The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/21/13 at 04:13 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings will attempt to break a 4-game winless streak tonight against an opponent that always plays up to the level of its competition in the Columbus Blue Jackets (7:30 PM EST, FSD Plus/FS Ohio/WXYT AM/NHL Network--that means another Center Ice/GCL blackout), and while the Red Wings received some rare good news on the injury front regarding Jimmy Howard--who smartly took himself out of Tuesday's loss to Nashville when symptoms of "blurry vision" appeared--the Wings found out that Mikael Samuelsson's going to miss at least two weeks with a broken left index finger, and MLive's Ansar Khan reported that Johan Franzen (hip flexor), Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) and Brendan Smith (shoulder) are all likely to return during the Wings' road trip on February 27th and 28th than they are to return during Detroit's 3 games-in-4-nights stretch.
Tonight's Military Appreciation Night at the Joe, but the 7-6-and-3 Wings' "general" manager broke ranks and did the least intelligent thing the most honest and forthright GM in hockey (most of the time) GM in hockey could do during an extended stretch of underwhelming efforts by his team:
He spoke at length to the Fan 590 about his belief that the Red Wings simply need to hang on and "tread water" until it gets healthy.
With the natives restless and demanding change as "panic in Hockeytown" spreads, Holland spent twelve minutes preaching patience and understanding, especially regarding his belief that while his team may be on the lookout for a top-four defenseman, the prohibitive asking price thereof may encourage the management to stick with their guns and go with what they've got on the roster already, both healthy and ill, hoping instead to upgrade during the summer's free agency period.
On a day that the Free Press's Helene St. James called Valtteri Filppula out and suggested that Wings coach Mike Babcock's criticism of several players who "didn't show up ready to play" against Nashville was warranted, the team that sits 9th place in the Western Conference may have been better served by silence.
Instead, on Wednesday night, Holland continued to discuss the state of his team from the perspective of the man who runs the show, with the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness and MLive's Ansar Khan posting a late Wednesday evening interview with the GM.
And Holland's preaching the same, "We all have to bear with the team's performance given its injuries and hope that the team gets healthy" message. From Pleiness:
“We haven’t played one game with our team,” Holland said during a phone interview. “We’re a work in progress, but we’ve got a lot of good going on.”
The Wings have yet to play with the lineup they had counted on in a week-long training camp when the lockout was settled. Just 10 players have played in all of Detroit’s 16 games this season.
“I think our coaches and players are doing a great job of battling and scuffling,” Holland said. “We’re finding a way to stay afloat.”
With the Free Press's Helene St. James pointing out that 11 Red Wings players have missed time with injuries and only 10 players having played in every game, Holland's essentially telling us that the team is in a rebuilding year, especially given that the team's never found meaningful replacements for Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart, Nicklas Lidstrom or Tomas Holmstrom. This year, Holland tells Pleiness, the Wings are embracing a youth movement (see: Brian Lashoff, Petr Mrazek, Brendan Smith when he was healthy, Joakim Andersson, Tomas Tatar, and for a game anyway, Gustav Nyquist) and hoping for the best
“We’re trying to get younger people experience,” Holland said. “With youth comes up and downs. This is the NHL. They’re not going to win at the same clip. We’re probably a couple of wins short of where we’d like to be but there’s some good stories going on,” Holland continued. “I think we’ll be a deeper team than we were a month ago.”
“At the end of the day, I think there’s some good things going on that will pay dividends down the road,” Holland sad. “We’ve just got to stay in this race.”
Holland doesn't deny that Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have essentially carried the team on their backs (and Jimmy Howard, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Damien Brunner aren't far behind in the leading by example department, gaffes and mistakes included)...
“They’re two superstars who are keeping the team in the race,” Holland said. “People were saying they were declining, but they haven’t stopped and they have even gotten even better. They’re the real deal.”
And while I can't quote all of Pleiness's interview, but Holland addresses the team's "special teams" issues, and offers a statement of belief in his team as it prepares to host the Blue Jackets tonight, the Predators on Saturday and the Canucks on Sunday:
“We have a big home stand coming up,” Holland said. “Every two points is critical. We’ve got to get back on the winning ways.”
Six of Detroit’s next eight games are on home ice.
“We’d like to have a couple more wins, but given everything that’s transpired the last nine months, to expect more is to disrespect the rest of the league,” Holland said.
Holland issued a very similar statement to MLive's Ansar Khan, who notes that the Wings lead the league with 101 man-games lost to injuries:
“At the one-third pole, we're probably a couple of wins short of where we'd like to be, but there's some good stories going on,''general manager Ken Holland said. “I think we'll be a deeper team than we were a month ago. We have a big homestand coming up. We got to get back on the winning ways.''
Winless in four (0-2-2), the Red Wings play their next three at home – Thursday vs. Columbus, Saturday vs. Nashville and Sunday vs. Vancouver – and six of their next eight at Joe Louis Arena.
They must take advantage of this stretch, because they play 14 of their final 22 games on the road, including four trips to the West Coast or Western Canada.
Again, Holland's very pleased with the performances of both his superstars and his youngsters, and I don't need to tell you that while he's probably two years from being truly ready for prime time, Petr Mrazek's been superb, the Stuart-like Brian Lashoff's earned himself at least a spot on next year's roster while playing nearly 20 minutes a night, mostly alongside Niklas Kronwall or an actually-improving Kyle Quincey, and both the slick-handed sparkplug that is Tomas Tatar and the superb and very big two-way center named Joakim Andersson all look ready for NHL duty:
“At the end of the day, I think there's some good things going on that will pay dividends down the road,'' Holland said.
And regarding those special teams? What Khan says are the 24th-best penalty-kill and the 25th-best power play, which is literally 0-for-the-road?
“I think the PK has been getting better, don't know if the stats are showing it,'' Holland said. “The power play is a work in progress. It hasn't got us that timely goal. You need to have good specialty teams to win consistently in the NHL.''
Aside from the season-opening 6-0 loss at St. Louis, Holland believes the team has competed hard and had a chance to win most games. But, mistakes and mental errors have been costly.
“We've beaten ourselves a lot,'' Holland said.
I can't say that I agree with everything that Holland's said, nor do I agree with every personnel move he, Jim Nill, Ryan Martin, Mike Babcock, Tom Renney or Bill Peters have made, but I admire them all for being honest with the people who pay to watch and spend so much time, energy, effort and devote so much of their emotional and monetary investments into following the Red Wings.
In terms of tonight's game, the Blue Jackets come into tonight's game having dropped 3 straight on the road, with their most recent loss coming in the form of a 3-2 loss to Anaheim on Monday night. The team flew back to Columbus on Tuesday and practiced on Wednesday before flying to Detroit.
The Columbus Dispatch's Shawn Mitchell covered the developments at said practice...
Right wing Cam Atkinson (high ankle sprain) and center Artem Anisimov (bruised foot) are slated to return to the lineup against the Red Wings in Joe Louis Arena on Thursday, coach Todd Richards said. They will provide some offensive bite to a team that has far too often had a mouthful of summer teeth. But the Jackets will still be hampered by the absence of center Brandon Dubinsky, who appeared to suffer a left knee injury during a loss to Phoenix on Saturday. Richards said he didn’t think Dubinsky’s injury was serious enough to merit a trip to injured reserve but said it’s “probably more than day to day.”
“It might be a week or two weeks,” Richards said.
Atkinson, meanwhile, has been out since Jan. 23 because of a frustrating and unpredictable sprain to the upper part of his left ankle. He had hoped to return last week.
“It’s been 13 games,” said Atkinson, who called his injury a “pain in the @#%.”
“Thirteen, that’s my number,” Atkinson said. “Maybe that’s a sign. I’m excited to get back out with the guys and hopefully bring some offense. I’ve had injuries before and you fight through it. But this one – I rely so much on my skating, my stops and starts – I lost my game. It seem like it’s just been day to day. One day I felt great, and then the next day I’d put pressure on it and it would give out. It’s so frustrating. But it’s definitely past the point where if I hurt it it’s definitely not going to set me back like it would have.”
--Today’s lines and pairs: Umberger-Brassard-Atkinson, Calvert-Anisimov-Foligno, Prospal-Letestu-Dorsett, Gillies-MacKenzie-Boll; Tyutin-Nikitin, Johnson-Aucoin, Erixon-Wisniewski. Also skating: Moore, Drazenovic and Collins.
The Blue Jackets are only halfway through a season-high six game road trip, so tonight's game is especially important to them as they want to get off to the second leg of their road trip on solid footing...
--Another 0-3 road swing could be a (near-)death blow to the last-place Jackets but Richards said he’s putting as much importance on the upcoming leg as he did as the previous one. He doesn’t look at the standings, he said, because he has more pressing duties, which probably says it all about the current state of a team very much in fitful transition. “What I want to do is get us playing some good hockey, the best hockey that we can play,” Richard said. “I feel if we do that part of the process we’ll get the end result that I want. We did some good things in Anaheim and we did some good things in LA and Phoenix, too. But there are little holes in our game that are costing us. It’s always about finding solutions. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
And now comes something of a confession on my part: the Columbus Dispatch doesn't update its website with the day's crop of stories until 6 or 7 AM, depending on the day, and as I am both battling a cold and know that the Wings' morning skate will start around 10:30, there's just no way that I'm going to stay up tonight to wait for the rest of Mitchell's articles to post.
I'm sorry about that, but I've gotta do what I've gotta do to keep blogging on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and that involves getting sleep.
Two Dispatch articles from Wednesday are notable, including this tidbit...
Fedor Tyutin’s 10 points (a goal, nine assists) lead Columbus in scoring. Entering last night’s games, the only other defenseman leading an NHL team in scoring was Winnipeg’s Tobias Enstrom (13 points, two goals, 11 assists).
As well as Aaron Portzline's article about coach Richards' decision to split up his top defensive pairing:
Last March, when the Blue Jackets found motivation in a long-lost season, Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski gave their defensive pairing a nickname: “controlled chaos.”
With this season now hanging in the balance — the Jackets are 4-10-2 and in last place in the NHL heading into Thursday’s game in Detroit — Richards has split up Johnson and Wisniewski. The reason? He’s looking for more “control” and less “chaos” on the Blue Jackets’ back end.
In a 3-2 loss to Anaheim on Monday night, veteran Adrian Aucoin joined Johnson on the No. 1 pair, and John Moore skated with Wisniewski on the third pair.
“(Aucoin) can help Jack settle the game down, and I think Johnny Moore is the same with Wiz (Wisniewski),” Richards said. “Wiz and Jack have great offensive ability, but sometimes you need that guy — that calm guy — on the back end who can let his partner go out and do different things.”
Johnson and Wisniewski seemed an odd pairing when they were put together late last season. Richards put them together out of desperation, he said, after trades and injuries left him with little experience. But the two were a pleasant surprise in the final 20 games of the season, when the Blue Jackets played their best hockey of the season.
This year, though, it has been a struggle. Johnson, who is second in the NHL in average ice time (27 minutes, 21 seconds), has one goal, six assists and a minus-8 rating that ranks among the worst in the league. Wisniewski has three goals, four assists and a minus-4 rating.
The Fedor Tyutin and Nikita Nikitin pairing remains intact, despite Nikitin’s ongoing struggles with turnovers.
But with the pair of above-mentioned articles referenced, we'll move on to ColumbusBlueJackets.com's Rob Mixer's practice report...
The Blue Jackets arrived home from California around dinner time yesterday and got back on the ice this morning for a detail-oriented practice at the OhioHealth Ice Haus.
It was a much-needed practice session that allowed the coaching staff to go over some of the finer points from both a systematic and philosophical standpoint, and the big news was the full-fledged return of two players missing from the lineup. Both Cam Atkinson (on injured reserve retroactive to Jan. 23) and Artem Anisimov (out since blocking a shot last week in Los Angeles) are expected to play Thursday night against the Red Wings, coach Todd Richards said, and it's sure to be a big boost.
Both goaltenders participated in today's skate and the lines from Monday's game were essentially intact, save for the two additions.
Here are the Blue Jackets' lines from practice today:
Calvert - Anisimov - Foligno
Umberger - Brassard - Atkinson
Prospal- Letestu - Dorsett
Gillies - MacKenzie - Boll
Tyutin - Nikitin
Johnson - Aucoin
Moore/Erixon - Wisniewski
And he noted that the Blue Jackets take the Wings very seriously, regardless of the litany of injuries that've beset Detroit:
Regardless of who's in our out of the Detroit lineup, it's still a formidable opponent, Richards said. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are in top form to start the season, and just two nights ago, Datsyuk scored one of the more incredible goals of the NHL season. Seconds after the Predators took a 3-2 lead, Datsyuk dangled through four Nashville players and tied the game.
"No different than any other team, we expect to get their best," Richards said. "They're a puck possession team and they'll test you in a lot of areas, your discipline and your structure to your game. Some of their guys have played together for a long time so there's that chemistry there, and the certain style they play...they'll test us in that area."
If you really, really want to watch coach Richards' six-minute off-day presser on the Blue Jackets' website, you may most certainly do so, but I'd prefer to note that Fox Sports Ohio's Dan Kemal reports that the Blue Jackets' road record is just awful...
The loss to the Ducks was the sixth in a row on the road for a Blue Jackets team that had started the season so impressively in a shootout win over the Nashville Predators in the Music City on January 19th. A month later, Columbus holds an overall record of 4-10-2 and has fallen seven points out of a playoff spot in the process. And the team has played 16 games, tied for most in the Western Conference through Monday, so there are no games in hand.
And we'll actually trade opposing teams' game previews, with DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose scouting the Blue Jackets...
The Columbus Blue Jackets are scheduled to arrive in town today where they are expected to meet their new general manager. Hired on Feb. 13 as the third GM in club history, Jarmo Kekalainen, was to fly to the United States and rendezvous with his new team in the Motor City on Wednesday. The 46-year-old former GM of Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League is awaiting final approval on a work visa, which is expected to be completed soon.
Valtteri Filppula is very familiar with the Jackets’ new GM, who signed the Red Wings’ forward during the NHL lockout. Also on this year’s Jokerit team are Filppula’s brother, Ilari, and Red Wings’ top prospect Teemu Pulkkinen. Forward Ben Eaves, brother of Patrick Eaves, was also on the roster earlier in the year.
Plenty of work lies ahead for Kekalainen, who must sort out the Blue Jackets’ inconsistency this season. The worst team in the league, with a 4-10-2 record, Columbus, understandably so, is also near the bottom of the league’s power play efficiency list (13.3 percent), though they’re in middle of the road on the penalty kill (81.2 percent).
Only four Blue Jackets’ regulars – Jared Boll (+4), Nick Foligno (+2), Derek MacKenzie (+1) and Mark Letestu (+1) – are on the positive side of the plus/minus rating.
It’s the third of five meetings between these Central Division rivals, but the first at Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings and Blue Jackets battled twice in the first two weeks of the season. Detroit eked out a 4-3 shootout win on Jan. 21, and Columbus claimed a 4-2 victory on Feb. 2. Both games were at Nationwide Arena.
PLAYER TO WATCH: D JAMES WISNIEWSKI – The Canton, Mich., native returned to the Blue Jackets’ lineup on Monday following the birth of his daughter last weekend. Wisniewski has three goals and seven points this season, where he’s mainly been partner with former Michigan defenseman Jack Johnson. However, the two offensive-minded partners were recently split up and aligned with more defensive-thinking defensemen, though the two will likely continue to work the point together on the power pay. Still, expect to see Wisniewski playing alongside John Moore, and Johnson with veteran Adrian Aucoin when the team is at full strength. … Thursday’s game at The Joe will be Wisniewski’s 25th career game against Detroit. He’s produced three goals and seven points against the Red Wings. He’s also collected 38 penalty minutes against his hometown team, his highest total among all NHL clubs.
And ColumbusBlueJackets.com's Rob Mixer scouts the Wings:
One of the more thrilling moments of the Red Wings' season came last weekend at Joe Louis Arena in the waning seconds of a game against the Los Angeles Kings. With goaltender Jonathan Quick at the bench for an extra attacker, Kings defenseman Alec Martinez tied the game in the final minute and it looked as if the game was headed for overtime.
But then, it hit the fan. On the last shift of regulation, Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson sent a slap shot through traffic for the game-winner with less than five seconds to play. It was a dramatic and exciting moment for the Red Wings, who had struggled to establish any semblance of consistency, and could have been a springboard for the rest of the month. For whatever reason, it turned out to be the exact opposite.
Detroit has lost four straight games entering tonight's game against the Blue Jackets, and the last three haven't been pretty. The Red Wings were outworked on home ice by the red-hot Anaheim Ducks in a 5-2 loss on Feb. 15, and two nights later in Minnesota, held a 2-0 lead before the Wild erupted for a three-goal second period that was the difference in the hockey game. Nashville's Shea Weber scored 46 seconds into overtime on Tuesday night to cap off a wild 4-3 victory at Bridgestone Arena, in a game that Jimmy Howard started but didn't finish after leaving with blurry vision.
While they've dealt with injuries both on defense and at forward, the consistency is what has concerned coach Mike Babcock so far this season. The Red Wings have played complete, dominant games (a 5-1 win in St. Louis earlier this month is an example) and on other nights have been unpredictable and ineffective. One thing he hasn't had to worry about, though, is the production of his top players.
Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and rookie winger Damien Brunner have been Detroit's most dangerous offensive players in the first 16 games. The trio has combined for 20 goals and 50 points and has carried a significant portion of the team's offensive output while players like Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula have experienced slower starts than they're accustomed to.
The Red Wings began the year thin on the blue line but injuries made their situation even more dire. They had to sign free agent Kent Huskins mid-season and have call-up Brian Lashoff contributing minutes, and it's led to a less-than-desirable defensive stature: only three teams (Calgary, Columbus and St. Louis) have given up more goals than Detroit's 48 allowed so far, and for a team that has been so committed defensively over the years, it's hindering their ability to put win streaks together.
Stats.com's Jeff Mezydlo offers some statistical tidbits of note heading into tonight's game...
Though the Red Wings have dropped their last two home games, they have won three straight over Columbus at Joe Louis Arena and are 29-5-2 at home during the regular season and playoffs against the Blue Jackets.
Pavel Datsyuk, who has six points in his last four games versus Columbus, has a chance to match a career high with a goal in his sixth straight contest.
The Blue Jackets (4-10-2) have earned three points in two home games against Detroit this season, but they've dropped six consecutive road games since a season-opening 3-2 shootout win at Nashville. They're 1 for 23 on the power play during that road skid and scoreless with the man advantage halfway through the current six-game trip.
Columbus has allowed four power-play goals in those three defeats, including two in Monday's 3-2 loss at Anaheim. Vinny Prospal scored on one of his team's 12 first-period shots, but the Blue Jackets mustered just 15 over the final 40 minutes.
"We have to find ways to win games," coach Todd Richards told Columbus' official website. "Wherever it is, whether it's scoring more goals or keeping pucks out of our net, we have to make plays."
Prospal has done his part, posting three goals and two assists in the last six games. He has no goals in his last seven trips to Detroit.
NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale's preview serves as our pivot point between the Blue Jackets and Red Wings' perspectives...
Last 10: Columbus 2-7-1; Detroit 4-4-2
Season series: This is the third of five meetings between the Central Division rivals, and the first at Joe Louis Arena. The teams split the previous two games at Nationwide Arena with Detroit scoring a 4-3 shootout decision on Jan. 21 and the Jackets earning a 4-2 victory two weeks later.
Big story: The Red Wings have certainly had their share of injuries this season. The hurt continued on Tuesday during a 4-3 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators when goalie Jimmy Howard suffered an upper-body injury midway through the first period and was replaced by Jonas Gustavsson. Gustavsson, sidelined almost a month with a sore groin, allowed two goals, including the winner in overtime. He was making his first relief appearance since the season opener in St. Louis. Additionally, forward Mikael Samuelsson also sat out the game after being struck in the left hand during the team's morning skate on Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena.
Blue Jackets [team scope]: The Blue Jackets are expected to meet their new general manager, Jarmo Kekalainen, on Wednesday in Detroit. The 46-year-old Kekalainen, hired Feb. 13 as the third GM in club history, was delayed while awaiting final approval on a work visa. Since beating Detroit on Feb. 2, the Blue Jackets have gone 1-5-1 in their last six games. Columbus is also 1-6-0 away from home, which is the worst in the League. The game against the Red Wings marks the fourth of a six-game road swing.
Red Wings [team scope]: The Red Wings have lost four straight to drop to ninth in the Western Conference with 17 points. In an OT loss to the Predators on Tuesday, Daniel Cleary, Jordin Tootoo and Pavel Datsyuk scored goals, but the Red Wings never led in the game. Tootoo also dished out four hits in the loss. Datsyuk's goal in third to pull the visitors into a 3-3 tie was a thing of beauty, as he skated through four Nashville defenders and beat Pekka Rinne under his blocker arm with a wrist shot at 13:30.
Who's hot: Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin leads the Blue Jackets with 10 points, including a team-high nine assists. In two games against the Red Wings this season, he's had three assists. … Datsyuk has scored goals in five straight games, collecting five goals, eight points and a plus-3 rating in the span.
The Macomb Daily's Pleiness notes that the Wings may or may not start Jimmy Howard, who was smart enough to choose to leave the Wings' loss to Nashville when he started experiencing blurred vision...
Wings general manager Ken Holland just texted and said Jimmy Howard has been cleared to return to play and is available Thursday. Howard left midway through the first period of Tuesday’s overtime loss to Nashville after having trouble seeing the puck.
“He got hurt in practice Monday when a guy drove the net,” Holland said. “He felt good all day leading up to the game and then in the game he felt blurry. When you have that you have got to go through all the tests.”
Few around Howard knew what was up: Coach Mike Babcock hadn't heard about the potential vision problems, nor had teammates.
Howard's brief scare came just as backup Jonas Gustavsson had returned from a long layoff stemming from a groin injury. The Wings weren't as fortunate with top-six winger Mikael Samuelsson, who is out at least two weeks with a non-displaced fractured finger on his left hand after getting hit by a puck during Tuesday's morning skate. Samuelsson has been limited to three games this season, mostly because of a nagging groin injury.
A third of the way into the season, only 10 Wings have played all 16 games, a list headlined by captain Henrik Zetterberg and defenseman Niklas Kronwall. A handful have been injured and returned, including Jonathan Ericsson, Gustavsson and Ian White.
Johan Franzen, Brendan Smith and Carlo Colaiacovo are close to healthy, with Franzen a possibility to play tonight. The Wings didn't practice Wednesday, but Franzen sounded confident on Tuesday that he was recovered from a sore hip flexor.
The worst off are the two guys with back injuries: Darren Helm and Todd Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi is on bed rest and getting injections for pain. Helm is extremely limited in what activities he can do.
Again, at this point, it looks like Smith and Colaiacovo may be able to return during the Wings' two-game swing through Los Angeles and San Jose on the 27th and 28th, but probably not before, and depending on who you're reading, Franzen is either "possible" or "doubtful" for tonight's game.
Helm and Bertuzzi...Will take three or four weeks to get back to playing once they've been cleared to work out because they are getting out of shape. We won't know when or if they'll return this year, period, until their backs heal, and for both, that's going to take the time it takes. Backs are like that.
We'll wrap up this game preview with an article that problably merits an entry of its own. The Detroit News's Gregg Krupa ventured into the coaches' office at Joe Louis Arena, where few are allowed to go, and spoke with Wings coach Mike Babcock and associate coach Tom Renney about Babcock's attempts to remain an effective coach--which seems particularly relevant given that Lindy Ruff was fired on Wednesday--and Krupa notes that we shouldn't expect much in the way of roster upheaval demands from the coach as he happens to share his general manager's philosophy:
"I think we've got enough," he said, assessing the roster. "I'm a big believer that when you put the Red Wing uniform on, you're an NHL player, period. So find a way to be an NHL player, and do what we do that allows this group to be successful. Now, is it different than in the past? Absolutely. It's a way different look of hockey. It doesn't feel the same. We spend way more time in our own zone. So what? Don't let the puck in, score some and be happy."
That's a swell philosophy, but how does it relate to the team's progression, or, over the last four games, regression in a rebuilding year, in a season where the team's attempting to find a post-Nicklas Lidstrom identity?
"I think it's important every day to show them what we're doing well and what we've got to get to," Babcock said in a recent interview. "We're on a journey, here. No question about it. I'm not trying to tell you that we've got all the people slotted right or we're playing with the best people. We don't know. We're just as we go, here. But the thing we've talked about with our coaches is to come in here every day with a positive attitude, be solution-based with the players and find a way to make them all better, get them all organized and give them something to believe in, and we'll be fine."
And who are these Wings, anyway? We're 35% of the way into a shortened season that leaves little to no margin for error, and we fans don't seem to know. What about the coach?
"I think your team makes you a lot of the things that you are. In other words, you look at your group and you try to find a way for that group to play," he said. "Now, we just had such big change that it's way different. So you'd be doing way more similar things, if it was last year's group. And then the other thing is that we've decided as a coaching group: If we can stay solution-based and we can find a way to get better each and every day, we've got a chance with this group to have a lot of fun. And that's what we want to do."
In his eighth season, he acknowledged that keeping it fresh and remaining effective with some of the same, veteran personnel is an issue.
"I think that concerns you," he said . "I think you work real hard at trying to adjust and change, and come up with new things and new ideas and new ways to approach it. But I'm sure there's times when the players say, 'I've heard that before.'"
"We try to have a different approach," he said. "And yet the game — a lot of it's the same. So, can you wear thin? Absolutely. But you try to treat them with respect. You try to be demanding and yet appreciative. Sometimes, you are probably too demanding and not appreciative enough. When I cross the line with them, I try to say, 'Hey, I'm bad, I shouldn't have done that.'"
Babcock paused, halting the rapid-fire, vigorous consideration of his work, which he plainly loves.
"I don't know," he said. "What I tell my kids to do is you get up each and every day and you give it your all, and you go home and you enjoy your family and you come in the next day and you give it your all. And if you do that every day, something good is going to happen, over time."
I hope so. I hope so.
In the prospect department, two Wings prospects had very big nights on Wednesday, and a third took part in his team's playoff push.
In Europe, Alexei Marchenko didn't register a point and played only 4:49 of CSKA Moscow's 3-2 overtime win over HC Lev Prague in the first round of the Gargarin Cup playoffs. In the KHL, you can dress 12 forwards, 2 goalies and 8 defensemen, so Marchenko's been getting the short end of the stick, especially since CSKA brought Danny Markov in at the KHL's trade deadline;
The Finnish SM-Liiga's regular season is winding down, but they're still playing regular season games, and Teemu Pulkkinen didn't register a point in Jokerit Helsinki's 2-1 win over Espoo;
In the QMJHL, Xavier Ouellet didn't register a point as his Blainville-Boisbriand Armada defeated Rimouski 6-2;
Fellow signed prospect Martin Frk had a hat trick and an assist in the Halifax Mooseheads' 8-2 victory over Saint John. He finished at +5 and was named the first star in what the Mooseheads' website, via RedWingsFeed, reports is Halfiax's 47th win of the season, setting a new franchise record;
In the OHL, Alan Quine also had a hat trick and an assist, finished at a +3 and was named the game's first star in the Belleville Bulls' 8-5 victory over Ottawa.
Quine's posted 9 goals and 21 assists for 30 points over only 17 games played with Belleville, which acquired him from the Peterborough Petes earlier this year.It goes without saying that the Wings will sign him to an entry-level deal this spring.
And another signed Wings prospect, Ryan Sproul, received a big mention in Yahoo Sports' Neate Sager's "Dynamic Dozen" list, which is essentially a power rankings list for all of the CHL's teams:
12. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.533 RPI, 0.5 SRS, +2) — For the first time this season, the surging Greyhounds are in the rankings. Which means there's an opportunity to start touting Ryan Sproul for OHL defenceman of the year. The 'Hounds were 7-11-1-0 when their lanky linchpin was out of the lineup and are 24-11-1-2 when the Detroit Red Wings prospect plays.
Over the course of 39 games played, Sproul has registered 18 goals and 40 assists for 58 points. Last season, he posted 54 points over the course of 61 games played.
Also of Red Wings-related note: As a reminder, from the Oakland Press's Ashley Young:
Detroit Red Wings forward Jordin Tootoo will sign autographs from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22 at Hockeytown Authentics, 1845 E. Big Beaver Road, Troy.
Proceeds benefit the Team Tootoo Fund, which supports suicide prevention and at-risk youth.
The first 222 fans in line who make a $22 donation in cash or check are guaranteed an autograph by Tootoo on the personal item of their choice. Hockeytown Authentics will issue wristbands for the autograph signing starting at 3:30 p.m.
Fans will also have the opportunity to purchase Team Tootoo baseball caps for $15 and Team Tootoo wristbands for $5 at the store that day. Visit http://www.cfmt.org/give/funds/teamtootoofund/ Call .Hockeytown Authentics at 248-680-0965.
In local junior hockey news, the Free Press's George Sipple reports that a member of the Wings' extended family has taken on a new chalenge in being a "billet parent":
Plymouth Whalers defenseman Gianluca Curcuruto is having the breakout season -- a year later than he expected. Curcuruto has nine goals and 28 assists for 37 points in 56 games for the Whalers this season, after posting three goals and 13 assists for 16 points in 63 games last season for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Whalers acquired him in August for forwards Mitchell Dempsey and Dylan Mascarin.
The Whalers will be honoring their billet families on Friday when they host the Windsor Spitfires at 7:05. (Billet families provide room and board for junior players.) Curcuruto is staying with Maureen McCrimmon, the wife of former Red Wings defenseman and assistant coach Brad McCrimmon. McCrimmon was killed in a plane crash in Russia in 2011 when he was a coach in the Kontinental Hockey League.
[Curcurto] On living with the McCrimmon family: "It's definitely my second family. I treat them like family, I treat them like I would be living like home and they treat me like I was their son. It's a bond you create with a family you meet right off the bat. They do an exceptional amount, compared with what people think. It's been amazing. They have a beautiful house and they're just a very upbeat, close-knit family. They're always fun to be around."
Also in the "if you missed it" category, from the Free Press's Steve Schrader:
Gary Bettman doesn't rebuild. He reschedules.
As most expected, the late, lamented Winter Classic at the Big House that was wiped out by the NHL lockout -- remember that? -- will be back on for Jan. 1, 2014, with the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, according to the Toronto Star.
The Star reports "the NHL is closing in on final talks with officials at the University of Michigan for use of its football stadium, and with the Detroit Tigers for use of Comerica Park" for the big hockey festival that had been planned for this season.
"My guess is we will officially announce plans in early spring," a source told the Star.
The Hockey News's Rory Boylen mentioned Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg in a top ten list of Hart Trophy candidates, but I'm surprised at how low Zetterberg's ranked:
9. Henrik Zetterberg: The Wings sit on the edge of the playoff picture, a diminished team without Nicklas Lidstrom. But the reason they’re still in the picture is because of the two stars they still have. Zetterberg deserves kudos for lifting Damien Brunner in his first NHL season and leading all Wings forwards in ice time.
It's been a while since Calgary Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester's name appeared in trade rumors, but it resurfaced when the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch claimed there was talk the Flames were willing to move him. Garrioch wondered if any club was willing to take on Bouwmeester's $6.7 million cap hit for next season. Another factor is his no-trade clause, which he'd have to waive to be dealt.
Having only one year after this left on his contract will make him attractive for clubs with cap space that are in need of skilled blueline depth.
Bouwmeester was also linked last summer to the Detroit Red Wings, who lack an experienced puck-moving defenseman and could afford his salary this season. Next season, however, could be a problem. With the salary cap dropping to $64.3 million and more than $45.8 million invested in 16 players, taking on Bouwmeester's salary would make it difficult to re-sign Valtteri Filppula, Daniel Cleary, Damien Brunner and Ian White.
Again, Drew Miller's also an unrestricted free agent-to-be, as is Kent Huskins, and Brendan Smith, Brian Lashoff, Joakim Andersson, Jan Mursak, Jakub Kindl, Gustav Nyquist and Tom McCollum are all coming off their entry-level contracts, so I don't expect the Wings to go after anyone who could screw up their cap situation going forward.
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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.