Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 03/15/11 at 03:29 PM ET
Updated 6x at 4:06 PM: When the Detroit Red Wings face off the depleted Washington Capitals tomorrow (Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Arnott, Alex Semin, Semyon and Mike Green are all out for tonight’s Capitals-Canadiens tilt in Montreal), MLive’s Ansar Khan reports that the Wings won’t have Patrick Eaves or Ruslan Salei in the lineup, but they will start a revenge-minded Jimmy Howard:
Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard can laugh about it now—looking back on his only appearance against Alex Ovechkin. It happened while Howard was a 17-year-old playing for Team USA against Russia at the 2003 World Junior Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“It wasn’t pretty,’’ Howard said, laughing. “I think he had a hat trick halfway though the second period. He was ridiculous in that tournament. It was actually fun to watch, to be honest with you. It’s just so entertaining whenever he has the puck. Everyone’s on the edge of their seat watching, waiting to see what he does, just like Pav (Datsyuk).’‘
Russia won 5-1 on the way to the gold medal. Howard said he was pulled after the second period. Howard will get another shot at Ovechkin, the two-time Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP, Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena, when the red-hot Washington Capitals, winners of eight in a row, come to town.
Khan reports that Wings coach Mike Babcock kept Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on different lines, and iced some downright bizarre forward lines…
Cleary-Zetterberg-Bertuzzi (Miller working in)
For the moment, it appears that Jonathan Ericsson will remain paired with Nicklas Lidstrom, meaning that Babcock will work Brian Rafalski in slowly while having him play on the “third pair” alongside Jakub Kindl. The Kronwall-Stuart pairing remains intact.
Babcock was a bit…evasive…about Eaves taking a “personal day” and Salei’s status during his afternoon presser, which the Wings’ website just posted. He admitted that the Wings aren’t exactly familiar with the Capitals in terms of playing against them on a regular basis, but he offered an, “I don’t know” about matching Datsyuk or Zetterberg up against the Ovechkin line, and suggested that the Capitals’ biggest acquisitions of late are the underrated ones in Arnott, Marco Sturm and Dennis Wideman:
I’m not sure about the post time on this one, but I didn’t see it last night on the Wings’ website. That being said, DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose gauged the players as to their take regarding the fact that the Sharks and Blackhawks are 4 and 8 points behind the team in the Western Conference standings, respectively….
“I think our focus the whole year has been about what we are doing,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It’s never going to be what the other teams do. We all know that we have the ability in here and it has to come from within. If we can put everything together, and pay attention to the details, and focus on those things that we want to be doing, then I think we’re in good shape, no matter what the other teams are doing.”
Beginning the month with four straight losses wasn’t ideal, but after wins over Edmonton and St. Louis on back-to-back nights were huge for the Wings, who finish the season with eight games at Joe Louis Arena. Picking up four points, especially against the Oilers and Blues, who are on the outside of the playoff picture, was a confidence boast.
“We got a bit of a break Friday night against Edmonton, but I thought we created some of the breaks, too, by working hard, shooting the pucks and getting to the net,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “In the Blues game, once they tied it up, I thought we settled down and just starting playing again. We got on the back of our heels at the start of the third period, but once we started playing again, I thought we started playing with that confidence again.”
As well as an early take on tomorrow night’s opponent….
“Washington is another one of those Eastern Conference teams that is fun to play,” Kronwall said. “They have a great lineup with a lot of talent, and a lot of offensive ability. They’ve been playing really well as of late, so it will be a big challenge for us.”
The Caps’ power-play has been woeful, this season, lingering toward the bottom of the league rankings, but the recent acquisitions of center Jason Arnott and defenseman Dennis Wideman has provided some improvement. In seven games with the Caps, the veteran duo has combined for two goals and seven assists and a plus-12 rating.
And while I can’t post everything Roose wrote, he also spoke to Kronwall about his 3-point game on Saturday. Kronwall, predictably, deferred to his teammates.
Update: Here’s what the Wings had to say to the Free Press’s Helene St. James about their opponent:
“It’s great for the fans, great for the crowd to see some of the high-profile players in the Eastern Conference that you don’t get to see a whole lot,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Ovechkin might be the best player in the world, along with Pav on our side, so it’s a great challenge for our team to face them. You see a player like Ovechkin, he’s such a dynamic player—he’s got the speed, he’s got the power, and he’s got that shot. It’ll be a fun game.”
Lidstrom will get the brunt of the workload against Ovechkin, with help from the Niklas Kronwall-Brad Stuart defensive pairing. Coach Mike Babcock said he didn’t know which line he’d match against Ovechkin’s, but Babcock is changing plans for this home game by separating Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Drew Miller was the spare forward, though it is his turn in the rotation to sit. Patrick Eaves didn’t skate because he had a personal day, and while Babcock emphasized Eaves has not had a setback (he has been out with a groin injury), Eaves won’t play against the Capitals.
The Capitals have used their winning streak to soar past Tampa Bay and into the Southeast Division lead. They’re just one point behind Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia. Unlike in seasons past, this version of the Capitals has one of the league’s best defenses, ranking fourth overall at 2.37 goals allowed per game.
“They’re playing real well,” Babcock said. “I watched them play against Carolina a little bit, and then I watched them against Chicago; I thought they were real good without the puck. They’re a big team, and their back end really skates and can be physical, and they’ve got good goaltending out of the kid (Braden Holtby), and they’ve got guys who can score. So, I mean, it makes for a good team. They’ve been way more patient, I would say, than they have in the past. Now, I’m not a connoisseur of Washington Capitals hockey; we play them every second year or once a year. It’s not like I know them great, but they’re playing well.”
This is going to sound silly to you and me when I feel better, but I’m essentially stuck going to this game to help bail a friend out as he can’t sell his premium seat (and this is a “premium” game), so I’ll be the guy in the upper bowl popping cough drops like they’re candy because my sinus infection has returned. In theory, anyway, it should make for a very good recap!
Update #2: Also of Wings-related note, and this is kinda random:
• The Wings’ website posted video clips of their annual “High School Journalism” day…
Brian Rafalski reading to students at West Maple Elementary in West Bloomfield, MI (yes, that probably means that he lives in the area)...
And, uh, music?
• Interesting: the Grand Rapids Griffins are benefiting from the Wings’ return to health as well, receiving much-needed reinforcements as they make a serious playoff push, as noted by the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema:
The Griffins are 10-2-1-3 in their past 16 games, and have won six of their past seven. After going 3-0-1-0 in a recent four-game road trip, they have climbed into fifth for the first time since Jan. 18 and sit just three points behind third-place Hamilton for a guaranteed playoff spot. Grand Rapids also is only four points behind second-place Toronto and six behind first-place Manitoba in the tightly-packed North.
After four and a half months, the Griffins finally are playing the way they were expected to at the start of this season. But there still is plenty of work left to be done. Even though the Griffins have been on a roll, the process of moving up in the standings has been slow. All of the teams in front of them have won at least five of their past 10 games, making continued success a necessity for Grand Rapids. Fifth place won’t get them into the postseason. Fourth most likely isn’t going to cut it either, since the fifth-place team in the West Division is poised to cross-over and take the North’s fourth spot.
For the Griffins, it’s third or go home.
The schedule makers certainly haven’t done the Griffins any favors. Only six of their final 13 games are against North Division opponents. All four teams in front of them have more, including Hamilton with 11, preventing the Griffins from possibly gaining some valuable swing points. Instead, the Griffins have seven games remaining against the West, which they have a 16-17-2-4 record against this season. Against the North, the Griffins are 16-8-0-4. Guess who they would prefer to see on the schedule?
The Griffins also play five times at Van Andel Arena in a grueling eight-day span starting Wednesday. After that, though, they play at home only once over their final eight games. It’s enough to make your head spin.
• And as we wait for Ted Kulfan’s update and any possible Wings website updates (there might be some video posted on WXYT as well as Jeff Riger attended Babcock’s presser), here’s an FYI regarding a Wings prospect whose rights expire in June, via the Charlottetown Guardian:
Going into Wednesday’s game [The PEI Rocket’s] top three scorers are Ben Duffy with 77 points (35 goals, 42 assists); Andrej Nestrasil with 64 points (19 goals, 45 assists) and Philippe Paradis, 53 points (23 goals and 30 assists).
Nestrasil was supposed to score 50 goals this season for PEI, but he’s still posting points. I’m not sure what the Wings will do with the budding power forward.
Update #3: Here’s Kulfan’s update, discussing the Howard-Ovechkin match-up:
Howard never has played against Ovechkin in the NHL. But he still has a bad taste in his mouth from 2003, when a 17-year-old Howard faced Ovechkin in the Junior World Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Howard said of the U.S. vs. Russia game in the preliminary round of the tournament. “I think he had a hat trick halfway through the second period. He was ridiculous in that tournament. It was actually fun to watch, to be honest with you.”
Howard was pulled after the second period in the game that the U.S ended up losing 5-1.
“It was one of those games that I look back on now that I was tossed to the wolves — sink or swim,” he said with a smile. “It was entertaining to watch the way they were zipping the puck around the arena. It was sort of mesmerizing. I remember his third goal on me — a one-timer on a cross-ice saucer (pass) dot-to-dot and I was just like, ‘Wow.’”
And DetroitRedWings.com’s Dave Burke spoke to the Wings at large about the possibility that tomorrow’s game involves Ye Olde Measuring Stick:
“We haven’t seen them yet, but they’re playing real well right now as a team,” [Nicklas Lidstrom] said. “They have the offensive guys that can score the goals for them and they’re playing real well defensively and that’s one of the reasons they’re winning. It’s great for the fans, great for the crowd to see some of the high profile players in the Eastern Conference that you don’t get to see a whole lot. (Alex) Ovechkin might be the best player in the world, along with Pav on our side. So it’s a great challenge for our team to face them when you see such a dynamic player like Ovechkin. He’s got the speed, the power, he’s got that shot.”
“Yeah it’s always good to play against top teams, especially since we don’t get to see a lot of the Eastern Conference,” forward Danny Cleary said. “We played a good home-and-home against Boston, that was a good series, but Washington will certainly be a good test.”
“They’re playing real well,” [coach Mike Babcock] said. “They’ve won eight in a row. I watched them play against Carolina a little bit and watched them against Chicago. They’re good without the puck, they’re a big team and the backend really skates. They’re physical and have good goaltending. Then they have the guys that can score so that makes for a good team. They’ve been way more patient than they have in the past when I watch them now.”
“It’s good to see what other teams are like in the East,” forward Darren Helm said. “Good to see how they play and what style they use. You kind of see where everyone stacks up. Every team is so good now; there are only six, seven or eight points that separate teams from first to 11h or 12th in our division. It’s pretty similar to their division, as well.”
“Yeah it’s no different than the top teams in our conference,” center Mike Modano said. “Just a different flavor and you get to see some different players. They’re exciting and good, but it’s always about improving and getting better. It doesn’t matter whether we play Edmonton, St. Louis or Washington, it’s about getting points.”
Update #4: Via the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff:
Detroit Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill and Red Wings scouts Bruce Haralson and Marty Stein are among the contributors to The Art Of Scouting, a new book by author Shane Malloy that looks in-depth at the process of determining which amateur players are NHL-worthy and which are not. It’s a high stakes situation in which jobs are on the line and a team’s future lies in the outcome of these decisions. With a foreword by Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, the book offers a rare look behind the scenes into a world where few outside of the hockey fraternity are welcomed.
Edit: Riger filed a report as well:
With just 13 games left to go in the NHL regular season the overwhelming tone of every fan and player has got to be…get to the playoffs A.S.A.P. However, I bring you relief at least for the time being as the Wings, even though they are still playing games worth a potential 2 points, those contests get far more entertaining as the next 5 at the Joe feature the Capitals, Penguins, Canucks, Maple Leafs and Blackhawks. After that tough gamut, there will be just 5 games left to go and then that 2nd season which we all crave and can’t wait for.
The Washington Capitals start the fun Wednesday in Detroit and the talk of practice on Tuesday was none other than Alex Ovechkin and how the Wings will have their hands full with arguably the best player in the league. Nick Lidstrom, Nick Kronwall and Jimmy Howard all talked as to how hard Ovechkin is to stop and even when you think you have him stopped, he has the ability to make something out of nothing in no time at all. Howard remembered back to 2002 when he was 17 playing in juniors and Ovechkin had a hat trick on him about half way through the game. I asked Jimmy if he was at least happy that he stopped Ovechkin in the 3rd period and his response was “I didn’t even see the 3rd period.” (he was pulled after 2)
The Capitals are riding a league best 8 game win streak and with Ovechkin coming on strong after his slow start Washington seems unstoppable which is something that the Wings are salivating to put an end to. But as far as Ovechkin goes, I wonder if he is the top guy in the NHL that you would pay to see? With Sidney Crosby being out with the concussion issue and Steven Stamkos being so young that maybe everybody doesn’t fully realize how good he is. I would assume that Ovechkin would be the number one most anticipated man in the game. I think Ovechkin is top 5 in the league with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Crosby and Martin St. Louis and he is the one guy that you hardly see in person. I have always believed that the NHL needs to find a way have every team face every other team at least twice a season but that right now doesn’t happen resulting in seeing Ovechkin maybe once every two years. So I ask you, how many people at the Joe tomorrow will be there to see Ovechkin and how many people would have been there anyhow? I really think it could be 50/50. In my lifetime I have shelled out top dollar to see the greats like Roger Clemons, Ricky Henderson, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretzky. Is Ovechkin in that same class just yet? I say absolutely!
One more update: Add Niklas Kronwall to the Riger mix…
One more update #2: Per the Red Wings’ Twitter account...
Chris Chelios will be the alumni guest at our Official Viewing Party at @MotorCityCasino on Thursday.
And Joey MacDonald spoke to the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema about returning to GR after a long stint with the big club:
“You never know what’s going to happen when you sign a two-way (contract), and that was 43, 44 games that I was up there,” MacDonald said. “I missed a lot here, I know that, but I know this is a great group of guys and I’m excited to be back and help every which way I can.”
In 10 appearances with the Red Wings, 31-year-old is 3-4-1 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. In 20 games with the Griffins, he is 10-9-1 with a 2.78 GAA and .894 save percentage. MacDonald won’t automatically be handed the No. 1 spot now that he’s back. Grand Rapids coach Curt Fraser said that role will continue to be held by Jordan Pearce, who is 9-1-1-3 with a 2.59 GAA and .914 save percentage in his past 14 decisions.
“We were looking for a guy to grab hold of those reins and take charge, and he’s done it,” [Griffins coach Curt] Fraser said. “He manufactures wins, he produces points for us, he’s been great. But he needs help, and this is the perfect combination now.”
Fraser praised the work and attitude Pearce’s temporary backup, Jimmy Spratt, who was released from his professional tryout, but said MacDonald’s return will be a huge lift for the team.
“It’s great to have Joey back. Every time he came back from Detroit this year or he was here for any length of time, he really stabilized us in goal,” Fraser said. “Pearcey’s been fantastic and I think this is going to make him even better. And now, we can give Jordan a little bit of a rest once in a while, a little bit of a break instead of having him play every game.”
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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