The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/17/11 at 06:38 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings will face off against a Los Angeles Kings team tonight (7 PM EST, FSD/FS West/WXYT) which may pose a harsher challenge than their press coverage of late indicates. As the Wings—who will just happen to welcome the 25 millionth fan to the Joe this evening—hope to rebound from a 4-3 loss to Nashville before heading on the road for an ugly three-games-in-four nights pre-Christmas stretch, they’re going to tangle with a team that, in theory, is rudderless and doing nothing more than treading water while waiting to name Darryl Sutter as their permanent head coach.
And that’s a wee bit scary, for several reasons:
With John Stevens clearly understanding that his coaching job is an “interim” one, the Kings snapped a 5-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets…But the Kings have more or less treaded water since their 4-1 loss to the Wings a month ago, going 4-6-and-1 since then, and while they sit only seven points behind the Wings in the Western Conference standings, it’s assumed that there will be something of a retooling process when Sutter officially replaces the fired Terry Murray, teaches the Kings to play a more defensively sound game and, well, as LA Kings Insider’s Rich Hammond suggests, Kings GM Dean Lombardi finally gets out of the locker room:
The major question of today was, why was Dean Lombardi wearing a red sweater in Detroit? Was he paying homage to Darryl Sutter’s days in Calgary? Or maybe it’s just that he’s color-blind (he actually is). Regardless, Lombardi has been a up-front presence since he fired Terry Murray on Monday, with Lombardi spending more time than usual, post-practice, in the locker room chatting with players. By all accounts, things are progressing for Sutter to officially join the Kings as coach in the next few days, with Sutter tending to family, immigration and compensation issues this week. The Kings have legal guru Jeff Solomon — star of many “GM breakfast’’ Q&As — on the case as well. For now, the Kings wait, and John Stevens has done an admirable job of keeping the team together, during a period when they must have a ton of questions about the short-term future. Today, Stevens talked about trying to maintain that focus.
John Stevens: “Dean has not just avoided the whole situation. He has met with the team a couple times and explained a few things, but for the most part, I think we’ve all agreed, all along, that we like the character of the people here on the hockey team. I think they’ve been very respectful of the whole situation, towards everyone, the organization and the staff. I think they’ve been true professionals through the whole thing, to play as hard as they did in Boston, even though they were emotionally hurting, and then to bounce back in Columbus and play as well as they did. I give credit to the leadership group, and you can throw in [Jarret] Stoll and [Rob] Scuderi and the young guys, [Drew] Doughty and [Jack] Johnson, in there as well. We’ve just taken a real professional approach, and we’re focusing on the task at hand here and trying to win hockey games and trying to get better as a team. They’ve had a really good attitude about it.’’
Most of Hammond’s quote-heavy reports from Friday involve players who have either underperformed or have yet to show up in Dustin Penner and Drew Doughty, respectively, as well as two key players who probably won’t play tonight in defenseman Willie Mitchell (groin) and center Mike Richards (“upper body”).
If you want to add the cherry on top for a Red Wings team that’s been dynamite on the power play at home, it turns out that, as Hammond notes, the Kings have all but reserved themselves seats in opposing teams’ penalty boxes of late…
Against Dallas, it took 2 minutes, 55 seconds. Against Boston, it took 18 seconds. Against Columbus, it took six seconds. Taking penalties early in the game has become a trend for the Kings, one they would like to break out of quickly. The Kings killed each of those three penalties — and, overall, the penalty-kill unit has been superb over the last couple weeks — but taking early-game penalties means playing with fire. Not only does it give the opposing team momentum, but it taxes the Kings’ penalty-killers and gets the line rushes out of sync. Plus, eventually a team is going to take advantage of one of those early power plays, and Detroit would be a strong candidate. The Red Wings rank fourth in the NHL this season in power-play percentage, and the unit has been red-hot of late, with three power-play goals in its last four chances. The issue of staying out of the penalty box, in general, is one that has been addressed by interim coach John Stevens.
John Stevens: “We talked about it. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. Columbus’ power play is not very high in the league, but if you watch them, they’ve certainly got some dangerous players, with [Jeff] Carter and [Rick] Nash and the like on there, and [Vaclav] Prospal. It’s never a situation that you want to get into, and I thought it was great we got it killed off, but when you’re playing the Detroits of the league, Detroit is a team that doesn’t need their power play to win, but they can bury you on their power play. So that’s a situation we don’t want to get into.’’
Make it two cherries and whipped cream on top, at least in theory. The Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott notes that the Kings aren’t exactly lighting the lamp, either:
Going into their game Saturday against the Red Wings, the Kings were last in the NHL with an average of 2.16 goals per game. But [Kings defenseman Davis] Drewiske said he saw signs the team’s struggles might ease.
“I think it’s surprising for everybody, but we also like what we’ve done lately as far as shots on goal and our attitude in the offensive zone,” said Drewiske, who has played in both games since John Stevens was appointed interim coach. “We feel like we’re creating a lot more pressure on the puck, creating a lot more turnovers, getting a lot more chances. Hopefully [Thursday] night was the start of us turning the corner and getting that confidence back. Once the floodgates open hopefully we’ll be getting three, four, five a night.”
There’s the problem. In theory, the Kings’ players should be treading water until the real ass-kicking begins under Darryl Sutter, but teams respond pretty darn fast to coaching changes, and pride is a fantastic motivator, especially when you want to make a, “We’re not old and busted” statement by beating the Red Wings at the Joe.
The Wings have to be very, very wary of the Kings and must understand that their perceived failings don’t necessarily guarantee them anything but another extremely motivated opponent hoping to roll into Joe Louis Arena and prove their doubters wrong by taking out Detroit, and given the insane tightness of the Western Conference standings, the Wings just don’t have the luxury of blowing this one off, especially given that Kings goalie Jonathan Quick either plays like a sieve or stops pucks like a wall when he’s playing the Wings, and you never quite know when that wall might show up.
Here’s NHL.com’s Brian Hunter’s game preview:
Kings [team scope]: The lowest-scoring offense in the NHL hasn’t managed more than two goals in 10 games since Thanksgiving, but that was enough to pull out a 2-1 win over the Blue Jackets and snap a five-game losing streak. The Kings pulled it off in come-from-behind fashion, as Jeff Carter snapped a scoreless tie for Columbus with 3:17 left in the second period. Los Angeles answered in the final 20 minutes on goals by Davis Drewiske at 4:33 and Dustin Brown at 8:12, while Jonathan Quick held the fort by making 24 saves.
“It’s a great feeling when you break a losing streak,” center Anze Kopitar said. “It wasn’t pretty but the effort was definitely there. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how. We got the two points.”
Red Wings [team scope]: It’s a quick pit stop at home for Detroit, which heads back out on the road after Saturday for a four-game trip that takes them through western Canada before ending in Nashville. The Red Wings just got done playing the Predators in the Music City and were edged 4-3 on Thursday, snapping their three-game winning streak. Goals by Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom 87 seconds apart in the middle period gave the visitors a 3-1 lead, but they yielded a late goal in the second and a pair by Shea Weber late in the third to fall.
“It’s disappointing, especially having the lead going into the third and taking the penalty with less than five minutes left,” Lidstrom said. “It always stings when you are losing, especially when you play a division rival that we want to beat.”
Who’s Hot: Kopitar’s goal drought reached 10 games Thursday, but he does have an assist in five of the last seven games for the Kings. ... Datsyuk (1-7-8) and Zetterberg (2-4-6) have four-game points streaks active for the Red Wings.
Injury Report: Los Angeles defenseman Willie Mitchell has missed the past two games due to a groin injury and played only once since Dec. 1, while forwards Mike Richards (upper body) and Scott Parse (hip) are on injured reserve. ... Detroit forwards Chris Conner (hand), Jan Mursak (ankle) and Patrick Eaves (jaw) are on injured reserve.
As the Red Wings’ press corps didn’t get back to Detroit until after the Wings did, we mostly learned about what was a fast-paced practice via Twitter updates from the Free Press’s Anthony Fenech, who offered an informal practice report (and yes, Friday’s good news involved the fact that Justin Abdelkader didn’t break anything when he blocked a Predators shot with his left foot, so the Wings were able to send Tomas Tatar back down to Grand Rapids)...
Mike Babcock: “We can skate our way around the rink, but if we work, we’re gritty and determined, we’re a much better team.” #Redwings
Babcock: “We gotta tighten up our own end.”
Abdelkader: “Not broken, just bruised, when you put your foot in the skate sometimes you get sore.” #Redwings
More Abdelkader: “I think we have a group that can not only skate but can be physical and play with grit.” #Redwings
Kronwall: “I think we’ve been doing an OK job but I still think we haven’t reached our full potential. We def think there’s more to come.”
Kronwall, on the #PP: “We’re moving better. We’re more effective when we’re not just standing still and passing to each other.” #Redwings
More Kronwall on #PP: “When we were struggling there for a little bit, we didn’t shoot the puck enough” #Redwings #Shootthepuck
Kronwall on Datsyuk: “We’re so spoiled with him playing this way. ... Anytime he’s out there, he’s making a difference.” #Redwings
Lidstrom: “We’re just playing better as a team with the puck and without the puck. Overall, we’ve played a lot more solid hockey.” #Redwings
The Wings briefly discussed their loss to the Predators with MLive’s Ansar Khan...
The Red Wings want to quickly rid themselves of the unsavory taste of Thursday’s game. On one hand, they dominated for the better part of 55 minutes, playing the kind of game they’ll win most nights. But the disastrous final five minutes (two Shea Weber goals—one on the power play, another on a bizarre bounce) left them frustrated and feeling robbed.
“Overall we played a pretty good game,’’ defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Our forwards did a great job of taking the pucks deep and cycling and holding on it and making it tough for their D-men. We made some mistakes. I was involved in some of the goals. Obviously, we have to find a way to be better around those situations.’‘
Kronwall and defense partner Brad Stuart each were a minus-3.
As well as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...
Babcock, on the physical play against the Predators on Thursday: “The more physical we can be, the better opportunity this team has. We can skill our way around the rink but if we’re working and we’re gritty and we’re determined, we’re a much better team.”
But the Wings were more interested in discussing something that has to continue to produce if the Kings do indeed indulge their tendency to take penalties tonight in what has become a very potent power play, as noted by the Free Press’s Fenech:
“We’re moving the puck real well on the power play,” defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said Friday. “We’re finding openings, we’re taking shots, and we’ve scored some goals off the rebounds that you need to get on the power play.”
The team’s power play is fourth in the NHL at 21.3%, tallying 27 goals in 127 opportunities. It’s clicking at a 31.5% clip over the past five games. Still, the only statistic coach Mike Babcock is worried about is wins, despite scoring two power-play goals in as many chances Thursday against Nashville.
“Well, it’s been pretty good, no question,” Babcock said. “We won the special-teams battle but we didn’t win the game (Thursday) night. So you have to find a way to win the game and the special-teams battle.”
On the flip side, Babcock said he has been impressed with the penalty kill lately.
“We think our penalty kill is improving drastically as well, and the better you get in all areas, obviously, the better chance you have to be successful,” he said. “But we’ve got some good guys on the power play, we have some skill level, and we should be good.”
“We’re staying on top of it and making it tough for the other team’s penalty-kill unit,” [Niklas Kronwall] said. “I think we’ve been doing an OK job, but I still think we haven’t reached our full potential yet.”
Here’s hoping the Wings play to their “full potential” against the Kings tonight. When you find a team that has shown any signs of weakness, never mind so many bad habits and under-performing players that its general manager feels the need to fire its coach, you kick the team while it’s down.
According to the NHL’s media website, Brad Meier and Dean Morton will referee tonight’s game, and Jean Morin and Tim Nowak will work the lines.
Big annoying personal note: My family’s Christmas party will take place in the late afternoon today, so I’m going to be “out of the office” for significant portions of the afternoon and evening, including the game itself. Updates will be brief and my recap may not get posted until Sunday morning, depending on now the inevitable, “Oh, I have to go to a Christmas party, of course my body decides to get sick!” bug that’s got the house ill (again) plays into the equation.
Big announcement from the Wings: This is pretty darn cool, per DetroitRedWings.com’s John Hahn:
Wings to welcome 25 millionth fan
Hockeytown has enjoyed 30 years of unbridled success; Detroit’s sellout streak set to hit 44 games
DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings will recognize a historic attendance mark this Saturday, Dec. 16th, as the 25,000,000th fan to attend a Wings game since Mike and Marian Ilitch purchased the franchise will pass through the Joe Louis Arena doors. Having purchased the team in June of 1982, the Ilitchs turned a once-struggling franchise into the most successful modern-day National Hockey League team having won four Stanley Cups, six President’s Trophies, six conference titles and 16 division championships.
A fan attending Saturday’s game vs. the Los Angeles Kings (7:00 p.m. on FSD and 97.1 The Ticket) will be randomly selected as they enter Joe Louis Arena and invited back to the Joe for the Red Wings New Year’s Eve contest vs. St. Louis. The honorary 25 millionth fan will receive several gifts including a limo ride to and from the game, dinner in the CC Olympia Club and a jersey of their favorite Red Wings player.
Detroit leads the NHL in combined home/road 2011-12 attendance, and have a current 43-game sellout streak at JLA that began on December 10, 2010, when 20,066 spectators took in a match between Detroit and Dallas.
Part II: Red Wings notebooks: The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan spoke to Jiri Hudler about his resurgent play alongside Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg…
“I feel great physically, and playing with a little extra confidence,” said Hudler, who has six goals and 13 assists this season after a mere 10 goals last year. “You hold on to the puck for that extra second, and it’s a big key. Don’t throw the puck away, Just little things like that.”
It also doesn’t hurt being on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula.
“World class players,” said Hudler, who has seven points (four goals) his last five games. “They’re great players and you want to play with them as long as you can.
Said coach Mike Babcock: “He’s skating way better and he looks like he’s got confidence. He didn’t have the kind of year he wanted last year. He’s on track this year. We need him to generate offense and be good defensively.”
And Kulfan also received what Wings fans might find to be somewhat surprising—serious sympathy from the Wings’ players and coach regarding Chris Pronger, who’s out for the rest of the season with severe post-concussion syndrome:
“It’s scary when you hear something like that,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Being out for the year with about 50 games to play, it must be severe.”
Said Babcock: “Obviously you’re cheering for him, he’s been a real mainstay in the league for a long time. Everywhere he’s been they’ve had good regular seasons, better playoffs.”
• Lidstrom and Brad Stuart spoke to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness about the NHL’s “concussion problem” in a more general sense as well:
“It’s scary when something like that happens, especially with him being out for the year with about 50 games to play so it must be severe,” Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I’ve never had (concussion problems) but as of late you’ve seen a lot of guys with it. Having the post concussion syndrome too, having headaches from working out.”
“I don’t have an explanation for it, it’s just one of those things and there’s a lot of focus on it right now,” Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said. “It seems like there’s a lot of them happening. You can’t think about it on the ice,” Stuart added. “You just go out and play the game. You try not to put yourself in a position to have a hit that’s going to cause you to be suspended or cause serious injury. You do think about that a little bit but other than that it doesn’t change anyone’s approach.”
Former Wings defenseman Andreas Lila missed nearly an entire year with concussion-like symptoms.
“We’ve seen guys up close with it,” Lidstrom said. “I can’t pinpoint why. Ten years ago guys had groin injuries or hamstrings. We wondered why that was and know we’re dealing with concussions.”
• In more pleasant health-related news, DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose followed Niklas Kronwall to St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic School in Redford, MI, promoting physical activity and healthy eating at a school assembly:
Kronwall was at the small Catholic grade school as part of the Red Wings’ School Assembly Program, which is sponsored by the Detroit Red Wings Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. The program, which started last year, is intended to introduce young school-aged children to hockey and encourage them to lead active and healthy lives through daily exercise and good eating habits.
Friday’s visit to western Wayne County was already the program’s 65th school stop. The Wings’ program scheduled to visit 100 elementary schools in metro Detroit this season.
The students, who filled one half of the gym with a sea of red, asked Kronwall several great questions. They wanted to know if his teammates were like family and what his favorite school subject when he was their age, and whether or not his brother, Staffan, still played in the NHL. For the record, his favorite class was math.
“Just seeing all of the Red Wings T-shirts and jerseys is great, but at the same time I hope that they learned something today about dedication and education and exercising, and eating the right types of food,” Kronwall said. “It’s a thrill for me to come here and see the kids and all of their energy, and to see all of the Red Wings logos. The kids are exciting and it’s great.”
Of course, the day wouldn’t be complete without the Red Wings leaving some special items behind for the school, including two complete sets of floor hockey equipment, as well as Red Wings-themed school folders for each student, and BCBS magnets that list five fun after-school activities.
Part III: In the AHL: The Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Lake Erie Monsters 3-2 thanks to a 2-goal performance from Jamie Johnson and an assist short of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick by Mitchell Callahan, who scrapped before scoring the game-winning goal.
The Griffins’ website (which also posted a Flickr photo gallery from the game), the Monsters’ website (ditto regarding photos, and you can watch a highlight clip here) websites, the Grand Rapids Press (which reports that Fabian Brunnstrom’s out with an ankle injury) and the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Dennis Manoloff provide recaps;
Part IV: Also of Red Wings-related note: I don’t speak Fantasy Hockey very well, but I think that ESPN’s Sean Allen is saying that the Wings should do OK on their Western Canadian road trip next week:
Detroit Red Wings: A Western Canada road trip sets up an O:9 on the Forecaster for the Red Wings. Games against the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames all rate well on this short week. Since settling on a new top six, Todd Bertuzzi and Jiri Hudler have been productive for the team. Hudler has seven points in the past five games while Bertuzzi has a four-game point streak going and is up to plus-10 on the season. With a good schedule ahead, this is a good week to try out one or both of these players.
• The Wings also received a favorable rating, all things considered, in the “goalie power rankings” department from the CBC’s Kevin Weekes:
5. DETROIT RED WINGS While many people in the hockey world sleep on Jimmy Howard, I’m not one of them. He’s improved so much during these last three years. Mike Babcock told me he’s really improved his conditioning as well. All he’s doing is leading the NHL in wins. Ty Conklin can still play, tough to get in with Jimmy on fire right now.
• For the record, the backers of the proposed M1 Rail line in Detroit, including Wings owner Mike Ilitch, still want to build the line along Woodward Avenue (per the Free Press’s Matt Helms), but Detroit mayor Dave Bing is completely opposed to the concept of the rail line not being superseded by high-speed buses (per the Detroit News’s Darren A. Nichols);
• For the record, part 2, from ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun:
The league and NHL Players’ Association have gone back and forth on realignment over the past week or so, the league providing materials to the union, which had specific questions about the proposed new format for next season.
The two sides are expected to speak again next week. The league wants to get the union’s blessing so it can get to work on next season’s schedule. I’ll be curious to see whether the NHLPA plays hard ball with this. The NHLPA says it’s within its collective bargaining agreement rights to have a say in realignment.
• And I’ll let you read Fox Sports Tennessee’s John Manasso’s insistence, and NHL analyst Craig Button’s seconding of the suggestion, that Nicklas Lidstrom somehow “passed the torch” of the mantle as the league’s best defenseman to Shea Weber via Weber’s two-goal performance against the Wings on Thursday, which, supposedly, decided for once and for all which player is better and which player should win the Norris Trophy:
“Shea Weber is — you make whatever argument you want,” Button said. “I’m a huge Nick Lidstrom fan, but right now the mantle might be, the torch might be getting ready to be passed.”
Um, how about, “Not yet?”
Update: If the thought of Dan Bylsma sharing his thoughts about playing for Mike Babcock and now-Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean in Anaheim is your sort of thing, the Ottawa Citizen’s Wayne Scanlan offered a little Bylsma-MacLean chatter.
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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.