The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/09/12 at 11:14 PM ET
The Detroit Red Wings flew to Long Island on Monday afternoon to wrap up their (technically speaking) four-game road trip against the Islanders, who, via the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff and Newsday’s Arthur Staple, will probably start Kevin Poulin, not Evgeni Nabokov, against Detroit on Tuesday. Tomorrow’s game marks the Wings’ 42nd, and as DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose notes, the Wings begin the second half of their regular season schedule miles removed from the team that lost six straight games in November:
Since losing a sixth straight on Nov. 3, Detroit has had an incredible resurgence, posting a 21-9-0 mark and ascending to the second-best record in the Western Conference, just two-points behind front-running Vancouver. For the sixth time in the Mike Babcock era, the Wings have compiled 53-points, or more, in the first half of a season. The only time the Wings didn’t meet that first-half points standard was 2009-10 – the only time they finished out of first-place in the division in 11 seasons.
The Wings have rallied around a retooled top forward line with center Pavel Daystuk surrounded by wingers Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi, and they’ve benefited from the sharp contributions of Jimmy Howard, who is having a career year and leads all NHL goalies with 24 wins.
Certainly, the Wings have had some hiccups with ugly losses at Washington and Columbus, as well as a pre-Christmas collapse at Nashville. But when backup Ty Conklin does what he did Sunday – stopping 29 shots, including a penalty shot by Blackhawks rookie Jimmy Hayes – confidence can begin to swell in the locker room, particularly down the home stretch of the season.
With a look toward the final months of the regular-season, the last 13 weeks provide a friendly path for the Wings, who have 18 road games remaining, and just half of those in time zones that are two or three hours behind Detroit. That means 32 games will be played in the Eastern or Central Time Zones, making travel simpler for the players and start times more agreeable to weary-eyed fans.
The Wings also get 13 games left against some teams that have struggled in the first-half of the season and are currently either at .500 or below it in the standings, including games against Montreal, Edmonton, Anaheim, and four more with Columbus, who dismissed its coach Monday.
League general managers like to use 95-points as the barometer for teams making the playoffs. The Wings, Blackhawks and Blues need 42 points to reach the magic number. While the Central Division trio, along with Vancouver and San Jose seem distant for the playoffs, that leaves seven teams – Nashville, Minnesota, Colorado, Calgary, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix – to battle for the final three berths. And against these foes seeking a playoff berth, the Wings are 10-5-1 this season while out-scoring them, 55-34.
As noted earlier today, the Wings sent Chris Conner to Grand Rapids to accommodate the returns of Tomas Holmstrom and Darren Helm, but while the Wings are getting healthier, and, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James notes, will receive another lineup reinforcement in short order…
he Detroit Red Wings have sent forward Chris Conner back to the minors, as he became extraneous with the returns of Darren Helm and Tomas Holmstrom.
Helm and Holmstrom played Sunday after being sidelined by groin injuries, helping the Wings to a 3-2 overtime victory at Chicago. The Wings are off today after playing back-to-back games during the weekend. Their next game is Tuesday at the New York Islanders.
Conner has appeared in seven games this season for the Wings, most recently filling in during Saturday’s 4-3 loss at Toronto.
This leaves the Wings with 12 forwards for the Islanders game, but general manager Ken Holland said they’ll have Jan Mursak at Thursday’s morning skate in Detroit (they play Phoenix that night). Mursak has been out since the exhibition season with a broken ankle
I don’t think that we have to worry about Patrick Eaves yielding a glut of forwards and/or a trade-necessitating overabundance of healthy bodies anytime soon. Eaves probably won’t return from his broken jaw until sometime in early-to-mid February, and by then, it’s either highly likely that someone else will be banged up, or the Wings may have made whatever trade deadline reinforcements Ken Holland plans on engaging in prior to the trade deadline on February 27th.
As the NHL’s schedule reaches its halfway point this evening (there are about 1,230 NHL games played per season, and tonight’s Capitals-Kings game is #615), the NHL tossed off a few mid-season trophy picks, with NHL.com’s Corey Masisak suggesting that Nicklas Lidstrom is perhaps the third-best defenseman in the NHL right now, behind Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber…
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings—Lidstrom is tied for fourth among defensemen in goals, and hanging around the fringes of the points leaders (tied for 13th). He’s essentially the second-best No. 1 defenseman according to the quality of competition numbers at Behind the Net.
Another strong part of his case is the play of partner Ian White. Lidstrom has been on the ice for 86 percent of White’s even-strength ice time, and the blueliner, who has played for five teams in his eight NHL seasons, is having a career year (he’s been on the ice for 42 goals and only 18 against at even strength).
And Masisak suggests that Pavel Datsyuk would be the runner-up to Patrice Bergeron for the Selke Trophy at this pint:
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings—Datsyuk’s reputation as the best defensive forward in the League is warranted. Bergeron is having an amazing season, and it should take that elite level of performance to unseat Datsyuk—especially when he also is performing well.
As of Sunday morning, Datsyuk was No. 25 in advanced hockey statistic website Behind the Net’s quality of competition ratings among forwards with at least 30 games played, and none of the 24 players in front of him had a better goals for/against differential at even strength (34-17). Only three of those 24 players have been on the ice for less than Datsyuk’s 17 goals-against, including the other player who deserves to be a Selke finalist.
NHL.com’s David Kalan, however, suggests that Datsyuk isn’t anywhere near a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player, Mike G. Morreale has no room for Mike Babcock among his Jack Adams Award finalists, I don’t even need to tell you that no Wings’ being considered for the Hart Trophy by NHL.com’s Dan Rosen, and NHL.com’s Dave Lozo doesn’t think that Jimmy Howard merits a mention as a contender for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender.
The Wings do merit a mention in Rosen’s second half story lines feature…
Cap space to burn: There is a lot of cap space left out there and plenty of teams that likely have the desire to use some of it. Most notable among them are Boston, Detroit and Chicago, but don’t underestimate what New Jersey, Minnesota, St. Louis, Florida and even Dallas could be capable of doing with some money to spend.
According to Capgeek.com, the Red Wings have nearly $5.1 million left in cap space, while the Blackhawks have close to $4.8 million and the Bruins more than $2.9 million. It’s conceivable that all three could add a star player by the deadline to bolster their playoff push.
The Panthers and Blues have put themselves in position to be a contender in the second half, and each has more than $9.1 million in cap space. If the Wild snap out of their funk, they can look at their nearly $8.5 million and decide to do something with it.
The Devils are looking to re-sign Zach Parise, who can be an unrestricted free agent July 1, but they have $3.1 million to work with this season and could look for a UFA-to-be at the deadline.
Dallas has more than $14 million remaining under the cap. The Stars are right in the thick of the race and they are backed by quality goaltending, so some success heading toward deadline day could convince new owner Tom Gagliardi to allow GM Joe Nieuwendyk the freedom to work some deals.
Howard’s run for a record: If Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard keeps up his current pace, he would tie Martin Brodeur’s NHL single-season record for wins in a season.
Howard has 24 wins in 35 starts, putting him on pace for 70 starts and 48 wins. Brodeur won 48 games in 2006-07, but he played in 78 games and picked up 10 of his wins by way of the shootout. Howard only has one shootout victory this season.
The question is will Red Wings coach Mike Babcock let Howard go after the record. Detroit appears destined for the playoffs yet again, and home-ice advantage would be key, especially when you consider the travel they’ve had to endure the last two years. They need Howard to continue to play well in order to ensure home-ice advantage and potentially a top-three seed. However, there always is concern that playing a goalie too much in the second half could cause him to not have enough left come playoff time.
It’s a fine line that Babcock and the Wings have to ride with Howard, who never has played more than 63 games in a season. Ty Conklin is the veteran backup, but so far he has made just six starts and only has two wins and an .897 save percentage.
I just don’t believe that Babcock will play Howard that often, and Ty Conklin’s performance last night at least offered proof that he’s capable of doing the job when Howard inevitably mentally tires.
Also of very important note from NHL.com: the league will name its Hockey Operations Department’s picks for the All-Star Game on Tuesday. I’m not sure when: the league announced its All-Star starters at 10:30 AM, but they might wait till noon—or Tuesday night’s San Jose-Minnesota game on Versu…I mean the NBC Sports Network…to name the players they’ve picked. The Wings and Islanders face off at 7 PM on FSD Plus and MSG Network, and I will suggest that it is highly likely that Jimmy Howard and whoever else might be heading to Ottawa for the All-Star Game was informed of their selection tonight so they could make travel plans and/or cancel ASG break vacations as soon as possible.
And we’ll stick with NHL.com regarding one more thing which has more tangential Wings-relatedness: NHL.com’s Brian Hedger suggested via Twitter that he was going to watch the replay of Sunday night’s Wings-Hawks game to determine whether, as the Hawks believed, Jiri Hudler’s slash on Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp was the cause of the “upper-body injury” which will sideline Sharp for the next three weeks, and here’s Hedger’s best educated guess as to what happened:
Sharp was injured at some point in the first period of Chicago’s 3-2 overtime loss Sunday to Detroit at the United Center. Some have theorized that a slash attempt by Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler during a slap shot Sharp took 4:19 into the game is when the injury occurred.
That shot wound up being a goal that put the Hawks up 2-0 and appeared to send the Wings reeling in their second of back-to-back road games against Original Six rivals. Sharp, however, didn’t leave the game after the whack by Hudler and actually logged four shifts after it—including two during a penalty kill late in the period.
The second of those short PK shifts, around the 13:00 mark, is when Sharp took a spill at the top of the slot trying to defend a cross-ice pass to Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom in the defensive zone. Sharp appeared to break his fall with his hands as teammate Brent Seabrook was tripped and blocked Lidstrom’s shot with his chest.
Seabrook got up and took a slashing penalty against Tomas Holmstrom to give Detroit a 10-second 5-on-3 advantage, while Sharp left the ice. According to the play-by-play listing for the game, Sharp returned 1:13 later and lost a faceoff to Pavel Datsyuk before leaving the ice and not returning for the rest of the game.
Asked on Monday if Sharp got injured by Hudler’s slash, Quenneville said: “Could’ve been.”
Later Quenneville was asked if Sharp’s fall at 13:13 of the first may have contributed to the injury, to which he replied: “Could’ve, but it’s hard to say.”
Okay, let’s translate this into Red Wings-speak: the Hawks will believe that Hudler did it, and we can expect them to come out headhunting when the Wings and Hawks tangle this Saturday (you guessed it, on NBC, at 12:30 PM EST, with our friends Mr Emrick, Olczyk and McGuire in tow).
In the promotional department, part 1: The Red Wings’ Twitter account posted a link to a contest sponsored by Dunham’s which promises two tickets to the Wings-Ducks game on February 10th and two passes to meet a Wings player after the game;
In the promotional department, part 2: The wings apparently have more than a “Hardest-Working Player” award sponsored by Carhartt: they also offer fans the chance to nominate a fellow fan for the “Hardest-Working Fan” award;
In the promotional department, part 3: The Free Press’s Helene St. James will be taking part in a Q and A on the Free Press’s website on Tuesday at 3 PM.
In the promotional department, part 4: I don’t know why the Griffins only post their players’ community appearances via a press release sent out to the media, but here’s what they sent me as the players’ appearances apply to the balance of the week:
TUESDAY, JAN. 10: 4-5 p.m. - Brendan Smith will visit with students at the Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center (961 Joosten St. SW, Wyoming) as part of the Griffins’ Stick With School program.
THURSDAY, JAN. 12: 1:30-2:30 p.m. - Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan, Brian Lashoff and Trevor Parkes will visit kids at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital (100 Michigan St. NW).
In the charitable news department, the Trenton Patch’s Nate Steemen added a few quotes to to the story about the Red Wings’ Alumni Assocaition raising $30,000 for juvenile diabetes research by tanling with the Detroit Moose on Saturday;
4 Red Wings [last week] 4: Yes, they lost a close one in Toronto on Saturday, but the Red Wings defeated both the Blackhawks and Stars in tough one-goal games on the road last week, which means much more to them as they climb up the Western standings. The return of both Tomas Holmstrom and Darren Helm to the lineup on Sunday is huge.
And Sportsline’s Adam Gretz:
5. Red Wings [last week] 5: A recent poll in Sports Illustrated had Pavel Datsyuk as one of the most underrated players in the NHL. Funny, we always thought it was widely accepted that he’s one of the very best in the business.
And let’s end with a bang instead of a whimper via four Red Wings-related notes from the CBC’s Elliotte Friedeman, via his 30 Thoughts column:
24.Line of the week, from several Red Wings: “Who is our second-best player? Ian White.” Why? “Because he’s Nick Lidstrom’s partner.”
25. The Wings also laughed at the reasons for Jiri Hudler’s resurgence: “Contract year, of course.” In a serious moment, they said Hudler is a much more determined player, in better shape and as one added, “He may not like to hear this, but it’s hard to go from the KHL to the NHL.”
26. In Valtteri Filppula’s success: “He’s been given more opportunity,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “He’s getting confidence from that.” Filppula’s getting an extra half-minute per game on the power play, up from seventh among Detroit forwards to fifth. He’s also getting the fewest offensive zone starts among Wings forwards and is facing the highest quality of competition. (Credit to “Behind the Net” for that info.)
27. Jimmy Howard said the birth of his son, James Russell Howard IV, made a huge difference in his play. “Things that used to make me angry don’t upset me any more.”
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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.