The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/17/12 at 05:39 AM ET
Given that the Detroit Red Wings have amassed a 3-7-and-1 record since defeating tonight’s opponent, the San Jose Sharks (10:30 PM EDT, FSD, probably without a pre-game due to the CCHA final between WMU and Michigan at 7:30 PM/CSN Bay Area/97.1 FM) way back on February 17th, it would seem appropriate for Detroit to bookend its worst stretch of hockey this season by finishing up the last game of their last West Coast swing of the regular season by putting a Pavel Datsyuk-sized dent in the Sharks’ playoff hopes.
But that’s where the problem regarding tonight’s game lies.
Friday was a “good” injury day by mid-February to mid-March Red Wings fans’ standards because Datsyuk was cleared to play after having his knee scoped a few days after that Sharks game, Todd Bertuzzi didn’t remained healthy and Johan Franzen is “only” either doubtful or possible, depending on whether you believe Franzen or his coach, for Saturday’s game after suffering back spasms during Friday’s practice.
Datsyuk’s return should bolster the Wings’ lineup, as should having Todd Bertuzzi and Jimmy Howard back in the lineup with games’ worth of re-acclimating to the pace of NHL play under their belts after returning from groin injuries, but they’re going to still be finding their sea legs, the Wings’ defense remains severely depleted and somewhat mistake-prone sans Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle, back Wednesday at the earliest), Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl (broken wrist and strained oblique muscle, respectively, and I’ll bet you and I didn’t think the Wings would miss them this much), and the Sharks, who added T.J. Galiardi and Daniel Winnik to the roster at the trade deadline (joining Kyle Quincey in the “former Avs playing tonight” club), also received a big reinforcement during their shootout win over Nashville in the form of Martin Havlat, who registered 5 shots while returning from a hamstring injury…
And just as we know that the Sharks are so damn big and ornery, especially against the Wings, that Franzen’s size and strength would be sorely missed…You and I need to understand that the fact that the Sharks have won two of their past three games shouldn’t mask their Wings-like (Detroit’s gone 2-and-5 this month) 2-3-and-3 record this month, nor does this week’s worth of wins for a Sharks team playing its fourth game over the past six nights diminish the Sharks’ status as, currently speaking, a non-playoff team.
The Sharks sit in ,a href=“http://www.nhl.com/ice/standings.htm”>ninth place in the West, tied with the Kings and Flames with 80 points (the Sharks are ahead because they lead in wins, 35 to 34 and 34, respectively), and while the Sharks have played in fewer games than any of the teams above or below them in what is a five-team playoff “pack” (consisting of the Coyotes, Avs, Sharks, Kings and Flames), they’ve got to win as many games as humanly possible to not fall prey to needing some serious-ass help to simply earn a playoff spot.
That being said, the smaller, greener and just as mistake-prone Win pretty desperately need to win tonight’s game and embark upon the last three weeks of their regular-season schedule (the Wings have 10 games left after they tangle with the Sharks) on a salvageable note, too. The Predators lurk all of a point behind the Wings in the Central Division standings with a game in hand (and the teams are tied in regulation-or-overtime wins with 37 apiece, by the way), and they play tonight in LA; the Blues, who sit a probably but-not-theoreticially unattainable
7 points ahead of the Wings, play tonight in Tampa Bay as well, so the Wings need to start winning in short order simply to keep pace with a pair of foes who simply don’t seem to lose.
Whew! Long paragraphs with long sentences and lots of parenthetical remarks. I will assume that the last two springs mean that by now, you’re relatively familiar with the Sharks’ roster so I’m gonna skip the usual “getting to know your opponent and/or how your opponents have played of late” part of the preview and get down to brass tacks:
1. Despite that bad-ass 23-home-win-setting win over San Jose on the 17th of February (hmm, losing to the Sharks on the 17th, winning to the Sharks on the 17th, oh, the low-hanging fruit types will go ape over this stuff), the Sharks have not only tended to kick the Wings’ asses during the playoffs, but also the regular season, especially since Antti Niemi (see: 7-2-and-1 regular season record) joined San Jose, and the fact that the Wings are more banged-up than the Sharks are going into yet another intimidating road game (Detroit’s road record = 16-20-and-1, losing streak = 3 games, power play = 0-for-27 over last 7, thank you Ansar Khan for the stats) doesn’t help the Wings’ cause;
2. To quote Mike Babcock’s disciple, regarding playing the Wings, via Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz:
[Sharks coach Todd] McLellan says not many secrets this time of year. “Do what you do, and do it well, and do it hard and long.” #SJSharks
(Knowing my audience, stop giggling. I snerked when I first read that, too)
3. Along those lines, it comes down to, well, execution and desire, which, given the above-quoted Twitter quip, probably don’t belong in the first sentence following hard and long. Regardless, the Sharks understand that they shouldpounce on the Wings’ road record, as McLellan told the Mercury News’s David Pollak, but it won’t be easy…
“They might be hungrier, I don’t know,” the Sharks coach said. “I just know that we need to get ourselves on a streak, and they stand in the
way of that.”
Unlike the Sharks, the Red Wings are comfortably in the playoffs, even though it looks as if the St. Louis Blues will dethrone them at the top of the Central Division. But Detroit coach Mike Babcock—who watched the Sharks’ 2-1 shootout win over Nashville on Thursday from the press box—yielded to no one Friday when it came to team desperation.
“I don’t know who could be more desperate than us. I don’t even begin to understand that,” Babcock said. “If you’re playing well and everything is going good, maybe they could be more desperate. But if you’re a group like we are right now and you’re trying to get your game back, to me, there’s no one who should be more desperate than us.”
Later, to drive home his point, he added: “When was the last time we won? Who did we play the last time we won?”
For the record, Detroit’s last victory was eight days ago, 4-3 over the Los Angeles Kings.
McLellan cited the title of a Joseph Heller novel in describing the way he wants his players to perform as they try to lift themselves back into a Western Conference playoff spot.
“I want them to have an urgency to their approach and to the way they apply their trades,” he said. “Yet I want them to play relaxed and free—‘Catch 22.’ “
In the teams’ last meeting Feb. 19, San Jose dropped a 3-2 decision to become the final victim in Detroit’s NHL-record 23 game, home-ice winning streak. But the Sharks had been dominating Detroit until then—winning the five previous regular-season games and eliminating the Red Wings from the playoffs in 2010 and 2011.
But the Sharks may want to keep their heads above water and their playoff hopes alive more than they do to specifically defeat the Wings, as Dan Boyle (ever a pain in the Wings’ sides) told Pollak:
The Sharks have now captured five of the six points on table over the past three games. Can they afford to think of themselves as getting out of the tar pit they put themselves in?
“No, I don’t look at it that way at all,” Dan Boyle said. “It’s very hard to gain ground. We can win the next three and if Colorado, Dallas and Phoenix win the next three, we’ll have gained nothing. We’ve just got to keep winning.”
“I want them to have an urgency to their approach and to the way they apply their trades. Yet I want them to play relaxed and free — Catch 22,” [McLellan] said. “But you can relax, you can go home today and relax and start preparing for the game tomorrow. And then when you come, you’ve got to bring your A game and it’s as simple as that.”
Relax and also pounce on the Wings’ status as a banged-up team?
The Sharks are catching the Red Wings without Nicklas Lidstrom, who left Detroit’s current road trip to go back home because his bruised ankle bone hasn’t been healing. Pavel Datsyuk, on the other hand, will be back in the lineup after missing the past 11 games due to arthroscopic knee surgery. Without those two, the Red Wings have been struggling with only one win in their last six games and going 0-for-California so far after stops in Los Angeles and Anaheim. Don’t try to tell the Sharks they’re catching the Red Wings at a good time, though.
“It’s nothing you even think about,” Douglas Murray said of playing Detroit without Lidstrom. “It might be a different answer if you play a seven-game series and you might approach it differently. But a single game, it’s nothing to focus on.”
Says McLellan: “It (three-game losing streak) may motivate them more, they might be hungrier. I don’t know. I just know that we need to get ourselves on a streak and they stand in the way of that. We’ve got to be ready to come out and play our best. I can’t give you any other answer than that the rest of the year. That’s just how it is.”
The Sharks readily believe that they’re a far better team than the one they were prior to their two-for-three stretch this week, and they’re looking toward tonight’s game as something of an, “Are we back?” barometer against a familiar rival, as they told Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz..
Dominic Moore said: “They’ve been an elite team in the league for a long time. It’s a good test for us to work on our game, and work on those details.”
The Sharks are still in ninth place heading into Friday night’s action, but the club has secured five of a six possible points in its last three games, and has at least one point in five of six overall. Things seem to be trending upward despite the fact San Jose has scored just 13 goals in the last nine games. That 2-1-3 mark comes on the heels of a stretch in which San Jose went just 4-10-1 in a stunning decline for the team that has been in the Western Conference finals for the last two years. What’s improved?
“I think we’re a little bit more together in terms of our support around the ice. I’d say that’s true in all zones, but for the most part on the breakouts and [in the] defensive zone,” said Moore, who was acquired by the team in late February in the middle of its slide. “Having five guys in the picture and supporting each other, that’s a huge thing.”
Antti Niemi, who will make his 10th straight start on Saturday, said: “I think we give less and create more. That’s huge. We gave up one in the first yesterday – and we can’t open up our game, we still have to defend. We’re shooting a lot, so we’re going to score.”
But the Wings have more than enough motivation to bring into tonight’s game, too:
“The games against them are always important and always big games, and all that. To be honest though, at the point we are right now, it doesn’t matter who we face. We need these two points and we’ve got to get ourselves back to playing the way we know how,” [Todd] Bertuzzi said.
“I think we match up very well against each other. It’s always high intensity, playoff-type games. It should be a good matchup, and both teams are looking to get back on track here,” [Niklas Kronwall] said.
Like the Sharks, the Red Wings remain focused on their own game.
“I’m just worried about our team. I’m not concerned about what they’re doing. We’ve got our own issues,” Bertuzzi said.
Here’s David Pollak’s “fact box” regarding tonight’s affair...
Red Wings update: Just as Detroit learned LW Pavel Datsyuk was coming back into the lineup, C Johan Franzen came down with back problems. Franzen left practice at Sharks Ice after about 10 minutes, underwent treatment, still had visible difficulty walking and told reporters that unless things improved, he would not be able to play Saturday.
Sharks update: Todd McLellan liked what he saw from D Justin Braun in the 2-1 shootout victory over Nashville and gave him 19:39 of ice time—the most for Braun in three months. “At this time of year you’re rewarded for playing well, and I’m trying to keep pucks out of the net and go from there,” Braun said Friday. “If offense comes it, it comes.” ... G Antti Niemi is expected to get his ninth consecutive start.
Red Wings injuries: D Nicklas Lidstrom (bruised ankle bone), C Patrick Eaves (head), D Jonathan Ericsson (wrist), D Jakub Kindl (strained oblique) and G Joey MacDonald (back spasms) are out; C Franzen (back spasms) is questionable.
Sharks injuries: RW Tommy Wingels (upper body) is questionable.
And NHL.com’s Matt Mankiewich provides our pivot-point preview as we’re gonna go Wings-only from here on out:
Season Series: It’s the final meeting between the two—in the regular season at least. The Red Wings snapped a five-game losing streak to the Sharks with a 3-2 home win on Feb. 19, their 23rd straight win at Joe Louis Arena. The Sharks will try to take the season series for the second year in a row, bracketing their Western Conference Semifinal win in seven games over the Wings last spring.
Big story: This time of year it’s traditionally been a Clash of the Titans, the two teams jockeying at the top of the Western Conference for home-ice advantage in a late playoff round lest they face each other. These days, the Sharks are battling just to get into the playoffs and the Wings are limping through a California swing in which the Ducks and Kings outscored them 9-2.
Sharks [team scope]: The Sharks know exactly what the Wings have been going through with injured stars and were elated to have Martin Havlat back for Thursday’s game against the super-stingy Preds. He didn’t get on the board, but skated a strong 18:47 and made the first shootout attempt in the 2-1 win.
“Everything is a challenge basically when you come back from a long injury,” Havlat told the San Jose Mercury News. “Everybody is going 100 miles an hour. I just have to get in and try to be helpful. Every game right now to the end is very important.”
Who’s Hot: Valtteri Filppula has 5 points in his last five games. Before Datsyuk went down, he had logged points in five of seven. … Patrick Marleau has an assist in each of his last three games. Thornton scored the lone regulation goal for the Sharks on Thursday and has 8 points in his last five games.
Injury report: Wings backup goalie Joey MacDonald suffered back spasms in Wednesday’s 4-0 loss in Anaheim and Jordan Pearce was called up to replace him. Defenseman Jakub Kindl (upper body) is expected back soon, along with fellow blueliner Jonathan Ericsson (fractured left wrist). … For the Sharks, forward Tommy Wingels missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury.
Stat Pack: The Red Wings are on an out-of-character 0-for-28 power-play drought. … Tomas Holmstrom has gone 24 games without a goal. … Neither team has been good at stringing wins together, the Wings having failed to do so since last facing the Sharks, and the Sharks not doing so since Jan. 31-Feb. 2. The Sharks have also not won by more than one goal since a 5-3 win over the Capitals Feb. 13. … Antti Niemi is 7-2-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average in 10 regular-season matchups versus the Wings, while Jimmy Howard has a four-game losing streak against the Sharks. … The Sharks have taken eight of their last 10 games at home from the Wings including playoffs.
The Red Wings are absolutely delighted about Pavel Datsyuk’s long-delayed return, as is Datsyuk himself, as he told Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Kurz...
“Looks like it, yeah. Looking forward to playing tomorrow,” Datsyuk said, when asked if he was ready to rejoin the team.
The man voted by his peers as the best player in the NHL not named Sidney Crosby is anxious to get back on the ice. He hasn’t enjoyed his view from the press box and on television.
“It’s tough to watch hockey because you always want to play,” he said. “You want to go with your teammates, skate, and everything. Every day it’s tougher and tougher. It’s too much emotion when you watch a game, it’s better to play.”
He also expects a tough game from the Sharks, who have beaten the Red Wings twice this season, although Detroit claimed a 3-2 win in the most recent game at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 19.
“It’s a good team but now it’s the end of the season. Every team is fighting for the playoffs. Every game is very tough. It’s going to be a challenging game tomorrow, for sure,” Datsyuk said.
His teammates are also excited to see him back in action, as the Red Wings will try and snap a three-game losing streak against the club that has ended their playoff run the last two seasons.
“In my mind, anyway, he’s the best player in the world. Any time you can get a player of his caliber back in the lineup, it’s always a good thing,” Niklas Kronwall said. He’s got that presence with him. All the superstars do. Nick [Lidstrom] is the same way. Any time a guy like that comes back in the lineup, it makes their surroundings better, as well. Obviously, we’re excited about that, and we’d like to turn this around right now.”
There’s something to be said for the psychological edge that Datsyuk’s mere presence brings to the Wings, even though he won’t be quite up to his usual pace—though, given Datsyuk’s insane level of physical conditioning, it’s kind of hard to say that Datsyuk and, when he returns, Lidstrom are the kinds of players that need to shake off much “rust”—and Kronwall, Bertuzzi and Wings coach Mike Babcock sang Datsyuk’s praises while speaking to MLive’s Ansar Khan...
“I think (Datsyuk) is the best two-way player in the game, so he’s a huge part of what goes on and we haven’t been very good,’’ coach Mike Babcock said. “Z’s line (with Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler) has been pretty good, the rest of us haven’t been good enough. (Datsyuk) will give us another line. By himself he can tow guys along. That’s pretty evident, because when he wasn’t here they weren’t (productive).’‘
Datsyuk will be skating with Todd Bertuzzi. It remains to be seen who will be the other winger, if Franzen can’t play.
“He’s that much more gifted than anyone else,’’ Bertuzzi said. “At the same time, it’ll take a little bit of time to get his legs back under him. He’ll be another offensive weapon that we need. The Zetterberg line’s been playing very well. We got to get other lines working and producing and playing smarter.’‘
But, as we know, the theme song of the Red Wings trainers’ room should be the somewhat sexually suggestive Queens of the Stone Age tune First it Giveth (one of my favorite songs ever: the video is of course NSFW because there’s lots of naked Nick Oliveri, and no, of course Oliveri and Jamie Hyneman are totally not inspirations for my crazy untrimmed moustache and goatee), and Joey MacDonald’s back spasms are apparently contagious:
Now the Red Wings hope Franzen isn’t added to an injured list that includes Lidstrom (bone bruise in ankle), Jonathan Ericsson (fractured wrist), Jakub Kindl (strained oblique muscle) and Joey MacDonald (back spasms). Franzen said his back tightens up occasionally during the season, but not this badly. It happened suddenly on the ice, and he had difficulty moving. He received treatment for more than an hour but still didn’t feet good and was walking with a limp.
“I never had this before,’’ Franzen said. “Can’t play like this. If nothing really awesome happens tonight or tomorrow morning, probably not (play Saturday).’‘
The Sharks are in worse shape than the Red Wings. San Jose is 6-11-4 in its past 21 games and battling several clubs for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
“At the point we’re at right now it doesn’t really matter who we face,’’ Bertuzzi said. “We need two points. Got to get ourselves back to playing the way we know how.’‘
Pardon the repetition quote-wise, because the Free Press’s Helene St. James did an excellent job of setting up tonight’s game in both contextual and quote-based manners:
While the Wings rejoiced to hear leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk declare himself ready to return tonight against the Sharks, they recoiled to hear leading goal-scorer Johan Franzen may miss the game because of back spasms. The Wings need to halt a three-game losing streak and overturn a stretch in which they have fallen seven points behind St. Louis for the Central Division lead. The Wings have a one-point lead on Nashville for fourth place in the Western Conference. Getting Datsyuk back should help. Though all players need time to adjust after missing nearly a month, Datsyuk is so tremendously skilled he still can have an impact.
“Getting Pav back is huge,” Todd Bertuzzi said. “He’s that much more gifted than everybody else. It’s much needed. Just another offensive weapon that we need.”
Datsyuk practiced back between Bertuzzi and Franzen, his old linemates, for about 10 minutes before Franzen left the ice—he was in too much pain to keep skating.
“I had a hard time moving,” Franzen said. “I’ve had a little stiff back, but nothing like this. When I started skating, it started to cramp up, or spasm up. I can’t play like this.”
Franzen, who has 26 goals, said he wouldn’t be available unless “something really awesome happens” by this morning.
The Wings are 1-2 this season against the Sharks, who are trying to secure a playoff spot. But from Babcock’s point of view, it’s the Wings who need to show urgency.
“If you’re a group like we are right now, and you’re trying to get your game back, to me, there’s no one who should be more desperate than us,” he said.
Babcock also told the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa that he will neither rule Datsyuk “in” for tonight’s game, nor Franzen “out,” until after the morning skate (which will take place in the early afternoon Detroit time), nor does he ever plan on going in or out of a certain room:
“I don’t go in there,” Babcock said to reporters waiting for the walking wounded to emerge from the room and say how they feel. Too scary; you’re better than me. It’s never good news. I just wait until they tell me.”
Krupa also rather casually dropped something of a bombshell regarding Nicklas Lidstrom’s status…
Nicklas Lidstrom is back in Michigan and unlikely to skate until perhaps Saturday or Sunday.
Yay? We’ll find out soon enough. Datsyuk told Krupa that he does expect to at least deal with a slight coating of oxidization on his steely game…
“I hope tomorrow it’s back, everything,” he said. “But every injury takes more time or less time. It’s hard to say.”
Franzen also offered this…
“We got one back and we lost one, maybe,” he said, referring to the possibility Datsyuk will play. “We’ll see. It might turn around, yet.”
And this has nothing to do with anything other than making us smile:
Nice scene from the dressing room: As Tomas Holmstrom sat alone unlacing his skates, he sang to himself, “Hey, hey Hockeytown!”
In case you haven’t already noticed over the past few days, the combination of a lack of sleep, stress and more anxiety than usual, legal BS and lots of covering the Wings lose (did I mention that my aunt with auto-immune issues is on a medication to reduce her inflammation that makes her absolutely charming to live with?) has yielded even more rambling than usual and insights into my painfully-obvious writing process, because as it turns out, when I write this stuff that I never really think about before I write, save the starting paragraph or two, I have found that there are some habitual structural sequences, and Babcock usually gets the last word.
Surprise! Via DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose, quoth the coach:
“We’ve talked about these teams that are desperate teams,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “You know it’s interesting, from where I sit as a coach, I don’t know who could be more desperate than us. I don’t even begin to understand that. If you’re playing well and everything is going good, maybe they could be more desperate. But if you’re a group like we are right now and you’re trying to get your game back, to me, there’s no one who should be more desperate than us.”
There’s no need to look beyond the current health situation to understand the Wings’ desperation. Since Feb. 20, when Pavel Datsyuk underwent knee surgery, nine of his teammates have missed time with injury or illness. The latest is forward Johan Franzen (back spasms), who may miss sidelined for Saturday’s game against the Sharks at HP Pavilion. While Datsyuk’s return is good news, losing Franzen is more adversity that the Wings don’t need as they try to tune-up for a long playoff run this spring. Without Datsyuk, the Wings have posted a 3-7-1 record and the power play has suffered mightily, garnering three goals in the last 44 attempts.
Because injuries have forced the Wings to juggle lines, thus messing with continuity and chemistry, Babcock would like to see his team get back to the basics.
“I went to the (Sharks) game last night and Nashville scored a power-play goal on a simple down and in, threw it in,” he said. “San Jose shot the puck, had a man in the middle and tipped and came right to a guy and they shot it right into the net. No different than a lot of the things we’re doing, but the puck’s not going into the net for us, so that’s usually confidence, and we just have to keep plugging away and working. Obviously, Pavel back would really help.”
The Sharks, like the other two teams on this California trip, are on the outside looking in at the playoffs. But if the Wings learned anything in back-to-back losses at Los Angeles and Anaheim this week – by a combined 9-2 score – it’s that they can’t look past the Sharks.
“They’re like every team,” Babcock said, of the Sharks. “Right now, in their last three games they’ve worked real hard, they’ve limited the other team’s opportunity, they’ve gotten the pucks to the net, their power play is relentless on retrieval, they get the puck back. They’ve got a good team. It should be a heck of a hockey game. They’ve got points in three straight with five (points) out of a possible six points.”
Tonight, the Wings hope to make it 2-out-of-6 instead of 1 or 2-out-of-6 before finally bidding the West Coast farewell…until the playoffs, anyway (hopefully).
Part II: In the AHL and ECHL: The Grand Rapids Griffins will symbolically welcome their 5 millionth fan on Saturday, when they host the Hamilton Bulldogs, but the Griffins didn’t open a crucial set of back-to-backs by giving their fans anything to cheer about. The Griffins were shut out 2-0 by the Toronto Marlies.
I’ve been just posting links to the game recaps of late, so let me if you want me to keep doing that or to switch it back to quips and quotes. For now, I’ll direct you to the Griffins website’s recap (and its Flickr photo gallery—which may or may not contain a fine photo of a young lady who’s begun her St. Patrick’s Day celebrations a night early—and post-game YouTube-formatted interviews) and the Grand Rapids Press’s Peter J. Wallner’s recap for the details thereof, and, well:
Griffins frontliners Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Chris Conner and were in the same lineup for the first time in nearly two weeks after each spent time with the Red Wings during the road trip that ended Tuesday. Nyquist, who has tied the Griffins single-season scoring record with 55 points (20 goals, 35 assists), was the last to return, arriving Thursday after three days with the Red Wings. And he was barely there.
“Gus Nyquist was exhausted,” [Griffins coach curt] Fraser said. “He flew back and forth for three days and got stuck in the airport in Detroit yesterday, lost his equipment, had to drive here – you name it. But yeah, these kids are getting worn down, but there are no excuses. You have to find a way.”
Andersson (16-21-37) returned last Saturday, and Conner (15-27-42) on March 7. They are three of the team’s top five scorers. Plus, three recent Griffins are still with the Red Wings in defensemen Brendan Smith, Doug Janik and goalie Jordan Pearce.
“Obviously, when you take guys in and out of the lineup, it does (have an effect) a little bit, but it’s something we’re used to,” said Conner, who has been with the Red Wings twice this season. “It’s not like all of a sudden we’re going, ‘Oh, we’re losing guys now.’ Guys step up and we keep pushing forward.”
Wallner reports that the Griffins didn’t have Chris Minard in the lineup for an undisclosed reason. They need him back to bolster their push for a playoff spot;
• In the ECHL, neither Andrej Nestrasil nor Nick Oslund fared in the scoring in the Walleye’s 5-2 loss to the Chicago Express. The Walleye’s website and the Express’s website provide recaps for a team that’s playing out the string.
Part III: Also of Red Wings-related note: At least I don’t try to make up hashtags for Twitter. SanJoseSharks.com’s Jamie Baker (reflexive boo!) offers this quip amongst his “Baker’s Dozen”:
Speaking of playing hockey… The Sharks beat Nashville in the shootout on Thursday and have Detroit in town on Saturday. Both those teams have visions of winning the Stanley Cup. Problem is, it looks like these two potential Cup contenders will square off in the first round of the playoffs, meaning one of their seasons will be deemed very unfulfilling.
Pavel Datsyuk cannot return to the Detroit Red Wings’ lineup soon enough after the perennial contenders were blasted on back-to-back nights in southern California, losing to the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks by a combined score of 9-2. Without Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl, the Red Wings are a shell of the team that rattled off a record 23-game home win streak this year, having lost five of six heading into Saturday’s date with the San Jose Sharks.
Lidstrom’s absence is most acutely felt. He is out with a bone bruise in the lower leg that’s in exactly the wrong place – just where he would tie his skates tight. Lidstrom has missed seven games in a row and counting, the longest consecutive stretch he’s spent on the sidelines in a 20-year, Hall-of-Fame career. And he’s getting anxious, too, apologetically noting the other night that sitting in the press box was not his idea of a good time. Right now, the Red Wings’ defence corps consists of Niklas Kronwall, Ian White, Brad Stuart, Kyle Quincey, Doug Janik and Brendan Smith, and they’re not getting it done.
“Obviously, we’re not going anywhere with the way we’re playing right now,” Kronwall said. “But at the same time, we feel like we have a good group in here. We just have to stay positive and keep believing in ourselves. I think we all feel that we are a good hockey team and that when we do the things we want to do, when we play the way we want to, we’re a hell of a hockey team. That’s what our mindset has to be – everybody looking forward. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’re not going anywhere that way.”
• I actually found good news in the injury department in Swedish, from Expressen’s Gunnar Nordstrom: Jonathan Ericsson says that he could return in less than two weeks from his broken left wrist;
• Not-so-good injury news, Swedish version: Expressen’s Henrik Sjoberg reports that Dick Axelsson’s registered 2 goals and an assist in Modo’s first-round series with Skelleftea, which is tied at 2 games apiece, but Axelsson has a persistent knee injury, probably related to the surgically-repaired groin injury he was suffering from earlier this season, and he’s on serious-ass painkillers;
• The bottom line regarding one take on statistics and other stuff that might make your head spin: Sportsline’s Brian Stubits reports that a statistical study regarding expected goals from a mathematician at the Sloan Sports Conference determined that teams which are out-hit tend to score more goals than their opponents;
• The bottom line regarding political talk that might make your head spin, but is important because it may or may not influence where the Wings build their follow-on rink: the Detroit News’s David Shepardson reports that the feds have not yet bailed out on the proposed M1 rail line along Woodward Avenue, which is partially backed by Wings owner Mike Ilitch;
• Statistics which require no explanation: PhoenixCoyotes.com’s Dave Vest says that Coyotes coach Dave Tippett’s about to hit 400 career coaching wins, which places him in select company:
Only Detroit Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock has posted more regular-season victories than Tippett since Tippett became a head coach in the League in 2002-03. Babcock has 415 wins during that time; Tippett has 399.
• Statistics which require no explanation, part 2, per the Sault Star’s Peter Ruicci:
While they obviously would’ve preferred a more successful regular season, members of the Soo Greyhounds — most notably defenceman Ryan Sproul — have been recognized by Ontario Hockey League coaches. Sproul finished first in one category, second in another and he tied for second in a third category in the annual OHL Western Conference Coaches Poll, which was made public Friday.
The poll provides member coaches the opportunity to recognize the top three players in 20 different skill categories within their own conference.
A 19-year-old (1993 birth year) native of Mississauga, Ont., Sproul was named the player with the hardest shot, while finishing second to Kitchener’s Ryan Murphy in the best-offensive-defenceman category. When it came to the best shot in the conference, Sproul tied for second with Saginaw’s Josh Shalla. Sarnia’s Nail Yakupov finished first.
“I’m absolutely honoured. It’s very nice that the coaches feel that way about me,” said Sproul, in his second OHL season. “Those are my strengths and I’m happy that the coaches acknowledged the things I do well.”
Sproul, a second-round selection of the Detroit Red Wings in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, enters the final weekend of the regular season with 20 goals and 30 assists in 59 games.
Internally, the Greyhounds named Sproul their best defenseman.
• And finally, given my cousins’ and uncles’ tales of debauchery and mostly drunkenness at the Old Shillelagh in Detroit, I know it’s St. Patrick’s Day, but this quarter-Irish blogger wants to make sure that those of you who choose to enjoy your green beer do so responsibly. Remember that for every five or six of you, there’s always somebody who’s either allergic to alcohol like me or is willing to stay sober to remain your designated driver. Stay safe out there.
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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.