The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/24/11 at 07:32 PM ET
As I watch the playoffs for the fourth day sans any Red Wings participation, I find myself strangely proud of the fact that I can’t separate my Wings bias from anything less than subjective playoff viewing. I had wondered, given the fact that the Wings would have at least a week off, whether an admittedly subjective Wings fan would start watching games like a journalist, hoping for a “good story” to prevail or being vindicated by watching the team I pick win the game by the score I predict.
It turns out that I can’t and won’t do that for a millisecond. I’m no journalist: I’m a Wings fan, first foremost and most importantly. Aside from hoping that teams I dislike more than others to be vanquished in the East, thanks to the fact that I keep grudges for a long time, there isn’t a team in the West that I’m rooting for. Instead, I’m cheering for the puck, and time: I want Johan Franzen’s ankle, Henrik Zetterberg’s knee and whatever other injuries the Wings haven’t disclosed to earn as much time as humanly possible to return to manageable levels, and I want whatever prospective opponents the Wings may have in the second round or down the as-earned basis line to get as physically and mentally tired as possible.
Overtimes, miraculous comebacks from multiple-goal deficits, nasty physical play that at least causes opposing teams’ players bumps and bruises (given the Wings’ injury history over the past two seasons, I find it very hard to root for the injury bug, but my brief street hockey career as an instigating forward has me rooting for the bruises, welts, sore spots, wear, tear and mental fatigue that I understood were my job to inflict upon both foes and friends at times), strange puck bounces and bad luck for every other team that’s playing, anything that will extend their respective series (plural) to seven games, that’s the stuff that makes me cheer and makes my PMS 186 red heart feel warm and fuzzy.
The Wings could very well end up with eight, nine, or ten days off between series, and while I’m certainly worried about the “rest versus rust factor,” I just can’t bring myself to care for anything less than my team’s welfare, and my team’s playoff and Cup chances receive the biggest benefits from rest, time and teams wearing each other down and exposing glaring vulnerabilities for the Wings’ pro scouts and coaching staff to exploit.
Witnessing “playoff picks” winning and vindicating my predicted scores (which I don’t do—wading into that kind of territory is a losing proposition)? “Good stories” prevailing and resultinh in more exposure for the league or the kind of compelling stuff that engages the media’s short attention spans or causes casual sports fans to tune in, log on and drop bucks? Even watching the teams I absolutely despise getting their hockey pants handed to them?
Don’t care, don’t care, don’t care. I’m on team “wear and tear.” I’m on team “extended duration.” I’m rooting for the puck. I’m still rooting for my Wings, and I only feel good about the fact that I simply cannot extricate my bias and partisan rooting interest from a millisecond of playoff action.
The Detroit Free Press’s George Sipple happened to duly note that the Wings stand to gain significant, gigantic and almost unheard of levels of playoff rest should our friend the puck prevail:
f the San Jose Sharks should lose Game 6 Monday at Los Angeles, the Wings’ next series will not be determined until early Thursday morning.
On Saturday night, the second-seeded Sharks, like the top-seeded Canucks two nights before, failed to eliminate their opponent in a Game 5 at home. The Sharks outshot the Kings, 52-22, but the lost, 3-1.
The other two Western Conference series played their Game 6’s tonight. Even if the Canucks eliminated the eighth-seeded Blackhawks and the fifth-seeded Predators eliminated the fourth-seeded Ducks, the playoff match-ups cannot be set until the Sharks-Kings series ends.
The highest-seeded survivor plays the lowest-seeded survivor in one Western semifinal series; the other two survivors play in the other series.
Go #93’s recovery from a moderate to severely sprained left ankle and 23 stitches’ worth of facial cuts, a chipped tooth and probably a broken nose. Go #40’s ability to adjust to a knee brace and get his conditioning back up to speed. Go whoever else needs to have a massage, apply an ice pack, or hope that his tweaked groin, sore back, caught head cold, stubbed toe or even hangnail earn an extra minute’s worth of time to heal.
I don’t care what team the Wings end up playing, because they’ve all exhibited some glaring weaknesses over the course of the past week and a half. I obviously don’t want the Wings to have to travel any more than is absolutely necessary, but at this time of year, cross-continental trips will occur sooner or later, and the Wings have their own plane to help make travel a little easier. I don’t care about revenge against the Hawks, Ducks or Sharks, nor possible match-ups against the Canucks or Blackhawks or even Kings down the line.
The reality of the situation is that between the Wings’ penalty-killing and their power play’s inability to directly answer physical play with goals against are big concerns for the Wings going forward, and at this time of year, every team is better than average and any team can beat its opponent. It’s ill-advised at best and plain old arrogant at worst to suggest otherwise. Any team the Wings could face is a dangerous and worthy foe, a team that should be overlooked only at one’s peril.
Also of Wings-related note this evening:
• DetroitRedWings.com’s Jake Duhaime took on the realignment issue by pondering whether the NHL should drop its three-division-per-conference format for two geographically centered divisions.
No comment about the Blue Jackets’ desire to move to the East, of course…
If the Red wings have a glaring weakness heading into the second round of the playoffs, it is their penalty kill. Detroit’s PK rate through four games against Phoenix was a disappointing 66.7% which is only better than the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Key to this statistic is the fact that the Wings have struggled more on the road (40.0%) than at home (76.9%).
The Red Wings entered the playoffs with a respectable 82.3% kill rate, but they failed to adapt to changes in the officiating causing them to take an uncharacteristic number of penalties. Detroit was also without key forward Henrik Zetterberg who takes a regular shift on the penalty kill.
• MLive’s Ansar Khan posted a profile of Darren Helm...
“Basically, every time he was on the ice [against Phoenix] something happened,” teammate Henrik Zetterberg said. “Just his power in his skating and creating stuff out of nothing is amazing to see.”
“There’s not many guys in the league that can skate with him. So when he’s using his speed and being smart, playing physical, he’s a force for us,” Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said. “To have a guy like that on your (fourth line) really gives you that extra dimension of being able to roll everybody.”
Helm could be a second-line center on many teams. He gives Detroit a fourth line, with Kris Draper and Patrick Eaves, that can play against other team’s top lines. Coach Mike Babcock referred to him during the first round as an “elite player.”
“He’s just getting more confident every game,” Draper said. “When you see what he does, you just want to go over the boards and do that same thing. He’s been great for us and he’s going to continue to get better.”
Teammate Johan Franzen said of Helm: “The work ethic on that guy and the shape he’s in, it’s unbelievable. He just flies out there and makes it miserable for the other team.”
As did the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness:
“The older you get the stronger you get physically, you kind of mature into your body,” Helm said. “That’s a big part of it. Knowing and feeling the league out, having a better idea of the kind of pressure guys are going to put on you, and how much strength you need to give back has a lot to do with it as well, just that experience.”
Helm is one of the Wings’ fastest skaters and can really turn on the afterburners when chasing down a defenseman in the opposition’s zone.
“The first few steps I have are pretty quick so I can get a little bit of momentum going,” Helm said. “With those few steps, if I’m (in) that tight the defenseman’s probably not too aware I’m going to hit him as hard as I’m going to try to hit him. It’s just a little surprise. I feel like I’m a pretty strong guy and that definitely helps a little bit.”
With his speed, intelligence and tenacious forecheck he’s a mainstay on the Wings’ penalty kill. During three of the four games against the Coyotes, Helm played the most minutes shorthanded of any Wings forward. The only game he didn’t lead the forwards was Game 2, when Helm was in the box four minutes himself.
“It is (hard to play against him),” Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said. “When you’re practicing against a guy like that, there are not many guys in the league that can skate with him. He has speed, is being smart and plays physical. He’s going to be a pretty big force for us,” Stuart added. “To have a guy like that on your bottom two lines really gives you that extra dimension of being able to roll everybody. He was big for us. And he’s been doing a good job of that all year long.”
Independent journalist Greg Eno also re-posted his profile of Helm on his website so that you don’t have to go over to Bleacher Report to read it;
• The Windsor Star’s Bob Duff revisited Todd Bertuzzi’s renaissance in a new story crafted from quotes from Ed Jovanovski and Mike Babcock last week, though the story regrettably focuses on Bertuzzi’s debt yet to be repaid to Steve Moore (it’s an easy, click-generating and paper-selling angle that I think is a little cheap at this time of year):
“It’s just a good place to play,” Bertuzzi said. “I’ve said it numerous times.”
A home away from home?
“I think so,” he said. “Yeah, that and they win here. With that kind of formula, it’s a place you want to play.”
In the eyes of Wings coach Mike Babcock, guys like Bertuzzi, who has never played in a Stanley Cup final, bring a hunger to his team.
“I just think that Bert wants to win,” Babcock said. “It’s real simple to me. These guys who are getting into the later stages of their careers, they give you a focus and a drive.”
• The Macomb Daily’s Pleiness pondered which two forwards the Wings might sit when Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg return, with Mike Modano, Jiri Hudler, Kris Draper, Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller being the obvious candidates to sit:
“I haven’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about it, who’s sitting out and who’s not,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said after Friday practice. “We have a number of options.”
The Wings’ fourth line of Darren Helm, Draper and Helm have played so well together each game of the series that Babcock will likely keep that unit together to begin the next round.
“Helm, Eaves and Draper do things right and they do it shift after shift after shift,” Babcock said.
“You need depth in the playoffs,” Draper said. “Guys are always going to be ready to step in and out, but when you get a guy like Z back automatically your club’s that much better. We’re excited about it.”
“It’s a team sport and you want to be a sport any way you can,” Miller said. “If you’re playing you want to contribute on the ice and if you’re not you’re going to be supportive off. You still want to play, but it’s more important to the team to have no distractions,” Miller added. “You don’t want to be visibly upset you just want to be ready when you’re called upon.”
• And TSN’s “The Reporters” issued “thumbs down” and “thumbs ups” to certain players, with the Wings’ captain earning a positive comment:
Dave Hodge, TSN: My thumb is up to the hockey writers who have chosen to nominate Nicklas Lidstrom for the Lady Byng Trophy. Now, why don’t I just wait and say ‘thumbs up’ to Lidstrom for winning the Lady Byng? Because I might wait forever. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since it made sense that a defenceman of Lidstrom’s calibre who rarely visits the penalty box is the perfect choice for an award that values the ability to play within the rules. In fact, he has spent 30 minutes or less in the penalty box in 15 of his 19 seasons. Marty St. Louis won the Lady Byng last year, and he might win it again, unless the voters realize it’s time to give it to Lidstrom just once, before he retires.
The Norris Trophy finalists will be named tomorrow around 12 PM, and you can assume that Lidstrom will be among them, though he’s not necessarily a favorite to win given that writers appear to be split between Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber.
The Wings will also resume practicing tomorrow. They usually practice at 10 or 10:30 on game days and at any time from 11-2 on “off days,” so it’s hard to say exactly when they’ll be “going,” but after two days off, I’m guessing that the media will come out in earnest tomorrow and then shift their focus to other sports stuff on Tuesday.
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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.