The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/15/13 at 11:49 AM ET
If I was to give the Red Wings an x-factor edge in terms of managing to surprise and perhaps damage the Blackhawks (if we are to believe the Chicago Tribune's Steve Rosenbloom, the Wings have no idea how good the "new" Patrick Kane is) when the second-round series begins tonight (8 PM, NBCSN/CBC/97.1 FM), I'd suggest that the Hawks can only partially account for the strength of the Wings' youth movement, and a very specific line in particular, as DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose noted:
The Wings’ kids weren’t rattled in the first round series. In fact, they were quite the opposite. The young guys were efficient throughout the series, especially third-line forwards [Damien] Brunner and Gustav Nyquist, who each scored big overtime goals to beat the Ducks. Another big contributor was third-line center Joakim Andersson, who won more than 59 percent of his face-offs in the defensive zone, including 10-of-11 in the first two games of the series.
The hands-on nature of what the Wings’ youth movement is currently experiencing, and will continue to experience in the upcoming Chicago series are all valuable lessons in becoming NHL players.
“You learn by being a part of it,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “You have to go through those situations to learn. That's what they did. The Andersson line was huge for us, played a lot of minutes in that (Anaheim) series. The experience will make them better.”
Seven different Wings made their Stanley Cup playoff debuts in the last series. Yet this next round will bring with it a whole new set of circumstances for the young guys, from the history of the Original Six rivalry to the disdain that fans from both cities share for one another.
“It’s a tough thing about emotion,” rookie defenseman Brendan Smith said. “My first game in Anaheim I had the butterflies going, but once you get going you get rid of those and your momentum kicks in. What coach told us was to put your emotions behind you and go out there and play with passion and do what’s gotten you to this stage of your life.”
What got the Red Wings to the second round was their attention to small details, their willingness to battle in the corners and fight for space in front of the opposition’s crease. It’s something the young guys hope to continue to do against the Blackhawks.
“The biggest thing I learned from the last playoff series was the competition level and how competitive each person is,” Smith said. “If you don’t play a full 60 minutes you’re going to be a minus player, you’ll be scored against and you’re not going to be the best player out there.”
As the Windsor Star's Bob Duff notes, at one point, the Wings were dressing seven rookies and/or inexperienced young players, but that number's dropped to five generally potently positive performers:
Five of them – Smith, defenceman Jakub Kindl and forwards Joakim Andersson, Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist – figure to again play prominent roles as this set gets underway Wednesday at the United Center. An all first-year forward unit of Andersson between Brunner and Nyquist produced overtime-winning goals from Nyquist (Game 2) and Brunner (Game 4).
“I guess you get a little confidence boost when you’re contributing in that way,” Nyquist said.
During their seven-game roller-coaster ride of a series with the Ducks, which saw the Wings stave off elimination with a Henrik Zetterberg OT winner in Game 6 and a Game 7 road triumph, these kids learned while emotion is alright, it’s not something you want to emphasize during a playoff run.
“Stay focused,” Brunner listed as the long-term key to post-season success. “Stick with the plan. Whether you win or lose, just stick with the program. Keep it simple.”
The dressing room during a Stanley Cup series does not resemble the classroom. Veterans like captain Zetterberg do not stand up and offer tutorials to the newcomers. It’s more about learning via osmosis.
“When I was younger in my first series, you don’t ask that much, you look and observe and see what they do and try to do the same,” Zetterberg said, admitting he’s learned much about the Wings’ kids, and not all of it is his cup of tea.
“It’s a good mix, I think,’ Zetterberg, 32, said of the divide between rookie and veteran on the Detroit roster. “With all their speed, it makes you feel a little younger.”
And then there is the "new" Justin Abdelkader, who's succeeded Tomas Holmstrom in no small part because Pavel Datsyuk decided that he needed a Holmstrom-style linemate, as the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa noted:
Sergei Fedorov used to fret when Scotty Bowman moved Doug Brown off his line. In the same vein, when Tomas Holmstrom retired at the start of this season, he said some of the best advice he ever got came from Igor Larionov.
"Holmer, if you lose the puck," Holmstrom said, "you have to go get it. I'm not going to get it for you."
Brown and Holmstrom thrived with outstanding offensive players. Abdelkader scored 10 goals in 48 games this season. At that pace, in an 82-game season, he would score 17. He did not move to the top line until after 23 games. Viewed that way, he was on a 33-goal pace from March 4 until the end of the season.
"I don't think there's really time to evaluate anything, now," he said, after the media scrum moved on. "I think it's more for after the season. But as a hockey player, I just want to grow each season and to get better. I work on my skills and my skating and my conditioning and my endurance and everything a lot in the offseason. Even after practices I'm out there late trying to work on things and get better. But I think hockey's a game of confidence and when you're playing with confidence, it's a good thing. I'm going to just keep doing things the right way."
As for accepting direction from his wizard of a linemate, Datsyuk, Abdelkader smiled.
"No, you know, he's a great player," he said. "And, for me, playing with him, I want to get him the puck as much as I can — be at the net for him, too. But if he tells me he wants me to go somewhere else or do something else, I'll do it.
"It's a pretty simple job and I just want to skate and forecheck for those guys. And, Pavs? You know, he's one of the best players in the world, especially with the puck on his stick. As much as I can I want to make sure he has the time to make those plays."
So far, so good.
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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.