The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/08/12 at 07:05 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings will attempt to rebound from their 3-2 loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday with a hard practice today and a solid morning skate tomorrow, but while the Wings have two more two-day breaks over the next week-and-a-half’s worth of hockey, they’re definitely going to travel to California on either Sunday or Monday (probably Monday) for their last West Coast swing of the season, Wings coach Mike Babcock and his assistants have to be realistic about their team’s situation.
With 15 games left over the last 30 days of the regular season, there isn’t a player on the team that’s completely healthy. Nagging injuries are part of the bargain after 67 games, so giving the team extra “off days” makes sense physically. The wings certainly hope that they’ll receive good news in terms of their injured players (Todd Bertuzzi, Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Ericsson, Jimmy Howard, Jakub Kindl, Nicklas Lidstrom) on Thursday, but there’s no sense in skating them or any of their teammates into the ground with 31 days to go before the team prepares for a first-round opponent.
The same can be said for the team’s mental outlook: players can only sit through so many meetings and engage in a certain number of drills before their physical and mental fatigue and plain old hearing the same damn thing for the better part of seven months (training camp and pre-season included) yields blank faces tuning the coaching staff out and half-assed drills.
Nonetheless, as noted on Wednesday evening, the Red Wings’ power play has stank on ice of late, and if the Wings are to close what will probably be a 4-point deficit on the St. Louis Blues to retake the Central Divison lead, never mind hold off the Nashville Predators, who could come into Saturday’s back-to-back affair only four points behind Detroit (the Blues play against the Ducks tonight, and the Predators will face off with the surging Avs), the Wings’ players will have to bear down and listen to their coaches as the team attempts to salvage what has become a liability, especially in terms of the shorthanded goals the Wings have given up while not scoring on the PP.
The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan spells out the Wings’ issues:
Over the last three games, the Red Wings are 0-for-13.
Over the last six games, the Red Wings are 2-for-27.
Over the last 12 games, the Red Wings are 6-for-50.
At 16.6 percent overall, they are 16th in the NHL.
“It’s been up and down,” said Red Wings forward Johan Franzen, whose team went 0-for-4 in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Flyers. “Especially now with the big guys out (Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk), we need to take advantage (of power plays). We have to find a way.”
The performance has left Red Wings coach Mike Babcock puzzled, too, but rarely like Tuesday’s game.
“Our power play let us down,” Babcock said. “I know we have some players not available, but with the skill we have we have to do a better job. We weren’t fluid. We didn’t come with speed. Give their penalty kill credit, but we were dysfunctional coming into our zone for a while and that’s not good enough.”
Said Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall: “We need to enter the zone with control and start making plays. We have to find a way to get the pucks to the net. That’s the way goals are scored. It doesn’t matter if you pass it around or not. But enough talking, we just have to go out and do it.”
The Wings’ defensemen have all-too-consistently attempted to drop passes to forwards who haven’t skated through the neutral zone with any speed, or said forwards have tried to lug the puck into the zone themselves, and sans much winger support, they’re basically skating into swarms of 4 defenders, turning pucks over at the offensive blueline and generally watching penalty-killers streak the other way because Detroit’s wingers stand flat-footed at the blueline, attempting to cheat toward offense.
The Free Press’s Helene St. James noted that the Wings kind-of-sort-of scored a power play goal on Tuesday...
The Wings scored seconds after their fourth power play expired Tuesday, technically not a power-play goal, but close. It was their only efficient man advantage of the night, featuring good entries and shooting. On the first three, the Wings looked like they were at a disadvantage.
“It’s been a while since we scored on a power play, and it’s like we start thinking too much about it,” Johan Franzen said. “It’s tough, sometimes, to be relaxed and do the right thing. You force stuff instead of just letting it happen. We need to get a goal soon and get the confidence back and that will loosen up a lot of guys so we will find a way to score more often.”
But Babcock refuses to allow the absences of Datsyuk and Lidstrom serve as excuses for his team’s performance:
After the Philly loss, coach Mike Babcock said the power play “let us down, big time,” calling it disorganized and dysfunctional. “It’s got to get momentum for your team. It doesn’t have to score all the time, but it’s got to build momentum . I know we’ve got some players not available, but on the power play, with the skill we have, we have to do a better job than that, so we’ve got to get organized. When you’re stretched like we are anyway with players out, your power play has to be good for you because you’re offensively more challenged than you normally are.”
At 16.6%, the Wings fall in the middle of the NHL’s pack, way below teams like Nashville, Vancouver and San Jose, though in the company of St. Louis and Chicago. What disappoints the Wings isn’t only that they don’t score, it’s how much time they can spend chasing the puck when they should have control.
Franzen, a power-play mainstay, say players take it personally: “The guys that are there really want to make something happen, and if you have to go back for the puck one or two times, maybe you should go change instead but, you want to do something so bad, you stay out there, when maybe you are a little bit too tired.”
That pride factor’s particularly important given that, this late in the season, special teams are usually lost causes, and given the Wings’ difficulties with their PP or PK, and sometimes both, over the past seven seasons, I think we can agree: the players seem to more or less blow off their deficiencies and hope that things will turn around come playoff time.
There’s something to that theory…
Special teams often parse the difference between teams in the playoffs, but Franzen offered an optimistic outlook when asked about this, saying that, “things are usually not what they are in the regular season, so hopefully it can turn around.”
But all of the above theorizing being said, Franzen hit on something particularly important given that he himself has awoken from a three-week offensive slumber while speaking to MLive’s Ansar Khan: maybe over-thinking is the whole problem.
“It’s like we start thinking too much about it,’’ Franzen said. “It’s tough sometimes to be relaxed and do the right thing. You force stuff instead of just letting it happen. We need to get a goal soon and get the confidence back and that’ll loosen up a lot of guys, and we’ll find a way to score more often.’‘
Datsyuk and Lidstrom lead the team in power-play points, with 21 and 16, respectively. But Babcock and players believe they have enough skill and depth to at least compensate somewhat.
“Our power play hasn’t been very good,’’ Babcock said. “I think when you’re in a stretch like we are with players out, your power play has to be good because you’re offensively more challenged.’‘
Even Babcock believes that the team’s issues stem in no small part from flat-footedness in the neutral zone:
“We thought our entries have been real good, they weren’t (Tuesday), and yet we think we can shoot the puck more,’’ Babcock said. “But (Tuesday) we never had a chance to shoot the puck more, we weren’t in their zone. We’re just not getting in. So the bottom line is we got to get better on it. We got a couple of days to look at it (before hosting the Los Angeles Kings Friday). It doesn’t have to score all the time, but it’s got to get momentum for your team.’‘
Put bluntly, I think that Jeff Blashill might have to pull a literal rabbit out of his hat to turn the power play around, but that won’t stop the Wings from trying. Here’s hoping the players don’t tune their coaches out.
Over 100 comments hitting my email inbox indicated that there was more than passionate disagreement going on in the comments sections of the Kronwall-hits-Voracek and Kronwall’s-not-suspended entries, so something tells me that you probably feel that it’s been talked to death…But a story popped up overnight which is worth mentioning.
The Delaware County Times’ Rob Parent spoke to several Flyers about the incident—as well as Jaromir Jagr about his aborted attempt to lay out Valtteri Filppula, which caused Jagr to leave the game with some sort of hip injury:
“[Kronwall] probably let Jake think that he was not going to pressure him, then he goes and finishes his hit,” Max Talbot said. “The head was probably the first point of contact, but after that he hits the whole body. So, it’s tough. It happens fast but it’s obviously never fun to see guys go down.”
“I had my head down,” Voracek said. “I have to be aware that Kronwall is standing on the blue line. I looked up and he was standing on the blue line, then I started focusing on the puck … he’s very good at it. I was kind of naïve. I thought he was going to back up.”
“[Kronwall] kind of faked that he was going to move back,” Jagr said. “When Jake put his head down, (Kronwall) just had him.”
“I think it’s hockey,” Jagr said, “and if you take those hits away, it’s basketball. Before, there were a lot more hits like that. I got hit many times like that; it’s part of the game. Probably some people think, oh, we have to take it out (of the game). You just have to be careful.”
“It was a tough hit to take,” Voracek said, “but I think it was a clean hit. It was my bad.”
As for Jagr’s injury?
Jagr almost found himself in a bad spot during the game. On a play in which Braydon Coburn hit Detroit’s Valtteri Filppula, the Red Wings forward fell into Jagr – who had his skate locked and loaded with his knee in a vulnerable spot. But Jagr said he moved the leg just in time, though with an awkward twist of the hip. He might have strained the hip or knee, and was kept out of the rest of the game. But it could have been a lot worse.
“If I wouldn’t have moved my leg I think it would have blown my knee out,” Jagr said. “I have to wait to see … I’ll try to skate (this morning), I guess. It was more my knee and hip, but I was lucky I moved my knee away. It was the last second.”
Shifting gears, take note, folks, because this involves a last ever opportunity. And I mean ever: The Windsor Star’s Bob Duff reports that the Windsor Ice Arena, the Detroit Red Wings’ first home for that 1926-27 season, will hold one last public skate before the ice is torn up for good and the rink is demolished:
Here’s your chance to relive some memories and say farewell to The Barn on skates. On March 18, the Windsor-St. Clair and Essex Rotary Clubs will play host to a fundraising public skating event at Windsor Arena.
All ages skating will be held from 11:00 a.m. to 11:50 a.m., and from noon to 12:50 p.m.
There’s a limit of 150 skaters per session. Figure skaters can use the rink from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Cost for admission is $3, with proceeds to benefit Knobby’s Kids, Shelter 7 Food Bank, and the Rotary Clubs of Windsor-St. Clair and Essex.
And now, we move on to the “listmania” section: From seriously imposing to less than gigantic:
• Forbes released its list of the world’s billionaires, and the Detroit Free Press’s Zlati Meyer notes that Red Wings’ owners Mike and Marian Ilitch are estimated to have a fortune of about $1.5 million via the Red Wings, Tigers, Olympia Entertainment and its properties, the MotorCity Casino, the Little Caesars pizza chain and the Blueline Foods distribution service…And probably a couple more business interests which I’ve forgotten are part of the Ilitch empire;
• The Hockey News is slowly but surely revealing its list of the Top 50 NHL players as voted upon by 150 NHL’ers.
The list comes from the Hockey News’s latest issue, and I wanted to let you know that only three Red Wings made the ultimate list. Henrik Zetterberg was named the 20th-best NHL’er, Nicklas Lidstrom was named the 7th-best NHL’er and the league’s best defenseman, and Pavel Datsyuk finished at #2, second only to Sidney Crosby.
I’ll reveal what the blurbs about said players include (I think the Hockey News’s Adam Proteau wrote them given their tone) if you keep the fact that I lifted this text from the Hockey News’s e-edition (Zinio.comis a fantastic website because it allows you to buy e-editions of various magazines, and as you can download the editions as many times as necessary to as many computers as you possess, it’s impossible to “lose” the right to access your stuff, which I think is very cool. The THN subscription is also about $40, which is cheaper than their print subscription, and you don’t have to worry about losing issues or throwing ‘em away, which is handy for the planet and all. So there’s my plug in exchange for content-swiping):
#20 Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings, C: Think of how great Henrik Zetterberg could be if he could shoot. That’s a bit harsh, but you get the idea. He’s no Shea Weber. Heck, when it comes to shooting, he might not be as accurate as Nashville’s play-by-play guy, Pete Weber.
But Zetterberg more than makes up for it by being an excellent playmaker with great hands and an ability to find open space. He can play center or wing and his hockey sense is among the best in the league. And he just might have the NHL’s best beard. “A lot of people would agree that Datsyuk is the best player in the league right now,” [St. Louis Blues goalie Brian] Elliott said. “And Zetterberg isn’t that far behind.”
100: Zetterberg’s career playoff point total if he gets one point this spring.
7. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings, D: When Lidstrom eventually retires, he’ll do so as a future Hall-of-Famer, (arguably) the second-greatest defenseman of all-time and 9arguably) the second greatest Red Wings of all time. Discuss among yourselves.
But no one will ever match Lidstrom’s sustained excellence. His superior intellect, skill and deadly accurate shooting and passing have been on display for 20 seasons and counting…We hope. He plays almost every game, plays a ton and does it all at a sublime level. As fellow Swedish D-man Erik Karlsson said: “Every game he seems to do the same things over and over again and it seems to be working over and over again.”
#2 Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings, C: When you talk to Datsyuk, chances are that he’ll have you doubled over with laughter. He’ll surprise you that way, the same way a slight, 5-foot-11 guy can be the best two-way player in the NHL. With a sense of conviction that matches his sublime skill level, Datsyuk has made a career of pouncing on pucks and not giving them up, winning faceoffs and being a demon defensively.
And then there are the goals—the beautiful, highlight-reel, did-you-see-what-he-just-did goals. “He pulls something out every night that you’re not expecting,” said St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott, “and you didn’t expect to see it at all.”
30: Shootout goals for Datsyuk, tied for the all-time lead.
The Hockey News’s Ken Campbell also headlines the Top 50 list with a gushy article about Datsyuk, with testimonials to Datsyuk’s credit from Maple Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek, Sharks coach Todd McLellan, a certain Mike Babcock and former teammate Mathieu Schneider, who suggests that Datsyuk is a rich man’s Alexei Kovalev (or Kovalev if he’d played up to his potential). I’m not going to transcribe the article for fear of the content police coming after me, but at a later date, it’s entirely possible that you could bribe me to do so for the promise of pizza or something like that.
• Also from the Hockey News, The Production Line of Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel and Gordie Howe ranked second to the Kings’ Triple Crown line in THN’s list of the best lines ever.
• Speaking of Babcock, SI’s Stu Hackel believes that the Red Wings’ coach is at least a strong candidate for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year, though Hackel suggests that the NHL’s Broadcasters Association, which votes to determine the award’s winner, tends to vote for the coach who’s helmed the most dramatic “story” team in a given season (and he’s right. I can’t imagine anyone but Ken Hitchcock or Barry Trotz winning this year):
Mike Babcock – Babcock hasn’t done anything extraordinary this season, like get the Red Wings to make a big jump in the standings, although he has had to contend with a longer than usual injury list that has included many of his core players at various times. (Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard are all out at the moment.) But he’s figured out how to the keep this talented group at or near the top of the league once again, and from getting complacent, motivating both his stars and his role players to consistently give their best, perhaps more consistently than most teams. That deserves recognition.
• In the instant impact category, USA Today’s Kevin Allen argues that the Colorado Avalanche’s acquisitinos of Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn were by far the best in terms of trade deadline acquisitions, but Allen believes that the Red Wings didn’t exactly do badly in snagging the player Downie was traded for in cobbling together a top 12 (not 10) list of deadline acquisitions:
6. Kyle Quincey, Detroit Red Wings: Considering the injuries that have hit the team, he has helped considerably. He’s playing more than 21 minutes a game, and he’s getting more power-play time than expected because fellow defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom is out with an ankle injury. Quincey has a goal, an assist, a plus-four rating and 12 shots in five games.
• And in the, “Thanks for showing up” category, the University of Notre Dame’s website reveals that Wings prospect and Notre Dame forward Riley Sheahan received 4 votes for the CCHA’s All-Conference teams.
Wings target and Western Michigan University defenseman Danny Dekeyser made the second team.
In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins—who will serve as the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate for at least five more years—have lost two straight games after Ty Conklin started out his tenure with Grand Rapids going 5-and-0, and Conklin had his first rough outing in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Texas Stars (the Griffins are in Texas for the next week, and will play back-to-back games on Saturday in Houston before returning to Dallas to play the Stars’ AHL affiliate next Tuesday. No word as to whether the team will “have some fun,” to quote AC/DC).
The Griffins rallied from a staggering 4-0 deficit to tie the game (Chris Conner returned to the lineup in time to register a goal and an assist) with only 57 seconds left in regulation, but Conklin surrendered the gamer in OT and stopped only 17 of the 24 shots he faced.
Here’s the Griffins’ website’s recap:
The first period was uneventful until the Stars (26-28-2-2) got on the board first at the 17:31 mark. Brenden Dillon fed a perfect pass through the slot to former Griffin Mike Hedden, who redirected the puck into a wide open net.
After taking a late penalty in the first, the Griffins gave up power play goal just 22 seconds into the second period, gaining a two-goal advantage. Ty Conklin made a nice save off a shot from the slot, but an unlucky rebound allowed Francis Wathier to flick the loose puck over the sprawled Griffins netminder.
Despite several scoring chances and near misses by the Griffins, they fell down 3-0 at 5:14 in the second period. Stars leading scorer Travis Morin threw a pass that from the Griffins goal line that redirected off a Griffins defensemen and found its way into the back of the net.
Another costly rebound in the slot at 13:46 gave Luke Gazdic an easy goal, putting the Griffins in a 4-0 hole to enter the third period.
Travis Ehrhardt gave a spark to the Griffins offense, getting the team on the board with his first goal of the season 2:46 into the third period. He froze two Stars defensemen with a quick deke, faked a shot on Texas goalie Tyler Beskorowany and roofed the puck blocker side.
The Griffins struck again 48 seconds later to make the game 4-2. Fabian Brunnstrom threaded a pass through two Stars defensemen to Landon Ferraro, who redirected it and notched his seventh of the season.
The Griffins continued their offensive push at the 11:50 mark. Brian Lashoff blasted a shot from the point, which Chris Conner tipped past Beskorowany.
With an extra man on the ice, the Griffins held the puck deep in the Stars zone. Conner set up behind the net and found an open Chris Minard out front, who tied the game with 53 seconds remaining.
Unfortunately, the magnificent comeback came to an abrupt end. Drew Schiestel fired a shot from the point and Michael Forney got a piece of it 2:03 into overtime to give Texas a 5-4 victory.
Also of Red Wings-related note: Also regarding prospects, and via RedWingsFeed, NHL.com reports that the Ottawa 67’s won the OHL’s East Division via a 5-1 victory over Kingston in which Petr Mrazek stopped 32 shots;
• According to DetroitRedWings.com’s Zack Crawford, Jimmy Howard and Joey MacDonald helped raise at least $6,000 for two charities, the Arthritis Foundation and Operation: Kid Equip, via an autograph signing at Hockeytown Authentics in Troy, and Crawford reveals some relieving news about Howard signing oodles of autographs: he’s left-handed (yay!). No worries in terms of damaging that right index finger.
• Also in the autograph-signing department, Patrick Eaves will be signing autographs at the Meijer on Middlebelt road just north of Plymouth in Livonia from 6-7 PM today;
• If you find yourself in Fort Wayne, Indiana this weekend, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette notes that the Red Wings’ Alumni Association will face off against a team of Fort Wayne Komets alums this Saturday, March 10th;
• Sticking with personal appearance gnus, you can watch Ken Kal host kids from Hiller Elementary at Joe Louis Arena to promote National Reading Month recently;
• I suppose one could say that Henrik Zetterberg has been making a regular “appearance” on the scoresheet of late, and NHL.com’s fantasy hockey writer, Mat Cubeta, took note of Zetterberg’s scoring streak:
Henrik Zetterberg—Zetterberg has had his ups and downs this season, but as we gear up for fantasy playoffs, it looks like the real Zetterberg has arrived for the stretch run. The Red Wings forward has 3 goals, 6 assists and a plus-4 rating in his last five games. His 16 goals this season are a far cry from his 43-goal campaign in 2007-08, but Zetterberg still has an outside chance at reaching the 70-point mark for the fifth straight season.
• And finally, the Associated Press’s Dan Gelston took note of the fact that the four American members of the Original Six will probably make the playoffs, and that the Rangers, Bruins and Red Wings are having particularly dominant seasons, but I’m closing with this article because Gelston spoke to Babcock about the Wings’ loss in Philadelphia and the team’s issues with its Central Division rivals thanks to its 2-4-and-1 record of late:
Detroit — a proven, title-ready, postseason staple which has won four Stanley Cups since 1996 — is short-handed as it continues to chase the top spot in the Western Conference. Leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk (59 points), captain Nicklas Lidstrom, forward Todd Bertuzzi and goalie Jimmy Howard all sat out with injuries during a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday.
“I know we’re missing some players right now, but we have to find a way to more organized,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “The bottom line is that we have talent in this room, and we have to be better.”
The Red Wings are in the tightest and toughest division race in the league. St. Louis has morphed from early-season loser to Western Conference leaders under new coach Ken Hitchcock. Detroit, Nashville and Chicago are all jostling for spots behind the Blues in the conference.
“We can’t do anything about St. Louis right now,” Babcock said. “Right now, it’s about us in this room. We like to win. That’s why we put that sweater on. It’s something we take pride in and passion in, and as long as we start to play better, we’ll be fine.”
Update: I forgot to mention that while the Wings have the unfortunate luck in heading to Nashville on the back half of a back-to-back slate (again), the Kings will be playing against the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight, so the Wings should have a slight advantage on Friday evening.
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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.