The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/18/14 at 03:34 PM ET
Updated with Leaf stuff at 3:54 PM: Ahead of the Red Wings' "4-point game" against the Toronto Maple Leafs (7:30 PM EST, FSD/Sportsnet Ontario/97.1 FM), I received a text from Paul regarding today's practice news, and I could only shake my head.
Justin Abdelkader's out for two weeks with a leg laceration, Jordin Tootoo's been sent back to Grand Rapids, Brendan Smith's playing forward and it's Ferraro or Bertuzzi in the lineup this evening.
The Wings still bravely talked about attempting to make the playoffs despite having what Ken Daniels told Sportsnet (he has some interesting comments on Calle Jarnkrok, too) is the 4th-hardest spot in the league (for what it's worth, the Globe and Mail's James Mirtle estimates that it'll take 92 points to make the playoffs, and the Wings have 73 with 15 games left), as noted by Sportsnet's Chris Johnston...
The Red Wings have a remarkable 11 players out with injuries and planned to use defenceman Brendan Smith on left wing. He last played forward as a teenager with the Toronto Marlboros when he was on a line with John Tavares and Sam Gagner.
The biggest losses are Henrik Zetterberg (back) and Pavel Datsyuk (knee), and neither is close to a return. When you add it all up, Detroit is in awfully tough as it tries to extend its playoff streak to 23 straight seasons.
"As a player, you’ve just got to stay in the present," veteran winger Daniel Alfredsson said. "You can’t worry about things we can’t control. … We’re still in the thick of things and it’s going to be a race until the end for us."
And CBS Detroit's Ashley Dunkak...
“Our expectations are to make the playoffs. There’s no question,” Alfredsson said. “We’re in a big fight, a logjam with a lot of teams, there’s less than a quarter left of the season, so it’s like the playoffs have already started. Every game is really important. We feel confident about our chances. The way we’ve been playing, we’ve been struggling scoring goals, but if our power play keeps playing the way it can, it’s going to give us chances, and the guys that’s been given an opportunity coming from Grand Rapids has done an unbelievable job throughout the year. That’s pretty impressive.”
Though the chances of the Red Wings extending their playoff streak seem to be rapidly disappearing, with Detroit trailing the New York Rangers by three points for the final wild card spot in the East, and with a tough slate of games coming up, it is worth noting the streak almost ended last year, too.
Detroit squeaked in, knocked off the Anaheim Ducks in the first round and took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to seven games in the second round.
“The situation is the same, I guess – having to fight to get in,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We might be missing a few guys, but we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have what we have, and we’ve just got to make the most of it.”
The Wings did make a demotion today...
Brendan Smith at forward? Did Babcock finally cave to Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner's suggestion? Smith spoke with DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose about his positional switch...
“They just told me I was playing some forward because we’re hard pressed for some forwards right now with all the injuries,” Smith said. “I haven’t played forward in quite some time. They just think I have the tools where I can skate, hit and pressure so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Smith has always shown a penchant for joining the rush, which, on occasion, has been a detriment to his defensive responsibilities. But tonight at Joe Louis Arena he can put his offensive acumen to use.
“You have to look at it like that,” Smith said, “they see me as the most versatile on the back end that can step in. We need to win games from here so whatever I can help with. We haven’t scored so maybe I can help out in that area, help in winning battles. So that’s how I need to look at it for sure.”
The Red Wings have scored three regulation goals in the last four games, which include three losses. The power play in that time is 1-for-15, so Babcock thinks Smith gives the Wings a better chance than any other healthy player in Detroit or Grand Rapids.
Smith last played forward for the Toronto Marlboros, a minor midget team in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, in 2004-05. He skated on an all-star line that featured Sam Gagner and John Tavares during the Marlboros OHL Cup championship season. All three eventual became first-round NHL draft picks, Gagner with Edmonton in 2007 and Tavares with the New York Islanders in 2009.
The Windsor Star's Bob Duff noted that Smith's apprehensive about his ice time, however...
Babcock is hopeful that Smith will be able to offer an offensive spark for the goal-starved Wings, but Smith seemed uncertain as to what his role will be.
“I’d rather be playing forward than not playing at all,” Smith said. “There’s excitement there for sure. “I just hope it’s not like a demotion where you went from defence to playing 4-5 minutes. That would be very frustrating.”
Despite their woes, the Leafs aren’t about to take the Wings lightly.
“This team always comes out hard, no matter what, no matter who’s in their lineup,” Toronto right-winger Troy Bodie said of the Wings. “We’ve faced them before when they’ve had injuries and call ups and they’ve done well. It’s the same team every time. It’s going to be a tough test no matter what.”
Though Smith told MLive's Ansar Khan that he believes he'll be an asset...
“The system, getting the puck out on the half-wall, pressuring, skating hard, being above the plays, we can go all over the list,” Smith said. “I understand the system and I know what is expected of the forwards, so I’m going to step in and do that. I need to get used to it and pick it up quickly. I think I can do it. I don’t think it’s that hard where I can’t jump in and play a good role.”
Smith has struggled at times on defense, making poor decisions with the puck. But he doesn’t view this as a demotion, rather a compliment to his ability.
“They see me as the most versatile on the back end that can step in,” Smith said. “We need to win games, so whatever I can help with. We haven’t scored so maybe I can help out in that area, help in winning battles. So that’s how I need to look at it.”
And the coach explained his theory regarding Smith's positional shift to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:
“No. 2, Smitty, he’s playing left wing tonight,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Why? Because I think it gives us the best chance to win. With the amount of injuries we have, we feel this gives us the best opportunity. I talked to him yesterday and let him know.”
Smith said he talked with Babcock before the move was made.
“He went about saying that we need a player with your speed and caliber to play,” Smith recalled. “I know coach repeatedly says that he’s going to put his best lineup out there whether it’s guys in different positions. I guess I can look at that as something good and we need wins.”
“I’ll do exactly what (the Wings) want me to do, win puck battles and skate and then dish the puck so that’s pretty much what I did with those two,” Smith said. “I got a lot of points doing it. I was kind of the power forward in that sense and I’ll try and do that again tonight.
“This is just to help the team,” Smith continued. “I’m a defenseman. This is not something that I’m going to be changing. I’m not (Dustin) Byfuglien or Brent Burns. Truthfully, I’m here just to help the team win. That’s what a lot of these guys are doing and that’s what I’m doing. As soon as someone gets healthy I’ll go back to defense and assume the position.”
As for Landon Ferraro, he's spoke with the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan about his possible-if-not-probable NHL debut...
Ferraro will likely be in the lineup Tuesday night against Toronto if Todd Bertuzzi (lower body) isn't ready to play. Bertuzzi also took part in the morning skate but it's not certain if he'll be ready.
This would be a thrill for Ferraro, whose father Ray played his last NHL game at Joe Louis Arena in the 2002 playoffs as a member of the Red Wings. Ferraro, 22, a 2009 second-round draft pick, grew up a Maple Leafs fan.
He will be comfortable in the Red Wings’ locker room, what with 10 teammates from last season's Grand Rapids Griffins Calder Cup championship team on the Detroit roster.
"That's what I was laughing about. I always figured I would be a little more nervous in an NHL room, but I feel I played with more than half the team already," Ferraro said. "This is like a nice little reunion from last season's championship team (in Grand Rapids)."
He also spoke with the Free Press's Helene St. James...
Landon Ferraro said he'd love to make his NHL debut at Joe Louis Arena — against the Leafs, no less — because "I grew up loving the Leafs. I always had to try to go against my dad growing up. I grew up loving the Leafs and Mats Sundin.
"This is the best thing I could've worked out, if I get in. The biggest thing is this is where my dad played his last game, in the '02 playoffs, when Detroit beat St. Louis out, so it'd be pretty cool if his last game and my first game were in the same building."
And DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose...
“I mean as much as there’s a mess going on here, we got the same thing going on there so it’s nice to get here and have my first recall,” Ferraro said. “If I get into the game that’s going to be awesome and it’s been something I’ve obviously waiting for forever but if not at least I got here, I got the pregame skate and kind of get my feet wet a little bit I guess you could say.”
The Trail, B.C. native was originally called up Monday on an emergency basis to potentially replace Justin Abdelkader against Toronto. Although Abdelkader will not dress for the next two weeks due to a cut sustained Sunday in Chicago, Ferraro will only play if Todd Bertuzzi is unable to skate. In that case, Ferraro will become the seventh player to make his NHL debut for the Wings this season.
“Honestly, right now I’m just happy to be here,” Ferraro said. “This is the first time I’ve been recalled so I mean it was still really exciting. Yesterday, that’s the first time I’ve ever gotten that call from (Jeff) Blashill so I had a big smile on my face then and couldn’t wait to call my parents and my brothers and stuff like that.”
The son of former NHL player and current TSN broadcaster Ray Ferraro, Landon was drafted by Detroit in the second round of the 2009 NHL draft. In 60 games with the Griffins this season, the 6-foot, 179-pound center has earned 13 goals and 15 assists.
“I think his biggest asset is his skating,” said Griffins teammate Jordin Tootoo. “He's got a pretty good shot, a pretty deceiving shot. It's not overly heavy, but it's pretty accurate. He makes some plays and he works hard. He'll do a good job for sure.”
That is, if he gets the chance. Since Ferraro’s debut depends on Bertuzzi’s status, the 22-year-old will not know until Tuesday night whether or not he will take the ice against Toronto.
“I know that I just took my first pregame so I mean that was exciting but as of right now I’m not real sure what’s going on,” Ferraro said. “We have to wait and see what Babs has to say but I’m ready so just kind of wait and see now.”
But the Red Wings' "bottom line" is still stark, as the Free Press's St. James...
As they enter the last four weeks of the regular season, the Wings are limping along. Consider who is injured: Henrik Zetterberg (back, out rest of season), Pavel Datsyuk (knee, out at least through March), Darren Helm (concussion, day-to-day-to-out-indefinitely), Joakim Andersson (foot, out at least through late March), Tomas Jurco (ribs, out through March), Stephen Weiss (sports hernia, out indefinitely), Bertuzzi (lower-body, day-to-day), Jonas Gustavsson (groin, day-to-day), Abdelkader (leg, out through March), Daniel Cleary (knee, out indefinitely) and Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder, out indefinitely).
What's left on the schedule after tonight: Hosting the Penguins, at Minnesota, hosting the Wild, at Columbus, hosting Montreal, at Toronto, hosting Tampa Bay, hosting Boston, hosting Buffalo, at Montreal, at Buffalo, at Pittsburgh, hosting the Hurricanes, at St. Louis.
And MLive's Ansar Khan noted:
Jakub Kindl, a healthy scratch the past four games, replaces Smith on defense.
In each of the past five games the Red Wings have lost Jonas Gustavsson (groin), Joakim Andersson (broken foot), Tomas Jurco (broken rib), Berruzzi and Abdelkader.
In the multimedia department, the Windsor Star dispatched a photographer to the rink to catch the Wings and Leafs on ice...
The Windsor Star's Duff posted a clip of Ferraro speaking with the press...
The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness posted a pair of videos in which Brendan Smith and his ego (I love the guy, but boy, is he still a hot dog) discussed his positional move...
Justin Abdelkader will be out for up to two weeks due to a laceration he suffered on his leg in Chicago.
Daniel Alfredsson skated with David Legwand and Mule this morning.
And a game-day preview video:
TSN's new "Bar Down" blog dished a bit of trash talk about the Wings, however (via "Cabbie")...
I try to get excited for hockey. I remember my youth, endless slapshots against a laundry room wall. I check out the standings to see who is jostling for—nope, can't do it. Right now, RIGHT NOW, of the 30 teams competing only 7 have losing records. Last year, by season's end, same result, only 7 had losing records. In 2009-10, only 20% of the league had a losing record. Stop this madness.
It's humiliating when grown men playing a grown man's game require the systemic equivalent of an orange slice and a plastic participant trophy. Are savvy Hockeytown fans sincerely fooled that their beloved Red Wings' 30-24-13 record doesn't mean their team is a 30-37 loser? Their skaters headed to the locker room showers pissed off 37 times this year. Fact.
And these stats from WDIV's game preview aren't good or bad per se:
1. Red Wings G Jimmy Howard is 0-1-1 with a 2.83 goals-against average in three starts against Toronto.
2. Reimer has allowed six goals on 40 shots in two career appearances versus Detroit.
3. Detroit F Gustav Nyquist has 12 goals and 22 points in his last 19 games.
Update: On the Maple Leafs' side of the ice, James Reimer is starting, and the CBC's Mike Brophy reports that the Leafs are ready for the Wings...
"We know [Tuesday] night they will be coming after us and it's going to be a skating game," said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle of the Red Wings. "We have to be prepared to skate."
If Carlyle thinks his team needs to be prepared for the game in Detroit, he needs only to refer to Sunday's game in Washington as an example of what can happen if you are not ready.
"What we're trying to do is regroup," Carlyle said. "We weren't happy with our game [Sunday] from a mental approach and we feel we have to definitely improve on that. First and foremost was our start. We cannot afford to start by giving any team in the league three goals. The second part of it is special teams," Carlyle said. "If we have a decent game on special teams [Sunday] we get points. It's as simple as that. We had power plays and looked good, but didn't accomplish anything."
Carlyle said he has been pleased with his team's power play for most of the season, but added, "It's in a flat spot and there is the old adage of just getting it back to the point and shoot it and send three people to the net. We haven't got to that point yet, but when you watch us work the puck around the way we did [Sunday] and as good as it looked with no results, if we continue to have that kind of puck possession and move it that effectively we will score some goals for sure."
The Wings are equally wary of the Leafs, as they told the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno...
“Dangerous,” [Jimmy Howard] said of Toronto’s go-to first line, making particular note of James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel.
“JVR is really good around the net. He’s good at popping off or making little plays around the net with his stick. Phil’s got a lot of speed, a lot of natural ability and he can shoot the puck as well. We’re going to have to be aware when they’re out on the ice.”
What’s most unusual about this evening’s encounter — these teams meet again at the Air Canada Centre March 29 — is that Toronto is looking down on the Red Wings in the standings rather than up. At the moment, Detroit is out of the playoff berth picture.
“Very strange,” agreed Troy Brodie. “Twenty-three years in a row they’ve been in the playoffs? They’re fighting to get in but, you know, we’re fighting to stay in right now too. There’s a lot of games left and every point is big for us.”
The injury-plagued Wings — 11 regulars in sick bag, perhaps as many as seven American League call-ups in the line-up tonight — have lost 313 man-games to infirmities, second only to Pittsburgh in the woe-category.
“Injuries are a part of this game,” noted Howard. “For some reason it’s hit us more this year than it’s hit anybody else.”
Howard has a 3-5 record against Toronto. James Reimer get his second straight start for he Leafs as Jonathan Bernier continues treatment for his groin strain.
Said Niklas Kronwall: “Sure, we might be missing a few guys but we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to make the most of what we have. Our younger guys have done a great job for us ever since they came up. I think they’ve had to grow up a little bit faster than may be necessary otherwise.”
The Toronto Sun's Lance Hornby penned a game-day set-up, including 5 keys to the game. Among them:
Detroit River rivalry: Go back to 1989-90 to find a season in which the Leafs and Wings were in the same division and Toronto finished with more points. The Leafs lead by seven heading into the game and a regulation win would put the Wings in a huge hole.
Olympic hangover: We defer to Johan Franzen on what might ail the Wings most, the Sochi fallout, so many injuries or something else. "I think maybe we need to believe in ourselves a little bit more," The Mule said. "It kind of looks like we're not all there. It doesn't look like we all believe in it, and for us to win games, everyone out there has got to want the puck and help each other." Not something usually heard from the polished Wings.
Push comes to shove: The teams are once again at opposite ends of the penalty scale, disciplined Detroit at under nine minutes a game, the Leafs more than 13. And the Leafs have 44 majors to Detroit's eight. Usually, the Wings' approach wins out.
And the Toronto Sun's Terry Koshan penned a charming set of game-day quips from the Leafs...
Randy Carlyle respects the Detroit Red Wings’ ability to deal with a number of injuries to key players. But the Maple Leafs coach wasn’t about to start heaping praise on the Leafs’ opponent on Tuesday night.
“I’m not here to blow smoke up the Red Wings’ chute,” Carlyle said after the morning skate. “The bottom line is they are a good hockey club. They have a good coaching staff, a storied franchise, and they have been able to provide lots of youth to their (team). We like to say we can do the same thing. Nobody was feeling sorry for us two months ago when we were missing our top two centres. I did not see you pointing the question at us then.”
On the other side of the rink...
“Lots of kids,” Babcock said. “You watch in our pre-game skate, the puck was like a hand grenade. You get called up, you are excited, you want to show you can stay. The guys who are not really good players are not scared of the puck and want it, the guys who are a little nervous have to go back for more time.”
Ferraro knew there was not a guarantee he would play.
“The biggest thing is this is where my dad played his last game in the ’02 playoffs when Detroit beat St. Louis out, so it would be pretty cool if his last game and my first game were in the same building,” Ferraro said. I grew up loving the Leafs and Mats Sundin. This is the best thing that could have worked out, if I get in.”
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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.