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The Malik Report

Red Wings-Sharks practice updates: Datsyuk, Zetterberg may play together on Friday

Updated 7x at 10:26 PM: Amongst today’s pre-Red Wings and Sharks practice updates, we start with a few comments from Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who appeared on Puck Daddy Radio today to talk about the Wings-Sharks series and the octopus-tossing tradition in Detroit, via Greg Wyshynski’s Twitter account:

Ken Holland on octopus tossing: “When anthem is sung in DET, and at the end there’s octopi on the ice, I don’t really see problem.” #PDRadio
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Ken Holland tells us Steve Yzerman was on his GM of the Year ballot. (I know - stunned!) #PDRadio #redwings

• This is particularly important given MLive’s Jonathan Oosting’s recap of the fact that 25-year-old Charlie Graves is the second Wings fan to be both fined $500 and face a “disorderly conduct” misdemeanor for throwing an octopus onto Joe Louis Arena’s ice—and Graves reported that it was the Wings’ ushers who turned him in to the Detroit Police department;

• If you’re looking for a place to watch the Wings’ first three games with fans, the Red Wings’ website reports that the Wings will be holding viewing parties for fans:

FRI, APR 29 10 PM HAMLIN PUB 55076 Van Dyke AVENUE, Shelby Twp. (586) 786-9350
SUN, May 1 3 PM HOCKEYTOWN CAFE 2301 Woodward Ave, Detroit (313) 965-9500
SUN., May 8 8 PM MOTORCITY CASINO 2901 Grand River, Detroit (866) 752-9622

• If it matters, KNBC’s Lori Preuitt reports that the Sharks will be hosting a pre-game rally prior to Game 1;

• If you’re stuck at home like the rest of us, via RedWingsFeed and Steve Lepore, here are the announcers Versus will employ for Sunday’s NBC game:

BREAKING: Dave Strader, Joe Micheletti and Darren Pang will call Game 2 of Red Wings-Sharks on NBC.

• In the series previews department, the Sports Network’s Don DiScullo is picking the Sahrks in seven, Fox Sports’ Spector is picking the Sharks in seven, as is the CBC’s Scott Morrison, and the National Post’s Noah Love is picking the Wings in five;

Update: The Sporting News’s Craig Custance is picking the Wings in seven;

• The CBC’s Jordan Shifman, and, via RedWingsFeed, TSN’s Scott Cullen made second round fantasy hockey picks, with Pavel Datsyuk looming large in both reports;

• In plain old interesting news, the IIHF’s Lukas Aykroyd reports that the Red Wings will not release Jan Mursak from the “Black Aces” to take part in the World Championships for Slovenia. For now, the fact that Mursak needs to soak up as much knowledge as possible before turning pro with the Wings next season trumps national ties, and I believe that, per Hokej.sk, the same is true for Slovak Tomas Tatar;

• From the Sharks’ perspective, part 1: broadcaster Dan Rusanowsky posted a column on the Sharks’ website breaking down the Wings-Sharks match-up, while Drew Remenda, uh, rambled;

• The Mercury News’s David Pollak posted a superb pre-practice Q and A:

David Pollak: So is there still something special about facing Detroit?

Todd McLellan: “If you asked anybody that’s won a championship with a group, there’s always an attachment to that group and there will always be that spot – that moment, that time that you battled with that group. But we’re trying to create that moment here now so we’ve put all that aside. It’s about living for today. We’re part of the Shark family and that’s our focus.”

David Pollak: So there’s no extra incentive — in a friendly way, of course — to beat your former boss, Mike Babcock?

Todd McLellan: “When you start as a coach or a player, playing with that kind of motivation, I think it can be dangerous. It’s not about Mike and Todd. Mike and Todd are going to stand there and change lines. The players are going to go out and play and at the end of the day, we know one of the teams is going to move on. Whoever plays best in a seven-game series is going to win. Eventually the better team evolves and takes off. We’d like to be that team and there’s a pretty good team over there and we understand that.”

Assistant coach Jay Woodcroft often gets overlooked in these situations, but I wanted his thoughts on the match-up of past and present as well: “You know what, for us it’s about the series and the players are going to decide it. It’s two teams going at it that play a similar style and may the best team win,” Woodcroft said.

No side bets with friends in Detroit? “No. I can’t speak for Todd, but we have special relationships with people back there and that’s great. But right now we’re four wins away from advancing to the next round and that’s what it’s all about.”
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Neither practice is open to the public, but San Jose is skating at Sharks Ice today at 11 a.m. while the Red Wings, who flew here yesterday, are practicing at HP Pavilion a couple hours later. The Merc and Detroit News are part of the same newspaper group, so we’ll be swapping stories and information — some of which I’ll try to post here as things develop.

• From the Wings’ perspective, part 1: Detroit Hockey Weekly’s Paul Harris spoke to the Wings before they left for San Jose last night…

“We play similar styles and have had similar teams with a lot of skill up front, puck-moving defenseman and good goaltenders,” Red Wings’ captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We both like to hold the puck when we have it and to counter-attack quickly when we get it.”
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“We got a good feeling going into the next round. We can’t complain about anything,” said Henrik Zetterberg, who will return after missing the first-round four-game sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes. “We won four straight and had a few days off.”
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“It’s a new season, a new playoff. We played against them so many times. We know it will be a good match-up and it will go more than four games,” Zetterberg added. “They’re one of those teams you’re extra fired-up to play, so you don’t have to think back all the way to last year to get fired up.”
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“They’ve got a lot of guys that can shoot and score. We’ve got to be aware of not just one, two or three guys, but their top three lines,” Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart said. “When you’re a team that has gotten this far you usually have the depth up front. It will be a challenge for us to match-up with them.”

There isn’t much separating the Red Wings and Sharks.

“I feel we’re evenly matched in the physical standpoint,” Stuart said. “It’s going to come to execution and who gets the bounces and who has more will.”

• As did MLive’s Ansar Khan:

They beat us last year, ended our season,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “That in itself should have us a little fired up and wary. They beat us three of four times this year. So it’s up to us.”

Players don’t need extra motivation in the postseason, but Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard said his team wants a little revenge, and forward Danny Cleary said they’re looking for a little redemption.

“It’s in the back of everybody’s mind,” Cleary said. “No one feels good about getting knocked out, no matter what round it is. They played better for sure, but there were a lot of one-goal games, a lot of missed opportunities.
t’s a good opportunity for us to prove ourselves again. They’re a good team, it’s going to be a good series.”

Said Howard: “They did end our season last year. I think it’s going to push us.”

The Red Wings must show more discipline than they did in Games 1 and 2 last year (San Jose went 4-for-16 on the power play, including a pair of five-on-three goals).

“You can argue the calls, but the fact is, we have to be better in that area,” Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said.

In the multimedia department:

• Jimmy Howard spoke to WJR’s Mitch Albom on April 21st, but WJR’s terrible in terms of updating Albom’s podcast page:


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• Somehow, WXYT’s Mike Stone and Bill Towers managed to rouse Darren Helm out of bed to talk about the Wings-Sharks series this morning:


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• USA Today’s Kevin Allen appeared on WBBL this morning:


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• Fox Sports Detroit’s John Keating spoke to WDFN’s Matt Sheppard yesterday morning:


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• Fox Sports Detroit’s Wings columnists engaged in a round-table discussion of the Wings-Sharks series;

• And again, via RedWingsFeed, Mike Babcock spoke to NHL on the Fly on Wednesday:

Finally, for now, anyway, DetroitRedWings.com’s Jake Duhaime shared an on-the-road story, revealing what it’s really like to travel across the country on Red Bird II:

One of the misconceptions of flying on the team plane is the assumption that those five-hour West Coast flights would go by faster. Yet there I was, struggling to entertain my ADD self with books, episodes of Seinfeld and movies that I had seen one too many times.

Out players have the drill down pat, having downloaded episodes of their favorite TV shows for this specific reason. You know that scene in 24/7 where Alex Ovechkin packs his XBOX 360 for the team trip? We’ve got that happening too! I can’t say I caught the full context, but Jimmy Howard was happy about beating a teammate 6-1 in some game as we made our way to California.

There are two muses that I rely on while on the road, not only as helpful faces, but also as bearers of wisdom on protocol and superstition. One is our equipment manager Paul Boyer, who has been with the club since 1994, while the other is play-by-play voice Ken Kal, who went over notes with his radio partner Paul Woods, and was busy piecing together elements for his next broadcast.

On this night, with a pair of seventh games taking place in Boston and Pittsburgh, there is a scramble for scores. Upon refueling in Nebraska, Ken Daniels breaks out his cell phone, which conveniently enough, is connected to his home TV via Slingbox to watch, even if it was just for a few minutes. We received word that the Bruins had beaten the Canadiens in overtime with about an hour remaining in the flight and the Lightning-Penguins/Tigers-Mariners scores upon landing in California.

The team arrived in San Jose around midnight EDT, or 9:00 P.M. local time. The ride from the airport to the hotel was short and sweet, with the obligatory ‘we’re here’ texts to family back home. One of the perks of team travel is that, like many tours, the check-in process is already completed upon arrival, with each player and staff member receiving an envelope with a room key ready to go.

So now the focus shifts to hockey. Thursday is a practice day at HP Pavillion, while Friday is the usual road game routine. There’s been a lot of chatter about how great the Vancouver-Chicago series was, not just because the quality of play was so high, but also because casual sports fans are starting to get excited about hockey.

Update #1: The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch is covering the Wings-Sharks series, and he presents some pre-practice comments from Babcock:

“Our guys are champing at the bit,” Babcock said before practice Thursday. “They’re like, ‘Let’s play already.’ “

Really, the Wings welcomed the rest—and needed it. It has given them a chance to get healthy, with winger Henrik Zetterberg ready to come back from a sprained left MCL that kept him out of the first round. Then, there’s winger Johan (Mule) Franzen. He has been dealing with an ankle issue that kept him out of practice until Wednesday but he is expected to play. That’s why Babcock has been happy with all the time off. With Zetterberg and Franzen back for Game 1, Babcock will have plenty of options with his forward lines.

“With the injuries we’ve had with Zetterberg and the Mule, we needed the time off,” Babcock said. “I’m a big believer that you take the time off over playing, anytime. If a series goes longer, you don’t know who else is going to get hurt. That’s a big positive for us. I always say that a break from hockey come playoff time means you don’t get injured. That makes a huge difference because injuries can be a huge factor. If we get these guys playing, that’s going to be big for us.”

Babcock said that a short series is necessary, somewhere along the line, in order for a team to win the Cup. While the Wings may be rusty in Game 1, but he has been happily sitting back watching other teams beat each other up.

“I believe you can’t go seven games in every round,” Babcock said. The priority is get the series finished as promptly as possible. “Get them done fast. Get re-healed, re-energized and get ready to go. I just know last year when we played a best-of-seven, stayed over in Phoenix and then went right to San Jose, we lost two games before we even got started. That doesn’t help you be successful.”

The Wings will be looking for revenge for last spring. Eliminated in five games by the Sharks in Round 2, Detroit arrives on the West Coast knowing this is a different group in the San Jose room.

“They’re a good team. It’s like all good teams—there are always challenges,” Babcock said of the Sharks. “They’re really deep up front. They have three lines that can score. (Goalie Antti Niemi) won the Stanley Cup last year. They don’t fall off a lot on the back end either. It should be fun. You want to play good teams and you want to beat good teams. That’s how you win in the end because if you can’t beat the good teams then you’re not going to win anyway.”

Update #2: According to the IIHF’s Risto Pakarinen, Daniel Larsson won’t play for Sweden in the Worlds, either:

• Per the Wings’ Twitter account:

Blogging before practice? You betchya! We’ve arrived and are ready for Round Two. http://bit.ly/ijSa4n
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Nick walks off the bus to practice. http://t.co/tLXLJ7v
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First couple of players are on the ice for practice. Ozzie came out, looked at the cameras and said he was #winning http://t.co/ArEOSXq
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Another shot from our practice at the Shark Tank. http://t.co/qEGkWHd
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Everyone out on the ice now, including Mule. Lots of skating, lots of chatter, always a good sign.
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Updated at 4:09 PM: Our Black Aces enjoy practice before they are scheduled to take the ice. http://t.co/pFJMYIR

Update #3: Here’s WXYT’s Jeff Riger weighing in on Jimmy Howard:

Whether it’s fair or not, the reputation of Wings goalie Jimmy Howard is on the line when Detroit takes on San Jose in the Western Conference semi-finals that starts on Friday night. We all know that Hockeytown is hard on their goalies so even if Howard is good in the series, and the Wings lose, he will be blamed and he knows it.

“When isn’t it a defining moment for me” Howard said, “whenever I turn around it’s a defining moment, so I’m going to go out there and play the same way as I have played and try to play the same way that I played in the Phoenix series.” Now if Howard is able to accomplish playing as well as he did against the Coyotes, then Detroit and Howard will be in great shape. In the Wings first round sweep of Phoenix, Howard allowed just 10 goals and finished with a .915 save percentage. With numbers like that and the team’s ability to score goals, the Wings should prevail. Of those 10 goals, 2 went off Detroit players’ skates and 6 came on the power play which means Howard allowed 2 non-fluky or so called “soft goals” in the series. Of course, the Sharks are much better than the Coyotes. They ended Detroit’s season in 5 games last year, but fell short of the Cup Finals, which leads one to believe the Sharks are thinking “just do the same as last year”! Ironically enough, Howard is thinking “just do the same” as well. Just not as in last year, instead, as in last series.

If the video code doesn’t work for you, you can watch it here.

• And SI’s Adrian Dater is picking the Wings in six.

Update #4: From the Wings’ Twitter account:

Babcock: Our team is forechecking as well as we have since we had Dallas Drake, so that is a good thing for us.
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Babcock: We are excited about the opportunity here and we know that we are playing a real good team in San Jose. #NHLPlayoffs #SJSDet
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Babcock: There are good players on both teams, but I thought Joe Pavelski was a real big factor for them last year during the playoffs.
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Man at work. Paul Boyer working on some skate repairs after practice. http://t.co/ofgv4AW

• DetroitRedWings.com’s Dave Burke spoke to the Wings about the rest versus rust debate on Wednesday:

“Well, we played two nights before going into San Jose to play that first game, so you like to get a couple more days in,” {Nicklas] Lidstrom said. “That’s just the case with the playoffs. It’s a brand new year and we’re looking forward to the playoffs.”
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“We’ve had a week here to get in some good practices, work on face-offs and refresh, so were ready to go,” [Henrik] Zetterberg said. “This week was real good for me, I was able to practice full out and the next step is to play in games. I’m fired up and healthy and really excited to be back playing.”

Franzen, another player on the mend, is a bit more of a question mark for Friday’s opener at San Jose, but not if you ask the power forward. When asked how he felt after the skate, he answered, “Good”. And if he’ll play Friday, he answered with a simple, “Yeah”.
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“Yeah, last year we got thrown right into it and they (Sharks) might have been a little bit fresher than we were,” [Franzen] said.
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“They’ve got real good depth up front, three lines that can score, one that checks and is physical and their backend has improved and a goalie who’s won the Stanley Cup already,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They’ve got a good team and will present a good obstacle for us and were looking forward to it. Last year they ended our season, and that, in and of itself, should have us a little fired up.”

And Babcock made an intriguing comment about the SI article about Pavel Datsyuk:

“I never saw it (article), but I’ll have to check it out,” Babcock said. “I never thought much about it, but I think Pavel is one of those guys that is an elite, elite player, has been for a long time. His personality is such that he’s an unbelievable teammate and a great man. He doesn’t share himself with the media and the public as some guys do and that’s why in some ways he goes under the radar. He’s been up for all of these trophies for a long time and I don’t think he’s really under the radar, he’s a pretty good player.”

• On the Sharks' side of things, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch noted that the Sharks have faith in Antti Niemi’s ability to shut the Wings down…

The Sharks have had only a few days to prepare since knocking off the Kings Monday night. But they will present the Wings with a different challenge this year—Antti Niemi, who won a Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks last spring, is their goalie.

“I just find with (Niemi), he makes the big save at the right time,” Sharks winger Ryan Clowe said. “When you’re reeling a little bit and the other team has got the pressure on, he just makes that save at the right time to kind of calm things down. You can have 10 minutes of sustained pressure and he comes back and makes that big save. That’s what you need in the playoffs.”

• Todd McLellan spoke to the Mercury News’s David Pollak about what he plans on doing if the Wings play Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on the same line...

“They’ll be apart, they’ll be together. I know exactly how it’ll work over there,” he said. “Both those individuals are comfortable playing together or apart, not unlike what we have with Patty and Jumbo. And does he plan to try and do anything differently when the two Red Wings are out there together?

“We’ll see,” is the extent of his answer.

And he spoke about making adjustments in a more general sense:

“We have our foundation and something we believe in and we’re not going to stray from that,” he began. “But we’re going to look at a different penalty kill, we’re going to look at a power play that operates a little bit differently. Every team,” he continued, “has its own set of faceoff plans and Detroit has that. The goaltending tendencies are different. There are a lot of adjustments made from team to team, series to series.”
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“You basically close the book and you start over,” McLellan said. “Your power play, your penalty kill percentages, your faceoff percentages – it’s over and you start at zero again. You try and build them and be the better team in the series. Those’ll be goals for us as the series goes on.”

Patrick Marleau and Douglas Murray also suggested that they expect to be playing against the Wings’ top lines as both Babcock and McLellan are quite happy matching up #1 line versus #1 line and #2 line versus #2 line:

“You have to be strong on both sides of the puck. That’s the main thing when you;’re playing against Zetterberg or Datsyuk and all their wingers,” he said. “You make a mistake or take a shift off or don’t have it and it usually ends up in the back of your net.”
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“Playing against Detroit especially, I’ve been playing in different situations,”[Douglas] said. “They’ve got some big boys with (Todd) Bertuzzi and (Johan) Franzen on the wing and most of the time I line up with one of those guys.”

But he’s not going to be lining up Datsyuk…

“You’ve got to be more in contain mode than aggressive mode and try to outsmart him that way,” Murray said. “He’s a little bit like (Peter) Forsberg. They see everything coming and either they counter-hit you or they spin off you.”

Via the Wings’ website, here’s Babcock’s Thursday presser:

And, oh goody, Joe Thornton spoke to KNBR today:

 


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Update #5: The Canadian Press’s Bill Beacon and Chris Johnston are split in terms of their Wings-Sharks picks, with Becon picking the Wings in six and Johnston picking the Sharks in seven;

• Yahoo Sports’ staff writers made their second round picks, and they’re pretty much split as to whether the Sharks or Wings will prevail;

• “Defending Big D’s’ Brandon Worley suggests that the Stars should interview Paul MacLean as a replacement for Marc Crawford;

• Fox Sports Detroit’s John Keating quite literally got poetic in penning an “Ode to the Playoffs”;

• If it matters, the Wings top Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika’s second round power rankings;

• According to MLive’s Ansar Khan, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk practiced together, alongside Tomas Holmstrom, but Babcock wasn’t completely willing to commit to the line sticking together through Friday’s game…

“I decided they’re practicing together today,’’ Babcock said. “They’re going to warm up together tomorrow night.’‘

Said Zetterberg: “You never know how it’s going to be tomorrow. I’ve been playing with (Valtteri Filppula) and Homer a lot, too, this week.’‘

Johan Franzen (sore left ankle) practiced and once again confirmed that he will play in Game 1.

And Babcock also talked about the sticky wicket that is having to scratch two forwards tomorrow night:

Babcock would not reveal which two forwards will sit out in Game 1. Modano almost certainly will be one of them. The other appears to be Draper. Hudler was playing the point on the second power-play unit, with Kronwall (Franzen, Bertuzzi and Cleary were the forwards). The first unit featured Datsyuk-Zetterberg-Holmstrom and the usual pairing of Lidstrom-Rafalski.

“I think the decision (on who to scratch) is way harder in the regular season,’’ Babcock said. “Because in the regular season it’s more individual. Right now it doesn’t matter what your name is. It’s not about me, them. It’s just about playing. So whatever helps us win that’s who we’re going to play. Our minds can change on that, too.’‘

• The Red Wings’ Facebook page posted an 18-image practice gallery, and Jake Duhaime tried to capture some lighter moments from practice via talking about Kris Draper’s boundless playoff enthusiasm:

And as winter turns to spring and the dog days transform into playoff beauties, nobody has more fun on the ice than the 39-year-old [Kris] Draper.

“I was reading the quotes from Nathan Horton of the Bruins, who said it was his dream come true to play in the playoffs,” Draper said. “We’ve been so lucky to do it as many years as we’ve had I’ve been on both sides, winning the Stanley Cup and getting bounced in the first round. Those are the things that stand out the most, working so hard and spending so much time on it and then maybe that quickly, it’s over.”
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“He’s obviously done a lot for Detroit and this team,” [Todd] Bertuzzi said. “The guy always shows up to play and always fits into any role that he’s been given.”

Including this season, as Draper was rotated as a healthy scratch with the younger Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves. Though as he would tell you, experience, even by some of its youngest players is this team’s biggest attributes.

“These guys over the last three or four years have been a part of long successful playoff runs and that’s experience you just can’t teach,” Draper. “Look at guy like Darren Helm. He’s young. Yet he’s been there on that stage before and you can’t teach a young player what that’s going to be like. They have to experience it for themselves.”
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“He’s like a little kid for sure,” Tomas Holmstrom said. “He’s good to have. He makes everyone else relaxed, talking about, joking around. He’s probably the only guy that celebrates Christmas twice a year.”

Update 5.5: Via RedWingsFeed, here’s a video about Draper:

• Via RedWingsFeed, also:

#RedWings prospect Petr Mrazek (@Ottawa67sHockey) was nominated for OHL goalie of the year, but Visentin gets the nod http://is.gd/2uUToa

• Sportsnet’s Mark Spector is picking the Wings, FTR.

Update #6: The AP’s Josh Dubow finally updated a four-paragraph story about the Wings-Sharks redux with some quotes via both himself and the AP’s Larry Lage:

“It’s a completely different series, different teams, different circumstances,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “If we fall into that trap of looking back to last year we’ll sorely regret it. They’re a healthier team they’re much more rested. They’ll have a revenge factor. There’s a lot of things that will be different this year. Our team will have to be very cognizant of that.”

Both teams are well aware of the difference a year makes. Last year, the Red Wings won a Game 7 in Arizona and flew that night to San Jose. They took one day off to rest before starting a series against a rested Sharks team. San Jose won three straight one-goal games to open the series, overcoming third period deficits in the last two wins and went on to win the series in five games.

“It was tough,” defenseman Brad Stuart said. “You go from an emotional seven-game victory, one day off and you’re right back at it. We just got behind the eight ball a bit and never caught up. You never want to admit it, but we were a little fatigued from everything. It’s nice to come in fresher this time.”

The Red Wings finished off the first round April 20, giving then eight full days off between series compared to the three for the Sharks, who eliminated Los Angeles in six games. That could make rust the issue early in Game 1 this year.

“It’s always a concern,” coach Mike Babcock said Thursday. “But I’d rather have that concern instead of playing last night.”
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“We have fairly similar teams,” Zetterberg said. “We play similar ways in terms of structure. They’re always good battles. We’ve played these guys so many times. You know everyone, you know what to do, you know what you don’t want them to do. It’s going to be a great battle. It always is.”

• And MLive’s Ansar Khan made his non Wings-Sharks picks for the second round.

• Here’s Ted Kulfan’s personnel update:

With Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen returning to the lineup, two forwards are going to sit. Mike Modano, who sat the first three games of the Phoenix series before entering Game 4 when Franzen was unable to play, is likely to be one healthy scratch. But who’s the other?

Kris Draper could be a possibility, as Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller might have more of an offensive touch on that particular checking line. Jiri Hudler was thought to be a candidate to sit, but his performance in the latter part of the Phoenix series may have kept him in the lineup.

Coach Mike Babcock wouldn’t discuss what his plans are. But Babcock did say sitting people in the playoffs is easier than during the regular season.

“The decision (who to sit) is way harder in the regular season,” Babcock said. “In the regular season it’s more individual. Right now, it doesn’t matter what your name is. Whoever helps us win, that’s who we’re playing.”

Update #6: Via RedWingsFeed, the Detroit News’s David Guralnick posted a 23-image practice gallery;

• CSN Bay Area’s Ray Ratto weighed in on the series being a very different one from last year’s rout—but he argues that it’s the Sharks, not the Red Wings, that are a different animal:

A year ago, the San Jose Sharks faced the Detroit Red Wings without Patrick Marleau, who was engaged in the hobbies of the flu-ridden. They were also without Niclas Wallin (injured), Ian White (trapped in Raleigh), Jamal Mayers (St. Louis) and Kyle Wellwood (Russia).Their philosophy has changed, too. They are indeed a different operation, and it took three months of getting their brains kicked in to understand it.

Now they have to understand it again by denying that their finest playoff moment – beating the Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs – has any shelf life. This will not be as easy as constant repetition of the phrase, “Do you remember how much trouble you had with Los Angeles when you had no good reason to?” You’d like to think that would matter to the Sharks, but with them, you never can tell.

It will also be more difficult given that the Wings still have the same team. They have upgraded their sixth defenseman with veteran Ruslan Salei instead of Andreas Lilja and Jiri Hudler for Drew Miller, but that’s pretty much it. Pavel Datsyuk is still Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg is still Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom is still Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom is still Tomas Holmstrom Oh, there are more subtle differences, to be sure. The Wings will dump and chase more than they used to, they will play the body a bit more, and Lidstrom is more willing to slow a game’s pace down than he used to – I mean, the man is 57 years old, after all.

But the Sharks are the Western Conference’s most ethereal good team, dominating regular seasons and then making you gnaw your fingers to the second knuckle in the playoffs. When your top moment comes in the second round, you have issues. And the Sharks revivified all those fears by needing six games to take out the Kings. They actually blotted out the three months when they were the best team in the sport with a maddeningly uneven performance, and the questions about their best players in the big ones has extended, at least for the moment, to defenseman Dan Boyle.

In short, this series is about the Sharks rather than the Red Wings. Most observers with the blessings of distance give the Sharks the benefit of underestimation, which actually works to McLellan’s advantage, but San Jose has something to prove here. In fact, a lot. One, whether they are who they say they are. Detroit had an easier time against a tougher opponent (Phoenix), and that alone makes front-runners look at the Sharks with their usual disdain. Two, whether consistency can still be theirs. San Jose built its rush from 12th to second on being the same team pretty much every night – careful in their own end, as comfortable with 3-2 games as 5-2 games. But they have these voices in their heads that tell them, “You’re still young, you’re still fast, you can win with just your skills,” and the voices get louder and more persuasive at the most difficult times. Three, whether they can beat the Red Wings when they are whole and rested. Most folks believe the Wings were vulnerable last year, and they were right. Few people believe that this time, and the Sharks have to prove them wrong by reverting to the slightly duller, slightly more conservative and much more responsible course. They cannot skate with Datsyuk, they cannot match Zetterberg’s tirelessness, and they cannot equal Lidstrom’s calm in the face, of well, anything, and they definitely cannot recreate match the enormity of Holmstrom’s backside in Antti Niemi’s line of sight.

The Sharks can dictate terms in this series; they have before. But they’ll have to do it a different way, and they’ll have to be comfortable with that. They cannot pretend to be what they used to be, unless they want to become again what they used to be – a team who never failed to fail in the second round.

• Pro Hockey Talk’s Joe Yerdon and James O’Brien are picking the Wings and Sharks, respectively;

• Babcock spoke to NHL.com’s Eric Gilmore about the rest versus rust factor...

“It’s always a concern, but I’d rather have that concern than playing last night,” Babcock said Thursday after practice at HP Pavilion, where the Red Wings and Sharks will meet Friday night in Game 1. “We understand that. This building’s always a tough building, the first 10 minutes anyways. Obviously last year we came right from Phoenix. (We) didn’t have the same opportunity to rest or prepare. This year we would have been in big-time trouble if that had been the case just because we had so many injuries. We needed guys to get time off and get healthy so they could get playing. So we’re excited about the opportunity. We know we’re playing a real good team. It should be fun.”

He reports that Zetterberg’s fully adjusted to his knee brace…

“I felt good,” Zetterberg said. “This week has been good for me, a lot of practice and a little more rehab. So I’m ready to go.”

Zetterberg has also had time to adjust to a skating while wearing a knee brace.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “I’ve been skating for almost a week and a half with it. It’s no big deal.”

And Babcock talked about Zetterberg’s return…

“We’re hoping he’s going to give us a real boost because we think he’s a high-end player,” Babcock said of Zetterberg. “He’s determined; he works hard. I think he’s ready to go, and yet in saying that, until you play some games, until you (play at) game-tempo. … I think it should be two really fast teams that want to get the puck up and down the ice and want to have the puck the whole time playing against each other. So something’s got to give there. We’ll see how he does.”

While Johan Franzen insisted that a strong start is nothing less than essential for the Wings:

“They come out hard and throw a lot of pucks at the net,” Franzen said. “We’ve got to try to take it to them before they take it to us.”

• As for this assertion from Todd McLellan, made to the CBC’s series blogger, however, I call BS:

“They’ve made some adaptations in what they do,” McLellan said. “Everybody has to. We’re a lot different than we were a year ago.”

In fact, the Wings are probably better at the grittier matters - dumping the puck, working the corners, combining their skills with a bit more grind. But the real truth may be found in the fact that they went from one day off to eight days off before they faced the Sharks, and after two full runs in the playoffs in 2008 and ‘09, plus being extended to seven games by Phoenix last year, their bodies may have finally rebelled. This Red Wings team is clearly fresher, and McLellan is frankly grateful for the motion that the Sharks are underdogs.

“We’re just trying to stay under the radar as long as we can,” he said.

Right.

Here are the lines the blogger says the Sharks practiced with:

Projected forward lines

Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton-Devin Setoguchi
Dany Heatley-Logan Couture-Ryane Clowe
Torrey Mitchell-Joe Pavelski-Kyle Wellwood
Jamie McGinn-Scott Nichol-Jamal Mayers

Defence pairings

Douglas Murray-Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Jason Demers
Ian White-Niclas Wallin

Goaltenders

Antti Niemi
Antero Niittymaki

• Via RedWingsFeed,here’s Lyle Richardson’s series preview from Fox Sports, in YouTube format. Long story short, he’s picking the Sharks in seven.

• Inside Hockey’s Andrew Bensch is also picking the Sharks in six;

• And Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press took note of the fact that the Wings’ sixty-six percent efficiency on the penalty kill against Phoenix won’t cut it against San Jose:

[The Sharks] finished the season with the second-best power play in the NHL at 23.5%, and while the Los Angeles Kings did a good job against it in Round 1 (but still lost), the Wings can’t afford to let this series become a special-teams battle.
...
“I think we just have to stay within our structure,” Justin Abdelkader said today. “We finished the season really good on the penalty kill. In the last round it didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but we’ve made a few corrections and I think that can be a big key for us in this series.”

The Wings looked like they relaxed a bit on the PK in the Phoenix series, the result of generally having a lead when the Coyotes got one. That mindset won’t work against a team that can field Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi and Ryane Clowe, among others, up front, and Dan Boyle on the back end.

“Staying out of the box is definitely key,” Darren Helm said. “They’ve got a lot of talented players that can put the puck in the net, they’ve got big bodies that move the puck well. They’re all pretty high-end players that have pretty good chemistry together. You can’t give them a whole lot of time, that’s when good players make good plays. I think we’ve got to be hard on them, pressuring them a lot, I think that’s going to help on our PK, and then every time we touch the puck, make sure it goes 200 feet. Giving them second chances is going to kill us this series.”

Setting the pace Friday night rather than waiting for the Sharks to do so would help. The team that trails and has to chase the puck is usually more likely to take penalties, and if the Wings can draw a few, they’ve got a pretty good power play of their own. Asked if the Wings had to be wary of the Sharks’ power play on the eve of Game 1, Henrik Zetterberg smiled.

“I think,” he said, “they think the same about us.”

Final update: The Sharks’ website focused on San Jose’s faceoff dominance and depth at center...

San Jose is led by Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Scott Nichol down the middle. Detroit has talent of their own, highlighted by Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Their offensive numbers drives the hockey talk. Datsyuk scored 59 points in just 56 games and Zetterberg was a point-a-game man in 80 contests. Thornton, Couture and Pavelski each hit the 20-goal plateau with Couture leading the way with 32 tallies and Thornton with 70 points. A lot of those offensive numbers are driven by time in the offensive zone and for the two puck possession clubs, time is often earned by winning an inordinate amount of draws. San Jose topped the National Hockey League by taking 55.5 percent of their faceoffs, but Detroit wasn’t far behind, ranking fifth at 52.2 percent.

“The more you have the puck, the more successful you’re going to be,” Couture said. “Both teams are puck possession teams and that’s the first thing that the coaching staff here brought over to San Jose from Detroit. Puck possession and faceoffs are a huge part of it. We have been such a successful faceoff team last year and this year during the regular season. They have some good centermen in Datsyuk and Zetterberg and guys like that who want the puck. It’s going to be a battle in the faceoff circle.”

Couture’s right. Nichol paces San Jose with an amazing 59.4 percent success rate, followed by Thornton (54.4), Pavelski (54.3) and Couture (53.4). Kris Draper (56.6) and Datsyuk (54.6) topped Detroit, but Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm and Zetterberg were all better than 52 percent.

“They’re all really skilled with the puck and they win faceoffs,” Pavelski said. “Everyone has a pretty solid game all around so it makes for three strong lines and their fourth line can hold their own. They’re one of the better faceoff teams in the League and they’ve been over the last four or five years. They take a lot of pride in that and so do we. It’s a battle and you want to be on the positive side and you never know when that one faceoff will lead to something.”

“I’ve had lots of experience over there and I know the type of centermen they have in Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Helm has played a hell of a season and had a real good (first) playoff series,” Coach Todd McLellan said. “They’ve got Filppula (51.5) who they can put in there so they have some talent. They have some strong people up the middle as far as skating and faceoffs go so they’re very talented and deep.”

Joe Thornton would disagree, suggesting that his has the edge in terms of overall depth (he claims that the Sharks’ top nine forwards are better than Detroit’s), and he insists that his “Jumbo” status will prevail over the smaller Datsyuk and Zetterberg:

“Usually, I’m always set up against Datsyuk and Zetterberg, so really it’s just competing as hard as you can against them and try to wear them down,” Thornton said. “ I’m a bigger forward than they are and hopefully over the course of seven games you can wear them down.”

• If you want to read Allison High’s take on the Sharks’ playoff beards, you may do so on your own;

• The Mercury News’s Mark Emmons pondered the fact that home ice advantage doesn’t matter as much as it used to;

And the Sharks’ website posted video clips of Todd McLellan’s post-practice presser…

Defenseman Dan Boyle’s comments…

 

As well as Joe Pavelski’s chat with the media…

 

And “Jumbo” being himself:

 

• The CBC’s series blogger spoke to Todd McLellan about the whole McLellan versus Babcock match-up…

This is not about Mike against Todd,” McLellan said. “The coaches change lines. The players go out and play.”

The one factor that is evident since McLellan took over the Sharks is the similarity between the style of game played by both clubs.

“Especially since Todd has been there, we play similar styles and have had similar teams with a lot of skill up front, puck-moving defencemen and good goaltenders,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We both like to hold the puck when we have it and to counter-attack quickly when we get it.”

And the blogger found that the Sharks adore the play of rookie center Logan Couture…

Couture scored 32 goals and led all NHL rookies in game-winning (eight) and power-play (10) goals. He also topped first-year players in shots on goal (253) and was a plus-18, second-best among rookie forwards.

“He’s turning into a complete player, where not a lot of young guys are like that,” Wellwood said.

Before noting the following:

Often a scapegoat for San Jose’s playoff failures, Joe Thornton moved the Sharks into the second round with his Game 6 overtime winner against Los Angeles, but that’s not all he’s been delivering to the team. He dished out a team-high 49 assists and led the NHL this season with 114 takeaways.

• The CBC also posted a video preview in which Brad May discusses the Wings-Sharks match-up—and May believes that the Wings’ depth, especially on the blueline, will prevail;

• Also in the multimedia department, TSN posted a 1:02 off-day clip of comments from the Sharks and a 4:17 series preview which talks about the depth-versus-depth match-up;

• The Wings’ website also posted a clip of Ken Kal asking San Jose natives about their hockey knowledge, with predictably mixed results:

• The Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness took note of Babcock’s unwillingness to talk about the possibility of Zetterberg and Datsyuk playing together, he issues Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink
 

Comments

SYF's avatar

“Our guys are champing at the bit,” Babcock said before practice Thursday. “They’re like, ‘Let’s play already.’ “

All business now, gents.  Cannot wait for tomorrow night.

Posted by SYF from Alana Blanchard's Bikinis and Surfboards on 04/28/11 at 04:55 PM ET

perfection's avatar

it’s kind of shocking to me that anyone who actually WATCHED round one could pick the Sharks to beat the Wings. 

Niemi (how many times was he pulled in that series?) and the Sharks struggled mightily to beat a young Kings team who was missing their best player while the Wings, while missing one of their best players, coasted to a meticulous and surgical sweep. Howard is on. Datsyuk is playing like a runaway Conn Smythe winner AND Z is returning. the depth scoring is firing on all cylinders. everyone’s fairly healthy. Lidstrom’s played only 18 min a night AND they’ve had a week of rest.

so, i realize the Sharks have home ice (though i almost guarantee the Wings take one of the first two games), etc. and are obviously skilled enough to theoretically beat the Wings, i mean this series is no gimmee, but there is no logical justification for anybody to pick the Sharks to win based on what the teams look like today or how the first rounds transpired. The Sharks are pretty lucky to even have advanced. I swear, picking the Wings to lose is just the ‘cool’ thing to do for these so called analysts.

i mean BOTH Roenick and Keith Jones picked Pheonix to beat the Wings. I haven’t checked yet, but are both also picking the Sharks? morons… every last one of them.

Posted by perfection from LaLaLand on 04/28/11 at 05:41 PM ET

Alzy's avatar

I don’t get it either perfection, especially those who say the Sharks are deeper up front. How could anyone say that when the Wings are getting production from EVERYONE? Only three skaters out of 19 failed to register a point against Phoenix. Yet somehow, the Fish are deeper?

My prediction, based on both teams’ current level of play, would be Wings in 5. If the Fish and specifically Niemi had trouble with the depleted Kings, they’re in for a nightmare with Detroit. Injuries and officiating are the only two obstacles that can stop the Wings in this series, in my opinion. The Sharks at their peak simply cannot match the Wings at their peak.

Posted by Alzy from Cambridge, Ontario, Canada on 04/28/11 at 06:02 PM ET

TheRealYooper's avatar

oh, man, can hardly wait until friday night.

listening the the commissioner on xm. said each team has their on traditions, and the league should respect them.

why do i get a vision of southparks HumancentiPad when i hear him speak?

Posted by TheRealYooper from within sight of the edge of the Earth. on 04/28/11 at 07:37 PM ET

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

nailed it, you arrogant bastard smile

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 04/28/11 at 07:51 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Count me among those who think the Wings should take this series - in less than 7.  Definitely we win one, if not both, games in the Shark Tank.  Why am I so confident?  The Wings are the deepest team in all areas.  And in the first round, I saw hunger and determination that I wasn’t sure about during the regular season.  If the Wings want this series, they have it.  Something feels different - in a very good way - this post season.

LET’S GO RED WINGS !!!!!

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 04/28/11 at 07:56 PM ET

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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.