The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/15/12 at 05:10 PM ET
Updated with more gabba at 3:37 PM: The Red Wings are flying to San Jose this afternoon, choosing not to practice after their back-to-back losses against Los Angeles on Tuesday and the Ducks last night, respectively.
The Free Press’s Helene St. James filed the following addendum to her stories about the Wings’ losses with an eye toward what will be a must-win game against a San Jose Sharks team that’s fighting for its playoff life on Saturday evening, noting that Red Wings coach Mike Babcock didn’t really have much to say about the fact that his team played without Nicklas Lidstrom (bone bruise, back Monday at the earliest), Pavel Datsyuk (knee, possibly back on Saturday), Jonathan Ericsson (broken wrist, out 3-4 more weeks) or Jakub Kindl (strained oblique muscle, no timeline as of yet):
“The biggest thing is, we’ve got to get the team playing,” Babcock said. “There’s 11 games left in the regular season for us. We need to get people back and healthy and we need to get playing good. But instead of waiting for the cavalry, why not play right now? Where we finish is where we’re going to finish, that’s just the reality of the situation. But you’ve got to go in feeling good about yourself to give yourself an opportunity, and I can’t imagine we’re feeling very good about ourselves right now.”
Sloppiness with the puck has been a problem, leading to turnovers and goals-against. The Wings had a good start in Anaheim, but then allowed three goals in the second period. A night earlier at L.A., the Wings didn’t start playing until the second period, and then after making it 2-1 they turned the puck over and never recovered from a 3-1 deficit.
“Right now, we’re not playing as a team,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We’re making it too easy on the other team.”
Of the Ducks game, Valtteri Filppula said, “We’ve got to try to play better defensively, and that way hopefully create some more offensively. I think we did some good things, too, and were able to create some chances. But then in key moments we made some mistakes and they made good plays.I think we’ve been playing well during the season and now parts of the game, we’re playing well, so I don’t think we should be too bad, confidence wise. We’ve just got to keep playing and hopefully get a win.”
It’s not going to get any easier in San Jose. The Sharks are a middling 19-11-2 at HP Pavilion, but they’ve been having so rough a season they’re actually fighting just to stay in the playoff picture. The Wings can ill afford to have another lapse, though, because their losing has left them with a tiny two-point lead on Nashville for fourth place—and home ice—in the Western Conference. Given the way the Wings have played everywhere on the road, even fully healthy, starting anywhere but at Joe Louis Arena would be dicey. As Babcock put it: The healthy Wings need to be their own cavalry.
St. James also added an intriguing comment from Henrik Zetterberg via Twitter:
First reporter comment to Zetterberg last night: “I’ll bet you don’t want to talk about the PP.” Him: No (polite with a smile).
I’ll say it: 0-for-28 since February 28th.
I’m not sure why, but Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji’s recap of last night’s game wasn’t posted by Fox Sports Detroit’s editors until around noon, and she adds a few more quotes to the mix:
“We made it way too easy on them,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We didn’t get the pucks deep, we didn’t get out of our zone quick enough. A lot of times I thought we put ourselves in trouble, same thing like last night. They got some talented forwards, they’re going to create some damage if you’re not playing the way you should. Tonight, I thought we shot ourselves in the foot. We kept making mistakes and they got way too much time in our zone.”
The Wings have now lost three straight games in regulation for the first time since their awful six-game losing streak near the beginning of the season. What is similar to that skid is the lack of offense. In those six games, the Wings averaged one goal a game. In their current 3-7-1 swoon, they have 29 goals but just 11 in their last six.
“In those last games we haven’t given up many shots either but we’re not getting enough,” Babcock said. “We’re not spending enough time in the O-(offensive) zone. If you turn the puck over coming through the neutral zone you spend your shift in your own zone, it’s way more fun to play in the offensive zone. We have to get our head around the fact we have to get through the neutral zone. That might be the toughest thing we’ve done here lately.”
Their road record stands at 16-20-1. With four road games left, the best they’ll be able to do is reach .500 and they have to win all four to do so. They have 94 goals scored and 109 scored against them away from home. It’s a completely different story at home, as we all know. They’re 28-4-2 at Joe Louis Arena and have scored 125 goals there compared to 62 for their opponents. But haven’t the Wings always prided themselves on their depth and their ability to overcome adversity?
“We believe we have enough intensity in here, we want to win games,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “We don’t want to go out there and lose. I think we’re trying, sometimes you try a little too hard and it ends up being in your net instead.”
When the Wings were winning all of those games at home, even when they were behind in games—which was rare—there was never any panic, but rather a sense that somehow they would find a way.
“I guess somehow things don’t go the way you want and you start thinking too much and playing slower,” Valtteri Filppula said. “I think we have to try to play more confident and good things happen that way.”
Also of Red Wings-related note this afternoon:
• If you missed Mitch Albom’s story about Shawn Burr’s struggles with a second bout of cancer, the Red wings want you to know the details of Saturday’s game to benefit Burr’s foundation and screen for bone marrow donors:
Detroit Red Wings Alumni will match-up against players from the Shawn Burr Foundation this weekend at Great Lakes Sports City Arena in Fraser, MI. The two teams of former professionals will skate against each other on Saturday, March 17 at 4 p.m. to support blood cancer research.
The “Hockey Cancer Classic” is supported by the Shawn Burr Foundation and will benefit both The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the University of Michigan Comprehensive Care Center. Burr, a Red Wing from 1986-1995, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2011 and has since dedicated his charity to helping support cancer research.
The Detroit Red Wings Alumni team will feature past fan-favorites such as Darren McCarty, Dino Ciccarelli and Mickey Redmond. The club will compete against players representing the Shawn Burr Foundation, including former Quebec Nordiques defenseman Craig Wolanin. Fans interested in attending the event can purchase tickets by visiting www.shawnburrfoundation.org. Tickets to the game are $10.
Other upcoming Red Wings Alumni games include:
Saturday, March 24
Red Wings Alumni vs. Westland Wild Wings – 7 p.m.
Mike Modano Ice Arena, Westland, MI
Sunday, March 25
Red Wings Alumni vs. Shriners All-Stars – 3:45 p.m.
Great Lakes Sports City Arena, Fraser, MI
Saturday, April 21
Red Wings Alumni vs. The Well All-Stars – 1 p.m.
Kensington Valley Ice House, Brighton, MI
• In the future tense from the Wings, I’ll only add the teaser from Rick Bouwness’s release regarding the CCHA Championship, which will be held this Friday and Saturday at Joe Louis Arena:
The 2012 CCHA Championship gets underway on Friday afternoon in Detroit, with four talent-laden college hockey squads – Michigan, Bowling Green State, Western Michigan and Miami University – set to hit the ice at Joe Louis Arena all looking to capture the Mason Cup. Staged at JLA annually since 1982, this event has produced no shortage dramatic moments over the years as well as several memorable performances from student-athletes who’ve gone on to skate in the National Hockey League.
Bouwness’s list includes all the NHL-drafted prospects involved, so it doesn’t include Western Michigan University free agent defenseman Danny Dekeyser.
The games will air on Fox Sports Detroit Plus for the semifinals (Miami of Ohio versus Western Michigan at 4 PM EDT on Friday, and Bowling Green State versus Michigan at 8:05 PM EDT on Friday) and FSD for the championship game on Saturday (7:30 PM EDT), which precedes the Wings-Sharks game (10:30 PM EDT)...
• If you missed the entry I penned about the Red Wings players who were named among the player-ranked Hockey News’s Top 50 list, with Henrik Zetterberg finishing at #20, Nicklas Lidstrom leading all defensemen at #7 and Pavel Datsyuk second only to Sidney Crosby, MLive’s Brendan Savage notes Datsyuk’s status as #2, and he took note of the CBA chatter at the GM’s meetings as well;
Yes, the Red Wings’ mostly-up-but-sometimes-down season will lead to the postseason for the 21st consecutive season. That much is not in jeopardy. What has come into question is their starting position for the race to the Stanley Cup.
Before March Flatness hit Hockeytown, the Red Wings held the pole position and were vying for the Presidents’ Trophy. Now they look up at the Blues—who continue to amaze and ascend; St. Louis has the best record in all of hockey—and have Nashville right behind them in the Central Division. In a matter of weeks, the Wings—dominant in Detroit with a 28-4-2 record—have gone from having home ice throughout the playoffs to possibly not even having that advantage in a first-round 4 seed versus 5 battle with the surging and getting better by the day Predators.
OK, we could expect a little letdown once the home-ice streak ended at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks on February 23. The physical injuries endured by Detroit’s top three players at the same time compounded that natural emotional sag and it has added up to a mediocre record since. More than anything, though, the Wings’ 2-5 March record and current four-game skid proves the close competitiveness in today’s NHL. Every two-point opportunity is no longer just clichéd coachspeak, but rather truly vital. Every slip, dip and blip during the regular season has consequences and conceivably compromises what all 30 teams set out to do: compete for the Stanley Cup.
The Cup is certainly the Red Wings’ yearly yearning. More so than ever, the same holds true for the Predators. The two Central rivals are on a collision course for a first round match-up. The Preds bolstered their ranks with trade deadline deals for big bodies Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad. Now they’ll get Alex Radulov back from his four season self-imposed exile in the KHL where he blossomed into that circuit’s leading scorer of the past two seasons. All the pieces are in place for the Predators to move well beyond last spring’s first-ever playoff series success.
The two teams have met twice before in the first round—in 2008 and 2004—with the Red Wings moving on in six games each time. This time, though, it is the Wings who are in the position of having to find their footing and demonstrate that their home-win mark isn’t this season’s defining run.
The reality is that Howard and eventually Lidstrom and Datsyuk will restore order and with that, confidence. The Wings have time to get back to their game that carried them to the top of the league not so long ago. Yet, if we acknowledge that as truth, then we cannot ignore the numbers that show their special teams ranked in the lower third of the league, and their road record containing more losses than wins. The Preds, meanwhile, rank second on the power play, are just outside the top ten on the penalty kill, and have a solid 18-13-2 road mark.
So before the second week in April arrives, the most important consideration is the next available two points. Coaches league-wide repeat it like a mantra. Turns out it is true, even at the top of the NHL standings, and particularly in the Central Division.
• And so we don’t end things on a downer (wallpaper-sized picture of Gustav Nyquist, by the way CBS Detroit provides for your wallpaper needs), I’m going to take advantage of that fancy-schmancy ESPN Insider subscription to allow you to read Mark Leach telling ESPN’s Doug McIntyre why Wings have been able to pluck players like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg Nicklas Lidstrom from the depths of the Entry Draft:
“The big thing is when you’re dealing with 17-year-old kids, you just don’t know what the end result is going to be by the time they’re 23,” said Mark Leach, an amateur scout for Detroit in 1994. “Every year you have late bloomers, guys who all of a sudden grow an inch or two at 19.”
Leach remembers being huddled in the club’s war room when his colleague, Detroit’s now-legendary director of European scouting, Hakan Andersson, made the case for Zetterbeg and Datsyuk.
“They had excellent skill, but at that point in time they weren’t big or strong because they were young,” Leach says. “Hakan knew that they could play in Europe another four or five years, play for their national team, and then at 22-23—if they were big enough and strong enough—they would have a chance to come over and play.”
The Red Wings’ scouting staff has remained mostly intact since being constructed in the early 1990s by general manager Ken Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill. They swap notes on players constantly, Leach says, and trust one another’s opinion so much that if one passionately believes the organization should draft a particular player, it usually does. From there, patience is the key.
“The percentages are low—more often than not, the kids [drafted late] don’t succeed,” Leach says. “But you don’t give up on a kid. You take an interest in him, follow him, and let him learn how to play at the various levels. Some kids need lots of time; maybe they don’t develop until their second or third year of pro hockey.”
• And yes, for the record, I know that my Wings-Kings recap should have read, “Ihr habt euch wirklich beschissen,” but it was late, so I just stuck with the improperly-conjugated ihr habt sich wirklich beschisst.
Update #1: Of course there’s more when someone hasn’t slept for 23 hours! Here’s more Wings-Preds talk from the National Post’s Guy Suprrier:
If Detroit does not win its final four road games to finish with a .500 point percentage, it could become the sixth team since 1987-88 to earn 100 points in the standings and have a losing road record. Vancouver (19-20-2) managed it in 2009-10 and Calgary (16-18-7) did it in 2005-06. St. Louis (15-17-7-2 in 2000-01) is the only other team in the era of the three-point games to achieve this. Pittsburgh (17-20-4 in 1995-96) and Calgary (17-18-5 in 1990-91) did it in the no-overtime era.
One thing that is consistent about the Wings is their message. After 20 straight years of making the playoffs, the formula is ingrained in every player who dons the jersey.
At the bottom of the 0-5-1 streak at the start of the season, Henrik Zetterberg said: “It doesn’t really matter what we say we’re going to do or what tactics we’re going to use. We just have to go out and do it right. We have to stick together and believe in ourselves and keep going.”
After they pulled out of that slump, Detroit won 14 of its next 18 games.
Last night, head coach Mike Babcock said: “The reality right now is that as a group we’re not working hard enough, we’re not playing with good enough structure, and therefore we don’t look very skilled. We have to have a look in the mirror and get it fixed. You go through adversity every year and we’re getting our share right now.”
As the injured players return, the Wings will certainly get better. If they don’t they run the risk of falling behind Nashville into fifth place and would face the prospect of a brutal first-round playoff matchup with the Predators in which Detroit would have to start on the road and would not have the extra home game.
• Do you want to read minutiae of the Moore-Bertuzzi lawsuit from ESPN’s Lester Munson, who goes into great detail to set up a “cautionary tale” about the NFL’s supposed bounty issues? Enjoy!
—LW Gustav Nyquist was reassigned to Grand Rapids (AHL) after sitting out Wednesday’s game when Todd Bertuzzi returned from a groin strain. The skilled Nyquist had no goals and two assists in three games during his most-recent NHL stint. Overall, he has no goals and three assists in eight games for Detroit.
—LW Tomas Holmstrom is experiencing one of the worst slumps of his career. He has gone 24 games without a goal, picking up only one assist during that time. A power-play specialist, he has struggled, along with the rest of the team, on a man-advantage that hasn’t converted in the past seven games.
—D Brendan Smith made a costly turnover that led to Anaheim’s second goal Wednesday. He was stripped of the puck by Kyle Palmieri near the Detroit net, leading directly to an unassisted goal. Smith has tremendous offensive ability but must improve defensively.
—C Pavel Datsyuk (arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Feb. 21) is day-to-day.
—D Nicklas Lidstrom (deep bone bruise in right ankle) is out until mid-March.
—D Jakub Kindl (upper-body injury) is out until mid-March.
—D Jonathan Ericsson suffered a fractured left wrist on Feb. 25 and is out until late March.
—RW Patrick Eaves (fractured jaw on Nov. 26) is out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms.
• In case you didn’t already know it, Hockey’s Future’s Andrew Sykes wants you to know that Pavel Datsyuk is a really good shootout shooter:
Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit Red Wings - With what Datsyuk can bring in terms of offense and two-way play, there isn’t a situation in which you wouldn’t want to have him on the ice. The shootout is certainly no different and Datsyuk is arguably the one guy that any coach would pick to shoot in the one-on-one skill contest with the game on the line. The all-time NHL leader with 30 career shootout goals, Datsyuk has scored four times in eight attempts this year, upping his career percentage to 48.4%. With a dazzling array of moves, his “Datsyukian dekes” are often attempted to be emulated by players around the league, something Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux was able to mirror last weekend against Toronto.
• And the Grand Rapids Griffins are celebrating a milestone on Saturday:
The Grand Rapids Griffins will welcome the 5 millionth fan in franchise history this Saturday, March 17, when they host the Hamilton Bulldogs in a 7 p.m. start at Van Andel Arena.
The Griffins have drawn 4,990,526 fans for their 636 regular season home games over the last 16 seasons, leaving them 9,474 shy of the milestone heading into Friday’s contest versus the Toronto Marlies – a game that is expected to draw around 8,000 fans. On Saturday, the lucky fan will pass through the turnstiles soon after the gates open at 6 p.m. for the game against Hamilton.
The 5 millionth fan will be greeted at the turnstiles in the arena’s main lobby by Griff and Tim Gortsema, the Griffins’ senior vice president of business operations. He or she will then be honored with a presentation in the Zamboni tunnel during the 10-minute timeout of the second period and will receive a prize package including:
• A Griffins jersey with the numeral 5 and the winner’s choice of nameplate;
• Five lower bowl tickets to every Griffins home game during the ensuing 5 million seconds (58 days);
• Enough Marathon gas cards to travel 5 million feet ($150);
• 5 million microliters of Pepsi (5 liters);
• 5 million micrometers of hot dogs (32 packaged dogs);
• 5 million milligrams of Van Andel Arena popcorn (11 pounds);
• Five entrees from Qdoba;
• Five days of recognition on the griffinshockey.com splash page; and
• A 5 million microsecond (five second) standing ovation from Griffins fans during the presentation.
The Griffins currently stand sixth in the 30-team American Hockey League with an average attendance of 7,119, an increase of 6.2 percent over their first 31 home contests of 2010-11 (6,703). The team’s total attendance of 220,674 is its highest at this point of the season in its 11 seasons of AHL membership and puts the Griffins on pace to record their fifth attendance increase (by average) in the last six years.
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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.