The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/27/12 at 06:41 PM ET
Updated with Joey MacDonald injury news at 4:53 PM: Despite our comments to the contrary regarding one Johan Franzen’s comments about the wheels falling off the Big Red Machine, I thought that Franzen’s suggestion that the Wings struggled down the stretch in no small part due to, as he told MLive’s Ansar Khan, a lack of self-confidence and plain old forgetting how to enjoy themselves—to the point that the Wings’ swagger and ability to somewhat loosely and confidently bounce back from adversity, especially without the “morale officers” that were Kris Draper and Chris Osgood in the mix, yielded late-season stumbles and perhaps a snowballing effect which yielded the return of the Detroit’s early-regular season paper-thin level of self confidence.
You may not bought Franzen’s theory, but given the, well, rigidi, cliched and, “Um, I don’t really know what happened” tones of the Wings players’ comments, there’s something to be said for Franzen’s earnest attempt to figure out how a team that could keep up with bigger, stronger and sometimes deeper opponents because its high-tempo puck possession game, tenacity and willingness to out-work, out-hustle and out-compete its opponents ended up firing a ridiculous number of un-screened, un-tipped, and especially un-retrieved perimeter shots on Pekka Rinne, only sustaining the kind of “one-and-done” offensive flourishes which almost inevitably resulted in the team either chasing cleared pucks down the ice or surrendering odd-man rushes, prime scoring chances (usually of the same kind of screened/retrieved/secondary/tertiary nature that the Wings managed to generate prior to the team’s spate of injuries and sinking self-confidence in February) and especially goals due to unforced and catastrophic defensive errors which wound up in the back of the Wings’ net.
I’ll gladly take suggestions that the Wings somehow seemed to forget that they were in fact an elite team which could rebound and recover from adversity, that they plain old stopped having fun, and that, as Franzen told Khan...
“We need to have more fun out there, get some confidence back,’’ Franzen said. “We looked like a drained team, kind of, in most of the games. Get some joy back, believing in ourselves, knowing that we’re a good team, and play for each other.’‘
The Red Wings were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Nashville Predators. Franzen, speaking Tuesday, when players cleaned out their lockers, believes the handwriting was on the wall following a 7-11-4 finish to the regular season.
“We didn’t have a good ending to the season, eight wins in the last (27), including playoffs,’’ Franzen said. “You got to come into playoffs with confidence, otherwise it’s so tight. You’re playing a team with a really good defense and a great goalie (Pekka Rinne), so if you don’t have that extra thing to get through it’s going to be tough.’‘
Why was confidence lacking? And what do they need to do to rekindle that enthusiasm? Franzen didn’t have the answers.
“The first four games we played good and we took it to them, but then we made some mistakes and they scored as soon as we gave them one chance,’’ Franzen said. “It’s demoralizing when you have the pressure pretty much the whole game and you make one mistake and they put it in your net. We still should have found a way to win more games.’‘
In other words…
“Who wouldn’t want Pavel (Datsyuk), Hank, Kronner (Niklas Kronwall), Nick (Lidstrom), Fil ... I can go on and on,’’ Franzen said. “We got a great team. We just got to realize that.’‘
Khan made sure to point out that, in addition to suggesting that the Wings’ lack of scoring depth on its third and fourth lines yielded an inability to break through the Predators’ defense after it had checked the Zetterberg and Datsyuk lines to a standstill (just as it’s interesting as all hell get out that Khan suggests the Wings are looking for a sniper, top-pair defenseman and a big, ornery fourth-line forward, because the Wings seemed to sorely miss what I guess I can best describe as a Mike Knuble-like presence, especially on the Emmerton line, I wonder whether the Wings’ coaches and management might reconsider perhaps finding a sniper who can give and go with Valtteri Filppula so that Zetterberg and Datsyuk can be reunited?), Wings coach Mike Babcock was unwilling to throw Franzen under the bus four days after offering a terse, “You can ask him” to the press regarding Franzen’s struggles to score:
“I don’t think we scored even-strength at all (four five-on-five goals in the series),’’ Babcock said. “I don’t think you want to point at the Mule. I think you want to point at all of us.’‘
I completely understand your frustration with Franzen’s own disappearing act late in the season, and that “The Mule” turned into, “Horse’s Ass” while playing more like Mikael Samuelsson than at least the “stealthy sniper” which perhaps describes Franzen’s abilities better than the “power forward” which Babcock incessantly prods the Mule to emulate…
But Franzen’s right here, folks, or he’s at least on the right track in terms of searching for substantive answers as to why the Wings lost so much confidence down the stretch that, once the Predators took those one-goal leads in games 1, 2, 4 and 5, fans like you and me all but knew that the games had been decided.
Wings broadcaster Ken Kal gave an interview to The Fan 960’s Pat Steinberg on Wednesday, and while he discusses more than just the Wings’ struggles from February onward (he believes that Nicklas Lidstrom will in fact return), he readily admits that “the wheels fell off,” perhaps from the trade deadline onward, too:
In “new news” of a sort, DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose revisits Danny Cleary’s comments about the troublesome left knee which will require surgery next week, and I can’t help that think that once doctors open up that arthritic, repeatedly fluid-drained and bone-on-bone-grinding knee than preliminary MRI’s will indicate:
“I have some significant issues going on,” Cleary said. “They’ll know more when they get in there. There are a lot of different things in there, there are some tears in there, loose cartilage, some bone on bone, a lot of fluid – the build-up of fluid was a major issue – so hoping that we can get it resolved.”
Cleary’s health issues went from bad to worst this season, first breaking ribs in training camp then he was hobbled by the knee injury, which began in November.
“It was an injury-filled season,” he said. “The broken ribs were a (bad) thing to have for me, the way I have to play; it’s not the ideal thing to have.”
He received pain-killing injections before each playoff game against the Nashville Predators, something that he couldn’t do during the season. But even as he tried to work through the pain, it clearly limited his effectiveness on the ice.
“Listen, I tried as hard as I could, what are you going to do? It’s hard playing on one leg,” said Cleary, who was held without a point in five playoff games. “Every day, just walking alone I couldn’t walk without a limp since November, so the games were really hard.”
It sounds like Cleary will be up and around in 6-8 weeks after the operation, which should allow plenty of time for him to prepare for the start of training camp in September. Along with forward Patrick Eaves, who missed the final 60-games of the season with post-concussion symptoms, Cleary will be counted on next season to anchor the third and fourth forward lines.
“I thought just this year at the end we didn’t have enough depth up front,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We need a healthy Dan Cleary. I think that can make a huge difference for us, but we need to be deeper up front for sure.”
Or, if you’ll allow me to pull the whole, “Sharing my opinion” thing again, the Wings were and are accustomed to the concept that at least one of their “top six” forwards winds up playing alongside whichever combination of Drew Miller, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Patrick Eaves constitutes the third line, and instead of Cleary, Franzen, Bertuzzi or Hudler finding themselves grinding it out and registering points if they underachieved alongside Datsyuk, Zetterberg or Valtteri Filppula, the third line was where scoring forwards went to slumber…
Though Babcock doesn’t earn an exemption from culpability because he steadfastly refused to promote Tomas Holmstrom from the fourth line despite the fact that Holmstrom could have helped the cause.
In news regarding a player who’s all but assured to leave the Wings, the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek ponders the possible destinations for one Brad Stuart, who’s incredibly likely to return to California to play in the same state where the Mrs must remain until Stuart’s stepdaughter turns 18:
There have been hints, all season long, that defenceman Brad Stuart would likely part ways with the Detroit Red Wings once his contract expires in July, not for professional, but for personal reasons. For the past four years, while Stuart has played in Detroit, his wife and children have stayed behind in California. It’s not a situation he wants to see continue. The question will be, is there a landing place for him among the three California teams? He has already played for the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings, so that would suggest the Anaheim Ducks might be at the top of the list, a team that has two excellent young rearguards (Cam Fowler, Luca Sbisa) that might benefit from having someone with Stuart’s experience and pedigree. The Ducks are also committed to veterans Lubomir Visnovsky and Francois Beauchemin, so they some depth there and it may well be a dollars issue. Once the Los Angeles Kings finish up the season, they’ll need to assess whether Stuart – who played for Darryl Sutter years ago in San Jose - might be a fit too.
“I love it here,” Stuart said to the Macomb Daily. “If it was a purely hockey decision, I would stay. But I’ve got other things to consider and factors other than just hockey. Those are things I guess I’ll have to figure out in the next month and a half.”
The end of the first round yielded a slate of “playoff factoid” articles today, and while this one from Sportsnet’s Luke Fox makes me want to sniffle and hope and pray that the player involved chooses to score a few more playoff points and play in a few more playoff games so that he can pass Steve Yzerman in the all-time Wings playoff scoring lead and Chris Chelios in the all-time playoff games played categories…
1,142 career points for Detroit’s Niklas Lidstrom, who might retire after the Red Wings were eliminated by the Predators
And this quip from the Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN, gives me hope that the Wings can and will continue to set, “One for the aged” records…
Martin Brodeur (age 39) and Jose Theodore (35) were the goaltenders in the Devils victory over the Panthers. It marked only the third time in NHL history that a pair of goalies, both age 35 or older, faced each other in Game 7 of a playoff series. The others were Dominik Hasek (Red Wings) vs. Patrick Roy (Avalanche) in 2002, and Tim Thomas (Bruins) vs. Dwayne Roloson (Lightning) last year.
I can’t help but disagree with this assessment from The Score’s Cam Charron:
Detroit lost playing their own game: Detroit are known for playing a puck possession game that results in a lot of shots at the opposition net, a lot of cycling, and generally keeping the puck out of their own end. Well, they succeeded in doing that this series, but as Nashville has done all year, they find a way to get it done, despite being outshot 85-124 at 5-on-5 this series.
The Predators have been turning opposing goaltenders to dust all season. Just Boston and Tampa Bay had higher shooting rates. Will their luck ever turn, or will we have to get used to the Predators as a juggernaut?
Not really, no. Puck possession for the Red Wings involves retrieving rebounds to generate secondary and tertiary scoring opportunities, sustained forechecking to generate turnovers, cycling down low and along the perimeter to generate point shots fired toward players whose butts are planted in front of opposing goaltenders, circling, regrouping and passing back and forth to force opposing defenses to commit the same kinds of “over-coverage” mistakes the Wings made by chasing puck carriers, occasionally dumping the puck in to force opposing defensemen to turn and get hit by that forecheck, and especially generating all of the aforementioned “stuff” by skating through the neutral zone with speed and numbers (as opposed to sending one forward into 4 or 5 trapping defenders) thanks to one-touch passes from the Wings’ puck-moving defensemen.
The Wings are infamous for being able to out-shoot their opposition by wide margins while generating very little in terms of quality scoring chances, and the Predators’ players and goaltender duly noted that Rinne could see almost every shot and that they were able to keep the Wings’ players on the outside of the slot and other scoring areas, forcing the Wings to blast perimeter shot after perimeter shot Rinne’s way.
That isn’t puck possession hockey on a sustained basis. The Wings ended up plodding up ice, taking multiple attempts to so much as gain the Predators’ blueline, gain the blueline without turning over pucks to forwards who would roar down the ice on odd-man rushes against Wings defenders, and eventually skate into the zone deeply enough that forwards would either fire those un-screened, un-retrieved perimeter shots on Rinne (assuming that their shots weren’t wide or fired into Predators shot-blockers, and the Wings were averaging something like 35-45 shots on the net and another 25-35 shot attempts fired wide or into Predators players throughout the courses of games 1-4) or pump pucks back to the point, where defensemen would attempt to thread needles through three or four shot-blockers and/or forwards closing on defensemen to take away their time, space and potential outlets.
That last point is what pissed me off the most—regardless of whether we’re talking about defensive zone mistakes in terms of over-coverage which led to lost-check players finding themselves open for point-blank or empty-net chances on Jimmy Howard, the litany of turnovers the Wings committed along the side boards, especially behind the net or via poor clearing attempts, the endless turnovers the Wings committed in the “danger zone” that is the territory marked by both the neutral zone and the first 10 feet of the offensive and defensive zones, or whether we’re talking about the ways in which the Wings’ defensemen had nobody to pass to, the Predators were able to pin (sometimes illegally) Wings forwards to the boards and steal pucks via winning 50/50 battles or plain old plucking pucks off the sticks of single wingers trying to do too much…
The Wings’ wingers and centers provided no support for their puck carriers and no passing outlets because they were out-skated by their opponents. That unwillingness or inability to out-skate their opponents also happened to contribute to the Wings’ penalty issues, too.
If you missed it, Jamie Samuelssen penned a column about the demise of the “blue-collar athlete” in Detroit now that the Tigers let Brandon Inge go and Tomas Holmstrom seems destined to retire for 97.1 the Ticket, and a revised version of Samuelsson’s column , penned for the Free Press and discussing the role of the “most divisive athlete in Detroit sports” instead, is worth a read:
It’s one thing to debate the Lions starting quarterback or the Red Wings goaltender. It’s another to spend hours on end talking about a Tigers bench player. But that’s what happened. Part of it was his fault for his delusional quotes that seemed to fan the flames just as they were about to extinguish. But he’s gone now. No need dredging those up again. Instead, we have to deal with the question at hand – who will take over Inge’s title as the most divisive athlete in Detroit sports?
Here are a few candidates:
• 2) Jimmy Howard – You know the drill by now. Regular season success means nothing in Hockeytown. The greatest Red Wing goaltenders have rings on their fingers and after this season, Howard has now lost more playoff series than he’s won. I still like him and don’t think he’s the ‘problem’ with the Wings right now. But fan expectations for the goaltender are much, much higher and Howard will take some heat if he struggles next year or if the Wings don’t advance deep into the playoffs.
• 7) Jonathan Ericsson – Mike Babcock loves Ericsson and calls him the key to the Red Wings resurgent penalty kill in the latter part of the regular season. Fans see an oversized defenseman who makes too many mistakes. With Brad Stuart leaving and Nicklas Lidstrom contemplating retirement, Ericsson will get plenty of key minutes next season. So he’ll have more chances for greatness, and more chances for mistakes.
And perhaps the next Inge isn’t here yet. Perhaps he’s toiling away in the minors or hasn’t even been drafted yet. As a blogger and a radio host, I have to admit that I got a lot of mileage out of Inge and his fanatic backers.
And finally, here’s an incredibly roughly-translated summary of the comments Jakub Kindl made to iDnes.cz’s readers today:
• Kindl says that he’s not deterred by the fact that he’s had to fight for regular playing time in Detroit, suggesting that playing for the Wings, “Is the same as playing for Real Madrid or Barcelona in soccer”;
• Kindl also pointed out that it’s not as if Jiri Hudler or Jimmy Howard spent no time in Grand Rapids, and while he’d like to play more regularly, he understood why the Kyle Quincey trade meant that he was forced out of the lineup, especially after suffering a strained quadriceps muscle, and as such, he was OK with the fact that he didn’t play in the playoffs because he wasn’t as “experienced” as Quincey. Kindl says that he will remain patient and that he understands he’s got to earn his spot over time;
• When Kindl was asked about Wings prospect and Czech goaltender Petr Mrazek, he suggested that Mrazek had a bright future given his performances at the World Jnior Championships, but that he’s going to ply his trade in Grand Rapids for a few seasons;
• According to Kindl, Chris Chelios is still working out with the team on a very regular basis, and as such, he’s still setting an example for the team while continuing to perform his famous bike rides in the sauna. Kindl says that he can only survive doing so for 10 or 15 minutes;
• And Kindl told iDnes’s readers that every Wing is hoping that Nicklas Lidstrom will return, because the Perfect Human’s habits are admired both on the ice, off the ice, in terms of his preparation, and hell, even what he eats, so he constantly sets examples for the rest of the team to aspire to match.
Update: The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan provides an update on Joey MacDonald’s attempts to recover from a bulging disc—which turned out to be herniated—in his back:
Joey MacDonald is sticking around the Detroit area a little longer. Still recuperating from a partially herniated disc, MacDonald will remain in Detroit for the next four to six weeks working with Red Wings trainers to make sure he’s fully healthy headed into the summer.
MacDonald doesn’t think surgery will be necessary, and rest and rehabilitation should do the trick.
MacDonald has a one-way contract next season and will likely be the No. 2 goaltender behind Jimmy Howard. But if MacDonald is injured and unable to play when training camp arrives, it opens the door for someone else.
“That’s why I want to stick around here and be 100 percent ready,” said MacDonald, who won the back-up from Ty Conklin the second half of the season. “It’s going in the right direction. I’m about 75 or 80 percent right now. I want to be at 100 percent before I go home.”
MacDonald was 8-5-1 (including a seven-game win streak) with a 2.16 goals-against average and .912 save percentage with the Wings this season.
“It was disappointing at the end when I got hurt but when I got the opportunity to play, and play a lot, coming in a tough situations with the (home) streak going on here, overall, it went good,” MacDonald said.
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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.