The Malik Report
After the Detroit Red Wings dropped a 2-1 shootout decision to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, I weighed in with my dissatisfaction, and then, in the comments section, so did you. Things apparently got heated enough that my quip about Mike Babcock's line machinations was taken as a personal attack, and if I am anything, I'm a blogger who's learned that one should never, ever attack one's readers for holding opinions contrary to one's own: attacking each other is one thing, but my job involves dealing with slings and arrows.
So maybe we're a wee bit testy this morning, eh, Red Wings nation?
In any case, the Red Wings and Blackhawks' press corps got the vast majority of their coverage taken care of during the evening, so there's a wrap-up available for your perusal, but this morning, the Free Press's Helene St. James and the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa offer a pair of takes on the direction the 8th-place, 10-8-and-4 Wings are facing--if not going toward.
St. James believes that the post-Lidstrom Wings have done their best to weather the inordinate number of injuries they've sustained as they try to forge their post-Nicklas Lidstrom identity, and while fans like you and me are a bit freaked out this morning, she feels that the team's continued to make progress, even during their 3-5-and-2 record over the past 10 games, but she also points out that the Wings have a very difficult schedule ahead--with three and four-game road trips this month and 8 of the team's 13 games over the remainder of March away from the Joe:
As a Red Wings fan, Detroit's 2-1 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon did not frustrate me because the Wings were unable to end the Hawks' now 24-game "unbeaten" streak. I'm one of those old farts who thinks that ties are better than shootouts, so that would've made the Wings' 23-game home winning streak something similar.
I'm not pissed off at the coach, even though I'm baffled as to why the Wings keep stacking their top power play unit with four forwards who skate deep into the opposing team's zone, but refuse to allow anyone other than Niklas Kronwall to take shots. I think that Jimmy Howard's been excellent, even though he did bite like nobody's business on Patrick Kane's shootout winner when Kane was leaning toward the blocker side throughout his dekes and fakes. I've got no complaints with the team's very young defensive corps, and no beefs with the forwards, especially after Johan Franzen woke from his hip flexor-pain-induced slumber on Sunday and ended up leading the team in shots, launching 6 of the 33 pucks the Wings hurled at Corey Crawford (though the fact that the Wings flung another 20 shot attempts wide into Hawks players does make me twitch a little bit).
I can't complain about the team's effort, intensity, level of engagement or, by and large, their attention to detail.
But the 10-8-and-4 Wings, who sit in 8th place in the Western Conference, have gone 3-5-and-2 over their past 10 games--since Jimmy Howard's 46-save performance against Los Angeles--and during that period of time, they've blown 3 two-goal leads and at least two or three 1-goal leads, while barely denting the opposing team's goaltender, as MLive's Ansar Khan notes, and this has me angry:
Given fans' reactions to an exchange at the very end of Red Wings coach Mike Babcock's press conference, conducted after the Wings' 2-1 shootout loss to Chicago--as I happened to mention on Twitter--you'd think that Mike Babcock signed his epitaph.
97.1 the Ticket's Mike Stone asked Babcock if he'd thought about placing Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson alongside Pavel Datsyuk (instead of Justin Abdelkader and Danny Cleary), and Babcock simply said, "No...Who else? See you guys," ending his presser.
Now I'm a Wings fan, too, and I'm wondering whether Babcock's simply giving Danny Cleary the rope with which to either save his spot on this year's team, to give Justin Abdelkader an honest chance to earn a top-six spot as a "net front guy," and whether he simply feels that Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson (who played the least amount of time of any Wings players on Sunday) are better-suited to playing together...
Updated with highlights and post-game videos at 4:20 PM, and here's a revised intro: I do know what to say about this one: the Wings went 0-3-and-2, demolished the Canucks, then went 1-and-1 (via a shootout win) on their road trip, and lost via a shootout today. That makes the Wings 2-4-and-3 over their past 9 games, and 10-8-and-4--or "10 and 10"--overall. I would strongly argue that the Wings' thoroughly mediocre record of late has a bit to do with injuries, a bit to do with special teams woes continuing, a bit with this whole, "The Wings are trying to find their post-Lidstrom identity while having a real youth movement shoved down the team's throat" narrative, and largely rests upon the fact that this team's lack of a killer instinct is a fatal flaw.
The Wings have sat on many 1 and 2-goal leads over the past 9 games, and have surrendered a ridiculous number of points because of that tendency. When the Wings play consistently and win consistently, they press, press, press and press some more, relentlessly utilizing their puck possession game to take the puck into the opponent's offensive zone and keep it there, grinding it out down low and playing defense 200 feet from their net, all while sniffing around for goals.
There's no doubt that this Wings team is missing a top-four offensive defenseman which the team may or may not add at the trade deadline, and there's no doubt that the team misses the offense that Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson and even the injured Darren Helm and confidence-lacking Valtteri Filppula could provide them with, but this Wings roster--even with Justin Abdelkader and Danny Cleary playing alongside Pavel Datsyuk--can get the job done offensively, and, for whatever reason, it hasn't been willing to put the pedal to the medal to ensure that it has a margin for inevitable defensive errors. That's why the Wings have lost so very regularly of late.
And now, back to your regularly-scheduled quick take:
The Detroit Red Wings will face off against the Chicago Blackhawks in less than an hour (12:30 PM EST, NBC, NHL Network Canada/97.1 FM), and the Hawks waited until this morning to announce their starting goaltender, as noted by the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc:
Corey Crawford returns in goal for the Chicago Blackhawks as they face the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday afternoon in Detroit. Crawford left the Hawks' game against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night after one period and then did not play Friday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets due to an upper-body injury as Ray Emery got the call.
Dave Bolland will miss this fifth consecutive game with an upper-body injury, which a source said are symptoms related to a concussion. Coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday morning Bolland will likely return to the lineup when the Hawks face the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night at the United Center.
Jimmy Howard will start in goal for the Wings, who enter the game with a 10-8-3 record. The Hawks (18-0-3) are looking to extend their streak of games to start the season without a regulation loss to 22 and dating back to last season 28 contests, which would tie for second-longest in NHL history.
On the Red Wings' side of things, Ken Kal offers three "keys to the game" via the Wings' Game Day Blog...
The Detroit Red Wings have a bear and a half of a task in front of them today. The Chicago Blackhawks come to town (12:30 PM EST, NBC/NHL Network Canada/97.1 FM) on a 18-0-and-3 streak, having won 8 straight games and possessing a stunning (according to the AP) 7-0-and-1 record at Joe Louis Arena and a 4-game winning streak against the Wings.
You'd think that these stats might intimidate the Wings, but instead, the Wings told the team's beat writers that they were in fact looking forward to the opportunity to snap the Blackhawks' 21-game unbeaten streak, and as we speed toward the halfway point of the 48-games-in-99-nights marathon (today is game #22 for the Wings, will hit the 24-game-mark on Thursday against Colorado), the Wings have suggested that they're starting to hit their stride.
It's easy to over-emphasize the importance of a particular game over the course of a long season, but it's not particularly difficult to suggest that today might serve as the team's toughest challenge thus far. The Wings sit tied with Phoenix for sixth place in the Western Conference with 23 points this morning, and remain among a tightly-packed group of 10 teams separated by 6 points.
With the Blackhawks set to run away with the Central Divison, and the Wings about to play 8 games over the next two weeks, Detroit can either make hay while the sun shines and start pushing their way toward a 4th-or-5th-place finish, or they can find themselves out of a playoff spot in a hurry.
The Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger spoke to St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong about the possibility that the Red Wings might move to an Eastern-team-dominated "conference" under the league's realignment plan. Armstrong probably speaks for every other Western Conference GM, and most certainly the Wings' other big Central Division rivals, Chicago and Nashville, in suggesting that the Wings are a huge draw that will be sorely missed both on the ice and in terms of teams' bottom lines:
“From a business standpoint, Detroit is always a great draw, a certain sellout,” Armstrong said in a phone interview on Saturday evening. “In that regard, it’s tough for teams in the West to see the Wings shift East. But I understand it. In this instance, you have to look at the big picture and see what is in the best interests of the league.”
Armstrong pointed to his days as part of the Dallas Stars organization as an example. Because the Stars were in the Pacific, every other team in their division was in a later time zone.
“In that case, you lose a lot of young fans who aren’t watching games on TV because every divisional road game starts later,” Armstrong said. “That’s pretty well the same way it has been with Detroit. In that way, it’s easy to see why they want to move to the East. Hey, we’d love to have the New York Rangers in our division too. But that’s not going to happen.”
In the end, the Wings will rekindle their Original Six grudge wars against the Leafs, Canadiens and Bruins by moving east. At the same time, it will be sad to see the Detroit-Chicago and Detroit-St. Louis rivalries fizzle out. Such is the give-and-take cost of realignment.
Zeisberger also spoke to Armstrong about his take on the state of Team Canada a year away from Sochi as he's a consultant to GM Steve Yzerman...
Red Wings forward Damien Brunner spoke to NHL.com's Brian Hedger today (via RedWingsFeed), and Brunner offered a surprisingly stark assessment of the progress he's made as a 26-year-old rookie (he's not eligible for the Calder Trophy, but a rookie is a rookies) because Brunner has a surprisingly high standerd to meet--his own:
"For sure, I want to prove that [I belong]," Brunner said after practice Saturday morning. "There were also a lot of guys back home who thought it was going to be tough … so I came over and wanted to prove to all the guys who criticized me that I could do it. But I [did] it for myself too."
Brunner, an undrafted free-agent signing who also considered the Tampa Bay Lightning, said it took him roughly two weeks to adjust his wide-open offensive game to fit the smaller North American rinks and physical play. Otherwise, the difference in his game now is an eagerness to charge the net and hang around those tough areas looking for scoring opportunities.
"In Switzerland, you don't have to do it too much," Brunner said. "You make plays and you're entering the zone with lots of speed. You have a lot of opportunities on the outside and you can create like that. Here, for me, I'm not a big guy. So if I can't hit anyone, then I've got to prove I can go to those areas where it hurts. So far, I've found it works well to go to the net and take those sticks. It's about paying the price, and I really try to do that. It's paid off so far."
Brunner teammates and coach believe that he's doing just fine, but Brunner told Hedger that he needs to continue learning, growing and improving as a player over the final 27 games of the regular season (and hopefully some playoff games) if he is to truly deem his debut season a success:
Updated 10x at 4:57 PM: The Detroit Red Wings have a task-and-a-half in front of them as the team begins a slate of five games played over the course of 8 nights with a Sunday matinee against the "unbeaten" Blackhawks (20-0-and-3), and MLive's Ansar Khan and the Free Press's George Sipple report that the team's probably not likely to make any changes to the lineup, nor will the Wings receive any help from their injured players:
DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose has penned an "At a Glance" scouting report of the Wings' Sunday opponent, and the Blackhawks are...a bit intimidating:
The Detroit Red Wings have played 21 games, and sit amidst an incredibly tightly-packed group of teams separated by all of 6 points between 3rd and 14th place in the Western Conference, and in a group of 7 teams sitting between 3rd and 10th place in the West that can boast all of a 2-point margin between them. As it stands right now, it appears that the Wings are going to have to bite and scratch and claw their way into a playoff spot, and, for better or worse, that's just the way this team is (more on that in a bit).
Currently, the 10-8-and-3 Wings find themselves in 5th place in the West, and the Wings will play games 22, 23 and 24 of their 48-game season over a six-day span at Joe Louis Arena. After the team's Thursday game against Edmonton, however, the Wings will spend all but the remainder of the month on the road, and after trading home-and-home games with the Blue Jackets on Saturday the 9th and Sunday the 10th, the team will have all of 2 home games remaining--out of 9 games played--over the final 21 days of March.
March is in fact such a stinker of a month that, if the team planned on leaving immediately after their home games and remaining on the road until the day before their home games, they would be facing an 8-day road trip, a home game and then a 9-day road trip--and that 9-day road trip will be a reality, at least in part:
About The Malik Report
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.