The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/03/11 at 06:42 AM ET
As the Detroit Red Wings took a much-needed day off to re-set their body clocks and hopefully clear their heads as they hope to climb out of a 2-0 series hole for only the second time over their past 20 playoff runs, and the San Jose Sharks raced across the country to join the Wings in preparing for Wednesday night’s game (which will only be “Joined in Progress” on Versus after the Bruins-Flyers game; more on that in a bit), the Wings’ press corps offered more than a few suggestions as to how the Wings might rectify their problems in attempting to play the Sharks on even ground, but the out-of-towners mostly focused on the obvious, easy angle:
Snow showers. The Detroit News’s David Guralnick found that the San Jose Sharks’ snowing of Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard make for fantastic photography, former NHL referee Kerry Fraser found them to be an easy topic to address, and the Sharks themselves, before departing for Detroit, insisted to the Mercury News’s Mark Emmons (David Pollak was busy jabbing back at Ken Kal’s parody of the Sharks’ fan base) that they’ll continue because it’s Jimmy Howard’s fault, and will continue:
“Then there shouldn’t be any loose pucks laying there, and we won’t go there,” [Sharks coach Todd McLellan] said. McLellan also added: “We’re going to the net anytime there’s a loose puck there, and we’re stopping in the blue paint. It’s as simple as that.”
[Joe] Pavelski, who got into a shoving match with Howard in Game 1 after a shower that earned both of them roughing penalties, said there is no intent.
“It’s not like we’re coming from long distances when the puck’s not there,” Pavelski said. “He’s bobbling pucks and we’re going hard. If the puck’s just laying there and he’s taking awhile to cover it up, you go. You have to do it because if you swing away and the puck is just laying there for a tap-in, that would stay with you for a few weeks.”
The Wings don’t like it, but given the number of penalties they’ve already been assessed in this series, they know they can’t do much more than ask the referees to do their jobs, and move on to focusing on giving Antti Niemi a harder time in front of his crease instead, and aside from shoving the Sharks who do it, Jimmy Howard’s play hasn’t suffered from the Sharks’ attempts to distract him.
“We mentioned it several times to them,” [Nicklas] Lidstrom said. “I don’t know why they keep allowing them to do it. And we keep telling the refs, but it’s up to them. They could stop right away by calling it. And it’s pretty obvious that they’re trying to do it, so it’s easy for them to stop it.”
But Pro Hockey Talk’s Joe Yerdon argues that the sideshow distraction is actually, and I quote, “ringing some drama to what’s been a Sharks-dominated series”:
The question here is whether or not officials will take a stand on things. We’ve seen our fair share of odd calls made throughout the playoffs and seeing an unsportsmanlike conduct call made for spraying the goalie would rank up there, but the stink has been made now so it should be watched. We can bet anything that that the first time it happens, if it happens again, in Detroit the fans will be more than happy to point it out for the officials.
While the Red Wings have a gripe about things because mostly it’s just a jerky move in the first place, the Red Wings should be toughening up here and standing up for Howard a bit better. We know they’ve had penalty issues in the series but letting your goalie get psychological warfare thrown his way is no good either.
The Detroit Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp takes things a step further, arguing that any Wings comeback must begin by addressing the Sharks’ behavior:
Here’s a start. Don’t let the Sharks continually take liberties against Howard. They’re constantly spraying him with “snow showers” in front of the Detroit net. You might not think it is a big deal, but those ice chips could burn the eyes a little. But Howard is the only one who’s openly retaliated, going after Joe Pavelski in Game 1—and drawing a 2-minute minor roughing penalty—and slashing Joe Thornton with his blocker in Game 2.
“They’re trying to get under my skin,” Howard said. “I won’t let them.”
But why aren’t bruisers Niklas Kronwall and Todd Bertuzzi better protecting their goalie? The Wings aren’t exacting more of a physical price on the Sharks in front of the net on both ends of the ice. It’s not about losing composure, dropping the gloves and stupidly risking a 10-minute game misconduct. It’s about relentlessly pounding and prodding the Sharks, wearing them down so that they’re the ones reacting and taking more penalties in a tight game.
A comeback is doable, but only when the Wings stop waiting for action and start taking the initiative themselves. I’m sure it’s strange for them. They’re on the receiving end instead of being the punisher. How demoralizing was it for opposing teams when the Wings took a 2-0 series lead with little contributions from their primary offensive stars?
It’s not the Sharks’ big weapons who have scored the majority of their four goals. Three goals have come from two lesser-known defensemen and a fourth-line grinder. They’re doing exactly what the Wings consistently have done through the years, relying on their balance.
The challenge for the Wings is pretty simple: Can they win four of the next five games against a team that resembles themselves when they’re performing at such a high level?
Ah, Evil Drew. Always with the good points wrapped with weird. There’s no doubt that the Wings’ secondary scoring, both up front and on defense, has vanished, with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Jimmy Howard being the only players that are standing out and standing up in a series where the Sharks have dominated.
Things have to change in a hurry, or the Wings will find themselves golfing. The Sharks, who the Mercury News’s Tim Kawakami argues are on the verge of opening up a dynasty, told the Mercury News’s Emmons that playing at Joe Louis Arena doesn’t intimidate them one bit, especially given the Sharks’ record at the Joe this season (2 wins) and the playoffs last time around (2 wins):
“I think we’ve played better there of late,” Joe Pavelski said. “But the next game is going to be fresh, and there’s not going to be any thought of previous games. They’re going to be good and come out harder than they did in Game 2. So we’re going to have to play harder.”
As the Sharks were boarding their charter flight Monday morning, coach Todd McLellan said he was putting little stock in history—either the recent or distant kind.
“I don’t think the past has anything to do with the present,” McLellan said. “It’s a tough building to play in. They believe they can win there. We know the task ahead of us is a difficult one. If we let our guard down, they will make us pay for it.”
The Joe is known for the peculiar bounces the puck can take off the boards. But one benefit of the Sharks meeting the Red Wings so often in the playoffs in recent years, Ryane Clowe said, is they feel like they’re getting a better understanding of the rink’s quirks. Still, it’s an edge for the Red Wings.
“Everybody knows that their boards are different and Detroit always uses that to their advantage,” Clowe said. “They play those banks off the boards pretty well. It’s a good rink for them. They feel there are things they can do there that they can’t do on the road.”
The boards won’t help the Wings unless they’re legally bouncing Sharks players into ‘em.
I don’t want to be too repetitious, so I’ll point you to a big off-day post, the Kerry Fraser post and an evening update if you want to read all of yesterday’s stories, but aside from mentioning Pollak’s jab at the lack of hockey programming at Cheli’s Chili in Dearborn on Monday night (I kinda thought that Ken Kal cherry-picked, so I’ll say turnabout is fair play given the fact that most Wings fans would argue that San Jose is indeed a hockey town), I’d prefer to move forward with the exception of ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun’s conversation with Babcock on Monday afternoon.
Babcock watched the tape of Game 2 at Joe Louis Arena on Monday, and he had this to say about his second run-through:
“We were better in Game 2, but in saying that, I still don’t think we skated at a high enough level,” the Detroit Red Wings head coach told ESPN.com on Monday. “To me, they’re skating better and winning more races and 50-50 puck battles than we are. They’re up 2-0 and they deserve to be up 2-0, I believe. We have to be better.”
He’s bang on there. The Sharks only edged the Wings by 2-1 scores in both games, but the reality is that San Jose was markedly better in the key areas: puck possession, puck battles and sustained attack. It’s the latter that really caught Babcock’s eye when he poured over the game tape.
“When I watched it again and looked at the scoring chances, we had more than I thought,” said the Olympic champion coach. “But we’re like a power play that’s one and done. In other words, you get a chance and then you don’t sustain it. They are getting chances and they’re grinding us. They’ve had a power play, especially in the second period, where after it’s over they then spend the next four to five shifts in your zone wearing on you, wearing on you and wearing on you, taking over the momentum of the game. As much as we had a few chances and hit a couple of posts, the reality is they’ve been better than us. Their five-man game is better, we’ve been more stretched out than they have been.”
“Was it a good hockey game? Yes,” said Babcock. “We’re not really interested in good hockey games. We’re interested in one thing only. We need to win on Wednesday and then it’s series on. They held serve at home and we got to respond here. That’s the facts.”
Babcock insisted that his team must and will issue a solid response given the Wings’ experience and leadership—as NHL.com’s Brian Hedger pointed out, Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom and Kris Draper were all around for the Wings’ comeback from an 0-2 deficit to Vancouver in 2002, and Lidstrom was a rookie when the Wings rallied from an 0-2 deficit against the North Stars way back in 1992…
“When you’ve been around like I have, and you’ve gone through it a number of times, you’ve got lots of experience to go back on,” said Babcock. “Now, what does that mean really? It must just be hokey. But I remember being up 2-0 on Calgary [in 2007] and coming home 2-2. I remember being up 2-0 on Nashville  and coming home 2-2. I remember being up 2-0 on Pittsburgh  and losing Game 7. There’s lots of hockey here. But we got to be better. I’m not taking anything away from San Jose, I think they’ve been good, I really do. They’ve played well and they’ve played hard. But we can be better, so let’s be better.”
And he offered this take on the penalty parade:
“Whether you think as a player, as a coach, as a fan, that they’re getting better calls than you … none of that means anything to me,” said Babcock. “You got to be more disciplined. And I’m not just talking discipline in terms of not taking penalties, but also in terms of composure. It’s a waste of time to be yelling at the ref.”
The Wings’ players would probably argue the same thing, snow showers included, but both TSN’s Jermain Franklin and the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan focused upon the fact that the Wings remain perplexed as to why they’re taking penalties but not earning power plays:
“We were one of the least penalized teams in the regular season and all of sudden we’re one of the most,” Zetterberg said. “Don’t know the reason for that. But it’s frustrating.”
The Red Wings spent 30 minutes in the penalty box the first two games of their series against the Sharks — both losses. The Sharks had 11 power plays that led to two goals. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has been baffled by a few of the calls, but hasn’t let his team off the hook. He insists the Red Wings need to be smarter.
“The penalties I don’t like are the high-sticking and sticks on the hands (slashing),” Babcock said. “Those are freebies you give away.”
But it also doesn’t help when the Red Wings and placed in so many penalty-kill situations, which forces them to exert a ton of energy to get to even strength. It hurt, for example, in Game 1 in overtime when Justin Abdelkader was called for high-sticking (four minutes). Red Wings killed it off, but the Sharks scored right after it ended to win the game.
“We can’t spend too much time on our PK,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “It’s going to tire our team and kills the rhythm you want rolling four lines.”
So what can the Wings do to pull off their sixth comeback (per the Detroit Free Press) from an 0-2 series deficit in franchise history? The Free Press’s Helene St. James suggests that the Wings need to sustain pressure upon Antti Niemi, and force him to give up rebounds which they can retrieve for secondary and tertiary scoring opportunities, if not “grind time” in the Sharks’ zone:
“We need second-chance shots,” Johan Franzen said. “That’s been the problem, I think, getting to rebounds. It’s hard to score on goalies from the outside.”
Credit the Sharks for tightening up defensively coming into the round, something their coach, Todd McLellan, stressed before Game 1. They’ve been making it difficult on the Wings to break into the offensive zone with any degree of speed and made it hard for them to establish a forecheck. The Wings believe they can catch up, starting with Wednesday’s Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena.
“We’re not playing our best yet,” Brian Rafalski said. “We can definitely go home and play a lot better.”
St. James also argued on Monday that adding Mike Modano back into the lineup for his power play presence (if not Kris Draper, who tends to steady Darren Helm) might help, and both Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji and the Detroit News’s Kulfan offered advice to specific players.
Wakiji, however, went through the whole lineup, while Kulfan suggested that Johan Franzen (again, I believe the visor’s hampering his play as much as his ankle is), Danny Cleary, Jiri Hudler, Justin Abdelakder and possibly Modano need to step up.
That list’s a little short, obviously, as Valtteri Filppula, Niklas Kronwall, Brian Rafalski, Helm, Todd Bertuzzi and even Tomas Holmstrom and Zetterberg to some extent haven’t given the Wings the secondary scoring that produced goals from 13 different skaters against Phoenix, never mind the kind of physical presence that allowed the Wings to counteract the Coyotes’ physical forecheck, but in the “experts” category, both Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner and the Free Press’s Jamie Samuelssen argue that no player’s performance can stave off the inevitable as they believe the Sharks are simply the better team right now:
It reminds me of the Red Wings circa 1999-2000. Following two straight Stanley Cups, the Wings ran up against Colorado in the second round in 1999. After two wins in Denver, the Wings lost the next four games and waved good-bye to the Cup. There was sadness and frustration, but there also was a feeling of “No big deal; you can’t win it every year. We’ll get ‘em next year.” The next year was even worse. The Avs eliminated the Wings in five games—and it wasn’t that close. Colorado was the better team. A first-round loss to L.A. the following year spurred the Red Wings to go after the likes of Dominik Hasek, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille, and the Cup returned.
The Red Wings are not at that point right now. This is not time to rebuild or panic. They still have one of the best teams in the NHL. But aren’t you wondering whether the Sharks are a little better? They’re the ones controlling the puck most of the game. They’re the ones making their opponent pay for silly, needless mistakes and penalties. And in a cruel twist of irony, the Wings are the team getting the ridiculously good goaltending. Antti Niemi has been solid as a rock. But Jimmy Howard has been better. Sure, he got crossed up on Niclas Wallin’s goal Sunday. But he has been the Wings’ best player through two games, and there’s not really a contender for second place.
When the series shifts to the Joe on Wednesday night, the Wings need to take care of the puck better. They need to create traffic in front of Niemi the way Sharks have in front of Howard. They need to drive toward the net the way they did during the opening moments Sunday—when they really seemed to be the better team. They know what they need to do. But the Sharks know it, too. And so far, they’ve been able to stop it. It’s a rather amazing shift for San Jose. They looked so scattered during much of their series against L.A. Now against Detroit, they have been smart, disciplined and the better team, for the most part.
The Wings’ playoff dramatics are well-documented. Surely, the optimists will hearken back to Vancouver in 2002, when the Wings won four in a row after losing the first two games at home. But only a handful of players from that roster are still on the team. Many of these players haven’t faced a great deal of adversity during the playoffs—certainly not 0-2 holes—and come back from them. When the Wings won the Cup in 2008, they never trailed in a series. They never trailed in a series in 2009 until they lost Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. They trailed Phoenix last year and came back to win. They trailed San Jose, 2-0, and lost in five. My point is this: A 2-0 deficit is a 2-0 deficit. The thought of winning four out of five against a team as talented as the Sharks is daunting. It’s not impossible, but the odds are against it.
But other “experts,” including Jacques Demers and Barry Melrose, told the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa that the Wings have the leadership in place to make their one-in-seven-teams-do-it chance of rallying from an 0-2 deficit happen, mostly by focusing on winning one game at a time instead of four of the next five:
“You don’t look that far ahead,” said Jacques Demers, a former Red Wings coach. “The Detroit Red Wings are blessed with a tremendous amount of character. They have a great captain and one of the best coaches in the league. It has to start right there. Great leaders like Nick Lidstrom and Mike Babcock will say the right things, and they will have the right approach. These are not clichés. It is what works.”
“You have to believe you can do it,” said Barry Melrose, an analyst for ESPN. “That is, by far, the most important thing.”
“Whether it’s the players who do it or the coach does it, you have to establish that sense of belief regardless of what has happened in the first two games,” [Melrose] said. “I know. I’ve been in that situation when you look around the room and you see the faces and you know they don’t believe they can win. And you are toast, then. When doubt creeps into your play and you start hoping to win instead of believing you will win, you are done.”
A strange “expert” weighed in via NBC Sports and New Jersey Devils play-by-play man Mike Emrick, who had this to say about the Wings’ chances…
“It’s one period at a time, one game at a time, and some coaches and players in these situations will talk about it being one shift at a time,” said Mike “Doc” Emrick, a play-by-play announcer for NBC and Versus whose 38-year broadcast career began with the Port Huron Flags of the IHL. “It’s a cliché. But there are, after all, reasons for clichés — and one is that they are true. It’s usually a matter of the mental state. San Jose has had success. They won two, they’ve defeated the Wings recently and San Jose is a terrific team. But there is reason to believe that if the Wings win Wednesday, we’re in for a heck of a long series.”
But Wings legend Alex Delvecchio believes that the Wings will be fine once they break through and score a couple goals on Antti Niemi, who was shaky at times during the Sharks-Kings series:
“I think they’re playing as well as can be and they’re up against a pretty hot goaltender,” he said of Antti Niemi, who has allowed two goals in six periods plus seven minutes of overtime after a subpar performance against the Kings in the first round. “I think that’s been the difference. Keep getting opportunities, keep shooting on him and it will turn.”
Delvecchio knows scoring. One of the best playmakers of his era, he retired with 456 goals, 825 assists for 1,281 points.
“A couple of goals against this guy and he’s going to lose that edge he is playing with,” he said. “Then, they’ll find it’s a lot easier.”
These are all great ideas, but what do the Wings have to say about getting to Niemi? Well, as MLive’s Ansar Khan noted, the Wings know that their blueprint for victory begins by stopping the Sharks’ cycle. Khan points this out in light of the fact that the Wings have been out-shot 37-18 in the second periods of their first two games, but the Wings’ statements are relevant for all 60+ minutes of play given that sustaining possession and control of the puck in the offensive zone is the way both the Wings and Sharks win games, and the Wings can’t even start to get to Niemi if they’re spending all their time, energy and effort chasing the Sharks around in their own zone:
“Got to keep (their cycle) short. The longer it goes on the harder it is to stop,” Franzen said. “Need to have good effort to cut them off right away and try to get the puck out right away.”
Just how tiring is it to be caught on the ice when the Sharks cycle and grind the puck?
“Of course it is, if you’re stuck in there,” Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski said. “You always try to do that in the second period because you have easier change with the forwards. You got to try to limit those. That’s where your depth comes in. You got to give those guys a chance to rest.”
That involves playing better positional defense instead of chasing after the puck carrier, attempts to get on the inside on puck battles and get their sticks and skates in shooting lanes, supporting each other better, bearing down on clearing attempts, and, of course, not simply letting the Sharks wind up in their own zone, generate speed through the middle of the ice and get open shooting lanes on Howard. The Niclas Wallin goal was emblematic of the Wings’ struggles as everybody backed off, giving the Sharks’ version of Ruslan Salei a de-facto breakaway from his own blueline in, with Niklas Kronwall possibly tipping the puck over Howard, who admittedly whiffed on it.
Perhaps it’s as much on Howard as anyone to get out to the top of his crease and play outside the blue paint, challenging the Sharks to bump him in an area where the referees at least tend to assume that goaltenders aren’t fair game for what really feels like getting wet gravel showered upon you.
The Wings know that they have to be the ones getting the Sharks to back off, but they can’t even start forechecking and banging Sharks’ defensemen’s bodies without simplifying their play through the neutral zone, firing one-touch passes to forwards skating speedily through center ice instead of simply waiting for defensemen to take the initiative and gain territory before the Wings’ Inner Artiste (TM) begins his endless set of lateral and backhand passing, forcing the Wings offsides or sending one slow-skating forward into a swarm of Sharks defenders.
That means, as Khan suggests, occasionally dumping the puck in to force the Sharks’ forwards and defenders alike to turn toward a puck you must out-work them to retrieve:
“We got to execute on them and be harder on the puck in their zone,” Babcock said. “The more of those 50-50 pucks you win, the more you’re going to have the puck.”
“They spend too much time in our zone tiring us out instead of us doing the opposite,” Brad Stuart said. “I don’t think we made it hard enough on their team. We just need to shoot more, get pucks in behind them a little better and that’ll help us.”
Said goaltender Jimmy Howard: “They’re playing well in their own end. They’re really making us work. We just got to keep throwing pucks at the net and keep pushing it. Continue to do things that make us successful. That’s spending as little time in our own zone and spending the majority of our shifts in theirs.”
The Wings have tended to shoot the puck at both goaltenders and into the opposing team’s zone as forechecking, and their forwards usually have the speed and moxie to out-battle their opponents to get on the inside of pucks via hard skating and body position instead of the reaching-with-your-stick stuff that sends the Wings to the box. It’s about moving your feet, out-working, out-competing and out-hustling your opponent, and well…
It’s going to happen on the ice. We’ll find out whether the Wings can manage to rally or whether this is simply a bad match-up two years in a row on Wednesday. As I suggested on Monday night, regardless of what happens, it’s not like Ken Holland is going to make major changes to the team if they falter, because that’s not the way the Wings do business, but in the interim…We just have to wait and hope.
Regarding Wednesday’s telecast: I have crappy, crappy, crappy news for you if you’re a Wings fan who is out of Fox Sports Detroit’s broadcasting radius in the U.S. regarding Wednesday night’s game.
The game is slated to start at 8 PM EDT and air on Fox Sports Detroit, Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area, TSN 2 in Canada and Versus in the U.S., but, via a question from MsRedWinger, one of the 19+, I was informed that several Wings fans’ TV guides were telling them that they’d be watching the Boston-Philadelphia game (which starts at 7 PM EDT) on Wednesday night.
I asked Puck the Media’s Steve Lepore whether he knew what was up, and he offered this response via Twitter:
It’s FS Detroit in your market. VERSUS joins in progress after Flyers/Bruins. Game Center/Center Ice for those outside The D.
So the NHL will at least unlock Center Ice and GameCenter Live in the U.S., but if you’re out of FSD range and don’t have either, you’re going to be watching the Bruins-Flyers game until it ends, and we all know what “Joined in Progress” games mean—you’ll get Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s gang describing the events of the 3rd period.
• If you’re interested in the connection between Newfoundland natives Ryane Clowe and Danny Cleary, the Mercury News’s Mark Emmons reveals that the pair are friends when their respective teams aren’t playing against each other:
Not only are the two friends, but they also will become extended family this summer when Clowe marries longtime girlfriend Jennifer Murray, who just happens to be Cleary’s third cousin.
“No, I’m not a matchmaker,” Cleary said. “But she and I basically grew up together. It’s funny how they crossed paths a few years ago. He’s a good player and a good guy.”
Both Cleary and Clowe would make good members of Newfoundland’s tourism board, too. From their respective locker rooms, each talks glowingly about its rugged beauty, unique distinctions and how “mainlanders” have misconceptions about the province.
“We’re definitely the butt of jokes,” Cleary said. “But you’ll find that Newfoundlanders are very friendly and down to earth.”
• And regrettably, I found that the world was a little angrier than I expected it to be, at least in the comments section, on Monday, and given the results of the election in Canada, you’re going to find our Canadian friends might be a little grumpy this morning, but I can’t make things any better regarding the final tidbits of news I have for you.
Expressen’s Mattias Ek asked Team Sweden coach Per Marts if he’d call Nicklas Lidstrom to recruit him (they’re both from Vasteras), or Niklas Kronwall (whose brother Staffan is playing for Team Sweden) for Sweden’s World Championship team, and Marts suggested that he didn’t expect Detroit to be swept, but he changed his tune while speaking to Aftonbladet’s Mats Wennerholm, suggesting that he’d call both Detroit and Washington’s Swedes should their teams fall into 3-0 series deficits.
Sovetsky Sport’s Pavel Lysenkov, of course, suggests that Russia is hoping that both Pavel Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin are eliminated from playoff contention as soon as possible.
The Worlds are charming that way…While we’re cheering on our teams, the players’ respective countries’ media corps are cheering against them.
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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.