The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/23/11 at 09:35 AM ET
Updated at 9:03 AM: On Friday, Red Wings forward Johan Franzen was named one of the candidates for TSN’s “No Guts, No Glory” award, facing off against Martin St. Louis in a web-voted determination of playoff toughness, and overnight, TSN nominated Pavel Datsyuk as a candidate for their Play of the Year Showdown.
Datsyuk’s competing with Minnesota Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard in the first of a series of quarterfinals, and while you may not have seen Bouchard’s spin-o-rama goal, you might remember this one from Datsyuk, scored on March 12th against St. Louis:
• You can’t blame me for missing this one. I chose to not post SI’s Darren Eliot’s take on the Wings’ sweep of Phoenix on purpose (because he mostly singled out Ilya Bryzgalov, who was most certainly leaky but also picked apart by some very astute Wings shooters), but I missed SI’s Stu Hackel speaking to, well, Pierre McGuire of all people about the Red Wings-Coyotes series on Hackel’s “Red Light” blog. enjoy:
Red Light: Who has impressed you and what sticks out about what you’ve seen so far?
McGuire: The Red Wings really stick out in terms of their level of compete, their professionalism, how they closed out Phoenix — I was overwhelmed by their third period play. I thought it was phenomenal.
Red Light: I recall hearing about one NHL coach — maybe it was John Tortorella, maybe Mike Babcock, who I know likes plays that create rebound goals — who has encouraged his players to shoot from bad angles. You speak with Babcock regularly. Is that something he’s been telling his players?
McGuire: I don’t know if Mike said that, but one of the reason teams are encouraging players to shoot from bad angles is it’s tough on rebound control especially if you shoot it into their feet. But, yes, Mike is all about putting pucks into the feet of goaltenders because you’re going to get rebounds. So you have to attack the proper angles when you shoot pucks into feet. But that’s something I’m noticing more and more. Players aren’t passing up shots from any angle, just because they want to get it on goal.
Red Light: Let’s go back to the Red Wings because they’ll have the only sweep in the first round and I’ve heard you say how much they’ve impressed you. Obviously they did it without Henrik Zetterberg, and in Game 4 without Johan Franzen, too. But this was a team that stumbled down the stretch. I don’t know if they were bored and Jimmy Howard didn’t look very good. They looked very sloppy at the beginning of Game 1.
McGuire: They were bored. They were bored more than anything else. This is a veteran-type team, but one of the things that changed it was the maturation of Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm. They’ve learned so much from Kris Draper. He’s been like a father to them in terms of teaching them how to survive in the NHL. Also, the play of Nick Lidstrom. Just so calm and so steady. Everybody knows he’s a great player but just to be doing it at that age with such consistency is amazing.
And one of the true unsung heroes of that team is Valtteri Filppula. Filppula’s great just for all the different things he does for that group. And, in my opinion, the most valuable player in the playoffs so far is Pavel Datsyuk. He’s just been off the charts.
Red Light: And what about Todd Bertuzzi, and the way they chanted his name in the first game?
McGuire: He’s been great because he’s buying into the system. And, again, Detroit is one of those places that really helps a player like that. They can be confused about their on-ice identity and how they have to carry themselves, but they get to Detroit and they figure it out pretty quick because they see how great players carry themselves and how players within great organizations behave. I just can’t say enough great things about Todd and what he’s been able to do there.
• We’re slowly working our way toward the Friday night/Saturday morning re-hashings of Friday’s two batches of practice reports because they’re a little bit repetitive, so please bear with a little bit of rambling on my part:
The Chief covered it. I talked about it.
I don’t want to talk about it again. But the PETA person’s letter to the Free Press about how cruel and barbaric octopus-tossing supposedly is (see: they’re already dead and would be seafood one way or another) resulted in an utterly silly apologist article from Gregg Krupa, who dared to suggest that the City of Detroit might not want to pass go and collect $500 from any fan who throws an octopus (again, the Chief covered it, too) should fans exhibit better taste and/or understand that the poor players and ice surface are put into danger by inappropriate cephalopod throwing—which is the NHL’s argument as to why it enlisted the City of Detroit and the Detroit Police to squelch the octopus-tossing tradition—backed by a Flash game in which one plays a poor ice-scraping gent who has to clear octopi, avoid tossed beverages and angry hockey players at the same time—and all of this smells like someone was told to proffer an agenda.
Since this kind of stuff sells papers, it should come as no surprise that the Free Press made sure to post only three letters to the editor regarding the PETA whine—one from someone with the last name Krupa (not Gregg) who approves of the tradition, one from a person who suggests that octopi are of course deliberately tortured for the appeasement of a barbaric tradition, and then there’s this suggestion:
Perhaps we could tweak the awesome tradition of throwing octopi with one that honors these sea-going creatures. How about letting the fans throw small rubber octopi, preferably red for the Wings or purple to honor big Al, and they could get scooped up all at once and donated to children’s groups, schools, clubs,etc.
The octopi could be purchased and proceeds given to rescue missions and organizations that could help the needy. The kids would feel like they were a part of the playoffs, fans would get to throw something legal out on the ice and feel good about it, and it would be just plain fun.
There must be a time when the fans could throw them out on the ice so that even the ominous Gary Bettman wouldn’t get all huffy about. Save the octopi! Go Wings!
No. No because the NHL still wants the Detroit Police to snag an easy $500 from people for throwing anything that’s not a hat, and no because this would result in a classic case of Florida Panthers Rat-Throwing. Good idea? Yes. Realistic? Not in the slightest.
Besides, the Wings are surely making a mint from fans who’ve chosen to channel their anger at the Detroit Police, the NHL and possibly the Red Wings for refraining from warning fans about the “rule” change by purchasing Al the Octopus plush toys and t-shirts to signal their octopus support, and I’m finding it hard to believe that the Wings would offer anything more than a “portion of the proceeds” to charity, because it’s still a moneymaking “tradition.”
And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
• Okay, practice reports. So the collections of the players’ comments and multimedia from Friday’s practice provided two reports from me and quite a few paragraphs from the Wings’ beat writers, some videos and a practice gallery from the Detroit News, but if you either missed ‘em or are going into Wings withdrawal already…
The first topic the Wings talked about on Friday was the obvious one—rest. They’re feeling like the rest of us about watching the playoffs this weekend, as Jimmy Howard told the Free Press’s Helene St. James...
“It’ll be fun to just sit back, relax, and watch some hockey,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said.
And the good news came in bunches regarding Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen:
By the time the Wings embark late next week on Round 2, Henrik Zetterberg is expected to return from a sprained left knee that has sidelined him since April 6. He was in fine enough spirits Friday to joke about having to crack a winning lineup. Johan Franzen didn’t practice because of a sore ankle, but coach Mike Babcock reiterated Franzen will be ready.
The Wings polished off the Coyotes with a 6-3 victory in Game 4 Wednesday, doing so without Zetterberg or Franzen, two of their biggest scorers. Something can be read into that, just not too much, Babcock cautioned.
“It looks like we know how to play,” he said. “Now we’ll find out how much we really know how to play as time goes on and how much will we have, and determination.”
The Detroit News’s Krupa suggested that Henrik Zetterberg may have had a laugh or two at reporters’ expenses, but given that it’s the playoffs, I think he’s just got the cliche meter on cruise control:
“I feel a lot better,” Zetterberg said after amusing himself by playfully teasing reporters. “It was basically my first full practice today, and it was done the right way. I think it is good for me especially to have these days to get better. So, I am looking forward to round two.”
“We have a situation where we can get his conditioning up to speed and get him going,” Babcock said. “We have a good piece of time. He’s in a situation where he tells me the knee is fine. It’s just a matter of figuring out with the brace how to skate and all those things. He’ll be fine.”
Zetterberg and Babcock said that Franzen was at least at the rink on Friday…
“Not one bit concerned about that,” Babcock said. “I don’t know when we’ll get him time to practice. He’ll have to do his conditioning in other ways. But we’ll give him as much time as we can to make sure he’s feeling good.”
Said Zetterberg: “I’ve seen him, today. He’s doing treatment, and he will be ready, too.”
And while Babcock did engage in a rare light moment with the press…
“They’re just kids, you know, and they want to play,” he said. “That’s why they get to play a game to make a living, and that’s a great thing. They like to compete, and I like to watch them.”
The Wings didn’t speak playfully for long. Aside from stating that they hope every playoff series “goes long” so that Babcock’s decision to give the players the weekend off will extend to the team not having to play until next Wednesday or Thursday at the earliest, the Wings told St. James that they’re well aware of the fact that what they hope is their only extended break until June will bit them in the arse if they don’t stay mentally sharp, though they do believe that they’ve bought themselves enough time to rest, recharge and get mentally prepared to ratchet up their level of play:
“When you win Game 7 and have one day off, it’s tough to stay on a roll,” Stuart said. “You’re mentally kind of drained from such an emotional high of winning Game 7. And physically, all the travel and really only having that one day in between really put us behind the eight-ball, and then you’re struggling to catch up. We realize how important getting rest this time of year is.”
The Wings won Wednesday’s Game 4 at Phoenix without leading goal scorer Johan Franzen because he decided at the last moment that his ankle was too sore. They won the entire round without their leading scorer, Henrik Zetterberg, who had a sprained knee. Both are expected to be ready when the second round begins. Veteran Mike Modano did an outstanding job filling in for Franzen in Game 4 in what was Modano’s first game of the series. If Franzen is ready for the second round—he didn’t practice Friday—the Wings will have 14 healthy forwards, a problem coach Mike Babcock is eager to have.
“Right now, if you include (Jan) Mursak and (Cory) Emmerton and (Tomas) Tatar, we have a number of options that way,” Babcock said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to have the best lineup to help our team win Game 1 of whomever we play.”
Overall, Stuart suggested that there’s no way in heck that the team will start get complacent given who’s running the show…
“The coaching staff I’m sure will do a good job for us at keeping it fresh and mixing it up for us, keeping us focused,” Stuart said. “But this is the time of year that it’s not hard to stay on task, just because you know what’s at stake. We’ll take the extra time off. If it means having to practice for four or five straight days, that’s fine, as long as we’re going fresh into the next round.”
And as Babcock suggested, the team understands that they can’t simply play the way they did against Phoenix and expect to succeed against whoever they face next week…
“Well, there better be [another gear], or else you’re not going to keep playing,” he said. “Until you’re pushed, you don’t know for sure. But I like our group, I like what’s happened as far as the bottom catching up to the top. We seem to have good depth, and we seem to be getting some good hockey out of guys.”
With improving on the penalty-kill as their main focus, as the Free Press’s George Sipple noted:
After Thursday’s games, the Wings ranked fourth among the 16 playoff teams with a 26.7% power play and tied for 15th with the Predators for the worst penalty kill (66.7%).
“You know, you look at the percentage and you’re a little disappointed about it,” said Kris Draper, who averaged 1:16 on the penalty kill against the Coyotes. “But I think the fact is we’ve had some timely kills, and I think that’s something that’s been important. The 5-on-3 in Game 1 arguably got our series going off in the right direction. Huge penalty kill by the guys, great blocks. Do we want to be better? Absolutely. Unfortunately we haven’t done as good a job as we want, but the positive is we’ve had some timely kills at key times and that’s been important.”
Niklas Kronwall, who averaged a team-high 4:03 on the penalty kill versus Phoenix, said it can be much better. “We’re letting way too many goals in,” Kronwall said. “At the same time it feels like we’re doing the right things.”
That being said, I’d suggest that Wings’ power play didn’t exactly connect on a timely basis, nor did it register enough goals to serve as an effective deterrent to the Coyotes’ physical assault. Nicklas Lidstrom believes that there’s a simple solution to that particular issue:
“We can take more shots,” said Nicklas Lidstrom, who had one assist in 15 minutes on the power play in the series. “I think we were passing it around a little too much. ... I think we can make some better decisions, quicker decisions.”
That being said, Lidstrom believes that Zetterberg and Lidstrom should give the Wings a solid offensive boost:
“Mule’s got that great shot, and Hank can find the openings hanging onto the puck,” Lidstrom said. “That’ll help for sure.”
The Wings do believe, however, that they have a solid foundation to build upon in the form of balanced scoring, strong goaltending from Jimmy Howard and judicious balancing of ice time on the blueline.
On the first point, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan takes note of the fact that 13 different players scored for the Wings against Phoenix, and one could very well argue that players like Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Todd Bertuzzi were almost as important to the Wings’ success as Pavel Datsyuk was, and one could argue that Niklas Kronwall was the most significant defenseman in terms of two-way impact this side of Nicklas Lidstrom.
“Helm is an elite player, probably not a fourth-line player,” Babcock said. “I don’t know if we have a fourth line. We just play our guys. Helm, Eaves and Draper do things right and they do it shift after shift after shift.”
Usually it’s defense, but Helm also chipped in offensively with one goal and two assists — Eaves had two goals in Game 4.
“Any time you can spread (the scoring) out, it’s going to be good for everybody,” Kronwall said. “We just don’t have one line scoring. It’s tough for the other team to defend. We have four lines going and that’s huge.”
The fact that Mike Modano stepped into the lineup and registered an assist didn’t hurt, either…
“You need depth in the playoffs and guys are always going to be ready to step in and out,” said Draper, a key fourth-line figure on four Stanley Cup-winning teams during his career.
The ability to spread the offense, captain Nicklas Lidstrom said, makes the Red Wings a difficult team to defend.
“It shows the depth we have, and not having to rely on a couple of guys to score all the time and get all the points,” he said. “It makes it harder to play against us, harder to match up.”
And of course, the fact that the Lidstrom-Stuart, Rafalski-Ericsson and Kronwall-Salei pairings rolled over like the Wings’ four forward lines do, evenly distributing ice time and reducing the wear and tear on Lidstrom and Rafalski, who will probably play 22-plus minutes more regularly in the second and any hopefully subsequent rounds, didn’t hurt, either, as Kulfan noted:
“I feel fresher,” said Lidstrom, who isn’t being used on the penalty kill. “I think that’ll help (not playing on the PK), as well.”
Coach Mike Babcock likes the idea of Lidstrom and Rafalski, 37, concentrating on other things than penalty killing.
“We got (Brad Stuart, Niklas Kronwall, Ruslan Salei and Jonathan Ericsson) to do that stuff,” Babcock said. “We end up with minutes shared. (Lidstrom) doesn’t play on the penalty kill right now when we have everyone on deck. That’s wear and tear on Nick Lidstrom. Why would you wear him out?”
Four defensemen averaged more ice time than Lidstrom (19:34) in the first round — Kronwall (22:24), Rafalski (21:19), Stuart (20:50) and Ericsson (19:36). Salei averaged 16:18.
“The more we can keep those guys from playing big minutes and keep them fresher, down the road the better we can be,” Kronwall said.
Babcock did make one eyebrow-raisingly-honest comment, however, as noted from afar by the Montreal Gazette’s Red Fisher:
The Detroit Red Wings brought out the brooms in their series with the Phoenix Coyotes, and their reward is that they aren’t likely to start Round 2 before late next week, by which time head coach Mike Babcock expects to have Henrik Zetterberg back in the lineup. “The rest of the guys will take the break, too,” Babcock said. “I think we’ve got a few guys that can really use the extra time off and the extra time with the medical trainers.”
Also of Red Wings-related note, part 1:
• According to the Free Press’s Jo-Ann Barnas, a few weeks ago, Babcock visited four Olympic medal-winning ice dancers in Canton;
• The Free Press posted a slate of first round Wings stats;
• I find the fact that Igor Larionov is now a player agent for Ian Pulver’s agency, working to help young Russian hockey players make informed decisions as to which developmental leagues offer them the best options in terms of both on and off-ice comfort levels—Yahoo Sports’ Neate Sager posted a superb profile of both what Larionov does and who his clients include last August—and I bring this up because Larionov spoke to the Sarnia Sting’s Dave Paul about one of the hottest Russian prospects for the 2012 Entry Draft in Sting forward Nail Yakupov, who Larionov insists is best served by continuing to play in the OHL instead of the KHL:
Rumours that Sarnia Sting forwards Nail Yakupov and Nick Latta will play in Europe next year, instead of the OHL, are being dimissed, by both Sting management and Yakupov’s agent, as mischievous online speculation. One internet message board recently featured a discussion initiated by someone claiming to be at the World Under-18 Championship, who said Yakupov has already agreed to play in the KHL (Russian pro league) next season.
“I’ve been talking to him regularly ... I just talked to him yesterday,” said his agent Igor Larionov from his Detroit-area home. “He hasn’t given me any indication that he wants to play (in Russia) next year.”
In fact, said Larionov, one of the topics he has been discussing with Yakupov is his plans to bring his mother and sister over to Canada for part of the 2011-12 OHL season.
“It’s something that will make him feel a little more at home,” said Larionov. “Nowadays, anybody can express his opinion on the web[.] People can say whatever they want, but you can’t trust a lot of the things you read (online).”
The Hockey Hall of Famer said Yakupov has been drafted by his hometown team, Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik, of the KHL, and, he acknowledged the club could offer him a lucrative contract to play there next season. However, he said, he doesn’t expect things to play out that way.
“I guess nothing’s 100 per cent,” said Larionov, “but right now I expect him to be back (in Canada) on Aug. 1. That’s what we’ve been talking about. I think he’s in good hands playing here in the OHL,” said Larionov. “I think it’s best for him at this point.”
Larionov once worked for SKA St. Petersburg as a consultant and was a member of the KHL’s board of directors for a time, but if you recall, he recently turned down the Russian Hockey Federation’s offer to be their GM for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia (where famous hockey fan Vladimir Putin makes his summer home) because Larionov is both a critic of the KHL and because he refused to be asked to make roster moves based upon political pressure or anyone’s judgment but his own.
As the KHL’s really the place where old Soviet-era sports bureaucrats have gone out to pasture, and Vladislav Tretiak and Slava Fetisov of all people find themselves cow-towing the interests of oligarchs and the same sorts ideologues who tried to prevent Larionov and Fetisov from leaving Russia to play for NHL teams based on an ideological war with the NHL and a superiority complex as much as anything else. It’s sad that Tretiak and Fetisov (who’s also a member of the KHL’s board of directors and the GM of CSKA Moscow, which is supposedly not a conflict of interest) are now trying to tighten the nooses around players like Yakupov.
• Lest I forget, the Grand Rapids Griffins posted an end-of-the-season highlight video:
• And finally, and perhaps appropriately, I stayed up for an extra half hour to see whether any Saturday morning articles would pop up here or in Sweden (no Hat Trick Dick drama today), and Red Wings VP Jimmy Devellano happened to speak to the National Post’s Michael Traikos about the Wings’ ability to sustain their playoff-bound status for 20 years and 19 NHL seasons:
“God bless us,” vice-president Jimmy Devellano said, “we’ve been able to keep this thing going.”
To put it into perspective, the last time Detroit missed out on spring hockey Nicklas Lidstrom had just been drafted, the league had only 21 teams, and there were still franchises located in Winnipeg, Quebec and Hartford. It was a long, long time ago. But despite expansion, relocation, rule changes and a salary cap, one constant has remained in Hockeytown: success. In those 20 years, the Red Wings have won four Stanley Cups and reached the final two other times; they have won six Presidents’ Trophies as the top team in the regular season; and they have recorded 100 or more points 15 times, including the last 11 in a row. As Devellano noted, we might have to rethink what constitutes a dynasty.
“The one thing I know about the public is unless you win a Stanley Cup, they will not consider you a dynasty,” said the former general manager, who was with the New York Islanders for three of their four straight championships.“I’ve never felt like that. I happen to think that division titles, Presidents’ Trophies, to me they’re very important because they’re very hard to win. But I know that’s not the perception. Everything is based on the Stanley Cup.”
Devellano also pointed out that the Wings’ amateur scouts have been able to re-stock the cupboard despite persistently late picks in the NHL Entry Draft…
“We sort of shake our heads and are somewhat surprised by it, quite frankly, because it’s really not supposed to work that way,” Devellano said. “The draft is supposed to help the weak teams and bring down the good teams. That’s why it’s set up. So we do shake our heads in wonderment, but we think we kind of understand how it happened.”
And he does admit that there’s a little bit of luck playing into the equation, too:
“It just goes to show you, none of us really know,” Devellano said. “We think we do, because we’re in the industry. But we really don’t.”
Update 9:03 AM: Per the Grand Rapids Press’s Josh Slaghter, Kris Draper insists that a holiday weekend won’t blunt the Wings’ competitive juices:
“I think that edge comes back with the drop of the puck,” Draper said. “We felt pretty confident going in. This is what everyone loves to do. Guys will train and prepare themselves on and off the ice and stay ready.”
“If this was February, it would be different,” Babcock said. “But they’re pretty engaged, they want to be prepared.”
Players are happy to be home for Easter Sunday.
“We’re going to have some Swedish meatballs,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “That’s our tradition, and maybe some herring.”
Draper, however, is missing his wife and kids, who are enjoying spring break in Florida as they do every year.
“I got Saturday and Sunday off and they’re hanging on the beach and at the pool in Florida,” Draper said. “Maybe I’ll hide some eggs around the house and invite Helmer and Abby (Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader) over and we can have a little Easter egg hunt and see who gets more.”
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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.