Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Blue Jackets set-up and overnight report: second half begins; Griffins win ‘Purple Game’

The Detroit Red Wings begin the second half of their 48-games-in-99-nights demolition derby with a pair of games against the Columbus Blue Jackets today (2 PM EST, FSD/FS Ohio/97.1 FM) and tomorrow (5 PM EDT--yeah, spring forward, bleh--FSD/FS Ohio/AM 1270), and the Wings spent Friday's post-practice media availability suggesting that, all things considered, they're happy with the way the 2013 season's gone thus far.

Heading into game 25, the Wings possess a 12-8-and-4 record--essentially, they're at .500--and their 28 points are good for 4th in the Western Conference, likely the highest spot they can possibly finish given the Chicago Blackhawks' first-half record.

For all the Wings' dominant play of late, Thursday's 3-0 win over Edmonton and Tuesday's 2-1 win over Colorado included, the Wings flew to Columbus separated from the 15th-place Blue Jackets by all of 8 points, and the 9th and 10th-place Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators have 25 points.

Going into what is such a road-heavy second half of the schedule the Wings have exactly three home games remaining (Sunday's game, a March 20th tilt against Minnesota and a game against Chicago on March 31st) out of the 11 games they're scheduled to play this month, and 3 and 5-game road swings on tap, the Wings are in a dogfight-and-a-half for their playoff lives.

Even if the team gets healthy and stays healthy--Valtteri Filppula expects to return from his shoulder injury during the Wings' Western Canadian road swing through Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver next Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; Darren Helm's skating but is probably a couple weeks away from returning from his back injury, though he's skating on his own; Carlo Colaiacovo remains mysteriously absent over a month after he was supposed to return from his shoulder injury; Todd Bertuzzi's "getting better" sounds like a clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and MLive's Ansar Khan confirmed that the team has no idea whether #44 will return this season via Twitter; and Ian White's pride is severely bruised--they face literal and figurative roadblocks along the way, including playing 17 of their second-half games away from the Joe...

But this weekend's opponent is of course the biggest roadblock, because:

A) They're standing in the way, ever-motivated to climb to within 4 points of the Wings and to take literal and figurative bites out of their Central Division rivals;

B) Because, after winning a 4-3 shootout decision in the second game of the Wings' season, Detroit's dropped 5-3 and 3-2 losses to Columbus;

C) And because the Wings have lost players to injury each and every one of the times they've played the Blue Jackets this season (see: Carlo Colaiacovo, Brendan Smith and Kyle Quincey) and perhaps forever (see: Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, and even Jonathan Ericsson stepping on a God-damned puck), making the Blue Jackets a very literally dangerous opponent to play.

The Blue Jackets are on quite a roll, too, having won three straight games coming into this afternoon's tilt, and they haven't lost in regulation time since February 24th. Columbus got a point out of Dallas during a  5-4 OT loss on February 26th, they earned a point against the plucky Blackhawks despite dropping a 4-3 OT decision on March 1st, they defeated the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 in OT last Sunday, they secured a 4-3 shootout win over Edmonton on Tuesday and they defeated the Vancouver Canucks 2-1 in OT on Thursday.

ColumbusBlueJackets.com's Rob Mixer reports that likely starter Sergei Bobrovsky (Jonas Gustavsson gets the nod for the Wings today) stopped 24 shots in Thursday's win, which involved disturbingly predictable (from a Wings perspective) clutch scoring from the Blue Jackets' forwards...

Matt Calvert's skill-laden overtime tally at with 56.9 seconds left in sudden death gave Columbus its third consecutive victory, a 2-1 decision over the Vancouver Canucks tonight in front of 13,632 at Nationwide Arena. With the victory, the Blue Jackets (for the time being) pulled within four points of the eighth and final playoff spot with exactly half of the regular season remaining, and it was definitely talked about amongst the players after the game.

It was a game played close to the vest by both clubs and it began to open up a bit in the third period when Columbus got careless with the puck, but Sergei Bobrovsky was on the case to keep it from getting out of hand.

RJ Umberger opened the scoring at 11:33 of the first period, tapping in a rebound created by a strong drive to the net by line mate Nick Foligno. Ryan Johansen started a cycle play deep in Vancouver territory, eventually feeding the puck to Foligno who then whipped a wrap-around chance off the far post. Umberger was at the net mouth, as well, and had an open net to beat Cory Schneider for a 1-0 lead.

Vancouver pulled even early in the third period after the Blue Jackets struggled to get out of their own end, and it was a ricocheted Dan Hamhuis shot that bounced right to Henrik Sedin, and the Canucks captain made no mistake in scoring his fifth of the year to tie things up at 1:05.

And with a few close calls along the way, the Blue Jackets clawed their way to overtime for a fifth straight game and kept their points streak alive -- but that wasn't going to be all for the home side tonight.

And the Blue Jackets suggested to the Associated Press that they're coming along while having secured points in five straight games:

"We're starting to learn how to win hockey games," Calvert said with a wide grin.

He took a pass from Fedor Tyutin deep in the defensive zone and chipped the puck along the right boards while twice fighting off defenders. He then went unimpeded to the right hash before whipping the puck high over the glove side of goalie Cory Schneider.

...

Calvert has been a revelation as the Blue Jackets have shown grit and hard work despite having the worst record in the Western Conference. No one is beating them badly, as evidenced by the fact they've played 15 games decided by one goal out of their first 24. Calvert has been the poster boy for the hard-working bunch.

...

Sergei Bobrovsky had 34 saves and R.J. Umberger also scored for the Blue Jackets, who with a new director of hockey operations (John Davidson) and a new GM (Jarmo Kekalainen) are trying to turn things around. They have three first-round picks in this summer's draft.

Down 1-0 going into the third period, the Canucks, who lead the Northwest Division but are just 1-3-2 in their last six games, evened things after just over a minute. Dan Hamhuis' pass from the left wing appeared to hit a couple of players before it bounced to the right doorstep, where Henrik Sedin was waiting. He lifted the puck above a sprawling Bobrovsky for his fifth goal of the season, extending his points streak to six games. Sedin has three goals and five assists during the streak.

Bobrovsky saved the Blue Jackets, who got a first-period goal from Umberger, on a short-handed chance late in the third. On a power play Johnson tossed a blind pass right to the stick of the Canucks' Jannik Hansen, who had nothing but open ice between him and Bobrovsky. He skated in, almost like a shootout, but Bobrovsky deflected the puck wide with just under 5 minutes left in regulation. Moments later, the Blue Jackets' Ryan Johansen had a one-timer from the right dot that clanged off the near post.

"I keep coming back to being resilient," Johansen said. "Our team, from Bobrovsky and (Steve Mason) on out, every night we're putting out a full effort. It's showing now the last few games. We're coming out with wins -- and that's a lot of fun."

Somewhat remarkably, the Blue Jackets lamented not putting the game away in the 3rd period, as noted by the Columbus Dispatch's Shawn Mitchell...

The Jackets had two power-play opportunities late in regulation but failed to get a shot off during either one. They were capped by a turnover by Johnson at the blue line that sprung Jannik Hansen, but his short-handed breakaway was caught by Bobrovsky with 4:41 remaining in regulation.

“Really disappointed with our power play in the third period,” coach Todd Richards said. “It was a chance to go out and win a hockey game in regulation, and we actually almost gave them the game on our power play.”

Calvert instead won it in overtime. He slipped through the Canucks defense, walked in on the net of Cory Schneider (25 saves) and, standing on one leg, snapped a rising wrist shot over the glove of Schneider. It was the first overtime winner of his pro career, Calvert said.

It was the Jackets’ fifth consecutive overtime game and ninth straight decided by one goal. They are 4-3-2 and have at least a point in its past five games. Every team the Blue Jackets trail has at least one game in hand, but they are only four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.

“We’re finding a way,” Richards said. “You can sense it in the locker room that the players are getting more confident. When you win, it gives you energy. I’m sensing that, with the players. They’re feeling better about themselves, about their game.”

But the Blue Jackets suffered a devastating loss when Derek Dorsett fractured his collarbone, ahttp://bluejacketsxtra.dispatch.com/content/blogs/puck-rakers/2013/03/gut-punch.htmls noted by the Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline:

An otherwise joyous night for the Blue Jackets was tempered by a serious injury to one of the club's most inspiring player. Right winger Derek Dorsett suffered a fractured clavicle at 1:36 of the first period, when he was driven into the net by Vancouver's Andrew Alberts. The club announced after the game that he's likely to miss the rest of the season.

It's a big blow for the Blue Jackets. Dorsett has three goals, six assists and 53 penalty minutes in 24 games. Last season, he had 12 goals, 20 points and 235 penalty minutes -- all career highs.

Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards did not comment on Dorsett's injury, other than to say he hadn't been given any injury updates on any of his players. The Blue Jackets announced Dorsett's injury to the media shortly after Richards had spoken.

The Blue Jackets' website reports that Dorsett was indeed placed on the IR so that the team could recall Nick Drazenovic from the Springfield Falcons on Friday, and the Dispatch's Shawn Mitchell duly noted that Dorsett's injury carves a hole in Columbus's lineup:

“You never know how injuries are going to affect your team,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. “But you’re taking a guy that plays the game with his heart on his sleeve out of your lineup and your locker room. It’s passion. It’s intensity. (The impact) is not going to be measured by goals or assists or anything like that. It’s going to be just the hardness of how you play the game because he drags people into the fight with him. You have no choice to but to (join him).”

Dorsett had three goals, six assists, a minus-11 rating, 53 penalty minutes and  -- new stat -- 167 infuriated opponents in 24 games. He led the NHL with 235 penalty minutes last season and chipped in 12 goals and assists in 77 games. It was a career year.

“Those types of players are tough to find,” Richards said. “I don’t think you’ll ever find the exact fit. The energy, intensity, passion and focus that he brings – it’s contagious. It’s infectious.”

....

“He’s a character guy,” [Derek]  Brassard said. “When things aren’t going well, that’s when you see the character of someone and he’s been really important for our team. But we have a lot of depth here. Guys are going to work harder for Dorse and the guy that takes his spot has to work as hard as he was. “

Richards was unsure how he would replace Dorsett on Saturday against the visiting Detroit Red Wings. Center Brandon Dubinsky has missed nine games because of a sprained left knee but participated in an optional skate this morning. He has skated with the team for three consecutive days. Colton Gillies, a healthy scratch last night, could also move into the lineup.

“It’s still up in the air,” Richards said. “We’re unsure about (Dubinsky), where he’s at. It. If we get him back in then obviously it becomes a pretty easy decision.”

Absent Dubinsky and with Dorsett in the lineup, the Dispatch reports that the Blue Jackets dressed the following lines on Thursday:

Umberger-Johansen-Foligno
Calvert-Anisimov-Atkinson
Prospal-Letestu-Dorsett
MacKenzie-Brassard-Boll

Tyutin-Johnson
Erixon-Aucoin
Nikitin-Prout

The Dispatch doesn't update its website with each day's stories from anywhere between 3:30 to 8 AM, depending on the day, and that's a huge problem in terms of my attempts to cover Columbus's side of the game. I'm not sure how Daylight Savings Time will affect things, but I can't imagine it'll help, so I need to put a big caveat here: You're going to get my best efforts in terms of posting news stories every night, but it's very difficult to do much more than offer a "quick take" and some highlights at the best of times for matinee games--even here in Detroit, the Free Press and News sometimes post articles about matinee games at 1 or 2 in the morning the day after the game--so it is entirely possible that some stories will slip through the cracks, at least in terms of "overnight" or "wrap-up" entries, as I do believe in sleeping at night on occasion.

I'm sorry if that's an inconvenience for you. :/

Anyway, from here we'll shift to NHL.com's game preview as it offers more substantive roster news for both teams...

Season series: This is the fourth of five meetings between the clubs this season. Columbus has won the past two in regulation and has picked up five out of a possible six points against Detroit.

Big story: It's the first of a home-and-home set between two teams that are playing well of late. Detroit is 5-1-1 with just eight goals against in its past seven games. Columbus has won three in a row and has points in five straight games.

Red Wings [team scope]: Top scorers Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Damien Brunner and Daniel Cleary have gone cold, but it hasn't mattered to the Red Wings, who are winning with defense and goaltending these days. This week alone they've beaten the Colorado Avalanche, 2-1, and the Edmonton Oilers, 3-0. The Red Wings gave the Blackhawks a run last Sunday before losing in a shootout, 2-1.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard is 4-1-1 with a 1.15 goals-against average in his past six starts. However, coach Mike Babcock said backup Jonas Gustavsson will get the start Saturday in Columbus, leaving Howard fresh to play Sunday against the Blue Jackets in Detroit.

...

Blue Jackets [team scope]: Columbus is looking to be perfect on its current four-game homestand, which ends Saturday. The Blue Jackets are 3-0 with overtime wins over Colorado and Vancouver and a shootout win over Edmonton.

Their past five games have all gone into overtime or a shootout. The Blue Jackets are 3-0-2 in those games. In fact, their past nine games have all been decided by one goal. The Blue Jackets are 4-3-2 in those games.

...
 

Who's hot: The Red Wings are winning, but nobody can be characterized as particularly hot. Datsyuk and Brunner have assists in each of the past two games and Drew Miller has three points in the past four games. … For the Blue Jackets, Nick Foligno has five assists in the past five games after producing only six points on two goals and four assists in the first 19 games.

Injury report: Filppula and Helm remain out of Detroit's lineup. Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder), Todd Bertuzzi (back) and Mikael Samuelsson (finger) are all still out as well. … For Columbus, forward Derek Dorsett was placed on injured reserve Friday because of his fractured clavicle and he is expected to miss the remainder of the season. James Wisniewski (foot), John Moore (upper body) and Brandon Dubinsky (knee) are all on I.R.

And the AP's preview offers some stats of note...

No Western Conference team has fewer points than the 20 for Columbus (8-12-4), but the club has turned in its best hockey during this run. The Blue Jackets have played five straight games that have gone to overtime and look to cap a perfect four-game homestand after Matt Calvert's game-winner in Thursday's 2-1 victory over Vancouver.

Ten of Columbus' last 11 games have been decided by one goal. The exception was a 5-3 loss at Phoenix on Feb. 16 in which the Coyotes scored into an empty net for the final tally.

...

The Red Wings have yielded more than two goals just once in their last seven games. Jimmy Howard is 4-1-1 with a 1.15 goals-against average in six starts in that span, making 22 saves Thursday for his second shutout of the season in a 3-0 victory over Edmonton.

...

Detroit is 0 for 16 on the power play against Columbus this season, 0 for 33 on the road and 0 for 10 in its last five games. The Blue Jackets have killed off all 18 penalties in their last eight contests.

Columbus has four skaters tied for the team lead with three points against Detroit this season, but two won't be available. James Wisniewski is out with a broken foot while Derek Dorsett sustained a broken clavicle Thursday and will likely be lost for the season.

Detroit's top four goal scorers are in the midst of droughts. Damien Brunner, Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Cleary haven't scored in five consecutive games, and Pavel Datsyuk has gone eight straight without a goal.

BlueJackets.com's Rob Mixer's game preview offers a "last word" from the Blue Jackets' side of the ice...

Scouting Report: The Detroit Red Wings heard people say they were getting older and couldn't keep pace with the injuries that have ravaged their lineup, but their play of late indicates that the words went in one ear and out the other.

Coach Mike Babcock may not have his full complement of players on hand but the club hasn't missed a beat in the last few weeks. Added to the injuries is a lack of scoring from the Red Wings' top players, but when you're playing defensive hockey as well as Detroit has of late, all you need is a goal or two to come out with victories. The Red Wings are 5-1-1 in their last seven games and have given up just eight goals in those games, and are coming off a 3-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers two nights ago at Joe Louis Arena.

With a bottom six comprised mostly of young players and call-ups from their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, the Red Wings have slowly start a rise up the Western Conference standings and have leap-frogged the St. Louis Blues for second place in the Central Division, which is a mighty 17 points behind the regulation-unbeaten Chicago Blackhawks. Detroit has won back-to-back games though it has struggled away from home ice this season, and earned two big points on the road last week in a 2-1 shootout win over the San Jose Sharks.

One might think a lineup missing Valtteri Filppula, Todd Bertuzzi, Darren Helm and other key components would battle inconsistency, but the Red Wings haven't shown many dents in the armor. Howard boasts a 1.15 goals-against average over the past six games, and though he's not expected to start Saturday's matinee against the Blue Jackets (Babcock indicated that Jonas Gustavsson will play in Columbus, and Howard will start Sunday in Detroit), he has given the Red Wings nothing to worry about between the pipes in their latest hot streak.

The Blue Jackets, winners of three straight games, look to make it a perfect 4-0 home stand this afternoon in kicking off a home-and-home set with Detroit. Sergei Bobrovsky is the expected starter in goal for Columbus, which is coming off a 2-1 overtime win over Vancouver on Thursday night.

Game notes: The Blue Jackets have accumulated points in five consecutive games and are 3-0-2 in that stretch. The last three have been wins over Colorado, Edmonton, and Vancouver. Columbus is now 4-3-2 in one-goal games this season.

...

- Nick Foligno has five assists in the past five games after producing only six points on two goals and four assists in the first 19 games.

- Penalty killing has been a strength for the Blue Jackets, and they have not allowed a power play goal against in eight straight games - the longest such stretch in franchise history. The previous best was a seven-game streak back in November-December 2001.

And DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose's game preview offers the Wings' perspective on the games to come:

No Ohio-based hockey team has ever posted a winning season against the team from the North. And that dates back to the Cleveland Barons of the 1970s. If Columbus wins at least one of two games from the Red Wings on the weekend, it would mark the first time a team from the state of Ohio has registered a winning season against the Original Six franchise.

The Blue Jackets will get two shots at hanging a third loss on the Wings this season when the Central Division rivals meet in a home-and-home series beginning Saturday afternoon at Nationwide Arena. In three previous meeting this season, the Jackets are 2-0-1 against Detroit. Despite their league-worst win/loss record, the Blue Jackets, for whatever reason, seem to have luck on their side when it comes to playing the Red Wings his season. In three previous meetings this season, Columbus has handed the Wings a pair of regulation losses in the last five weeks.

“I think they always play well against us,” Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “Now we have to be ready and play for 60 minutes. That’s been our problem against them.”

The physical Blue Jackets make life hard for teams that play a certain style. And the Wings, apparently, seem to be one of those teams that have found it difficult against the in-your-face Jackets, who are ranked second in the Western Conference in total team hits (596), and leads the conference in fighting majors (24) and penalty minutes (358).

Columbus has been involved in nine straight one-goal games, but is tied with Buffalo for the second-most one-goal losses (6) this season. The Jackets are 4-3-2 in their last nine.

“Just look at their last few games here they’ve been playing a lot better,” Ericsson said. “They’ve won a few games and have got their confidence up. They’re always a hard team to play against. They always play hard and if you’re not going to play your best game you’re probably going to lose. They have our number this year, so we better come out strong.”

Per the Blue Jackets website's game notes, Kelly Sutherland and Ian Walsh will referee today's festivities, but the Wings' power play is 0-for-the-road, so taking bets as to which Blue Jacket will target Jordin Tootoo might offer better odds of a payoff than a Wings man advantage situation today.

The Wings told MLive's Ansar Khan that they're well aware of the tasks at hand this weekend during Khan's practice report...

"I think they're getting good goaltending (from Sergei Bobrovsky, who's 6-6-3, with a 2.46 goals-against average), I think they're well-structured and they're working hard and they're a group that seems to have life,'' Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

This will be Gustavsson's second start this season. He is coming off a strong 25-save performance in a 2-1 shootout win at San Jose on Feb. 28.

“I'm happy with my first start, but that's in the past now,'' Gustavsson said. “Just got to look forward to the next game, put all my focus on that one. It's always a new challenge every time you go out there. You just got to be mentally ready.''

Babcock said the goalie is the only lineup change. No changes to the anticipated lines and defense pairs:

Johan Franzen-Henrik Zetterberg-Damien Brunner

Justin Abdelkader-Pavel Datsyuk-Daniel Cleary

Tomas Tatar-Joakim Andersson-Patrick Eaves

Drew Miller-Cory Emmerton-Jordin Tootoo

Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson

Kyle Quincey-Brendan Smith

Brian Lashoff-Jakub Kindl

Jonas Gustavsson (starting)

Jimmy Howard

But just as Babcock told the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness that he's wary of the challenges the Blue Jackets present ...

“The team we’re playing has got five out of six points against us and has really been hot lately,” Babcock said. “We have back to backs against them and they’re important four points.”

He and the Wings' players seemed satisfied with their progress thus far:

“We thought that if we had 30 points we’d be in a good position, so we came two shy of our goal,” Babcock said after practice Friday at Joe Louis Arena. “We actually had hoped to get 34. But we still think we’ve done a lot of good stuff and we’re getting better. We’re definitely getting better defensively and playing harder as a group and more structured and more organized.”

...

“I think we should be pretty proud of the fact they we’ve really buckled down defensively,” forward Daniel Cleary said. “Obviously, the injury bug was a huge factor for us. It was good to see guys come in and have an opportunity and play real well.”

...

“We’re heading in the right direction,” [Brian] Lashoff said. “We just needed to find a way to win with this group. I think sticking to the system, playing strong in our own end and getting it out of our own end as quickly as possible is something we’ve focused on the last couple of weeks and we’re not giving up that many goals because of it. If we continue doing that we’ll be fine.”

The Wings are 6-1-1 over their last eight games and have allowed a total of five goals during that stretch.

“I think our defense and Jimmy Howard has been really helping us out a lot,” Smith said. “We’ve had a lot of adversity with injuries. Now that we have pretty much everyone back, but we’re still missing guys like (Todd) Bertuzzi and (Darren) Helm who are a very big part of this team. The Red Wings are all about winning and have that competitive nature,” Smith continued. “You’ve seen them plug in Grand Rapids players and we’ve done really well. I’m not surprised.”

Babcock offered quite the quip to Pleiness in his main notebook:

“All those guys (from GR) got one game, period,” Babcock said. “And then they earned another game, and then they earned another game and I look down and they’ve played 14 games, some of them. Those came on an ad-earn basis.”

The Wings’ second half of the season isn’t as friendly when it comes to home and away games where 15 of their last 24 are on the road.

“We’ve just got to keep getting better and if we keep getting better every day we have a chance to be in the playoffs,” Babcock said. “And if we don’t keep getting better we won’t be in the playoffs. Obviously, health would be a great thing. It hasn’t been something we’ve been fortunate to have so far but I see Helm was skating before us and Fil was skating with us so it looks like we have guys on the horizon.”

Babcock reiterated his points to the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan...

"We still think we've done a lot of good stuff," Babcock said. "We're getting better defensively, playing harder as a group, and we're more structured and organized."

One of the key developments has been the maturation of young players, who stepped in nicely when injuries hit.

"It took a little bit to get used to all the new faces in the lineup," Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard said. "Now, guys are comfortable playing with each other."

The second half, however, will be imposing. The Red Wings have nine home games — 15 on the road. And while they are fourth in the West, they are three points from missing the playoffs.

"Just keep getting better," Babcock said of the second half. "If we keep getting better every day we'll have a chance to be in the playoffs. If we don't get better, we won't be in the playoffs, it's that simple."

And Kulfan offers player grades via photos (the Wings are playing 3 games over the course of 4 nights and 5 in 8, so if it's okay with you, I'd like to wait till Monday to do the same, minus the pictures, probably).

Amongst his comments:

Jimmy Howard (10-7-3, 250 GAA, .915 Sv.) -- Has handled a heavy workload very well, and doesn't show any signs of tiring. But a breather during some points of the second half would be welcome. GRADE: A-minus.

...

Jakub Kindl -- (17 games, 2 goals, 4 assists) -- Has played arguably some of the best hockey of his career in the last few weeks. Notice the plus-10, second best on the team. GRADE: B-minus

...

Ian White (14 games, 1 goal, 1 assist) -- A healthy scratch the last five games, one has to wonder what the future holds for White with the Red Wings. GRADE: D-plus.

...

Valtteri Filppula (19 games, 4 goals, 6 assists) -- A shoulder injury is the latest in a disappointing first half. The Red Wings need offense from Filppula, something matching last season's breakthrough. GRADE -- D.

The man in charge of the operation offered his thoughts on the team's collective performance to MLive's Ansar Khan:

“We're a work in progress,'' general manager Ken Holland said. “The best we're shooting for is the fourth seed; we're in the thick of things. All in all, lots of positive things happened. We're better today than we were a month ago. In the salary cap world, it's about qualifying for the playoffs and putting it all together at the right time.''

The Red Wings are playing their best hockey of the season. They are 5-1-1 in their past seven, having allowed only eight goals.

Their best players are leading the way. Henrik Zetterberg (26 points) and Pavel Datsyuk (24 points) are among the NHL's top 15 scorers. Niklas Kronwall has come on strong after a shaky start and is second among all defensemen with 17 points.Jimmy Howard has two shutouts and has allowed just seven goals in his past six starts. Damien Brunner leads the team with 10 goals, having made a fast transition from the Swiss league.

The silver lining in their rash of injuries is that young players called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins have gotten an opportunity and delivered.Brian Lashoff has helped solidify the defense. Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson have combined for seven goals, 13 points and a plus-nine rating.

They have room for improvement as a team because veterans Johan Franzen, Daniel Cleary and Filppula can play better. Kronwall feels the team is moving in the right direction.

“If you look away from the game against Colorado (2-1 win Tuesday), when we didn't play very well, we've been playing better hockey, the way we need to play,'' Kronwall said. “We're staying on top of (teams), being more involved all over the ice, getting great goaltending. Defense is looking better. Power play has to get better.''

Their power play and penalty killing both ranked 24th after Thursday's games. They haven't scored a power-play goal on the road (0-for-33). But, overall, Holland likes the style of hockey being played.

“If you're going anywhere you got to be good defensively, have to be comfortable in 1-0, 2-1 games,'' Holland said. “We're a lot younger than we've been in the last 15 years. I like what I see. I like the evolution that is going on. We're starting to play tight, grittier hockey.''

Daniel Cleary of all people may have offered the team's best first-half analysis to the Free Press's Helene St. James:

"I think we should be proud of where we are," Daniel Cleary said. "I thought we've battled hard." Cleary cited the early strong play of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk as crucial to the success, saying, "we had Pav and Z come in and carry us offensively. And with the injury bug that we've had, opportunities have opened, and you've seen guys play real well."

The Wings knew they were in for a tough transition as they faced a lineup absent Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart, but then on top of that came a domino-effect of injuries. Darren Helm, Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson, Jonas Gustavsson, Brendan Smith - the list is so long, it's easier just to point out that only eight skaters have played all 24 games.

"Missing Helmer and Bert, those are huge losses, that's an understatement," Cleary said. "And Sammy, especially, with his shot."

While numerous players nursed injuries, most of the ones that played nursed bodies adjusting from having not played since last April. Zetterberg and Datsyuk were the only stars to play during the lockout; Valtteri Filppula went to Finland, but didn't play after hurting a knee in mid-November. The majority of the Wings made do with three-times-a-week self-run practices at Troy.

"It was uncharted waters for everybody," Cleary said. "Nobody's gone from skating at Troy three-on-three to here-we-go, full five-on-five NHL action. We had Pav and Z going, and that was big - it bought us some time until guys started settle in. I mean, I know it took me 10-12 games."

Some of the bright spots have been seeing forwards Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson, and defenseman Brian Lashoff, thrive after being called up from Grand Rapids. Cory Emmerton, who wasn't even penned in as a regular when the season began, has done a serviceable job as the fourth- or third-line center, and Jordin Tootoo, Mike Babcock said, "has a dimension and we need to challenge him to bring it every night."

Niklas Kronwall said, "now we've got four lines going, which is huge. We've got scoring from all four lines. That's going to be huge for us going forward."

And she posted Friday's only video:

For the record, if you find yourself in Columbus today:
 

 

This morning's other story of note has everything to do with hockey and nothing to do with hockey. The Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs 2-1, scoring first and third period goals and engaging in a pair of fights, but even the Griffins website's recap notes that Tomas Jurco's 2-goal performance and Adam Almqvist's two assists were secondary in terms of what the game represented:

Tomas Jurco’s second two-goal game of the season complemented Petr Mrazek’s 30 saves and gave the Grand Rapids Griffins all the offense they needed on Friday, as they sent a sold-out Purple Community Game crowd of 10,834 home happy with a 2-1 victory over the Hamilton Bulldogs at Van Andel Arena.

The Griffins (33-19-2-2), who won for the fourth time in five games and the sixth time in their last seven home contests, improved to 14 games over 0.500 for the first time this season and increased their lead atop the Midwest Division to seven points over Chicago. They’ll host a Star Wars Night bout with the Lake Erie Monsters at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Hamilton goalie Dustin Tokarski, who had recorded two consecutive shutouts entering tonight’s game, saw that scoreless run snapped 13:43 into the opening period. During a 4-on-4, Louis-Marc Aubry chased down Jurco’s dump-in in the right corner and centered a pass back to the rookie, who demonstrated his tremendous hands by collecting the puck on the doorstep and quickly popping a shot past Tokarski’s glove, ending the netminder’s shutout streak at 161:02.

Joey Tenute evened matters at 3:45 of the second, crashing the net to slam home the rebound of Patrick Holland’s shot.

The score remained 1-1 until midway through the third period, when Landon Ferraro worked through a defender in the high slot before getting the puck to Jurco, who unleashed a wrist shot from the top of the left circle that deflected off Tokarski and across the line at 9:12.

After replacing Tokarski with an extra attacker with 90 seconds remaining, the Bulldogs (23-28-1-5) applied sustained pressure and had a great scoring chance denied by Mrazek with 11 seconds left. Hamilton took a timeout to plan its last-second strategy with a faceoff coming in the Grand Rapids zone, but the Griffins were able to clear the puck to secure the victory.

Tokarski, who backstopped Norfolk to the Calder Cup last season before being acquired by the Montreal Canadiens organization in a trade from Tampa Bay in mid-February, made 31 saves and helped thwart all five Griffins power plays, but he still suffered just his 11th loss in 40 appearances this season (22-11-4).

Notes: Grand Rapids' second annual Purple Community Game benefited cancer research at the Van Andel Institute...The Griffins’ fifth sellout of the season matched their total from the last two seasons combined (one in 2011-12, four in 2010-11) and are their most in any season since 2008-09 (six)…Grand Rapids has sold out four of its nine home games since Jan. 25…The Griffins’ average attendance through 31 home games is 7,239, a 1.7% year-to-date increase over last season. Through 31 games in 2011-12, their average was 7,119, en route to a season-ending 7,253.

The Griffins' website posted a photo gallery and a slate of highlights and post-game interviews...

And the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner spoke to Jurco about his mid-to-late-season renaissance after enduring a bumpy start to his pro career...

“I had been afraid of making turnovers and that’s was tough,” he said. “But it’s been a few months now, I’m feeling more comfortable and you can see I just don’t dump the puck and skate for it. I’m trying to make some plays now.”

Now paired with Landon Ferraro and Jan Mursak, Jurco had a goal and an assist in the Griffins last game, a 5-1 win at Milwaukee, before scoring in the first and third periods against Hamilton. It marked the third time all season he’s had points in consecutive games.

“The big change for me the past couple weeks is gaining a lot more confidence,” said Jurco, who now has 10 goals along with eight assists. ”I’m getting back to where I was in juniors and I’m hoping that will continue.”

Never mind the goals, coach Jeff Blashill said. He has seen a change in Jurco dating back two-plus weeks, a promising sight to the organization. Jurco, a standout stick handler, is becoming more aggressive with just that – his stick handling.

“He’s much stronger on the puck and he’s winning more puck battles and I think he has more confidence to hold onto the puck to make plays,” Blashill said. “He’s got outstanding skill. The thing young players have to learn is how to have the puck on your stick. In order to do that, he’s learning how to win puck battles.”

The Grand Rapids Press offers a photo gallery as well, but this story from Wallner tells you all you need to know about the game's purpose:

Haley Gort has been to a handful of Grand Rapids Griffins games, but she never had a view like Friday. And the crowd? She got one of the loudest ovations on the night.

The Caledonia High School senior, who just completed four weeks radiation Friday following a two-year battle with cancer of the pituitary gland, went on the ice and dropped the first puck at Van Andel Arena for the “Purple Community Game” to benefit the Van Andel Institute and cancer research.

“I’m not one to love tons of attention, but this is good attention, not bad, and for a good cause,” she said.

The 18-year-old was greeted by cheers as she dropped the puck before the game between the Griffins and Hamilton before a sold out arena. It came with a few bonuses, too, as she and her parents, Jodie and Quentin, and brother Dylan, were treated to a tour of the locker room and a chance to meet some of the players.

“This has been really fun,” she said. “One guy (Frances Pare) gave me a puck, another guy said ‘hey, I was going to give her the puck,’ and another guy gave me knuckles. Everyone’s been really nice.”

Just under a month ago, following chemotherapy, Gort returned to the Fighting Scots girls basketball team and got in a game briefly. Since then, she has gradually regained her strength. Gort’s mother called the night “a celebration” and said the tumor is gone and recovery is 90 percent.


Also of charitable note: If you're looking for somewhere to go after the game and you live in Southeastern Michigan, please remember that tonight, the Wings' Alumni Association will play a charity game in Brighton, MI;

And Team Tootoo posted a couple of Tweets regarding their merchandise:

 

 

Other prospect news: In the ECHL, the Toledo Walleye dropped a 3-0 decision to the Cincinnati Cyclones, and the Toledo Walleye's website provides a recap;

On the other side of the Atlantic, Alexei Marchenko played all of 7:27 and was a -1 in CSKA Moscow's second round playoff series-tying 2-1 win over Dynamo Moscow (second link provides Russian-language highlights);

Back over on this side of the pond, in the QMJHL, Xavier Ouellet scored a goal in the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada's 4-2 win over Baie-Comeau;

Phillipe Hudon scored a goal and took 7 of his team's 40 shots in the Victoriaville Tigres' 5-3 loss to Quebec;

Martin Frk didn't register a point in the Halifax Mooseheads' 3-1 win over Moncton;

In the OHL, Alan Quine registered an assist in the Belleville Bulls' 6-2 win over the Sudbury Wolves;

Jake Paterson stopped 40 of 43 shots and two of three shootout shooters in the Saginaw Spirit's 4-3 shootout win over Kitchener;

Ryan Sproul didn't register a point in the Soo Greyhounds' 6-2 loss to Guelph;

In the WHL, Richard Nedomlel didn't register a point in the Swift Current Broncos' 2-1 win over Moose Jaw;

In the USHL, Mike McKee registered an assist in the Lincoln Stars' 5-2 win over Muskegon;

In the BCHL, James De Haas didn't register a point in the Penticton Vees' 3-2 loss to Vernon;

And in the WCHA, the playoffs have begun, and Ben Marshall scored a goal in the University of Minnesota's series-opening 4-3 win over Bemidji State;

And Nick Jensen scored the game-winning goal as Saint Cloud State defeated Wisconsin 4-3.

 


Also of Red Wings-related note: If you missed it, Pavel Datsyuk delivered a one-liner and a half to DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose and the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness while discussing Justin Abdelkader's play:

“He goes through and gets the puck to me or goes back in front of the net and fights for every puck,” Datsyuk said, Friday afternoon. “Some people only measure him if he scores. But if you see him … he does a lot of hard jobs.”

Abdelkader was finally rewarded for his hard work when he scored his first goal of the season Thursday at Joe Louis Arena, which snapped a 41-game scoring drought.

Using an analogy to sum up Abdelkader’s contribution to the top six forwards this season, Datsyuk said, “It’s like somebody needs to pull the piano and somebody needs to play the piano. This is a guy who pulls the piano.”

Pleiness offered a quip from Babcock as his other "Quote of the Day":

“It hasn’t been something we’ve been fortunate to have so far but I see Helm was skating before us and Fil was skating with us. Looks like we have guys on the horizon.”

Regarding realignment, the Ottawa Sun's Chris Stephenson offered one take on the Wings' addition to the Northeast...Um...conference...

With the NHL Players’ Association giving its consent to realignment, there will be happiness in places like Detroit, Columbus and Minnesota which will see those teams grouped with teams in their respective time zones. The Wings, for instance, will play just three road games in their time zone this season. The Wings and Blue Jackets would play 68 games in the Eastern time zone compared to their current 50-53...The new alignment isn’t going to make everybody happy. The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers are now going to be in a division with Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo and Detroit. The trip to the Motor City is going to be the shortest for the Florida teams at about 1,000 miles and the Panthers and Lightning, like the other American teams in the division, will be spending a lot of time going through customs. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman estimates the border crossings can add up to 90 minutes to a trip and over the course of a season that can add up.

While the Toronto Star's Damien Cox focused on, well, Toronto:

The most significant move from west to east is, of course, Detroit, and this is an enormous victory for both the Wings and three other Original Six clubs. Detroit has patiently waited more than a decade to follow Toronto in a move to the east for a chance to get out of both the intense travel of the west and gain a preferable TV schedule for both the regular season and playoffs.

The Wings remain one of the league’s marquee teams, so putting them alongside Montreal, Boston and Toronto is, particularly for those with a historical bent, just terrific. Ottawa and Buffalo fit nicely, and nobody really cares where the two Florida teams go as long as there are winter road trips to Sunrise and Tampa.

It’s the best, most interesting division, at least from a Toronto perspective, and it has Steven Stamkos. Remember 15 years ago when the Leafs were in the same division as the Coyotes, Blues and Stars? This is miles better than that.

The long-term benefits of any realignment should be to enhance divisional rivalries, and given that they already exist to a substantial degree in this group, this should work beautifully.

Hard to say whether this will be the NHL’s best division. That will change over time. But from a southern Ontario perspective with an eye on hockey history, the only possible addition that would make this group even better would have been Chicago. And you can’t have everything in a league fighting the geographic challenges this league has.

As it is, Torontonians will love rekindling a rivalry with Detroit, a convenient, 4 1/2hour straight shot down the 401. It produced intensity during the Norris Division years and a memorable playoff series back in 1993 when the Wings dynasty was just getting rolling. Getting that fire roaring again shouldn’t take long.

In trade talk, the Sports Forecaster states the obvious regarding the Wings' possible trade deadline plans:

DETROIT RED WINGS: The Red Wings are still searching for an upgrade on defense...will they get it before April 3?

Former captain Nicklas Lidstrom has been replaced with quantity, not quality, on defense this season. Detroit boasts several quality prospects in the system, so a move for a top-four rearguard seems logical.

In kind-of-sort-of prospect talk, Calle Jarnkrok conducted a chat with Expressen that you might enjoy if you can understand Swedish. Expressen gives out a "Guldpucken" award, and they've named Jarkrok one of their candidates for the award--with the other canddiates being Gustaf Wesslau, Carl Soderberg, Joel Lundqvist and Joacim Ericsson...

Jarnkrok told Expressen's Magnus Nystrom that he's had an up-and-down season, but he's excited to begin the Eliteserien playoffs against AIK Skelleftea on Tuesday;

If you want to purchase the AHL's "Top Prospects" trading card set, the 75-card, $18.99 set includes Gustav Nyquist and Petr Mrazek;

What is hockey fandom like in Switzerland? The Red Wings Facebook page's "fan of the day" offers a picture of a baby born in Chicago wrapped in a Wings jersey with the #24 on it, and Blick.ch immediately assumed that the baby's a Brunner fan (see: Bob Probert and Chris Chelios also wore #24);

And finally, Fox Sports Detroit engaged in an understated "Off the Boards" discussion with Niklas Kronwall, who still seems to be a bit intimidated about his status as someone who can "Kronwall" opposing players:

Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink
 

Comments

w2j2's avatar

Using an analogy to sum up Abdelkader’s contribution to the top six forwards this season, Datsyuk said, “It’s like somebody needs to pull the piano and somebody needs to play the piano. This is a guy who pulls the piano.

Great Stuff.

Posted by w2j2 on 03/09/13 at 07:13 AM ET

stonehands-78's avatar

Great Stuff.

Posted by w2j2 on 03/09/13 at 06:13 AM ET

LOL agreed!


L.G.R.W.

Posted by stonehands-78 from the beginning ... a WingsFan, on 03/09/13 at 12:10 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Pav.  Brilliant.  And hilarious.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 03/09/13 at 12:48 PM ET

SYF's avatar

He’s a philosopher now?  Dangles: Renaissance Man.

Posted by SYF from Zata's Epic Viking Beard on 03/09/13 at 01:38 PM ET

Avatar

I think a more apt analogy is that you need someone to play the piano and you need someone to stand there in his overalls and stomping his foot out of time with the music while wearing an astonished look on his face because he doesn’t understand where the music is coming from.

In case you were wondering, Abdelkader is not the guy playing the piano.

Posted by Garth on 03/09/13 at 05:28 PM ET

Avatar

Wait, wait, I’ve got another one!  In this analogy, Datsyuk is the guy who plays the piano and Abdelkader pulls it, but Uncle Mike looks at the guy who just pulled the piano and says “You know how to pull a piano, so why don’t you sit down with the pianist and play a few songs?”

Posted by Garth on 03/09/13 at 05:30 PM ET

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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.