The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/22/11 at 09:57 AM ET
You can say pretty much whatever you wish about the Red Wings’ controversial 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night (and I did), but the bottom line as it applies to tonight’s match-up with the Calgary Flames (9:30 PM, FSD/TSN/WXYT) is a relatively simple one: the Wings’ loss makes tonight’s game all but a must-win, and after taking an extremely late flight to Calgary, the Wings will have to battle both tired legs and a team that believes its playoff life depends on winning every game, starting with tonight’s tilt.
The Wings didn’t have to say much about facing the Flames—they didn’t have anything to say, given the events that transpired in Vancouver. The Wings have a nine point lead on the Flames in the Western Conference standings, but Calgary defeated Minnesota 2-1 on Tuesday, snapping a four-game losing streak, and the Flames did indeed sound like a team desperate to gain ground at the expense of their opponent while speaking with the Calgary Herald’s George Johnson:
You look at the pack,’’ said coach Brent Sutter. “We’re right there. At this point in time it’s . . . right there. There’s a lot of things with our team game that is certainly encouraging; certainly coming. We need to play a certain way and we’ve seen more consistency with it. Now we need to take that step, make that push. The schedule doesn’t get any easier. That’s why going into the Christmas break these two games are big. They’re huge for us. We want to still in the pack, containing to push and move up in the standings.’’
Twelve months ago to this very day, as the Darryl Sutter regime was in its final death throes, the Flames found themselves a massive eight points shy of a Western Conference playoff spot. This season, that deficit has been shaved to four. Hardly an exponential improvement. But something positive to clutch at?
“Well,’’ volleyed Olli Jokinen, returning serve, “we were pretty bad last year, so ...A couple of points better this year, I guess. Our goal was to be three or four games over .500 at the 35-game mark. Obviously, that’s not going to be the case. Whatever the division L.A.’s in (Pacific), we play 20 games against those teams so I think that’s going to be the make-it or break-it. If you look around the league, a lot of teams are better than they were last year. The standings are a lot tighter. We know you’ve gotta be 14 or 15 games over .500 to get in. It’s tough defensive game. We have to use the next home game as building block. After that it’s a tough stretch for us.’’
“The gap’s closed (from last season to this), so I guess that’s good news,’’ sighed Brendan Morrison. “But it’s still not where we want to be. There’s no hiding that fact. Again, our inability to win some games early in the year, our powerplay not coming through for us early on, has really put us in a hole. We’ve played better hockey here lately. We’re starting to gain a little bit of ground. But we’ve got a long ways to go. It seems teams get points every night. And we know down the stretch that’s even magnified ‘cause a lot of teams just play for ties to get points. These next two weeks are going to be critical to our season.’’
That pre-Christmas push could scarely be much tougher. Tonight, the Detroit Red Wings - Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Lidstrom, Tomas (The Total Eclipse) Holmstrom, et al - at the Scotiabank Saddledome, then a wickedly short turnaround to play in Vancouver on the 23rd. Then, after cleaning up the wrapping paper and snogging back a couple cups of eggnog, they head out again for six - count ‘em - in a row on the road as the World Junior Hockey Championship takes over the town. Either they’ll sink without trace over that stretchof time, or hang in, hang around, and give themselves a real shot buoyed by a score of home games with which to make up ground.
“No, it’s not a daunting task for us,’’ argued Morrison. “But it is a real challenge. Our road record’s not great. We lost last four on the road (0-2-2) but we easily could’ve gone 3-1. We didn’t. We can’t get too caught up in how long this (upcoming) trip is, how many games we have on the road. Our focus, and it’s a cliche, is the next game. It’s dangling ... right there for us. I know what you’re saying - when you’re so far out, like we were last year, you just relax and play, nothing to lose. But, really, that has to be our mindset right now because we’re not in. What do we have to lose? Nothing. We have to make a move here. That’s kind of the approach to take. We can’t sit here and in the back of our minds think we’re going to go on a run like we did last year. It’d be pretty far-fetched to say we’re going to do that again.’’
Morrison’s comments to the Calgary Sun’s Randy Sportak almost sound like, well, what the Wings were saying when they were in the middle of that six-game losing streak...
“The gap’s closer, but it’s still not where we want to be. There’s no hiding that fact,” said centre Brendan Morrison. “Our inability to win games early in the year, close games, our powerplay not coming through for us early on really put us in a hole. We’ve played better hockey and are starting to gain a little bit of ground, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Before they break for Christmas, the Flames play host to the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night at the Saddledome (7:30 p.m., TSN) before heading to Vancouver to face the Canucks the next night. It ends a tough stretch of games — seven in 10 nights in all four NHL time zones — and all but one versus squads currently in playoff positions.
“The schedule doesn’t get any easier (after), it doesn’t for any team, it just gets tougher,” said coach Brent Sutter. “That’s why these two games are big. They’re huge for us. We want to be with the pack. We want to make sure we continue to push and continue to try and push up the standings.”
After that six-game road swing with games against Columbus, the New York Islanders, Ottawa, Nashville, Washington and Boston, the Flames have 40 games remaining, 26 of them at home. As goofy as it sounds, they do have a chance to make a run similar to the hot streak they had to finish last season.
“That would be pretty far-fetched to say we’re going to do it again,” Morrison said. “Can it happen? Yeah, it can happen, but to sit here and rely solely on that is ...,” he said looking for the right word.
Lunacy would be one.
In terms of more direct game previews, the Calgary Herald’s John Down tossed out a bit of a curve ball regarding which goaltender will face Ty Conklin tonight…
Sutter admitted Wednesday he hasn’t carved anything in stone regarding his starting goaltender situation as the Flames face another back-to-back (tonight against Detroit, Friday at Vancouver). In other words, will caddy Leland Irving play one of those games or will workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff play them both?
“I don’t want to tip my hand on that because I’m still not 100 per cent sure,” said the coach. “I want to see how Kipper is (today) and where he’s at. These are two significant games for us in different ways . . . and then going into the break for a couple days. Obviously, with our road trip coming up, there’s lots of hockey after that, so there’s no question Leland is going to get some playing time moving forward. It’s just deciding which games are the right ones.”
And he previews tonight’s game…
The Flames have split with the Red Wings, winning 4-2 and losing 5-3 at Detroit, but it’ll be a far more polished squad they face tonight.
While the Wings struggled to find their groove early this season, the perennial post-season contenders appear to have all their ducks in a row again with just three losses in their past 15 outings, five defeats in their last 20.
Although the Flames catch a wee break by getting the Wings on the back end of a back-to-back, they should know the Michigan machine has rolled up a 14-2-3 record in games at Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton since the 2008-09 season.
And the No. 1 plus-minus player is no other than former Flames rearguard Ian White at plus-23.
Before offering a full-fledged lineup/game day article:
Flames player to watch: Jarome Iginla
All eyes remain on the captain as he zeroes in on 500 career goals, needing just three more, and he’s on a roll with six goals and eight assists in the last 10 games.
C.Glencross O.Jokinen J.Iginla
A. Tanguay M.Backlund L.Stempniak
B. Comeau R. Horak P. Byron
T.Kostopoulos B. Morrison T.Jackman
G Henrik Karlsson (knee, IR), D Mark Giordano (hamstring, IR), D Anton Babchuk (hand, IR), RW David Moss (foot, IR), C Matt Stajan (ankle), D Brett Carson (upper body, IR).
And as the Calgary Sun’s Randy Sportak notes…
Flames RW Rene Bourque serves the second and final game of his suspension for the hit on Chicago’s Brent Seabrook ... The Red Wings have loved visiting Western Canada in recent years. Heading into Wednesday’s clash in Vancouver, the Wings have a 14-2-3 record in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver since the start of the 2008-09 season.
I’m up at 6 AM and I knew I would be given the back-to-backs—I’ve actually been planning for the last two weeks for the energy I’d be expending between Wednesday’s Wings-Nucks set-up and the time I write the Wings-Flames wrap-up tomorrow morning (that’s how it works when you have chronic illnesses which limit your energy. You plan ahead)—so it was interesting to watch NHL.com’s game preview turn from a straight statistical preview to something coherent around 3 AM.
Here’s how NHL.com’s Brian Compton frames tonight’s game:
Big Story: Detroit will complete its three-game Canadian trip Thursday night, and it will be interesting to see how much gas the Wings have in the tank after a highly-intense affair in Vancouver on Wednesday. Detroit was unable to extend its win streak to three games as it suffered a 4-2 loss to the Canucks at Rogers Arena.
Red Wings [team scope]: Wednesday’s loss was just the second in the Wings’ last seven games as they attempt to catch the also-hot Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division. But Alexandre Burrows scored his fourth goal in as many games and Roberto Luongo made several tremendous saves in the third period as Detroit failed to leave Vancouver with any points.
“We had a good push … we had over 30 shots in the last two periods (40 for the game), but in saying that, you have to start on time,” Wings coach Mike Babcock told The Detroit News. “We made too many mistakes through the neutral zone.”
Flames [team scope]: Calgary concludes its brief two-game homestand Thursday night against another one of the top teams in the Western Conference. The Flames managed to pull out a 2-1 victory against the Northwest Division leading Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night at Scotiabank Saddledome thanks to a game-winning goal from their captain, Jarome Iginla. The line of Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross combined for 12 shots on goal Tuesday night.
“We had some good opportunities tonight as a team and as a line,” Iginla said. “We were finding each other and we all had some good looks. I had some ones that on another night they go in and fortunately tonight we didn’t need any more.”
Who’s Hot: Wings forward Drew Miller has 5 goals in his last six games. … Iginla has a 4-game point streak and now leads the Flames with 13 goals.
The hidden ugly stat: if Iginla scores a hat trick against the Wings tonight (jinx!), he’ll hit 500 goals.
As of the time I’m writing this, the NHL’s media website does not list tonight’s referees or linesmen.
Part II: We’ve gotta address this before we do anything else: As I was wrapping up the Wings-Nucks recap thingy, Paul pointed my nose toward this lovely little video from The Score, in which one Kevin Bieksa suggests that, and I quote, “You know, to me, because of how sneaky it is, it’s a little bit dirty, and if you’re going to do that, you should pay the price, and he hasn’t paid the price yet, so…You lose a little respect in my books, for sure. I don’t know if it’s gonna take somebody jumping him, and beating the crap out of him, for him to stop that, but I don’t like it.”
Part III: Red Wings notebooks: “Goalie bowling” was also a hot topic on Wednesday evening, and the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted that Jimmy Howard has his coach’s support in terms of coming up swinging:
Moments after Kesler’s penalty and Kronwall’s hit, goalie Jimmy Howard felt he was interfered with by Vancouver’s Jannik Hansen on a shorthanded goal by Alex Edler. Howard went after Hansen before order was restored after the goal.
“I’m getting sick of it,” Howard said. “Sometimes you can’t help it, the battling in front and things happen. But I’m getting sick of it.”
Babcock felt Howard was justified in being frustrated.
“Goalies around the national league, they’ve been saying that for a bit,” Babcock said. “The goalie is allowed to be upset when he’s runned.”
Kulfan also noted the following:
Drew Miller is becoming an offensive machine for the Wings. Miller’s goal was his fourth in three games and gives him seven for the season.
Ian White suffered a cut near where he suffered a broken jaw bone earlier this season, but there was no further damage.
I’m not allowed to say what I think about White taking his visor off.
• The Vancouver Province’s Cam Cole wrote a lovely article about Tomas Holmstrom as a specialist extraordinaire, and the Free Press’s Helene St. James offers her take on the man called “Homer” this morning, noting that Babcock admits his attempt to turn Holmstrom into an every-other-night player was a mistake as Holmstrom continues to stir the team’s power play drink:
“We gassed the power play one night,’ Babcock said. “We went O-for and we had a five-on-three and no net presence, so that solved that problem.”
All six of Holmstrom’s goals have come on the power play. He’s got amazing hand-to-eye coordination, is able to see a puck come flying in, often from the point, and often shot by Nicklas Lidstrom, and knows just how to deflect that puck into the net. When Holmstrom isn’t tipping shots, he’s setting screens and talking to guys like [Roberto] Luongo.
“You give him respect,” Holmstrom said. “We’ve had some good battles, so when I think I have a good screen and he gets the puck with his glove, I tell him, ‘Nice, how did you see that?’ It’s respect between each other, you know?”
Within his own team, Holmstrom serves up help and humor. His origins—technically, Pitea, in the north of Sweden, but to his teammates, the North Pole—make him a handy person to deliver Christmas wish lists to his famous fellow red-suited neighbor. His English makes him a hilarious person to hear, even though “you only understand him half the time,” Jimmy Howard said. Howard is especially fond of Holmstrom because there’s nothing like being trained by the best to be prepared for the rest.
“Working on screens and deflections almost every other day with him,” Howard said, “that helps me improve. It’s a joy having him around.”
Over 15 seasons, all of them with the Wings, Holmstrom has demonstrated what hard work can do for a guy who isn’t among the most naturally gifted.
“I love him because he gets mad when things don’t go his way,” Babcock said. “He’s got emotion about it and he makes his teammates better. He leads by example. He never thinks I play him enough. That’s just how he is—he’s a competitor, and that’s what makes him great, and that’s why he’s been good for so long.
• MLive’s Ansar Khan also spoke about Holmstrom, as well as his carpool partner...
Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom was tied for third in goals (seven), sixth in points (22) and second in plus-minus rating (plus-17) among NHL defensemen heading into Wednesday’s game.
“He’s playing as good as I’ve ever seen him,” Babcock said. “He’s been great, because he embraces doing the simple thing over and over again, and he’s obviously been touched by a wand by God. He’s incredible.”
But his main focus is Drew Miller, who’s become something of an offensive force of late. Miller says he stayed in Detroit instead of going elsewhere for a guaranteed spot in someone else’s lineup for a reason:
“I knew it would be a tough situation to battle for a spot, but I felt I could come in and earn a spot,” Miller said. “Practicing and playing with this team, you learn so much from the high-end players. I try to take as much as I can and make myself a better player. When you find a role that you can play, you try to be the best you can at that and continue to move up. This year I’m playing a little more penalty kill and, with injuries, I got a chance to play with that third line and make the most of that opportunity.”
Miller has four goals in three games after scoring in Wednesday’s contest in Vancouver, after being moved up to third line with Darren Helm and Danny Cleary.
“It’s nice to get goals and be on a line where guys are getting points,” Miller said. “It always looks good when a defensive third- or fourth-line guy is getting points and helping the team like that. It’s a little bonus for guys like us.”
The Red Wings have no extra healthy forwards. But Chris Conner (broken hand) and Jan Mursak (broken ankle) will be back near the end of the month or in early January. And Patrick Eaves (broken jaw) is slated to return late next month. The team will be deeper, creating more competition.
“You never get to be totally comfortable,” Miller said. “Of course, everyone would like not to have it in the back of their mind that if they don’t play their best game they might be out the next game. Once the guys come back from injury, things could change—but I plan to continue to play the way I’m playing, and hopefully contribute to the team the way I have been.”
In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins lost to the other professional hockey team from British Columbia, dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to the Abbotsford Heat—the Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate. The Griffins out-shot Abbotsford 46-30, and Tomas Tatar of all people got in a fight, but former Wing and, well, I’ll let the Griffins’ website’s recap (you can also watch a slate of YouTube interviews and check out a Flickr photo gallery) tell the tale:
A scoreless first period was nonetheless filled with end-to-end action, extended play between whistles and numerous scoring chances, ending with the Griffins holding a 16-9 advantage in shots.
[Krys] Kolanos, who burned his old teammates with a hat trick in the Heat’s 5-1 win at Van Andel Arena on Oct. 28, took advantage of a fortunate bounce to give Abbotsford (20-8-2-0) the lead 2:33 into the second period. Ben Walter’s centering pass from the left side deflected off the skate of Greg Amadio and right to the stick of Kolanos, who quickly buried the puck from the slot.
Brent Raedeke answered for Grand Rapids at the 8:30 mark. Danny Taylor denied an attempt by Trevor Parkes from close quarters but allowed the puck to trickle behind him, and Raedeke crashed the crease to jam it home despite the efforts of two Heat defenders to keep it out of the net.
The deadlock lasted only 2:10, though, as Kolanos struck yet again to make it a 2-1 contest, getting a turnover low in the left circle and immediately whipping a shot inside the near post for his team-high 15th goal of the campaign.
The Griffins responded for a second time with 3:55 left in the frame, when Jamie Johnson sent a feed into the left circle for Tomas Tatar, who slammed the puck into a gaping cage.
Andersson potted a rebound from just outside the right post 20 seconds into the final period to give the Griffins their first lead at 3-2, before Abbotsford’s Quintin Laing slipped a shot inside MacDonald’s far post from the left side at 5:59 to forge the third tie of the contest. Kolanos earned an assist on the goal for his third point of the night.
Seconds after Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson had teamed up on a great scoring opportunity at the other end, [Clay] Wilson scored a split-second before MacDonald was bowled over by fellow ex-Griffin Krys Kolanos, in another goaltender collision that has become an all-too-familiar scene for Grand Rapids this season.
Have we heard of that before?
MacDonald was particularly ticked off about the incident—and he suffered a concussion due to a player-goalie collision earlier this season—while talking to the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema:
“He’s a good player. Real good player,” MacDonald said. “Not a real nice guy, but a good player. He’s got our number. “Two games in a row, he’s won the game for them. You figure the first game he gets three, tonight he gets two, you’d think we’d stay all over him, but no, their line had their way with us. That’s why we lost the hockey game.”
MacDonald didn’t appreciate having Kolanos run into him on the Heat’s game-winning goal, which was scored by former Griffin Clay Wilson 52 seconds into overtime. In the first period, MacDonald also had words for Abbotsford’s Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond after he blatantly knocked Griffins defenseman Brendan Smith into him as the action moved to the other end of the rink. No penalty was called.
“I’m just sick of getting run over like that,” MacDonald said. “I don’t know what the league has got to do, but they’ve got to do something.”
MacDonald, who missed 11 games with a concussion after he was run over by Charlotte’s Chris Terry on Nov. 5, said the American Hockey League has to do more to protect its goaltenders.
“It’s ridiculous. The refs in this league are terrible,” he said. “I think they’ve got to sit down with the NHL guys and go through some things.”
Something tells me that’ll get MacDonald nowhere…And when I played goal, if players started crowding me or running me (repeatedly; for some reason, as a goalie, I have a long fuse), I wouldn’t do what Howard does in using the softer finger protection on his blocker or his closed glove to punch people; I’d use the bottom end of my blocker and all that hard plastic to jab guys in the back, and I learned how to do a particularly nifty stickhandling move with the tip of my goal stick’s blade: I’d tap players on the insides of their calves, just above their skates, but those were my first and fourth taps. The second and third were on the insides of both thighs, and I’d repeat the move as necessary. I’ve found that players start leaving you alone when they realize that your stick’s particularly sharp.
Also of Red Wings-related note: The Left Wing Lock’s Sarah Lindenau offers this assessment of Jakub Kindl’s growth into a player who’s playing too well for Babcock to sit him for Mike Commodore’s sake:
Jakub Kindl has become an everyday player for the Red Wings. The 24 year-old defenseman played just 48 games in his rookie season in Detroit. This season he’s already played 31 games and is solidly entrenched on the third pairing along side Jonathan Ericsson.
Despite his solid play last year, questions surrounded Kindl entering this season especially in light of the departures of several veteran defensemen and the acquisition of Ian White and Mike Commodore. The 6-foot-3, 210 pound blueliner is making believers out of his skeptics and has already doubled his point production from last season with a goal and eight points.More impressive then his offensive contributions, is his improved defensive game. The Sumperk,, Czech Republic native is making better on-ice decisions while reducing mistakes resulting in a +8 rating so far this season.
The Red Wings have always felt the 19th overall selection in the 2005 draft had a game well suited for the NHL level. While some rumbled about Kindl’s development, especially after a tough rookie AHL campaign which saw him finish with a -34 rating through 75 games, Detroit management and scouts remained steadfast in their plans for him.
Kindl’s strong play this season has made Mike Commodore nearly irrelevant, limiting the veteran defenseman to just three games this season. He’s giving the coaching staff no reason to take him out of the line-up playing confident smart hockey. If his play remains consistent, Kindl could be primed to assume an even larger role down the road.
• Down the line, former Wings Alumni Association president Shawn Burr will hold a charity game to raise funds for cancer charities on March 15th in Utica, MI;
• This is a bit odd…According to the Sault Star’s Peter Ruicci, Wings prospect Ryan Sproul will be the last Soo Greyhound to wear the number 5 as the Greyhounds will retire it at the end of the season to honor Adam Foote;
• File this one under, “You learn something new about the Swedish Fountain of Youth every day,” from the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch:
Daniel Alfredsson hasn’t made a decision on whether this will be his final season. Sitting just two goals short of the 400-milestone, the Senators captain has given serious thought to retirement and he’s sought advice from two Swedish greats to make sure whatever choice he makes is the right one.
The 39-year-old Alfredsson told the Ottawa Sun he’s talked with former Toronto superstar Mats Sundin and Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom to help decide when to hang up his skates. Their advice?
“You’ve got to make sure the fire still burns to do the training in the summer to get ready for the season,” said Alfredsson. “I talked to Mats a bit last summer. I talked to Nicklas a little bit during the Olympics about his plans when we played there last year and this summer a little bit. It’s hard. I love what I do. The tough thing is the travel, the physical part of waking up sore and not feeling as eager to practise some days as (you do) others. Some days, the motivation doesn’t come as easy. Right now, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. Yeah, I love what I’m doing.”
• And it turns out that the Edmonton Oilers aren’t fans of Niklas Kronwall, either, per the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson:
Sophomore forward Taylor Hall avoided a huge belt from Niklas Kronwall along the boards early in Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, seeing him at the last instant.
“We knew Kronwall was to come down the wall at some time and crank somebody and it happened to be Taylor,” said [Oilers coach Tom] Renney. “I think Taylor has the wherewithal to see what’s going on. He’s just so hell-bent-for-leather and I love that. I hope he can play for the Oilers for 15 or 16 years with that (mindset).”
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.