team effort to pot more goals from guys like himself, Datsyuk, Cleary, Valtteri Filppula and Franzen—who is battling a nagging ankle injury that happened in the second game against Phoenix.
“We need goals and we need it from everyone,” Zetterberg said. “If you look at the first series, I think we had 12 different goal scorers and you need to have that, especially playing a team like San Jose. You have to score goals. Everyone’s got to put more pucks on the net and be more determined when we’ve got the chances.”
Danny Cleary called himself out, too, while telling the Sporting News’s Craig Custance that he hopes to kick-start his game alongside Zetterberg:
If injuries to Franzen and Zetterberg mean Red Wings stars won’t be playing to their standard, Cleary must raise his scoring production to the level he reached in the 2008-09 playoffs. That spring, Cleary had nine goals for the Wings and led all postseason players with a plus-17.
“You have to do what you can out there,” Cleary said on Tuesday. “We have a team that’s built on good depth, we’ve got to find that. We have to get back to playing the way we can.”
There were indications that Cleary might be playing with Zetterberg in Game 3, something Cleary is comfortable with. “I played with Hank quite often. It’s not hard to play with him for sure,” he said. “Try to get him the puck as much as you can and try to stay away.”
Cleary continued while speaking to the Free Press’s Helene St. James:
Cleary, who had five shots on net Sunday, has been playing with Justin Abdelkader and Todd Bertuzzi, but is likely to be with Bertuzzi and Henrik Zetterberg tonight. It’s a trio the Wings probably will use against Joe Thornton’s group, though just as the Wings were busy rearranging their lines Tuesday, so were the Sharks. Regardless of whom the three face, Bertuzzi provides a net-front presence, Zetterberg is as good a two-way player as there is, and Cleary knows he’s due for some points.
“We’ve got a responsibility, that falls on everybody, but I’ve got to try to do more, I’ve got to try to hang onto the puck more, I’ve got to shoot more,” Cleary said. “For me, it’s going to the net and shooting. I’ve got to try to do that. Go to the net, maybe get one bouncing off you or deflect one, and hopefully that gets it going.”
In fairness to Cleary, he has been left off the power play, a baffling move considering he was second on the team with 26 goals in the regular season. That might change tonight, too, as the Wings seek to generate offense. At even strength, though, having Zetterberg between two such big wingers should lead to chances.
“Me and Clears and Bert have been playing a lot of games during the year, and we’ve worked fine,” Zetterberg said. “They’re two big guys who work really hard, and that makes it easier on me. I think Clears, wherever you put him, he always does a good job. It seems like he always rises when the playoffs come.”
Darren Helm also told Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji that he’s aware of the fact that the Wings’ depth players haven’t contributed to the team’s cause, either:
“From top to bottom, we’re not doing a good enough job getting the puck deep and getting shots at net and being harder at the net,” Helm said. “It’s hard to score goals when you’re playing in your zone the whole game.”
Although Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi has played well, Niklas Kronwall said part of that is the Wings’ fault.
“We haven’t tested Niemi enough yet,” Kronwall said. “Anytime we have a chance, we have to get the puck to the net. It’s not always going to be that great shot or that wide open shot. We just have to make sure the puck gets in there. Just lob one in there and create some traffic in front of Niemi, as well.”
In addition to not testing Niemi, the Wings say they haven’t really tested the Sharks’ defense much.
“We’re making it tough on ourselves to have any kind of chance to play in their zone,” Helm said. “We’re just giving it right to them and not playing hard enough, finishing our checks as much as we should be. It’s pretty easy to play against if you’re not doing those things.”
Nicklas Lidstrom agreed that the Wings need to be “harder” in the offensive zone, but as he told NHL.com’s Hedger, that starts with a better breakout—and forechecking by shooting the puck and retrieving it:
It’s the telltale sign of when Detroit is on top of its game. Simply put, if you see the Red Wings spending long amounts of time in an opponent’s zone—finding ways to control the puck and put multiple shots on goal—they’re playing their best. In the first two games of this series, that hasn’t been the case and Detroit was limited to just one goal in each 2-1 loss. Thus, it was no surprise to hear the Red Wings talking about better puck control and playing faster after Tuesday’s practice.
“We have to use our speed a lot more,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We have to be even more of a skating team and when we have the puck, hang onto it. We can’t be taking one shot and then backchecking when it goes the other way. We’ve got to retrieve the puck after shots and spend more time in their zone.”
Lidstrom told the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell that the Wings have at least improved in that regard from Game 1 to Game 2…
Lidstrom said Detroit has to get the game off the walls of the rink more quickly. In his opinion, the Wings have to move the puck east-west more quickly to reverse the flow. He pointed to the final 10 minutes of Sunday’s Game 2 for an example of what Detroit needs to do.
“I thought we were able to hang onto the puck and spend more time in their zone,” Lidstrom said. “We were coming with speed through the neutral zone and, when we do have the puck, we were hanging onto it. We weren’t taking a shot and being one and done and backchecking again. We did a better job getting it back.”
Put simply, the Wings want to play more like themselves:
“I want our team to play hard,” Babcock said. “I want more out of our forwards. I want us to spend more time in the offensive zone and sustain pressure. I think we can back check harder and I think we can be harder on 50-50 pucks just all over. That’s a challenge to all our forwards, and that doesn’t matter who’s playing with who, or who’s not playing with who.”
More than technical adjustments, forward Kris Draper said Wednesday’s game is all about will more than skill.
“Now it’s a gut check, it’s a character check and it’s up to us to respond,” said Draper, who sounded like a player knowing he’s was going back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the first two games. All we want to do right now is just win one game. Win one game, put ourselves back in the series and then go from there.”
Lidstrom agreed, as he told the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...
“I know we are (confident), and that’s the way you have to approach it,” Lidstrom said. “You have to play with confidence and when they’re spending time in our zone, bear down and take the game to them more than we did the first two games.”
And, again, the Wings suggest that it’s on them to match and then exceed the Sharks’ levels of competition, urgency, attention to detail, grit, execution and plain old desire:
“It’s not (what the Sharks are doing), it’s us,” Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk said. “We have to shoot more. Everybody has to shoot the puck and make it harder on them. I need to shoot more, go to the net. We have to have more traffic and get the puck to the net. We have to do that.”
Said Red Wings forward Johan Franzen: “We have to get through to get the rebounds. It’s hard to score from the outside. We have to get more traffic and win the puck on rebounds.”
Players such as Danny Cleary, Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi and Tomas Holmstrom were key for the Red Wings during the season capitalizing on loose pucks. None has been a factor.
“We’ve had some shots, but not enough traffic for the second chances and rebounds,” Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We can do a better job of getting people there for more traffic. You have to move your feet … not get pinned down or boxed into a corner.”
Zetterberg wisely pointed out to the Free Press’s St. James that the team’s not ignorant of their lack of secondary scoring in a column in which St. James spells out five keys for the Wings tonight—scoring more goals, more physical play from Kronwall, better discipline, a better power play and making Niemi’s life miserable:
“We need goals,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “We need them from every one. In the first series I think we had 12 different goal scorers, and you need to have that, especially playing a team like San Jose. Everyone has to put more pucks on the net.”
If the Wings have the puck more, that’ll take care of playing better in their own end, too. As much as they would have liked to at least split in San Jose, the Wings are confident they’ve still got it in them to advance.
“We haven’t played as well as we can,” Danny Cleary said. “That’s a good sign.”
If you’re looking for bluster from the Wings’ press corps, the Detroit Free Press’s Michael Rosenberg delivers…
It is possible the Sharks are a better and more complete team. But I’m not ready to say that, either. In the first round, against a weak Phoenix team, the Wings dominated. Meanwhile, as San Jose coach ToddMcLellan said, “We were inconsistent in Round 1. There is no doubt about it. We were inconsistent within periods, within games, from game to game.”
So much of playoff success is surviving. The Sharks survived their first-round tussle with the Kings, and now they are playing great. Now it is up to the Wings to survive this 2-0 deficit and find a way to advance.
If the Wings come back, you can start with that: the simple things. The Wings have not dictated the action enough. Maybe going home will help, though the Wings have been a better road team. Also, this is just my opinion, but it’s possible the Wings will make some changes to their lines.
Of course, Kris Draper told the media he’ll be back in the lineup for Game 3. Oops. If Babcock is going to play poker, perhaps he should not show his cards. And if the Wings are going to win this series, they have to control the puck and get more traffic in front of the net. It is pretty simple. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.
As did 97.1 the Ticket’s Jeff Riger...
Once in the offensive zone, Detroit needs to get better quality chances on Niemi. Can you think of the last time Niemi was forced to make a “Jimmy Howard” type save in this series? If you can, you must have been watching closer than me, because I think Niemi has had too easy of a time in goal. Howard has been forced to lay out multiple times when San Jose threatened to score while Neimi is just going through the motions due to a lack of dangerous chances by Detroit.
Staying on the topic of better quality chances and spending more time in the offensive zone, Detroit also needs more second chances against Niemi. There has not been that typical even strength pressure that the Wings are known for in this series, you know the kind where they set up and fire puck after puck at the opposing goaltender. To win game three and this series that dominant, electrifying play needs to return.
It’s no secret that the Wings also need to stay out of the penalty box. San Jose has been doing their best to annoy and frustrate Detroit and it has been working. From the multiple ice showers that the Sharks have given Jimmy Howard to Ben Eager trying to go at it with Todd Bertuzzi, San Jose will continue to try and get into the heads of the Wings. Usually these types of tactics don’t work on a much disciplined Detroit team, but in game two they did as Thomas Holmstrom took the Wings off a power play with a silly penalty in the 3rd period. Detroit is usually the team that frustrates, not the team that gets frustrated.
Other things that the Wings need to do better is to convert on the power play and get Johan Franzen healthier then he seems to be right now as he suffers from a bad ankle. Detroit also, as obvious as this might sound needs to score more goals considering they have just 2 in 2 games. They had 18 goals in 4 games against the Coyotes.
I know this list might seem insurmountable and that I might be saying long mindedly that the Wings are just flat out done. I actually did believe that right after game two, but now after thinking about it, there is no doubt in my mind that the Wings will show Hockey Town on Wednesday night the team they are capable of being. The only question is, can they do it the next four of five games? I say yes! Wings in 7!
The Detroit News’s John Niyo also channeled Dr. Seuss (seriously) before pondering the Wings’ line changes and arguing that Mike Modano (who complained to the press about being a scratch—see below) needs to be included in the shake-up:
He took a calculated risk in Games 1 and 2 by keeping Datsyuk and Zetterberg together, partly because that’s the way the Red Wings would prefer to play and partly because it seemed like the best way to reacquaint Zetterberg with playoff hockey after he missed the first round (knee).
Datsyuk did his part, and Zetterberg, though he’s hardly 100 percent, managed to play 23 [and] 1/2 minutes and score the lone goal in Game 2. But that matchup with Joe Thornton’s line played to a draw. And that tilted the ice in the Sharks’ favor, as the Red Wings had no answer for San Jose’s dangerous second line with Logan Couture between Ryane Clowe and Dany Heatley. That trio was on the ice for both goals in Game 2, and combined for 17 shots — setting up permanent residence in Detroit’s zone — in the games.
Babcock likely will insert veteran Kris Draper into the lineup tonight — Draper said Tuesday the coach told him he’s in, though Babcock later contradicted him — with Drew Miller the odd man out. I’d go a step further and replace Jiri Hudler with Mike Modano, another idling vet who made the most of a Game 4 cameo against Phoenix in the first round. But to be fair, Hudler actually had a decent outing in Game 1 in San Jose, and Modano said Tuesday he expects to be a healthy scratch again tonight.
Zetterberg, meanwhile, should return to his old roost, where Justin Abdelkader played well in Round 1 against Phoenix but struggled — as did Bertuzzi — to start the series in San Jose. That’d leave Datsyuk with Tomas Holmstrom and what looks to be a one-legged Mule in Johan Franzen.
“We’ll see what happens,” Holmstrom said. “Usually you get good results when you switch up a little bit.”
In the end, Kris Draper may offer the best perspective on tonight’s game via a historically-inclined Q and A with NHL.com’s Hedger, who noted that Draper took umbrage with a reporter’s suggestion to Darren Helm that he may center a new “grind line”:
Question: In the 2002 Stanley Cup season, the Red Wings came back from down 0-2 to win a series against Vancouver in the first round. There are still four guys here from that team. That has to help now, in this situation?
Draper: Yeah, you know, we can certainly draw from an experience like that and that has been talked about. The one thing, you look around at the playoffs right now, it’s happening. Teams are down 2-0 and they come back and win. Now, it’s just a gut check, a character check and it’s up to us to respond. We truly believe. All we want to do right now is just win one game. Win one game, put ourselves back in the series and go from there.
Question: You guys won four straight against Vancouver in 2002 after dropping the first two in that series. Did that give you a lot of momentum going through the rest of the playoffs?
Draper: Absolutely. That was something. One thing I’ll never forget, you know, we landed in Vancouver and there was brooms and I think we had 40 or 50 cars following our bus to the hotel. Everyone walked off the bus and it was, ‘Draper sucks! Hasek sucks! Shanahan sucks!’ you know? Then, next thing you know we won Game 3 and the crowd wasn’t nearly as big at the hotel when we came back. When we won Game 4, there really wasn’t too many people there at all. We came back for Game 6 and it was pretty quiet. It certainly did give us a big boost. Those are things that certainly we can draw upon. That’s the good thing about this locker room, is the experience we’ve had. We’ve been in a lot of different situations. We’ve responded. We’ve played well. We’ve done some good things. Now it’s up to us to do that again. We believe in one another. We believe in ourselves and I know guys are looking forward to getting this going tomorrow night.
Question: The last two years, you guys have lost the first two against San Jose on the road. Does it make it any easier knowing the next two are at home?
Draper: You look at Pittsburgh (in 2009). They were down 2-0, came back and won the Stanley Cup. Things like that. It happens. You really believe it. Three to nothing, obviously that’s a whole different ballgame. There’s a reason it’s only happened (three) times in (hockey), because it is a big hole. That’s why there’s huge importance, huge emphasis on winning Game 3.
If we do that, then we put ourselves in a series and we go from there. We know that. It’s no secret. We’ve been around long enough, we’ve watched enough hockey this playoffs to realize it. That’s what we have to do and that’s what our mindset will be.
Or, as Draper told the Free Press’s Helene St. James...
“We know as a group we have to be better,” Draper said. “It’s been talked about since Game 2 ended. Now we’re coming home. Now it’s up to us to respond. Our focus is to do anything we can to win Game 3 and turn this back into a series. ...We just gotta be a little bit nastier on the puck.”
I hope so.
Multimedia: The Wings-Sharks off-day multimedia was so ridiculous that I had to make a separate post to accommodate it. It’s HUGE and very Flash-heavy.
Red Wings and Sharks notebooks: The Sharks’ website posted a profile of Niclas Wallin;
• The San Francisco Chronicle’s Jake Leonard gushed about Joe Thornton;
• The Mercury News’s David Pollak profiled Kyle Wellwood;
• According to the Wings’ Facebook page, you should check it out from time to time as they’re giving away playoff tickets in a promotion with AT&T;
• Wings forward and healthy scratch Mike Modano did what Mike Modano does when the media’s around. He decided to speak out about being a healthy scratch, as noted by the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch…
“At this time of the year this is the one thing you’ve been waiting for all season long,” Modano said Tuesday. “Granted I was injured so I missed a big chunk of time, but I felt the (past six weeks) I was back to where I was before I got injured. But other guys are playing well. It’s tough to disrupt the lineup. That’s the way it is. If this is the last go-round, it’s a tough way to end it.”
Modano isn’t going to push.
“The campaign days are over,” he said. “If they need me I’m ready. That’s (coach Mike Babcock’s) decision. When you’re going through a little adversity, your thought is always that things could change.”
Modano said he can still contribute.
“It’s about what can you do for us now,” Modano said. “You still feel ... you can offer something with some hockey sense out there, some offence and create some plays. I will just have to wait and see about that.”
Modano continued while speaking to ESPN’s LeBrun:
“It’s difficult to say the least,” Modano said Tuesday after practice. “I went through a three-month injury to get back to what you feel is game shape and game-ready. But the team is playing well, and there’s no room to change the lineup at that point. It’s upsetting but there’s not much you can do about it.”
The 40-year-old doesn’t want his career to end as a healthy scratch but, at the same time, understands why these decisions are being made. He was asked whether a player of his experience could help now with the Wings down 2-0 in the series.
“I’ve played a few games and had some good runs in the playoffs, but it’s about now,” Modano said. “If I lived off my past, I’d probably be in there. It’s about what you can contribute now. That’s what the old guys battle with when you get at that age and hang around and play, there’s a sense there’s still something left.”
Babcock said having to scratch quality veterans such as Draper and Modano isn’t the easiest thing to do.
“In the regular season, to be honest with you, I find it hard,” Babcock said. “The reason I say that is you’re trying to build your team, you’re trying to get everybody in and treat everybody with respect and ... play the right players at the right time. At playoff time, you’re doing whatever you think as a coach is the right thing for your organization. Does it make the conversation any easier? No, but I think the decision part is easier.”
“I found out this morning,” Draper said. “I just want to get out there and play. I’m looking forward to getting in the lineup and playing. I’m just a spoke in the wheel. I just want to use my energy and enthusiasm. I’ve played a lot of hockey with (Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves) before and we’ve always felt we can do some good things.”
Draper told Pleiness and the press that he’s been warming up with the team and preparing as if he was going to play, and he’s pumped up about getting back into the lineup:
“I am (excited),” Draper said. “This never gets old, this time of year, playing in the playoffs. During the regular season sometimes you get the dog days but this time of year, you love it.
“You love getting in your vehicle driving down to the Joe and realizing that it’s playoff hockey,” Draper added. “We’ve just got to win one game. We win Game 3, it’s 2-1, it’s a series. We know that, we believe that. We have to be more determined, more focused. The way we were today, you can kind of see guys have that attitude. I think it’s going to carry over to tomorrow night and guys are going to be ready to play and we have to respond and everybody knows that we have to be better.”
Here’s what Draper said about being a scratch to MLive’s Ansar Khan...
“Games 1 and 2, personally, it was tough,” Draper said. “It’s not about one individual. It’s about the team. I wasn’t in the mix, but stayed in the dressing room. I took warm-up. I did everything I could to hang around the guys, encourage the guys, talk to the guys between periods. Certainly, I’m going to have a lot more fun in Game 3 when I go out there and play because that’s what everyone wants to do at this time of year.”
Who also noted the following:
About eight Sharks attended the Tigers-Yankees game Monday at Comerica Park. Some fans recognized them and began chanting “Let’s go Red Wings!”
“We sat there until about the fifth (inning) and no one really said anything,” Logan Couture said. “We walked up and down a couple of times, could see the people kind of staring at us a little bit. There was about 5-6 guys started the chant and we were all smiling and laughing about it. I’m sure some people had no idea why.”
Couture said he is a diehard Toronto Blue Jays fan.
“I was wishing I brought my Blue Jays cap to wear,” he said.
If you attend tonight’s game, don’t be surprised if there’s a sizable contingent of Couture and Wellwood fans in the house.
• The Free Press’s Shelly Darby talked about the whole snow shower controversy in her Octopus&
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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.