The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/22/11 at 06:56 AM ET
Since Bill already covered Gregg Krupa’s article insisting that the NHL is not attempting to squelch Red Wings fans’ octopus-throwing tradition, but is simply encouraging better timing and protecting both the players and integrity of the ice surface by imposing a $500 fine enforced via the Detroit Police Department…
I’ll say the following regarding the apologist, especially as the News cooked up a Flash game which insists that the youngsters who pick up octopi at Joe Louis Arena have a hard road to go in avoiding hockey players, fans throwing drinks and octopi—something’s definitely redolent here, and it’s not the smell of day-old octopus, nor the fact that the Superior Fish Company already tries to educate would-be octopus throwers in the etiquette of octopus-throwing.
It’s the $155 million deficit in the City of Detroit’s budget, as pointed out by the Free Press’s Suzette Hackney and Matt Helms. Do you think that a police officer who is, via the gentlemen’s agreement upon which they provide free security for Red Wings games (a.k.a. the now-expired lease the Wings had with the City), going to pass up an opportunity to pick up $500 that the City doesn’t have to declare as revenue?
If you throw an octopus, you’re gonna get fined, and all Krupa’s article does is try to pull the wool over our eyes regarding an NHL-endorsed cash grab.
Throughout the Deadspin and On the Wings’ Matt Saler-powered coverage of Tom Balish’s much-publicized ticketing, the local news reports, both online, in print, on the radio and on TV, kept on saying that an “internet report” was the source of their story, and Krupa does the same damn thing. That’s like a college student writing a term paper on a subject and citing, “The library” as a source.
The Free Press’s Mike Thompson does cite a source in revealing that Bruce Gillespie of Madison Heights provided his caption for an editorial cartoon of a Wings fan yelling at the TV, late at night, while his wife talks on the phone. And I quote: “Honey, Mike Babcock says he can hear you loud and clear.”
Babcock and the rest of the Wings returned home from Phoenix on Thursday and assessed their collective and individual performances in sweeping the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round while on the tarmac at Metro Airport.
Overnight, the press corps posted stories regarding the players, coach and GM Ken Holland’s comments, with the Detroit News’s Vincent Goodwill focusing on Jimmy Howard’s superb performance in what he hopes is the first leg of his sophomore playoff campaign:
“It was good we took care of business,” Howard said. “You don’t want to give anyone any attempt to believe they can come back on you.”
In his second postseason as starter, Howard said the game has slowed down this year.
“I think I’m more relaxed, I’m not trying to make everything absolutely perfect this time around,” he said.
His teammates have noticed a difference too.
“I think he feels more comfortable knowing what to expect, having been there last year, knowing what it feels like being in pressure situations,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I think it just helps him to go into this playoffs, this series that we just played, knowing what it takes.”
The Free Press’s Michael Rosenberg also took note of the fact that Howard outplayed the goaltender who the Coyotes insisted was the best player in the series by far in Ilya Bryzgalov, suggesting that while Howard is expected to be good, but not great, in providing the Wings with a stable enough goaltending presence to guide the Wings along, Howard’s also put to rest some doubts regarding his ability to deliver when games are on the line:
“It was a lot of fun out there,” he said Wednesday night after he made the saves he needed to make, and then some, in a 6-3 series-clinching victory. “The crowd was into it. They were throwing everything at us. ... I feel more experienced, to be honest. Last year was a whirlwind. As things were thrown at me, I learned how to process and make changes. Where this year, I know what to expect. I know how fine of a line it is. We got one series down and we’ve got three to go.”
“He’s become an elite goalie in our league,” coach Mike Babcock said. “He had two tough breaks in the first period. Those things happen when you’re in goal. They banked them in to our net, and he just made the next save. So good for him.”
Howard said all the right things last year, and he played well. But it was new for him, and there was no way to make it not new except to play the games. He was in a weird position. He took over a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2008 and made the Cup finals in 2009, but he was expected to do more than any goalie the Wings have had in many years.
“We went to the finals twice, and Howie was probably feeling the pressure of that,” fellow goalie, mentor and video-game rival Chris Osgood said. “Then once we lose and he realizes it’s not the end of the world, it takes some pressure off. It’s a game. Yeah, you want to win, obviously, and there is pressure to win. But there are going to be other opportunities.” Osgood said “just his poise and his calmness is a lot better this year. He’s more relaxed. He doesn’t have that uptightness he had last year.”
One of the Wings’ biggest points of emphasis when they got off the plane involved the fact that they believe they can “stay sharp” while taking part in only one practice today—which will wrap up just around noon, when tickets for the second round’s first three home games go on sale—and then enjoying a weekend off to watch their foes wear each other down before getting ready for a series that should begin no earlier than next Wednesday by gathering at the Joe on Monday.
Howard suggested that he’ll be fine given his practice habits:
“Practice,” he said. “You practice the way you play. I’m a firm believer in that. You don’t get lackadaisical out there.”
In the literal sense, Howard’s impact was matched by Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Todd Bertuzzi’s physical play against Phoenix, and the Free Press’s Helene St. James took note of the fact that Helm in particular made a game-changing hit on Wednesday night:
“I think in the playoffs, you want to do the things that you do all season and just do them a little bit better,” Helm said. “I definitely wanted to step up that part of my game. It’s very important this time of year to make sure you’re physical, and that’s what I wanted to do coming into this series. We saw that we needed to get the puck in deep and really have a forecheck and be physical and I thought everybody bought into that. We were able to get a lot of hits, and I think it definitely helped.”
Helm bulldozed Keith Yandle in Game 4 to free the puck and then carried it out front, where Eaves tipped in his shot. The Coyotes were a minute and change from taking a lead into the second period; instead, Helm swung momentum in Detroit’s favor.
As for Bertuzzi, who’s played like a man with a ten thousand-pound weight lifted from his shoulders since he was ejected for but not suspended due to hitting Chicago Blackhawks forward Ryan Johnson, he’s providing impacts in the forms of checks, a fight with Rostislav Klesla in Game 1, and the kind of all-round play that stacks up to Helm and Abdelkader’s supposed inheritance of “Grind Line” status, but Bertuzzi says that it’s not youth and enthusiasm, nor establishing a legacy or legitimacy, that’s fueling his play:
“I’m running out of time,” he said. “This is probably as good as it’s going to get for me. I think I’m no different from everyone else, everyone is kind of sacrificing and we know what’s at stake.”
With Bertuzzi on one wing and Danny Cleary on the other—and probably Henrik Zetterberg in the middle, since he should be ready to return from a knee injury—the Wings have the sort of big line that will be especially valuable against a tougher opponent. Cleary is a fan of playing with Bertuzzi, anyway, because “he always tries to give me the puck, so I like that.” Also, it’s pretty clear Bertuzzi is motivated.
“He wants to win as much as anybody else, that’s for sure,” Cleary said. “He realizes his kicks at the can are getting shorter and he’s certainly putting the effort in here, especially the last month. Big games, physically fighting and things like that, getting momentum to swing our way. He’s been a good fit for our team.”
The Wings revealed that Johan Franzen, who missed Wednesday’s game with a sprained ankle, and Henrik Zetterberg, who missed the entire series with a sprained left MCL, could have played had the series dragged into this weekend, but one could very well argue that Mike Modano stole Drew Miller’s job by registering an assist on Tomas Holmstrom’s goal and providing speed and savvy both up front and on the power play point on Wednesday.
St. James also spoke to Modano about his ability to “stay sharp” while waiting for his opportunity to play:
“It’s a challenge, certainly, when you’ve never been put in that situation, to kind of be ready to get that call, to fill in,” Modano said. “Playing with Pav and Tommy, you don’t want to let those guys down, or your teammates. There was a little sense of urgency there, to say the least.”
Modano, who most likely will retire this summer, was frank about how tough it would be to end his Hall of Fame career as a healthy scratch.
“Certainly when it’s not happened in 22 years, it’s tough to deal with,” he said, “and in this scenario in my career and my life, it’s certainly even harder.”
“I thought Mo played great,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Mo played better than I thought he was going to play. I thought he was physical, he shot the puck, he skated. That’s a good sign for us.”
At the other end of the depth chart and in Howard’s end of the ice, Babcock was able to very sparingly play the six defensemen who may bear the largest load in terms of ice time this time of #35 as the spring progresses, and, as MLive’s Ansar Khan suggests, Babcock had that particular move planned from the start of the regular season, but had to make due with what he had when the injury bug struck:
Babcock was able to spread out the minutes in the first round: Niklas Kronwall (22:25), Brian Rafalski (21:20), Brad Stuart (20:51), Jonathan Ericsson (19:37), Nicklas Lidstrom (19:34) and Ruslan Salei (16:18).
“Nick doesn’t play on the penalty kill for us right now when we got everyone on deck,” Babcock said. “That’s wear and tear on Nick Lidstrom. He’s unbelievable on the power play, unbelievable on the puck, so why would you wear him out doing that (penalty kill)?
“We got Kronner, Stewie, Salei and (Ericsson) to do that stuff, so Rafi and (Lidstrom) play on the power play and we end up with minutes shared.”
Babcock said of Kronwall: “Obviously, Kronwall’s an elite player, we play him in the (No.) 5-6 hole (but), really, with his age he’s probably our best guy in lots of ways.”
Lidstrom was named a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player on Thursday, and after a few friendly jabs about taking his teammate, Pavel Datsyuk, in the Wings’ now-customary spot on the finalist’s list, Lidstrom told St. James that he’d really like to win the award on his sixth nomination:
“Looking at the guys that won it, they deserved it,” Lidstrom said Thursday at Detroit Metro Airport after the team returned from Arizona. “I’m not really surprised that I haven’t won it. For whatever reason, I think not many defensemen have won it (not since 1954).”
Lidstrom, who turns 41 on April 28, ranked second among defensemen in scoring with 62 points (16 goals, 46 assists) in 82 games. He averaged a team-high 23:28 of ice time, often took on opponents’ top offensive players and received just 10 minor penalties.
“It would mean a lot,” Lidstrom said. “You’re playing a tough position where you’re probably prone to take more penalties than maybe a forward. I’m honored to be nominated again for that award.”
“He should have won it multiple times,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said of Lidstrom. “He’s a gentlemanly player, but he’s a hard player. He’s a great player, one of the greatest of his era, forward or defenseman. But he’s played the game with respect. ... Hopefully he gets it this time.”
Overall, the Wings seem to subscribe to the fighter pilots’ credo that “speed is life,” and as such, they argued that mental and physical rest at this time of year, family time included, trumps rust by a significant margin—and may very well be a weapon with which the Wings are better-armed (or tentacled) to defeat their opponents down the line—as Danny Cleary told the Detroit News’s John Niyo:
“I think everybody’s just excited to get home, see the family and relax,” said Danny Cleary, whose winning goal Wednesday capped a first-round sweep of the Coyotes and earned the Red Wings the only kind of vacation an NHL player could want this time of year.
They’ll be back on the Joe Louis Arena ice for practice today, then get the weekend off to rest and recharge before getting back to work Monday, at which point they still might not know who their next opponent will be. Or even whether they’ll start the conference semifinals at home or on the road.
“We all realize the importance of closing it out as quickly as you can, for a lot of different reasons,” Cleary said of Wednesday’s clincher, the only sweep of the NHL’s eight first-round series. “We saw the effects of an extended series last year and what it did to us. So it was a big win.”
Holland also suggested to Niyo that the Wings’ dominance over Phoenix may have assuaged some Howard-sized doubts about the team’s ability to regain the form it displayed in October and November, when the Wings looked like they’d run ramp-shod over the rest of the league..at least until their bout with the chronic inflammatory hockey disease called the injury bug struck:
“I don’t know if concerned is the word, but we were inconsistent down the stretch,” general manager Ken Holland said. “When challenged, we showed we could do it. Now, could we do it consistently night after night after night after night?”
As such, Holland hopes that the Wings have regained some self-confidence and “swagger”:
“It’s certainly what you’d think,” Holland said. “Obviously, the guys have to feel good about themselves. We’re gonna get some important pieces back, and I think our confidence is starting to grow.”
And going forward, obviously, the Wings are delighted that the Blackhawks extended their series with Vancouver, and they’d love to see the Sharks-Kings and Ducks-Predators’ series “go long,” too:
“Obviously, we’re hoping these other series go six and seven games so they get worn out — that’s part of this tournament, you know?” Holland added. “But this gives us a chance, when we find out our opponent early next week, we’re going to go in there, we’re going to be fresh, we’re going to be focused and we’re going to be ready to play our best hockey.”
Also of Red Wings-related note:
• The Free Press’s Jamie Samuelssen raves about the NHL’s ten-year contract extension with NBC Universal and Versus, conveniently ignoring the fact that, due to blackout rules, even fans with Center Ice and GameCenter Live online outside of Michigan missed the first ten minutes of Wednesday night’s game because Versus’ coverage of the Capitals-Rangers double overtime tilt superseded its coverage of the Wings game.
The same was true in Canada, where the vast majority of the country was stuck watching the Penguins and Lightning do battle. Even my friends with the DirecTV “alternate” channel said that Versus dropped the ball there, and between that and the blackout, the reminder that Versus needs a dedicated “alternate” channel, or at least that the NHL needs a dedicated “alternate” channel come playoff time, was made rather crystal clear;
• I don’t know how to explain this, but the NHL’s offering discounts to its online store in exchange for donations to a puzzle-piece-tournament on Autism Speaks’ charity website, and virtual Nicklas Lidstrom puzzle pieces are in the offing;
• And this doesn’t come as a surprise.
Yesterday, I reported that Wings prospect Dick Axelsson had indeed terminated his contract with the Swedish Eliteserien champion, Farjestads BK, but he’d whined to Aftonbladet’s Mats Wennerholm that the Wings might as well trade him because the Wings’ contract offer to the restricted free agent probably wasn’t to his liking.
Well today, wouldn’t you know, it turns out that Aftonbladet’s Hans Abrahamsson and Emil Karlsson are reporting that the team FBK defeated, Skelleftea, is bidding for Axelsson’s services, though their GM, Lasse Johansson, “declined comment.”
Abrahamsson and Karlsson say that Skelleftea has a bigger budget than FBK, so they could offer Axelsson 80,000 more Swedish Kronor a month (or an extra $13,142.00 per today’s Krona-to-Dollar exchange rate) in pay, though FBK’s GM, Thomas Rundqvist, states the obvious in saying that Farjestad was led to believe that Axelsson would be leaving them for the NHL, but people can of course change their minds.
Like I said yesterday, you can see why Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson told Matthew Wuest of RedWingsCentral that while the Wings will retain Axelsson’s rights because they’re intrigued by his level of talent, they also think that he remains inconsistent and plain old immature.
He’s negotiating a contract with another SEL team, and a team which can offer him an extra $80,000-or-so in pay and the opportunity to play with his pal, Jimmie (brother of Jonathan) Ericsson, through the media.
Hell, earlier this month I I mentioned that Andersson himself was speaking to the other Swedish sports tabloid, Expressen, when he suggested to Tomas Pettersson that Axelsson’s still the kind of player who’d rise from his seat in the locker room and try to complain to Mike Babcock if he felt slighted or things were going poorly.
As Andersson so expertly put it…
“It’s enough that if he storms from his locker twice to go to Mike Babcock, he’ll be benched for good.”
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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.