The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/08/11 at 08:00 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks face off tonight (8 PM EDT, Versus/TSN/WXYT) with the same stakes on the line as Friday.
The Wings felt that they had to make enough adjustments after their 4-3 win on Friday night that they paid a $2,500 fine to San Jose International Airport to land there at 1:55 AM local time and 4:55 AM on their players’ body clocks, and then engaged in a full practice to tweak their game’s technical aspects on Saturday, and they did so because in Detroit’s eyes, there’s nothing like embracing a few cliches, taking solace in the fact that they’ve gotten under the Sharks’ skin and continuing the fight against the Sharks for the simple sake of extending their season.
The Sharks, on the other hand, spent less time on the ice and more time in the video room as coach Todd McLellan chose “show and not tell” his players that they lacked a killer instinct on Friday night, as he told the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch:
“It was an easy day,” said McLellan. “I didn’t have to tell them a lot, I showed them a lot.”
It wasn’t pretty. The Sharks arrived home early Saturday after a 4-3 loss to the Wings in Game 4 of the Western semi-final Friday at the Joe Louis Arena and McLellan sent a message the effort has to be better if they don’t want to return to Detroit.
“We weren’t close enough. We weren’t good enough to win that game (Friday) and we probably weren’t good enough in Game 3 (Wednesday) as well,” said McLellan. “I thought the gap got a little wider in Game 4 and we have to close it. (The Wings) intensity level went up and we didn’t meet it. They did a lot of good things in our zone, throwing pucks at the net and getting second opportunities. Those are things we were doing well in Game 1 and Game 2 and we’ve got to get back to do some of that ourselves.”
The Sharks still insisted to their media corps, the SanJoseSharks.com’s Tony Khing included, that the team has still evolved to the point that the Wings represent nothing more than a speedbump along their championship run, and as such, San Jose’s players expect to finish the Wings off with relative ease tonight:
“They all know [what to do],” Joe Thornton said about his teammates. “There’s no rookies in here. Everyone has led at times this year. Everybody knows what needs to be done. There’s no surprises in here.”
“We missed an opportunity last game,” Dan Boyle said. “You don’t want to prolong this any longer. They deserved to win the last game. They were better than we were.”
What’s San Jose’s task? One part is limiting Detroit’s chances inside the San Jose zone. The Red Wings are a puck possession team which thrives on time with the puck and shooting pucks on the opposition’s net. In Game 1, Detroit was limited to 25 shots on goal. In Game 5, the Red Wings had 40.
“A lot of their chances and their momentum in the O zone leads from pucks on our stick,” Clowe said. “We’ve got complete control and it’s either on their stick, it’s a bobble play, it’s not executed or it’s a missed pass. A lot of times the puck gets in the neutral zone and they go right back again. We just didn’t come clean out of our end.”
“We looked at the video today,” Devin Setoguchi said. “They did a good job going to the net and getting second and third opportunities. It’s more about what we need to do and not worry about what they’re doing. We need to execute better.”
As Khing notes, the Sharks have been out-scored 13-4 in the first period, so the Sharks expect to use their home crowd’s energy to aid their focus instead of distracting them:
“Everyone understands,” Boyle said about the need to start strong. “We’ve been outscored a ton in the first period. It’s not from lack of being prepared. We know what we have to do. We have to find a way to execute better in the first period.”
Instead, the Sharks insisted, once again, that despite their 3-1 lead, they’re the underdogs here, as the Mercury News’s Mark Emmons noted:
“We’d like to get back to the style of play that got us the first two wins,” defenseman Dan Boyle said. “We just need to find a way to execute just a little better.”
Also, Ryane Clowe said he isn’t buying the idea that Detroit may have planted a seed of doubt in the minds of the Sharks with their first victory over the series.
“There’s not going to be any doubt here,” Clowe said. “Before the series, everybody was picking the Red Wings in five or six games. There’s no doubt in our mind when we’re still in command and we’re on our ice now. There’s no doubt whatsoever.”
The Sharks are at least willing to admit that the margins of victory and defeat in the series remain razor-thin, as McLellan told Emmons...
These teams are equal,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. “I don’t know how else to say it.”
The Sharks believe they played two of their most complete efforts of the season in Games 1 and 2. But when their play slipped ever so slightly in Detroit, the result was a split—something that several players said they were fortunate to achieve.
“We didn’t play poorly at all in Detroit,” defenseman Dan Boyle said. “They just turned it up a notch. Now we have to kick it up a little ourselves. This series is that close. But if we play like we did the first two games, we like our chances.”
[A]fter winning in thrilling fashion in front of a raucous crowd at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings must do it again at the Shark Tank—voted the toughest road arena to play in by a Sports Illustrated players poll last year. Detroit also must deal with a Sharks team that has demonstrated a new trait of resiliency this season.
“All year we’ve had a pretty level head,” San Jose captain Joe Thornton said. “We’ve never been too high when we’re winning or too low when we’re losing. We just need to stay patient and focused now.”
If the Sharks have any concerns, they involve the lack of scoring from Patrick Marleau, who Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Ray Ratto rambled about and Mark Purdy at least happened to discuss while putting Marleau’s performance in context of the Sharks’ status as the team that remains up 3-1 in the series:
[S]o far in this series against Detroit, Marleau has been Pointless Patrick. He is going through another of his troublesome playoff scoring slumps that we have also seen in the past.
It is no crisis. Yet. The Sharks still have won three games to just one for Detroit. The Sharks can still close out the Red Wings on Sunday at HP Pavilion. Quite possibly, it could happen without their leading goal scorer during the season even sniffing the net. But not likely. Marleau, for sure, needs to be better than he was in Game 4, when he was on the ice for all of Detroit’s goals as the Red Wings roared to a 3-0 lead. One was on a power play, the other two at even strength. Marleau knew exactly why.
“They’re desperate,” Marleau said of the Red Wings. “But we weren’t doing what we needed to do, putting the puck in the right places. It’s the same old thing. We weren’t executing well.”
Marleau has been a positive factor in this series even without scoring, having some very good shifts on the penalty kill in particular. But to be the complete Marleau, he has to score.He has taken 12 shots on net over four games. He has been close to breaking out against the Red Wings. Very close. However, that and $8.25 will buy you a large beer at Joe Louis Arena.
Any goal or assist would come in handy right now. Because there is this irksome note: The last time Marleau was held scoreless in a playoff series was four years ago by the Red Wings—and the Sharks lost in six games. That would be impossible this time. Detroit would need seven games because the Red Wings are down three games to one. But as long as they keep extending the series, they will create nervousness.
That’s the Wings’ goal, as they stated to the media repeatedly on Saturday—to the point that ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun produced a superb article whose player comments come off like dueling cliche-playing banjos.
Sayeth the Sharks:
“We missed an opportunity last game,” star Sharks blueliner Dan Boyle said. “Obviously with the travel and the wear and tear, you don’t want to prolong this any longer. They deserved to win last game, they were a better team than we were. We just need to get back to what got us at least our first two wins. We need to get back to playing that type of hockey and hopefully we’ll see that tomorrow.”
“All year we’ve had a pretty level head,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. “We never got too high when we were winning or too low when we were losing. So we just need to stay focused, stay patient, and just keep your mind about yourself.”
“We weren’t good enough to win that game [Friday] and we probably weren’t good enough in Game 3 [Wednesday] as well,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. “I thought the gap got a little wider in Game 4 and we have to close it. [The Wings’] intensity level went up and we didn’t meet. They did a lot of good things in our zone, throwing pucks at the net and getting second opportunities. Those are things we were doing well in Game 1 and Game 2 and we’ve got to get back to do some of that ourselves.”
And the Wings?
“This is the big one,” greybeard Wings forward Kris Draper said Saturday after practice. “I think Game 5 is huge here. We’re coming into their building and they obviously want to end the series. We’re going to do everything we possibly can to force Game 6. We’re going to lay it all on the line.”
“What we talked about is that once you sit back on teams, it’s like safe is death,” Wings forward Dan Cleary said. “You can’t sit back. You saw L.A. was victim of sitting back [against the Sharks]. We have to stay aggressive and take it to them no matter what the score. And that won us the game last night, that kind of mentality.”
“It’s a one-game mental motto,” said Cleary. “Which I think is the only way you can look at it. If you look at the actual task at hand, it’s almost overwhelming. Just one game, one game, one game.”
NHL.com’s Dave Lozo allows us to shift focus from the Sharks to the Wings via his game preview:
Big story: In a series that’s been a mirror image of their matchup in last year’s conference semifinals, Game 4 looked like it would be a carbon copy, too. The Red Wings jumped to a 3-0 lead one year to the day of their 7-1 victory in Game 4 against the Sharks. But this time, it wouldn’t be a blowout. The Sharks rallied to tie it at 3-3, but Darren Helm’s goal with 1:27 left in the third period helped the Red Wings survive and force Game 5. Of their last eight matchups in the playoffs, seven have been one-goal games. The Sharks had been 6-0 in those contests before Friday.
Who’s hot: Ryane Clowe has been far and away the Sharks’ most consistent player in the postseason. His 12 points in 10 games are good for a tie for second-most in the playoffs. … Lidstrom has 4 goals and an assist in the series. His 4 goals have come on just 11 shots.
Injury report: The only injury facing either team—and the Red Wings don’t officially list him as injured—is Johan Franzen, who appears to be playing through some serious pain in his ankle
Stat pack: Helm is the only the second player to score a tiebreaking goal in the last five minutes of the third period in the 2011 playoffs. The other player to do that was the Rangers’ Brandon Dubinsky at the 18:21 mark of the third period in Game 3 of New York’s first-round series against the Capitals.
The NHL hasn’t updated its spreadsheet regarding today’s referee’s assignments as of the time I’m writing this, so I’ll try to update the assignments during today’s “early afternoon skate” updates.
The Wings were more than willing to admit that their surrendering of a 3-0 lead to San Jose on Friday was enough of a concern to require a full practice (minus Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen), because, as coach Mike Babcock told ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the Wings have given the Sharks too many point-blank chances…
“They’re a team that doesn’t appear to need as many chances as we do to score,” he said. “That’s what teams who score do. I think they’ve got seven 20-goal scorers. So the puck seems to find a way to go in. In saying that, for us we gave them the first goal. In my opinion, we gave them the second goal. And then the third goal, how does Dany Heatley end up alone in front of the net by himself. Those are freebies. We can’t be doing that. We just got to clean up our own zone and be poised in there and patient.”
Nicklas Lidstrom agreed, telling the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan that the Wings are guilty of chasing the puck carrier far too regularly:
“We just made some costly mistakes in our own zone,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Whether it’s not playing your coverage, kind of looking at the puck a little too much and getting drawn to the puck, that’s where they found their open players. We have to tighten up defensively. They scored a couple goals where we lost our man, whether it’s in the slot or right in front of our net.”
The Wings are happy, however, with their penalty-killing unit’s increased efficiency, as they told MLive’s Ansar Khan...
Having struggled on the penalty kill throughout the playoffs, the Red Wings made a concerted effort in Game 4 to disrupt San Jose’s entries. The result was two key kills in the third period when the game was tied 3-3. It was the only times Detroit was shorthanded in the game.
“We’re trying to make it a little more difficult for them to get in and get set up,” defenseman Brad Stuart said. “It helps, too, when you’re not killing off three in a period. We did a good job of staying out of the box.”
Said Patrick Eaves: “It caused a little bit more havoc for them.”
The Sharks were 4-for-15 on the power play in the first three games. The Red Wings had allowed 10 goals on 33 power-play opportunities heading into the game.
“We stayed patient. We didn’t run around as much,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “Kept the sticks in lanes, we were able to knock some passes down, got it a full 200 feet down.”
The fact that Todd Bertuzzi and Danny Cleary were shaken from their scoring doldrums by Henrik Zetterberg’s presence helped, too, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James noted...
“I thought Cleary and Bert skated real good,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Z’s always going to do what Z does, but obviously those guys being physical on the cycle, on the forecheck, just playing simple, is a priority for us. We just need to go north-south and play simple.”
That’s also what Babcock wants to see from Filppula’s group, which the past two games has had Justin Abdelkader and Jiri Hudler on the wings.
“It’s just hockey,” Babcock said. “I mean, it’s a flat-out battle. They’re chasing us up the ice and we’re chasing them up the ice. You’ve got to go straight ahead. If you have fluff in your game, all you do is backcheck. If you want to shoot the puck and get it in and work on it—I guarantee you, they’re telling their team the same thing. It’s that simple. All the cute plays, I guess they’re for the first 20 games of the regular season.”
Filppula admitted to St. James that he’s struggled to produce offense while trying to shut the Pavelski line down…
“It’s been tough, a tough battle against him,” Filppula said of Pavelski. “It’s been a lot of fun to play, but hopefully we can get a little more offense in the coming games. I think it’s been tough to score five-on-five goals. And our power-play line hasn’t been as good as we need to be. In these games, a lot of goals come from power play, and hopefully we can do a better job at that.”
And as both St. James and MLive’s Khan noted, Babcock made a puzzling remark about Drew Miller or Mike Modano possibly playing in Game 5 (it’s assumed
“(Miller) is a real good player and so is Mike Modano. So I’m not going to hesitate to ... both of them are on standby and both will be game-time decisions tomorrow,’’ Babcock said.
But the Wings believe that, in general, they’re starting to generate more Red Wing-like sustained offense against Antti Niemi, as the Detroit News’s John Niyo noted—though Niyo all but sets up Game 5 as the Wings’ last of the season:
“I think we’re getting more down-low time,” said Bertuzzi, who made good use of his 14 minutes of ice time in Game 4. “I think we’re on the puck a little bit more. We’re a puck-possession team and we’ve had periods where we’ve done a little more chasing than we want to. So it was better to see, and hopefully it just keeps going.”
It’ll be harder to keep it going here at HP Pavilion, where the Sharks will get the matchups they want on home ice in Game 5. But if we’ve learned anything about these two teams in their playoff meetings the last two years, it’s less about matching wits and more about matching intensity.
Pavel Datsyuk’s probably starting to wear down, carrying all that extra weight on the top line right now with Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom. And while Babcock says he’s not planning any lineup changes for Game 5, we’ll see how much line juggling he does as the game unfolds.
He effectively benched Jiri Hudler and Kris Draper for the third period Friday—each had just two shifts in the final 20 minutes. And Babcock was still griping Saturday about the defensive lapses that helped the Sharks rally from that early 3-0 deficit, including Hudler’s that allowed Dan Boyle a wide-open chance from the right circle to make it 3-2.
Still, he had to like what he saw from his forwards in the attacking zone, as they finally had Niemi scrambling in his crease even when the Sharks weren’t on the penalty kill. Only two of the Wings’ five goals came at even strength in the first three games of the series. Three of the four were Friday night, though.
“I think if anything it’s more 5-on-5 scoring,” Bertuzzi said. “I think we need a little bit more of that. We can’t sit back and rely on the power play, waiting for penalties to be called. We have to start scoring 5-on-5, so hopefully it’s a chain reaction here.”
The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan all but wrote a parallel story about the Wings’ desire to keep peppering Niemi with shots to generate and sustain a forecheck, as well as create secondary scoring chances off those awkward rebounds Niemi pumps out:
“Get there, and put pressure and we hope to continue to do that,” coach Mike Babcock said.
Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen didn’t skate during Saturday’s practice. But Babcock expects both to play, although Mike Modano and Drew Miller are available to play. Franzen, in particular, presents a difficult dilemma. He continues to appear to be hampered by a sore left ankle, which he rolled in Game 2 of the first round against Phoenix. Franzen has played every game in this series but isn’t skating with the purpose he usually does. Franzen has been sitting out off-day practices, such as Saturdays, to preserve himself for game days.
The Sharks rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game early in the third period. But Darren Helm scored with 1 minute, 27 seconds left in the game to secure the Wings’ first victory in the series. Now, the Red Wings have to do it again.
“It’s a stupid cliché but you just have to worry about (Sunday),” said Todd Bertuzzi, who scored a highlight-reel goal and played his best game in Game 4. “If we do that and stick to that commitment to our system, we have a recipe for good success.”
That’s the theory, as Niklas Kronwall told St. James…
“We have to focus on what we need to do — come out with the same energy, and hopefully we can stick with it for longer,” Kronwall said. “We let them off the hook a little bit in the last game.”
“I think if we give that same kind of effort and that same kind of commitment to our system, then we’ve got the recipe for pretty good success,” Todd Bertuzzi said. “We’re getting more down-low time. We’re on the puck a little bit more. We’re a puck possession team, and we’ve had periods where we’ve done a little bit more chasing than we’ve wanted to.”
So it’s about grinding it out and building off Friday’s effort, as St. James suggests...
“For us to win in that fashion last night, I think it’s good for us,” Brad Stuart said Saturday. “We’re still a long ways from being where we want to be, but it was a good first step, and now we’ve just got to regroup and make sure we’re prepared to do it again.”
Immediately after the game, the Sharks spoke of finishing the series in Game 5, before their fans at HP Pavilion. They didn’t lack for confidence, as well they shouldn’t, since they’re still the team that needs to win just once to advance. But the Wings can swagger a little tonight, too. They didn’t look confident for parts of Friday’s game, especially after Dany Heatley evened the score a minute into the third period. But the last few minutes—we’ve seen that before.
We saw it in the last game of the regular season, when the Wings responded to an embarrassing home loss to Chicago by beating the Blackhawks in Chicago, a game the Blackhawks needed to win much more than Detroit did. We saw it in the way they rallied from a 3-0 deficit in Nashville in early April; in the way the Wings routed Boston in a home-and-home series in February. Pride has a way of kicking in.
“We really came together,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We played well at the end. When everything came down to it, we felt strong and we kept going. I think that was the most important thing about the game.”
“We didn’t score a lot of even-strength goals in the series prior to last game,” Cleary said. “It’s not very often you have both teams scoring two or three power play goals a game. It’s mostly some chippy five-on-five play, and we were able to get some last game, which was key.”
Aside from Stuart’s admission to the Mercury News’s Mark Emmons that he felt a bit jet-lagged on Saturday, however, the Wings chose to embrace the challenges that lie ahead, as they told the CBC’s series blogger:
“We’ve got to have the same approach, Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We have to come out with that same desperation. Just stay alive and stay in the series. They’re going to come out even stronger, being at home. We have to respond to that.”
Detroit has never rallied from a 3-0 series deficit in franchise history, but the players insist they aren’t thinking that the task facing them is grim.
“You can’t get caught up in what’s ahead,” Wings centre Kris Draper said. “We’re living game by game right now. That’s how it is. We know it. We’re obviously very disappointed we’re in this situation, but the guys are going to stick together, we’re going to battle and we’re going to do everything we can.”
“It’s frustrating, it’s not where we wanted to be, but it’s the hand we’ve been dealt,” Howard said. “Now we’ve got to find a way.”
On the previous seven occasions [the Wings trailed a series 3-1 on the road], the Wings have gone down to defeat every single time they’ve faced this scenario. Included on that list is last season’s 2-1 lost at San Jose.
“We’re in a tough situation, no question about that, but we’ve got a great team,” Wings forward Jiri Hudler said. “We’ve got a lot of veteran players. We’ve all been through a lot of things. We just have to go out and play our game.”
That, and there’s something to be said about embracing cliches, as NHL.com’s Dave Lozo noted:
“They want to win a game and we want to win a game,” Babcock said Saturday at Sharks Ice in San Jose. “Obviously they’re up 3-1. They’re in a different situation than our situation. But the reality is, as you know, as these things go on and a team can crawl back into it, things get tighter and tighter. That’s just the facts.’’
“We knew what we had to do last night. We had to win,” Lidstrom said. “It’s going to be the same approach tomorrow night. We just have to come out and play solid and win another game. We can’t worry about anything else but the game tomorrow.”
Or, as Todd Bertuzzi so eloquently put it to the Associated Press‘s Antonio Gonzalez:
“Hey, we’re not dead,” Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi said.
There’s no time to rest, either. Only three NHL teams have overcome 3-0 deficits to win a best-of-seven series. After avoiding the embarrassment of being swept on home ice, Detroit will have to do something it failed to do last post-season to stay alive: win Game 5 at San Jose on Sunday night.
“This is the big one,” Red Wings forward Kris Draper said. “I think Game 5 is huge. We’re coming into their building, they obviously want to end the series. And we’re going to do everything we can possibly do to force a Game 6, and then anything can happen. That’s really what it comes down to.”
Yup, that’s it.
Multimedia: The Sharks’ website posted clips of Joe Thornton’s comments to the media…
And Sharks coach Todd McLellan’s off-day presser:
• TSN’s Steve Kouleas and Darren Eliot talked about the importance of secondary scoring and goaltending in winning the series—and Eliot the goaltender, of course, suggests that Jimmy Howard can’t “steal a game” for the Wings;
• ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun spoke to Logan Couture on Saturday afternoon;
• Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area posted clips of Dan Boyle’s post-practice remarks…
As well as those of Thornton…
And a clip of the Wings practicing (if you’re paying attention at home, the Black Aces practiced with the team, and yes, the Wings’ Warrior stick-users have ...
And Nicklas Lidstrom, Todd Bertuzzi, Niklas Kronwall and Mike Babcock speaking to the media:
Via RedWingsFeed (if you don’t follow @mserven’s Wings account, at least bookmark the page) on Twitter, NHL On the Fly previewed tonight’s game:
Red Wings-Sharks notebooks: According to NHL.com’s Dave Lozo, Devin Setoguchi chose to delete his Twitter account, which had raised $5,000 for charity;
I have absolutely no idea what to make of this ramble by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jake Leonard;
• The Detroit Free Press posted the Wings’ playoff statistics.
Lidstrom, who turned 41 last week, leads the Red Wings with four playoff goals and a plus-6 rating to go along with seven points. This comes after a regular season when he racked up 62 points—second-best among NHL defensemen.
“He looks like he has a 25-year-old’s body,” said [Douglas] Murray, a fellow Swede who was Lidstrom’s teammate at the 2010 Olympics. “He obviously can play for a long time. He’s incredible. He’s a natural. You can’t describe him any other way. Things come pretty easy for him.”
“He’s one of those special players,” teammate Patrick Eaves said. “We just all shake our heads at what he does.”
And yet Lidstrom continues to play it coy about whether he will return next season.
“It’s something I will consider after the season,” Lidstrom said Saturday. “I’m not thinking about it right now.”
“He’s been the most effective defenseman in the NHL in the last two decades,” Murray said. “He’s like a robot out there.”
The Detroit Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp well, did the usual compare to NBA-NFL-MLB comparison thingy while speaking about Lidstrom:
The Yankees sat shortstop Derek Jeter during their recent visit to Comerica Park. The official explanation was rest. The truth was rust. “Mr. November” is now trending more to late December in his career. He’s got five World Series rings. He’s considered baseball’s quintessential captain, but the Yankees find themselves in that delicate position of having a superstar whose skill set has gravely eroded and would be better off without an everyday role.
The Spurs and Lakers have won nine of the past 15 NBA championships. The Spurs couldn’t get out of the first round against an eighth seed. The Lakers stare at almost-certain elimination, trailing Dallas, 0-3, in the second round. It would mark only the second time in the past 12 seasons that neither the Lakers nor Spurs advanced to the Western Conference finals. Kobe Bryant has five NBA championships over the past 15 years. He remains one of the game’s great closers, but he’s no longer physically capable of doing it every night. Spurs center Tim Duncan has four championship rings over that same period, but he spent much of the past two months resting a creaky back and aching knees.
But unlike his contemporaries, Lidstrom remains reasonably close to his peak. He has managed to avoid a noticeable decline in his skills. Mike Babcock has done a good job of lessening Lidstrom’s minutes this season, no longer using him on the physically taxing penalty kill. But it also helps that Lidstrom doesn’t possess the enormous ego of Jeter, who believes his larger-than-life stature entitles him to limitless playing time.
“I thought it was a real good job by you (media) guys talking about his retirement,” Babcock smirked, talking about Lidstrom following the Game 4 win. “I thought he answered that pretty good.”
The end of the road for the Wings’ season could come tonight in San Jose, but regardless of the outcome, it’s clear that Lidstrom has more than a few miles remaining.
That’s the theory.
As for the point that Paul noted one Steve Simmons—a bigger blathermouth than Evil Drew by a Manitoba mile—made about Lidstrom’s eventual retirement?
The end will come when Nicklas Lidstrom chooses to finally say goodbye. The end of this remarkable run by the Detroit Red Wings. Everything is tied to him, a player who can’t possibly be replaced. Lidstrom has played 18 NHL seasons: It is no coincidence the Red Wings have had 15 100-point years in that time, two 90-plus seasons, and never once has he missed the playoffs. The previous Red Wings 100-point season came 18 years before he was born. The constant steady and intelligent presence of Lidstrom on the Wings defence — he has never missed more than six games in any season — cannot possibly be replaced upon his departure. At that point, the Red Wings will become just another team. What we don’t know yet is when that day will come.
Whether it’s this summer or next summer, whenever Lidstrom tells Ken Holland that it’s his “last year”—and I believe that we’ve got at least one more year of Lidstrom playing hockey in a Red Wings uniform before that happens—you can better believe that Ken Holland will put a plan into action.
That plan will involve spending Lidstrom’s $6.2 million salary on either one elite offensive defenseman, two very good ones, or possibly moving up in the NHL Entry Draft to snag a top-15 pick. The Wings won’t be “the same” the same way that they were when Steve Yzerman retired, when Brendan Shanahan left, and when Sergei Fedorov left, because you only come across those kinds of players once or twice in a generation…
But the Wings have managed to do OK with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg up front, and they imported Danny Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi and Patrick Eaves as necessary, they’ve brought along Niklas Kronwall and brought in Brad Stuart and Brian Rafalski, and between Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl and the fact that the Wings will spend Lidstrom’s salary wisely, they’ll survive and remain an elite team.
Also of Red Wings-related note: No fooling, Steve Schrader:
The “Close Doesn’t Matter” award
To the Red Wings, who probably wish the NHL rules would be more like pickup basketball where you must win by two. That streak of one-goal losses to San Jose before Friday’s big win was simply demoralizing. Just another reason we hope shark is served at your Mother’s Day brunch.
• The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson also stated the obvious by using “Johan Franzen” and “high ankle sprain” in the same sentence, and he offers an interesting tidbit from Scotty Bowman:
Scotty Bowman really likes Guy Boucher’s signature 1-3-1 defensive scheme. “They (Tampa Bay) let you wind up, but it’s like trying to get through a picket fence,” said Bowman, whose team used to play an ironclad left-wing lock for years (three guys across the middle with Nick Lidstrom in the middle) in Detroit that befuddled opponents, until “(Ken) Hitchcock figured it out one year we played Dallas.
“I didn’t like to use it all the time, like when I had the five-man Russian unit (Vyacheslav Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Igor Larionov, Sergei Fedorov and Vyacheslav Kozlov). I couldn’t do it all the time (regular-season). I just wanted it in the playoffs.”
The Boucher system has one forechecker, not going in too hard, three guys in the neutral zone (one defenceman in the middle flanked by two forwards and one defenceman back inside his blue-line. Bowman says Washington kept trying to shoot the puck in, but “they had (Ohlund) or (Pavel) Kubina standing by the goalie to get the puck out. The only way to beat it is to really pass it well.”
• Yes, as the CBC’s Tim Wharnsby notes, the Wings didn’t sign Predators forward Joel Ward to a contract when he was a try-out at their prospect tournament in 2001, but the reason for not doing so might surprise you: at the time, the Wings didn’t have a dedicated AHL affiliate and were sharing their prospects with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and they only had so much room for players for Cincinnati Mighty Ducks coach Mike Babcock to shepherd along;
• And also in the “one that got away” category, the Tampa Tribune’s Roy Cummings notes that Steve Yzerman signed Sean Bergenheim to a free-agent contract because he impressed Yzerman while the Bolts’ GM came to scout the Islanders’ players…as a member of the Wings’ front office.
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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.