The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/28/11 at 08:31 AM ET
After the Detroit Red Wings took part in a late-morning practice at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday, the equipment truck headed to Metro Airport and was closely followed by the players, who took a five-hour flight which didn’t land in San Jose until nearly midnight Detroit time, and on Thursday, the Wings will hit the ice today—on Nicklas Lidstrom’s 41st birthday—in San Jose to prepare for Friday night’s series opener (click for the TV schedule: FSD won’t carry games 4 or 5).
As the Sharks engaged in their first practice since defeating the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, they wrapped up discussion of their series-ending handshake flap with Kings coach Terry Murray before moving onto sizing up their opponent for the second consecutive team, and while the experts seem to insist that the Wings are the “same team” and that the Sharks have more depth, the Sharks insisted to NHL.com’s Eric Gilmore that they’ll neither take their 3-and-1 regular season record against the Wings as an indicator of playoff success, nor do they believe that history will necessarily repeat itself:
“For the most part it goes out the window,” Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said after Wednesday’s practice. “We played pretty good against them in the regular season and obviously beat them in five last year, but I think it’s a different situation. I think, if anything, we take some confidence because Detroit sometimes puts fear in teams just by (the fact) it’s Detroit and they’ve been to the finals a couple times. They’ve won a Cup. They’ve been successful in the last few years. The fact that we had a good record gives us a little confidence and knowing that if we put our game on the ice, then we’ve got a pretty good chance.”
The Sharks have won, playoffs included, seven of their past nine games against the Wings, but they’re well aware of the “revenge factor” going into this series:
“They’re going to want to prove something, that last year was a fluke,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said of the Red Wings. “It’s a good test for them to see if they can beat us again this year.”
“They’re going to be healthier,” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said of this year’s Red Wings team. “They’re going to be better and they’re going to be probably more motivated. We’ll have to be better than we were last year to beat them. We only saw them in the playoffs for four games, but they looked like they picked it up a notch and are more physical than they have been in the past and they’re healthier. (Henrik) Zetterberg is coming back probably. They won that series without arguably their best player. That’s only going to make them better.”
“It’s a completely different series, different teams, different circumstances,” [Sharks coach Todd] McLellan said. “If we fall into that trap of looking back to last year we’ll sorely regret it. They’re a healthier team, they’re much more rested. They’ll have a revenge factor. There’s a lot of things that will be different this year. Our team will have to be very cognizant of that.”
“It’s not going to be easy,” [Joe] Pavelski said. “Last year was not easy. It went five games but it was not easy. They’re a good team and they fight for everything. Obviously they push teams to the max, and we do that as well, so it should be a good one.”
Aside from giving Joe Thornton a pat on the back, the Sharks website’s staff spoke to the Sharks’ players about the obvious—that the Sharks may have exorcised some playoff demons by defeating the Wings last spring, so perhaps as such, this time around, it’s a meeting of equals:
“From last year, we were so excited to get over the hump and get past these guys,” Devin Setoguchi said. “This year is definitely something that’s going to be totally different. They’re going to be prepared and focused. They’re going to want to beat us badly because we won last year. It’s exciting and it makes the games that much more intense.”
“We respect them as much as they respect us,” Setoguchi said. “You don’t want to show them too much respect. We’re both good hockey clubs. When we face each other, we expect a good game. We know what to expect from them and they know what to expect from us. It’s just a matter of who can execute the game plan better. We’re excited to get it ready to go and get another chance to play them.”
The Sharks are happy with the fact that they have home-ice advantage…
“We prefer to play in front of our fans,” McLellan said. “It’s a great environment. Does it guarantee you a win? The first round dictates it doesn’t. Now that we’re traveling through three different time zones, it’s nice to be home for the extra day, be in your own bed and have the extra practice in your own training facilities.”
But the Sharks mostly focused on a slight dichotomy that may define how the series goes—while Todd McLellan and assistant coach Jay Woodcroft, who was the Wings’ video coordinator, brought in some Wing-like tendencies during the 2008-2009 season, and the teams do play a similar puck-possession style…
“They do the same things,” [Patrick] Marleau said. “They have a little bit different personnel. Besides that they still have their core together. They move the puck really quick, tape-to-tape. It’s very similar to how we play.”
“You try to outlast them. We’re going to try and do some of the same things,” Pavelski said. “Every night you have to find ways. There are times in games when you have to step up and make plays and you have to shut the other team down at times. It’s who does that the best.”
The Sharks and Wings have grown apart in terms of both personnel and the tactics that McLellan and Wings coach Mike Babcock employ, and that means that simply repeating last year’s tactics won’t work for San Jose (or Detroit):
“It’s a completely different series,” McLellan said. “Different teams, different circumstances. If we fall into that trap of looking back to last year, we’ll sorely regret it. They’re a healthier team. They’re much more rested. I think they’ll have a revenge factor. There are a lot of things that will be different this year and our team has to be very cognizant of that.”
Thornton told the Mercury News’s David Pollak that the series will present a solid challenge...
“It’s going to be a good series,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said today. “They’re a great team and so are we. We’ve had a long history of playoffs against Detroit and it’s always a fun match-up.”
And Pollak offered an intriguing pseudo-series preview while speaking to the Sharks about the fact that this year’s Red Wings team is much more rested and a bit healthier. Again, Ryane Clowe suggested that there are “no secrets” between the two teams, but the Sharks understand that they’re facing a team that now sees San Jose as something of a playoff bugaboo:
Defenseman Dan Boyle likens Detroit’s motivation for revenge to what the Sharks would be feeling if they were about to play the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that eliminated San Jose a year ago.
“Had we faced Chicago, we would have had that little extra oomph in our step, and I’m sure they’re going to have that,” Boyle said. “We’re going to have to be better than we were last year to beat them.”
While teams do evolve and every year is different, there are constants with the Red Wings. At 40, defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom is once again a Norris Trophy finalist and continues to anchor a solid defense that includes Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall and former Shark Brad Stuart.
The forwards are led by Pavel Datsyuk, whose defensive abilities match his offensive talent, and Zetterberg, who should return to the lineup after being sidelined since April 7 with a sprained knee. Tomas Holmstrom can be counted on to plant himself in front of the Sharks’ net. Valtteri Filppula, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary and Jiri Hudler all had at least three points in the first-round sweep of the Coyotes. But McLellan also points to the contributions Detroit is getting from younger players—the scoring from Darren Helm and energy from Justin Abdelkader—as evidence of how the Red Wings have evolved since his time ended there in June 2008.
“They’ve been the measuring stick for a number of years,” [Jamal] Mayers said of the Red Wings, “and this organization has put itself right there. Anytime teams that have had such strong seasons, they’re going to be compared and a rivalry is going to be born. It gets even more intense when they meet in the playoffs.”
McLellan also says that, this time around, the Babcock-versus-McLellan angle simply no longer applies:
“When you start as a coach or a player, playing with that kind of motivation, it can be dangerous,” McLellan said. “It’s not about Mike and Todd. Mike and Todd are going to stand there and change lines. The players are going to go out and play and at the end of the day, we know one of the teams is going to move on.”
Going into this series, the Wings are facing a team that engages in a medium that Detroit’s players do not—Twitter—and as such, it’s worth noting that the Sharks weighed in on their handshake flap with Los Angeles Kings coach Terry Murray (who opted not to shake the Sharks players’ hands on Tuesday), which began via Twitter complaints:
Devin Setoguchi and Jamal Mayers were the center of attention after San Jose’s Game 6 elimination of Los Angeles because they raised the issue of Kings coach Terry Murray not joining the traditional handshake line on Twitter.
Wednesday, one player was repentant, and the other stood his ground. “I didn’t mean to cause a big ruckus about it. It wasn’t a smart PR move on my behalf, so I definitely apologize about that,” Setoguchi said. “It was something I shouldn’t have done.”
“We won the series, so it was something I shouldn’t have said,” he said.
Mayers said he didn’t regret his original message.
“I think that you have to be responsible in what you say and you have to be prepared to back whatever you do say,” the veteran said. “It was meant as a question. It wasn’t meant to antagonize, but sometimes your words can be read differently. I think I was pretty clear.”
In the multimedia department, Sharks’ version:
• Somewhat strangely, Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area posted a video of Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard and coach Mike Babcock weighing in on the series, via WDIV:
I may as well state this now: Even though my computer’s pretty darn fast, I find that Comcast Sportsnet videos tend to slow my computer down, and if they’re doing that for me, they’ll probably do so for you, so I’m going to post most of the videos from CSN Bay Area in link form instead of embedding them. I know that’s a little less streamlined, but I don’t want your browser to crash because my posts are both really long and gobble up all your browser and/or computer’s memory.
• Instead of posting a clip of player comments, Sharks broadcasters Randy Hahn, Drew Remenda and Jamie Baker previewed the Sharks-Wings series for over six minutes on the Sharks’ website (let’s all be shocked that the broadcasters are picking the Sharks):
• And KNBR posted an interview with Sharks GM Doug Wilson, who believes that his team’s depth will prevail:
Let’s use the first crop of series previews as a bridge between the Sharks’ and Wings’ takes on the series to come: The first crop of series previews tend to agree with Wilson—the “experts” seem to believe that the Sharks are a deeper team up front, that Antti Niemi will out-duel Jimmy Howard, and that the Sharks’ blueline is as deep as the Wings.’
These previews are, in general, pretty detailed, but I’m not going to post much more than the “picks” because I believe that players and coaches’ comments matter much, much more than what any “expert” will tell you:
• Yahoo Sports’ Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski believes that the Sharks’ forward depth will carry them, and that the Sharks are a “special team”;
• The Toronto Star’s Damien Cox is picking the Sharks in seven games;
• The CBC’s Tim Wharnsby, on the other hand, is picking the Wings in seven;
I will give Barnaby a plug for a wise point—Antti Niemi may be an effective goaltender, and he’s won a Stanley Cup, but in terms of his technique, he gives up tons of rebounds, and he is the ugliest goaltender in terms of style that I’ve seen, ever. He looks awkward, hunched over to the point of having a hunched back and I have no idea how is awkwardly-twisted leg pads and too-tightly-held glove and blocker are so damn effective.
• Pro Hockey Talk’s James O’Brien is picking the Sharks based on their perceived forward depth;
• The Postmedia News’s Dave Gross is picking the Wings in six;
• The Buffalo News’s Gary Bettman fan, Bucky Gleason, is picking the Sharks in six;
• The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson isn’t picking anyone while previewing the Wings-Sharks and Predators-Canucks’ series, declaring the former to be a “Battle of the giants”;
• The Hockey News is picking Wings in six via an extensive preview;
• And NHL.com’s Brian Hedger and Brian Compton aren’t making picks, but they posted the most extensive and best-read-worthy preview this side of LeBrun’s, employing the following bottom line:
Sharks will win if… They find a way to keep Pavel Datsyuk in check. Arguably the best two-way center in the game, Datsyuk is incredibly dangerous and will cause problems for San Jose’s top line. The Sharks must overcome that.
Red Wings will win if… The offensive attack remains productive and balanced, the defense doesn’t revert to its turnover woes of the regular season and Howard continues to be solid with some big saves mixed in at key times.
As for the Red Wings...
The Wings won’t deny for a second that there’s a revenge factor involved in playing against the Sharks, but just as the Wings balanced competitive grit and controlled aggression against the Coyotes, the Sharks’ status as the team that knocked Detroit out of the playoffs last year matters much less than the fact that the Sharks are, put simply, in the way, as they told the CBC’s blogger:
“There is a little bit of revenge we want to get,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said.
“I wouldn’t say it’s high up on our list of motivation,” added defenceman Brad Stuart, but definitely when you do get knocked out by a team. You want to put it behind you. The best way to do that is by taking them out. Our goal is to win the Cup. Revenge isn’t theme, but I’m sure we can use it as a little bit of motivation.”
Four times previously, the Wings have been eliminated from the playoffs by the same team in successive seasons, most recently when the Colorado Avalanche took them out in second-round series in 1999 and 2000. Detroit dropped back-to-back Western Conference finals to the Edmonton Oilers in 1987 and 1988, and were beaten in consecutive Stanley Cup finals by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1963 and 1964. The Leafs knocked the Wings out of the playoffs three years in a row between 1947-49.
The Wings also received very good news on the injury front on Wednesday. Johan Franzen was initially “iffy” for a Thursday start with a sprained ankle, but after taking part in practice on Wednesday, deemed himself fit to play…
“I’m fine,” Franzen said.
His teammates left little doubt as to what Franzen’s presence remember he scored five goals in Game 4 against the Sharks last spring will mean in the upcoming series.
“We all know how important he is for our team, Detroit forward Dan Cleary said. When he’s going, he’s very hard to stop. If he gets on a roll, it’s complete dominance physically. His skating, he’s so powerful working without the puck and his shot is world class.”
And for the first time since the Wings returned to practice on Monday, as the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness noted, the Wings’ coach agreed with Franzen’s assessment:
Johan Franzen took part in a full practice Wednesday and ruled himself ready to play in Game 1 Friday in San Jose.
“It’s going to take him a little bit to get up to pace but I think by the time he’s done practicing (today) he’ll be ready to go,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
Mike Babcock also weighed in on the rest-versus-rust argument while speaking to MLive’s Ansar Khan:
The Red Wings will have eight days off between games when they start their Western Conference semifinal playoff series against San Jose on Friday. That is their longest break since 1999, when they had nine days between games following their first-round sweep of Anaheim. They lost to Colorado in the next round, winning the first two games before dropping four in a row.
“There’s always a fine line in how much rest we want,” Babcock said. “We’ve all been antsy, we watched more hockey. It’s been fun that way. In saying that, we needed the time to get our guys healthy. You might have a little rust early. We’ll take that over getting beat up over the last while.”
Part of that “getting healthy” not only involved Franzen’s sprained ankle healing, but also Henrik Zetterberg stating that he’s almost up to game speed after having adjusted to a knee brace, which he’ll wear on his now-healed left knee, and Ruslan Salei healing from his “boo boo.”
Babcock and Nicklas Lidstrom talked to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan about the rest-versus-rust debate as well:
The Red Wings appreciate the long rest period between series, a reward for making such quick work of the Coyotes. But the flip side can be an inability to get mentally and physically involved in the new series.
“There’s always a fine line as to how much rest you want,” Babcock said. “We’ve all watched hockey (lately); it’s all you do when you don’t play.”
Still, Babcock would rather sit and wait than exert too much more physically in the first round.
“You might have a little rust early but we’ll take that over getting beat up in these series,” said Babcock, whose team last played April 20.
Said Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom : “You have to be ready for that first period and keep your composure. It’s going to be loud in that arena, it always is in San Jose, and it’ll be important to get into the game and be ready for that.”
Khan reported that Zetterberg practiced alongside Pavel Datsyuk at times on Wednesday, and he took note of a comment from Mike Babcock which puts forth the Wings’ main argument going into their series against San Jose—the Wings believe that they’re a deeper and better team, too:
The Detroit Red Wings have basically the same team that lost to the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the playoffs a year ago. But coach Mike Babcock believes they’re a better team, a deeper, more battle-tested team. And one of the reasons is their ability to forecheck and wear on opposing defenses. Babcock said they will be one of the keys to this year’s series against the Sharks, which starts Friday at the HP Pavilion.
“I like the way we played in the first round (vs. Phoenix). I like the way we forechecked,’’ Babcock said after Wednesday’s practice at Joe Louis Arena. “I think we’re a better forechecking team and a harder team up front on their D than we have been in a number of years. Now we got to do it again against a different team. If you’re not on their D, they’re going to be on your D, so you have to decide where you want to play.’‘
And yes, while the Wings will readily admit that they want to earn a measure of revenge against the Sharks, as the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness noted...
“(Redemption is) on the back of everybody’s mind that was there,” Cleary said. “No one feels good about getting knocked out, no matter what round it is. We go back-to-back Cup finals and then lose in the second round in a series that, they played better for sure. but there was a lot of one-goal games, a lot of missed opportunities. It’s a good opportunity for us to prove ourselves again. They’re a good team. It’s going to be a good series.”
The team also believes that it’s not about revenge per se—it’s about winning more than anything else…
“I don’t think you need any extra motivation,” Wings forward Johan Franzen said. “Just winning a series is motivation enough. We played them a lot the last few years. It’s always a good battle, fun games.”
And the Wings’ players would argue that the fact that they’re not coming off a seven-game series against Phoenix—and then a single day of rest before their series against San Jose began—this time around changes the equation in a big way:
“You can say it’s not, we’re professionals, and should’ve been able to handle it,” Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said. “But at the end of the day it did drain us a little bit I thought we battled as hard as we could, but by the end of the series we were pretty drained. A lot of that had to do with going seven games (against Phoenix) and not getting any rest in between,” Stuart continued. “It’s going to be a big difference this year.”
“We’re rested,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “It’s a confident group in this dressing room. We can pull some inspiration from last year, them ending our season in the second round. We’re going to have to go out there and just play simple Friday night, not try to get ahead of ourselves.”
“It was pretty tough going in after one day off,” Wings forward Darren Helm said. “Maybe we didn’t have quite as much juice as we needed. We’re not using that as an excuse. This year we got four wins and got some rest so hopefully that will be a difference.”
Niklas Kronwall agreed, as he told the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell:
“Last year coming off a seven-game series against Phoenix and having to make that good run at the end of the season just to get into the playoffs, we kind of ran out of gas,” defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “We weren’t quite good enough. This year, we’ll come out with more energy.”
Ditto for Henrik Zetterberg, who expects to shake off rust sooner than later:
“It’s been a while since I played, especially in a playoff game, so I’m fired up,” Zetterberg said. “They’re one of those teams you’re extra fired up to play, so you don’t have to think back all the way to last year to get fired up It’s going to be a great matchup with some great, great hockey games.”
As Waddell points out, the Wings allowed Joe Thornton and the Sharks’ big forwards to cycle down low in Detroit’s defensive zone, and because their defensemen tended to chase the puck carrier, players like Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi found themselves open for back-door passes and easy goals on Jimmy Howard, and the Wings don’t plan on repeating the mistake of letting the Sharks set up in their end again:
“They like to cycle the puck,” Franzen said. “We have to take the puck from them as quick as possible so they don’t wear on us. We have to stop their cycle and do it to them.”
“We’ve got to be aware of not just one, two or three guys, but their top three lines,” Detroit defenceman Brad Stuart said. When you’re a team that has gotten this far, you usually have the depth up front. It will be a challenge for us to match up with them.”
Detroit can’t make it easier for the Sharks by continuing their poor penalty killing. The Wings had a kill rate of 66 per cent, allowing six goals on the final 12 Phoenix power plays of the series.
“We felt like we were doing the right things, but the puck just kept ending up in our net,” Kronwall said. “We had a few breakdowns they jumped on right away. We have to eliminate the small mistakes and pay more attention to details.”
The Wings are quite wary of the Sharks’ depth, as they told the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa:
“They have lines that can all score, the same depth that we do,” Lidstrom said. “So, I think that’s where playing solid defensively, staying within your game plan and playing patient hockey is important.”
The Red Wings won the first meeting, in November, 5-3, with Henrik Zetterberg playing a terrific offensive game. But three defensemen were injured and did not play for the Sharks. It is not glamorous hockey. But the Red Wings know how to play it, and they say that is their intent. When asked what advancing past San Jose will require, forward Johan Franzen smiled and simply said, “Work harder.”
“Pretty much, they got a talented team, as we do, and you know it’s probably coming down to outworking the guy playing against you,” said Franzen, who set team and NHL records against the Sharks in Game 4 of the playoffs last year, scoring three consecutive goals in 3 minutes, 26 seconds to power the Wings to a 7-1 victory. “They’ve got a lot of skilled forwards and offensively-skilled defensemen, as well. They cycle, as we do. To beat them, we have to get the puck away from them as soon as possible, and try to stop the cycle.”
In Game 1 last season, the Red Wings lost to the Sharks by a goal, playing less than 48 hours after defeating the Coyotes amid multiple trips back and forth across the country. Midway through the first period, San Jose scored three goals within 79 seconds, pretty much putting the game away. Babcock’s postgame description of how to stop Pavelski applies to all the Sharks big men this year, too.
“You have to play as hard as you possibly can against him,” Babcock said. “You have to limit his touches and his chances around the net.”
The Wings do believe that they can compete with the Sharks’ offensive depth, line for line…
“That’s when we’re at our best, with four lines going, and getting guys to the net,” Red Wings forward Kris Draper said.
Well, how do I want to put this?
Both the Wings and Sharks’ fans dislike each other intensely. We tend to think that the other team’s arrogant, that their coaches are too damn confident for their own good, that their superstars have big mouths, and that the grinders are just plain dirty.
As for the coaching staff, Babcock is going to rile some Sharks fans’ scales this morning, because he suggested to the Free Press’s Helene St. James that his team is just plain better than the Sharks this time around:
“They’ve got real good depth up front,” coach Mike Babcock said. “They’ve got three lines that score and one that checks and tries to be physical. They’ve got a good team, and they’re going to present a good obstacle for us. We’re looking forward to it; it should be good fun. They beat us last year and ended our season. That in itself should have us a little fired up. It’s up to us.”
The Sharks ousted them in five games in last year’s second round, but the Wings return with a better team. Stars like Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg likely will have more success because of the development of the younger players, especially Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader. Helm’s ferocious forechecking in the first round left a couple of Phoenix defensemen bruised and wondering where the puck went. Abdelkader is a fine fit between Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi, giving the Wings a big, physical line, something they didn’t have last year.
“I like our team better,” Babcock said when asked about the differences entering this year’s encore with the Sharks. “I think we’re deeper, and I think we play harder. Not that we didn’t push it going into the playoffs last year, we had this unbelievable run, but I still think the growth on our team has been substantial, and even though we didn’t like our team a lot at times this winter, I still think the individual growth of our players is significant, and I thought it showed in the last round and it has to show again in this round.”
Babcock called Helm and Abdelkader “significant factors on the team,” players who have in turn made Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves better. “To me, we’re deeper that way,” Babcock said. “I also think Bertuzzi, as good a playoffs as he had last year, is playing better for us now than he did a year ago, and that really helps us out.”
Much of the game plan for the Wings will be the same as for any opponent: Avoid taking penalties, something that’ll be easier to do if the Wings take control and score first. Get lots of shots on Antti Niemi, and get to rebounds first.
“I think he believes in himself and he knows he can get it done, so we’ve got to take that belief away from him, kind of like L.A. did,” Cleary said.
While Pavel Datsyuk stated the obvious in suggesting that the Wings need to “wake up early” to not surrender a first-period lead on Friday, the Niemi-versus-Howard subplot is justifiably worth mentioning, and the Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp noted that, again, “this time around,” a solid and steady playoff sophomore wearing #35 believes that he’s up for the challenge:
“When isn’t it a defining moment for me?” Howard said Wednesday, breaking into a hearty laugh. “Whenever I turn around, it’s a defining moment for me.”
He points to Chris Osgood’s empty cubicle to his right.
“That guy is still proving himself,” he said, “and he’s got three Cups.”
t’s unlikely that Howard can escape accountability should the Sharks end the Wings’ season again. While teammates tiptoed around the importance of facing the team that eliminated them, Howard didn’t hesitate applying the R-word to this series—revenge.
“I think (last year) is in the back of a lot of guys’ heads in here,” Howard said, “and that will be motivation. I’m just going to try and play the same that I did against Phoenix. I’m not trying to be spectacular, but make the saves when called upon. And try to come up with the one or two that you shouldn’t.”
Both teams possess the same strengths: strong puck possession and transitioning turnovers into scoring opportunities with lightning efficiency. But this is a different San Jose team than the one that greeted the Wings in Game 1 at the Shark Tank last April. Those Sharks weren’t entirely sure they could beat the Wings, having earned the reputation of chronic playoff underachievers. But then they went out and won four one-goal games in last season’s second round.
“They’re going to be very confident after what happened last year,” Howard said. “We’re going to have to be ready, especially at the start (of Game 1), because they’re going to want to get their crowd into the game early.”
It’s up to Howard to help the Wings stay in the game while they get their sea legs under them over the first 10-20 minutes, but i do believe that Howard is up to the challenge, and that he’s going to match Niemi in this series.
That being said, of course, I’m a biased, subjective Wings fan, so I’m obviously picking Team Revenge over Team Teal, especially with a healthy Franzen, a healthy Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk playing the way he did against Phoenix and…
The Sharks have a fine blueline, but they don’t have Nicklas Lidstrom. If the Wings can sustain possession and control of the puck in the Sharks’ zone more than the Sharks can in Detroit’s end, the Wings will eventually prevail, and the fact that the Wings can roll three defensive pairs where puck-movers (Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall) are paired with more physical defensemen (Brad Stuart, Jonathan Ericsson and Ruslan Salei) will give the Wings the edge in my opinion…But I’m not making any predictions in terms of games or scores or who does what.
In the multimedia department, Wings version: I posted tons of multimedia, including two Wings pressers and lots of radio interviews, in yesterday’s practice post, but this stuff popped up overnight:
• The Macomb Daily’s George Pohly and Chuck Pleiness talked about Nicklas Lidstrom’s Norris Trophy candidacy…
As well as a Wings-Sharks series preview:
• Ken Kal spoke to WBBL’s “Huge Show” yesterday evening:
• USA Today’s Kevin Allen spoke to WDFN’s Sean, Terp and Killer yesterday afternoon:
• The Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell posted a clip of Zetterberg, Lidstrom and Babcock talking about the Sharks series:
• And the Detroit News’s Daniel Mears posted a 19-image practice gallery.
On Pavel Datsyuk, Selke Trophy Finalist: The Red Wings can boast two players having been named finalists for three major individual awards. Nicklas Lidstrom was named a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman, as well as a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player, and on Wednesday, Pavel Datsyuk was named a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward.
The general consensus among the media suggests that Datsyuk will surrender his Selke to Ryan Kesler because Datsyuk missed two significant chunks of the season with injuries, and Mike Babcock agrees with that assessment, as he told the Free Press’s Helene St. James:
“I think he’d win it hands-down if he played all the games,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I’m not taking anything away from Kesler or Toews — they’re phenomenal players. But I think Pav is one of the best players in the world, and these guys are real good players, and it’ll be fun to see who wins.”
Datsyuk said he was “very happy to be nominated. I have good competition. Always every year it’s harder and harder, but I am happy to have nomination. Is first step.”
Datsyuk joked it was good to be up for the Selke since his four-year streak as the Lady Byng winner is over, as Datsyuk didn’t make it as a finalist in that category. Teammate Nicklas Lidstrom is up for that award, as well as the Norris Trophy.
“It’s tough when you’re not Lady Byng, some teammate took it from you, but at least I have Selke now,” Datsyuk said, smiling.
Datsyuk’s teammates have no doubts as to his dominance on an every-game basis, as Johan Franzen told the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell...
Detroit forward Johan Franzen said Datsyuk is the best illustration of defence leading to offence he knows of.
“That’s where it usually starts, where he gets most of his offensive chances from,” Franzen said. “He back checks and steals the puck and creates turnovers. He has great speed and is so strong on the puck. He’s a smart player out there. He’s tough to play against in both ends.”
The Wings also spoke to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness about Datsyuk...
“No surprise there,” said Kris Draper, who won the award after the 2003-04 season. “We definitely know in this dressing room what a dominate two-way hockey player he is. It’s amazing what he does on both ends of the rink. To us and to me he’s the most complete hockey player in the NHL.”
Datsyuk ranked 11th in the League in takeaways with 71 despite being limited to 56 games due to injury. Datsyuk tied for second on the Red Wings in plus-minus with a +11 rating and was the club’s top face-off man, posting a 54.6-percent winning percentage. It was his seventh consecutive season posting a face-off winning percent of over 53.
“We all see it everyday and appreciate it,” defenseman Brad Stuart said. “For him to get the recognition is great, he deserves it.
And for him to get it even after missing a few games is every more remarkable.
“He’s just a special player, Stuart continued. “When you have your forwards that can make defensive plays, stripping pucks away from guys that just helps us on defense. Pav is one of the if not the best in the league.”
And Jimmy Howard told MLive’s Ansar Khan that Datsyuk’s nothing less than brilliant…
“He is so good with his stick, taking away the puck from opposing players,” Howard said. “Just when you think you might have him beat he reaches out and extends his stick and he’s gone the other way. Some of the stuff he does you’re just in pure amazement.”
Kesler, a speedy center from Livonia who scored 41 goals, helped the Canucks record the lowest goals-against average in the NHL (2.20). He is a strong penalty killer and faceoff man who plays physical and blocks shots.
“Every year he play better and better. This season he was unbelievable,” Datsyuk said. “It’s harder to win the Selke Trophy every year, but I’m happy I’m nominated.”
If anything, the last word should go to the AP’s Larry Lage, who offered a superb profile of Datsyuk in his article discussing Datsyuk’s Selke nomination:
“In Russia, we had tough times. Only one puck,” he said. “I always wanted the puck, so I learn how to keep it and make space and get puck when other guy has it.”
“I’m still not a Russian star,” Datsyuk said. “I am OK.”
When the 2014 Winter Olympics are played in his native country, the NHL labor situation won’t be the only thing possibly preventing him from enjoying the experience if you believe his modesty.
“I think it will happen and we will have the same NHL break like last year in Vancouver to let the best players play,” Datsyuk said. “But I will be 35. Who knows? Maybe I not make the team.”
Datsyuk’s teammates obviously disagree with his humble self-assessments:
“There should be a warning sign every game, ‘Don’t try to do what he does,’” Zetterberg said. “All the great players - Lemieux, Gretzky, Forsberg, Crosby - get that extra second of space because of respect. If you don’t give them that, they make you look bad.”
“The only guy close was Sergei Fedorov, who could fly and stick handle at the same time, but he didn’t have the slick stops and starts with the puck and two guys on his back like Pav,” Lidstrom said. “He’s so creative with the puck and he’s so sneaky without it. I don’t think there’s ever been anyone quite like him. He’s lot of fun to watch.”
I’ll put it this way: Fedorov was, by far, a much more naturally talented athlete, but he didn’t apply himself as often as he could have. Datsyuk had to work for everything as a skinny, undersized kid from a very humble background, and he’s worked so much harder to continue to self-improve, get in better shape and apply himself on the ice every time he hops over the boards that it’s silly.
While Fedorov would be a shoo-in to have his number retired had he and his father, Viktor, not so publicly slagged Mike Ilitch, Jimmy Devellano and the Red Wings when Fedorov bolted for Anaheim, if Datsyuk plays for another eight to ten years and has his number retired, he’ll have earned it and then some.
And his number won’t be raised to the rafters. It’ll be on the ice one moment, and, poof! In the rafters the next.
Wings notebooks: I’d like to think that the “there’s no dominant goalie today” debate involves the fact that these things go in cycles, and that with the butterfly style of goaltending having taken over to the extent that it has, it’s simply going to be a while before a goaltender who breaks the “norm” of how one stops a puck with a new and effective style, as Dominik Hasek, Eddie Belfour and Patrick Roy, for example, illustrated, will emerge.
That being said, the Detroit News’s John Niyo penned a long and involved column pondering the reasons why there are no truly dominant goalies at present:
A decade ago, teams fretted about finding ways to beat future Hall of Fame goaltenders like Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour or even Curtis Joseph come playoff time.
“Those guys were in your head before you even started the game,” said Red Wings forward Mike Modano, who played with Belfour with the Stars and had his share of postseason run-ins with the others, especially Cujo. “But you’re not gonna see that collection of goalies anymore.”
No, probably not. These days, you’d do just as well to worry about the opponents’ backup, as the 16 playoff teams this spring combined to use 24 goaltenders in what was arguably the wackiest first round in history. Half the teams still standing used at least two during the first round, including two teams that actually started backups — Philadelphia started three — not because of injury but because of shaky performance.
I polled a handful of Red Wings in the dressing room the other day, asking this question: Who are the five best goaltenders in the NHL right now? Only two made all five lists: Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Boston’s Tim Thomas. (They weren’t allowed to vote for a teammate.) Montreal’s Carey Price made all but one list, and Buffalo’s Ryan Miller got three votes, just ahead of Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. After that, it was a grab bag of others receiving votes, including Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, who was benched for Game 6 against Chicago last weekend but also happens to be the NHL’s highest-paid goaltender. That’s not to say there aren’t any elite netminders in today’s NHL, however.
“Special goalies, they’re still there,” said Chris Osgood, the lone Cup-winning goaltender over 30 since the NHL lockout. “I just think there are more good goalies, so every year it’s going to change. It’s hard to pinpoint who’s the best. There’s no more Haseks or Roys, I don’t think. But there are so many more guys that are good now that every year somebody else is going to be at the top.”
While Niyo can buy the argument that we’ve simply gone from having a handful of dominant goaltenders to a bunch of very good ones, Jimmy Howard included, Kris Draper offers a counter-point, suggesting that in the salary-capped NHL, we’re also in an “in between” period in terms of true superstar forwards:
“You look at the league now: There’s so many great players — (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Alexander) Ovechkin, (Henrik) Zetterberg, (Sidney) Crosby — and do any of them have 500 or 600 goals?” center Kris Draper said.
Also of Red Wings-related note: Per the Wings’ Twitter account, there’s a viewing party for Friday’s game:
Friday’s Game 1 Viewing Party will be at Hamlin Pub in Shelby (55076 Van Dyke Avenue! Sunday’s Game 2 party will be at Hockeytown Cafe.
• If you’re bummed out about Steve Carell leaving The Office, the Free Press’s Helene St. James reveals that you’re not alone:
Several players are fans, and they weighed in on whether the series can survive without Carell’s inimitable Michael Gary Scott character. (For those concerned the Wings aren’t 100% focused on the Sharks: All material was gathered during the break between series.)
“Honestly, I think it’s going to be tough,” Brad Stuart said. “Do they bring in a replacement or do they go on without him? It definitely won’t be the same. But they have developed a lot of those characters pretty well, and I think they would maintain a following. It’s just, what do you do with the Michael Scott vacancy? I think he makes the show as far as I’m concerned. Everybody has their thing, but to me, he is the funniest guy.”
Speaking in a reverent voice usually reserved for comments about Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall doubted anyone could surpass Dunder-Mifflin’s longtime Scranton branch manager.
“It’s going to be tough to find another Michael Scott,” Kronwall said. “It’s sad he’s leaving. I think his character is just fantastic. The sarcasm—he’s a really good person at heart, but a lot of things he does just turn out so wrong. He’s mean without really knowing it.”
Johan Franzen called the Scott character “phenomenal. I don’t know if anyone else can do it.” That’s what he said.
• I guess EJ Hradek speaks out of both sides of his mouth, because the Free Press’s Steve Schrader says Hradek was singing a different tune about the Wings-Sharks series on the NHL Network:
“Last year, [Detroit] played at Phoenix on a Tuesday, 48 hours later they were in San Jose, playing Game 1,” Hradek said. “For me, last year Detroit was beat up, they were worn out, tough first-round series, older team. This year, well-rested, Henrik Zetterberg didn’t even play in the first round, coming back healthy, Pavel Datsyuk has been terrific, Nick Lidstrom played fewer minutes and should be rested and ready to go, so I think Detroit is going to be a handful for San Jose.”
Hradek also said Sharks goalie Antti Niemi has been off his game.
“If he gives up those soft goals like he did against L.A., it’s going to be bye-bye, San Jose,” he said.
• The Free Press’s Jamie Samuelssen picked neither the Wings nor Sharks in a blog post previewing the series;
• This is just me talking, but I don’t feel sorry for Joe Thornton, who’s painted by the AP’s Josh Dubow as someone who bears the brunt of unfair criticism;
• According to the Madison Journal-Times’ Adam Mertz, Chris Chelios will be inducted into the University of Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame on September 2nd;
• Wings assistant coach Paul MacLean happened to speak to the Winnipeg Sun’s Paul Turenne about the possibility of an NHL team returning to the Peg, but that’s obviously optional reading;
• The Lansing State Journal’s Neil Koepke spoke to Justin Abdelkader and Drew Miller about their statuses as Michigan State University alums who are plying their trade for the Wings:
“It’s awesome that we’re together again. We’re always talking about Michigan State,’’ Abdelkader said. “We’re both from the state and are playing with the team we rooted for growing up. And we’re playing with some of the best players in the game. Watching these guys every day, you learn so much.’‘
“In Anaheim, I was in the minors, then up with the Ducks, then back down, then traded to the (Tampa Bay) Lightning, then put on waivers (early last season) and then wound up in Detroit,’’ Miller said earlier this week after practice at Joe Louis Arena. “The full year in one spot helps so much mentally. Last year, I got a chance to establish myself as full-time NHL player. This season I tried to expand on it.’‘
“After being here last season for 50 games, even though I wasn’t playing a lot, and playing in the playoffs the last two seasons, I felt I could play at this level,’’ Abdelkader said. “I feel much more comfortable and confident in what I can do, and the coaches have more confidence in me. That makes a big difference.’‘
Most of the season, Abdelkader skated on Detroit’s third or fourth line in a checking role. Last month, however, coach Mike Babock moved Abdelkader to center on more of an offensive unit with Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary.
“At this point in his career, Abby is not a gifted playmaker but he’s a big, strong guy, he’s hard to play against and he’s good in the faceoff circle,’’ Babcock said. “Otherwise, we’re not as big down the middle. It’s great to have a heavy body in that spot.’‘
• And as a programming note, the Wings and Sharks won’t start practicing till 1 or 2 PM EDT today, so don’t expect many updates until the middle of the afternoon. I’ll be working on San Jose time for the next couple of days.
Update: For the record, the Free Press’s Matt Helms and John Gallagher report that the M1 Rail project backed by Wings owner Mike Ilitch, Compuware chairman Peter Karmanos, Quicken Loans president Dan Gilbert and one Roger Penske is mired in…muck as backers and the City of Detroit try to figure out how exactly the rail line will work.
Update #2: Grumble. Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Ray Ratto’s April 27th-dated article about Dan Boyle and the Wings-Sharks series didn’t pop up on CSN’s website until this morning. Here’s the pertinent part:
“I don’t think you can look at the past. I don’t,” [Boyle] said when asked about previous meetings with the Red Wings, most notably the second-round series victory. “I think even after every series, you stop looking the numbers and you start all over again.”
But the same is true of individuals as well as teams. The Sharks won three of four games against the Wings this year, plus the four of five during the playoffs last year, but those Wings were not whole, or rested, or spoiling
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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.