The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/16/14 at 11:51 PM ET
The Red Wings dropped a disappointing 4-1 decision to Chicago on Sunday night, and Tuesday's opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs, sit seven points ahead of the Wings despite having lost 4-2 to Washington on Sunday afternoon.
Detroit opened up a slate of 5 games to be played over the course of 8 nights on Sunday: they'll host Toronto on Tuesday, host Pittsburgh on Friday, and then play back-to-backs against Minnesota next Saturday and Sunday. They lather, rinse and repeat on the road against the damned Blue Jackets on Tuesday the 25th, the Wings host the Canadiens on Thursday the 27th, and they close out the month by heading to Toronto on Saturday the 29th and hosting the Lightning on Saturday the 30th.
By the end of the month, the Wings will either have a chance of climbing the Wild Card race's ranks thanks to 4 divisional games and 2 more within-conference tilts, or the Swedes will be talking about heading to Minsk to take part in the World Championships.
The Globe and Mail's James Mirtle reports that Toronto's pair of games against the Wings (Tuesday at JLA and on March 29th in Toronto) could help determine the Leafs' playoff future--and if the Leafs take both of their games against the Wings, they could doom Detroit's playoff chances:
[T]he one team to keep an eye on in all this is the Detroit Red Wings, who the Leafs will face to end their road trip on Tuesday. Beaten-up and not getting great goaltending of late, the Wings still remain a real concern for a couple of reasons.
For one, they’ve got games in hand – plural – on Toronto, and they’re a team known for pulling off some pretty impressive stretch drives. They also have a 22-season playoff streak to try and extend to 23, a rallying point that will get increasing attention across the league over the final month as they make that push.
Two of the Leafs’ last 13 games are against the Wings, too, a potential four-point swing that could dramatically change who finishes where in the Atlantic Division.
Win one of them in regulation and Toronto could neutralize one of the biggest threats to their season.
The same SportsClubStats website that Mirtle references as having the Leafs' playoff chances at 80% (actually 84.3%) predicts that the Wings have a 35.1% chance of making the playoffs. The Wings could only shrug off yet another difficult performance while speaking with the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan...
“We have to find a way to win 2-1,” coach Mike Babcock said. “When the game is 1-1 basically 39 minutes 30 seconds into the game, we’re in a good spot. We can’t chase it. There’s not enough goals in our lineup to play like that. We were set up and let it slip away.”
With the loss, the Red Wings (30-24-13, 73 points) dropped three points behind the New York Rangers (36-29-4, 76 points) for the final wild card spot. Washington (74 points) leads the Red Wings by one point – though the Red Wings do have two games in hand on both teams.
But the urgency is obviously increasing with every loss, and fewer games left.
“Everybody realizes it, there are a lot of teams picking up points,” forward Tomas Tatar said. “We knew what we have to do. We knew there are home games (coming up) and we have to win them.”
“We played a good second period and tied it up, and they score with 13 seconds left, it’s tough,” Alfredsson said. “We felt good going into the third, but obviously Hossa's goal make it a two goal game and makes it tough.”
NHL.com's Brian Hedger...
"There's no room for error," Howard said. "That's the thing out there. It's been such a grind to get goals out there, I think it's been tough on all of us."
After not solving Howard on 11 shots in the first, the Blackhawks continued to pile on shots without scoring to start the second.
The quality of scoring chances was the difference. They improved progressively until Leddy scored at 8:44 with a shot from above the left circle. Smith played a key role by helping Hossa win a puck battle below the goal line and going to the front of the net to screen Howard.
After Nyquist tied it 1-1 on a power-play goal at 15:10, his 17th of the season, Smith gave the Blackhawks the lead again, 2-1, with 14 seconds remaining in the period. He screened Howard again, but this time scored off a rebound while being checked to the ice.
Hossa's goal pushed the lead to 3-1 at 6:33 of the third, after two Red Wings collided in the neutral zone to spring him, and he then found Toews with a nice feed for the final goal at 17:50 to complete the scoring.
MLive's Ansar Khan...
This time, Smith knocked in a rebound of a shot by Duncan Keith that was laying by Howard’s pad with 13.7 seconds remaining, giving the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead.
The Red Wings were scrambling in their zone and Jonathan Ericsson wasn’t able to tie up Bryan Bickell or get to the rebound.
“The one late in the period, it shouldn’t happen,” Howard said. “It’s paying attention to details.”
Said Alfredsson: “I thought we played a good period, tied it up and they scored, that’s tough. I thought our room was good between the second and third. I thought we were good going into the third. Hossa’s goal makes it tough for us.”
Hossa gave his team a 3-1 lead at 6:33 of the third period with his 23rd goal. He used a burst of speed to cut around defensemen Brendan Smith and Kyle Quincey, who ran into each other on the play.
“I thought we were in a real good situation through two,” Babcock said. “The third goal absolutely killed us. Two D ran into each other in the neutral zone and that’s the end of the night.”
And the Free Press's Helene St. James, who noted that Babcock didn't fault Howard's performance:
Howard kept the score close through two periods Sunday at United Center before the Wings fell, 4-1, to the Chicago Blackhawks. Howard had made 23 saves on 25 shots after two periods, and saw 30 shots total.
“Jimmy gave us a chance,” coach Mike Babcock said. “The second goal, I wouldn’t have liked to give up, but I thought he’d given us an opportunity. Even coming out for the third, I think we’re in a real good spot. The third goal absolutely killed us. Two D ran into each other in the neutral zone and that’s the end of the night.”
Former Wings forward Marian Hossa scored that goal, and set up two other goals. The Wings lack so much of their offense — most notably Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk — that Howard has been cast into a larger role as the regular season winds down.
“We’ve been accustomed around here to having real good goaltending from Howie,” Babcock said, “and we need him to be as good as he’s ever been down the stretch just because the depth of our lineup is different than it’s been.”
Babcock said it would help if the skaters could generate more offense.
“If you’re Jimmy, we don’t give him much run support,” he said.
St. James posted a video of Babcock, Alfredsson and Howard discussing the loss...
And Comcast Sportsnet chicago posted one of those pesky auto-play clips of Babcock discussing the game.
Update: In a later-filed recap, Johan Franzen may have hit the nail on the head while speaking with St. James:
“I think maybe we need to believe in ourselves a little bit more,” Johan Franzen said. “It kind of looks like we’re not all there. It doesn’t look like we all believe in it, and for us to win games, everyone out there has got to want the puck and help each other.”
As has been so similar in the past, the Wings know what's going wrong, but they can't seem to transform their awareness of the situation into action:
“Chicago is one of the best in the league,” Tomas Tatar said. “With our injuries, it’s hard to compare against a team like this. We were holding them pretty well. They scored the second goal right before the end of the period, which maybe kind of break us.”
Jimmy Howard had a better game than his stats showed, but it’s hard for a goaltender to win without offense. The Wings have scored just three times in regulation the past three games.
They had five shots on net in the first period Sunday.
“We had a good game plan going in,” Daniel Alfredsson said, “but we turned the puck over a lot in the neutral zone and part of that was obviously us, but they did a good job putting pressure on us. We didn’t have a lot of time with the puck. I thought we did get better in the second getting through the neutral zone. Third, they get a two-goal lead and that’s kind of a killer. We just don’t have enough push today.”
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