The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/02/14 at 02:42 PM ET
Updated 4x with Tatar talk and Howard stuff at 4:42 PM:
Amongst this afternoon's Red Wings-related news stories:
In the prospect department, in the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins are dealing with a strange playoff dynamic: their loss to the Abbotsford Heat on Wednesday still afforded Grand Rapids a 2-games-to-1 lead, but the AHL's first-round series are best-of-five-games affairs. If the Heat win this evening, the Griffins will face a winner-take-all Game 5 on Saturday night.
The Griffins' website posited a game-day preview...
If you wish to watch Fox 17's profile of former Griffins defenseman Chad Billins, who now plies his trade for Abbotsford, you may do so on your own...
And the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner posted 10 points of empahsis going into tonight's game:
• 1. The Griffins didn’t make it easy en route to the Calder Cup Trophy last season, and they have started the trend again this playoff season. A year ago, they played 24 out of a possible 26 playoff games and, on Wednesday, failed to close out Abbotsford at home in Game 3 in a 2-1 loss. They try again tonight. For reference, last year the Griffins needed five games to close out Houston in the first round.
• 4. The whistle continues to blow on both teams. There have been 44 infractions (25 for Abbotsford) and 131 penalty minutes. The stats follow the regular season trends – the Griffins averaged the second-most penalty minutes (12.43) and the Heat were third (12.71).
• 6. Andrej Nestrasil had two impressive games and was bottled up in the third. The Griffins center had four points in the first two games, with two goals and an assist in Game 2, along with seven shots overall. He got off just one shot in the last game. It ended a five-game point streak, including the final three games of the regular season.
• 7. As for player updates for the Griffins, Blashill said Petr Mrazek will start in goal, and defenseman Adam Almquist and forward Jordin Tootoo will again be out with injuries..
And in the QMJHL, the President's Cup championship series between the Baie-Comeau Drakkar and Anthony Mantha's Val-d'Or Foreurs gets underway tonight and tomorrow in Baie-Comeau.
Yahoo Sports' Mike Sanderson posted a series preview on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net blog--and he's not picking the team that defeated the QMJHL's reigning champion Halifax Mooseheads in the Conference Finals (Val-d'Or):
Season series: Drakkar (2-0-1-0). Odds favour: Val-d'Or 56 per cent. Most mathematically likely outcome: Val-d'Or in 6. Prediction: Baie-Comeau in 6.
Tuesday was judgement day for the QMJHL’s four final teams, with two game 7s and final berths on the line. The Baie-Comeau Drakkar were able to nurse a quick lead to its limit, escaping with a narrow 2-1 win to advance over the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, while the Val-d’Or Foreurs hung on by virtue of the play of netminder Antoine Bibeau to escape the Halifax Metro Centre with a 3-2 win.
The Mooseheads didn’t make it easy, outshooting the Foreurs 41-16, including 17-3 in the third period, but Bibeau preserved the victory. So it comes down to Drakkar-vs.-Foreurs for the President’s Cup and a trip to London, Ont.
Amongst the series' "questions":
Will travel and fatigue be a factor? The series starts off in crunch mode Friday, with four games in six days, including a pair of back-to-backs. Both teams, of course, just played seven-game sereis.
For Val-d’Or, the semifinal schedule means for seven games in 12 nights. That is a little tight for the regular season, but really tight between two hard-fought playoff series.
Will the Drakkar defence be able to contain the Foreurs offence? Conventional wisdom says yes. The Baie-Comeau squad has a GAA as a team of under 1.75 and are an excellent systems team. They play very well sticking to the defensive style and don’t deviate. Philippe Cadorette is one of the top goaltenders in the Q, and leads all playoff netminders with a 1.72 GAA and a .929 save percentage. The Drakkar have been nearly perfect on the penalty kill, with a 93.7% mark on the PK.
However, the Foreurs offence is unlike any the Drakkar have seen to date. Only Halifax has scored more than Val-d’Or, and their top line of Louick Marcotte-Anthony Mantha-Samuel Henley is all in the top seven in league scoring. Guillaume Gélinas leads all blueliners and Randy Gazzola has picked up his play after a slow start.
Have we mentioned Mantha’s 18(!) goals in 15 games to lead all playoff goal-scorers? There is plenty to like in the offensive zone for the Foreurs.
Heading back up to the NHL, in the Season In-Review department, Michigan Hockey posted a season-in-retrospect photo gallery, as did the Free Press, and SomeHockeyVideos posted a clip of ALL of Gustav Nyquist's 2013-2014 goals:
"I thought it was an OK season, by no means was it a good or great season," Howard said. "I think I can be a lot better, a lot more consistent for the guys and that's what I'm going to work on over the course of the summer so when the puck drops here in October, I'm ready and hitting the ground running.
"I think I can be a lot better, across the board. Just with the consistency alone. Helping the guys go out there and get wins. It was just one of those years. Statistically wise, it just wasn't very good. I think I can be a lot better. I've proved in the past I can be better and that's the direction I want to move in."
Howard's problems began in November, when a personal seven-game winless streak was part of a stretch that saw him post a 1-5-6 record over 12 games from Nov. 12 until the Winter Classic on New Year's Day at Michigan Stadium.
He peaked at the end of the season, posting a 7-3-1 record heading into the series against the Bruins and he pitched a 1-0 shutout against the powerful Bruins in Game 1 at TD Garden.
But the Red Wings downfall began when they lost 4-1 in Game 2, which started well for Detroit but changed – as did the series – when Howard left his net to play the puck in the high slot after teammate Riley Sheahan dumped the puck into his own zone.
Howard beat Boston's Justin Florek to the puck but his pass to Brendan Smith bounced off the defenseman's leg and went straight to Florek, who scored into the empty net to make it 1-0.
"Game 2, making that mistake when the puck was rolling and sending it to poor Smitty, it's a tough one," Howard said. "It was in their building and it got their building alive. That's the last thing you want heading in there. For a goalie in the playoffs, you want to be stealing wins. You can always get better at stuff (like handling the puck). I have been working on it. It's just one of those things where I have to continue to work on it. It's one of my areas in my game I can fine tune."
To be fair, Gustav Nyquist standing and watching Milan Lucic take Carl Soderberg's behind-the-net pass and jam the puck behind Gustavsson in Game 5 (after Brian Lashoff and Jakub Kindl "flew by" the Bruins' dump-in and let Soderberg be the first player to get to the puck) was my David Bolland Boards Nyquist and Seabrook Scores the OT Winner moment, but Howard was superb in the playoffs...Save all the decisive goals he waved at.
Update: The Wings have five World Championship participants--Jakub Kindl will play for the Czech Republic, Tomas Tatar will play for Slovakia, Gustav Nyquist will play for Sweden, and Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser will play for Team USA when the Worlds get underway in Minsk, Belarus on Thursday, May 9th.
Team USA opens up the tournament against hosts Belarus on Friday, May 9. This is the second-straight World Championship featuring a Bronco hockey alum as Patrick Dwyer played for Team USA during the 2013 World Championships, winning a bronze medal.
All of Team USA's preliminary round games can be seen on NBC Sports Network.
Update #2: The Free Press's Helene St. James penned an article about Tomas Tatar's Worlds adventure:
"I can be stronger, quicker, maybe more work on my shot," Tatar said. "There is lots for me to work on to be the player I want to be at a certain level. There is a lot of work ahead, and it's going to be a long summer."
The tournament runs May 9-25 in Minsk, Belarus. Tatar is bound to see some of his Wings teammates, as Danny DeKeyser and Justin Abdelkader both have committed to play for Team USA, and Gustav Nyquist is representing Sweden. Defenseman Jakub Kindl is on the Czech squad.
Tatar, 23, had an excellent regular season, producing 19 goals and 20 assists in 73 games. He was a healthy scratch most of October, but once he got into the lineup, he made up for his smaller stature with a hard-nosed style. He thrived as his minutes grew thanks to a lineup that at times missed several key forwards.
"I was hoping it would be my turn and I just had to wait," Tatar said. "The year flew by really fast and things were changing, big-time. I can look back and say it was great experience for me and I'm really happy we made it to the playoffs, but disappointed we didn't make it further."
Update #3: For the record, Tatar told the Slovak news agency TASR that he's going home to Trencin prior to joining the Slovakian team on Monday, and he's also disappointed that Tomas Jurco's going to be playing with the Griffins instead of skating for the Slovaks.
Tatar's still positing incendiary remarks in an interview with CAS.sk, however, and here's an incredibly rough translation regarding Tatar's contractual future:
Tatar ends Red Wings team in late June contract and club and player are interested in an extension. So far, however, there will be no negotiations. Both sides have set a date when they will meet and talk about the contract. "We'll see, they hit conversations. I feel the support of the entire organization, general manager and coach. Rather, I would prefer a longer-term contract, but much will depend on the conditions," added the former observation Dubnice player, Trenčín and Zvolen, who brought home the amount of luggage.
"At the end of the year still wear a lot of things. Since I did not have a long-term contract, I even bought an apartment and going back to Slovakia with everything," said Tatar.
Update #3.5: Ditto for this from Pravda.sk's Michal Maslan:
Have you led the Red Wings talk about a new contract?
No, we just agree when we negotiate. I would like to sign a contract for a longer period, but it depends on conditions. The club, the coach and general manager feel support. Detroit is trying to retain players, which brought up. Calmly, I can end up somewhere else, if another club offered me good conditions and Detroit beats them.
Update #4: Even more from Howard? Sure, why not, per the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:
“There are 29 other teams in this league that want to win it as well,” said Howard, who missed the final two games of the series with the flu. “There is a lot of parity out there. It’s no excuse. This organization is all about winning. There needs to be more of a push from myself and everyone else as well.”
Howard finished the regular season with his worst goals-against average (2.66) and save percentage (.910) since his second season as the Wings’ starter.
“I thought it was an OK season, by no means was it a good or great season,” Howard said. “I think I can be a lot better, a lot more consistent for the guys and that’s what I’m going to work on over the course of the summer so when the puck drops here in October I’m ready and hitting the ground running.”
Howard had a horrible November, which didn’t help his numbers. After winning his first start that month, he went 0-3-4 the rest of the month. Over those seven games, Howard had a 3.03 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage. He entered the month with a 2.50 GAA and .915 save percentage.
“I think I can be a lot better, across the board, just with the consistency alone,” said Howard, who ended the regular season 7-3-1. “Helping the guys go out there and get wins. It was just one of those years, statistically wise it just wasn’t very good. I think I can be a lot better. I’ve proved in the past I can be better and that’s the direction I want to move in.”
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