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Flint Firebirds’ situation still in flux

Red Wings fans keep asking me what will happen with Vili Saarijarvi, the top prospect who skated with the Flint Firebirds this past season, and the answer is pretty simple: the Red Wings, Saarijarvi's agent and Saarijarvi himself will reevaluate his situation and decide whether he wants to stay in Flint or play somewhere else (most likely during or after a short stint watching the Grand Rapids Griffins as an amateur try-out; he could ask for a trade to another OHL team, he could go back to the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers, or he could do something else).

Saarijarvi's Firebirds do face a somewhat uncertain future as well, as Sportsnet's Damien Cox reports:

The Flint Firebirds have concluded their tumultuous season, and now we’ll see what happens next.

The OHL no longer seems to be able to work with suspended owner Rolf Nilsen, who also owns the arena the team plays out of, but also wants the team to stay put.

“As a league, we’re really pleased with the market,” said OHL boss David Branch. “There’s no reason to see the team move.”

After bringing in OHL executive Joe Birch to manage the club after Nilsen tried for the second time this season to fire head coach John Gruden and his staff, Branch tabbed former Toronto Maple Leaf player development coach Paul Dennis to conduct exit interviews with all Flint players and their parents. The father of star forward Will Bitten has already been quoted publicly as saying his son won’t return to the team next season if Nilsen is still the owner.

Meanwhile, the OHL priority selection draft is April 9, and major agents are already telling the Firebirds not to draft their players, with the situation unlikely to be resolved by then. Given Flint’s controversial water problems – the players actually don’t live in an area impacted by that – many parents would be reticent to send their boys there.

“We’re not oblivious to all the feelings out there,” said Branch.

Flint owns the third and fifth picks in the draft.

Cox continues, discussing other topics, and the players a) live in Grand Ledge Blanc, MI, which doesn't use Flint water, and b) the rink actually had its water tested for a local Flint news channel and found out it was OK to use.

Update: Speaking of the Firebirds, from the team:

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Practice Tweets: Mrazek returns; no lineup changes

Updated 3x at 2:45 PM: Howard starts Tuesday: The Red Wings took to the ice at Amalie Arena around 1:45 PM, preparing for Tuesday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning...

DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose delivered good news...

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Red Wings extend Eric Tangradi

From the Red Wings:

Update: Here's the Wings' press release:

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Mid-day news: Custance on the Wings’ leadership; Fox 2 Sportsworks talks Wings, and a fantasy note

Of Red Wings-related note this afternoon:

ESPN's Craig Custance penned an Insider-only entry about the Red Wings, discussing Henrik Zetterberg's leadership as a steadying factor in the team's playoff push:

“That’s where Henrik Zetterberg is invaluable,” said coach Jeff Blashill during a phone conversation on Sunday. “He did a great job of setting the tone with our guys, of making sure they understand the urgency of the moment without crippling them with unneeded pressure but understanding we need to win and we need to win now.”

This has been a bit of a transition season for the Red Wings. They’re transitioning to a new head coach. They’re transitioning to a new starting goalie. They have a burgeoning new young star in Dylan Larkin who will be the next face of the franchise when the last generation bows out.

But when things have tightened, it’s been the guys around the longest who are trying to guide this ship back into the playoffs for a remarkable 25th consecutive season.

Zetterberg has been great. Niklas Kronwall returned to the lineup on Saturday and led the Red Wings with 22:29 of ice time, to go with a pair of assists. Pavel Datsyuk had a pair of goals against the Panthers, and now has 10 goals in 22 games since the All-Star break.

They’ve also won while Petr Mrazek has recovered from a sickness, with Jimmy Howard picking up two wins in three starts this month.

If the Red Wings are going to keep the playoff streak going, a streak they take very seriously, it sure looks like it’s going to be the guys who have been around for a good portion of it that are going to help make that happen.

Custance continues with a note about Petr Mrazek and this from Blashill regarding the playoff streak:

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Prospect news: Holmstrom 2A in Skelleftea win; Griffins’ 13-game streak snapped; playoff skeds out

Of prospect-related note:

In playoff action, in the SHL, Axel Holmstrom had 2 assists, finished at +2 and won 44% of his faceoffs in 13:26 played as Skelleftea AIK defeated HV71 5-4 in OT (you can watch highlights by clicking on the link), taking a 3-0 series lead;

Christoffer Ehn finished at -1 and won 66% of his faceoffs in 10:00 of ice time as the Frolunda Indians defeated Djurgardens IF 5-2, taking a 2-1 series lead;

In the Finnish Liiga (on Saturday), Julius Vahatalo played 4:30 in TPS Turku's 6-1 loss to Karpat Oulu. The series is tied 1-1.

In playoff scheduling:

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The Wings This Week

from Ansar Khan of Mlive,

Here are five things to watch this week:

Ride Howard for another game?

Might Jimmy Howard make his season-high third start in a row Tuesday in Tampa Bay, when he'd be seeking his third win in a row?

Petr Mrazek (flu-like condition) has been on the ice for only 15 minutes during an optional morning skate since Tuesday's game in Philadelphia and said he needs a couple of practices before playing again.

So the Red Wings might opt to stick with Howard, who is 3-2-1 in his past seven appearances, with a 2.15 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.

Continued net-front presence needed

One of the keys to Saturday's win was getting a net-front presence on three goals. Tomas Tatar (with the deflection) and Anthony Mantha converged at the net on the first goal, Justin Abdelkader screened Roberto Luongo on the second goal and Luke Glendening tipped in Dylan Larkin's shot for the game-winner.

They'll need to do the same against 6-foot-7 Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop and others.

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The overnight report: Wings-Panthers win establishes blueprint for success (minus the 3-1 deficit)

The Red Wings don't have a "tragic number" in Yahoo's annual "Playoff Death Watch" sweepstakes of doom yet, but the Wings' playoff situation is desperate enough that there is room for cheering Philadelphia Flyers' starter Michal Neuvirth's regular-season-ending "lower-body injury."

The Wings enter the final 10 games of their regular-season campaign in good spirits, having earned two necessary points against the Panthers on Saturday and having enjoyed a day off on Sunday, but the Lightning, Canadiens and Penguins all present difficult match-ups this week (as well as some playoff position-wrangling possibilities).

The Free Press's Helene St. James duly notes that Blashill's message to the Wings' players after Saturday's win was, "Lather, rinse, repeat" (minus the 3-1 deficit):

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Jeff Blashill On Anthony Mantha

from Ansar Khan of Mlive,

Mantha, in three games with the Red Wings, has displayed some of the qualities the club covets. He has generated some scoring chances. He uses his 6-foot-5, 214-pound frame to drive to the net and can provide a net presence. He has a good shot and isn't afraid to use it.

Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Mantha has done some good things during his first week in the league, but he also has much to learn.

"He just looks like he's got good confidence to him, he's not afraid to make a play, which is a great thing," Blashill said before Saturday's 5-3 victory over Florida. "He's just got to make sure he does a good job on the wall (on breakouts) and in all those defensive areas.

"But that's a continued learned process. The challenge is you got to do it every single night."

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Wings Feeling Good After Beating The Florida Panthers

from Ansar Khan of Mlive,

The loud roar and cheering in the Detroit Red Wings dressing room could easily be heard from the hallway.

It was minutes after a come-from-behind 5-3 victory over the Florida Panthers Saturday at BB&T Center. This has the potential to be a signature moment this season, if all goes their way the final 10 games.

The joy emanating from the room was unmistakable.

"I think we just knew how big this game is for us and especially when you're down 3-1," Tomas Tatar said. "I feel it's more special when you battle through and come back. It's a big two points, everybody played great and we're feeling good."

The Red Wings (36-25-11) opened up a three-point lead on Philadelphia in the battle for the final wild-card playoff spot in the East. The Flyers have two games in hand.

"We all know it's a big game. Every game going (forward) is going to be huge for us," Henrik Zetterberg said. "Tonight, (Niklas Kronwall) was back, so I think the little extra celebration after the game was for him. Obviously, we've had some tough games in this building the last couple of years. It was nice to finally get one and the two points."

continued

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Prospect news: Perry’s Wild down 0-and-2; Griffins win in Texas; Walleye back into playoffs

Of prospect-related note:

In playoff action, in the BCHL, Chase Perry stopped 24 of 27 shots in the Wenatchee Wild's 4-3 loss to Chilliwack. Wenatchee trails Chilliwack 2 games to 0 in their first-round series;

In regular season play, in the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins followed the Wings' lead, or perhaps vice versa. Grand Rapids rallied from 3-1, 4-2 and 5-3 deficits to defeat the Texas Stars 6-5 in overtime, winning their 13th straight game.

Jeff Hoggan had 2 goals, Andy Miele and Louis-Marc Aubry had 2 assists each, Mitch Callahan and Eric Tangradi registered a goal and an assist apiece, and Ryan Sproul had a 3-pont (1G, 2A) night in the win.

The Griffins' website filed a recap:

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About The Malik Report

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.

 

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