Q-and-A with Detroit blogger George James Malik on the San Jose Sharks vs Detroit Red Wings WCSF series
FLASHBACK TO A SHARKS-WINGS BATTLE DOWN LOW IN THE 2010 WCSF
George James Malik, formerly of Mlive.com and currently editing the prolific Malik Report on Kukla’s Korner, is a respected blogger in the traditional mould. Editing and compiling information from a wide number of sources, the Malik Report is a one stop shop to quickly gain your bearings regarding the Detroit Red Wings. Four years ago Mlive beat writer Ansar Khan answered a few questions during the 2007 Sharks-Wings series. This afternoon Malik offered his thoughts on what is expected to be a hotly contested second round affair in 2011. For Malik’s recent reports on Sharks-Wings media coverage, visit here, here and here.
[Q] Do you think the San Jose Sharks are still a Red Wings modeled team, or are there too many differences now to draw that kind of comparison? How are the Wings different now than when McLellan and Woodcroft were on the Detroit staff?
[GM] I think that the Red Wings and Sharks are still teams that employ incredibly simple styles of play — the teams are puck-possession machines which utilize puck-moving defensemen to start their rush and jump up into play to neutralize trapping defenses, they believe in cycling the puck down low and pumping the puck either back to the point or to the front of the net to generate secondary scoring chances via rebound retrieval, and their defensive postures involve playing man-on-man defense and employing a 2-1-and-2 posture instead of simply trapping, but after two seasons, the Sharks and Wings’ special teams approaches have changed significantly, the Sharks have adjusted to the loss of Rob Blake and the Wings have attempted to bolster their ability to bump-and-grind in the offensive zone as Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader have matured. Add in the fact that the teams have made numerous personnel changes, and I think you’re looking at two teams that follow the same general blueprint, but because of personnel changes and the simple fact that their coaches are learning/teaching coaches who constantly refine their teams’ games based upon the old “R&D” constant of hockey — rob-and-do — these teams are no longer mirror images by any stretch of the imagination.
[Q] Zetterberg missed the entire first round, but will return with a knee brace on his left knee. Franzen may or may not return after missing a game with a left ankle injury? How critical are both to the lineup, and how well do you think both will be able to compete in the series?
[GM] Zetterberg says that he’s adjusted to his knee brace, but he’s obviously not going to be in tip-top game shape conditioning-wise, which is why Babcock will probably employ Zetterberg alongside Pavel Datsyuk as he gets back into game shape. As for Franzen, he wanted to play in Game 4 but was unable to go, and if his ankle is indeed completely healed and ready to go, he should exhibit no more rust than any of his teammates. Franzen went full-out over the last two practices and says that he’s good to go, and I believe him. He’s not at 100% given his facial injuries, but I expect him to do just fine in the series.
[Q] Ilya Bryzgalov was phenomenal in the final home-at-home series with San Jose to end the regular season. He looked like a different person in the first round. What do you think happened? How much do you think the potential sale and reloction of the Phoenix Coyotes played a part, and how much was the grinding 4 line Red Wings offense?
[GM] I think that Bryzgalov may have been somewhat distracted by the situation in Phoenix, but I also don’t know whether he was injured, which is a possibility, and I think that his defense didn’t do a particularly fantastic job of keeping the Coyotes’ slot clear of Wings players pouncing on rebounds, and, put simply, the Wings found a way to get to Bryzgalov early and shake his confidence, and for whatever reason, Bryzgalov didn’t adapt to the fact that the Wings were victimizing him by shooting at his high blocker side and finding holes in his technique which could be exploited. That being said, again, I think that has a lot to do with the fact that his defense’s insistence that Bryzgalov would be the best player in the series almost seemed to excuse them from helping him out. I still think that the Coyotes played very, very well, however, and that while the Wings swept Phoenix, it was probably the closest sweep I’ve ever witnessed.
[Q] A question from a former University of Michigan graduate: Is there any hesitation or fear from Detroit in having to face the Sharks? In San Jose, Detroit has been dominant for nearly 2 decades, and has had individual and collective success across the board. After a couple of strong regular season performances, and a strong playoff performance in 2010, is the shoe on the other foot for the 2011 WCSF?
[GM] I don’t think that there’s any fear on either side this time around. the Sharks vanquished their playoff bugaboo and the Wings’ mystique last season, they’ve adapted, changed and grown over the course of the past year, and at this point, the “underdog” label seems to apply to one team or another based upon which “expert” you believe. Crappy regular season record included, the Wings aren’t intimidated by the Sharks, and whether they’re willing to admit it or not, they want to earn a measure of redemption here, and whether they’re willing to admit it or not, I get the feeling that the Sharks believe that they’re the kings of the hill now, and that they’ll successfully kick the Wings off that hill. This series is going to come down to discipline, execution and sustaining possession and control of the puck in the offensive zone. I think that arguing as to whether one team has an edge over the other shows one’s bias more than anything else, and all I can politely say in that regard is that I’m a Red Wings fan.