The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/01/14 at 08:33 AM ET
Good morning. The Detroit Red Wings tangle with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Winter Classic today (1 PM EST, NBC with pre-game coverage on WDIV in Metro Detroit and post-game coverage on WDIV and FSD, CBC, 97.1 FM) at Michigan Stadium, and both sides' bluster (see Mike Babcock's presser and Randy Carlyle's insistence that more Leaf fans than Wings fans will be among 105,000-or-so spectators)--and the blustery conditions--aside, today's game is about two things:
1. It's about the players and fans having fun amidst the spectacle, pre-game introductions, Olympic announcements and the insistent forecasts of anywhere from 2-7 inches of snow that have yet to play out as promised, at least sa I look outside and see three quarters of an inch of snow on my trusty Pacifica...
2. And it's about the Red Wings attempting to "sort out" their season on the biggest stage they'll have at their disposal.
This morning, both the Wings and Leafs have played 42 games, and the 18-14-and-9 Red Wings sit tied with the 20-16-and-5 Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division standings, but the Wings are in fourth place (5 points behind 3rd place Montreal and 2nd place Tampa Bay, who both have 50 points).
The Red Wings have split their past four games, went 5-7-and-2 this past month, and and haven't won in regulation since December 19th, and you know and I know that the Wings are lucky to not be playing at Joe Louis Arena, where they boast a 6-10-6 record, until they return from a 5-game post-Winter Classic road swing on December 18th.
As I attempt to shake off the cobwebs and brave the crowds to pretend to be a professional blogger instead of a Wings fan raised during the Norris Division wars between Detroit and Toronto, still carrying the mental scar of having stood seven rows behind the Wings bench as the Leafs celebrated their Game 7 OT win over the Wings at the Joe in 1993--a win Leaf fans still lord over the Wings as if they'd stolen one of the four Stanley Cups the Wings won in subsequent seasons (cough and four more than the Leafs have since 1967 cough)...
When I come home and collapse into bed after the game (sorry, coverage won't get everything, though Paul and I will do our best to cover the important stuff) having gotten about five hours and twenty minutes of sleep over the past three days, professionally speaking, I will be OK if the Wings lose.
I know that this is still one game out of 82, and that the Wings are getting healthier, that their injuries continue to force the team to get bigger, younger, faster, a little more physical and yet no less skilled, and after the Olympic break, despite the team's cap situation, I know that Ken Holland, Ryan Martin, Kris Draper and the rest of the Wings' front office will do their best to ensure that Stephen Weiss isn't the only "deadline acquisition" Detroit will receive.
I also believe that this team can succeed as-is, that, despite their incredibly inconsistent and furiously frustrating, mistake-prone play, this team is engaging in what is likely a 2-year process of establishing their identity as a team without not only Nicklas Lidstrom, but also the Sweden-bound Tomas Holmstrom, the aforementioned Draper and goalie-turned-scout-turned-TV analyst Chris Osgood, the last vestiges of the team's 4-Cup-run era.
You and I both knew that 48 games in 99 nights and a six-week playoff run (combined with an artificially low salary cap that forced the Wings to buy out players, send some to the minors and scratch $3 million worth of Mikael Samuelsson every night that the team possibly can do so) wasn't going to fully left their last 02 Cup winner in Pavel Datsyuk, his friend Henrik Zetterberg and the ever-earnest Niklas Kronwall truly make this team theirs.
This morning, as much as I hate agreeing with the Toronto Sun's Rob Longley, you and I probably disagree on half of our observations and gut feelings regarding the team we follow together--that's what this blog and the 60+ hour weeks and late nights and early mornings are about, you, my friends, online family and dear trolls alike, about some schulb with some significant chronic health ailments trying to start discussions and follow our beloved and sometimes hated Wings team whose logo is engraved on our hearts and souls like the Stanley Cup ring Itouched when I shook Doug Brown's hand last night...
We know that the Wings will probably scramble to make the playoffs, and that the 82-game, Olympic-interrupted and eight-month (training camp and exhibition season included) process that the Wings so desperately needed to go through last year plays out over the balance of what will be a pivotal season for the present and future of this franchise, win or lose.
The Wings are learning, changing, growing, writing their story on ice, regardless of what the press writes and regardless of your or my observations (as a Wings fan as well as a writer, I cannot deny that it is a beautiful thing to watch the Wings make me eat my words when they succeed), and we are along for the ride.
Today is simply one step in a process of growth that we both hope will last into late April and hopefully longer.
But today, on the start of a new year, I will visit my alma mater, take in the game, and give you my best effort desperately hoping that this one game out of 82 will serve as a statement-making game and a half.
Over the course of an 82-game season, one game really is, as Todd Bertuzzi would put it, just a *#$%@& water bottle, but this game is our *#$%@& water bottle, beautiful and frozen.
Write a good story today, Red Wings.
Take us out, coach:
For the record, I wish you a happy, safe, healthy and prosperous New Year, and I hope that you and I can both find more grace with which to face life's inevitable challenges and difficulties.
See you from the Big House
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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.