Red Wings' depth takes a hit as Holmstrom, Lebda are out
April 26, 2007
BY HELENE ST. JAMES
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom was trying to explain the finer nuances of his captaincy, such as how he might rebuke a teammate.
Asked if he ever lost his temper with, for example, Tomas Holmstrom, Lidstrom laughed and brought up Holmstrom's penchant for skulking around in front of opposing netminders.
"Homer? For blocking my shots or stealing the goals?" Lidstrom said Wednesday. "No, you have to give him credit for what he does in front of the net, even though he blocks a shot here and there. At lot of them wouldn't go in if it wasn't for him."
All the worse for the Wings, then, that Holmstrom won't be playing tonight when the Wings meet San Jose in Game 1 of their second-round series. These Sharks are bigger and faster and much better than Calgary -- the team the Wings beat in round one -- capable of getting goals from the first line through the fourth. Holmstrom is exactly the sort of infuriating presence that helps in a long series, and while the Wings talked Wednesday of having somebody else do the job, the fact is there isn't anybody else on the team who does what he does.
The Wings drew admirers headed into the playoffs because of their depth -- but six games in, that has dwindled. Holmstrom is nursing a cut left eyelid, and while he's officially day-to-day, that can mean anything from a Game 2 return to missing two weeks. Brett Lebda is dealing with a sore right ankle, though he should return during the series. His injury further depletes a defense that saw Niklas Kronwall suffer a fractured sacrum in his pelvis March 30, which will keep him out through mid-May. That has left Kyle Quincey to play on the third pairing.
In the midst of discussing San Jose's strengths -- Joe Thornton, who is one of the best playmakers in the NHL; a fearsome power play; four dangerous lines -- coach Mike Babcock touched on what the Wings really need to get out of this round.
"As much as your team's got to be playing well and all that, you've got to get lucky," Babcock said. "And you've got to be lucky with your health. We're already at Quincey. You gotta hope we get some breaks health-wise."
The Wings were able to throw 255 shots at Miikka Kiprusoff in Round 1 because they had four lines rolling. Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov isn't much below Kiprusoff in talent; he's got amazing reflexes and doesn't lack for self-confidence.
The Wings need all four lines to generate offense, but two of those lines aren't in top shape. Henrik Zetterberg missed practice Wednesday, meaning he won't have practiced since Sunday's end of the Calgary series. Babcock said Zetterberg is fine and joked that the 26-year-old is at an age when he needs a day off; more likely Zetterberg is dealing with the aftereffects of the inflamed disk that sidelined him the last 19 games of the season.
Todd Bertuzzi, who missed five months recovering from back surgery, and then a week recovering from a concussion, is four games into his second comeback. He has been remarkably effective given that fact, but by his own admission he won't be anywhere near full form this spring.
The Sharks will be dealing with bumps and bruises of their own, but they're a powerful opponent.
"They're a faster team," Lidstrom said. "They've got fast forwards, and they move the puck well. Overall, they're a better team than Calgary."
Babcock and his staff went through San Jose's first-round series with Nashville to figure out how the Predators were able to keep San Jose's power play to 2-for-30 and determined it was mostly because of Nashville's goaltending. The tapes also demonstrated that while the Flames were reduced to goon tactics, the Sharks do something different to intimidate opponents.
"San Jose doesn't run you," Babcock said. "They get the puck and they hang on to it. That's how they play physical."
Tonight, the Wings will try to do what they did against Calgary: Match their opponent's intensity and stay disciplined. Guys like Bertuzzi, Cleary, Kyle Calder and Johan Franzen will have to help fill Holmstrom's role.
"You have to embrace change when you need to," Babcock said. "Hopefully what you do works. It's just a gut feeling, you try it. And when you win at the end, it worked. When you don't win, it didn't work."
Contact HELENE ST. JAMES at 313-222-2295 or email@example.com
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