The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/28/11 at 08:19 AM ET
For the first 38 minutes of the Red Wings’ “statement-making” win over the St. Louis Blues, it looked like the Wings were playing from an all-too-familiar script. The Wings were pushed around by a bigger, stronger Blues team as they dug a 2-0 deficit for themselves for the third time over the past four games, and as the Wings seemed somewhat intimidated by the Blues’ physicality and determination, Jimmy Howard more or less kept the Wings in the game at times, quite literally standing on his head to make one save…
But the Red Wings withstood the Blues’ assault on the scoresheet and their repeated attempts to hack, whack, hook, hold, push and cross-check the Wings into submission, slowly but surely choosing to engage the Blues on a hit-for-hit basis, and when the Wings finally cranked up their game and Nicklas Lidstrom gave the Wings hope via a power play goal with only 1:03 left in the second period, the Wings seemed to decide that if they could match the Blues’ work ethic, intensity, effort and determination, they could also do what only the Wings can do: out-talent an opponent.
The Wings came out in the third period like a team on a mission, and they accomplished it in a big way, on a game televised in the U.S. and Canada, and by securing a 3-2 victory thanks to quick goals by Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall (all of 56 seconds apart) and more spectacular goaltending from Howard despite the fact that the Wings out-shot the Blues 13-3 in the third period…
The Wings made a statement to Ken Hitchcock’s Blues, who’ve all but owned the Wings thus far, and they made a statement to the rest of the league while crawling past St. Louis in the Central Division standings (the Wings now lead the Blues by 1 point and are only 3 points behind Friday’s opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks) going into Saturday’s rematch at the Joe: while the Wings are indeed a team in transition that continues to struggle to find its footing at times, the Wings remain an elite team, and they’re not going to be content simply treading water in the Western Conference. The Wings want to climb to the top of the standings, and they’re not about to be eclipsed by the Blues—nor will they stand for being pushed around by a team that, let’s just say received the benefit of the doubt from an officiating crew that let playoff-level intensity translate into uncalled playoff-level infractions in the form of obstruction, interference and especially stickwork involving skewering opponents.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford summarized what the game seemed to indicate prior to the Wings’ surge…
[J]ust when the plates in the soon-to-be-extinct Central Division appeared to be shifting, Detroit’s top players took control of matters, almost telling the Blues, “Not so fast.”
Before speaking to a Blues team that’s seen this kind of play from the Red Wings before, and can expect to witness the same thing on Saturday night:
“They dialed it up,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We had a chance to really blow it open in the second, where we had all of our chances ... they dialed it up in the third and forced us into mistakes. You had to expect it, but we didn’t have enough answer in the third. So, we’ll have to address it.”
The Blues had a chance to end Detroit’s 10-game winning streak at Joe Louis Arena, a stretch in which the Red Wings had outscored opponents 51-15, before their third-period outburst. After dominating for almost two periods, posting 28 shots, the Blues had only three shots in the third frame. The back end was showing some fatigue, playing the last two-thirds of the game with only five defensemen after Kris Russell left in the first period with a lower-body injury.
“It’s not so much what they did — it’s what we did — we didn’t play hockey,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “We were playing the score more than we were playing the game. But it’s a good lesson for us to learn. We’ve got to move on from it.”
Blues goalie Brian Elliott didn’t see two of the three goals that made it past him, and the other goal, by Datsyuk, was a brilliant stick deflection of a puck in midair. The third one, from Kronwall on a point shot, appeared to nick a Blues player on the way into the back of the net.
“The first and third one, I didn’t get a look at,” Elliott said. “That’s a credit to them getting shots through. For the most part, we did a good job of keeping everything out, blocking shots. But it’s things like that that can ruin a good game. You’re up on the road and you’ve got to finish playing a clear, concise game. Get pucks in and get pucks out. You have to give them credit, but we didn’t do the things we wanted in the third period and it cost us.”
“I know that they wanted this one just as bad as we did,” [Kevin] Shattenkirk said, “and it really showed at the end there.”
I can only roll my eyes at the assertions made by Pro Hockey Talk’s James O’Brien about this game (there isn’t much Blues press to go on, so I’m tossing in some outside context):
For two periods, it seemed like the story would be all about the St. Louis Blues’ ascension to serious contender status in the NHL.
They carried a 2-1 lead into the second intermission that didn’t fully tell the story about how well they were playing. The Detroit Red Wings illustrated what it takes to be truly elite in the final frame, though, as their dominant 20 minutes – especially two goals in 56 seconds – earned them a 3-2 win.
This victory gives the Red Wings their 11th win in a row at Joe Louis Arena and a one-point lead over the Blues for second place in the increasingly competitive Central Division.
The Chicago Blackhawks sit atop the NHL and the Central Division but they can’t take it easy with Detroit and St. Louis right behind them. The Red Wings took tonight’s game with an impressive finish while the Blues made quite the impression even in defeat.
Sure, they lost, but this game might just prove that it’s time to take Ken Hitchcock, Elliott and the Blues seriously from now on.
Given that the Wings lost their first 2 games while getting both beaten and beaten up by the Blues, and given that Ken Hitchcock has a team that was already being rebuilt into a young, fast and deep team over the past few seasons under his watchful eye, teaching them how to believe in themselves, I really don’t know how the Wings have taken the Blues as anything less than a formidable opponent and a viable contender in the West.
Maybe this game was an eye-opener for people who haven’t been watching the Blues win the vast majority of their games since Hitchcock took over, but it’s no surprise to the Wings or their fans. The Blues have arrived, and they’re no one-trick pony.
As Ken Hitchcock told the Associated Press, however, the Red Wings are still the Red Wings, too:
“They dialed it up in the third and forced us into making mistakes,” St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said.
Datsyuk tied the game at 2 with 8:41 left, deflecting White’s shot out of the air off the rush for his 12th goal.
“A shot pass,” Datsyuk said. “I just tried to put my stick on it.”
Kronwall netted his eighth with a wrist shot from the left point with 7:45 remaining.
“Fil (Valtteri Filppula) made a great play, making their forwards come down on him so I could get some more room,” Kronwall said. “Huds (Jiri Hudler) is doing a great job in front of the net and their goalie didn’t see anything whatsoever, that’s why the puck went in.”
“Tonight really was a sweet one. Just the fact that we came back, we knew we had a lot of momentum with the crowd in here,” [Kronwall] said. “We did a good job in the third coming after them wave after wave. At the same time they sat back a little bit. We really took advantage of that.”
“You’re up on the road, you’ve just got to finish, playing a clear concise game,” [Elliott] said. “We didn’t do what we needed to do in the third period and that cost us.”
Kronwall has it down pat: instead of sending single players into the Blues zone to fire off shots that were either blocked, wide or easily stopped by Elliott and then carried back up the ice for a scoring chance on the Wings—Detroit was out-shot 28-19 over the first 2 periods and finished the game with 32 shots on Elliott and another 30 blocked or wide attempts—the Wings charged through the neutral zone with speed, roaring into the Blues’ zone with all 3 forwards in flight and their defensemen close behind, pushing the puck deep, grinding it down out low and finding ways to get on the inside of Blues players as they won puck battles and either tipped pucks on a screened Elliott or passed pucks back to the point for long bombs which either found the net or were retrieved for secondary and tertiary scoring chances.
Kronwall offered an equally astute remark to the Macomb Daily’s Fred Costello, noting that the Blues took away the Wings’ time and space…
“There wasn’t a lot of room out there, but we stuck with it,” Kronwall said, “We did a good job of coming back in the third. (Hudler) was doing a great job in front of their goalie. He didn’t see anything, and that’s why the puck went in.”
But Howard summarized the Wings’ sureness in their ability to bounce back…
“I just told myself to try and make saves, and the guys will find a way to put the puck in the net,” Howard said. “That was a lot of fun out there.”
And Wings proved that they could hit back, too, much to the chagrin of one Barret Jackman:
As the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff didn’t write a recap but did toss off quite a few Twitter updates, let’s start with his de-facto recap, which notes that the Wings’ arena received a fitting 32nd birthday present (or 64th for Mickey Redmond):
Dec. 27/79 - #blues 3 #redwings 2 in first game at JLA; Dec. 27/11 - #redwings 3 #blues 2 in latest game at JLA.
#redwings Joakim Andersson on first #NHL game: “After the first shift, I felt more comfortable. It’s fun to start with a win.”
#blues D Kevin Shattenkirk on #redwings rally: “It seemed like their big players decided it was time to step up.”
More Shattenkirk: “In the third period, we’ve got to be ready for that push and weather that storm.” #redwings #blues
#redwings Babcock: “I thought it was going to be a man’s game and it was going to be physical. Those are the games you want to be in.’‘
#redwings Kronwall: “Tonight really was a sweet one. We did a good job in the third coming after them wave after wave.”
#blues Hitchcock on #redwings: ““They dialed it up in the third and forced us into making mistakes.”
#blues D’Agostini on #redwings: “They raised their tempo in the third. I don’t think that we did a good job of continuing to play our game.”
#redwings Howard on 11 GP W streak at JLA: “I didn’t even know, to be honest. So it shows how much I pay attention.”
Lidstrom on #redwings & #Blues: “I think you see two even teams that play a similar style.”
Datsyuk on his tip-in of Ian White shot for 2nd #redwings goal: “He hit my stick.”
#redwings Datsyuk on holiday season: “Happy because Christmas come, of course I’m happy. It’s lots of presents.”
#redwings Datsyuk as weatherman: “It looks like real winter coming. I miss snow.”
The supposed sleet-snow-storm which was to hit Metro Detroit on Tuesday fizzled out into flurries, so we’ve had maybe one period of time in which we had a few inches of snow, back in November, and otherwise we’re expecting a late start to winter. The Wings seem to be coming on as the temperatures finally hit “seasonal” levels, too…
As the Detroit Free Press’s Carlos Monarrez notes, Howard had to make some of his spectacular saves thanks to the fact that he committed 4 of the Wings’ ten giveaways, but the Wings finally came around…
For a while in the second period of Tuesday’s 3-2 victory over St. Louis, the Red Wings looked lost. Goaltender Jimmy Howard misplayed the puck and passed it to the Blues—twice—while the Wings were on the power play.
They were outshot at one point in the second period, 18-10. They looked flat-footed and appeared unaware they hadn’t lost at Joe Louis Arena since Nov. 3. Then something happened. Nicklas Lidstrom, as he has often done over 19 seasons, led his team out of its morass. He scored a power-play goal with 1:03 left in the second period.
“He’s our leader,” Howard said. “He’s our go-to guy and once again he found a way to get us going.”
And even coach Mike Babcock had to admit that the Wings’ start was puzzling given the caliber of their opponent…
“And I don’t know why that happened, but it’s happened a couple times this year that we’ve come unraveled,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Then I thought we scored a big power-play goal, settled in and had a great third period. To me, that was a real good hockey game.”
But the Wings didn’t just play with dogged determination over the 14-and-change minutes which separated Lidstrom’s 2-1 goal from Kronwall’s game-winner. They stuck with it late in the game, when the Blues mounted a furious comeback, and at the end of the game, Fox Sports Detroit’s Mickey Redmond pointed out that both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk blocked the Blues’ final shot attempts, showing that one’s “best players can be your best players” in more ways than one:
The Wings weren’t done. In the final, frenetic seconds, the Blues pulled Elliott for the extra attacker and everyone on the Wings’ top line hit the ice to block a shot. It was the kind of effort that embodied the will to win in a playoff game.
“I think it did,” Lidstrom said. “I think it showed a lot of intensity out there. Two very competitive teams. They carried the play. They scored on their power plays early on to get the 2-nothing lead. But we stuck with it. We got a power play to get us back in the game and then in the third period we stayed patient and waited for our chances and we capitalized on them, too.”
As Lidstrom told Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji, the Wings’ patience made all the difference in the world:
“It’s very satisfying, especially when you’re down,” Lidstrom said. “We were down 2-0, we were down 2-1 heading into the third. Just our patience that we showed tonight, just kind of sticking with it, grinding it out, not opening ourselves up defensively, letting them have 3-on-2s. It happened a couple times, but I thought the team played disciplined down the wire and we earned our goals late in the game, too.”
Babcock wasn’t about to suggest that the Wings thumbed their collective noses at those who continue to suggest that the Wings are past their prime, but he did give his team quite the compliment for “taking a step” forward in their evolution:
“We needed the points,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “When you get a chance to win, teams pay a price to win and we got a good group here. I thought we took a step tonight.”
Jimmy Howard had 29 saves for his league-leading 22nd win.
“I thought (St. Louis’) goalie made some big saves early on and I thought Howie stepped up at the end to make some saves for us to get the win,” Lidstrom said.
The Blues had beaten the Wings by a goal in both of their two previous meetings, so getting the one-goal victory Tuesday was something the Wings savored.
“Tonight really was a sweet one,” Kronwall said. “Just the fact that we came back, we knew we had a lot of momentum with the crowd in here. We did a good job in the third coming after them wave after wave. At the same time, they sat back a little bit. We really took advantage of that.”
Howard agreed, as he told the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...
“That was a lot of fun out there, a great game, a lot of fun especially with the energy in the building,” said Howard, who kept the Wings within striking distance in the second period with big saves as the Wings temporarily sagged. “It felt like a playoff game.”
It was the first time the Wings defeated the Blues this season, previously losing twice to St. Louis. The teams meet again Saturday in the traditional New Year’s Eve game at Joe Louis Arena.
“All the games have been real tight against them,” Kronwall said. “They’re playing real well, they have a real good structure. They’re doing all the right things and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Wings (23-12-1, 47 points) completed a sweep of division rivals Nashville and St. Louis on consecutive nights. St. Louis (21-11-4, 46 points) lost for only the four time in regulation since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach (15-4-4), which is essentially when the Blues turned their season around.
“We showed good determination,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We worked our way back, we had good goaltending, and we were real determined in the third (period). We took a step (forward) tonight.”
Hitchcock shook his head at his team’s inability to solve Howard when they had a 2-0 lead…
“We had chances to blow it open in the second,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We had chances with the odd-man rushes and we didn’t take advantage. It came back to haunt us. And in the third period, their best players were their best players.”
But as a partisan Wings fan, I need to point out, via Kulfan, that the Blues got something of a break because referee Stephane Auger was a little too perfectly positioned to see that Howard hadn’t quite covered a shot, and Auger’s unwillingness to blow the whistle all but gave Alex Steen the heads-up he needed to bury a lurking puck behind Howard into an empty net:
The Blues made it 2-0 in the second period with yet another power-play goal. Howard appeared to make the save on Jason Arnott’s shot and, while kneeling, had the puck between his legs. But no whistle was called, and Steen dug the puck out and tapped it into an open net, his 13th goal, at 13:08.
We’ll start our survey of Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji’s Twitter updates with that particular sticky wicket:
#RedWings Howard on Steen g:I thought I had it but ref, he was rt there on the goal line, he said it was just sitting there between my legs.
#RedWings Howard: Every game’s been hard-fought & back & forth. They played great again and we just stuck 2 the game plan, stayed composed.
#StlBlues Shattenkirk on #RedWings: “It seemed like their big players decided it was time to step up.”
#RedWings Lidstrom: I thought their G made some big svs early on;I thought Howie stepped up at the end 2 make some svs for us 2 get the win.
#RedWings Howard: It felt like a playoff game out there. #StlBlues
#RedWings Babcock: I thought it was going to be a man’s game and it was going to be physical. Those are the games you want to be in. #Blues
#RedWings Kronwall: The team that stuck to the game plan the longest time was able to come out with a victory. #StlBlues
I know that Babcock’s basically an Alpha Alpha Male—i.e. aggressive, assertive and pretty darn full of testosterone—but as one of those, “According to my bald head, I sweat testosterone, but I’m one of those purposefully ‘tender and sensitive’ types,” think that, “A man’s game” translates into, “A game where teams are ready to beat the snot out of each other, and do just that.”
Niklas Kronwall offered a slightly less manly but no less emphatic take on the game, as noted by the Wings’ Twitter account...
Kronwall: In the third we just tried to throw everything we could at them and it worked out in the end.
Kronwall: When our top guys are laying down, blocking shots at the end, it shows the character of our team
Babcock: To me that was a real good hockey team. They’ve got a real nice team. They’re playing hard and they’re playing well.
I wouldn’t call them “nice.” Here’s the full context of Babcock’s quote, per MLive’s Ansar Khan, who very astutely describes the Wings’ play as “resilient and determined” in his recap:
“That was a real good hockey game,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They’re a nice team, they’re playing well, playing hard and they got good goaltending. I thought we did the same. We were down 2-0 to a good team that doesn’t give up a lot of shots, a lot of opportunity. We worked our way back, had good goaltending. That power-play goal at the end of the second was huge for us, got us settled down and playing again, and were real determined in the third.”
“When you get a chance to win, teams pay a price to win and we got a good group here, and I thought we took a step tonight,” Babcock said.
Datsyuk scored at 11:19, skating hard to the net and redirecting a pass from Ian White past Elliott.
“I just go to the middle to make the right play, what they (coaches) say to us before the game,” Datsyuk said. “He hit my stick.”
That goal was slick. The Wings’ first two periods weren’t, and while the Wings “took a step,” they’ve also been indulging in last season’s blueprint in giving teams 2-0 leads before showing up to play, and going into games against Chicago and a rematch against St. Louis in which the Wings will have no margin for error if they want to gain ground in the Central Division, they can’t keep hoping that Howard will, as Babcock suggested, bail the team out until it feels like playing:
“I thought Howie had to stand on his head a little bit while we gave up ugly rushes for no reason,” Babcock said. “Then we scored a big power play goal, settled in and had a great third period.”
Howard said it felt like a playoff game, an expression that’s sometimes overused, but applicable in this case.
“Every single game (vs. the Blues) has been hard fought and back and forth,” Howard said. “They played great again tonight and we just stuck to the game plan, stayed composed and we found a way to open it up a bit in the third.”
For one night, it was more than enough to earn a win over a supposedly unstoppable team and let the league know that the Wings aren’t going away any time soon, but going forward, the Wings have yet to display a consistent, determined, dogged and downright gritty game for the 60 minutes, and as far as the Wings have come from a team that seemed lost in transition away from the leadership of Kris Draper, Chris Osgood and Brian Rafalski during their six-game losing streak…
The Wings still have a long ways to go in terms of evolving into a team that can reclaim its usual place among the Western Conference’s elite in not only status, but also the standings, and there’s no time like the present to start one of those hard pushes and long winning streaks that can build the foundation for a long run come April. That kind of team-building really does begin now, in December, January and February, and it’s more than time that the Wings start to reach for and attempt to fulfill their vast potential as, well…A team that can prove to themselves that they’ve learned the lessons the San Jose Sharks have so mercilessly taught them over the past two springs.
Highlights: TSN posted a 59-second highlight clip;
And somehow, mercifully, the Red Wings’ website’s highlight clip is narrated by Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond instead of the Versus crew:
Post-game: TSN posted a 59-second clip of Mike Peca talking about the Wings’ “best players being their best players,” Jimmy Howard included, and Jimmy Howard’s head save was named their highlight of the night;
Here are NBC Sports’ Mike Milbury and Keith Jones’ takes on the game:
Fox Sports Detroit posted clips of Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond’s takes on the game…
As well as post-game comments from Jimmy Howard and coach Mike Babcock…
And the Red Wings’ website posted a clip of Niklas Kronwall, Danny Cleary and coach Mike Babcock discussing the game:
Photos: The Detroit Free Press posted a 22-image gallery;
The Detroit News posted a 24-image gallery;
Yahoo Sports posted a 9-image gallery;
NHL.com posted a 22-image gallery;
The Blues’ website posted a 22-image gallery;
Statistics: Shots 32-31 Detroit. The Wings were out-shot 10-7 in the 1st period and 18-12 in the 2nd period, but out-shot the Blues 13-3 in the 3rd period.
The Blues went 2 for 4 in 6:09 of PP time, including 15 seconds of a 4-on-3 power play; the Wings went 1 for 4 in 7:00 of PP time, mostly earned via 3 Blues penalties in the 3rd period.
Jimmy Howard stopped 29 of 31 shots; Brian Elliott stopped 29 of 32.
The 3 stars, per FSD’s Dana Wakiji, were Nicklas Lidstrom, Kevin Shattenkirk and Pavel Datsyuk.
The Wings’ goals: Lidstrom (8) from Datsyuk (26) and White (13), power play;
Datsyuk (12) from White (14) and Bertuzzi (12);
Kronwall (8) from Filppula (17).
Faceoffs 33-28 St. Louis (the Wings won 46%);
Blocked shots 18-15 Detroit;
Missed shots 15-8 Detroit (total attempts 62-56 Detroit);
Hits 34-23 Detroit (and that’s a hometown stat);
Giveaways 10-4 Detroit, with Howard committing 4 of those 10 turnovers;
Faceoffs: Datsyuk went 12-and-9 (57%); Zetterberg went 8-and-8 (50%); Helm went 5-and-8 (38%); Filppula went 0-and-3; Abdelkader went 3-and-3 (50%); Emmerton and Franzen lost the only faceoffs they took.
Shots: Helm and Kronwall led the team with 4 shots apiece; Lidstrom, Datsyuk, White, Zetterberg and Franzen had 3; Cleary and Hudler had 2; Abdelkader, Miller, Stuart, Emmerton and Ericsson had 1.
Blocked attempts: Lidstrom, Filppula, Ericsson and Franzen had 2 attempts blocked by Blues players; Abdelkader, Cleary, Datsyuk, White, Miller, Stuart and Helm had single attempts blocked.
Missed shots: Lidstrom, Cleary, White, Commodore and Franzen missed the net 2 times; Datsyuk, Hudler, Zetterberg, Bertuzzi and Ericsson missed the net 1 time.
Hits: Bertuzzi led the Wings with 6 hits; Cleary had 5; Miller, Commodore, Stuart, Helm and Franzen had 3; Abdelkader and Datsyuk had 2; Lidstrom, Hudler, Zetterberg and Andersson had 1.
Giveaways: Howard had 4 giveaways; Lidstrom and Zetterberg had 2; Cleary and Ericsson had 1.
Takeaways: Datsyuk, Emmerton, Filppula and Kronwall had takeaways.
Blocked shots: White blocked 5 Blues shots; Abdelkader blocked 3; Commodore and Kronwall blocked 2; Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Miller, Stuart, Hudler and Filppula blocked 1.
Penalties taken: Zetterberg took 2 minor penalties; Lidstrom, Cleary, Helm and Franzen took single minors.
Plus-minus: The Wings finished at a collective +10. Lidstrom, Datsyuk, White, Stuart, Hudler, Zetterberg, Bertuzzi, Filppula, Kronwall and Franzen finished at +1.
Points: Datsyuk had a goal and an assist for 2 points; White had 2 assists; Lidstrom and Kronwall had goals; Bertuzzi and Filppula had assists.
Ice time: White led the team with 25:48 played; Lidstrom played 25:41; Kronwall played 22:21;
Zetterberg played 21:24; Filppula played 20:43; Stuart played 20:16;
Datsyuk played 19:41; Hudler played 17:24; Cleary played 17:08;
Franzen played 16:38; Bertuzzi played 15:18; Ericsson played 13:06;
Miller played 12:45; Helm played 11:54; Commodore played 11:23;
Abdelkader played 10:13; Emmerton played 5:13; Andersson played 5:10.
In his debut, Joakim Andersson played 5:10 over the course of 8 shifts. He was credited with one hit.
Part II: Red Wings notebooks: Instead of writing a recap, the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff profiled Blues forward Ryan Reaves and recounted Johnny Wilson’s Windsor legacy as Wilson passed away at 82 on Tuesday:
Sixty-four years ago, brothers Johnny and Larry Wilson arrived in town along with Marcel Pronovost from Shawinigan Falls, Que., to play junior hockey for the Windsor Spitfires. It became a home away from home for all of them.
Wilson, a four-time Stanley Cup winner who died Tuesday at the age of 82 due to complications relating to his battle with lung disease, recalled in a 2008 interview how quickly his family embraced Windsor.
“When we came to Windsor to play junior, the first time my dad came to visit, he absolutely loved the city,” said Wilson, who eventually made his home in the Detroit suburbs. “He decided they were going to move away from Shawinigan Falls, Quebec. He got a job at General Motors and we moved to Windsor.”
Johnny, the uncle of Windsor-born Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, and Larry Wilson, Ron’s dad, formed a potent scoring line for the Spitfires along with Bob Rawlyk from 1947-49.
Wilson played 688 NHL games, also suiting up for the Leafs and New York Rangers, finishing with 161 goals and 171 assists, twice topping the 20-goal plateau. Wilson played with the Leafs from 1959-60, helping the club reach the Stanley Cup final in the spring of 1960, but there was never a doubt where his NHL allegiances lay.
“My uncle has that Red Wing tattooed on his butt,” Ron Wilson once said.
The rest of Duff’s article is more than worth your time.
• The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan also spoke to a Wings legend about Wilson’s passing:
“He was known as the iron man of hockey,” said Budd Lynch , the Wings’ long-time public address announcer. “Just a special man, a fine man and fine hockey player.”
Kulfan also profiles a line which consists of two players who’ve got “zippers” on their upper lips. Darren Helm wore a full cage on his face after taking a puck to the mouth during warm-ups for the Wings-Predators game (via a shot from Jimmy Howard), joining Drew Miller in that club, and while Helm’s cage did hurt him a bit in the faceoff circle—he went 5 and 8—Helm also registered 4 shots and 3 hits on Tuesday.
Kulfan notes that Helm, Miller and Danny Cleary have more than gotten the job done as a third line that can, as Kulfan suggests, “grind” pretty darn well:
“They’re all three strong skaters and they use it to their advantage,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Once they get going, they’re hard to pin.”
Cleary has eight points (four goals) his last eight games heading. Miller has four goals and one assist his last six games. Helm has four assists his last six games. All three were struggling offensively when coach Mike Babcock, juggling his lines, put them together.
“Put three guys who are struggling together and good things started happening,” Helm said.
For the line to be successful, however, the trio needs to be physical and keep the puck in the other team’s zone.
“We’re not in the top-end of players, we understand that,” Helm said. “We do have some skill and it’ll come out if we’re on the puck enough in their zone.”
If the Wings can find a personnel combination that works to stir Justin Abdelkader on what’s been a somewhat dormant 4th line, Tomas Holmstrom’s fine example excluded, the Wings will really be able to roll four lines on a more consistent basis while finding a better forechecking presence from their “bottom six” forwards.
• Along those lines, MLive’s Ansar Khan reports that the Wings’ doctors cleared Jan Mursak to play and sent Mursak, who is recovering from a broken ankle, to Grand Rapids for a two-week conditioning stint. He and Chris Conner might add a little more speed to that fourth line…
“I’m really excited,” Mursak said. “I’ve been working hard off-ice. It’ll be good for me to get in shape, get in game rhythm. I’ve been skating really hard. Ankle is getting stronger and stronger. I’m almost 100 percent.”
Forward Chris Conner will see a hand specialist Wednesday to assess his progress after he fractured his left hand Dec. 13 at Pittsburgh.
“Lucky enough, I can still skate, keep my legs going,” Conner said.
And we’ve witnessed something of a stunning development in that Jakub Kindl, who played so very solidly until the Wings’ Western Canadian road trip, finds himself sitting while Mike Commodore’s established himself as a supremely steady partner for Jonathan Ericsson over the course of three short games:
Asked what Kindl has to work on to get back in the lineup, Detroit coach Mike Babcock said, “He’s got to do his work, but that’s not the way it works. Someone else has to slip up, that’s the way it works.”
Kindl, for the most part, has played well. He has a goal, seven assists and a plus-8 rating in 31 games. He has posted a minus rating in only four games, none since Nov. 23.
“The game in Edmonton (Dec. 19) I don’t think I played well,” Kindl said. “That’s probably the reason why I’m sitting out. But I don’t know.”
“I know I didn’t play my best the last couple of games, but other than that I thought I was pretty solid in the other 30 games,” Kindl said. “But, it’s their decision, something I can’t control. I’m staying positive and keep working hard.”
“He’s just been steady and played,” coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s the same in all sport and all life’s jobs—Mike wasn’t getting a chance. He worked hard, he kept his mouth shut and he competed every day and someone else gave him an opportunity and he’s grabbed it. So now he’s got to hang on to it.”
Commodore has struggled through injury and depth-chart problems to see the ice in his 11th season and first with the Wings.
“As far as game-wise, yeah, I’ve had to be patient,” Commodore said. “It’s been kind of tough, but I’m not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination. ... Three in a row; it’s been awhile.”
And the Wings might want to take heed of this tidbit:
Babcock was not pleased with his players’ sluggish skating in Monday’s game at Nashville after he gave them three days off for the Christmas break. With the early-morning flight back to Detroit on Tuesday, only a handful of players showed up for the optional morning skate, but it sounds like Babcock will work the team harder in practice going forward.
“Prior to Christmas I gave them lots of rest and then we didn’t skate as good,” he said. “So I’m going to err on the side of skating in the second half.”
• I believe that this note from the Free Press’s Monarrez requires an Ixnay on the alky-tay, uddy-bay, too:
The Wings won their 11th straight at home and are inching closer to history. They can tie their franchise-record 13 straight home wins, set in 2006-07, against Phoenix on Jan. 12.
• Joakim Andersson had a solid NHL debut given that he only played 5:10 on Tuesday, registering a hit and acquitting himself pretty well on the fourth line, and he talked to Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji about his experience:
“After the first shift, I felt more comfortable,” Andersson said. “It’s fun to start with a win. Down 2-0, it’s fun to win this game.”
Andersson said he found out about his call-up right after the holiday, a nice post-Christmas present.
“We had our first practice back in Grand Rapids after Christmas break, our first skate,” Andersson said. “Curt Fraser, the coach in Grand Rapids, told me right before the skate. He grabbed me aside, and it was a special feeling when he told me that I was going to play in the NHL.”
Andersson, who is wearing No. 63, is the first player in team history to wear a number in the 60s. He said he enjoyed jumping right into a big Central Division game.
“It was intense,” Andersson said. “I’d seen a few games between these two teams before and they were physical struggles, so it was kind of the game that I expected.”
“Of course I hope to play more and play up here, but it’s a good team, so I’ve got to be patient,” Andersson said. “It’s been pretty good down there in Grand Rapids, I’m playing a lot.”
Andersson’s going to head back to Grand Rapids when Tomas Holmstrom’s groin heals, but he’s got a few games to impress the Wings’ brass and coaching staff in the interim.
• Bonus Swedish: Niklas Kronwall spoke to Expressen’s Gunnar Nordstrom after the game, and he offered a brief but positive assessment of Andersson’s debut:
“Jocke looked really good and played maturely,” says Niklas Kronwall to HockeyExpressen.se.
“Jocke was right on track and made the right decision every time he was on the ice.”
Slovakia started its 2012 World Junior campaign off on the right foot, defeating Latvia 3-1 Tuesday on Marek Tvrdon’s third-period winner. In four all-time meetings at this tournament, the Slovaks have never lost to the Latvians.
“It was a very hard game to play for the first game of the tournament,” admitted Tvrdon. “But it was a good finish.”
The Latvians drew first blood at 6:41 of the middle frame, with Juris Ziemins speeding to the net and capitalizing on a rebound off the end boards that Simboch failed to control. At the other end, Gudlevskis continued to impress, foiling a dangerous Vladimir Dolnik rush near the midway point.
Slovakia tied it up at 15:28 when Tomas Jurco tipped Martin Marincin’s hard point drive perfectly past Gudlevskis.
Latvia pressed hard with a late second-period 5-on-3, but despite some good, patient puck movement, they couldn’t regain the lead. The Slovaks gained their first lead of the game when Marek Tvrdon banged home a loose puck past a sprawling Gudlevskis at 2:02 of the third period.
Midway through the third, Ziemins came close to tying it up when he deked Simboch to the ice, but rang the puck off the goalie’s right post from a bad angle. Edgars Klavins nearly exploited some sloppy Slovak defence from the same spot with about six minutes left, but couldn’t put it home.
“It’s good for us to get that first win,” said Tvrdon. Slovakia faces the defending champion Russians next on Wednesday, and Latvia gets Russia Thursday.
Tvrdon gave a thumbs-up to the Calgary Herald’s Bryce Forbes...
Slovakia’s Marek Tvrdon swatted in a third-period goal that stood up as the game-winner as Slovakia downed Latvia 3-1 in its opener of the IIHF world junior hockey championship at Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome Tuesday night.
“I’ve not scored in the league in eight games and I’m very happy today,” Tvrdon said, who plays for the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants and is a Detroit Red Wing prospect.
The Calgary Sun’s Wes Gilbertson profiled Jurco, too:
“I have played a few big games here, including the Memorial Cup. That’s a huge thing in Canada, too, so I think that’s what made me stronger,” Jurco said. “And that’s why I’m not nervous now (during the world juniors), because I know I already played those games and all I have to do is just stay focused and keep playing my way.”
Slovakia was the last outfit to hit the ice at this year’s world juniors, waiting until Tuesday’s late clash with Latvia at the Saddledome. While some of his teammates might’ve appreciated an extra day to get accustomed to the time change, Jurco seems to feel comfortable on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
The offensive whiz joined the Sea Dogs for the 2009-10 Canadian Hockey League campaign and has averaged almost a point per game ever since. He’s now featured on several YouTube highlight clips and has a future with the Detroit Red Wings after being selected by the Original Six squad in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Oh yeah, he now owns a Memorial Cup ring, too.
Jurco tied for the tournament goal-scoring title with four markers in as many games and also added one assist at the CHL’s championship tournament in Mississauga, Ont., last year. Team Canada forward Jonathan Huberdeau was the only Sea Dogs skater to register more points at the four-team event.
“It’s a great place to show what you can do,” Jurco said. “People in Europe don’t really know what the Memorial Cup is, but here in Canada, it’s a huge thing. I had a little taste of it last year. It was a great time for us. I’m happy we won, and I hope we’re going to repeat it this year, too.”
“It’s a big thing over here in Canada, and we’re all excited about it,” Jurco said. “Obviously, guys playing here in North America, they know that world juniors here are much bigger than in Europe. For us, it might be an even bigger thing because we know how much attention it causes here in Canada. I wish it was the same thing in Europe so young players were more excited for world juniors and they know lots of people are watching. I remember the world juniors in Europe a few years back, and I don’t think there was that many people watching and stuff, so I think juniors in North America are much better for young players.”
And TSN posted a 29-second highlight clip of the game;
TSN posted a 28-second highlight clip from the game.
Mrazek had this to say about the game to NHL.com’s Mike G. Morreale:
Goalie Mrazek, a fifth-round draft choice (No. 141) of the Detroit Red Wings in 2010, was barely tested but maintained his concentration throughout.
“This was a big game for us because it was the first … it was an important win,” Mrazek said. “We have a lot of offensive players and good defensive players, so I think we can score some goals in this tournament.”
Ahem, per the Edmonton Journal’s Evan Daum:
Mrazek, who plays for the Ottawa 67’s in the Ontario Hockey League, was a lock a season ago to make the Czech squad in Buffalo thanks to a stellar first half in the nation’s capital.
His world junior plans, however, had to be put on ice when a contract dispute with former club team HC Vitkovice in the Czech Republic kept the 2010 fifth-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings out of the tournament.
Thanks to the lack of a transfer agreement between the National Hockey League and the Czech Republic, Vitkovice exercised their right to withhold the goalie from playing on the national junior team, meaning hockey diplomacy and not skill set were the reason Mrazek’s debut came a year later then expected.
After leading the OHL in save percentage last season with the 67’s, posting an impressive .920 mark - which was slightly better than Canadian netminder Mark Visentin’s .917 with the Niagara IceDogs - and a solid start to his OHL campaign this year, Mrazek may be the most underrated goalie at this year’s tournament.
Mrazek happened to mention the little kerfuffle while speaking to Yahoo Sport’s Neate Sager about the road to come:
“I"m very happy to be playing Canada,” said the Detroit Red Wings goaltending prospect, who only had to face 12 shots in the Czechs’ 7-0 win over the Danes. “I can play against them… we will see tomorrow.”
Any goaltender worth his trapper can accept a team taking two other goalies to a major event, or the coaching picking the other guy. Being “held hostage,” as 67’s goaltending coach Tom Dempsey described Mrazek’s former predicament earlier this year, is harder to abide.
“It was a bad experience for me because I was watching,” Mrazek said. “I watched hockey sitting on the coach with my parents and in Ottawa when I got back [after Christmas]. I was a little bit, like, mad. But this year I will try to do my best. I played three years ago, my last game fo the national team [during the 2009 IIHF under-18],” he added. “Now I get a chance, starting goaltender. I’m so happy.”
Mrazek’s serious tests came few and far between, but that might have tested his focus. He and the Czechs had to weather a 5-on-3 penalty kill in the first period. He also had to get across the crease quickly to stop Denmark’s Mathias Bau-Hansen in the third period to preserve his shutout.
“Petr, for the amount of action that he saw, he made some big saves, particularly in the first period when he kept the score 1-0,” Czech assistant coach Jiri Fischer said. “There was a bouncing puck where he got the right pad out to make a tough save. He did a good job. Politics kept him out the tournament last year and it’s nice to get a zero on his account.”
Mrazek was a fifth-round pick by the Wings in 2010, but he led the OHL in save percentage last season ahead of both teams Canada and USA’s returning starters, Mark Visentin and Jack Campbell. He’s had good duels with each in the OHL. Fischer was asked if it’s possible the Czech goaltending isn’t getting much notice, but he didn’t take the bait.
“We know the strength of Petr and what everybody else thinks, that’s their decision.”
• On Wednesday, Teemu Pulkkinen and Finland will face off against the U.S. at 3:30 PM EST (on the NHL Network U.S. and TSN), Mattias Backman and Team Sweden will play Switzerland at 5:30 PM EST (on TSN 2), Mrazek and the Czech Republic will play Canada at 8:30 PM EST (on the NHL Network U.S. and TSN) and Jurco, Tvrdon and Slovakia will play Russia at 10 PM EST (on TSN 2).
Part IV: In the ECHL, Thomas McCollum stopped 20 of 21 shots and Nick Oslund scored the game-tying goal late in the 3rd period as the Toledo Walleye defeated the Chicago Express 2-1 in overtime. The Walleye’s website and the Toledo Blade’s Mark Monroe provide recaps.
Part V: Also of Red Wings-related note: And this is a, erm, different kind of game preview, via the NHL Network:
Update: Hockey’s Future posted a video of Marek Tvrdon speaking to the press after the Slovaks’ win.
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