Nyquist’s Penchant for Scoring Just May Lead the Red Wings into the Playoffs

They say defense wins championships, but last I checked, nobody won the Stanley Cup by tossing shutouts every game. You still have to have pucksters who can bury a goal now and again.

Or in Gustav Nyquist’s case, again and again and again.

Nyquist is a typical Red Wings forward: skilled, Swedish and unearthed. Somehow 120 players were selected ahead of Nyquist, who went to the Red Wings as the 121st choice in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

The 24-year-old Nyquist is yet another find of Red Wings’ European Scouting Director Hakan Andersson, a former fishing tour guide who clearly still knows how to catch them.

The Red Wings’ roster is filled with guys whose NHL success belies where they were selected in their respective drafts.

Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen, to name just three, are stars who you would think were first round picks. After all, what scout worth his travelogue could have missed on these guys, eh?

But Zetterberg, the Red Wings’ Swedish captain, was a seventh round selection in 1999. The Russian Datsyuk was taken in the sixth round in 1998. And Franzen, another Swede, was a third round pick in 2004.

Now here comes Nyquist, who’s popping in goals like the opposing goalies are pylons, drafted by the Red Wings only after 120 players—six teams’ worth of nightly skaters—ahead of him were snatched up.

The Red Wings don’t draft players, they pan for them.

The name of the game is to score more than the opposition, and by that standard, Nyquist is the quintessential NHL player, because pretty much every puck he shoots these days finds the back of the net.

Nyquist didn’t join the Red Wings until November 21, from Grand Rapids of the AHL. In his first game this season, he scored twice. It seemed like a harbinger, because of Nyquist’s heroics in the 2013 playoffs, which included a game-winner in overtime in Anaheim in the first round.

But after that two-goal debut in November, Nyquist’s scoring stick fell asleep, and on January 18, he had just five goals.

In 29 games since January 18, Nyquist has 23 goals.

That’s Crosby and Ovechkin-ish.

With Zetterberg and Datsyuk felled by injuries for much of the 2014 portion of the season schedule, it’s been Nyquist to the rescue. When he scores a goal, the Red Wings are 16-6.

It seems as if every Nyquist goal has some sort of importance attached to it. He’s either giving the Red Wings the lead, tying the game, or winning the game.

Nyquist is a Bruce Martyn kind of player: He shoots, he scoooooores!

The brilliance of Nyquist is that he scores from everywhere on the ice, and from any position—skating, falling, sliding, what have you. All that’s left is for him to beat a goalie from the third row of the stands—and that might be coming.

If you miss a Red Wings game on any given night, you might want to just flip on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” because one of Nyquist’s goals is likely going to end up there as an evening highlight of the most pretty.

So much have Nyquist’s exploits in 2014 been talked about around the league, that some NHL observers have suggested that Nyquist should garner some Hart Trophy (MVP) consideration. Now, that’s likely Sidney Crosby’s award to lose, but to even be mentioned is something else, given Nyquist’s paltry five goals in mid-January.

Part of Nyquist’s hockey genius lies in his speed. Even Franzen, Mr. Streaky himself, marvels at his fellow Swede.

“He’s faster with the puck than without it, and that’s pretty uncommon,” Franzen told the Detroit Free Press after Friday night’s 3-2 win over Buffalo—a game in which Nyquist, strangely enough, didn’t score.

But this goal scoring stuff isn’t unique to Nyquist’s NHL career. Everywhere he’s played, he’s been a goalie’s nightmare.

Nyquist has been beating goaltenders like mules since he was 16 years old and scoring nine goals in just 14 games playing for the Malmo Redhawks in a Swedish under-18 league.

After being drafted by the Red Wings, Nyquist went to the University of Maine and in three seasons he scored 50 goals in 113 games.

Then it was time to turn pro, and in two seasons in Grand Rapids, Nyquist deposited 45 goals past AHL goalies.

Nyquist first endeared himself to Red Wings fans when he won Game 2 of the Anaheim series last spring in overtime, a huge tally that tied that series, 1-1. The Red Wings went on to win the series in seven games.

But so prolific is Nyquist this season, that his shooting percentage (goals divided by shots on goal), is 19.9%, which is more than twice the league average. The Red Wings as a team have a shooting percentage of 8.8%.

That means, basically, that Nyquist scores a goal for every five shots he takes. That’s some deadly stuff.

Apparently not content with scoring goals in every way imaginable, Nyquist himself is thinking of different ways to score.

“You look at Pav (Datsyuk) and Z (Zetterberg), they have two guys hanging on their backs and they’re still so strong on the puck,” Nyquist told the Free Press. “That’s something I can learn from.”

I’m sure opposing goalies are just thrilled to hear that. The guy who has 23 goals in his past 28 games wants to start scoring with guys hanging on his back.

Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the only way you can stop Nyquist from scoring in 2014—so far.

So the next time you see two defenders draped over a player, and all you can see of that player is the puck leaving his stick and eluding the goalie, you’ll know who that player is.

No. 14 in red and white.

 

Red Wings’ Playoff Hopes Seem Destined for the “Jim Mora Treatment”

If you saw the jersey retirement ceremony for Nick Lidstrom a couple weeks ago, maybe you were as struck as I was by a sobering visual.

Two of the Red Wings’ big guns, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, presented Lidstrom with Nick’s official gift from the team—an African Safari.

Both were in street clothes. And Zetterberg, with his bad back, looked like he was a hundred years old, the way he was moving about.

That visual of Z and Pavs presenting Lidstrom with his gift spoke volumes.

Here were the stars of the present, hobbled and wearing Armani instead of Koho, commiserating with an icon of glory days past.

That moment pretty much tells the story of the state of the Red Wings today.

Another reminder occurred in Chicago last night.

The Red Wings, decimated by injuries and playing with a roster liberally dotted with Grand Rapids Griffins and Red Wings of the future, gave the Blackhawks a game for 40 minutes. The Red Wings, outgunned, outshot and outplayed, nonetheless were trailing by a single goal, 2-1.

Then Marian Hossa struck about eight minutes into the third period, using speed and skill to score an insurance goal. The Blackhawks added a shorthanded tally with a few minutes left. Final score: Chicago 4, Detroit 1.

The Red Wings simply can’t match the skill of many NHL teams right now. Their wobbly playoff hopes are based on hard work, luck and winning games 2-1 or even 1-0.

The future is bright, as written on this blog before. But the present’s reality was underscored by what happened in Chicago on Sunday night.

The Red Wings can’t rely on skill right now. Their post-season hopes ride on the age-old playoff mentality of taking each game one shift at a time. They will have to score power play goals at a brisk rate. The penalty kill will have to be drum tight.

There isn’t much of a margin for error for the goaltending, as if you needed reminding.

The Red Wings are just three points out of the playoffs but it sometimes feels like 10. It’s so difficult for them now.

Sadly, I believe the nights they will be outclassed will override the nights they manage a point or two. The 22-year playoff streak will come to an end. My opinion.

NHL STANDINGS

RED WINGS STATS

Playoffs Or Not This Year, Red Wings Set Up Nicely For the Future

The applause was thunderous. Big Bob Probert was back.

The date was March 22, 1990. And Probert was making his season debut for the Red Wings after yet another battle in the courts—the one type of fight that no. 24 could rarely seem to win.

Probert, the bruising forward with fists of granite, had been suspended by the NHL, concurrent with his incarceration after being found in possession of cocaine in the summer of 1989 at the Detroit-Windsor border. When Probert’s time in prison and a halfway house was over, the league granted him permission to play again.

Probert’s return in March of 1990 coincided with the Red Wings’ desperate attempt to qualify for the playoffs. His presence was hoped to provide some sort of boost to the team’s post-season chances. Only six games remained in the season when Probie came back, and the Red Wings were a handful of points out of a playoff berth.

The Red Wings were in fifth place in the five-team Norris Division at a time when the top four clubs in each division made the playoffs. The team directly above the Red Wings in the standings, the Minnesota North Stars, were in town when Probert stepped onto the ice for the Red Wings for the first time in nearly a year.

Despite the cheers, despite the electricity in Joe Louis Arena, Probert’s return couldn’t help the Red Wings, who lost that night to the North Stars, 5-1.

The Red Wings went 1-4-1 in their supposed playoff push, and missed the tournament by six points. Probert played in four of those games, registering three points and, naturally, 21 penalty minutes.

Those final six games, with the Red Wings welcoming Probert back for a push, represent the last time the regular season drained away without a team from Detroit making the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The playoff streak almost ended last year during the lockout-shortened 48-game season, but a four-game winning string to close the schedule lifted the Red Wings into the post-season.

It appears that another frantic, late-season push is going to be needed for the Red Wings to extend their playoff-making streak to 23 years.

But whether the Red Wings squeeze in or not, the future looks much brighter now than it did before Thanksgiving.

The infusion of youth, mostly necessary due to injuries, should give Red Wings fans reason for optimism. The water bottle is half-full, not half-empty.

The playoffs would be terrific, of course, and not just because of The Streak.

It would be wonderful to give the likes of Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan a taste of Stanley Cup playoff hockey, for example.

Not that Tatar, especially, is foreign to post-season hockey as a professional. He scored 16 goals in 24 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins last spring, en route to the Calder Cup as American Hockey League champion. Sheahan played in 24 playoff games for the Griffins last year as well.

But with all due respect to the AHL, which has been a fine minor league for the NHL for decades, those playoffs can’t truly compare to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Red Wings may not be able to give their kids, who have done so much for the team this season, a dose of playoffs, NHL-style, this spring. In fact, given the team’s youth and thinness because of injuries to key players, the playoffs are unlikely.

It would be an upset if the Red Wings qualified. Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss in Columbus, which featured a third period collapse, is more representative of who the Red Wings are at this point.

Playoffs or no playoffs, it doesn’t matter.

The Red Wings’ future is brighter for all the regular season experience the kids are getting, which should make the team much deeper when everyone gets healthy and reports to Traverse City for training camp in September.

 

 

 

Lidstrom, the Red Wings’ Guardian on Skates, Officially Becomes a Franchise All-Time Great Tonight

He was wearing a smart leather jacket, hair still damp from a post-practice shower. It was one of the last team workouts before the playoffs began. Spring hockey, the best kind of hockey, was on the horizon.

But first, there was the matter of a nod to history.

Nicklas Lidstrom and I stood as spectators in the Joe Louis Arena concourse, as the Red Wings were about to unveil the new sculpture of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. The date was April 10, 2007.

We were scrunched together, players and media alike, awaiting the drapery to be pulled from the white bronze piece of artwork that depicted Howe in follow through after a shot.

Lidstrom, unassuming in his version of street clothes, kept his eye on me, even though I was slightly behind him and to his right. He appeared to not want to lose sight of me.

Moments earlier, in the Red Wings’ dressing room, I had asked Lidstrom for a few words. I was writing for a local sports magazine at the time, and my assignment was to get a feel for the team’s mindset as the playoffs beckoned.

Lidstrom, ever the gentleman, apologized, but with a rider.

“I can’t do it now, but right after the ceremony,” he told me.

No problem.

We all were herded upstairs, near the Gordie Howe Entrance. The way Lidstrom kept looking at me, I got the feeling that he was more concerned about our chat than I was.

Not long after the unveiling, Lidstrom approached me and the brief interview began, as he promised.

He didn’t know me from Adam, although I’m sure he’d seen me in the locker room before—and would see me again.

But the point is, Nick Lidstrom made good on his word, even to an ink-stained wretch.

They’re going to have another ceremony tonight at the Joe, and this time Lidstrom won’t be merely a spectator. This time, the nod to history is a nod in his direction.

Number 5 gets hoisted to the rafters tonight, taking its rightful place next to 1, 7, 9, 10, 12 and 19 as retired Red Wings jersey numbers.

1. Terry Sawchuk, the best goalie ever and the most dour. Perhaps, at the same time, the best at what he did and the most unhappy while doing it.

7. Ted Lindsay, who had the most appropriate nickname for his on-ice persona and the most inappropriate for when he was off it—Terrible Ted. Never has the NHL seen someone who so lived up to his moniker as a player and so lived down to it as a person.

9. Gordie Howe, who is still one of the few hockey players any man on the street can actually name. The bumpkin from Saskatchewan who made good.

10. Alex Delvecchio, who played the game with quiet grace. Fats wasn’t spectacular, but somehow he always ended up with 25 goals and a bushel of assists every year.

12. Sid Abel, who centered the Production Line between Howe and Lindsay. Old Bootnose, who served the Wings so well as a coach, GM and TV commentator in addition to his years as a Hall of Fame center.

19. Steve Yzerman, who immediately comes to mind in Detroit when anyone says “The Captain.” Never has the Red Wings franchise employed a player who played with more grit and heart than Stevie Y.

Lidstrom joins these greats tonight, his jersey settling in nicely way up high. It won’t be out of place.

Lidstrom II

If Sawchuk was the brick wall, and Lindsay was the pest, and Howe was the complete player, and Delvecchio was the smooth playmaker, and Abel was the fulcrum, and Yzerman was the heart and soul, then Nick Lidstrom was the Red Wings’ calm.

The plaque of Ty Cobb outside Tiger Stadium called him  “a Genius in Spikes.”

Lidstrom’s should say “a Guardian on Skates.”

Lidstrom, for 20 years, was the Red Wings’ sentry, a hockey beefeater who played the game without expression or emotion. He logged his 25-30 minutes a night, poke checking and  angling opponents into submission. He didn’t lay a body check on anyone in his life. Lidstrom was the game’s Lt. Columbo, who didn’t need a gun to solve crimes.

Tonight it will be official: Nick Lidstrom will take his rightful place among the Red Wings’ all-time greats. No one shall wear no. 5 in the Winged Wheel ever again.

As with the other retired sweaters in the rafters, why bother?

With Olympics in Rear View Mirror, Here’s a Reminder of What Should Worry Red Wings Fans

The Olympics were like a good vacation. You had fun, but you’re also glad when it’s over. It’s good to be back home.

“Back home,” when it comes to the NHL, means the resumption of the regular season schedule. Hockey played on the smaller ice surfaces, in arenas that have been darkened for over two weeks.

Pavel Datsyuk is no longer the enemy. Jonathan Quick is no longer a friend.

All is right in the hockey world again.

But for the Red Wings, all is not right—not even close.

They’ll be without their captain, Hank Zetterberg, for possibly the rest of the season—regular and playoffs, if there are to be any in Detroit, after Z had back surgery.

Datsyuk will play tonight in Montreal as the Red Wings’ push for a 23rd straight playoff berth continues after the just-completed Olympic break. But Pavs is hardly 100%; his left knee is still very sore, although he played very well on it in Sochi.

Johan Franzen is a question mark with post-concussion issues. He is deemed a game time decision tonight.

In case you forgot, here are some other annoyances to worry about for the 24-game home stretch.

1. Is Jimmy Howard truly back to his old self? He was getting into a groove, then the Olympics hit. Is his resurgence for real, or a mirage?

2. Will Stephen Weiss contribute this season at ALL? He seems to be ready to come back from a sports hernia, but he wasn’t exactly tearing it up before the injury.

3. The Red Wings were 6-3-2 in their 11 games prior to Sochi. Again, was this a legitimate de-hibernation? Or was any momentum the team had, negated by the Olympics?

4. Are the shootout woes in the past? The Red Wings have won three of their last four shootouts.

The Red Wings’ first two games, post-Olympics, are against the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators—on back-to-back nights and both on the road. This is a litmus test right off the bat, post-Sochi. The Canadiens will be without goalie and Olympian Carey Price due to injury. The Habs hold the first Wild Card spot with 70 points. The Red Wings have 64 points and tentatively have the second Wild Card berth, and the Senators have 63 points, one of three teams that are a single point behind Detroit for the 8th seed.

So these are two doozies coming out of the second half gate.

Time to buckle up and put the trays in the upward position. There is sure to be some turbulence over the next six weeks or so.

European Super Scout Andersson Red Wings’ Unsung Cup Hero

The most unheralded member of the Red Wings’ front office used to guide intrepid fishermen around the waters of Sweden, Norway and Argentina. Frankly, that makes all the sense in the world.

Hakan Andersson is still fishing. And he’s still the best at finding the most prized fish in the darkest waters.

Andersson is the William Morris Agency of the NHL—all by himself. You ever hear the story of how Lana Turner was discovered while sipping a milk shake in a Hollywood diner? Well, Andersson has done that time and again for the Red Wings.

Andersson is the Red Wings’ Director of European Scouting, a post he’s held since 1993. He is the man responsible for finding gems such as Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen and too many others to mention. Andersson fishes the waters, like he used to do after his own playing career ended due to injury.

It’s true. For several years, Andersson acted as a fishing guide, boating with swanky folks who paid a pretty penny to be navigated around expertly to find the fish that no one else could.

When he got done with looking for fish, Andersson turned his talents to finding hockey players.

Hakan Andersson

Hakan Andersson, posing with the trophy he has helped the Red Wings win four times

Imagine finding Michael Jordan pouring in points in a high school in Nova Scotia. Or discovering Miguel Cabrera slamming home runs over the fence of a ballpark in New Zealand.

Andersson’s specialty is unearthing players that the NHL’s typical scouting department has barely heard of. The players mentioned above—Zetterberg et al—were hardly first rounders that garnered the most attention.

Filppula and Franzen were third round picks. Datsyuk was a sixth-rounder. Zetterberg wasn’t drafted until the seventh round. And Holmstrom didn’t get picked until round ten.

Anyone can draft a hot shot in the first round. It’s success in the later rounds that separates the men from the boys in the world of scouting.

Andersson watches hockey and sniffs out talent like you and I breathe. It comes that natural to him.

Andersson and his European staff, scattered throughout the continent, start watching games in September and they don’t stop until April. They use the Wee Willie Keeler method in finding skilled players.

Keeler, one of baseball’s greatest hitters, used the mantra, “Hit ’em where they ain’t” in describing his method of wielding a baseball bat.

Andersson and his scouts look where they ain’t. The “they”, are other teams’ scouts.

It doesn’t hurt to be lucky rather than good on occasion, however.

Datsyuk is Andersson’s Lana Turner.

Andersson went to Moscow in 1997 to check out a player named Dmitri Kalinin, but in the course of doing so, Andersson became enamored with a shifty center playing for Kalinin’s opponents. The shifty center was Datsyuk.

Andersson eschewed the pursuit of Kalinin—currently playing in the Kontinental Hockey League, by the way—and made a return trip to Moscow to see Datsyuk play again. Using Anderssson’s notes, the Red Wings drafted Datsyuk 171st overall in the 1998 Entry Draft. Andersson maintains to this day that he was the only NHL scout to have ever seen Datsyuk play prior to the draft.

The next year, Andersson was at a tournament in Finland to scout right winger Mattias Weinhandl but became enamored with a center “who always seemed to have the puck.”

In 1999, again acting on Andersson’s recommendation, the Red Wings drafted that center 210th overall in the entry draft. He currently wears no. 40 and is the captain of the Red Wings—Zetterberg.

Hakan Andersson’s hand is nearly filled with Stanley Cup rings. He has four of them, and every one of them has been earned just as much as the 20 players who skated nightly for the Red Wings in those Cup years.

The former fishing guide whose own playing aspirations were torpedoed by injury, is perhaps the greatest fisherman in the history of the NHL, when it comes to amateur scouting.

Andersson still enjoys fishing in his free time. No doubt he has little trouble finding anyone who wants to venture out in the boat with him.

Red Wings’ Fountain of Youth Rediscovered with Alfredsson

I’ve written it before: there must be some sort of fountain of youth they hide somewhere inside Joe Louis Arena.

The Red Wings, for years—decades, really—have been the repository of players who are closer to collecting Social Security benefits than goals and assists. Yet, for the most part, the oldsters have worked.

I went looking for the fountain back in 2008, covering the Stanley Cup Finals after Game 2, when the Red Wings took a 2-0 series lead over Pittsburgh with their second straight shutout.

Chris Chelios, 46 years old, was on that team, and had a strong season. But even though Chelly didn’t dress in the Finals, Chris Osgood (35 years old), Nick Lidstrom (38 years old), Kris Draper (37), Kirk Maltby (35), Tomas Holmstrom (35) and Dallas Drake (39) did, and they were handling the younger Penguins. The backup goalie for Detroit was 43-year-old Dominik Hasek.

The Red Wings won the series, 4-2, although they led Game 5 before the Pens scored the tying goal with less than 30 seconds to play. Pittsburgh won that game in three overtimes. Detroit captured the Cup in Pittsburgh a couple nights later.

The Red Wings’ Cup win in 2008 recalled, for me, the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs, who were by far the oldest team in the NHL at the time. The ’67 Leafs remain Toronto’s most recent Stanley Cup champion.

The fountain of youth has been dusted off. And Daniel Alfredsson is slurping from it.

Alfie is 41 years old and after a sluggish start after being signed away from Ottawa last summer, the RW is posting numbers that are pretty much in line with recent years.

alfredsson-daniel

Alfredssson, in 38 games, has 11 goals and 19 assists. He’s plus-5, has 3 PP goals and is third on the team in SOG with 88. The 30 points are good for third on the team as well. He’s been far from a poor signing or over-the-hill.

Compare this year’s production with the last full NHL season of two years ago, and you’ll see that Alfredsson is pretty much on pace for the 27 goals and 32 assists he amassed for the Senators that year.

To put it more plainly, Alfie is on pace to reach 20+ goals for the 14th time in his 18-year career.

The Red Wings inked Alfredsson for one year, and it was understood that he wouldn’t play beyond that. But while he’s been slowed by groin issues this season, I’m sure the Red Wings are hoping that his consistency might egg him on try one more year after this one.

Regardless, Alfredsson—one of the team’s precious few RH shots—has quietly filled a void that the Red Wings were hoping he would when they stunned the NHL and signed him away from the Senators, the only NHL team he’s ever known.

And with the Red Wings decimated by injury all season, the team has relied heavily on the veteran on a nightly basis, probably more than they would have preferred.

It’s amazing how players are able to come to Detroit—or stay in Detroit—and be so productive in their Golden Years. Again, must be that fountain.

But this has been a tough go for the Red Wings this season, with the injuries and the uneven play in net. They actually picked a good time for a drop-off, this being their first year in the inferior Eastern Conference.

It remains to be seen how Alfredsson will play as the season moves along and the grind of a return to a full 82-game schedule after a one-year break starts to take its toll. But halfway through what is likely to be his only season wearing the Winged Wheel, the Red Wings have to be satisfied.

Coach Mike Babcock, shortly after Detroit signed Alfredsson, called the acquisition “unbelievable.”

That might be the word to describe the consistency and dependability that a 41-year-old winger has provided Babcock’s team.