The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/30/13 at 09:28 PM ET
It's still early in terms of the time having passed in Red Wings' 2013 season--the Wings have been playing for a week-and-a-half now, so we're 12 days into the schedule--but six games played represent 1/8th of the 48 games the Wings will play, or 12.5% of the Wings' schedule.
Many issues still ail the 3-2-and-1 Wings, even after their superb 4-1 victory over Dallas on Tuesday, and as the Wings will face off against the St. Louis Blues three times in February (starting on Friday), the Nashville Predators twice, the hungry-for-redemption Kings twice, the spoiler-happy Blue Jackets twice and a mixed bag of six other teams (Calgary, Edmonton, Anaheim, Vancouver, Minnesota and San Jose) during a month in which the Wings will play 15 times over the course of 28 nights (three sets of back-to-back games included): the power play is still awful, the penalty-killing unit isn't much better--and is having to kill far too many penalties--the Wings have yet to score a first-period goal...
And in terms of the team's injuries, Jonas Gustavsson (groin) is the player closest to returning this weekend. The team may have to wait at least another 7-10 days to get Darren Helm (back), Mikael Samuelsson (groin) and Ian White (lacerated quadriceps) back into the lineup, and Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder), Jan Mursak (shoulder) and Joey MacDonald (back) are at least two weeks away, if not longer in some instances.
The Wings may very well not "know what they've got" in terms of their lineup until the middle of February, but we already know that the team's defense is going to need reinforcements of the top-pair variety. Niklas Kronwall's been playing about 25 minutes a night, and has made both Jonathan Ericsson and Brian Lashoff look like incredibly capable players; Brendan Smith has had his ups and downs, as has the reclamation project named Kyle Quincey, and on the third pairing, the Wings have had a guy who was playing with the Norfolk Admirals during the team's opening weekend in Kent huskins step up and deliver rock-solid play alongside either Lashoff or Jakub Kindl, who's got some question marks of his own to answer.
I don't think that the Wings can keep pushing Kronwall to play 25 minutes a night and get away with it, even when White (who looked good) and Colaiacovo (who looked great) return, and while Ericsson's maturation is evident, Smith's finding his sea legs and the much-maligned Quincey has rebounded from a pretty mediocre start to look at least serviceable.
Jimmy Howard's obviously been excellent, save a few "swimming in his crease" goals, so there's nothing to complain about in terms of goaltending...
Up front, things seem to be going better: ever-so-slowly, players like Jordin Tootoo, Justin Abdelakder, Drew Miller and even Cory Emmerton have begun to play more and more solidly, as has Patrick Eaves, despite the fact that Eaves is still getting into hockey shape, never mind game shape, after missing 13 months due to a concussion; Danny Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi seem to be having slow starts due to not playing during the lockout, but Bertuzzi's provided physical panache and a few points while healthy.
In terms of the team's "top" forwards, Valtteri Filppula's breakout game on Tuesday is probably a sign of things to come, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have played like the leaders and superstars they are, and while Johan Franzen hasn't lit up the scoresheet, the Wings' resident forward scapegoat has actually displayed a consistent effort, a significant chunk of hard work, a willingness to go to the front of the net and a goal and three assists to his credit, so he's producing as well...
But I don't think that any Wings fan who watched the team not only lose Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart on defense, but also officially bade farewell to Jiri Hudler and unofficially let it be known that Tomas Holmstrom's time was done with the team, was pleased as punch when the team chose to bring back Mikael Samuelsson as Hudler's de-facto replacement, and added Jordin Tootoo instead of looking for a top-six forward (though we've certainly seen what Tootoo can bring to the mix recently). The Wings needed a top-six forward pretty badly, and in theory, anyway, they didn't get the job done in the personnel department.
If I had a time machine, however, and was able to go back to last summer (okay, first, I would go back in time and kick Hitler in the nuts, but I think that's mandatory), it's pretty safe to say that I would be able to tell my fellow Wings fans that a) the Red Wings would eventually play hockey at some point, and b) while the Wings wouldn't start the season having filled the team's need for another *power* forward, they would have not only found a real replacement for Jiri Hudler, but the Wings would also have an upgrade in the mix.
I'd tell past-tense Wings fans that the Wings would in fact add an undersized but absolutely fearless forward who could blaze up and down the ice, deke and dangle in traffic, give-and-go in full flight and fire hard slap shots, wicked wristers and one-timers, and even go to the front of the net to tip down shots. Even better, I'd say, we'd find out that the Wings had snuck this player out from under the noses of the Minnesota Wild.
By now, I'm sure you know who I'm talking about--26-year-old "rookie" Damien Brunner. Brunner found instant chemistry with Henrik Zetterberg while playing for EV Zug during the lockout, and thus far, Brunner, who's posted 3 goals an an assist thus far, has looked like nothing less than a top-line forward and someone who will eventually score 20-30 goals over the course of an 82-game season.
Sure, he makes the occasional, "I still forget that I'm on an 85-foot-wide rink and don't have the same kind of time and space I did in Switzerland" too-cute pass at the offensive blueline, but Brunner has mostly looked more than capable of being a full-time NHL player who can generate substantial offense for years to come, and he's proven that while Ken Holland and company may have struck out in the free agent sweepstakes, Holland and Mike Babcock's decisions to attend the World Championship after the Wings were eliminated by the Predators last spring may have been the best business trip the pair have made in a couple of years (and it was certainly more effective than the team's trip to Madison, WI to court Ryan Suter).
As the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan notes, Babcock was at least moderately pleased with himself and Brunner's play after last night's game and tipped-in goal against Minnesota:
Brunner, 26, now has a team-leading three goals through those six games, after scoring in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over Dallas. He's looking to go to the net, and doesn't shy away from the physical parts of the game. He's more than willing to work on the defensive end.
"He looks like a hockey player to me," coach Mike Babcock said.
When the Red Wings signed Brunner on July 1, they knew about his success in Europe but weren't sure how that would adapt to the NHL. The four-month lockout may have helped in one sense. Henrik Zetterberg decided to play in Switzerland during the lockout, for EV Zug, also Brunner's team, and the two found instant chemistry. That chemistry has extended to NHL rinks.
"Playing with a player like Hank, it makes it easier," Brunner said.
Babcock likes what he's seen regarding Brunner's development in the early going.
"He shoots, and he goes to the net," said Babcock of Brunner, who is tied with Zetterberg for the team lead in shots with 25. "He knows how to play and he's getting better defensively. Obviously we feel we found a pretty good player. It looks like he's a good fit."
Soweit, so gut (so far, so good)...
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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.