The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/30/11 at 11:07 PM ET
Throughout Saturday’s slate of practice updates, a theme’s slowly emerged from denizens of the Red Wings’ locker room, and it’s one of calm, quiet and self-assured determination as to Detroit’s ability to bounce back from a 2-1 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks when the puck drops at noon local time (3 PM EDT) on Sunday. I’d normally save the following pair of “late-breaking” Saturday night stories for Sunday’s game preview, but I think you and I need to read them now.
Why? Well, for one, the free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp of all people provides a jittery Wings fan base, myself included, with some very reassuring words from Wings coach Mike Babcock about his players’ understanding of the gravity of their situation:
“They’re big boys,” Babcock said. “We’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve had a lot of conversations with the players (Saturday). I asked do I need to say something and they told me that they already talked about it. That’s why we’ve won a lot. We know when we’re good and we know when we’re not very good. That doesn’t mean you’re not disappointed. We’re disappointed. But it’s over with now. It was sunny when I got up. It’s beautiful out here, isn’t it?”
Yes, the media seems to all but delight in telling fans—and especially Wings fans—that we’re not allowed to feel slighted when referees call penalties that we dislike, even if they’re blatant mistakes, and Sharp’s one of the most vicious when it comes to telling you that he’s here to tell fans why they’re wrong and why they’re stupid for being subjective (which says more about Sharp than it does about you and me), but this much is good news, even if it’s coming from Sharp’s sound recorder and fingertips:
Babcock wisely didn’t bail out his team regarding the unbalanced officials whistle. The Sharks got six power plays, including a 4-minute double minor on Justin Abdelkader’s high stick early in overtime, compared with the Wings’ two. But that disparity usually results from constantly chasing the puck. When asked if he thought a preoccupation on taking penalties made the Wings a little less aggressive, Babcock empathetically said “No.”
“It’s all on us,” said Abdelkader. “We know that we could have played much better and that we have to play much better. They took it to us. We have to tilt the ice back into our favor. But this is a team that’s been through it so much before that there’s no reason to read more into this than what it is. This is just Game 2 in a seven-game series.”
So here’s his bombast. Prepare to snicker at one head-fake’s point of note…
Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen still aren’t right physically. Babcock thought Pavel Datsyuk and Jiri Hudler were his most punishing forwards in Game 1 - not exactly a good sign when they’re your power forwards.
We’ve come to expect energy and physicality from Darren Helm so much so that when we don’t see it - as was the case in Game 1 - it stands out. Todd Bertuzzi’s main contribution was a third-period slashing penalty - and, yes, it was a justified call - that led to the Sharks’ game-tying goal on a power play.
It was boarding, Drew, and it was sold….
The Wings will almost certainly throw more traffic at San Jose goalie Antti Niemi than they did in Game 1 when he could have taken a little snooze in the crease during the second period. But the Sharks have now won eight of their last 10 meetings against the Wings, including five of their last six playoff games. They’re growing more confident that they can answer whatever response the Wings throw at them Sunday.
And in any case, the Wings’ players repeated Babcock and Abdelkader’s variations on a positive theme to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:
“I don’t think anyone thought we were going to sweep them,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “They’re a good team, too. It’s a race to four (victories). They won (Game 1) and we now have a chance (to win Game 2). We could have had the game-winner as much as they did. We created a lot of chances. Now we refocus and we come back for Game 2.”
They all repeated the same phrases. The checklist of need-to-do’s were the same from player to player.
“We know we didn’t play well enough,” Darren Helm said.
That checklist, in Kulfan’s opinion, involves getting down to the business of grinding and grating on the Sharks via strong forechecking, making Antti Niemi’s life a little more difficult and regaining the spring in their skating strides, urgency, crispness of play and attention to detail on Sunday. In Kulfan’s words…
Now it’s up to the Wings to take whatever positives there were and apply them to what should be a raucous HP Pavilion. More than anything, the Wings just have to look more like the Red Wings.
“You’re going to have those momentum swings in the playoffs,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We did a lot of good things we can take into the next game. We can be harder on the second chances and create a lot more traffic. He (Niemi) was seeing a lot of shots.”
Or, in other words:
“We have to be better obviously,” Justin Abdelkader said. “They out-shot us and took it to us for a majority of the game. We have to be better and we know we have to be better. It’s just one game.”
Hell, I’d normally post this little quip from Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Ray Ratto, who is truly a Drew Sharp-style odd duck, in the practice update post, but even he’s jittery about the Wings’ ability to bounce back given the fact that the Sharks aren’t lighting things up on the power play:
The topic of the day was the San Jose Sharks power play, which was a life-saving yet still sorry 1-for-6, and 3-for-29 this postseason. That’s 10.6 percent, which is damned bad. That makes them the owners of the second-worst power play of the teams left in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, ahead of only Boston, which is an even shabbier 0-for 26. That’s 0 percent, in case you needed additional math.
This series will not be won by fretting over bad power play numbers. Nor will it be lost by doing so. The Sharks and Red Wings are separated by a fortuitous deflection off the shaft of a stick after 67 minutes, period. It really is no more complicated than that. And if you’re waiting for the benefits of momentum to send the Sharks to Detroit with a stranglehold on the series, better to keep your powder dry there as well. Momentum does not exist; the Sharks had all the momentum there is to have Friday night and could have just as easily have lost the game, as they did in Game 5 of the Los Angeles series.
As in, to quote Todd McLellan, “If we don’t score that one power play goal, we could be standing here talking about a 1-0 loss instead of a 2-1 win.”
And that was a matter of luck as well, since the goal in question came when Joe Pavelski took a baseball swing at an airborne puck and beat Jimmy Howard with the tying goal. We mention all this capricious behavior because even if they manage to win Sunday, the Sharks are not exactly safe and dry. Taking only the last three rounds in the past five years, the team that loses the first two games on the road series actually comes back to win the series about a quarter of the time.
That means that the concept of the stranglehold is a myth, and even at 3-0, you’re not quite clear. Philadelphia cheated the reaper a year ago, and Chicago nearly did the same this past week against Vancouver.
Now that’s just Ratto talking, and he’s as odd a teal-following duck as can be, but while the Sharks’ players sounded as self-confident as ever on Saturday (the practice post has all the news and video you need to confirm as much), it’s never a bad thing to hear some doubt coming from the other side.
I don’t know about you, but as a Red Wings fan who was very troubled by Friday’s loss, it’s exactly what I need to hear.
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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.