The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/27/11 at 06:03 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings will probably start their second-round series against the San Jose Sharks on Friday, but before the Wings probably went to bed early and popped up for the overtime period of Tuesday night’s Canucks-Blackhawks game, they talked to the Wings’ press corps about both potential second-round opponents.
The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan, who reports that the Wings were told to pack for a Wednesday flight just in case, notes that the Wings have all sorts of respect for the opponent which they hope to gain a measure of revenge against, especially given that the Wings didn’t do very well against San Jose during the regular season:
The Wings continued to struggle against the Sharks this regular season. San Jose won three of the four games.
“It’s a very talented team,” said the Wings’ Niklas Kronwall, noting the Sharks’ offensive depth. “You have guys like (Joe) Thornton, (Dany) Heatley, (Dan) Boyle, and (Patrick) Marleau, guys who can score. Good goaltender (Antti Niemi). Up and down, it’s a talented team and it won’t be easy.”
The Sharks showed their offensive capability in Game 3 of the Los Angeles series. Down 4-0, they rallied to win 6-5 in overtime, one of the biggest comebacks in NHL playoff history. With forwards such as Thornton, Heatley, Marleau, Rookie of the Year candidate Logan Couture, and the duo of Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe—a pairing that hurt the Wings last season—the Sharks can match the depth of the Wings up front.
A lot will depend on the Sharks’ defense and goaltending. The depth San Jose had defensively last season isn’t quite there this spring, although trade deadline acquisition Ian White has been a good addition.
The goaltending match up will be interesting. While Jimmy Howard was excellent against Phoenix, San Jose’s Niemi (86.3 save percentage) struggled badly at times against the Kings. Niemi, though, did lead the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup last spring.
The Sharks’ official Twitter account reminded us that the Sharks have, playoffs included, won seven of their past nine games against the Wings, so I’ll let their website’s staff recount the regular season series:
On November 30, Detroit won the season opener between the two by capturing a 5-3 decision at HP Pavilion. Jimmy Howard bested Antero Niittymaki that day.
In the first game at Joe Louis Arena on December 6, San Jose earned the first of three consecutive wins against their Western Conference rival as they came out on top 5-2. Antti Niemi toppled Howard between the pipes.
In the return match in the Motor City, Team Teal brought home a 4-3 win. This was another victory for Niemi against Howard in what likely would be the playoff goaltending scenario.
The fourth and final matchup was at HP Pavilion and the Sharks against prevailed, this time 3-1. This time Niemi was victorious against Joey MacDonald.
Offensively, San Jose scored 15 goals in the four games and they were paced by Dany Heatley who scored four goals against the Wings. Ryane Clowe, Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi and Logan Couture contributed two goals apiece. Detroit on the other hand was led by Danny Cleary and Henrik Zetterberg who each contributed three goals in the series. Tomas Holmstrom found two other tallies.
The Mercury News’s David Pollak’s the one who suggested that the series won’t start until Friday, and it makes sense when you put his report into context:
A Calgary colleague watching tonight’s games says that CBC is reporting it’s a 99 percent certainty that Vancouver-Nashville series will open Thursday night, giving the Hockey Night in Canada crew it’s preferred Saturday night start without back-to-backs.
And that makes Sharks-Detroit that same 99 percent certainty to open at HP Pavilion on Friday night with Sunday the logical time for Game 2.
The NHL won’t be announcing anything until tomorrow and nothing from the Sharks until that happens.
Add in the fact that it would make much more sense for the CBC to wait for the Bruins-Habs series to run its course—it the Canadiens win, there’s a double-header for you right there, and if they lose, the Canucks will play at 7 or 8 EDT—before asking the NHL to firm up its broadcast schedule.
It’s less than 99% certain, but it’s still more likely than not that the Wings and Sharks will start their series on Friday night and then take part in an afternoon game on NBC on Sunday.
The Sharks learned Tuesday night that their prize for disposing of the Los Angeles Kings is a second-round rematch with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom after the Vancouver Canucks defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 in Game 7 of their first-round Stanley Cup matchup.
This will be the fifth postseason showdown between San Jose and Detroit with each team having eliminated the other twice. A year ago, San Jose won the series in five games to advance to the Western Conference finals as coach Todd McLellan matched wits with Mike Babcock, the coach he served under for three years as a Detroit assistant.
San Jose was 3-1 against Detroit during the season, splitting two games at HP Pavilion and winning on both trips to Joe Louis Arena.
Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Ray Ratto went with a “nothing has changed in the larger scheme of things, the Wings, anyway” theory theory:
SAME OLD FACES, SAME OLD PLACES: The only true differences between these Red Wings and the ones the Sharks beat last year are health and rest. The only real issue is whether Johan Franzen, normally the right wing on the Pavel Datsyuk line, will be available after injuring his ankle during the Phoenix series. Franzen is hugely important to the Wings for both his skill and his flint, and if he can’t play, Mike Modano won’t be able to replace his game. On the other hand, the rest of the old faces – Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Valtteri Filppula, Dan Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, Justin Abdelkader, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall and former Shark Brad Stuart.
SAME OLD GAME: They like possession. They like to cycle, they like to outshoot you by a factor of 2-1, they like to clog your net with their people, and they like to win draws in your end, and they like doing this even though you know they’re coming, because they’re also good at all of these things, night in and night out. Sound familiar? Well, Todd McLellan worked for the Wings before he got to San Jose,. Draw your own conclusions.
SAME OLD GOALIE: Jimmy Howard had a so-so year as the undisputed starter, and his backups, the redoubtable Chris Osgood and Joey MacDonald, saw about 15 percent of the available minutes this year. People have been waiting for that breakout year for awhile now, and this wasn’t that year, but the options don’t seem to excite head coach Mike Babcock all that much.
SAME OLD BRAINIAC: Mike Babcock can do this drill in his sleep, so loaded with familiar faces is he. He is like Todd McLellan, only more animated, and he is matter-of-fact-snarky when answering questions, as he was when someone asked about defenseman Ruslan Salei’s injury: “He has a boo-boo.” He’s done this his way long enough that it has become the players’ way as well, so he can allow his veterans more rope. If Franzen is healthy, he will have the team he had three years ago, and it will be well rested after routing Phoenix in the first round.
I don’t buy the theory that Howard’s the “same old goalie.” He’s not a playoff rookie, wondering why it’s so damn hard to stop the pucks he was saving in the regular season as they slither by him in the post-season. The Wings were legitimately defensively leaky at times against Phoenix, and Howard was superb. Even Howard says that between having a year of playoff experience under his belt and having his future taken care of via a two-year contract extension, he feels very different this time around. Calmer. More relaxed. More focused.
But I’m a Wings fan, so what do I know?
The CBC’s Chris Iofrida provides an unpleasant reminder of last spring’s affair…
(2) Sharks vs. (3) Red Wings
San Jose has been in the league just under two decades, but they’ve already managed a notable playoff history with Detroit, splitting four series.
The Sharks won the first and the last of those meetings—a famous upset in 1994 and a five-game series victory last season, in which the Red Wings looked worn down after long playoff runs to the Stanley Cup final in the previous two years.
In the 2010 series, Joe Pavelski victimized the Wings with four goals and three assists, while Patrick Marleau had a point in every game. The Sharks built a 3-0 lead in games, were pasted 7-1 in the next outing, and then closed out Detroit in a 2-1 nail-biter. Marleau scored the winner in the period of that game.
All four games this season between the teams were decided in regulation. The Sharks won three of them, scoring a total of 15 goals.
And here’s NHL.com’s brief series preview...
Right here, right now: San Jose won three of the four meetings between the teams this season. Detroit’s lone win—a 5-3 decision—came Nov. 30 at HP Pavilion. The Sharks won the next three, outscoring the Wings 12-6 along the way. This will be the fifth time these teams have met in the postseason. San Jose defeated Detroit in five games last year to advance to the Western Conference Finals. Detroit won the previous two meetings (2007, 1995) after San Jose shocked the Wings in the opening round of the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs, stunning Detroit in Game 7.
Coulda, Woulda: Detroit hasn’t played a game since April 20, when it completed its four-game sweep of the Coyotes in Phoenix. The Red Wings didn’t even know the Sharks would be their opponent until Vancouver finally eliminated Chicago late Tuesday night. Had the Blackhawks found a way in overtime against the Canucks, the Red Wings would have faced Nashville in Round 2, beginning at home. Instead, they’ll head West looking for a way to beat the Sharks, who are 7-2 against Detroit dating back to last year’s playoffs.
Who Needs Game 1 More: While the Red Wings are 4-0 this postseason, they could really use a victory in Game 1 to dispute the rust factor, which will be questioned before the puck drops for Game 1. Also, with the Sharks having home-ice advantage, Detroit is going to need a split in the first two games before the series shifts to Joe Louis Arena for Games 3 and 4.
The Great Unknown: Are Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen healthy? Franzen, who had 2 goals and an assist in three games against Phoenix, is recovering from a lower-body injury suffered due to a hit from Coyotes captain Shane Doan in Game 2. Franzen is skating and is confident he’ll be ready for Game 1 against San Jose. Zetterberg did not play at all against Phoenix after suffering a knee injury during the final week of the regular season. However, with all this extra time off, there’s reason to be hopeful that the Swedish superstar will be ready to go.
Finish Line: Detroit really made it look easy against Phoenix in the opening round, controlling the tempo from the opening faceoff of Game 1 until the final horn sounded in Game 4 at Jobing.com Arena. But the Coyotes don’t come close to matching the Sharks’ firepower, as San Jose entered the postseason boasting five players who recorded 60 points or more. The Red Wings will have to execute their puck-possession game if they hope to avenge last year’s playoff result.
It’s funny you should mention that, unnamed NHL.com staffer, because Jiri Hudler suggested that the Sharks and Predators would present an equal challenge while speaking to the CBC’s blogger:
Even though their next opponent is down to two possibilities, the Wings still won’t know their destiny until Game 7 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks concludes Tuesday night.
“We know it’s going to be Nashville or San Jose, but I don’t think it really matters,” Detroit forward Jiri Hudler said. “We know each other right now. It’s been a long season, 82 games. Everybody knows what to expect. You’ve just got to get prepared, get focused on doing your job starting with the first game.”
That being said, the Wings did tell MLive’s Ansar Khan that they’re well aware of the Sharks’ star power, from the net on out, and they’re wary of the big-bodied cycling game biting them as it did last spring. The Sharks tended to feast upon the Wings by coercing their defensemen to chase after the puck carrier as they cycled down low, and, more often than not, a Setoguchi or Pavelski would get free and fire a back-door pass into the net:
“They got good talent up front, some guys with good speed and guys that can put the puck in the net,’’ Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said. “They’re a fast team, play a fast game, similar to what we try to do.’‘
“You know the big star players they have,’’ Detroit’s Kris Draper said. “A team that always plays us hard. Big bodies, real strong on the puck. Very good cycle team, puck possession team. You look at what they did against L.A., being down 4-0 (in Game 3), no quit, they just kept coming and ended up winning that game (6-5 in overtime). It was a big reason they moved on. It’s a team that believes in themselves and it certainly showed in that series.’‘
Said Red Wings forward Patrick Eaves: “They can put five guys out there that are very talented. We need to make them deviate from their set plan as much as possible.’‘
Aside from the fact that Antti Niemi was fantastic at times and very ordinary at others against Los Angeles, the Wings believe that rest is indeed on their side…
“We were coming off a seven-game (series),’’ Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi said. “Hopefully this time around we’ll have all our guys back and we’ll be well-rested. And we’ll be a lot more prepared.’‘
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who they play, Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler said, because, “These days, if you want to go far, you’ve got to go through everybody.’‘
So while the Wings aren’t planning on underestimating the Sharks for a second, as Niklas Kronwall told the Free Press’s Helene St. James...
“San Jose just has so much talent,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “They’ve got so much skill. They’ve got a good goaltender who won the Cup last year with Chicago. They’ve got Dan Boyle, who is all over the place for 30 minutes a night. It’s tough to defend a guy like that. And then up front, obviously they’ve got some big guys there, some guys that can really do some damage. It’s going to be a big challenge.”
St. James believes that the Wings do have the edge on San Jose in their revenge match, even if it’s only a slight one…
The Sharks are one of the few teams that can match the Wings’ depth up front. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton highlight a cast that includes support from Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, Ryane Clowe and Logan Couture.
Antti Niemi joined the Sharks last summer after backstopping the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup, but he had a shaky playoff debut with his new team, finishing with a 3.99 goals-against average and .863 save percentage against the Kings.
With Zetterberg back in the lineup after missing Round 1 with a knee injury, the Wings should be able to make life tough on Niemi, or Antero Niittymaaki, his back-up. The Wings can roll four lines that all have scorers and hitters, and as much as the best players will have to emerge the deeper the playoffs go, having Darren Helm on the fourth line wearing down opposing defensemen was a huge benefit in Round 1. He went after both Ed Jovanovski and Keith Yandle.
The Wings will have to improve on the penalty kill, which fared poorly against the Coyotes, and Phoenix didn’t even have that good of a power play. The Sharks can decimate with theirs, so the Wings have to watch taking penalties in the first place.
Give the Wings the advantage on defense and goaltending (call it even up front), and the prediction is Wings in six.
“I’m feeling good out there,” Zetterberg said Tuesday. “I think the last step is just playing games.”
Zetterberg, who led the team in scoring during the regular season, missed the entire first round after suffering a sprained left knee on April 6 in Carolina. He will play with a brace on his leg.
“You get used to it,” Zetterberg said about wearing the brace. “I think half the league is playing with braces now. It just takes a few practices and then you’re into it. Every morning you see how you react on the things you did the day before[.] Right now I’m back doing everything full out and there are still no setbacks.”
Zetterberg has 46 goals and 45 assists in the postseason. Although he’ll wear a brace during games, Zetterberg does not have to wear the brace fulltime anymore, which is a relief.
“I don’t have to wear it all the time so I don’t get picked on in grocery stores anymore,” Zetterberg laughed. “So that’s nice.”
Zetterberg’s teammates were definitely on board with the theory that their Conn Smythe Trophy-winning forward’s presence gives the Wings three legitimate scoring lines’ worth of forwards, which makes them nearly impossible to completely shut down—regardless of whether Zetterberg plays alongside Pavel Datsyuk or center his own line—as St. James duly noted:
“It’s great, because it puts one more person on the ice that the other team has to be aware of,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “Z, he’s got a knack for being great in the playoffs, and we welcome him back with open arms. He’s great at shutting other team’s top lines down, and he finds a way to generate points, too, at the same time as playing great defense.”
“I don’t know if he completely back, because he too much shooting,” Datsyuk said, smiling. “I don’t know why. Usually he doesn’t too much shoot. Now he too much shoots.”
This is a little bit like Zetterberg accusing Datsyuk of making too many dazzling passes, because of the many things Zetterberg does, shooting is very definitely one of them. He racked up 306 shots on net in 80 games this season, and had at least one shot in all but one of those games. The Wings did fine in their first-round series against Phoenix without Zetterberg, but as they embark on Round 2, they’re so much better because he will be back.
“He’s just a real good high-end player that gives you more depth,” coach Mike Babcock said. “As it goes on, you need more depth to win. The teams that advance, they advance for a reason. They’re good teams that have good depth. Z’s a high-end player who plays with great will at playoff time. He scores better at playoff time than he does in the regular season. He competes at a high, high level and it’s important to have him back.”
Put simply, the Wings know that they had enough offense to “get by” against Phoenix, but they understood prior to knowing the identity of their second-round opponent that they’d need more offensive pop to survive over the long haul:
“I think we showed in the first round that we have really good depth, we had scoring from all lines,” Niklas Kronwall said. “But now it’s going to be even tougher for the next team, and that’s great for us. I mean, let’s just face it, Z’s one of the top three, top five, players in the league both offensively and defensively at the same time. Playing without a guy like that is something you don’t want to do, but we did it and we were fortunate enough to come out of Phoenix. But we’re very happy to have him back.”
Datsyuk was…diplomatic…regarding playing alongside his friend:
“We want to play together, but if it’s better for team we play separate, we do that,” Datsyuk said. “It’s good he be back. He is important for us. He play well this season, now he have a little bit rest, he come back, he be big help for us.”
In terms of the Wings’ other playoff superstar recovering from an injury, it’s difficult to figure out whether Johan Franzen is, as he suggested on Tuesday, fall but good to go after recovering from a sprained left ankle, or whether he was, in Babcockian terms, either good to go or somewhat iffy for Thursday, as he told MLive’s Ansar Khan:
“He’ll play if he’s ready and if he’s not ready he won’t play. It’s just that simple,’’ Babcock said. “But it’s my anticipation that he’ll be ready. Now, I’ve been wrong before, but the Mule’s going to play.’‘
Franzen, who hurt the ankle in Game 2 vs. Phoenix, when he sustained facial injuries on the hit by Shane Doan, said he’s feeling “better and better.’‘
“It’s not hurting, that’s for sure,’’ Franzen said. “Skated a little bit yesterday, a little today. Hopefully go a little harder tomorrow.’‘
Franzen said it would be good to get a full practice in before playing, but it’s not vital. He’s been working out off-ice mostly by riding the bike.
Defenseman Ruslan Salei did not practice today because, Babcock said, “He had a boo boo.’’ He said Salei will play in Game 1.
Franzen took to the ice for the first ten minutes of practice, but, as the Free Press’s St. James notes, Babcock was…indifferent about this news:
“I didn’t spend a whole lot of time looking,” Mike Babcock said, “but he was out there and he was skating and that’s a start. We’ll see when we start, right? We’ll see how he does and how he responds and go from there. When he’s ready, he’s going to play.”
This was almost as interesting as the Salei “boo boo” exchange:
Chris Osgood has strung together a number of good practices, but Babcock said the Wings will keep using minor-leaguer Joey MacDonald as Jimmy Howard’s backup because Osgood hasn’t played a game since early January. “He hasn’t played any games,” Babcock said. “What do we do about that? They won’t schedule one for us to get him in.”
Here’s a continuation of that comment via Pleiness:
“Not for me at this point, just because he hasn’t played in any games,” Babcock said. “I don’t know what we can do about that. There’s no schedule to get him in. We’ll continue to talk with Jimmy (Devellano) and Kenny [Holland] and make those decisions as we go along.”
The Wings’ final point of emphasis on Monday involved the fact that they killed exactly two thirds of the Coyotes’ power plays. Babcock insisted to Kulfan that the Wings have addressed their issues on the penalty-kill…
We backed off and didn’t have the same type of puck pressure when we’ve been real good,” Babcock said of the passiveness he saw from his team against Phoenix. “We’ve worked a lot on it, we’ll be ready to go, and we’ll be very aggressive.”
A huge part of a successful penalty kill is keeping that four-man — or three-man — unit tight. Once the unit is scrambling and “loose,” it’s easier for the team on the power play to identify open areas and take advantage with quality shots.
“We do have to tighten up a little bit,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We were getting out-manned in front of the net when they took shots. We have to be tighter in our zone, not to be as spread out.”
Said Kronwall: “We have to do a better job of clearing the puck. We had opportunities to clear the puck and didn’t get all the way down. That hurt us.”
But the Wings did suggest that their PK unit was at least effective in terms of stifling that long 5-on-3 in Game 1 and not allowing the Coyotes to fully get back into games or establish unassailable leads:
“The positive is, we’ve had some timely kills at key moments of the game,” center Kris Draper said. “We’ve had some big ones. The 5-on-3 in Game 1 arguably got our series going in the right direction. We were down 1-0, and it was a huge penalty kill, with great blocks (in the passing lanes).”
Said Kronwall: “Anytime you can kill off a penalty, you come out stronger and especially if you kill off a 5-on-3, that’s huge. You have to make sure the other team doesn’t get any momentum. You have to bear down. Phoenix was able to get a few goals and we couldn’t figure it out. It’s just a matter of doing the little things right.”
Darren Helm put things a little more bluntly while speaking about the Wings’ PK with Pleiness:
“We know we got away with having a bad PK the first round,” Wings forward Darren Helm said. “It’s something we need to be a lot better on if we want to move past the second round. It was addressed right away to all the (penalty killers) that we have to be a lot stronger.”
“It’s got to be better,” Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart said. “We gave up a few too many goals. A couple of unlucky bounces off sticks and players, but overall we can be better working together as a unit, limiting opportunities.”
Kronwall suggested that it’s a matter of bearing down on detail issues, winning faceoffs and bearing down on clearing attempts…
“We know the structure and we were doing the right things,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It was just small breakdowns and the puck ended up in our net. We just have to stick with the game plan full out. We just missed in a few areas. Our PK has to be a lot better than that for us to have success[.] We need to win the faceoffs and just clear the puck every time we get a chance[.] There were a few times (against Phoenix) when we had the puck and couldn’t get it out of our zone. We just have to make sure the puck goes all the way.”
But Lidstrom suggested that the Wings need to simply take fewer penalties—which means adjusting to whatever “standard” the NHL tells its referees to enforce in the second round—and that when the Wings do go to the box, they need to display more cohesion and teamwork as a 4-man group, especially in terms of clearing out the slot. The Wings believe that it’s Howard’s job to stop the first shot and theirs to clear the rebound, and they didn’t do that very well against Phoenix:
“That’s one area we’ve got to do a better job,” Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We weren’t good enough in front of our own net. They were taking shots and were there for the rebounds and getting those kinds of goals. We can’t get spread out as a group of four. That’s when they find the openings.”
I hate to agree with Pleiness about this particular point, but I do: I find it a little strange that Mike Babcock continues to refuse to play Lidstrom on the penalty-killing unit, because he’s always provided the kind of stability the Wings need when things don’t go their way in their own end:
“Nick doesn’t play on the penalty kill for us right now,” Babcock said. “He’s unbelievable on the power play, unbelievable on the puck, so why would you wear him out doing that (PK)?”
• His modesty: Datsyuk thought his Moscow Dynamo teammates were kidding when they told him the Wings had drafted him. “They showed me the newspaper two days later,” Datsyuk is quoted. “And I thought, ‘OK, printing mistake.’ “
• His work ethic: “He had these natural gifts of an All-Star,” Nicklas Lidstrom tells SI, “but he also worked and worked at all the little things the way a fourth-line guy would. That’s why what you see today is one of the best players in the NHL.”
• His talent: “It seems like you’re never really playing against him; you’re playing against his shadow,” Montreal’s Hal Gill says.
• His sense of humor: Asked about his first thought when rushing back on defense, Datsyuk says, “Must get back before Holmstrom, so he’s the slow one and not me.”
There’s a lot more. It’s one for Wings fans’ scrapbooks.
I’ll have to hunt for it just like you do because SI makes it incredibly complicated to try and buy a single issue online, and, quite frankly, their in-print hockey coverage just doesn’t cut it in terms of me being able to justify the expense.
Also of Red Wings-related note:
• In terms of Team Revenge Wings (that’s what I’m calling ‘em) vs. Team Teal, the Free Press posted a “Meet the Sharks” gallery;
• Mike Serven, one of the original 19 and the man behind Red Wings Feed, posted a list of the Sharks’ major Twitter players. It’s going to be interesting to follow a team that has four players on Twitter and encourages three announcers to post Twitter comments;
• The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan took note of something as obvious as the fact that some of what the Sharks’ players say will be bulletin board material. Paul will probably cover this, but unless something strange happens, you’ll be hearing Pavel Datsyuk’s name mentioned today as a finalist for a major award:
The finalists for the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) will be announced today, and it’s expected Pavel Datsyuk will be among the players in contention.
Datsyuk has won the award three consecutive seasons.
The favorite to win the award is Canucks center Ryan Kesler (Livonia), who was a finalist the last two seasons.
Datsyuk won’t win because he was injured. Plain and simple.
• This quip from WXYT is interesting…
Niklas Kronwall has assumed a more prominent role for the Red Wings in the playoffs. For the first time in more than a dozen years a defenseman other than Nicklas Lidstrom is leading the team in minutes played.
Kronwall is a key component on the second power-play unit, one of the leaders on the penalty-kill and a solid contributor at even strength. He is leading all Wings in ice time (22:12 per game), hits (13) and blocked shots (eight) in the playoffs. He scored a power-play goal in Game 4 Wednesday versus Phoenix and had two assists in Game 3. He is one of the main reasons the Wings swept the Coyotes in the first round and will have at least a week to rest before the next round.
“Kronwall’s a guy in the organization that has to come to the forefront,” coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s capable of playing the most minutes — power play, penalty-kill, even strength. He can be the most active. He’s a physical guy who can really make plays, and we think he’s an elite player.”
It’s clear how much the Red Wings missed Kronwall when he sat out the final five regular season games with an upper-body injury.
“For me personally, the more you play the more confidence you feel out there,” Kronwall said. “It feels like you’re taken on a little bigger role.”
• Experts weigh in, part 1: Former Boston Bruins defenseman and CBC analyst Gary Galley spoke to the the Boston Globe’s Stephen Harris about this year’s Norris Trophy nominees (he’s picking Shea Weber), saying this about Lidstrom:
On Lidstrom (11 goals, 48 assists, minus-2): “He’ll be the sentimental favorite, the oldest defenseman to be nominated. That speaks volumes for his legacy and what he’s done for the game. Where does he rank all time? Does he sit ahead of Ray (Bourque)? Well, people can argue that the game is tougher to play now with all the rule changes. Having played with Ray, it’s hard not to be biased, because I know how good he was.
“But who is the all-time No. 1 guy in the history of this game? How can you not look at Nicklas Lidstrom? He might be the best who ever played the position, the most consistent, played the longest, great at both ends.
“Bobby Orr played at a time that he revolutionized the position and changed the whole game. The numbers he put up were scary. But the longevity, the performance over the course of time, it’s hard not to take Lidstrom.”
• Experts weigh in, part 2: Doug Weight spoke to NHL.com’s Brian Hunter about the first round of the playoffs (the Warren, MI native is still probably going to retire), focusing in on three older players, including Lidstrom:
What’s also been exciting for Weight to see are players 40 and older continuing to have key roles on postseason teams. Although the Anaheim Ducks were ousted, Teemu Selanne led all scorers entering Tuesday’s action with 6 goals, while Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom and Boston Bruins forward Mark Recchi, a teammate of Weight’s on that ‘06 championship squad in Carolina, also continue to excel.
“I want to know how they stay so darn healthy,” said Weight, who turned 40 in January and was limited to 18 games for the New York Islanders this season due to recurring back spasms. “Nicklas is an amazing player and it seems like he’s a mirror image of Steve (Yzerman) when Steve played. Every year he’d get older and they’d say he’d lose a step but he’d get smarter and somehow find a way to get those big goals and lead his team. Lidstrom had a great year this year. I think he’s probably the favorite for the Norris. And Teemu relies on speed and energy, and that’s an amazing thing to rely on at the age of 41, but he looked phenomenal in the playoffs and I hope he decides to keep playing.
“Even Recchi and the guys who are in the playoffs, they look great. I know what type of year this is, it’s a long year. And this time of the year is the most physical, but it’s probably the easiest to play, to be honest with you. You’re motivated, you’re getting your rest when you need it, the coaches realize it, and there’s not those dog days. Every day is that next game of the series and you get that adrenaline, so these guys are loving this time of year, for sure.”
• Experts weigh in, part 3: The Pioneer Press’s Charley Walters insists, as did the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo, that the Wild want to interview Wings assistant coach Paul MacLean as a potential replacement for Todd Richards;
• Experts weigh in, part 4: This is really intriguing, but it’s “further reading,” because the University of Wisconsin Badger Herald’s Adam Holt spoke to University of Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, Patrick’s dad, about the fact that the NHL’s salary cap is one of the main reasons why NHL teams are asking collegiate players to “turn pro” prior to their senior seasons, Brendan Smith included;
• Heading the other way, Wings prospect Ben Marshall’s headed to the University of Minnesota after a superb season with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, and RedWingsCentral’s Matthew Wuest spoke to Wings scout David Kolb about a player who’s just finishing his senior year in high school, and will probably be given all four years of his college eligibility to develop because he’s got absolutely fantastic skills in terms of passing, shooting and skating—but is very small:
“He thinks the game very well with the puck and is extremely effective on the power play,” said Red Wings scout David Kolb. “Very good hands and instincts.”
The Red Wings drafted the 5-foot-9 170-pounder in the seventh round (201st overall) out of Mahtomedia High School in Minnesota, where he was a scoring sensation but didn’t need to take much care in the defensive zone. In the USHL, he’s become less one-dimensional and finished tied for 10th in the league with a plus-20 rating.
“His size will always be an issue but I have more confidence in his ability to play a complete game after seeing the strides he made this season,” Kolb said. “His defensive game came a long way.”
As Kolb put it, Marshall will “never be mistaken for a defensive defensemen,” and that’s OK — the Red Wings drafted him for his dynamic offensive upside in the hopes he might turn into another John-Michael Liles. There are openings on Minnesota’s blue line next season, so Marshall could get a chance for ice time right away with the Golden Gophers.
“I feel confident that Ben has the skill, creativity, swagger and drive to have a shot at playing pro hockey down the road despite his size, but like most kids his age he needs to add a lot of strength,” Kolb said. “Ben’s progress in the weight room over the next four years will likely go a long way in determining how far he is able to go as a hockey player.”
He’s more like 5’6” and 160-165 lbs, but his skills are elite. The Wings will hope that time and work in the gym will help him fill out, literally and figuratively;
• Also in the collegiate talk vein, but relating to an alumnus instead of a prospect: According to the Edmonton Sun’s John Short, Wings coach Mike Babcock and Canadian women’s national team coach Melody Davidson are part of a fund-raising committee attempting to bring Red Deer (Alberta) College’s men’s team back onto the ice. Babcock won his first championship as Red Deer’s coach;
• If you missed yesterday’s main practice update post, it included radio interviews with Ken Holland, Nicklas Lidstrom, Jiri Fischer, Kris Draper, Justin Abdelkader and Ilitch Holdings sports and entertainment properties CEO Tom Wilson (!), as well as a solid crop of videos, and the second post basically fleshes out the topics discusses here, and includes a video from the Detroit News:
For completeness’ sake, here are Mike Babcock and Johan Franzen’s pressers from the Wings’ site as well:
The Wings’ players talked about their favorite playoff memories, too:
• And finally, the Production Line’s Chris Hollis penned a column suggesting that the Wings basically need to tangle with the Sharks to win the Cup. It’s worth your time.
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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.