The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/13/11 at 07:48 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings begin a stretch of six games—and five on the road—over the course of ten nights tonight in Pittsburgh (7:30 PM EST, FSD/WXYT/Root) knowing that they won’t face one Sidney Crosby. The Red Wings repeatedly stated on Monday that they would much rather face a Penguins team with Crosby in the lineup, but as the Wings also pointed out, given their 6-and-7 road record and the fact that the 2011 portion of their schedule will conclude with a total of eight road games and three home games, the team plans on righting itself away from Joe Louis Arena while attempting to earn a win over a still-hated rival this evening.
If you feel like reading the Penguins’ website’s Crosby news, a pair of columns from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, one from the Post-Gazette or two columns which paint Crosby’s lingering concussion problems as a sort of international hockey tragedy and/or tragic passion play involving the game’s savior, rock on with your bad self. All I’ll say about Crosby is this: as someone who’s suffered from a concussion and half a year’s worth of post-concussion syndrome myself, I actually hope that he recovers and I really do hope that I dislike the guy for being a very good player instead of somebody still sidelined by something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, #87 included.
As for the Penguins team the Wings are actually playing tonight, they actually have one more point than the Wings thanks to the fact that they’ve played 30 games to the Wings’ 28, and they’re coming off of a 6-3 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday, but it’s not just Crosby who’s on the sidelines. as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Shelly Anderson notes:
While the concussion setback involving center Sidney Crosby topped other injury issues Monday, several other players are out or are in various stages of coming back from problems.
In new developments, forward Richard Park has a broken right foot and is out four to six weeks, and defensemen Zbynek Michalek (concussion) and Brian Strait (elbow) returned to practice at Consol Energy Center. Michalek and Strait aren’t expected to be available for the home game tonight against Detroit, and Crosby ruled himself out of at least that game, but center Jordan Staal could be a possibility. He is day to day because of an unspecified injury, according to coach Dan Bylsma.
Another defenseman, Deryk Engelland, returned Saturday after missing two games because of an unspecified injury.
Remaining out are defensemen Kris Letang (concussion), Robert Bortuzzo (concussion) and Ben Lovejoy (wrist), and forward Dustin Jeffrey (knee). Lovejoy skated before practice with conditioning coach Mike Kadar.
The Penguins have lost 143 man-games to injury through 30 games—more than a third of the season—which has led to a pipeline of players being brought up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.
As Crosby’s status update more or less stole the show on Monday, Anderson posted a short Wings-Penguins preview…
Matchup: Penguins vs. Detroit Red Wings, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Jimmy Howard for Red Wings.
Penguins: Are 6-0-3 vs. West. ... Are 8-2-2 at home. ... James Neal led NHL in power-play goals (9) and shots (125) before Monday’s games.
Red Wings: Are 5-1-0 vs. East but have not faced Atlantic Division team. ... Had season high in goals in 7-1 win Saturday vs. Winnipeg. ... Howard leads NHL with 17 wins.
Hidden stat: Detroit has chased the opposing goalie the past two games.
And the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Josh Yohe stuck to tidbits as well...
Last season’s series: The Penguins went 2-0 against the Red Wings.
Notable: The Penguins won twice last season against the Red Wings without center Sidney Crosby, and will attempt to do so again Tuesday night.
Center Jordan Staal remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury. His availability for Tuesday night’s game against Detroit is unknown. He was injured in the third period against the Flyers on Thursday.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will attempt to secure his 200th career NHL win Tuesday night.
But the Penguins did talk about their rivalry with the Wings over the weekend, as noted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari:
“There’s definitely something to the two years, when we lost to them and then beat them,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “It’s probably inevitable that you’d develop some type of rivalry.”
While there isn’t necessarily any great affection between these franchises—Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary actually was quoted a few years as saying he hates the Penguins—their meetings aren’t rooted in the kind of contempt common among teams that regularly battle for the same piece of turf in divisional or conference standings.
“We don’t play them enough,” Penguins left winger Matt Cooke said. “We just don’t get to see them. Obviously, for two years, there were 13 games played against each other at a key moment in the season but when you see them once or twice in the preseason and once during the regular season, it makes it tough to have a rivalry.”
But the Penguins also…Um…Respect the Wings’ winning ways and consistency, too?
“For the past I don’t know how many years, they’ve been competitive,” Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “They’ve always been battling for the first spot in their conference. To do it year after year is tough and they’ve been able to do it.”
“[What] I’ve always been amazed at is they bring guys in who played in other organizations, guys like [Todd] Bertuzzi and others you think maybe wouldn’t fit into that kind of style but for some reason, they make it work,” Orpik said.
The high regard the Penguins have for [Nicklas] Lidstrom is as evident as it is understandable, but his presence is just one of the reasons they look forward to facing Detroit. Detroit’s consistent excellence has a lot to do with it—“They’ve had a good team for such a long time that they’re a measuring stick,” Cooke said—and those collisions in the Cup final a few years back play a part, too, even if the rivalry lacks the nasty edge of the ones the Penguins have with opponents like the Flyers and Capitals.
“I think there’s mutual respect but also we want to beat them and they want to beat us,” Fleury said. “I don’t think there’s the same hate. It’s just a good hockey battle.
PittsburghPenguins.com’s Michelle Crechiolo posted a detailed Wings-Penguins scouting report (including a preview video; both are particularly detailed because she used to be an intern for the Wings), and here are some of the points contained therein:
• This marks the first year that the Penguins and Red Wings haven’t played each other twice since 2007-08, when they didn’t play one another.
• The Penguins enter Tuesday’s game with a perfect 6-0-3 record against the Western Conference this season.
• Dating back to a 2-1 overtime win against Los Angeles on Feb. 10 of last season, the Penguins are unbeaten in their last 15 games against Western Conference teams (10-0-5). Pittsburgh’s last regulation loss to a team from the West was a 4-1 setback against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 8, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center.
• Should Fleury (27 years, 15 days) earn his 200th win Tuesday, he will become the fourth-youngest netminder to reach that mark in the Expansion Era (since 1967-68), trailing only Grant Fuhr (26 years, 122 days), Martin Brodeur (26 years, 343 days) and Tom Barrasso (26 years, 354 days).
• Fleury enters Tuesday’s game with 15 wins, second-most in the NHL behind Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (17). With 15 wins in 23 games, Fleury is on pace to win a career-high 44 games (projected over 67 starts).
• The Red Wings have outscored their opponents 65-33 over their last 17 games, going 13-4 in that span. Detroit is 63-3-4 the last 70 times they’ve scored four-plus goals in a game.
And NHL.com’s Brian Hunter’s game preview allows us to pivot between the Penguins’ and Red Wings’ perspectives:
Red Wings [team scope]: Heading out on the road for six of its next seven, Detroit comes off perhaps its most dominant effort of the season, a 7-1 rout Saturday night of a Winnipeg club that had been playing very strong hockey coming into Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings gave up the opening goal just 35 seconds in, but Todd Bertuzzi and Henrik Zetterberg connected to put them ahead after 20 minutes and they blew it open with a four-goal second. Jiri Hudler scored twice, five other Wings had multi-point efforts and 14 of their 18 skaters recorded at least one point.
Penguins [team scope]: Life goes on in Pittsburgh, as the team rebounded from a one-goal home loss to Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia in the first game Crosby missed by coming back from an early two-goal deficit to double up the Islanders 6-3 at the Nassau Coliseum on Saturday. Neal tied the score 2-2 in the final minute of the first period and again at 3-3 with a power-play goal midway through the second. That started a run of four straight by the Penguins, as Pascal Dupuis tallied the go-ahead goal and Matt Cooke and Paul Martin added insurance in the third.
Who’s Hot: Hudler has 4 goals and 2 assists during a three-game points streak for the Red Wings. Valtteri Filppula has a goal and an assist in consecutive games, as well as 7 goals and 4 assists over the past eight games. Todd Bertuzzi has goals in two straight. Jimmy Howard has won nine of his last 10 starts and given up two goals or fewer in eight of them. … Neal has 3 goals in the Penguins’ last two games. Evgeni Malkin has 1 goal and 3 assists over the same span.
Injury Report: Detroit forward Jan Mursak is getting closer to making his season debut after suffering a broken right ankle during the preseason, while forward Patrick Eaves is on injured reserve following surgery on his jaw. … In addition to Crosby, forward Jordan Staal is day-to-day with a lower-body injury that sidelined him Saturday on Long Island and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo is expected to be out with concussion-like symptoms. Defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek are recovering from concussions—Michalek practiced on Monday. Also out are forwards Richard Park (foot), Steve MacIntyre (undisclosed) and Dustin Jeffrey (knee) and defensemen Ben Lovejoy (wrist) and Brian Strait (elbow).
Stat Pack: Chris Conner, who played 68 games for the Penguins over the previous two seasons, scored his first goal in his fifth game with the Red Wings on Saturday. It was his 17th career goal and 42nd point in 144 games that also include parts of three seasons with the Stars.
Per the NHL’s media website, Dan O’Rourke and Frederick L’Ecuyer will referee tonight’s game, with Bryan Mach and Pierre Champoux working the lines.
Again, the Wings did most of their talking about their rivalry with Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon, but they made sure to talk about both Crosby and the Penguins as a whole, as Jimmy Howard did with MLive’s Ansar Khan...
“You want him playing,’’ Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “He’s one of the best in the game. He’s great for our sport. It hurts us when he’s not playing. With that being said, they’re still dangerous. (James) Neal is playing real well as is (Evgeni) Malkin.’‘
The Penguins beat the Red Wings twice last season without Crosby, 4-1 in Pittsburgh on Jan. 18 and 5-4 in a shootout in Detroit on March 21. The last time the Red Wings beat Pittsburgh also was the last time they faced Crosby, in a 3-1 win at Joe Louis Arena on March 22, 2010.
That’s the game that ended in a scuffle behind the Detroit net. Crosby started slashing Henrik Zetterberg as time expired. Howard too exception and roughed it up with him, giving Crosby quite the face wash.
“That was so two years ago,’’ Howard said, laughing.
And Wings coach Mike Babcock seconded those remarks while speaking to the Free Press’s Anthony Fenech:
“We’d like Sid to be playing,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I think you want all the good players playing. When you go play another team, you want their best goalie, you want their best player, and you want to find out if you’re any good or not.”
Even without Crosby, who has played in only eight of the team’s 30 games this season, the Penguins are still good, standing third in the Eastern Conference with 38 points through Sunday.
“They’ve also got a guy named (Evgeni) Malkin,” Babcock quipped. “He’s pretty good, too.”
After meeting in back-to-back Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and ‘09, the notion of a rivalry with the Penguins was thrown around quite a bit. Howard said the Penguins are one of the first teams he seeks out every time a schedule is released.
“You notice where they are each year, and you sort of circle it,” he said.
Babcock said he has been impressed by the Pittsburgh organization and the success they’ve had without Crosby.
“They play hard and do a lot of good things,” Babcock said. “Add it all together, and they’re a real tough opponent.”
And while Niklas Kronwall gushed about the Penguins while speaking to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...
“Great structure,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said of the reason behind the Penguins’ success. “The coach (Grand Haven’s Dan Bylsma ) has done a great job of making sure everyone is on the same page. They don’t live or die with one guy.”
The Wings’ main focus tonight involves getting their road game together, as Babcock told Kulfan:
The Red Wings are 12-2-1 at home, but only 6-7-0 on the road. This week, the Red Wings get two chances to prove they can win on the road — against two quality opponents.
“What are we doing at home that we’re not doing on the road?” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Why can we play with the pace and tenacity we can at home, (but on the road) we’ve been fine but not as good? Is it matchups, is it special teams? What is that? We haven’t been as good, and we have to find a way to be better.”
Detroit plays at Pittsburgh tonight and at Central Division rival Nashville on Thursday. A team that always has prided itself on being a good road team, the Red Wings view these games as tests.
“We want to (play) a little more like here (at Joe Louis Arena), a more faster and fast-paced game,” Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg said.
Their road game isn’t exactly pretty in terms of special teams play, as noted by the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...
One area one would think would account for such a poor record on the road is the Wings’ overall penalty-kill ranking, which is 22nd in the league. However, that’s not the case. Detroit’s penalty kill ranks 11th on the road and 26th at home.
“Whatever it is, we did just the opposite last year, did real well on the road,” Lidstrom said. “For whatever reason, we haven’t played as well on the road. Last year we were a very patient team on the road, waited for opportunities. This year we haven’t been able to do that.
“Specialty teams have been a big part of that too,” Lidstrom added. “Penalty killing hasn’t been as strong on the road. When you let in a goal or two it’s hard to score goals on the road.”
Niklas Kronwall, who Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji notes is the Wings’ only player with a “minus” plus-minus ranking of -1, might have the answer:
Niklas Kronwall said the Wings just need to pick up the pace away from home.
“Quicker in our own zone,” Kronwall said. “A lot of times that’s where it starts. If we can win the pucks a little bit sooner there, make a good first pass, just make sure the puck goes down in the other team’s zone. That way we can stay on their side, stay on top of their D-men a little bit more than we have on the road so far.”
This stat is also cringe-worthy, per the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell (he offers a Wings-Crosby column if you’re interested, and adds a bit about Babcock’s lessons learned while coaching Crosby at the 2010 Olympics, but I’m guessing that you’re tired of hearing about #87)
Detroit has scored 60 goals in 15 home games while bagging 29 in 13 contests on the road. That’s a difference of 1.77 goals per game.
“Last year we were a very patient team on the road, waited for opportunities,” captain Nick Lidstrom said. “This year we haven’t been able to do that. Specialty teams have been a big part of that too. Penalty killing hasn’t been as strong on the road. When you let in a goal or two, it’s hard to score goals on the road.”
Also of Red Wings-related note: Who’s the player with the most to prove tonight? The Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness found that a former Penguin isn’t quite sure whether he wants to prove his previous employer wrong:
Chris Conner played 68 games over two seasons with the Penguins before signing with the Wings this offseason.
“I’m going to treat it like any other game, go out there and play hard, but I’m excited and looking forward to it,” Conner said. “I don’t know if it’s any extra (motivation) but maybe a little bit.”
Conner played 60 games last season in Pittsburgh and had seven goals and nine assists.
“It’s a matter of what I wanted to do,” Conner said when asked if Pittsburgh had offered him a contract prior to free agency. “They treated me great. It’s a great organization there. Obviously, I got no complaints about how they treated me.”
• If you’re interested, the Grand Rapids Griffins are now releasing a list of their players’ promotional events every Monday, and boy howdy, do they keep the Griffins busy;
• An astute Malik Report reader noted that some pieces of Wings memorabilia that don’t usually hit the auction block are up for bids on Leyland’s sports auctions website;
• And finally, I don’t usually do this kind of thing, but happy birthday to Sergei Fedorov, who turns 42 today. My mom and dad were married on his birthday, and he was my first “favorite Wing.” My dad was a basketball/football/baseball/golf person but when he took his sports-wary son to a Wings-Leafs exhibition game and took to the game like a duck to water, we became a hockey household.
When my dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack about eight months later, I stuck a few things in his casket—a coffee cup and some coffee, a pack of smokes and a lighter and two hockey cards, a Sergei Fedorov one and a Steve Yzerman one because dad said Yzerman was the better player. Smart guy.
Update: Vancouver Giants forward and soon-to-be Team Slovakia World Junior Championship team forward Marek Tvrdon tried to engage in a little levity about the fact that he’ll play against a linemate in a conversation with the Vancouver Province’s Steve Ewen, but it sounds like one of those, “You had to be there” stories…
We will start this off with a promise. No Brendan Gallaghers will be hurt in the aftermath of this story. We are certain of that.
“I want to play against Canada,” Vancouver Giants winger Marek Tvr-don, a Slovak, said of the upcoming world junior championships, which would pit him against his Vancouver coach, Don Hay, and likely his usual Giants linemate Gallagher. “I want to play - me and Gally. I’ll fight him.”
Whoa! Hang on a second. You’ll fight him? There’s no fighting in the world juniors, Marek. You’ll get in big trouble.
“I’ll fight him,” Tvrdon continued. “I don’t care.”
Now, before you go on a letter-writing campaign and send the kids away on holidays so they won’t be able to watch, Tvrdon had a big, cheesy grin on his face when he said this Monday. It’s a big, cheesy grin that’s become a bit of a trade-mark for Tvrdon, 18, a 6-foot-2, 217 pounder. The kid’s a kidder.
It should also be noted that in 44 career games with the Giants, Tvrdon has all of 30 penalty minutes. And that the Canadians and Slovaks are in opposite pools at the 10-team tournament, which means that they wouldn’t meet until the playoffs. Action begins Boxing Day in Edmonton and Calgary, and the final is Jan. 5 in Calgary.
Still, Tvrdon had his schtick going well.
“Playing Don would be fun,” he said.
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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.