Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Predators wrap-up and overnight report: a paradoxical loss, right next to itself

The Detroit Red Wings’ 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday night offers something of a sports paradox: while the Red Wings played smart hockey, controling the puck and the pace of play for extended periods of time, and while the Wings spent most of the night in the Predators’ zone, firing 40 shots at Pekka Rinne, they didn’t play efficient hockey.

A team embarking upon a stretch of five games over the course of eight nights indulged in the bad habits which began to surface during their 4-1 win over Pittsburgh, happily trading line rushes with a Predators team which wound the Wings’ defenders around their puck carriers like a rope before pouncing upon the Wings’ tendency to chase said players, firing passes to terribly open players who found themselves staring down Jimmy Howard all alone, registering scoring chances and rebound goals (which Howard received no help on) as a result, or finding ways to clog Howard’s vision but elude Wings’ defenders bodies and sticks while firing long bombs from the point.

The result was perhaps predictable: while the Wings either could or would not bury their scoring chances, with a 3-1 lead evaporating in the third period and, as the Score’s Chris Lund duly notes (TSN did, too), Pavel Datsyuk fanning as a wide-open net stared him and a 3-3 tie in the face…

The Wings surrendered the puck and ceded territory to a Predators team that had begun to tire the Wings both physically and especially mentally in the third period, earning a bounce and end result—finishing the night three instead of seven points behind the Wings in the Western Conference standings while earning the kind of puck luck that might partially explain why Nashville can boast a 6-1-and-3 record against the Wings in the Bridgestone Arena over their past ten meetings. The Predators only put 21 shots on Howard, and gave up a total of a stunning 67 shot attempts to Detroit, but they scored 4 goals and earned their 2 points. That’s not necessarily smart hockey, but it’s very, very efficient.

It’s hard to suggest that this was anything other than an earned but incredibly lucky bounce, mind you, but this kind of shi…I mean stuff doesn’t happen if the Wings’ forwards don’t snag Howard’s clearing attempt, of if Howard doesn’t have to come out of the net at all.

The Tennessean’s Josh Cooper chose to play up Weber’s trick shot video while both he and the Predators’ personnel gushed about Weber’s clutch play:

“In the big moments you need your top players to step up, and Shea stepped up in a huge way today,” Predators Coach Barry Trotz said.

Weber’s first score came with 4:24 left in the third period, with Nashville down 3-2 and on the power play. He took a feed from defensive partner Ryan Suter and rifled a shot seemingly through goaltender Jimmy Howard’s glove to make it 3-3.Then with 1:36 left, Weber flipped a puck on net that bounced through a screening Nick Spaling and past Howard, giving Nashville a one-goal lead it didn’t relinquish.

“A trick shot means nothing in a game,” Predators forward Jordin Tootoo said. “At the end of the day, it all comes down to results and performance out there. When the game is on the line, he’s one of those guys who likes to step up to the occasion.”

The victory was Nashville’s fourth straight. It also was the third game this month in which the Predators (16-11-4) came back from a two-goal deficit. Down 3-1 in the second period, Nashville started its comeback when Tootoo ripped a Kevin Klein rebound past Howard with 2:38 left. Overall, Detroit outshot Nashville 40-21.

“It was just a game where if you want to win against a team like that, you have to make desperate plays and make some saves,” Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “Overall I felt we played with a lot of desperation, blocked shots and made good defensive plays.”

That word—desperation—might summarize why the Predators prevailed. The Wings played with grit, heart and desire, but the Predators seemed to out-will a Wings team that was too comfortable putting things on cruise control while the Predators mashed their gas pedal down to the floor.

Weber suggested as much to the Nashville City Paper’s David Boiclair...

“It shows a lot of character, especially when we don’t play our best game,” Weber said. “We played a lot of time in our end shutting them down, but we showed character and a lot of determination. They had a lot of shots, but the number of quality scoring chances were not that high.”

Detroit, which also had won its previous three, went ahead 3-1 with two goals in a span of 87 seconds in the second period. The first was a power play goal by Henrik Zetterberg. The Red Wings also went ahead 1-0 on the power play when Tomas Holmstrom scored 5:15 into the contest. Weber’s game-tying goal came on Nashville’s only power play of the contest, which was the result of a tripping call against Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard.

“We don’t want to give up any power-play goals no matter who the team is, but obviously they do have skill and if you do screw up a little bit they are going to make you pay,” Nick Spaling said.

David Legwand tied it 1-1 at 10:09 of the first period, and Jordin Tootoo started the comeback at 17:22 of the second period. Tootoo recorded a goal and an assist, which gave him five points in his last five games. Martin Erat added a pair of assists.

“Special teams wins and loses games,” Tootoo said. “[Thursday] we were able to tie up the game and switch the momentum over. We just wanted to keep rolling.”

The Predators’ press gets a little less quote-y and a little more note-y from here on in, with the Tennessean’s Josh Cooper offering a few notes and one Wings quote…

Special-teams game: The Predators finished 0 percent on the penalty kill. But they also finished 100 percent on the power play. The Predators allowed a power-play goal for the first time in five games as the Red Wings were 2-for-2. But Nashville scored with the man-advantage for the seventh-straight game.

A late penalty by Howard gave the Predators their lone man-advantage. Weber struck with a slap shot past Howard.

Big regular-season game: It was an announced sell-out at Bridgestone Arena, and the players felt an extra sense of urgency.

“The tempo was high and the intensity was there too – almost like a playoff game,” Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said.

Before cranking up the “wow factor” in his Postgame Ponderings:

There was no way the Predators could come back from another two-goal deficit. No way they could do it for the third time this month and the fourth time this year. But once Shea Weber scored with under five minutes left, you could see Nashville go into its 2-minute offense. And when they Predators get into these modes, they’re hard to stop. The end-result was another come-from-behind victory, beating the Detroit Red Wings 4-3. This was an important game for Nashville. It was a big barometer for them to see how far they’ve come since they lost 4-1 to Detroit on Nov. 26. Also, the Red Wings are a division opponent, and playing as hot as any team in the league.  This season, division games are more crucial than years past. The last two years, the top three teams in the Central Division have made the playoffs. The Predators are in the top-8 of the Western Conference, but find themselves behind three teams. Detroit is one of those squads ahead of the Predators in the standings.

NashvillePredators.com’s Brian Mullen also offered up scant quotes...

D Shea Weber on his game-tying goal: “The crowd was going nuts. There was a standing ovation. That’s what we love about playing at home. Our fans are with us and it gives us that boost.”

G Pekka Rinne: “You have to make some desperate plays against Detroit. You know they are going to shoot the puck and will always have people in front.”

Barry Trotz: “Those are hard games. The Detroit Red Wings. I believe, have been the top team in the league in the past month. They’re hard to play against. We found a way to win.”

And more talk:

Time to shine: Great players make great plays in big games. Captain Shea Weber was a prime example against Detroit. With his team trailing 3-2, the All-Star defenseman scored two goals in the final 4:24 of the third – with one coming on the power play – and hoisted his team on his back. Weber, however, did get some help. Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling provided screens and created traffic in front of Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard. But most of the credit deservedly goes to Weber, who unloaded his trademark shot on the power play goal, and unleashed a similar blast on the game-winner. Weber continues to play at a high level no matter the opponent or situation. His two goals will be remembered most, but his defensive effort was just as important. He played a team-high 24:44, tied for the game-high in hits (four) and blocked two shots. In short, it was a superstar performance.

Rinne quietly good: It wasn’t a night full of highlights for Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne, but it may have been his most battle-tested win of 2011-12. And that’s what the coaching staff likes to see sometimes. He was in a deep hole midway through the second when the Preds trailed 3-1. Detroit had scored two goals on the power play, and both times pucks deflected off Nashville defensemen before directly bouncing to a Detroit player. But Rinne stepped up late and made stops on all 13 shots he faced in the third. He stopped 37 of 40 shots in all, and it was his 14th 30-save performance of the season.

NHL.com did a slightly better job of recapping the game via the players’ comments while chronicling the third period narrative (and it’s mostly a riff on the Associated Press’s recap with a few comments from the Wings’ Twitter account thrown in):

Tootoo’s rebound goal with 3:38 to play in the second started the comeback. A flurry of shots had Wings goalie Jimmy Howard off balance, and the puck was pushed out to Tootoo, who had been trailing the play. He fired it past Howard for his second goal in three games since returning from a suspension for a hit on Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. Then it was Weber’s turn to be the real hero. The tying goal came on the power play, when Martin Erat swung a pass to Ryan Suter; he fed Weber, who blasted a shot past a shielded Howard.

“When we got that power play, we knew we were going to have to score because we weren’t going to get another one,” Weber said of his first goal, which came during the Predators’ only power play. “We were fortunate enough to get one and then we used the momentum from the crowd after that.”

His second shot skipped in the crease and slipped past Howard for the game-winner.

“They got a great bounce there at the end,” Howard said. “Weber just threw a knuckle-puck on net, it bounced right in front of me and went over my shoulder.”

The Red Wings’ captain wasn’t happy with the one that got away…

“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.”

Wings coach Mike Babcock tossed off something of a Babcockian cliche while speaking to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan about the loss:

“We made mistakes but we played (well),” coach Mike Babcock said. “We didn’t back off. I liked the effort and the way we competed and the time we spent in their zone.”

Just like that, an opportunity for another impressive road victory disappeared for the Wings, who defeated the Penguins in Pittsburgh impressively 48 hours earlier.The loss ended the Wings’ (19-10-1, 39 points) three-game win streak. They also dropped below .500 (7-8-0) on the road for the season.

Howard offered an astute comment about the game-winning goal given that the Bridgestone Arena’s ice seemed downright goopy (and yes, as the Tennessean’s Andy Humbles suggests, the fact that one of the NHL’s biggest sponsors has the naming rights to a relatively new rink all but promises an All-Star game in Nashville in the near future, and no, I don’t think that the All-Star game will visit Detroit until the Wings’ new rink is eventually built as it’s more or less given to whichever teams have built or extensively renovated newer buildings):

“It never touched anybody, it (the puck) skipped up,” said Howard, who had 17 saves. “You know it happens (when) you play here enough. The puck does it a lot. It was bouncing all night. It felt like we were playing with a tennis ball out there. It just stinks but it happened.”
...
“A lead is never safe in this league anymore,” Howard said. “Just a couple of bad breaks for us.”

Babcock offered a less rosy commentary on the game to the Free Press’s Helene St. James...

“Two things,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We missed a lane on the penalty kill. And last goal, we could have had the guy boxed out in the corner. We didn’t. So we made mistakes, but we also were all over them and we didn’t back off. We didn’t win, but I liked the effort, the way we prepared. I liked how physical we were. I liked the time we spent in the ‘O’ zone.”

Ian White and Pavel Datsyuk each set up two goals. Howard made 17 saves to 37 from Pekka Rinne, who faced double-digit shots in each period. It was Howard who got called for hooking Nick Spaling before the game-tying goal.

“It was either that or give them an empty net, so I figured we should take our chances on the power play,” Howard said. “It was a bad penalty, and those bite you sometimes. I thought we played great tonight, and I thought we deserved to win. The guys did a great job in front of me, just, I didn’t really hold up my part of the bargain.”

I’m not so sure about that given that Howard received no support from his defensemen on the goals he surrendered.

Lidstrom reiterated his talking points while noting that the Wings at least didn’t get backed onto their heels when the Predators came out hitting everything in sight (and Jordin Tootoo and Craig Smith almost injured themselves in doing so)...

“It’s disappointing, especially having the lead with less than 5 minutes to play,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I thought we played well with the puck, had pressure on their defensemen. I thought we responded well to the physical play out there, too; we were throwing some checks around.”

Do we have to re-hash Weber’s goals? I guess we do, via MLive’s Ansar Khan...

Nashville coach Barry Trotz said of Weber’s blast: “It looked like an absolute rocket. I think Jimmy Howard actually caught it and it just turned his glove sideways it was so hard and so heavy and the puck just carried on into the net. That’s just what Shea does.”

Weber then scored the game-winner with 1:36 remaining on a harmless-looking wrist shot from the point that skipped off the ice and sailed over Howard’s shoulder.

“Weber just threw a knuckle-puck on net,” Howard said. “You play here enough you know the puck does that a lot. It was bouncing all night. It felt like we were playing with a freaking tennis ball out there.”

But, again, smart hockey was not necessarily efficient hockey:

“I thought we had some pressure on their defensemen, spent a lot of time in their zone,” Lidstrom said. “They stuck with it, they worked hard and got that power-play goal to get themselves into the game late. But it’s disappointing losing the way we did. The tempo was high, the intensity was there, too, almost like a playoff game.”

Pavel Datsyuk had a pair of assists to continue his roll (seven goals and 14 assists in 13 games). But he was a bit too unselfish at times.

“Six-on-five at the end (after pulling Howard for the extra attacker), I would have liked Pav to shoot it to the net instead of going cross ice twice, but those are little things,” Babcock said. “I liked the game.”

They played hard enough to get the win. Rather than lament the loss, Babcock believes these things even out over the course of a season.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a game this year where the other team plays better than us and we’ll find a way to win it,” Babcock said. “We made a couple of mistakes that went in our net, but I liked the way we played, how hard we worked.”

I hope that the Wings find those ways to win when they’re outplayed sooner than later, because this loss, as Lidstrom suggests, stings like nobody’s business.

After the game the Wings returned home on Red Bird III and will practice today, play Los Angeles on Saturday and then head to Edmonton to play the Oilers on Monday, the Canucks on Wednesday and the Flames on Thursday as the NHL’s scheduling computer didn’t take having to visit Alberta twice into account.


Multimedia:

Highlights: I would suggest at least listening to Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond if you want to watch the game’s highlights:

Post-game: If you wish to watch Barry Trotz’s post-game press conference (and he’s blabbier than I am), you may do so:

 

Ditto for an interview with Nick Spaling.

Fox Sports Detroit didn’t post any post-game quips or interviews online.

Photos: The Tennessean posted a 15-image gallery;

The Detroit Free Press posted a 21-image gallery;

Fox Sports Detroit posted a 6-image gallery, and Fox Sports Tennessee posted a very different slate of 6 images;

Yahoo Sports posted a 29-image gallery;

NHL.com posted a 41-image gallery;

The Predators’ website posted a 32-image gallery and embedded an image in its website’s recap;

And the Red Wings’ website posted a 28-image gallery, but the embedded image in their website’s recap doesn’t load properly. It’s that kind of night, I guess.

Statistics:

Shots a remarkable 40-21 Detroit overall. The Wings out-shot Nashville 12-8 in the 1st period, 15-5 in the 2nd period and 13-8 in the 3rd period.

The Wings went 2 for 2 in 2:40 of PP time (on a night when there was quite a bit of clutching and grabbing), and the Predators went 1 for 1 in 22 seconds of PP time.

Pekka Rinne stopped 37 of 40 shots; Jimmy Howard stopped 17 of 21 but deserves no blame for the loss.

The 3 stars, per the Predators’ media, were Nicklas Lidstrom, Jordin Tootoo and Shea Weber.

The Wings’ goals: Holmstrom (6) from White (10) and Datsyuk (22), power play;

Zetterberg (7) from Hudler (13) and Bertuzzi (9), power play;

Lidstrom (7) from White (11) and Datsyuk (22).

Faceoffs 26-20 Detroit (the Wings won 57%);

Blocked shots 17-9 Nashville;

Missed shots 10-10 (total shot attempts 67-40 Detroit);

Hits 20-16 Nashville;

Giveaways 10-4 Nashville;

Takeaways 5-4 Nashville.

Telling statistic: Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall finished at -3, and while Tomas Holmstrom was great overall, he finished at -2.

Individual statistics:

Faceoffs: Datsyuk went 11-and-7 (61%); Zetterberg went 5-and-5 (50%); Helm went 5-and-5 (50%); Abdelkader went 2-and-3 (40%); Emmerton, Filppula and Franzen all won single faceoffs.

Shots: White led the team with 6 shots; Zetterberg had 5; Abdelkader, Datsyuk, Emmerton and Franzen had 3; Lidstrom, Cleary, Miller, Hudler, Helm, Bertuzzi and Holmstrom had 2; Filppula, Ericsson and Kronwall had 1. Only Kindl and Stuart were not credited with shots.

Blocked attempts: White had 4 attempts blocked; Cleary, Stuart and Kronwall had 2 attempts blocked; Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Miller, Helm and Bertuzzi had single attempts blocked.

Missed shots: Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Filppula missed the net 2 times; Cleary, White (that’s a total of 11 attempted shots for White), Emmerton and Franzen missed the net 1 time.

Hits: Both Stuart and Helm had 3 hits; Kindl, Cleary and Hudler had 2; Abdelkader, White, Bertuzzi and Ericsson had 1.

Giveaways: Ericsson had 2 giveaways during a rather rough game for him; Bertuzzi had 1.

Takeaways: Cleary, Datsyuk, White and Helm were credited with takeaways.

Blocked shots: Kronwall blocked 2 Predators shots; Kindl, Lidstrom, Abdelkader (who is okay despite taking the one shot he blocked off his left foot), White, Stuart, Bertuzzi and Ericsson blocked 1 shot.

Penalties taken: Jimmy Howard took the Wings’ only penalty.

Plus-minus: Stuart and Kronwall finished at -3; Holmstrom finished at -2; Abdelkader, Miller, Hudler, Zetterberg, Helm, Emmerton and Filppula finished at -1; Lidstrom, White, Bertuzzi and Franzen finished at +1 and the team finished at -10.

Points: Datsyuk had 2 assists; White had 2 assists; Lidstrom, Zetterberg and Holmstrom had goals; Hudler and Bertuzzi had assists.

Ice time: White led the team with 26:33 played; Lidstrom played 24:23; Kronwall played 19:59;

Franzen played 19:58; Datsyuk played 19:45; Stuart played 18:45;

Zetterberg played 18:43; Filppula played 18:25; Bertuzzi played 18:14;

Hudler played 16:46; Ericsson played 15:17; Cleary played 15:15;

Helm played 14:03; Kindl played 14:00; Miller played 12:21;

Holmstrom played 10:20; Abdelkader played 9:43; Emmerton played 8:00.

 

Red Wings notebooks: For the record, and Frum Teh Twitterz, MLive’s Ansar Khan updated the status of Justin Abdelkader, who missed a few minutes’ worth of play after taking a hard shot off his left foot…

Justin Abdelkader said he’s fine after taking a shot off left foot in third. Finished the game and doesn’t think he needs X-rays.

As did the Free Press’s Helene St. James:

Abdelkader hobbling a bit after blocking shot by Hillen in third, but finished game, says OK

• St. James also penned a notebook discussing the fact that Pavel Datsyuk has exceeded a point-per-game pace since coach Babcock chose to reunite him with last season’s linemates in Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi:

“Once you get started scoring and putting up points,” linemate Johan Franzen said, “everything gets easier. Like skating—you feel a lot lighter out there. I think that’s what happens to everyone. When things are going well, everything feels easier. It’s good to see his confidence back.”

Datsyuk’s resurgence has coincided with gaining Todd Bertuzzi on his other wing Nov. 19. Playing between a pair of 6-foot-3, 220-plus-pound behemoths, both of whom can shoot the puck and drive the net, has its benefits for the Russian playmaker.

“Bert and me play well,” Datsyuk said. “I’m just one of the pieces of the puzzle. It’s more confidence, but most confidence if we win, not just I score.” Datsyuk joked it’s easier to play with Franzen and Bertuzzi because “I can see them, even in really big arena. And they have deep voices when they yell at me. This is how I find them.”

Coach Mike Babcock offered the opinion that Datsyuk plays especially strongly “in the games that he thinks are real big games,” like Tuesday’s at Pittsburgh. To Babcock, of course, every game is big, which is why seeing the team’s superstar forward thrive—the whole line, in fact—is so important.

“He’s an elite, elite player with and without the puck,” Babcock said. “He’s always going to be good without the puck, every night. Just some nights he’s magic with it, as well. That line comes at you with a lot of pace. Mule can shoot the puck like no man. And so it’s been a good line. Ever since Bert’s come back from injury, he’s been pretty good.”

• St. James also noted that Babcock spoke rather effusively regarding the Predators’ personnel:

[Shea] Weber put three hits on Pavel Datsyuk in one shift in the first period. Along with fellow defenseman Ryan Suter and big goaltender Pekka Rinne, the three power the Predators. “They’ve got two of the best players in the world on the back end, and one of the best goalies in the world,” coach Mike Babcock said. “...There’s no question the core of the team are those two D and that goaltender.”

Datsyuk gave Weber a shoulder right back, too…

• The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan revisited Thursday’s biggest news story, that mighty mite Chris Conner‘s grip on the 12th forward’s spot loosened via a broken left hand which will sideline Conner for two weeks, allowing Cory Emmerton (who’s played well but has seemed to tire physically of late) to work his way back into the lineup as Patrick Eaves (jaw) and Jan Mursak (ankle) continue to recover from their injuries.

According to Fox Sports Detroit’s Ken Daniels, Conner suffered a break in an innocent collision with a stanchion, and he continued to play against the Penguins and set up Danny Cleary’s 3-1 goal before a post-game x-ray revealed the break:

“It felt a little jammed,” Conner said after Thursday’s morning skate. “They took a look and it showed something.”
...
“I want to play and the situation I’m in, I want to keep proving I can play at this level,” Conner said. “It could be worse. I just have to stay positive.”

One piece of good news for Conner is he’ll be able to continue skating. He is wearing a protective cast to shield the injury but can still stick-handle.

“It’s too bad for him, he’s played real good,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

As Kuflan noted, the Wings recalled someone whose place in the depth chart has slipped in Tomas Tatar. With Fabian Brunnstrom and Gustav Nyquist displaying promise, Tatar, who has to clear waivers next year (that’s why Emmerton’s with the Wings), has gotten lost in the shuffle. Should the Wings suffer another injury, Tatar’s going to have to fight for his future with the big club:

“He’s got skill, another guy who isn’t huge but has a skill set and he has to transfer it to this level,” Babcock said.

Kulfan also spoke to Brad Stuart about the fact that so many players have suffered concussions due to “incidental contact” over the last month or so:

“Guys running into their own teammates, just weird things,” said Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart, noting Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux and Ottawa’s Milan Michalek both colliding with teammates. “But the smart thing is to make sure if there is any doubt whether or not a guy has a concussion is you take precautions, and that’s what you’re seeing. Teams are on top of it.”


Also of Red Wings-related note: Sportsline’s Adam Gretz did a lovely job of summarizing why Jimmy Howard’s All-Star snub is strange while very thoroughly attempting to separate the, “Do the Wings have good goalies or are they only middling goalies playing for a great defensive team?” question from Howard’s play:

Through their first 29 games the Red Wings have allowed the fifth fewest goals per game in the NHL, while also giving up the second fewest shots in the NHL at 27.4, trailing only the Ken Hitchcock-led St. Louis Blues.
...
Their defensive play was an obvious point of emphasis (if not concern) coming into this season for two main reasons: 1) The team lost one of its long-time standouts on the blue line, Brian Rafalski, to retirement over the summer, and 2) The team’s defensive play saw a noticeable decline last season compared to where it was in recent years, putting additional pressure on the offensive to, well … outscore everybody. Especially when Howard saw his number regress from where they were during his rookie season when he was a finalist in the Rookie Of The Year voting. The 2010-11 team allowed an average of over 30 shots per game, something that a Red Wings team hadn’t done in more than a decade, and the result was the eighth most goals against in the league.

And now this year? Once again one of the best teams in the league defensively. In games that Howard has started the Wings have allowed more than three goals just two times. They’ve allowed more than two just five times. Part of that success has been due to the fact team is once again keeping teams locked up in their own end of the ice, but there is also no denying that Howard has played at a higher level this season and taken advantage of the lesser workload on a nightly basis.

Following Tuesday’s game I asked him about it being another night where he only had to face around 25 shots, as has been the case much of the season, and he quickly laughed and said, “Well, it was 26 we allowed, but who’s really counting?”

The only personnel changes on the blue line have been Jakub Kindl and Mike Commodore replacing Ruslan Salei, and Ian White coming in for Rafalski. Was that really enough to swing the Red Wings defense from the bottom third of the NHL to the top-third? The system helps, as does Detroit’s impressive roster, but Howard has been great, too.

“We just do a great job,” Howard added. “For the most part you only have to worry about the one shot, and I just try to put the rebound into good areas, whether it’s holding on to it or putting it in the corner.”
...
“We pride ourselves on being good defensively,” said [Danny] Cleary. “That’s how we won a championship here, being good defensively, and we all believe that’s how you win in the end. And the other side of it is, i think, Howie has had a specatular season, and anytime your goalie is your best player, goals against are going to be good.”

• In Finland, Dick Axelsson scored a goal for Sweden as it defeated the Czech Republic 2-1 at the Karjala Cup;

• Back to Twitter for a moment as the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff tossed out an interesting statistical milestone to come:

#redwings captain Nicklas Lidstrom is 2 points behind former #redwings C Bernie Federko for 50th place in #NHL history (1130).

• I can’t figure this one out, but Sportsnet’s Mike Brophy chose to pump the tires of Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel by pointing out that a similar “duo” which hasn’t played together for about 20 games hasn’t produced as many points as the Leafs’ 70-point pair:

Interestingly, some duos we have grown accustomed to being at or near the top of the scoring race are not doing as well. Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals, for instance, have combined for just 52 points. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings have produced just 50 points. In fact, Detroit’s current top duo is Datsyuk and Johan Franzen who have 59 points. And what about last year’s top scorer and Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry and his pal Ryan Getzlaf? They have combined for 49 points.

• On a rather disappointing morning, we’re going to all but end on a note that reminds us of the Wings’ biggest “setback” before winning the Stanley Cup in 1997, their second playoff meeting with Claude Lemieux excluded, via the Newark Star-Ledger’s Rich Chere. As the Devils are retiring Scott Niedermayer’s #27 tonight, Chere recalls the reason that Scotty Bowman decided that Shawn Burr could no longer play for the Wings under any circumstance:

With Scott Niedermayer, whose No. 27 will be retired tonight by the Devils, it is always the night of June 20, 1995, in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.

“What stands out for me is him going coast to coast in Detroit, missing the net and tapping the puck back in,” said Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, a look of delight lighting up his face even now. “He skated right through the whole Detroit team. It was pretty amazing.”

It was Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals and the Devils trailed the Red Wings by a goal midway through the third period when Niedermayer picked up the puck in the circle to Brodeur’s right and headed up ice with a burst of speed.

“I was back-checking and blocked a pass from Dino Ciccarelli,” Jim Dowd remembered. “Nieder picked it up and I just watched him go up the ice and make it look so easy.”

With Paul Coffey defending, the 21-year-old Niedermayer faked a back-hander before taking a shot on his forehand from the top of the slot. It went wide to the right of the net, and Niedermayer played the carom off the end boards to beat goalie Mike Vernon and tie the score, 2-2.

Niedermayer never would have scored had Burr not accidentally given the defenseman’s fallen stick back to him.

• And finally, as a matter of note, I need to let you know that I’m going to be gone for most of Saturday, probably starting around 4 PM, due to my family’s Christmas party. I’ll watch the game after I return (a 2-and-a-half month absence = I still tape games on my trusty VCR!) and will write up a recap on Sunday, but I’m still a bit grumbly in my tummy, so I’m probably going to lay very low on Sunday and take things a little slow today.

Otherwise, there aren’t many holiday plans in the offing, so I should be around most of the time. I might miss the Wings-Hawks game on the 30th as well, depending on how things pan out in terms of making plans with some very busy friends.

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Comments

Avatar

Howard has played great this year but last night illustrated what he has to work on.  His decision making with the puck could be vastly improved. He shoots it when he should pass and vice versa.  He also consistently chooses the wrong defenceman to play the puck to.

Posted by loojay on 12/16/11 at 11:07 AM ET

pilgrim's avatar

Loojay has a point. Howard need to make better decision with the puck.

I used the shit myself when Hasek would wander around and play the puck like man that suddenly woke up in the dark of his house after a night of too much Johnnie Walker and forgot where the bathroom is.

But, somehow, in the vault of my selective memory, he he’d pull it off more often than not.

Posted by pilgrim from the ice at the bottom of the world on 12/16/11 at 12:11 PM ET

Avatar

The Predaturds once again make a victory that was given to them sound as if they were the better team, blah blah blah.  Howard had a stinker night, and it happens from time to time.  They act like they won the friggin Cup.

Posted by Jim P from Nashville on 12/16/11 at 12:43 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

I wouldn’t say it was a “stinker night.”  George did a great job of analyzing what happened.  And had Pav not fanned on that shot that missed the wide open net, it could have been a totally different outcome.  Sometimes, the puck luck just doesn’t go our way. 

I will say I thought the game was a great example of what the regular season is going to look like now, with parity.  And it seems to me that the Wings finally get it.  I haven’t seen them coasting on a lead for awhile, and that’s a great improvement.

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 12/16/11 at 01:08 PM ET

TKShreve's avatar

I thought Jimmy played a good game last night.

But I just can’t hide the fact that he was at fault on the go-ahead goal from Weber’s ping-pong shot. Howard has to make an educated play in that position or let the defense do what they are there to do.

Outside of that I also agree with Babcock that we played well in their zone and will win more games than not when playing this type of a game.

Bad luck in a game vs. a solid team.

Posted by TKShreve from East Uptown on 12/16/11 at 01:22 PM ET

calquake's avatar

I wouldn’t say it was a “stinker night.”  George did a great job of analyzing what happened.  And had Pav not fanned on that shot that missed the wide open net, it could have been a totally different outcome.  Sometimes, the puck luck just doesn’t go our way. 

I will say I thought the game was a great example of what the regular season is going to look like now, with parity.  And it seems to me that the Wings finally get it.  I haven’t seen them coasting on a lead for awhile, and that’s a great improvement.

Posted by MsRedWinger from somewhere in the Cosmic Dust on 12/16/11 at 10:08 AM ET


This.

Posted by calquake on 12/16/11 at 02:07 PM ET

TKShreve's avatar

And had Pav not fanned on that shot that missed the wide open net, it could have been a totally different outcome.  Sometimes, the puck luck just doesn’t go our way.

IMO he was jammed on the shot. And for those of us who play hockey on a regular basis, you know what it’s like to receive a hot pass like that in close quarters. The fact that he was able to get his stick on the puck at all was a solid play.

That’s what I saw from my perspective.

Posted by TKShreve from East Uptown on 12/16/11 at 02:18 PM ET

WestWing's avatar

I’m going to bring this up if only because it’s been such a glaring weakness for three straight seasons now, and it bit them in the ass yet again last night.

Detroit’s penalty kill unit was on the ice for all of 22 seconds in the entire game and failed to really even contest the scoring chance that went in the back of their net.  Take care of business on your lone PK of the evening and you come away with a point and likely even two. 

A 24th ranked penalty kill is their achilles heel right now.  Conservatively this has cost them about 6 to 8 points in the standings thus far this season.  If you think that’s not huge, go look at the standings.  Good-bye first place, hello middle of the playoff pack.

Posted by WestWing from Portland, Oregon on 12/16/11 at 02:36 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

A 24th ranked penalty kill is their achilles heel right now.  Conservatively this has cost them about 6 to 8 points in the standings thus far this season.  If you think that’s not huge, go look at the standings.  Good-bye first place, hello middle of the playoff pack.

Posted by WestWing from Portland, Oregon on 12/16/11 at 11:36 AM ET

Definitely a valid point.

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 12/16/11 at 03:02 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Yes, the PK scares the sh!t out of me. It’s been incredibly hard to hold leads when the red seas part for long bombs from the point or open snipers in the slot. To me, the Wings have to get their PK in order to start really climbing the Western Conference standings for good.

Howard definitely had a “stinker” night in terms of results, and I thought it was admirable that he offered himself up as the sacrificial lamb despite the fact that he received absolutely no help….But at the same time, he’s channeling both Osgood and Hasek in terms of his puckhandling. Over the past two or three years he’s registered 1-2 giveaways on average over the course of every game, and they usually result in scoring chances for the opposition. He and the Wings’ defense may or may not have a slight communication problem, and Howard may or may not be trying way, way too hard to take charge when he doesn’t necessarily need to do so.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 12/16/11 at 03:53 PM ET

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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.