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The overnight report: Red Wings-Flyers set-up—11 is enough

The Detroit Red Wings will batttle the Philadelphia Flyers tonight (8 PM EDT on NBCSN/TVA Sports/97.1 FM), and for the Red Wings, tonight's game represents the first of two games the Wings will play in Philly over the next 7 days.

While the 4-5-and-1 Flyers have gone 1-3-and-1 over their past 5 games (with their most recent game being a 4-3 victory over Carolina on Sunday), and their goals-against average is 29th in the league, the Flyers also possess the NHL's 3rd-most potent offense...and they've won 11 straight games over the Red Wings in Philadelphia, going all the way back to 1997.

A Red Wings team looking to snap a 2-game losing streak need to get its game in order against an opponent that's equally hungry to find some consistency.

With a 6-and-4 record, the Red Wings have started fairly well, but they're well aware of the Flyers' "hex," as Henrik Zetterberg told MLive's Ansar Khan:

"You guys keep reminding us, so it's hard to not think about it," Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "Obviously, we know what it is, we haven't won there in a while. Good thing is we have a chance tomorrow and we got another chance next week. But we can't really focus on that, we got to focus on what we do. We haven't been at our best the last two games and we want to get back to that."

Zetterberg doesn't know why it's been such a difficult place for his team.

"I think one of the reasons is we don't play there that often, when we were in the Western Conference," Zetterberg said. "They're playing us well. I thought we had some games that were close. We were up a few games and they came back and found a way to win."

The Flyers' start earned pointed criticism from their general manager, Ron Hextall, as noted by CSN Philly's Tim Panaccio...

Ten games into the season, [coach] Dave Hakstol’s team finds itself in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division with a goals-against that is 29th worst in the league. Asked to sum up the first 10 games, Hextall shot back, “mediocre.”

“We’ve let some points slide away,” Hextall said Tuesday. “Our defensive blunders have hurt us. But we’ve had a tough schedule. That certainly plays into it. I think we’ve been mediocre.”

Hextall said the Flyers are making too many “poor errors” that result in a goal against.

“We’re making the errors and it ends up in our net,” he said. “It will sort itself out, and part of it is we have to be better consistently for 60 minutes.”

Hextall said it wasn’t solely on the goaltending, which has allowed 3.80 goals per game. Neither of the Flyers' goaltenders — Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth — have a .900 save percentage (see story).

"We have full confidence in both guys that they’re going to play well," Hextall said. "But our [defensemen] have made mistakes and our forwards have made mistakes. Nobody is going sit here and point fingers at the goalies, or the D or the forwards. It’s the whole group on the ice."

And the Philly Inquirer's Sam Carchidi:

Hextall called the team's 4-5-1 start "mediocre."

"I think we can be better. We've let some points slide away," said Hextall, whose defense should get a lift when Michael Del Zotto returns to the lineup from a knee injury; he is expected to return Saturday. "Our defensive blunders have hurt us, but we've had a tough schedule, too. That certainly plays a part in it."

The Flyers are in a stretch in which they start the season with 13 games in 23 nights, including four sets of back-to-back games.

"There are soft points of the schedule and hard points -- and everybody goes through them," Hextall said. "We need to get through it and deal with it."

Hextall told the Bucks County Courier Times' Wayne Fish that the team's defensive issues can be corrected...

“I think there’s some improvement,’’ he said. “Once in a while we’re making a really poor error and it’s ending up in our net. I don’t want to say it’s luck because it’s not luck. But it seems like every time we’re making an error it’s ending up in our net.

And the Flyers agree, starting with their goaltenders, as the Courier-Post's Dave Isaac noted:

"Neuvy and I have our own things to clean up before we worry about what’s going on,” said [Steve] Mason, whose .878 save percentage is a bit above Neuvirth’s .861. “I think as a whole, we need to get cleaner getting out of our own zone. We’ve created our own problems a lot of times where it kind of bites us in the butt and causes a goal to happen. First and foremost, gotta worry about stopping the puck, and if Neuvy and I stop the puck at a better rate, our in-zone play will be better as well.”

Part of what the Flyers can do to help their goalies is eliminating back-door plays. It’s happened a number of times where the goal scorer is all by himself at the side of the net with no defense on him and that happens typically because one defenseman is trying to cover for the other.

“You see an opportunity for someone in one area and you kind of leave your area, your guy, and it presents another opportunity for him,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “You just have to be sure. Sometimes I think we want to be aggressive on loose pucks and when we have an opportunity to close on a guy, we have to close.”

Another problem, as MacDonald pointed out, is exiting the defensive zone. Sometimes the Flyers are trying to push up the ice before they really have possession and end up losing the puck, kind of like a wide receiver in football running before he’s made the catch.

“Not every day you’re going to have 20 guys going at 100 percent. It’s never happened, never will,” Jake Voracek said. “So if you don’t feel good enough, if you feel that you make a mistake and you can’t make up for it, just make a simpler play.”

The most frustrating part for the Flyers is that they’re scoring goals so their record should be much better than 4-5-1.

“When you’re averaging three and a half, four goals a game you should be winning the majority of your hockey games,” Mason said, “and unfortunately that’s not the case because our defensive area needs to be shored up from goaltenders out.”

The Flyers continued whlie speaking with the Daily Times' Rob Parent:

While their 38 goals-against ranks 30th of 30 teams, and a 3.8 goals-against average is only better than Arizona’s 4.13 through Monday, offensively the Flyers have thrived. Their 35 goals scored is tied with the Rangers for No. 1 in the NHL, and their goals-per-game average of 3.5 is third-best. Scoring, however, is up essentially everywhere.

...

“I think as a whole, we need to get cleaner getting out of our own zone,” goalie Steve Mason said. “We’ve created our own problems a lot of times where it kind of bites us in the butt and causes a goal to happen. We (Mason and net partner Michal Neuvirth) have got to worry about stopping the puck. And if Neuvy and I stop the puck at a better rate, our (defensive) zone play will be better as well.”

Either way you shake it out, however, the overall picture is one of, well ... mediocrity.

And if the Flyers don’t start making it more difficult on teams to score against them, they likely would find themselves again scratching and clawing in the race to stay relevant in the standings.

“We can’t do anything about the games that are past,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Frustration isn’t a word that I’m real interested in. I think it’s... evaluate where the areas are that we have to clean up and then go about doing the work to correct those and executing those in our upcoming games, most importantly tomorrow night.”

The Flyers attempted to correct their mistakes by maximizing their practice time on Tuesday, as CSN Philly's Panaccio noted...

The Flyers just came off three sets of back-to-backs in October and begin November’s schedule on Wednesday against Detroit in the front end of their fourth back-to-back.
...

Part of the issue here, in terms of corrections, has been the lack of practice time to work on making adjustments on the ice. There’s only so much video a team can watch. On-ice practice is a must when things aren’t going right.

Because the Flyers played 10 games over 16 days in October, adding in the back-to-backs and mandatory rest, they’ve had little or no real practice days.

On Tuesday, they got in a longer practice session which allowed Hakstol’s staff to work on some details of their game from the standpoint of execution.

“It’s been a very busy month with games and travel,” Hakstol said. “We’ve got an opportunity here over the next 10 days to have at least two or three quality practices, just like the one we had today.”

And the Bucks County Courier Times' Fish continued:

Both Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds contend that the Flyers need to be sounder in their own end. That means better positioning, better communication and more of a commitment to carrying out defensive assignments.

“I think we just have to pick up a guy and stay with him,’’ said Couturier, considered the best defensive forward on the team. “Be aware of what’s going on around us. Maybe a little too much puck watching and we’re letting guys get open too easily. Obviously, it’s a problem.’’

Knowing one’s surroundings can be helpful, too.

“I think it’s just being self-aware,’’ Couturier said. “You have to know what’s going on around you. You can’t just look at the puck -- if there’s a two-on-two battle, you have to find the (opposing) guy who’s open in the slot ... paying attention to detail and sticking closer to guys.’’

Simmonds believes the problem can be corrected without sacrificing defense.

“We have to be more responsible,’’ Simmonds said. “Most of the damage that we’re having is coming off the rush. We have to make sure we have a high up ‘three’ (third man back on defense) and we’re not diving in and we’re not leaving our defensemen hanging with three-on-twos.’’

Michal Neuvrith will start against Petr Mrazek on Wednesday, and Neuvirth spoke with the Philadelphia Inquirer's Fish regarding Sunday's win--an effort that Neuvirth believes the Flyers can build upon:

They are hoping a strong third-period Sunday by goalie Michal Neuvirth and his teammates can start a turnaround. The goalie made 12 third-period saves and keyed a 4-3 win in Carolina.

"I want to build off that," Neuvirth said Tuesday after practice in Voorhees. He is expected to get the nod Wednesday against the visiting Detroit Red Wings. "We should feel better about ourselves. I felt we had a real good practice today."

The defensive coverage in front of goalies Neuvirth and Steve Mason has been lacking in the first 10 games. Too many times defenders have been caught out of position.

"We definitely have to be tougher in front of our net," said Neuvirth, the owner of a 3.84 goals-against average and an .861 save percentage. "We're getting scored on on a lot of second opportunities around the net. We have to be a little tougher in that area, make it tougher on the other team."

The Flyers' lineup is hard to discern as their beat writers don't tend to list it, so the best I could do is find this Tweet from NHL.com's Adam Kimelman, from last Saturday's game against Pittsburgh:

According to Panaccio, Boyd Gordon (back spasms) is out for tonight's game--Carchidi reports that Nick Cousins will center the fourth line in Gordon's spot--and Michal Raffl (abdominal pull) is out but likely to return before Tuesday, as is Michael Del Zotto (LTIR).

The Flyers' website did post some videos from Tuesday's practice: Wayne Simmonds and coach Dave Hakstol spoke with the media...

 

And here's the NHL's highlight clip from the Flyers' win over Carolina on Sunday:

As this is an NBCSN Rivalry Night game, NHL.com's features regarding tonight's game will serve as our pivot points between the Flyers and Wings' perspectives.

NHL.com's Kevin Weekes issued "pluses and minuses" for both teams...

Red Wings

Pluses: It starts with goaltending for the Red Wings. Their six-game winning streak was buoyed by the play of goaltenders Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek. Howard has allowed three goals in four games and Mrazek had played well in his six starts prior to allowing four goals on 10 shots and being pulled in a 5-2 loss to the Panthers on Sunday. They haven't gotten much help defensively but we'll get to that later.

I look for the Red Wings to come out breathing fire. They are a faster team right now, which has been impressive to watch, and went 2-for-5 on the power play Sunday. Defenseman Mike Green, who has seven points in 10 games, is having a nice little resurgence right now.

Minuses: The Red Wings were dominated in every facet of the game against the Panthers. That came one day after they were shut out but played well in a 1-0 loss to the Bruins. Coach Jeff Blashill didn't address his players after the loss to the Bruins, hoping they'd respond the right way, but they had a bad performance against the Panthers. Hopefully they will come out with more energy and jump to start the game against the Flyers.

The Red Wings will have to cut down on their defensive miscues. We've seen a lot of those, but the goalies have been able to cover for them. The defensemen have five goals (three from Green) in 10 games, which has mitigated some of the defensive struggles.

They'll need to continue to get that level of production from them, especially with Thomas Vanek, who was off to a great start with four goals and eight points in seven games, week to week because of a lower-body injury.

And NHL.com's John Kreiser penned a list of 5 reasons to watch tonight's game. Among them:

Howard's renaissance: Jimmy Howard lost his spot as the Red Wings' No. 1 goaltender last season when he struggled and Petr Mrazek got hot. Mrazek has started seven of the Red Wings' 10 games this season, but Howard's play is sure to earn him more playing time. He's allowed three goals in four games (three starts) and has made 110 saves on 113 shots (.973 save percentage). Howard put on a goaltending clinic the last time the Red Wings played in a Wednesday Night Rivalry game, making 32 saves in a 2-1 defeat of the New York Rangers on Oct. 19. He made 35 saves in a 1-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday.

Nightmare on Broad Street: The Red Wings were 4-1 winners in their first visit to the building now known as Wells Fargo Center, on Jan. 25, 1997. They also won the first two games of the 1997 Stanley Cup Final in Philadelphia. Since then they have yet to win another game in the city, losing 11 straight visits, all in regulation, and have been outscored 48-20. The Red Wings have lost close games (six of the 11 losses have been by one goal, another was a two-goal loss that included an empty-net goal) and blowouts (four losses by five goals each).

The Red Wings addressed their inability to win in Philly while speaking with the Windsor Star's Bob Duff...

“You guys keep reminding us, so it’s hard to not think about it,” Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg joked. “Obviously, we know what it is, we haven’t won there in a while. The good thing is we have a chance tomorrow, and we’ve got another chance next week.” The Wings are back in Philadelphia again on Nov. 8. “We’re looking forward to getting a chance tomorrow to break that.”

Watching the Chicago Cubs rally from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series, the Wings believe that this Second City comeback could prove ominous to them.

“I have no idea (why they can’t win in Philadelphia),” Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith said. “Just like the Cubbies not winning for so long, it’s just how it has been. We don’t really try to think about it, we just go in there and play our game and hopefully we can come out with two points there.”

The Wings also believe they’ve been a victim of circumstance. A Western Conference team for so many years, they seldom got to play on a regular basis in Philadelphia.

“I think one of the reasons is we didn’t play there that often, when we were in the Western Conference,” Zetterberg said. “They’re playing us well. I thought we had some games that were close. We were up a few games and they came back and found a way to win.”

Philadelphia isn’t exactly known as one of the friendliest places for visiting teams, either, and that can be a factor.

“I think every building’s pretty tough to play in,” Smith said. “That’s where you get the advantage. I just think some of those reasons are that they haven’t seen them that much. (The Wings) only went there once a year, whatever it was, when they were in the West, so it’s just limited. It’s probably a tough building, there’s a lot of tough buildings. But yeah, we’d like to get that win so you guys would stop talking about it.”

And the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan:

“A few times we had a chance but we just screwed it up at the end with a few mistakes,” said Tomas Tatar of recent games in Philadelphia. “I don’t know what it is. I feel like the building (Wells Fargo Center) is the same as any other, but we’re just getting bad bounces at the end of the game.

“If we focus on our game, we’ll do good things and good things will happen and we can win there for sure.”

The Flyers (4-5-1) have been inconsistent this season, prone to defensive mistakes. With another game in Philadelphia next Tuesday, the Red Wings get two quick chances to end the strange, lengthy streak.

“We know we haven’t won there in a while, but the good thing is we have a chance here and another chance next week,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “But we can’t focus on that, we have to focus on what we do. We haven’t been at our best the last two games and we want to get back to that.”

The Red Wings are concerned about their puck possession--despite the fact that they may disagree with conventional puck possession metrics--as they told the Free Press's Helene St. James:

Turnovers remain a key focus, as does winning puck battles. The Flyers forecheck hard, making breakouts difficult.

“We’ve wanted to do too much with the puck,” Frans Nielsen said. “We’ve got to simplify a little more and grind teams a little more. It’s been killing us – we’ve been giving up 30-something plus shots every game because of mistakes we are doing with the puck in the neutral zone.”

When the Wings lost the first two games of the season, they responded with urgency and started a six-game winning streak. That’s the mentality they need to recapture.

“We were really hungry for that game and we said we have to overshoot it and play better and that's what we did,” Tomas Tatar said. “We have to play like that every night. You need every point.”

Tatar is among those who needs to break out of a drought; he has just one goal and two points through 10 games. Zetterberg is still looking for his first goal. Thomas Vanek has missed the past three games and remains out indefinitely because of a strained lower-body muscle and still remains tied for the team scoring lead at four goals among eight points.

So, more puck possession, please.

“When teams are shooting at you all the time, putting pucks to the net is tough,” Nielsen said. “There’s a lot of stuff we’ve got to be better at and shooting the puck is being simple, too. Instead of looking for passes all the time, get pucks in there and just grind teams a little more. We’re trying to make it look a little too pretty sometimes.”

Nielsen, Tatar and Brendan Smith shared their ideas for increasing puck possession time with DetroitRedWings.com's Dana Wakiji, too:

One factor that the Wings want to improve on is hanging onto the puck.

"I think one of the issues we've had lately is turnovers because we want to do much with the puck," Frans Nielsen said. "We've got to simplify a little more and grind teams a little more. So many good teams and good players in this league now, you turn pucks over they're going to make you pay. It's been an issue for a us a little bit. I know this is the mentality in Detroit to have to play, entertain and that kind of stuff, but we've been talking about being a little more simple. It's been killing us, we've been giving up 30-plus something shots every game because mistakes we're doing with the puck in the neutral zone."

Tomas Tatar said another issue is face-offs. The Wings are ranked 16th in face-off percentage at 49.6 percent 5-on-5.

"We lost a lot of face-offs, the wingers didn't help the center and they just had the puck more than we did," Tatar said. "We turned it over a lot the last few games. We have to get rid of that, put the puck behind and create chaos. That's how hockey is right now these days. We have to dump it to get the puck in the zone. We have to battle to create our own chances right there. We did turn over it a lot and the next thing you know it's going the other way."

Brendan Smith thinks there's another area the Wings could clean up a bit.

 

"We got to stay out of the box," Smith said. "Obviously if you're in the box they have the man advantage and they get more chances for. So I would say if we can maybe be a little bit more disciplined or whatnot, that will help us in that category."

The Wings have the most penalty minutes with 135. The next closest team is the Calgary Flames with 107.

The Wings' captain continued while speaking with the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:

“I think once you take care of the puck better, once you win your battles, once you execute on passes, you will keep the puck,” Henrik Zetterberg said after practice Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena. “That’s one thing that we probably have to get a little bit better at even though we got our shots up a little bit the last game but the result didn’t reflect that.”

In a 5-2 loss on Sunday to Florida the Wings outshot the Panthers, 36-24.

Coach Jeff Blashill measures puck possession by scoring chances.

“Somehow puck possession has been measured by shots,” Blashill said. “We outshot them on Sunday by a bunch but they had way better scoring chances, so I’ll continue to measure our game by scoring chances. Puck possession, the way we measure it, is by O-zone time, how much O-zone time versus how much D-zone time. We have to get better in that area. We’ve spent more time in our D-zone than in our O-zone.

“Last year lots of times it was the opposite,” Blashill added. “We’d get O-zone time. So we’ve got to get better at having more O-zone time. Nobody yet has a good measurable of possession.”

Detroit averages just a little over 28 shots a game, which is seventh worst in the league.

MLive's Ansar Khan also posted the Wings' practice lineup:

Blashill said no lineup decisions have been made. They practiced with the same lines and defense pairs they used in Sunday's 5-2 loss to Florida. Petr Mrazek was in the starter's net.

Gustav Nyquist-Frans Nielsen-Dylan Larkin

Tomas Tatar-Henrik Zetterberg-Justin Abdelkader

Andreas Athanasiou-Darren Helm-Riley Sheahan

Drew Miller-Luke Glendening-Steve Ott

Thomas Vanek (lower-body injury, week-to-week) did not skate.

On defense:

Danny DeKeyser-Mike Green

Jonathan Ericsson-Alexey Marchenko

Brendan Smith-Xavier Ouellet (Ryan Sproul rotated in)

In goal:

Petr Mrazek (starter's net, but not confirmed as the starter)

Jimmy Howard

In the multimedia department, the Free Press's Helene St. James posted a clip of Zetterberg, Nielsen and Blashill's remarks...

And the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan posted separate clips of Zetterberg and Blashill's remarks:

 

The Red Wings also posted several Tweets of note (the Blashill quip is supposed to be about Martin Frk, but it goes off on a tangent at the end):

 

 

Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note: ESPN's Scott Burnside and TSN's Scott Cullen have issued power rankings lists, and the Wings have dropped slightly on both Burnside's list...

11. ( [Last week] 5) Detroit Red Wings, 6-4-0: The Red Wings saw their six-game win streak come to an end on Saturday in a 1-0 loss to Boston and then followed that up with a 5-2 whipping at the hands of the Florida Panthers. It's been feast or famine for the boys from the Motor City.

And Cullen's list:

11.    DETROIT RED WINGS  6-4-0
THIS WEEK: 11 LAST WEEK: 9
GF: 2.70 GA: 2.40 SA CF%: 46.0
PP%: 19.5 PK%: 81.6

The Wings had won six straight before back-to-back losses and the underlying issue – getting outshot consistently, especially with No. 1 defenceman Danny DeKeyser on the ice – suggests problems coming if the goaltenders can’t bail them out.

Key Injuries: D Niklas Kronwall (knee), LW Thomas Vanek (groin).

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It ends tonight, dammit!

Posted by RyanVM on 11/02/16 at 08:05 AM ET

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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.