The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/06/11 at 03:10 PM ET
Updated 4x prior to the game at 6:34 PM: The Detroit Red Wings face a Carolina Hurricanes team whose playoff hopes essentially hinge upon winning tonight’s game (7 PM EDT, FSD+/FS Carolinas/WXYT) and getting a little help in the standings, as NHL.com’s Dan Rosen points out...
DETROIT (46-23-10, 102 points) at CAROLINA (38-30-11, 87 points)
Where they stand: Detroit is third in the West; Carolina is ninth in the East
What’s at stake: This game means everything to Carolina, and it would behoove the Hurricanes to win in either regulation or overtime. The Hurricanes are four points behind the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference race but they have a game in hand and just one fewer non-shootout win. If the ‘Canes can beat the Red Wings in regulation or overtime, they would pull even in non-shootout wins and within two points of the idle Rangers for the final playoff spot. The Sabres are watching closely because they will clinch a playoff berth if the Hurricanes lose in any fashion.
How’s it going: The Hurricanes had their three-game winning streak come to an end Sunday when Buffalo beat them in overtime, 2-1. However, Carolina’s 3-0-1 record in the past four games has allowed it to stay alive in the playoff race. Eric Staal was held out of practice Tuesday, but he’ll be in the lineup against Detroit.
The Red Wings have won two in a row since getting blown out by St. Louis in their own building by a 10-3 margin. Niklas Kronwall will miss his third straight game Wednesday with an upper-body injury. He remains day-to-day.
Upcoming: The ‘Canes go to Atlanta on Friday and finish up at home Saturday against Tampa Bay. The Red Wings host the Blackhawks on Friday and play them again Sunday in Chicago.
The Hurricanes will have Eric Staal in the lineup and Cam Ward between the pipes against Jimmy Howard tonight, and Canes coach Paul Maurice spoke to CarolinaHurricanes.com’s Paul Branecky about the be-all-end-all status of tonight’s game…
“We can only win one tonight,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “You can’t bring the enormity of the importance of these next three games. You could lose tonight, win two and still make the playoffs, but we’re not giving any less because we still have that out. Tonight’s the night for us to be at our best.”
Although the Red Wings hold the superior record as the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed, the Hurricanes’ hope is that they’ll have more to play for. For the Central Divisiion Champion Red Wings, the only thing left at stake is passing the San Jose Sharks for the No. 2 seed. Beyond that, they know they’ll be in the playoffs for the 20th consecutive season, which is the longest current streak among the four major North American sports teams.
“I think if you’re a hockey fan, you’ve seen Detroit play because you’ve watched a lot of playoff hockey and they’ve been there forever,” said Maurice. “Clearly you have to respect the opponent and what they can do, but we need to be an initiator in this game and we need to start from the drop of the puck with a very defined style that want to play and we have to play it at a very, very high level.”
“You do all your prep work, your video and your homework, and when don’t see a team much it’s very strange to hit them at such a critical time for us,” said Maurice.
Both teams have winning records against the opposite conference, with Carolina going 9-6-2 against the West this season – a mark that ranks fourth among Eastern teams. However, the Red Wings are 12-3-2 against the East, which is the best cross-conference record in the NHL. The Red Wings have enjoyed the upper hand on the Hurricanes in recent years, with Carolina losing the last six meetings in regulation since winning twice in the 2005-06 Stanley Cup season. The Wings have won just three of their last eight games, but are 2-0-0 since goaltender Jimmy Howard returned from a two-game injury absence. Howard won his only career appearance against Carolina last season, allowing one goal in a 3-1 win.
The Hurricanes do not expect to have any lineup changes for tonight’s game, with Troy Bodie (healthy) and Jay Harrison (upper body) sitting out. For the Wings, defenseman Niklas Kronwall is expected to miss his third consecutive game with an upper-body injury of his own.
And a former San Jose Shark who’s quite familiar with the Wings, one Derek Joslin (he was acquired by the Canes in the Ian White trade) offered a few points of emphasis as to how the Canes must approach tonight’s game:
“The biggest challenge for us is to stay out of the penalty box,” he said today. “They are so skilled on the power play, so we will give ourselves a better chance if we stay out of the box and just play our game. We’re a really good team. Our offense matches up with their offense. We’ve just got to get to their goaltender, put a lot of shots on net and be physical since they don’t like to play physical.”
Canes coach Paul Maurice said today that Jay Harrison (upper-body injury) again would be the scratch on defense. Joslin will get another shot at the Wings.
The Canes, ninth in the Eastern Conference, still have a chance of reaching the playoffs but will need to win games while the New York Rangers lose one or both of their final two games. That’s what they’re up against.
“I think we have the pieces in place to be a real good playoff team,” Joslin said. “The East is wide open and anybody can beat anybody in the top eight. It’s real close. Just get the foot in the door and it’s a new season next week.”
Even before I update the Wings’ statuses, today’s “Ultimate Leader” voting battle pits Nicklas Lidstrom against Ryan Kesler in one of the semifinals in fan voting for the Mark Messier Leadership Award, so when you’re done reading this, get over to NHL.com and vote for Nick!
I’m essentially sitting on a few stories that I think are worth sharing right now so while the Wings’ beat writers haven’t posted official lineups and scratches, I’ll leave you with this bombshell from Fox Sports Detroit’s Trevor Thompson before moving onto a much-needed update:
Scratch #DrewMiller #JiriHudler & #NiklasKronwall for #RedWings vs #Hurricanes in #Carolina tonight. #JimmyHoward starts for #Detroit #NHL
No Hudler, no problem.
Update the first: The Free Press’s Helene St. James reports that Wings coach Mike Babcock suggested that Hudler’s scratch involves resting as many players as possible before the playoffs begin (see: Mike Modano on Sunday) and continuing to tweak his line combos, but nothing else:
“It’s got nothing to do with anything,” Babcock said. “I took Mike Modano out last game. We’re just keeping it moving around and giving guys an opportunity to play with different people and find out what’s best for our team. It’s got nothing to do with what he did and didn’t do.”
Hudler has no points his last three games and four in his last 13. His most productive stretches of the season have come when he has played with Pavel Datsyuk.
Naturally, Hudler wasn’t effusive on the topic, saying, “I don’t know what to say. It’s his decision. We’re getting close to playoffs, so everybody’s got to play and get ready. … I feel great.”
Niklas Kronwall (upper body) is out on the back end, and Jimmy Howard is starting in goal. Chris Osgood (sports hernia surgery) is eligible to come off injured reserve Thursday, but Babcock isn’t optimistic Osgood will get into one of the last two games of the season, both against Chicago.
“Ozzie, to me, unless something has changed, isn’t in the mix at this point,” Babcock said. “He hasn’t had a net (in practice). Last time he got a net for a couple of days, he didn’t practice for two weeks. So I don’t think we’re even thinking about that.”
Babcock reiterated his points to MLive’s Ansar Khan, who also posted tonight’s lineups...
Here is the anticipated lineup for the Hurricanes:
Cory Stillman-Eric Staal-Erik Cole
Jeff Skinner-Tuomo Ruutu-Jussi Jokinen
Drayson Bowman-Brandon Sutter-Chad LaRose
Jiri Tlusty-Patrick Dwyer-Jerome Samson
Joni Pitkanen-Jamie McBain
Tim Gleason-Joe Corvo
Bryan Allen-Derek Joslin
Cam Ward (starting)
With Babcock suggesting that Mike Modano will remain on the wing going into the playoffs, but that that’s not necessarily the case for Henrik Zetterberg…
Babcock said of playing Datsyuk and Zetterberg together, “I’m going to watch what happens in the first 10 minutes and then they could be apart.’‘
“I like Fil and Z and Pav and Abby and Helmer down the pike, so that’s five of them already,’’ Babcock said.
Khan says that Hudler did his best to shrug off being scratched…
“We’re getting close to the playoffs, everybody has to play to get ready,’’ Hudler said. “The last stretch was a little tougher (for him), but we’re getting closer. A new season starts (next week), an exciting time is coming.’‘
And Babcock had this to say about tangling with the Hurricanes:
“We’re playing a team that’s going to be desperate,’’ Babcock said. “You call it Game 7 but it’s like being down 3-0 in a series, or 3-1, your back’s against the wall. They’re going to play. So we got to play. That should be a good opportunity for our team. You want to play in games that matter. You want to get as many wins as you can and finish as high as you can.’‘
• From the Red Wings’ Twitter account:
Happy Wednesday Tweeps. Spoke to Ken Holland about the playoffs. He said on ‘Monday morning, everyone is 0-0.’
That’s an appropriate comment given that the Wings’ “playoff moment” on its Twentystraight.com website involves a huge goal…during the Wings’ second-round loss to the Colorado Avalanche;
• The Wings are also reminding fans that their Don’t Miss a Moment video contest remains underway;
• MLive’s Ansar Khan offered another take on Monday’s topic of the day, Justin Abdelkader‘s evolution into a more offensively-minded but still physical force, and he also spoke to Johan Franzen about breaking his goal-scoring schneid…
Franzen scored just his second goal in his past 24 games Sunday against Minnesota. He still leads the team with 28 goals, but the club’s most potent goal-scorer the past four seasons has experienced an unusual slump since his five-goal outburst Feb. 2 in Ottawa. And he has been reluctant to address it.
“I don’t know if it’s going to give me any confidence, but it’s a goal,” Franzen said. “It didn’t really matter in the game. Not a big goal.”
But isn’t any goal a big goal for him right now?
“We would have won anyway,” Franzen said. “(Winning) is all I worry about.”
And he noted that Wings coach Mike Babcock believes that the Sharks and the Canucks are the West’s teams to beat…for now…
“When I look around the league, I think in the West right now, San Jose is playing the best,” Babcock said. “They’re hitting on all cylinders right now. Vancouver, no question, has been the best team and there’s a number of great teams.”
He added, “Just because you’re hitting on all cylinders this week doesn’t mean you are next week. That first game in the playoffs can determine a lot. So our focus is to continue to work on the details, to make sure every guy on our team understands that to have success ... it doesn’t matter how many minutes you play, who you play with. All that matters is about the Red Wings. Just find a way to win.”
Update the second: Here’s Ted Kulfan’s game-day report from the Detroit News:
Against Carolina on Wednesday night, Jiri Hudler and Drew Miller will be healthy scratches as Mike Modano and Kris Draper re-enter the lineup.
“It has nothing to do with anything,” said coach Mike Babcock. “We just keep moving them around and giving them an opportunity to play with different people and figure out what’s best for our team. It’s just a matter of a rotation going. We have extra players now and we’re figuring it out.”
Sunday’s scratch will deprive Modano a chance to reach 1,500 games played in his career.
“We talked (before Sunday’s game) and it was a good understanding that he makes those decisions and he’s the coach and you play and not let it bother you,” Modano said. “You prepare for next week (the playoffs) and the bigger picture. It would have been nice (to get to 1,500 games). I suppose I have to come back next year.”
Speaking of which, Modano said he’ll take a long break after the playoffs and decide his future.
Update the third: The Canes’ website posted 44 pages worth of game notes(!), as well as a game preview from announcer John Forslund:
• Back to the Wings and/or Griffins: in the developmental hockey vein, Grand Rapids Griffins coach Curt Fraser and two players who will probably be with different organizations next season spoke to the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema about playing for pride over the course of the Griffins’ final four regular season games, starting with tonight’s tilt in Milwaukee. Fraser says that the players still have something to play for, despite the fact that their playoff chances are very close to zero percent…
“That’s the bad news,” Fraser said. “The good news is we’ve got four games left to find it again, and four games that will give us a chance to go out and play some great hockey and win all these games. That would be a great way to finish.”
Individually, there are plenty of players with strong incentives to finish out the year on a high note, whether they’re free agents looking for new contracts, prospects looking to get a jump on their development or standouts looking to graduate to the parent club Detroit Red Wings. Dignity, of course, also plays a factor.
“We have to keep working hard and try to win games,” defenseman Doug Janik said. “Obviously things haven’t quite worked out the way we all expected them to at the start of the year, but I think we have a lot of guys with a lot of pride and we want to finish hard.”
Decisions will have to be made this offseason, and there will be several new names and faces on the Griffins’ roster for the 2011-12 season. But captain Jamie Tardif, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, said he’s not looking that far into the future. Not with four games still remaining.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Tardif said. “I had been focused on trying to help this team make the playoffs and fell short of that. Right now, I’m focusing on finishing the year off strong.”
Still, the sting of missing the postseason clearly is felt by the team.
The Griffins followed a 13-5-1-3 stretch that had moved them into third place in the North Division with a season-high five-game losing streak, including a pair of defeats at Abbotsford last weekend that effectively ended their postseason shot for another year.
“Obviously we were at the same point last year that we are this year, on the outside looking in,” Tardif said. “Losing five games in a row at this point in the year is definitely not a way to get into the playoffs. It’s been tough.”
Janik said missing this postseason hurts more than it did a year ago. After finishing five games below .500 in 2009-10—at 35-31-2-8, they are assured of finishing with at least a .500 record this year—the Griffins came into the season with high expectations.
But after hovering one game above or below .500 from Nov. 20 to Feb. 25, the Griffins’ late-season push wasn’t enough to keep them at the top of the standings.
“We were so close. Two weeks ago, we had done a fantastic job and put ourselves in a position that I don’t think many people thought we were going to get to,” Janik said. “To kind of lose it this late was disappointing.”
• RedWingsCentral’s Matthew Wuest focuses upon a former Griffins goaltender in his latest prospect report on RedWingsCentral.com, speaking to Hakan Andersson about HV71 goaltender Daniel Larsson, who Andersson believes has a ways to go after taking some steps back in terms of his development (Larsson was benched for the first two games of the SEL playoffs and backstopped the league’s best regular-season team and defending Eliteserien champions to nothing more than a first-round ouster by AIK, and he’s still staying far too back in his crease and is still, in Curt Fraser’s words, “skinny as a rake”):
“I certainly want to see him make another step up from where he is now in order to want to do something again (with regard to a contract),” said Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson. “I want him to be very good at the national team level. He’s been pretty good there. I want him to be very good.”
Larsson, who the Red Wings drafted in the third round (92nd overall) in 2006, is a former Honken Trophy winner as Sweden’s top goaltender and was a PlanetUSA all-star selection in 2008-09. The Red Wings can hang onto his rights as a restricted free agent until 2013, at which time Larsson will be 27 years old.
“Seeing all the 28-, 29- and 30-year-old goalies that go to the NHL, you’ve got to consider he’s some kind of prospect still,” Andersson said.
Wuest also duly notes the following:
1. Cory Emmerton’s spot on the 2011-2012 Wings roster is anything but secure;
2. In a, “Dammit, this slipped under my radar!” article, Ottawa 67’s GM and hockey lifer Brian Kilrea gushed about goaltender Petr Mrazek who will get in at least one start with the Griffins before returning to Ottawa next season as their go-to netminder;
3. As previously noted, the Wings have a tough decision to make regarding signing PEI Rocket power forward Andrej Nestrasil, whose rights expire on June 1st;
4. And the following prospects remain active in their teams’ pursuits of championships:
Mitchell Callahan (Kelowna, Western Hockey League) and Trevor Parkes and Louis-Marc Aubry (both of Montreal, QMJHL) are the only Red Wings prospects still in the Memorial Cup hunt.
Forward Dick Axelsson (Farjestad, Swedish Elite League) and his team are up 1-0 in the championship series against Skelleftea.
• If you missed it, I mentioned that Iltahleti, a pseudo-tabloid sports newspaper from Helsinki, Finland, claims that Ilari Filppula will head back to Europe to make a better living, hoping to join Barry Smith and Lugano in the Swiss league;
* Big guns must fire regularly - Johan Franzen must start scoring. He has been dominant in recent post seasons using his size and strength to drive the net. Henrik Zetterberg must also increase his production. Secondary offensive players like Jiri Hudler, Todd Bertuzzi and Valtteri Filppula also need to contribute regularly.
* Howard has to be solid and consistent - Forget about Chris Osgood and his injury woes. Even if he is able to return, this team is going to ride Jimmy Howard through the playoffs. For them to have any hope of winning, Howard has to be strong.
* Put the D back in defense - On paper the Wings should have a strong defensive corps, but in the wake of last weeks stunning 10-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues that clearly isn’t the case. Detroit will need to focus on playing a tighter system which involves reducing turnovers and odd man rushes going forward.
* Stronger starts lead to better finishes - Setting the tone early in any game can be the difference between winning and losing. Far too often this season, Detroit has been outplayed early creating sometimes insurmountable deficits on the score sheet. Stronger play from the first drop of the puck is essential.
* Home ice Should provide an advantage - It’s great that the Red Wings are a strong road team, but wouldn’t it be even better if they were as tough to play against in their own building?
• And the Macomb/St. Clair County Voice’s Courtney Flynn posted a pretty spiffy video from Ken Kal’s appearance as a celebrity reader, if you will, at Green Elementary in the L’anse Creuse school district last week:
Pre-game update: • The Free Press’s Jamie Samuelssen states the obvious about the fact that the Red Wings don’t have any “easy” or “vulnerable” first-round playoff opponents anymore, and as such, he suggests the following:
f we’ve learned anything about the Wings this season, especially in the bizarre month of March, any success will have less to do with their opponents and more to do with them. How else do you explain losing to the Blues, 10-3, at home and falling behind Nashville on the road three days later, only to respond with four unanswered goals and a 4-3 win? It was the same scenario in February, when the Wings snoozed through a 4-1 home loss to the Predators. Babcock ripped the team after the game. Nicklas Lidstrom called the effort embarrassing. Then the alarm bells led to a five-game winning streak that included back-to-back wins over Boston and a win over Tampa Bay. The Red Wings don’t seem to raise or lower their game based on the level of the opponent. Instead, they seem to raise or lower their game based on their level of interest. And with every game counting just a little bit more next week, focus shouldn’t be a problem.
The problems lie in some of the disturbing trends we’ve seen all season. The two biggies are impossible to ignore:
1.) Home ice: The Joe just isn’t what it used to be. Blame it on the fans if you want, although the crowd noise has been louder in the recent string of sellouts. (The Blackhawks game on March 28 was the closest regular-season game to looking like or sounding like playoff game in years). But for whatever reason, the Wings just haven’t played well at home this season. They have 48 points with just one home game remaining. That’s the third-lowest total of any of the eight teams currently in position for for the playoffs in the West. You play all season for home ice, and home ice just isn’t the advantage for this team that it used to be.
2.) Defense: Jimmy Howard will be in the crosshairs from the opening face-off of Game 1. That’s just how it goes in Detroit—and in hockey, in general. But the Wings and the Ducks have allowed the most goals of any of the playoff teams in the West. That’s an alarming stat that doesn’t rest solely on Howard’s shoulders. Yes, he needs to be much more consistent, but so do the guys in front of him. The defensive corps has dealt with injuries all season (and some of the top defensive forwards have missed significant time as well). They’re all healthy now. That’s good. But they need to be better.
Babcock would never say who he’d hope to face in the first round, other than to say he’d love to stay close to home. The only team that fits that description is the defending Stanley Cup champion ‘Hawks. I’d prefer to pass on that matchup. The most favorable, ironically, is the team that’s farthest away: the Ducks. It may be a three-time-zone trip, but it probably gives the Wings the best chance to advance. Nothing is set in stone yet. Nothing is guaranteed. But in this sport, in these playoffs, in this conference, nothing ever is.
• SI’s Michael Farber penned a list of twenty “things to like about the NHL,” and among them...
10. I like assistant coaches, the conduits of information and insight. Ten minutes with Detroit’s Brad McCrimmon or Buffalo’s Jim Corsi or Nashville’s Brent Peterson are like masters classes in which presuppositions will be challenged or softheaded theories exposed. Because I resolve to stay positive, I won’t even mention how shortsighted it is for teams such as New Jersey, Chicago and others to make their assistants off limits to the media.
14. I like watching the Kings’ Ryan Smyth, the Wings’ Tomas Holmstrom and Ryan Kesler of the Canucks set up in front of the crease. The last person to work so effectively in tight quarters was Smokin’ Joe Frazier. They all seem to have had a GPS chip installed in their brains that makes them able to discern the blue paint without looking down. They obscure vision, blot out the sun for unfortunate goalies. They can score a goal even if they are trapped in a virtual broom closet.
18. I like watching Detroit’s Nick Lidstrom, who, although he is not as sturdy a one-on-one defender as he was a few years ago, is still a marvel of constancy into his 40s. He remains the right defenseman for the right era, as superb as he is understated.
19. I like GMs Brian Burke, Ken Holland and Ray Shero, who have convictions and are unafraid to speak out—even if they might be wrong.
• WDFN’s Sean Baligian spoke to two hockey personalities this afternoon, starting with USA Today’s Kevin Allen…
And continuing with Chris Osgood, who talks about playoff moments past, mentoring Jimmy Howard, and he says that he’s hoping to be ready to return to action this weekend:
• Finally, Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch will receive honorary doctorates in humanities at Michigan State University’s spring commencement, where Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak will speak. Something tells me that free pizza’s more likely than an iPad giveaway on May 6th (and I’m one of the rare people that isn’t fascinated by the iPad).
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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.