Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 03/18/11 at 04:46 PM ET
The Detroit Red Wings chose not to practice today so that the players could get some rest before playing their third game over the course of four nights on Saturday, when the Wings tangle with the Predators, but Mike Ilitch remains a generous owner as he allowed the Wings’ team plane to fly back to Detroit from Columbus last night for the simple sake of giving the Wings another night in their own beds. Lodging costs included, something tells me that it’s a bit more expensive to put an extra 600-or-so miles on a DC-9-50, but at this time of year, when your team’s a bit worn down and faces a heavy schedule, reducing wear and tear in the mental as well as physical senses is worth its weight in kerosene.
Anyway, aside from the updates regarding Brian Rafalski and Pavel Datsyuk’s respective injury statuses (good to go and questionable and/or “day-to-day,” respectively) from Wings GM Ken Holland, today’s Red Wings-related news comes in bullet point form, and our first bit of news is both injury-related and not particularly good:
• Sticking with the injury bug, but coming back to Rafalski and Datsyuk, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun offered this take on the Wings’ issues…
[T]he Red Wings watched two top players get hurt in Thursday’s game versus the Blue Jackets, as Pavel Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski left after rather innocent-looking plays. Both have been out of the lineup recently; Rafalski was playing in just his third game after missing time with back spasms. He had three assists in his first game back against Washington on Wednesday. No sense yet on the extent of those injuries, but it’s hard to imagine the Wings making a long playoff run without either of them on hand.
GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock will be ultra-cautious with their returns given that the Wings have pretty much locked up the second seed in the Western Conference.
• While Pro Hockey Talk’s James O’Brien tossed off a palm-smacking-face-worthy comment, at least as far as Datsyuk’s concerned:
It’s tough not to worry a bit about Detroit’s age these days – especially when you consider the kind of mileage players such as Datsyuk have accrued from all the lengthy playoff runs – but the Red Wings are still an elite team in the West. Especially with Rafalski and Datsyuk remaining healthy.
The Wings are becoming a more and more balanced team age-wise. Their blueline will always be pushing 30+ because defensemen tend to take a longer period of time to develop than forwards do, but the Wings have two lines’ worth of players who are under 30 and four defensemen who are at least 30 or younger (and Stuart’s 31).
• Let’s get the wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding the usual complaints about Detroit’s double Achilles’ heels out of the way, via Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner:
With only a handful of games left in the NHL season, many Red Wing fans are beginning to focus their attention on the Red Wings’ impending playoff run.
As usual, the main issue for Wings faithful is goalie Jimmy Howard. It’s not so much Howard as it is with Detroit’s obsession regarding the goalie position. Whether it’s Howard, Chris Osgood or Joey MacDonald, there is always concern about the man patrolling the Wings’ net.
Truthfully, the jury is still out on Howard. After an ordinary playoff last year, he’ll need to elevate his game for the Wings to have any hope of winning their 12th Stanley Cup. At least Howard should feel comfortable with a new two-year contact under his belt.
This is Howard’s Cup to win or lose if he remains healthy. If Howard goes down and Chris Osgood’s groin remains tender, the Wings will turn their net over to 31-year-old journeyman Joey MacDonald.
Nothing against MacDonald, but that possibility is downright scary.
The Wings had to brace for that possibility as soon as they chose to sign MacDonald, and as far as Howard’s concerned?
A playoff goaltender doesn’t stop being “scary” until he delivers a Stanley Cup, and Howard hasn’t done that yet. There’s nothing to be “more” or “less” worried about because he’s Jimmy Howard and not someone else…
• And, via an article about the Montreal Canadiens from the Associated Press, it’s not like Howard hasn’t been able to deliver the Sheen Bottom Line despite his ups and downs over the course of this season:
Goalie Carey Price tied Detroit’s Jimmy Howard for the league lead with his 34th win Thursday, stopping 35 shots through overtime in a 3-2 shootout victory over Tampa Bay.
It’s highly likely that Howard will either lead the league in wins or finish in the top three. That’s not bad for a goalie whose defense also seemed to go through a sophomore slump at times.
• Stating the obvious, via the Hockey News’s Ryan Dixon and his Norris Trophy Watch:
With the season winding down, let’s examine which defensemen can expect a rise in pay this summer when the UFA market opens.
The No. 1 guy on our Norris Watch list is, technically, eligible to sign wherever he wants this summer, but if Nicklas Lidstrom leaves the Detroit Red Wings it will be for a sweet retirement property in Sweden, not another NHL club.
While we keep hearing about Keith Yandle’s scoring exploits, Lidstrom takes the cake in at least one category:
His 28 road points are the best in the league among D-men.
• Of prospect-related note: Again, as Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji notes, Wings prospect Riley Sheahan and the University of Notre Dame will face off against Miami of Ohio at 4 PM EDT (FSD+) in one of two CCHA semifinals at Joe Louis Arena. The University of Michigan will face Western Michigan in the other CCHA semifinal at 8 PM EDT (FSD+), and the winners of the two semifinals will advance to Saturday’s championship game (7:30 PM EDT, FSD+);
• On the west side of the state, the Grand Rapids Griffins’ blog notes that the Griffins will take part in some high-stakes hockey of their own this weekend:
Not much needs to be said entering tonight’s contest against the Lake Erie Monsters at Van Andel Arena, the most important game the Griffins have faced this season.
An AHL-best 9-1-1-0 record over their last 11 games – including a current 7-0-1-0 streak – has put the Griffins only two points back of third-place Toronto and the final guaranteed playoff spot in the North Division, a deficit that stood at six points just last Thursday and a season-high eight points on Feb. 19.
Even more remarkable, Grand Rapids finds itself only four points behind first-place Manitoba, having sliced deeply into what was an eight-point gap on Saturday and a 13-point chasm on Jan. 27.
The Griffins and Monsters are currently tied for fourth place, so tonight’s winner would move into a tie for third place and that last ticket to the Calder Cup Playoffs if Toronto loses in regulation at Syracuse. And if that team is the Griffins, they’ll still have two games in hand on the Marlies.
Regardless of the outcome tonight, though, two more huge opportunities for points await the Griffins this weekend as they continue their rare 3-in-3 on home ice. Rochester, last in the North, visits on Saturday, while Rockford, cellar occupant in the West, will be Sunday’s opponent.
• In the player appearance category, the Red Wings’ Twitter account reported that alumnus Brent Fedyk would take part in the Wings’ last viewing party at the Hamiln Pub in Rochester tomorrow, when the Wings battle the Predators;
• Per WXYT, Danny Cleary and Kris Draper will be signing autographs at the Verizon Wireless store in Troy, MI on Sunday from 3-4 PM;
• In the charitable news vein, NHL.com posted a press release revealing where the Wings’ concessions leftovers go to today:
The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency plans to honor the NHL’s four Midwestern clubs for their commitment to recovering all prepared but untouched concession food as part of the NHL’s partnership with Rock and Wrap it Up!
In October, the NHL announced a partnership with Rock and Wrap It Up! to fight hunger and prevent waste across the United States and Canada. This season, all 30 of the League’s clubs have committed to work with RWU to pack up all prepared but unsold concession food on game nights for redistribution to local shelters and places of need. As of March 1, NHL clubs have provided 120,000 meals while keeping more than 80 tons of food waste from landfills.
To date, the Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild have combined to divert nearly 12 tons of waste from reaching landfills, while providing 18,000 meals to local community shelters.
In Detroit, the Red Wings, in cooperation with food provider Olympia Entertainment, have rerouted 13,071 pounds of food. Olympia Entertainment and Forgotten Harvest coordinate the pick-up and distribution from Joe Louis Arena after Red Wings’ home games. On March 21, the EPA will celebrate the Red Wings’ environmental achievements, presenting the Club with a plaque at an on-ice, pre-game ceremony.
• And if you don’t know about him already, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has struck up a profound relationship with Winnipeg native Earl Cook, who’s been battling multiple bouts of cancer over the better part of the last decade, losing a leg in the process, but Earl remains upbeat because the Red Wings have taken him in as a sort of charter member (his mom’s blog, “His Name is Earl,” offers some of the details thereof), and the CBC Radio reports that a documentary about Earl will air on tonight’s The National news program:
You’ve probably heard the saying that sport is a metaphor for life ... learning how to win and lose, how to be part of a team, how to struggle with adversity. But few people have experienced that metaphor quite like Earl Cook. He’s a 23-year-old hockey player from Winnipeg. He has struggled with disabilities almost from birth. He has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourette Syndrome, Asperger’s Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
In spite of all that, he learned to play hockey and to love it. When cancer took one of his legs, Earl switched to sledge hockey. And along the way he has developed a unique relationship with Mike Babcock, the coach of the Detroit Red Wings. Earl Cook plays hockey the way he lives his life with a drive and passion few of us could match.
This morning, as part of the CBC’s project Live Right Now, our Manitoba producer Suzanne Dufresne brings us a documentary called His Name is Earl. You can watch Earl Cook’s story tonight on The National with Peter Mansbridge at 10 o’clock [local time] on CBC Television—10:30 in Newfoundland and parts of Labrador.
Earl’s one of my heroes, and I’ve told him as much.
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