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The overnight report: Red Wings-Avalanche set-up

The Red Wings insisted that they did "the right things" for the most part during Friday's 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders, and after Mike Babcock changed the team's lines up during Saturday's practice, the team made similar remarks about its increasing offensive chances and decreasing defensive gaffes.

They weren't wrong. The Wings did display more solid offensive flourishes (albeit mostly un-screened, single-shot attempts from the outside), and more importantly, Petr Mrazek didn't face the same kind of siege he did during last weekend's game against Toronto. The Wings didn't let the Isles run the table like the Blue Jackets did by turning every damn puck over, either, though the team's problems in the faceoff circle is a big concern.

Going into today's game against the Colorado Avalanche (6 PM EST on FSD/Altitude/97.1 FM) and Tuesday's game against Buffalo, the Wings face a puzzling opponent, and a dangerous one: Colorado's 5-1 win over Buffalo on Saturday may have snapped a 2-game losing streak amidst a month in which the Avs have lost 6 of 8 games, but interim starter Calvin Pickard is quite the spoiler (ask Grand Rapids Griffins fans), and there's no doubt that Patrick Roy will make sure to get the most out of his team when facing his old nemesis.

As ColoradoAvalanche.com's Rob Knabenbauer reported, the Avs also received a pair of roster reinforcements on Saturday...

With John Mitchell and Patrick Bordeleau healthy and returning to game action on Saturday night, Roy overhauled his line combinations, and the change worked as the new groups contributed four goals in the Avalanche's 5-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center.

"Our forwards, I thought spreading out our offense helped out a lot," Roy said. "We had like four good lines tonight, and they all played well."

Mitchell, who had missed 10 of the past 11 games and each of the last seven contests with a leg injury, centered a line with left wing Alex Tanguay and right wing Jarome Iginla. The combo played well through the first 40 minutes, and then exploded in the third period with two goals in the first 5:09 of the stanza to make a fairly close 2-0 game into a comfortable 4-0 contest. The trio also connected on an empty-net tally in the final minute of play, scored by Tanguay for his second of the night.

"They are obviously great players, both Tangs and Iggy. I feel like a spring chicken, a young rookie, playing with these two guys," Mitchell said. "It's great. I'm happy for the opportunity to play with these two guys, definitely."

Mitchell set up Colorado's first goal of the third with a hit along the boards in the Avs zone, forcing a turnover and a 3-on-2 the other way. Upon entering the Sabres end, Mitchell dropped the puck off to Iginla, who made a cross-ice pass to Tanguay that just found the winger's stick. After quickly gaining control, Tanguay ripped a perfect shot far side, over the left shoulder of Jhonas Enroth and into the corner of the cage at 1:51.

"Mitchy is really smart defensively," said Tanguay, crediting Mitchell for his first goal of the game. "He does the right thing. He makes the smart plays, and he kind of pushed the guys up the boards and we kind of got going off of that… I was lucky enough to find the back of the net."

Mitchell was the beneficiary of a Tanguay pass 3:18 later on the power play for his fourth goal of the year. Tanguay pushed a loose puck at the low left circle to the slot for Mitchell, allowing the forward to send a snap shot over the Sabres goalie's glove. The goal came from pressure the Avs had developed in the Sabres' territory all game long, and the team was finally able to take advantage of it.

"We just sustain pressure in their zone. The more we play down there, the better for us," Mitchell said. "We'll be buzzing, 30 seconds or so, and as soon as they get the puck they are just getting to the red line and dumping it in, and we can change and bring another forward line and get right back at it again."

Knabenbauer continues, and NHL.com's Joe Yerdon focused on Pickard's performance:

Pickard made 28 saves, and forward Alex Tanguay scored two goals and had an assist to help the Avalanche to a 5-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Saturday.

A 22-year-old rookie, Pickard got his fifth win in his 11th NHL appearance and ninth start of the season.

"We probably didn’t really have any expectations and neither did he, and he's come in and played really well, like a No. 1 goalie, and has probably proved to himself and people around the League that he's a No. 1 guy and we would probably not be afloat right now if it wasn’t for him," Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson said. "We've got to give him a lot of credit. You don’t see a lot of goaltenders his age make an impact in the NHL."

Pickard lost 1-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, when he made 47 saves.

"I'm feeling comfortable, more and more so," Pickard said. "It’s nice playing every game. I thought I had a good outing in Pittsburgh too, and I just wanted to build off that. When we're playing with the lead all game, you're going to be called upon a few times each period, and I just wanted to be solid for the guys."

Pickard became the go-to goalie when Semyon Varlamov sustained separate groin injuries on Nov. 18 and Dec. 8, and has outplayed Reto Berra. With Varlamov close to returning, Pickard has made a good impression.

"I think I'm ready, and I just want to take it day-by-day, and every opportunity I'm given I just want to give the team a chance to win," Pickard said. "I feel like I'm doing [that] and the defense is clicking with me."

The Denver Post's Mike Chambers suggested that the Avs "cruised" over the Sabres...

The Avs controlled the tempo and were in command throughout in a 5-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. The pressure put on Buffalo's breakout caused numerous turnovers and multiple possessions on the same shift, leading to second- and third-chance opportunities and relief for a defense that has been under siege.

Sustained offensive pressure and great goaltending led Colorado to its 52-22-8 record and Central Division title last season, and how the Avs need to continue to play to turn this season around. They improved to 11-13-8 heading into Sunday's game at Detroit.

"We played a really good game, one of the best of t he season," said Avs defenseman Erik Johnson, who scored the game's first goal and assisted on the last.

The transition game with the new lines was deadly. Johnson, Cody McLeod (short-handed) and Alex Tanguay scored off the rush, and Mitchell added a power-play goal for a 4-0 lead. Rookie goalie Calvin Pickard (28 saves) extended his regulation shutout streak to six periods before allowing a late third-period goal.

"I had a good feeling this morning," Avs coach Patrick Roy said. "Everybody played really well. Our forwards, I thought spreading our offense really helped. We had four good lines tonight and they all played really well."

...

Colorado was outshot for the 21st time in 32 games, but the Sabres were defending more than they were attacking. Pickard, who faced 48 shots in Thursday's 1-0 overtime loss at Pittsburgh, had a relatively easy night, facing fewer than 30 shots for the first time in his last six starts.

And the AP provided a solid-enough narrative recap:

Colorado has won its last eight against Buffalo dating to 2005, and jumped out to a 1-0 lead on [Erik] Johnson's goal 2:23 into the game.

[Johan] Larsson nearly tied it when he got free in the slot, but his quick wrist shot was scooped by Pickard. The Sabres had several chances to tie the game during their first power play, but Pickard made a number of saves, including an in-close stop of Zemgus Girgensons.

...

Colorado picked up a short-handed goal moments later when Ryan O'Reilly found McLeod on a 3-on-2 to make it 2-0 at 7:07.

"We skated, we moved the puck and we used our best tool, which is our speed," Tanguay said.

...

Colorado got its third goal 1:51 into the third when Iginla sent a cross-ice pass to a wide-open Tanguay, who beat a sliding Jhonas Enroth over the left shoulder. Mitchell beat Enroth between the legs at the 5:09 mark.

...

Larsson, who said he arrived from Rochester "with two minutes left in warmups", one-timed Chris Stewart's pass into the net, ruining Pickard's shutout hopes with 6:33 to play.

Cue the rut-roh meter, Tyler Myers fans:

Buffalo lost Patrick Kaleta in the first period and Tyler Myers in the second, finishing the game with 16 available skaters. Myers is questionable for Saturday's game in Boston, while Kaleta won't travel to Boston due to an illness.

We head back to the Denver Post's Chambers for a post-game blog entry's worth of observations...

The sweet sound of loud music in the postgame locker room brought back memories of last season on the road, when the Avalanche went 26-11-4 (identical to its home record). The music was blaring, nobody was hiding, everyone was in a good mood and excited about the next game. The Avs — who absolutely miss center John Mitchell — simply worked Buffalo at First Niagara Center, even though they were outshot for the 21st time in 32 games. Mitchell between Alex Tanguay (two goals, assist) and Jarome Iginla (two assists) clicked really well and the Matt Duchene-centered line with Max Talbot (assist) and Nathan MacKinnon (assist) were dominant in puck possession and forcing turnovers. Ryan O’Reilly set up Cody McLeod’s shorthanded goal and the Avs scored in every situation (power play, shorthanded, even strength, empty-net).

Colorado’s consistent pressure in the Sabres’ end and three goals scored off transition were the main differences. Really, the Avs beat the Sabres like they’ve been beaten too often this year. Colorado might have had more time in the opponent’s end than in any game this season.

And he posted short interviews with Alex Tanguay, Calvin Pickard and coach Patrick Roy, as well as a note about a Johan Larsson play that went unnoticed:

If you were wondering what the Avs' "revamped" lines consisted of, NHL.com's Yerdon's At the Rink blog entry provides said personnel...

AVALANCHE

Maxime Talbot – Matt Duchene – Nathan MacKinnon

Alex Tanguay – John Mitchell – Jarome Iginla

Gabriel Landeskog – Ryan O'Reilly – Daniel Briere

Cody McLeod – Marc-Andre Cliche – Patrick Bordeleau

Erik Johnson – Jan Hejda

Brad Stuart – Zach Redmond

Yes, that Brad Stuart. He just passed the 1,000-games-played mark.

Nate Guenin – Tyson Barrie

Calvin Pickard

Reto Berra

Scratched: Dennis Everberg, Nick Holden

Injured: Semyon Varlamov (groin), Jamie McGinn (back), Jesse Winchester (concussion), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Ben Street (undisclosed)

And if you really want to watch the highlight clip, interview with Patrick Roy (after all these years, I hear Patrick Roy and my ears begin to hurt) or post-game analysis posited by Altitutde Sports (see also: Roy), as provided by the Avs' website, enjoy.

NHL.com's David Satriano penned a balanced game preview...

Season series: The Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings each won one game on the road last season. Detroit defeated Colorado 4-2 at Pepsi Center on Oct. 17, and Colorado defeated Detroit 3-2 in overtime on March 6 at Joe Louis Arena. Red Wings forwards Johan Franzen and Pavel Datsyuk each had two goals.

Avalanche team scope: Colorado defeated the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 on Saturday. Goaltender Calvin Pickard made 21 saves in his fifth consecutive start. Coach Patrick Roy announced on Friday that Pickard would start each game this weekend. Center John Mitchell, who returned from a lower-body injury on Saturday, scored and has points in three of his past four games. Defenseman Erik Johnson has four points in his past three games. This is the end of a three-game road trip for Colorado, which is 5-6-5 away from home. "It's two points," forward Alex Tanguay told the Avalanche website after the game. "For us, we see what's going on in front of us in the standings and we're going to need points, and certainly [Sunday] is a big game for us."

Red Wings team scope: Detroit was defeated by the New York Islanders 2-1 on Friday, its season-high fifth straight loss (0-3-2). Goalie Jimmy Howard left the game after the first period with an upper-body injury. Coach Mike Babcock didn't provide any update after the game or on Saturday. Petr Mrazek made 22 saves in relief and could start; he is 3-2-0 with a .922 save percentage and 2.54 goals-against average. The Red Wings recalled goalie Tom McCollum from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League and assigned defenseman Xavier Oullet.

NHL.com did post a video preview and/or Draft Kings ad, and their "Sunday Long Read" is a profile of Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog:

And the AP's preview adds stats to the mix--uncomfortable ones:

Jimmy Howard will miss Sunday night's home game against the Colorado Avalanche due to a lower-body injury as the Red Wings try to halt a five-game skid. Offense, though, has been the main concern for Detroit (17-8-8), which has five goals over the 0-2-3 span. The Red Wings had losing streaks of six and seven games last season as they dealt with near-constant injury issues.

...

The latest setback was Friday's 2-1 home loss to the New York Islanders to fall to 0-1-1 to open a four-game homestand.

...

Zetterberg scored for the first time in 11 games, and the Red Wings' captain has just three points in eight games. Zetterberg has seven assists in his last five against the Avalanche (11-13-8).

Johan Franzen is without a goal in his last 13 games, but he's scored 14 in his last 16 contests against Colorado.

...

Rookie Calvin Pickard faced the Sabres, allowing a goal on 29 shots, and will oppose the Red Wings for the first time. Pickard also held Pittsburgh to just a goal in Thursday's 1-0 overtime loss to begin the road trip and is 2-1-2 with a 1.76 GAA since assuming No. 1 duties when the team lost Semyon Varlamov.

"I'm feeling comfortable, more and more so," Pickard said. "It's nice playing every game. I thought I had a good outing in Pittsburgh, too, and I just wanted to build off that."

It's been nearly a month since the Avalanche won back-to-back games on Nov. 22 and 25, going 3-4-3 since. The offense Saturday had to be a relief after managing five goals in their previous four games.

MLive's Ansar Khan duly noted that the Wings changed up their lines during Saturday's practice...

Petr Mrazek will start in goal Sunday, with Tom McCollum backing up.

Jimmy Howard (lower-body injury) was scheduled to have some tests done today to determine severity of his injury. General manager Ken Holland said it doesn't appear to be serious, listing Howard as day-to-day, and said the club hopes he'll be ready for Tuesday.

Here are the lines they skated with today:

Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Justin Abdelkader

Tomas Tatar-Riley Sheahan-Tomas Jurco

Gustav Nyquist-Darren Helm-Johan Franzen

Daniel Cleary-Luke Glendening-Drew Miller

It appears Joakim Andersson will be scratched Sunday.

On defense:

Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson

Danny DeKeyser-Kyle Quincey

Brendan Smith-Jakub Kindl

It appears Brian Lashoff will be scratched Sunday.

In goal:

Petr Mrazek (starting)

Tom McCollum

And Khan penned a Saturday evening-posted article discussing the Wings' offensive issues, which coach Mike Babcock believes are cyclical:

"It happens every year," coach Mike Babcock said. "I don't know if it's part of the success disease, a little complacency when you get to feeling good about yourself and you come off a little bit. The league's all the same. I don't know if that's it. I don't know if you haven't got the breaks. I don't buy into that stuff. Just do it right."

The Red Wings aren't right offensively, with just five goals in five games. They're scored only twice at even strength in their past 342:46.

...

Regardless of who plays with whom, they need to get more shots on net than the 18 they registered in a 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders Friday.

"We need more shooting and more scores," Datsyuk said. "Last few games we not score much. It's hard to win when you score one (goal). It's a little bit of tough time, frustrated, but we need to stick together and keep playing."

They need to play with more desperation.

"We start being a little more casual maybe," Datsyuk said. "We need to shoot more, follow rebounds. We got to net hard, I think we just need more shots. Trying to make a better play for a shot just doesn't work."

Datsyuk added, "Everybody needs to play harder, especially me."

Babcock told Khan that--again--the Wings started to turn the ship around against the Isles...

"I really believe we started putting more pucks at the net (Friday), getting harder at the net and getting more opportunities," Babcock said. "We directed 44 shots at the net and we only hit the net 18 times. I just went through the scoring chances. We had a lot of Grade A scoring chances where we never hit (the net). Hitting the net would be a good idea. Spending more time in the O-zone, be harder physically when we're in the offensive zone and when we have the puck and getting to the net."

And he spoke with Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji about his faith in Petr Mrazek...

"Every team in the league is hoping your backup's going to win you games," Babcock said. "Pete's done a good job for us. I think he made unbelievable save on the penalty kill when we lost one stick and one guy shooting the wrong way. I thought he made an unbelievable to get us a chance, but in the end all those chances we created down the stretch we didn't finish, but I thought Pete did all that he could."

Stephen Weiss's status (with a Weiss cameo)...

"I don't think he's ready," Babcock said. "I'm not certain, but that's what I've been told."

Weiss has practiced with the team the last few days but isn't even sure he's cleared for full contact.

"I haven't really talked about it with them," Weiss said. "Getting a little bit. It feels pretty good. I'm trying to shoot for Tuesday, I think."

And the challenges that the Avs present:

"Good speed, good skilled forwards for sure," Babcock said. "Always been a handful for us. It's always a good game between us. They play tonight so we get to see them one more time."

The Wings' players were happy with the line reset, from the Zetterberg-Datsyuk reunion on down, as they told the Windsor Star's Bob Duff...

“It’s a stacked line for sure,” Detroit left-winger Tomas Tatar said. “I would not like to play against them, that’s for sure. They’re two really good players. We’ll see. I guess we’re trying to make some lines that can score goals and try to get everybody going.”

Datsyuk, who has gone five games without a goal, embraced the idea of reuniting with Zetterberg.

“I like to play with him,” Datsyuk said. “It’s like of my wishes for Christmas. When they put us together it’s a good thing.”

The Wings will also put the unit of Riley Sheahan between Tatar and Tomas Jurco back together for Sunday’s game, a group that was productive for the team last season and also played together in the AHL in Grand Rapids.

“Yeah, we didn’t play much together (so far this season),” Tatar said. “It’s nice to be reunited this way. We’ll see how it goes.”

And Duff added an intriguing note:

McCollum will back-up Petr Mrazek Sunday against the Avalanche, which will mark the first time since March 23, 1998 that Detroit has suited up two rookie goalies. In that game, both Kevin Hodson and Norm Maracle saw action in a 5-5 tie with the Chicago Blackhawks at Joe Louis Arena.

I used to know a place where you could get a Kevin Hodson pro stock stick, and it was bizarre--the four corners of the stick twisted forward 90 degrees at the junction of the paddle and shaft. It was incredibly uncomfortable to try to grasp with a bare hand, so I'd imagine that he taped it up.

Anyway, the Free Press's Helene St. James posited an article that reads like a "spirit of the thing"...

The Wings have two games remaining to get feeling good about themselves going into the Christmas break. Stephen Weiss (shoulder) won't be back for Sunday's hosting of Colorado, and sounded like an outside shot at being ready for Tuesday's game against Buffalo.

(Then the Wings go on the road to face Boston on the 27th and Ottawa on the 29th, they return home to play New Jersey on New Year's Eve, and the team goes on the road for 6 games, not playing another home game at the Joe until January 17th. The Wings play 8 games on the road and 4 at home in January, and only 2 at home and 9 on the road in February).

Jimmy Howard is also out Sunday with a lower-body injury, which prompted Tom McCollum to be called up to back up Petr Mrazek, which necessitated Xavier Ouellet being shipped to Grand Rapids for the roster spot. General manager Ken Holland told the Free Press that Howard may be ready for Tuesday.

The Wings don't lack for healthy bodies, especially among the skaters, and much as a five games without a win looks meager, the Wings have played well in all but the excursion at Toronto. A little more crashing, a lucky-break type of goal, and the Wings should be fine.

"We've got to get back to just shooting the puck, just throwing it in there, and try to create second opportunities," Johan Franzen said. "That's usually what's needed when guys are not scoring. You need an empty-netter on the side on a rebound or something. Just get people in front of the net and shoot the puck in there."''

The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan noted this from Babcock...

"When I look at this team, when we've won we've barely won, and when we've lost, we've barely lost," Babcock said. "We have to find a way to come out on the high side of things. There are no moral victories in the NHL. We have to find a way to win. Period."

And in the "Spirit of the Rivalry," Kulfan had an interesting conversation with a certain life-long Red Wings fan from Slovakia:

Growing up in Slovakia, Tomas Tatar knew all about the intensity of the [Red Wings-Avalanche] rivalry.

"I was watching when I was a kid," Tatar said. "I knew about the Original Six, and I thought Colorado was something like that, too. But then people here told me about the rivalry and it was kind of made by the fans and by how good those teams were. There were a lot of fights, goalie fights, it was fun to watch. It's still something, obviously not as big as it used to be, but it's always fun to play Colorado."

In Tatar's area, he and his hockey playing friends were split when it came to the Red Wings and Avalanche.

"Back home all the kids growing up had either Colorado or Detroit as their favorite teams. All my friends were (either Avalanche or Red Wings fans)."

 

 

Otherwise, the Toledo Blade's Rachel Lenzi penned an exhaustive article about the Toledo Walleye's Winterfest (and that's it for this overnight report):

Toledo Walleye president Joe Napoli said the inspiration to host outdoor hockey in a minor-league baseball stadium came nearly 15 years ago, when Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich., hosted the first outdoor college hockey game in 2001.

Winterfest kicks off Friday and the Walleye host the Kalamazoo Wings at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, the first outdoor game in the history of the ECHL.

Toledo has caught a wave that originally swept through hockey in the mid-2000s and likely crested last year, when 15 venues across the world hosted nearly 40 outdoor hockey games. The NHL alone hosted six outdoor hockey games last season, including the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

The 2014 Winter Classic drew 104,173 spectators in Ann Arbor and 4.4 million television viewers — nearly double the 2012 Winter Classic viewership — and was the second-most watched NHL regular-season game in nearly 40 years. All of the NHL’s outdoor games have been played in front of capacity crowds, many whom were there to experience the unique aspect of an outdoor hockey game, whether it was played inside a venerable baseball stadium or in one of the world’s largest football stadium. Now, the Walleye prepare to play inside of a minor-league ballpark.

“Just being able to watch it be built and to see all the promotions that are going up, it’s going to be a special experience,” Walleye forward Tyler Barnes said.The novelty of Winterfest and of the first outdoor ECHL hockey game is just that — it’s never been done before in Toledo.

“Major sporting events like outdoor games, All-Star games, and home run derbys, because your community typically doesn’t host events of that magnitude very often, they are fresh for your community,” Napoli said. “Even though the Red Wings had one a year ago [the Hockeytown Winter Festival] at Comerica Park and Ann Arbor had the Winter Classic, what happened there is that some people went and had a great experience and they want to see that happen in their hometown. We’ve seen that phenomenon happen across the country. It might seem, if you’re on the outside looking in, that there are a lot of these types of events, but it’s what’s important to the local and regional community.”

The Walleye have organized the event to include youth and college games; Fifth Third Field will host Bowling Green and Robert Morris on Jan. 3, the 23rd outdoor Division I college hockey game.

And she continues...

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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.