The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/26/11 at 07:30 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings now have two possibilities in terms of playoff opponents, and the possibilities probably have the team double-booking hotels in San Jose while making arrangements to help Nashville come to town on Thursday or Friday (it’s a toss-up at this point), depending on who wins tonight’s Canucks-Blackhawks tilt. If the Canucks win, the Wings will play San Jose, and if they lose, the Wings will play Nashville, and while it’s as much a matter of picking one’s poison as anything else at this point, RedWingsCentral’s Sarah Lindenau took a look at the Wings’ opponents in terms of both strengths and weaknesses which the Wings may exploit on her Left Wing Lock blog:
2010-2011 Record Against Detroit: 4 wins, 2 losses
Key Players: Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Martin Erat, Mike Fisher, Patrick Hornqvist
The Red Wings have struggled to find consistent offense all season against the Nashville Predators being outscored by an 18 to 13 goal margin. Much of the reason can be found in big 6-foot-5 netminder Pekka Rinne who had an outstanding regular season. That being said, Rinne was not the reason that Nashville advanced to the second round for the first time in their brief history. In fact Rinne’s .876 save percentage and 3.29 goals against show that the Finish stopper is beatable. The Predators may not be the most gifted offensive team, but if they face the Wings expect to see a tight defensive game with lots of physical play.
San Jose Sharks
2010-2011 Record Against Detroit: 3 wins, 1 loss
Key Players: Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Ryan Clowe
On paper the San Jose Sharks should have already beaten the Los Angeles Kings. The Sharks have a lot of high end talent on their roster who helped them overtake the Wings to secure the second spot in the Western Conference points race. With all that talent they should be having an easier time against the LA, but big ticket forwards Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley are struggling. Additionally, San Jose seems to have a bit of a goaltender controversy brewing with backup Antero Nittymaki (9.66 Sv %) outplaying Antti Niemi (.855 Sv %). The Sharks can be a difficult team to play against, but they haven’t looked unbeatable this season. That being said, a veteran team like the Red Wings would likely prefer a matchup that involves less travel time across fewer time zones.
She wrote the preview prior to Monday night’s game, in which Thornton and Heatley scored goals in their team’s 4-3 win over LA, but Niemi was both sparkling at times and shaky at others.
As for the Red Wings themselves, as they repeatedly stated on Monday, find themselves in the same place that fans like you and me do—they’re grateful for the rest and injury recovery time, especially for Henrik Zetterberg (knee) and Johan Franzen (ankle), but as they cross their fingers hoping that the Canucks and Blackhawks go to quintuple overtime tonight, they’re also getting kind of edgy about their inactivity, as they told the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan.
In fact, it’s Wings coach Mike Babcock who’s finding himself far more stressed out than he ever is behind the Wings’ bench because he can’t affect the outcome of games he watches on TV:
“I can’t stand that,” the Red Wings coach said Monday. “If I were a fan, I wouldn’t come to the games. I’d be nervous mess. I can’t sleep after these games. It’s a lot of fun watching these series, but I don’t know how much fun it is if you’re in them.”
“It’s tough (not knowing an opponent),” forward Mike Modano said. “But it’s nice to see those guys go the distance and have a little bit of travel thrown in.”
“It’s been a little crazy but a lot of fun to watch,” defenseman Brad Stuart said. “We’re just going to wait around and see what happens.”
That being said, the Wings are on edge precisely because they don’t want to lose theirs:
“Three or four days off was nice, but now you want to get going,” Stuart said. “But you have to take advantage (of the time off), get some good practices in, and we should be fresh and rested once we do start.”
Said goaltender Jimmy Howard: “I did find myself getting bored this weekend. I was excited when I woke up and knew I’d be coming down to practice.”
Stuart elaborated on his point to MLive’s Ansar Khan:
“There’s a certain part of you that wants every series to go seven games, but the other part says ‘Let’s get going here,’ ‘’ Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart said. “After 3-4 days you start to wish you were going, but let’s just use the time we have to rest and enjoy watching the other teams beat up on each other.’‘
“It’s crazy how quickly things can change,’’ Stuart said. “Five, six days ago Vancouver’s feeling pretty good about themselves and now they got the weight of the world on them.’‘
All of that being said, the Wings are just as grateful that, thanks in no small part due to Howard’s superb goaltending, they “threw the snake” in four games:
“In the playoffs, one thing I’ve learned in my short experience, you never want to give a team life,’’ Howard said. “When you got them down you want to keep them down. Because the next thing you know the momentum of a series can just switch like that.’‘
Whatever transpires, Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg, who missed the first round with a sprained left knee but has been cleared to play, hopes his team doesn’t have to travel far.
“If you’re going to go all the way you have to have at least one short trip. Doesn’t matter when it comes,’’ Zetterberg said. “It’s tough to go all the way if you have to go to the West Coast all the time. We did one, but the good thing about that is we only had to go (to Phoenix) once. That is huge.’‘
That’s Gregg Krupa’s theory, as he goes to great lengths to suggest:
San Jose playing Chicago might turn into a long, hard-fought series — and right after both teams are involved in a similar first-round matchup. Chicago also would have put in a lot of frequent flier miles, with three trips to Vancouver, then 2-3 to San Jose. But the Sharks and Blackhawks beating the tar out of each other, while the Red Wings play the Predators, would seem optimal.
By playing Nashville, Detroit would have home-ice advantage in the series. While Nashville is no soft touch, winning the season series over Detroit (4-2), the Predators also have a somewhat aggravating habit of improving their opponents’ play. Their highly disciplined style forces opponents to respond in the same way. That includes issues like puck control, with which the Red Wings struggled this season.
So having to match Nashville’s tight, hygienic brand of hockey while both of Detroit’s prospective conference finals opponents fight each other hard, is a better scenario. Detroit could still find itself playing Chicago in the next round if the Blackhawks beat the Canucks. Regardless, while playing the Blackhawks in the next round would help the Red Wings save traveling time, their Central Division rival — and defending Stanley Cup champions — also scored 15 percent more goals than the Predators this season. My sense is Chicago gives Detroit a more difficult series than Nashville.
Given the choices, it’s optimal for the Red Wings to play the Predators in the West semifinals while the Blackhawks and Sharks engage, and fly roundtrip halfway across the country at least a couple times. The Red Wings say you never can tell or even predict how things will go, so why fret.
“The one-through-eight in the West, I think every team truly believes they can win the Cup,” Kris Draper said. “I think that was the mind-set of every team: just get in, and you never know. It’s going to be a battle. But I think that’s the mind-set and I think that’s why it’s been as wild as it has been.”
I think the captain wasn’t pumping the cliche meter up while saying this, however:
“It really doesn’t matter because whoever you are going to face is going to be a tough opponent,” said captain Nicklas Lidstrom, echoing sentiments from throughout the locker room Monday. “All the teams are playing well, so it really doesn’t matter who you are playing.”
For the record, Scotty Bowman was busy telling the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh about plausible strategies going into a Game 7 situation before hopping onto the Blackhawks’ team plane on Monday, and the Sharks?
After their win against Los Angeles, the Sharks also happened to tell the Mercury News’s Mark Purdy that they’ve been watching video of their prospective opponents, too, and if you’re willing to hedge your bets, per the Mercury News’s David Pollak:
The Sharks announced after the game that tickets for the first two games of Round 2 will go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the standard outlets with the usual restrictions.
And the Predators? They’re waiting, as the Tennessean’s Josh Cooper notes:
Detroit Red Wings
Regular season. 47-25-10.
Season series with Predators. Nashville was 4-1-1.
Key Red Wing. F Pavel Datsyuk was a force in the first-round sweep of Phoenix with six points (2 goals, 4 assists).
Notes. The Wings are well rested, having completed the first-round sweep on April 20. … The Predators outscored their Central Division rivals 18-13 this season.
Predators GM David Poile. “Detroit is the benchmark and gold standard that we judge ourselves on. In the last game of the season when we played Detroit, we had a 3-0 lead and they ended up winning the game. A series against Detroit — we’ve played them twice before in the playoffs — it would be phenomenal for our players, for fan interest. It’s a team we’ve been trying to catch from Day One.”
The other topic of the day: On Monday, Nicklas Lidstrom was named a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the eleventh time in his 19-season career, and while he’s got some long odds to beat in terms of his plus-minus rating, as noted by the Free Press’s sports department...
The Red Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom is nominated for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman, despite having a minus-2 efficiency rating during the regular season. Here are some pertinent numbers:
1998: The last time a defenseman with a negative plus/minus rating won the Norris Trophy, when Rob Blake (-3) did it for the Kings.
2: Number of defensemen with a negative plus/minus to win the Norris since 1968; Randy Carlyle (-16) in 1981 was the other.
Lidstrom actually all but growled regarding his negative plus-minus rating while speaking to the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell...
“It’s something I wasn’t very happy about,” Lidstrom said.
The Wings’ players and their coach have no problem with that particular blemish, and instead, they practically got gushy while speaking about Lidstrom to MLive’s Ansar Khan...
“He’s a real pro in how he prepares and how he goes about his business,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s lived a good life off the ice, so that hasn’t gotten in the way. He’s one of those genetic freaks, kind of like (former Red Wings defenseman Chris) Chelios, that keeps on ticking.”
Lidstrom ranks sixth in NHL history in points for a defenseman (1,108), ninth in goals (253) and fifth in plus-minus rating (plus-429). Incredibly durable, he has played in 1,745 out of a possible 1,779 games, regular season and playoffs, since his rookie year of 1991-92.
“To me, he’s in the top D-men of all-time and one of the top players of all-time,” Babcock said. “There’s not a player who’s been as good as long, that I’ve been around, like Nick.”
“I don’t know if we’ll see anybody be that good for that long as a defenseman for a long time,” Stuart said. “The fact he’s still doing it is amazing. Whatever he’s lost, maybe a step or two, he’s made up for with the ability to out-think other players and being so smart out there.”
Said teammate Niklas Kronwall: “It really is ridiculous what he does every game. I don’t see anybody else getting (the Norris). There are a lot of other good defensemen, but they’re in a different league than he is.”
It was in fact Pavel Datsyuk who made the most sense while trying to describe what Lidstrom does that no one else can:
“I know when he’s in the play, you don’t need to think about (anything else), you’re thinking about your part,” Datsyuk said. “Where’s (the) puck? Just hold your stick and he’ll be putting it on your stick. It makes it easy game for everybody. He’s in perfect spot every time. I don’t know how to explain, but it looks like we have six players on the ice.”
And he continued while speaking to the Free Press’s Helene St. James...
“Sometime he behind me, sometime he in front when I backcheck,” Datsyuk said. “It’s more confidence. I know when he is in on the play, you don’t need to think. You need to skate, you don’t need to watch puck, just hold stick and he will be finding your stick. He make it easy game for everybody. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s like we’re six players on the ice.”
“He’s got a very calming effect on the ice, off the ice,” Danny Cleary said. “No amount of pressure really gets to him. Certainly he leads by example on and off the ice. I think his consistency is the most impressive thing. It’s every day. It’s not just a few games here and have a couple bad games and then a few more great games. He’s always really, really good.”
For a coach, there’s little easier than putting Lidstrom on the ice. It involves zero coaching, actually, coach Mike Babcock said: “He probably coaches the coach. He just helps you with what you’re doing. He understands what being a good pro is and how leadership is important and that the key to leadership is not what you say, it’s what you do. He’s fantastic at all of that.”
“He’s a special talent,” defensive partner Brad Stuart said. “He’s able to make a good play with the puck almost every single time he has it. He makes those little plays coming up the ice that look so easy for him, but you really appreciate it when you see it all the time, how it’s done. He never seems to shoot it all that hard, but it’s always in the right spot. I’ve seen probably five of his shots get blocked in the last four years. It’s just amazing how he gets it through every time. It’s how smart he is on the ice, and his positioning, his stick, all that stuff. I don’t know if we’ll see anybody be that good for that long as a defenseman for a long time. The fact he’s still doing it is, to me, amazing.”
Tomas Holmstrom, however (of all people!), remains Lidstrom’s closest friend and carpool buddy, insists that while his teammate more than deserves the honor, he’s also not exactly a perfect human, at least in the car:
Holmstrom often carpools to work with Lidstrom, which is how he knows that Lidstrom “is not quiet in the car. I always drive, and he harasses me. He talks about everything to distract me.”
Datsyuk suggested that he wasn’t even upset that Lidstrom swiped his Lady Byng Trophy nomination as the one of the league’s most gentlemanly players:
“I’m happy he be up for Lady Byng, he always play not dirty, he play always nice, but he play hard,” Pavel Datsyuk said. “And Norris, no question he be best defensive player. He have great season and play well. He have lots of points and he is good leader.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Then there was the barbecue: This isn’t necessarily news as Al Sobotka holds a barbecue before every playoff round, but I swear to you that the best hamburger I ever had was made on a grill manned by Al Sobotka prior to a Wings-Stars semifinal game in 2008, and I’m one of those guys who’s looking for the “best hamburger ever” and “best pizza ever,” so…
The stuff that the man makes is legendary. He’s an artist of the first order when it comes to grumpily managing to make very good ice at a rink that sits all of 500 feet away from the Detroit River (which pumps more than enough water for the entire Metro Area and its 4 million residents to use in a day past the Joe every eight minutes), and he’s apparently nearly as good at making some very hungry players very happy. The Free Press’s George Sipple spoke to the Wings’ building manager and the Wings’ players about Sobotka’s grilling:
The Red Wings feasted on Big Al’s barbecue following practice. Building manager Al Sobotka helps cook up a barbecue for the players, coaches and building staff once a month during the regular season, and then before each round of the playoffs.
“It started small, years ago, and it just kind of escalated,” said Sobotka, who’s also known for twirling octopi over his head.
The barbecue includes four kinds of meat—chicken, chicken sausage, baby back ribs and hamburgers—plus potatoes and coleslaw.
“You get the aroma there during practice,” Mike Modano said. “I think it’s great. It’s really good. You load up, and it lasts a good couple days in the fridge. He’s got a couple hundred pounds it seems like he cooks. There’s plenty to go around.”
Veteran forward Kris Draper said the cookout has gotten to a point where players leave the rink with carryout boxes.
“Guys will have burgers and chicken and then take ribs home tonight,” Draper said. “It’s a great tradition around here. After every round, Al fires up the barbecue. Guys look forward to it. Everyone knows you’re going home full today.”
As I recall, Sobotka has his sausage and burgers specifically blended to suit the players’ desire for very lean protein, but I swear, he’s an artist. Nothing less than an artist. A very grumpy one, but an artist nonetheless, with all things grilled and chilled.
Also of Red Wings-related note: For the record, per the Free Press’s Steve Schrader:
Red Wings forward Drew Miller’s cousin, Kelly, is one of the assistants new Michigan State coach Tom Anastos has hired. But, really, how can you not have at least one member of the first family of East Lansing hockey on the staff?
“I thought Kelly was out of it, but to hear he was announced as an assistant, that’s awesome,” said Miller, a Spartan in 2003-06.
Cousin Kelly played at MSU in 1981-85. He never played for the Wings, but he was a Grand Rapids Griffin for part of a season.
The Wings’ Justin Abdelkader, a Spartan in 2005-08, also was glad to hear Anastos had retained longtime assistant Tom Newton.
“I’m glad they kept someone around that’s familiar with the program and happy for Newts,” Abdelkader said. “It’s exciting now that they have everything in place and can get prepared for the season.”
• I posted a bunch of multimedia stuff in the Monday night post, but the Free Press’s Julian H. Gonzalez’s 34-image gallery, which includes pictures of Chris Chelios and Jiri Fischer, didn’t post till this morning, and it has a sibling in David Guralnick’s 24-image Detroit News gallery;
WXYZ just happened to post a YouTube clip of Nick talking about his Norris nomination as well:
• I can only shake my head at the Globe and Mail’s Stephen Brunt’s suggestion that only a small number of Canadians would do anything less than let out a collective sigh of Cup-less angst if the Canadiens and/or Canucks bow out:
[T]here’s no arguing the deflating effect when the last hope bows out short of hoisting the Stanley Cup, as has been the unbroken pattern dating to 1993. It’s a sad point of demarcation, marking the end of most real, hard-core passions (though life-long Detroit Red Wings devotees in Southwestern Ontario might beg to differ), which is reflected in the end of sky-high television ratings.
• But I had to laugh at this from the Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason, because it’s so unbelievably ironic:
With his team on the verge of arguably the worst collapse in NHL playoff history, Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis resorted to one of the oldest tricks in the book to take pressure off his players. He attacked the officiating.
But far from being an unsubstantiated rant born of frustration over the way his team is playing, Gillis came armed with facts when he met the media Monday on the eve of Tuesday’s pivotal Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“In the last four games, Chicago had 69-per-cent more power plays than we did,” Gillis told reporters. “When the game was close, when the score was within a goal or two, Chicago received 100-per-cent more power plays plus a penalty shot. I’m not sure how you explain that discrepancy but we’re going to be very hard-pressed to win hockey games if, throughout an entire series when the score is tight, they get 75-per-cent more power plays than we do.”
Of course, complaining about the referring in a particularly tight playoff series is a time-honoured tradition in hockey.
In the spring of 2002, then-Canucks GM Brian Burke went on an officiating rant during his team’s series against the Detroit Red Wings. “I want to point out to the officials that Todd Bertuzzi does not play for Detroit,” Burke said at the time, “it just looks like that because he’s wearing two or three Red Wings sweaters all the time.” He added: “Sedin is not English for ‘punch me or headlock me in a scrum.’”
David Bolland would disagree with the latter, and the former? Well, Big Bad Bert’s a Red Wing. Even Chris Chelios likes him. Go figure.
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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.