Kukla's Korner

Abel to Yzerman

Red Wings-Lightning wrap-up/Winter Classic talk: Wings register solid win in front of a ‘home’ crowd

The Detroit Red Wings defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2 in front of a road crowd so friendly to the visiting team that even a rink worker at the St. Pete Times Forum got a little carried away and twirled an octopus.  The score flattered the visitors to some extent—the Lightning both rallied to erase a 2-0 Wings lead and took advantage of a Wings team putting on a show in the third period by firing 20 of their 40 shots on Jimmy Howard—but the Wings did get the job done against the Lightning, with Brad Stuart making a literal impact and the power play finally stirring from its winter’s nap by scoring 2 goals on 3 PP opportunities. The Wings’ penalty-killing unit shut down Tampa Bay on 5 power play opportunities as well…

And, to some extent, the Lighting chose to frame their loss as a lesson in how far they have to grow to mature into a Red Wings-like machine, as Guy Boucher told the St. Petersburg Times’ Damien Cristodero:

“This is the best team we met all year, no questions asked,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “We have a ways to go to get to that level, and we’ve got two months to get there (before the playoffs).”

Adding insult was the largely red-clad sellout crowd of 20,849 that Detroit wing Danny Cleary said made it feel “like we were playing at home.” Octopi, a tradition at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, were even thrown from the stands after Pavel Datsyuk and Darren Helm scored in the third. Worse, a Lightning employee helping clean the ice waved an octopus over his head in celebration, which could not have sat well with the players or organization.

“It is what it is,” center Nate Thompson said. “It’s not in our control. We just play the game, and whatever fans do, that happens.”

The Lightning did feel slighted in more than one aspect, especially immediately after Steve Downie negated the Wings’ 2-0 lead:

But a questionable interference call on Vinny Lecavalier, who seemed pushed into goaltender Jimmy Howard, led to Niklas Kronwall’s power-play goal off the skates of Tampa Bay’s Sean Bergenheim and Hedman. Eighty-six second later, Justin Abdelkader scored on a tap-in with 2:00 left to make it 4-2.

“We got a call there that killed the game,” Boucher said of Lecavalier’s penalty. “We had the momentum, had the drive. If we would have kept that goal out, we would have had a chance.”

Lecavalier insisted to the Tampa Tribune’s Erik Erlendsson that he didn’t mean to run over Jimmy Howard, who even I’ll admit sold the call:

“It’s 2-2 and I was just trying to go to the net,’’ Lecavalier said. “I don’t know if I got pushed or what. All I know is, I fell backwards. If I got pushed, then there shouldn’t have been a call. And it was kind of a cheesy goal there, off a skate and then off another skate. That was tough.’‘

And while Guy Boucher accentuated the positive…

“This is the best team in the league, they have the most experience, they have all their players in and this is the standard in our league,’’ Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “This team is the standard in the league for the last 15 years, and there is a reason for it and those little details you see them do out there, we are going to learn from them. We want to get this team to that level eventually. We don’t know when it’s going to happen, but certainly we’ve made giant leaps.’‘

Erlendsson felt that the Bolts displayed a pretty bad case of the jitters, perhaps worrying a little too much about living up to the expectations of a general manager who simply wanted his Bolts to earn two points and not concern themselves with attempting to play a Steve Yzerman-quality game:

Tampa Bay opened the game looking like a team overly excited for the matchup. The Lightning were over-pursuing on the forecheck, looked out of sorts at times and had trouble controlling the puck. At the same time, the team looked ill prepared to face an aggressive Detroit team that takes away time and space as well as anybody in the league.

Between the fact that the Bolts chased after the Wings’ puck-carriers in 2 or 3-man groups and the fact that Dwayne Roloson either plays absolutely dominant hockey against the Wings, stifling and stopping every shot, or has the kind of game that reminds you that even goalies who’ve had the Wings’ number in the past can be beaten when the Wings go to the net—and Roloson had the latter kind of game—the Bolts were in too deep, as evidenced by Datsyuk’s octopus-inducing goal:

The Bolts’ players did believe that many of their fans decided to don red for one game, as Thompson told the Tampa Tribune’s Roy Cummings:

Thursday’s game was sold out, but a lot of the fans in attendance were wearing Red Wings jerseys and were rooting for the visitors. That didn’t bother Thompson. He said it’s always more fun to play in front of a packed house, and he has a feeling that most of the fans who root for other teams are really Lightning fans in disguise.

“When (the Red Wings) leave and we play somebody else like Atlanta or whatever, those fans will all throw on their Tampa jerseys again and root for us,’’ he said. “They just keep that Boston jersey or whatever it is in the trunk for when that team comes to town.’‘

But even before the game, Boucher was complimenting the Wings’ style of play…

“They’re a team that has played together for a long time, and that’s extremely important,’’ Boucher said. “When you look at the video of the games they play, they’re so in sync. There’s no hesitation in their game and that’s the big difference between them and almost every other team. I mean, they’re very fast and very strong, but that (lack of hesitation) makes them look even faster because they’re so in sync. And on defense they have what is probably the best defenseman in the world (in Nick Lidstrom) and at least three other guys that can be considered major top-four guys, which is something nobody else has.’‘

Boucher came just short of saying the Red Wings were a perfect team, admitting they are lacking one thing that most other teams, the Lightning included, have an abundance of.

“They don’t really have many flaws that we can attack,’’ Boucher said. “I usually like to look at flaws of other teams, but when you have a team that has no flaws you have to make sure your flaws are not exposed.’‘

Boucher continued to only speak in positives afterward, as TampaBayLightning.com’s Peter Puppelo noted:

“We gave everything we had, period,” Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. “We just got beat by a better team than us. This is the best team in the league, the most experienced. They’ve got all their players and this is the standard for our league.”
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“We want to get our team to that level,” Boucher added. “We don’t know when it’s going to happen, but we have certainly made giant leaps being where we are right now.”

Lecavalier agreed…

“We played a good team tonight and our standards have to be even higher,” Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier said. “We have to take the positives from this game, and we did come back. We came back believing that we could win.”

And Boucher got specific in terms of the, “When it’s going to happen” in speaking to the Associated Press:

“This is the standard in the league. This is the best all-around team,” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said of the Red Wings. “We’ve got a ways to go to get to that level. We have two months to get there.”

As far as the Wings were concerned, the “home crowd” was nothing less than fantastic to play in front of:

“That might have been the biggest I’ve ever seen in all the years I’ve been here,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “On the road we’ve had some unbelievable crowds, but tonight, that was a good crowd.”
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It was the first time that new Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman faced his old team. He played 22 seasons before spending five more as a vice president with Detroit.

“We’re proud of him and cheering for him every night except when he plays us,” Babcock said.

While Babcock was floored by a crowd so speckled with red and white that it made the heyday of Wings fans’ invasions of the Phoenix Coyotes’ and Nashville Predators’ barn look average for a team that “travels well,” as was Nicklas Lidstrom, the cheers wouldn’t have mattered if the Wings hadn’t played such a solid game, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted:

The Wings fans had plenty to cheer about. Pavel Datsyuk had two goals, while Danny Cleary (power play), Niklas Kronwall (power play), Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm had the other Wings goals. Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Cleary each had two assists for the Wings.

“We did good things,” Babcock said. “We got a little flat and standing around in the second (period) but other than that, our goaltending was good (Jimmy Howard made 38 saves) and it was good to have Stewie (Brad Stuart) back. Our balance tonight helped us. We were fresher.”
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[After Cleary and Datsyuk gave the Wings a 2-0 first period lead,] Victor Hedman and Steve Downie answered with Tampa goals. Hedman and Downie scored 2:47 apart in the second period, tying the score at 2. But Kronwall responded with his 10th goal at 16:34, putting the Wings up 3-2. Kronwall fired a shot from the circle that deflected off the skate of Hedman, and past Lighting goalie Dwayne Roloson. Abdelkader then pushed the lead to 4-2 at 18:00 with his fourth goal, and first in 40 games (since Nov. 17 against St. Louis).

“That was big goal, right off a faceoff,” Babcock said. “That pretty much did it.”

While Lidstrom raved about Datsyuk’s 2-goal performance…

“He looks like he’s right back in midseason form,” Lidstrom said. “He gives that extra offensive threat that makes it harder to defense when you have his and Zetterberg’s lines going. It’s harder to match up against.”

He also told the Free Press’s Helene St. James that the Wings managed to stifle Steven Stamkos, who leads the NHL with 40 goals and 75 points, limiting him to a single assist

“We didn’t give him a whole lot of time and space with the puck,” Lidstrom said. “We stayed close with him. He’s so good at finding openings, and he’s got a great release, too, but we were able to stay close to that line.”

As St. James suggests, the Wings couldn’t have stopped the Bolts’ comeback in its tracks without a superb start—which included both power play and penalty-killing efficiency:

Cleary converted on a power play early in the first period when he tipped Lidstrom’s shot from the blue line, only the Wings’ third man-advantage goal on 26 opportunities dating back seven games. They followed that up with six minutes of penalty killing, aided by some stellar saves from Jimmy Howard, as the Lightning had the extra for two minutes starting at 6:51 and four minutes starting at 9:13.

Having deflated the Lightning through that stretch, the Wings next inflated the score when Datsyuk caught Cleary’s rebound and upended a backhand shot behind Dwayne Roloson at 14:57.
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“It felt like we were at home,” Jimmy Howard said after making 38 saves. “That’s awesome to see. We’re very thankful for our fans, they’re very passionate and emotional about the game, and it was a great turnout for us out here.”

Once Abdelkader “put the game away,” Datsyuk, who hasn’t taken a faceoff yet, at least showed that his hand strength is starting to come back as he deked and dangled his way to his second goal of the night…

Datsyuk and Jiri Hudler combined on a rush to put the game away midway through the third period, with Datsyuk flipped a forehand after taking a pass from Hudler. Howard followed up with a big save on Nate Thompson’s attempt from just outside the crease to protect Detroit’s lead. Helm sped off on a breakaway late in the game and was able to convert it into his seventh goal of the season.

Babock told St. James that he was satisfied with his team’s effort...

Mike Babcock, on how the game went overall: “I thought we got a little flat and a little standing around at times in the second there, but other than that, I thought our goaltending was real good. They’re a good team, they play fast, they’ve got two of the best players up front in the league. It was a good win for us. I thought our balance tonight helped us. They played three lines and we played four.”

But not surprised by Datsyuk’s performance…

“He’s just that good,” Babcock said. “One of the things that’s unfortunate right now is he can’t take face-offs, so their line doesn’t have the puck as much as they would normally have.”

And while Stamkos was a bit gobsmacked by the Wings’ dominant play…

“They’re one of the best teams in the league for a reason—I mean, their forwards are great, but defense wins championships and you look at the experience they have back there, the talent they have, the poise with the puck,” Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said. “They’re probably one of the best defensive groups in the entire league.”

The resident Tomas Holmstrom of the Wings’ defensive corps, Brad Stuart—i.e. a player who gives the Wings a unique element, and, to some extent, is the “straw that stirs the drink”—suggested that the Wings deserved credit for responding to the Bolts’ rally:

Brad Stuart, on Detroit retaking the lead in the second period: “It was a good sign. I think they started the game off a little tentative, a little jittery. They found their game in the second, but we responded well, and that’s what we have to do to be an elite team.”

Stuart registered one shot, one blocked shot attempt and a hit in 21:10, finishing at +1 while mostly playing alongside Nicklas Lidstrom (who was paired with Brian Rafalski late in the game), and he told MLive’s Ansar Khan that he felt OK while appreciatively returning to the lineup:

“You appreciate the little things a little more when you’re away from it; going out for warmup and the hearing the crowd was something that you miss when you’re not playing,” Stuart said. “Nice to be back out there.”

Stuart, out since Jan. 7, was reunited with defense partner Nicklas Lidstrom.

“I felt a little rusty, but my legs felt good,” Stuart said. “I just had to make sure I moved my feet. Readjusting to the speed of the game was the biggest thing.”

Babcock doesn’t expect Stuart to simply cruise along as he slowly but surely returns to form, and he’ll probably play Stuart a little less tomorrow night as Ruslan Salei (whose wife was expecting the couple’s third child) will return to the lineup, supplanting Jakub Kindl after the youngster wearing #4 issued a pretty solid performance of his own:

“Obviously, Stewie’s going to help us big-time,” coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s a great player, he’s a physical player, he’s a good penalty killer. With all players that have been away, usually they’re pretty good for a bit and they dip and then they come back. So it’s a hard league in that it’s so fast and it takes you a while to catch up.”

Per St. James, the Wings’ front office (Jim Nill, Ken Holland and Jimmy Devellano, who spends his winters in Sarasota, FL along with fellow attendee Scotty Bowman, and Tigers skipper Jim Leyland took in the game, too) had dinner with Yzerman before the game, and while the Wings reiterated the fact that the “home” crowd wowed them to MLive’s Ansar Khan...

“It felt like we were at home,” Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “It was crazy. That’s awesome to see. We’re very thankful for our fans. They’re very passionate and emotional about the game. It was a great turnout for us down here.”
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“We got a good following, that’s for sure, the history of the team, we’ve had good success,” forward Danny Cleary said. “Fans follow us, and obviously, there’s a lot of snowbirds down here. We put on a good show for them.”

Cleary and Howard also felt that the Wings simply got down to the business of winning a “measuring stick” game while finally starting to get on a real and honest-to-goodness roll that they hope will continue on Friday against the Panthers (7:30 PM, FSD, in which Khan says that Joey MacDonald will start for the Wings):

“We knew they were going to be up for this game,” Cleary said. “They’re having a good season. Both teams used it as a measuring stick, so it was an important win for us.”
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“We kept our composure and didn’t get away from the game plan,” Howard said.

Lidstrom rather elegantly explained to the media that there were no hard feelings toward Steve Yzerman, but no shame or mixed feelings about taking his team out, either:

“No, it’s a business, we’re here to win games,” Lidstrom said. “It’s somewhat awkward seeing his name associated with a different organization. It’s still a business.”

Lidstrom continued in speaking to Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji:

“We’re here to win games,” Lidstrom said. “Hopefully, I get a chance to see him before we leave tonight. But we came down here to win games. Even though it’s somewhat awkward seeing his name associated with a different organization, it’s still business.”
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“Obviously, Stevie’s a guy that we’re proud of and pulling for him big-time,” Babcock said. “I knew him as a player, got to know him better as management and then really got to know him when I worked with him in the Olympics. He’s a good man and he’s hired a real good coach here and they’re doing a real good job. We’re proud of him and cheering for him every night except when he plays us.”

And after giving Brad Stuart a pat on the back or three…

“He does a lot of little things out there that really help us out,” Howard said. “He doesn’t really get credit for it on the score sheet or anything like that, but he does little things like extra efforts in getting pucks out and blocking shots. It’s huge for us.”
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“I thought he played real well,” Lidstrom said. “He’s a key out there for our penalty killing. He plays a lot of minutes, he’s a tough guy to play against. He’s a matchup defenseman, so it was good to have Stuie back. I thought he played well, too, for not having played for six weeks or something.”

Lidstrom and Howard summarized the Wings’ feelings about the game, once again suggesting that, as they felt good about delivering for the home fans in Sunday’s win against Boston, they were happy to oblige a home-on-the-road crowd:

“We’ve seen a lot of fans down here but I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this,” Lidstrom said. “When we scored, it seemed like the home team scored, which was great to see, especially coming down on the road all the way down to Florida, having all the fans here. That was great.”
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“It felt like we were at home,” said goaltender Jimmy Howard, who made 38 saves for his 29th win. “It was crazy. That’s awesome to see. We’re very thankful for our fans. They’re very passionate and emotional about the game. It’s a great turnout for us down here.”

The Wings got down to business and took care of the Bolts on Thursday, and now they hope to sweep their Fathers’ Trip against a Panthers team in flux on Friday.

No offense, Mr. Yzerman, but this really was business, and while many Wings fans cheer for your Bolts as a second-favorite team, as Babcock and Lidstrom suggested, this was about two points, and when they’re on the line, I and my fellow Wings fans want to see red beat whoever the other team is, regardless of their Wings’ ties.

Multimedia:

Highlights: NHL.com’s 5-minute highlight clip is narrated by Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond:

Post-game: The Lightning’s website posted a 6-minute clip of Lightning coach Guy Boucher’s post-game presser…

 

As well as an interview with Vincent Lecavalier:

 

The St. Petersburg Times also posted a clip of Lecavalier’s comments, which Damian Cristodero posted in YouTube format:

 

Sun Sports/Fox Sports Florida posted a 3:25 clip of Boucher’s presser…

A pre-game interview with Lecavalier…

A 2:22 exclusive interview with Yzerman…

A clip of Victor Hedman talking about his idol, Nicklas Lidstrom…

And a 2-minute clip of Paul Kennedy and Chris Dingman recapping the game;

Fox Sports Detroit posted videos of and Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond’s take on the game. Redmond very wisely suggests that the Wings need to get on a 5-to-7 game winning streak, and that might happen as Daniels notes that the Wings play 10 games over the course of 17 nights, with 8 of 10 on the road…

As well as a 5:06 clip of Nicklas Lidstrom, coach Mike Babcock and Dan Cleary discussing the favorable outcome;

And the Red Wings’ website kindly posted Fox Sports Detroit’s Ken Daniels speaking to Yzerman in a 2:34 interview:

 

Photos: The Detroit Free Press posted a 10-image gallery;

The Detroit News posted a 26-image gallery;

Yahoo Sports posted a 7-image gallery;

NHL.com posted a 25-image gallery;

The Lightning’s website posted a 13-image gallery and posted an image in its website’s recap;

And the Red Wings’ website posted an 18-image gallery and embedded an image in its website’s recap.

Statistics: Shots 40-31 Tampa Bay overall. A little loose by Wings standards, breaking down as 11-9 Tampa bay in the first period, 11-9 Detroit in the second period and 20-11 Tampa Bay in the 3rd period.

The Bolts went 0-for-5 in 10:00 of PP time. The Wings went 2-for-3 in 4:50 of PP time.

Howard stopped 38 shots; Roloson stopped 25.

Our goals:

Cleary (18) from Lidstrom (34) and Zetterberg (45), power play;

Datsyuk (15) from Cleary (14) and Kronwall (18);

Kronwall (10) from Zetterberg 946) and Lidstrom (35), power play;

Abdelkader (4) from Holmstrom (13) and Kindl (1);

Datsyuk (16) from Hudler (19) and Cleary (15);

Helm (7), unassisted.

The 3 stars, per the Bolts’ media; Lidstrom, Cleary and Datsyuk.

Faceoffs 34-28 Tampa Bay (45% won by Detroit);

Blocked shots 13-11 Detroit;

Missed shots 13-12 Tampa Bay (so the Bolts fired 66 pucks at or near Howard or his teammates, while the Wings fired 54 at/near Roloson);

Hits 25-18 Tampa Bay;

Giveaways 13-7 Tampa bay;

Takeaways
7-5 Tampa Bay.

Individual Stats Breakdown:

Faceoffs: Zetterberg went 8-and-5 (62%); Helm went 6-and-7 (46%); Abdelkader went 5-and-7 (42%); Hudler went 4-and-6 (40%); Draper went 4-and-5 (44%); Cleary went 1-and-1; Abdelkader went 0-and-2; Franzen lost his only faceoff.

Shots: Cleary led the team with 5 shots; Helm had 4; Lidstrom, Zetterberg and Franzen had 3; Abdelkader, Datsyuk and Holmstrom had 2; Kindl, Miller, Stuart, Hudler, Rafalski, Bertuzzi and Kronwall had 1.

Blocked Wings shot attempts
: Rafalski and Draper had 2 shot attempts blocked; Cleary, Stuart, Zetterberg, Bertuzzi, Ericsson, Kronwall and Franzen had single shot attempts blocked.

Missed shots: Lidstrom missed the net 3 times; Cleary and Miller missed the net twice; Datsyuk, Rafalski, Helm, Bertuzzi and Holmstrom missed the net once.

Hits: Miller led the team with 4 hits; Kronwall had 3; Abdelkader, Cleary and Franzen had 2; Eaves, Stuart, Draper, Helm and Bertuzzi had 1.

Giveaways: Eaves had 2 giveaways; Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Miller, Zetterberg and Ericsson had 1.

Takeaways: Datsyuk had 2 takeaways; Helm, Ericsson and Franzen had 1.

Blocked opponent shots: Miller blocked 5 shots; Rafalski blocked 2; Abdelkader, Cleary, Datsyuk, Ericsson, Kronwall and Franzen blocked 1 shot.

Penalties taken: Kindl took a double minor; Abdelkader, Hudler and Ericsson took minor penalties.

Plus-minus: Zetterberg and Bertuzzi finished at -2; Franzen was -1; Kindl, Lidstrom, Abdelkader, Eaves, Stuart, Draper, Helm, Kronwall and Holmstrom were +1; Cleary, Datsyuk and Stuart were +2.

Points: Cleary had a goal and 2 assists for 3 points; Datsyuk had 2 goals; Zetterberg had 2 assists; Kronwall had a goal and an assist for 2 points; Abdelkader and Helm had goals; Hudler and Holmstrom had assists.

Ice time: Lidstrom led the team with 24:08 played; Ericsson played 23:29; Kronwall played 21:46;

Stuart played 21:10; Rafalski played 20:32; Zetterberg played 17:53;

Datsyuk played 16:42; Cleary played 15:39; Helm played 14:24;

Hudler played 14:20; Franzen played 14:07; Eaves played 13:41;

Bertuzzi played 13:19; Miller played 13:03; Holmstrom played 12:53;

Draper played 11:59; Abdelkader plyaed 11:53; Kindl played 9:02.

Wings notes and Winter Classic Stuff:

• Gary Bettman spent most of his Thursday media availability praising Bolts owner Jeff Vinik for stabilizing the Bolts’ franchise, as the Tampa Tribune’s Erik Erlendsson noted, but he also kind-of-sort-of suggested that the Wings may be in the running for a future Winter Classic, though he suggested that a) He’d like to hold it at Michigan Stadium, not the Ilitch-owned Comerica Park, and b) As such, that might rule the Wings out of a Winter Classic because a college town that’s half empty on New Year’s Day isn’t an optimum location, theoretically speaking.

The Free Press’s Helene St. James took note of Bettman’s comments...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made a pit stop at St. Pete Times Forum before tonight’s game between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning and sounded agreeable when asked about Detroit hosting a Winter Classic, the NHL’s annual New Year’s Day outdoors game.

The natural place would be either Comerica Park in Detroit or Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, which, this past December, hosted the Big Chill game between the Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans, “except the university isn’t in session on New Year’s Day,” Bettman said. “So we don’t know whether or not that would have an impact.

“But you are raising all the issues that we have to go through in trying to do it. Would we like to do an outdoor game in Michigan? The answer is: We know it’s a great hockey market, the Ilitches are terrific owners, and they certainly know how to put on first-class events. The logistics, the specifics—as they say, the devil is in the detail.”

As did the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:

“Would we like to do an outdoor game in Michigan?” Bettman asked. “The answer is, we know it’s a great hockey market, the Ilitches are terrific owners, and they certainly know how to put on first-class events. The logistics, the specifics ... as they say, the devil is in the detail.”

Michigan hosted the The Big Chill, playing Michigan State in front of more than 110,000 fans in early December. It was the largest outdoor hockey game ever held. But Bettman said the fact Michigan’s classes aren’t in session Jan. 1 could be a factor.

“We don’t know whether or not that would have an impact,” Bettman said.
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“We’re going through an incredible cycle of events,” Bettman said. “We’re going to let our events people take a deep breath.”

• Adding a few more Bolts notes to the mix, the St. Petersburg Times’ Damian Cristodero posted a few quick quips that Guy Boucher made about Mike Babcock, posting the full version of his story in his “Lightning Strikes” blog:

I think they’re the team to beat in the league again,” Boucher said after Tampa Bay’s morning skate before its game against Detroit.

Boucher’s comments took shape after he mentioned how important it will be for the Red Wings to get back defenseman Brad Stuart who has missed 15 games with a broken jaw but is expected to play against Tampa Bay. But Boucher then talked big picture.

“First off, knowing (coach) Mike Babcock, they’re going to be extremely well prepared,” Boucher said of the red Wings, who lead the Central division and are second in the West with 74 points. “His players are intense. I look at their team and there are not many flaws out there. They’re a team that has played together for a long time, and that’s extremely important. When you look at the video of the games they play, they are so in sync. That’s a big difference between them and every other team. There is very little hesitation in their game. They are very fast and very strong, but that makes them look even stronger and faster because they’re so in sync. And on defense they have probably the best defenseman in the world (Nicklas Lidstrom) and at least three other guys who can be considered major top-four guys.”

Boucher has a connection to Babcock as both played at McGill University, though Babcock was there about 10 years before Boucher. They are not best friends, Boucher said, but Tampa Bay’s coach said he has followed Babcock’s career (neither played in the NHL and went on to coaching careers there) and admitted he asked Babcock for some advice after he took the Lightning job. He said he counts Babcock, along with Jacques Lemaire and Pat Quinn, as a mentor.

“He loves the game. He loves to share,” Boucher said of Babcock. “He’s a very generous guy and a smart guy. Any time I can pick his brain. The problem now is I coach against him. I can’t pick his brain as much any more.” That said, Boucher added, “I can’t have more respect for him than I do.

Steven Stamkos gave the Wings praise as well, as the Tampa Tribune’s Jon Henderson noted:

“They’re a first-class organization, and that’s what you think of with them,” Lightning wonder child Steven Stamkos said. “They’re a great team to model.”
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“That’s been the dynasty, the standard for the NHL for so many years. They’ve won the Cup so many times. Whenever you think of the Detroit Red Wings you always think of one of the top teams in the league year in and out,” Stamkos said. “It’s amazing how they do it. You just think of skill, grit and respect.”

Yzerman was a big part of that success through 27 years as a player and executive for the Wings. He lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup four times — three as the forever-young Stevie Y, whose quiet professionalism masked an inner fire that burns as hot as ever today.

“Right away you knew that he was going to make a difference in Tampa Bay. That’s what Stevie does. I know his presence made us a lot better on and off the ice, and it looks like that’s what’s happening here with Stevie Y. Anyone who knows him and knows the hockey mind he has is not surprised,” Detroit center Kris Draper said. “He’s one of those rare individuals. He just has that presence, whether it was when he was playing or now that he’s a GM. You know that accountability is a big thing. He’s obviously running this team the way he believes, and it has been successful.”


• Draper’s comments provide a superb transition into an in-game article posted by NHL.com’s David Kalan, who noted that Yzerman appeared on Bettman’s “The NHL Hour” radio show right before the game, saying that he was ready to get down to the business of watching his team play a measuring stick game, too:

“I don’t know that it’s that emotional,” Yzerman said. “For me, I think, and everybody would agree, Detroit’s one of the top teams in the League. I want to see how our team plays against (Pavel) Datsyuk, who’s one of the best all-around forwards in the League, (Nicklas) Lidstrom one of the best all-around defensemen. It’s a good game for me to assess my team and our players, so I’m very curious to see how the game goes. I’m a bit more involved in thinking about the game itself.”

Despite the subtle and humility with which Yzerman approached the game Thursday, however, Phil Esposito, who guest-hosted the show with Bettman as it was broadcast from the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, was quick to credit Yzerman, as well as Vinik, with making the wholesale changes necessary to turn the Lightning into a model franchise. In the first full season for both Vinik and Yzerman with the organization, the Lightning have experienced a striking turnaround. After missing the postseason for three consecutive seasons, Tampa Bay appears a lock to end the drought and is challenging Philadelphia for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

“I learned something very valuable from this whole experience with Jeff Vinik coming in here. It starts at the top,” Esposito said. “Stevie Yzerman has done such a fabulous job in such a short time with this team. It’s just been a revelation.”
...
“I’m just absolutely thrilled by what I’ve seen down here,” Esposito said. “When you’ve got really good ownership and leadership, even the Zamboni driver does a better job.”

• Heading back to the Red Wings, the Wings’ players had Wednesday off to spend time with fathers, mentors and friends, yielding some serious-arse sunburns on Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom’s faces (with the latter sporting a lovely set of raccoon eyes because he wore sunglasses), but Jiri Hudler emerged as the day’s “winner” for catching (and then releasing) a large fish of unknown specifications while on a fishing trip that most of the players and their dads took part in. The Free Press’s Helene St. James relates that story:

The trip marks the sixth fathers and others trip, and included a day of leisure Wednesday that prompted several to take advantage of being near the ocean. Hudler and Jakub Kindl went deep-sea fishing with their dads, and Hudler’s description of the events could have come right out of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.”

“It took me 20 minutes of fighting it. I had to run the line, take it in. I don’t know what it was, but it was pretty tiring,” Hudler said. “It was going under the boat. The guide was giving me tips, and I told him, ‘I’ve got to fight it myself, act like a professional.’ “

Hudler thought it might have been a marlin as he asked the guide what kind of fish it was, “but I was too excited, and I forget about it. It was, like, 40 or 50 pounds.”
...
Not far away, Niklas Kronwall and his brother were having similar fun, as they went fishing with Henrik Zetterberg and his dad, and Jonathan Ericsson and his dad.

“We had a blast,” Kronwall said. “We caught a lot of blowfish and grouper. We kept a few snappers, but we gave them away when we got to the harbor.”

• The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan provides both more of Hudler’s Fish Story and some decent news in the injury department, starting with Valtteri Filppula’s recovery from a sprained left MCL:

The fathers were out in force for Thursday’s morning skate, but probably counting the minutes until they could go back out into the Florida sunshine. Especially Valtteri Filppula ‘s dad, Raineri , who came over from Finland where it was 12 below. “He loves this,” Filppula said.

Filppula skated for the first time since spraining his left knee Feb. 7 against the New York Rangers. He doesn’t expect to play in the next two games, but hopes to Tuesday against San Jose.

“I felt OK but not the way I wanted to feel right now,” Filppula said. “It’s going in the good direction but just have to wait a little longer and see. I can skate calm(ly) no problem but stopping and starting is tough.”

As well as this quip about Chris Osgood, who’s finally starting to drop down into the butterfly:

Chris Osgood (sports hernia) also did some skating but a return still is a couple weeks away. “I was a lot better today than I expected,” Osgood said.

• MLive’s Ansar Khan confirmed the injury reports...

• Defenseman Ruslan Salei is expected to return to the lineup on Friday, after being given a few days to spend with his family in California.

• Center Valtteri Filppula (sprained left MCL) skated Thursday for the first time since getting injured on a check from the New York Rangers’ Brandon Dubinsky on Feb. 7. He is not likely to return until Tuesday at home against San Jose, at the earliest. He’ll wear a brace for the rest of the season.

• Goaltender Chris Osgood was on the ice in full gear for the fourth time, going through various movements to see how he feels after surgery on Jan. 11 for a sports hernia. Osgood hopes to start practicing and taking shots next week.

• And Khan reported that the Red Wings signed Jan Mursak to a two-year contract extension, essentially ensuring that he’s earned a spot on the Wings’ roster next season:

“Based upon his progress and development the last year or two—and then we liked what we saw (this season)—he’s a young guy, provides energy, can skate, he’s a puck hound,’’ Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “We think as he gets more confident he’ll be able to contribute a little bit offensively. We feels he’s going to be on the team next year.”

Mursak, 23, made a good impression during a 17-game stint in Detroit as injury replacement. He skated fast and hard, went to the net and battled in the high-traffic areas. He he had one goal, no assists and a minus-3 rating. He was reassigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins earlier this week, after missing a week with bruised toes.

Mursak has 11 goals and 25 points in 36 games with the Griffins. He is out of minor-league options next season, so he must earn a spot on the NHL roster.

Ditto for Cory Emmerton. Wings coach Mike Babcock stated that Mursak would be with the team for the 2011-2012 season, but he suggested that Emmerton needs to have a sensational finish to his final AHL season before earning a spot on the Wings’ roster. His future will probably be determined over the course of training camp and the exhibition season next fall, but I’d give him an 80/20 chance of making the roster.

• In Swedish: After the Wings-Bolts game, Nicklas Lidstrom told Expressen’s Gunnar Nordstrom that the Wings’ players did get to say hello to Steve Yzerman after the game, and he did admit that the Wings are looking up at the Vancouver Canucks, who lead the Wings by seven points in the Western Conference standings, hoping to catch up with them and take over the top spot in the West;

Niklas Kronwall also spoke to Aftonbladet’s Per Bjurman, saying that while the media played up the Wings-vs-Yzerman angle, the Wings approached the Bolts game as simply a game in which they wanted to earn two points, and he says that the Wings were thrown off a bit by Tampa Bay’s 1-3-1 system;

• In honor of “Hockey Day in America,” Pro Hockey Talk’s James O’Brien posted a very nice comment about the player he believes to be the third-best American player playing on Sunday…

3. Brian Rafalski (Detroit Red Wings defenseman)

If you wanted to find the Scottie Pippen of NHL defensemen, it might just be Rafalski. Despite producing great hockey as a key member of championship teams in New Jersey and Detroit, the offensive defenseman has been overshadowed by Hall of Famers (or soon to be HoFers) such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer.

It wasn’t until the Vancouver Olympics that Rafalski received the opportunity to prove that he could be the go-to guy at the highest level of competition. He might be 37 years old, but Rafalski remains an outstanding blueliner for the Red Wings. He produced 36 points and a +15 rating in 45 games this season.

As well as a solid #5:

5. Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings goalie)

Things have been a little rocky for the Syracuse, New York native this season, but in many ways Howard saved Detroit’s season in 09-10. It also must be said that the Red Wings’ defense has been a bit lacking lately, so it’s far too early to write-off Howard.

Howard has 28 wins so far this season. If he regains the confidence that helped him go 37-15-10 with a 92.4 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average last season, he might be the Red Wings’ goalie of the present and future.

• FYI: According to a banner on the Wings’ website, $9 tickets for March and April will go on sale, only via in-person sales, at the Joe Louis Arena box office on Saturday, February 26th, likely at 10 AM EST;

• The Arizona Republic’s Dan Bickley reports that Shane Doan’s still somewhat upset at Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett for not allowing him to play in Game 7 of the Wings-Coyotes series last spring;

• Tonight, very seriously, the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema reports that a couple will get married on the ice at Van Andel Arena;

• On Saturday, the Owen Sound Attack will raise a banner to their rafters honoring Kirk Maltby’s contributions to the franchise during his junior career;

• This weekend, Wings prospect Gustav Nyquist’s University of Maine Black Bears hope to secure a playoff spot in a two-game series against UMass-Lowell, and Nyquist dropped a “for sure” in speaking to the Portland Press-Herald’s Rachel Lenzi;

• On March 26th, the Red Wings Alumni Association will play a charity game at McMorran Arena in Port Huron;

• Former Wings scout and current Bolts scout Pat Verbeek will take part in a Hartford Whalers alumni game this weekend, and the Hartford Courant’s Jeff Jacobs reports that one Bobby Farrelly counts Igor Larionov among his friends;

• And finally, will the City of Detroit put a Wings jersey on an incoming Robocop statue?

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Comments

Avatar

George, under “Points” you missed Lidstrom’s 2 assists.  Just FYI

Posted by Dahrken from Grand Rapids, MI on 02/18/11 at 11:30 AM ET

WingsFanInBeanLand's avatar

George, under “Points” you missed Lidstrom’s 2 assists.  Just FYI

Posted by Dahrken from Grand Rapids, MI on 02/18/11 at 08:30 AM ET

What a slacker.

Posted by WingsFanInBeanLand from Where the GM likes his team. on 02/18/11 at 12:05 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

I was at the game and it was AMAZING!  I swear at least half the crowd was in red and the place went NUTS when the Wings scored.  Thanks to the Wings for a wonderful game.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 02/18/11 at 12:09 PM ET

42jeff's avatar

That crowd was fantastic.  The rink-worker twirling the octopus was completely priceless.

Think there was a meeting with the boss this morning?

Posted by 42jeff from The greater Howard City, MI metroplex on 02/18/11 at 12:15 PM ET

Avatar

What?  No story about how Paul Holmgren asked Ville Leino if it was OK for him to make a deal for Versteeg even though there would be no cap space to sign Leino long-term?  Leino’s response: I want to win the cup.  Get him.  Yeah, that selfish bastard who mentally checked out last year would never fit in on the Wings, right George?

Posted by jkm2011 on 02/18/11 at 12:50 PM ET

SnLO's avatar

Yeah, that selfish bastard who mentally checked out last year would never fit in on the Wings, right George?
Posted by jkm2011 on 02/18/11 at 09:50 AM ET

I’m not George, and no one, that I’m aware, called Leino selfish, and you are correct. Leino tuned out the Wings and from that point forward was not going to fit with the team. The Wings knew what he was capable of doing, but couldn’t get him to translate that into his on-ice play. Leino needed a new start, if he was going to make it at all. Fortunately for Philly, Leino had his moment of clarity there.

So, what’s your point anyway? Just trying to ruffle some feathers? Need your attention for the day? Done, move on.

Posted by SnLO from the sub great-white north on 02/18/11 at 01:12 PM ET

pgoody's avatar

That crowd was fantastic.  The rink-worker twirling the octopus was completely priceless.

Think there was a meeting with the boss this morning?

Posted by 42jeff from Minot, North Dakota on 02/18/11 at 09:15 AM ET

Im guessing he was the warm-up goalie for next practice…

Posted by pgoody on 02/18/11 at 02:03 PM ET

Avatar

Posted by jkm2011 on 02/18/11 at 09:50 AM ET

Okay, I know you’re probably just trolling, in which case I’m wasting my time. But if you aren’t:

People change. Players change. Leino has blossomed into a great two-way player, and probably a great guy as well, in Philadelphia. Good for him and good for the Flyers.

When he was in Detroit, it was a different story. He was immature, he wasn’t working hard, he was taking every criticism like it was a personal attack. Maybe he would have worked his way out of it if Detroit had held on to him a little longer, but maybe he needed a trade—and a little personal reflection—to get his ass in gear and approach the game with a little more humility and a little more hard work. Remember, it took him a while to get out of the press box in Philly, too.

I’d love to have this Villie Leino back on the Wings, but there was no guarantee he was ever going to get there while remaining on Detroit’s roster. The trade, and a new opportunity with the Flyers, has been good for him.

I was initially very excited about Leino, and it’s unfortunate he was never able to fulfill his potential in Detroit. But I don’t begrudge Ken Holland for moving a player who just wasn’t fitting the system for a little cap relief. And I don’t begrudge Leino for finding the right fit and getting his game together, even if it was in another sweater. Sometimes, that’s just the way it works out.

I think a lot of Wings fans feel the same way—no strong animosity toward anyone in the situation, and no strong regrets about how things went down—which makes me wonder what you were hoping to achieve with your trolling effort.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 02/18/11 at 02:24 PM ET

Kate from Pa.-made in Detroit's avatar

Yeah, that selfish bastard who mentally checked out last year would never fit in on the Wings, right George?

Posted by jkm2011 on 02/18/11 at 09:50 AM ET

I’m the one that said Leino wouldn’t fit because of his comments in the post season, regarding playing for the big club. He made it clear he was not going to spend another season in GR. We all know players don’t deserve a spot on the roster. Players earn their spot on the roster. He simply didn’t.
At least that is how it works in Detroit. He left with the blessings and well wishes of the 19. Period.

Lets Go Red Wings!!!!!

Posted by Kate from Pa.-made in Detroit on 02/18/11 at 02:42 PM ET

awould's avatar

A Red Wings Winter Classic game at Michigan Stadium would sell-out quickly and there’d be a long line of willing buyers for the scalpers. Especially if they played Chicago again.

I sat under the scoreboard in the outfield of Wrigley Field at that WC game and it was the best sporting event experience I’ve ever had. Especially when the Wings took over the game and I got to shove it in the face of all the Hawks fans who were talking smack when they had the early lead.

Posted by awould on 02/18/11 at 03:48 PM ET

Avatar

The point is George was/is wrong, but won’t admit it.  He said Leino would be back in Finland in 1-3 years and his attitude would never fit in on the Wings.  Obviously, he was wrong—but again, he won’t admit it.  The guy wants to win, and sacrificed his long-term $$ future for the team.  Perfect fit, in my mind, for Detroit.  BTW, Babs ran him off, not KH.

Posted by jkm2011 on 02/19/11 at 04:33 AM ET

Avatar

Posted by jkm2011 on 02/19/11 at 01:33 AM ET

Assuming you’re correct and George did state that Leino would be “back in Finland,” sure he might have been wrong about his prediction. Then again, if Leino hadn’t had his “A-ha!” moment and changed his attitude for good in Philly, he might have been right. What are you expecting, a hand-written apology from every writer who makes an incorrect prediction? You’ll be waiting a long time.

The assumption that you make is that Leino—the current, mature, realistic Leino—is the same player and person that he was last year when he was struggling. But people change. After a trade and some time riding the bench, Leino matured from a very selfish and immature player into a much more humble and hard-working one. Again, good for him. I’m glad somebody snapped him out of it, because he had way too much talent to let it all go to waste.

For what it’s worth, all I can remember George arguing is that, considering Leino’s attitude at the time of the trade, he was a bad fit (which is true). That, and he doesn’t think that Leino would necessarily have matured if left in the Red Wings system, which is unprovable either way.

At any rate, pretty much all the guys here (George included) have more or less expressed varying degrees of happiness that Leino has found success and wish him nothing but the best for the rest of his career—even if they don’t regret the trade and are still a little miffed about some of the comments Leino made.

So I still really don’t see what your point is in trying to stir the pot. No one is angry about the trade and no one is bitter about Leino’s current success. If you’re just here to get a rise out of Red Wings fans, I suggest you hit us somewhere where we actually hurt.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 02/19/11 at 04:56 AM ET

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About Abel to Yzerman

Welcome to Abel to Yzerman, a Red Wing blog since 1977.  No other site on the internet has better-researched, fact-laden and better prepared discussions than A2Y.  Re-phrase: we do little research, find facts and stats highly overrated and claim little to no preparation.  There are 19 readers of A2Y. No more, no less. All of them, except maybe one, are juvenile in nature.  Reminding them of that in the comment section will only encourage them to prove that. Your suggestions and critiques are welcome: wphoulihan@gmail.com