The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/07/13 at 04:09 PM ET
Updated 2x at 4:02 PM: As Paul noted (sorry, I was out of the office to ferry the mom to a doctor's appointment...Which took forever), the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues will face off in something of a grudge match this evening (8 PM EST, FSD/FS Midwest/97.1 FM) with a surprising protagonist: the Wings will start Petr Mrazek in goal tonight, and the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan asked Wings coach Mike Babcock why he's made this executive decision:
"We didn't think he (Howard) could play 48 straight," Babcock said. "We thought we'd get another goalie back — we were assuming Gus (Jonas Gustavsson, groin) would play, maybe Mac (Joey MacDonald, back), but that never happened."
Mrazek, a 2010 fifth-round draft pick, has been outstanding in Grand Rapids, going 16-7-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.
"He just wins," said Babcock, noting Grand Rapids was 0-4-1 to start the season before Mrazek was moved up from Toledo (East Coast League) and sparked a Griffins' resurgence. "Nothing seems to faze him. All he did was come in there (Grand Rapids) and change the whole thing. He's been the berries everywhere he's been, so let's watch him."
Mrazek says he's got no worries and no fear in making his NHL debut against the powerhouse Blues, who are coming off a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the Nashville Predators:
"I'm never nervous," said Mrazek, a Czech Republic native who counts former Red Wings goalie Dominik Hasek as one of his hockey heroes. "I will go there and play my best and enjoy every minute of it. It's been a great season so far and I hope it will continue."
Howard (4-4-1, 3.07 GAA, .892) hasn't looked as sharp the last couple of games.
"It hasn't been going exactly the way I would have liked out there," Howard said. "You use this (day off) to do more work with (goaltending coach) Jimmy (Bedard), which I haven't been able to do a lot of. You want to be out there every single game for the guys but it's just one of those things. It's good to just hit the refocus button here."
Babcock told the Free Press's Helene St. James that Howard rather desperately needs the rest...
We didn't think he could play 48 straight," Babcock said. "So we thought we'd better give him one. We felt, after the last two games, that Howie needed a mental break. He needs a day where he doesn't have to think about getting ready to start."
Elsewhere in the lineup, Brian Lashoff is in on defense, replacing Kent Huskins. The forward group is the same one that played Tuesday, except Todd Bertuzzi is back on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula, and Tomas Tatar drops to the third line with Justin Abdelkader and Daniel Cleary.
St. James posted a video interview with Mrazek...
And MLive's Brendan Savage is confirming:
Detroit Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek will make his NHL debut tonight against the St. Louis Blues. Mrazek will play to give Jimmy Howard a breather after Howard started all nine games this season.
Mrazek started the season with Toledo of the ECHL before being promoted to the Red Wings' top farm club in Grand Rapids. As MLive.com first reported Sunday, he was recalled by the Red Wings when Jonas Gustavsson's groin continued to keep him sidelined.
In 25 games with Grand Rapids, Mrazek had a 16-7-1 record, 2.26 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. He also earned a spot in the AHL All-Star Game
In three games with Toledo, he was 2-0 with a 2.02 GAA and .944 save percentage.
Mrazek, who turns 21 next week, was the Red Wings fifth-round pick (141st overall) in the 2010 NHL entry draft.
Savage is also asking fans to weigh in as to whether Jordin Tootoo's decision to drop gloves for predetermined bouts is a good idea...
ANSAR KHAN: If ever there was a time for a staged fight, it might be tonight against the Blues' David Backes, who has been a one-man wrecking crew against the Red Wings in two games. Tootoo for Backes would also be a good trade-off for the Red Wings. But they probably wouldn't be on the ice together for a faceoff.
Anyway, Tootoo's first few fights were good for the team. It provided a spark for his teammates and created a buzz in the arena. It sent a message to opponents that the Red Wings were capable of fighting back.
But, it will get a little silly and perhaps lose its effectiveness if it continues to happen after faceoffs, especially the opening faceoff. It's better when it happens in the heat of the moment, after a questionable hit or a physical battle.
BRENDAN SAVAGE: I like hockey fights. Always have and always will. Some of probably stems from a lifetime of following minor-league hockey, first as a fan and then 18 years as a beat writer for The Flint Journal. Nothing puts excitement into the arena like a good fight, which I think is a legitimate and necessary part of the game.
I don't have a problem with staged fights as long as they don't get out of hand and become a spectacle that overshadows the game. (Well, unless it's McCarty vs. Lemieux.) What I don't like, however, is a staged fight where two guys drop their gloves and dance around for an eternity. That's usually a waste of time.
As for Tootoo? So far I have no problem with what he's been doing. A buzz goes through the stands at Joe Louis Arena whenever he hits the ice and the excitement level goes up several notches when he drops his gloves. That's something the Red Wings have needed for a few seasons.
I say keep it up. Red Wings fans need something to cheer these days.
A back specialist believes he has discovered the cause of Darren Helm's back issues, and it's good news for the Detroit Red Wings.
“After doing all the tests, he's very confident there's nothing significant,'' general manager Ken Holland said Thursday. "It's either a small ligament strain or a ligament tear, likely a strain. He gave him an injection, there was immediate relief.''
Helm won't do any on-ice or off-ice workouts until at least Monday, when he'll be reassessed. There is no time frame for his return.
"The doctor is optimistic he's found the problem,'' Holland said.
The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness confirms, too...
“He had an MRI before and they ruled out a disc problem,” Holland said. “He had a bone scan and they ruled out a fracture. So a whole bunch of things have been ruled out.”
Helm has played on game this season.
Helm has been on the wrong end of a rash of injuries of late. He missed the Wings’ week-long training camp and the first three games of the season with a back injury, which was the first of his playing career. He hit by a puck on Nov. 2 during an informal skate in Troy, breaking an orbital bone.
On March 17, he missed the final 10 regular season games with a sprained MCL. Then, in his first game back, the playoff opener against Nashville, he had tendons in his forearm sliced by a skate.
The Wings have missed Helm’s speed and last season coach Mike Babcock called him the best third-line center in the league.
Pleiness spoke to Mrazek on Monday, raising the prospect of the prospect playing for the Wings...
“I didn’t expect to come up this quickly,” Mrazek said after he was called up from Grand Rapids on Monday. “It’s my first year in the pro hockey and it happened, so I’m really happy.
“I’m trying every game to be the best and stop the most pucks and can and be focused,” Mrazek added. “That’s all the goalie can do.”
In 25 games with the Griffins this season, Mrazek is 16-7-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average with a .916 save percentage. On Saturday he recorded a shutout, making 32 saves, against Abbotsford and recently made 53 saves in a win over Hamilton.
“I’m trying to practice hard every practice and if the chance is coming for me to play, or if something happens, I will try to do my best,” said Mrazek, who turns 21 on Thursday. “I’m ready.”
In terms of Blues news, NHL.com's Louie Korac's posted both teams' lineups...
Johan Franzen - Henrik Zetterberg - Damien Brunner
Valtteri Filppula - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Daniel Cleary - Justin Abdelkader - Tomas Tatar
Drew Miller - Cory Emmerton - Jordin Tootoo
Niklas Kronwall - Brian Lashoff
Kyle Quincey - Jonathan Ericsson
Jakub Kindl - Ian White
Scratches: Patrick Eaves, Kent Huskins
Injuries: Jan Mursak (shoulder), Darren Helm (back), Mikael Samuelsson (groin), Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder), Brendan Smith (shoulder), Joey MacDonald (back), Jonas Gustavsson (groin)
Note: Bertuzzi will play in his 1,100th career game tonight.
David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Alex Steen - Chris Stewart
Jaden Schwartz - Patrik Berglund - Vladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir Sobotka - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves
Wade Redden - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak
Scratches: Matt D'Agostini, Jamie Langenbrunner, Ian Cole
Injuries: Jaroslav Halak (groin strain)
And he offers a Blues-centric game preview on his blog, In The Slot:
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock loves Jaden Schwartz's game so much, he hates having to pull the 2010 first-round pick out of the lineup. But Hitchcock's early beef with the 20-year-old Schwartz has been his willingness to defer scoring opportunities.
The 61-year-old Hitchcock even mentioned as such last week prior to the Blues' game against Minnesota, and Schwartz has sat two of the last three games. But the rookie will get back into the lineup tonight when the Blues (6-3-0) play host to the Detroit Red Wings (4-4-1) at Scottrade Center (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
Schwartz, who started the season playing alongside Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart but dropped to the fourth line a couple times, will get the opportunity to play with Berglund and fellow 2010 first-round pick Vladimir Tarasenko, while Stewart jumps up to play with Alex Steen and Andy McDonald. But for Schwartz, who has one assist in seven games, Hitchcock wants to see more of a selfish attitude.
"I've just got to shoot it more," Schwartz acknowledged this morning. "I don't know if you can call it deferring every time you make a pass. You've got to make the pass when it's there. That's a given. It's just when the opportunity comes, I've got to shoot it. Playmaking's always been a part of my game. When the pass is there, I usually make it, but I can shoot the puck a little more. It's something I've been working on. I've been doing it in practice, so hopefully it carries over to the game."
Looking at the numbers, when Ryan Reaves plays, the Blues are 6-1-0. When he's out of the lineup, the Blues have not won a game, going 0-2-0. But in looking at his game, Hitchcock feels Reaves alters his course at times and becomes inconsistent. The coach wants more of a consistent game, and when the Blus get it, Reaves becomes a tough player to play against.
"We need the game on a consistent basis, which is a north-south game, not east-west," Hitchcock said. "When he plays north-south, he's a very difficult player to play against. That's the game we're looking for on a consistent basis. When he plays like that, he's a tough guy to have to compete against. When he's got that mindset.
The Blues have been looking to re-establish their forecheck, and Reaves is a guy that can lead the way.
"I don't know if it's going to be one guy," Reaves said. "I think it has to be collective. I think there's going to have to be some guys that will have to stand out, kind of lead the charge a little bit, but I think in order for us to be successful, I think it's going to have to be every guy kind of going hard on the forecheck and making sure that their defense aren't looking over their shoulder every time the puck goes deep."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jeremy Rutherford confirms the Blues' lineup changes, and he offers more Wings-Blues news:
In his first test with Jaroslav Halak (groin) out of the equation, Blues goaltender Brian Elliott wasn't sharp in Tuesday's 6-1 loss to Nashville. He allowed four goals on 11 shots before being replaced by Jake Allen, who was tagged with the last two goals. But in reviewing the game, Hitchcock says he's being careful not to put too much blame on Elliott. On two of Nashville's goals, shots were deflected in off the sticks of the Blues' Alex Pietrangelo and Roman Polak.
"(Elliott) has had a couple of tough outings," Hitchcock said. "We just need to find a way so Brian can catch up to the pace of the game and the pace of the play ... (but) that's a hard evaluation because a lot of the goals that are going in are going in off our sticks. That's why I'm not prepared to sit here and say like a lot of coaches do, 'Well, we need better goaltending.' What we need is solid positioning around the goaltending and not scrambling back to position. When you scramble back to position, you end up in situations where you've got the wrong piece of equipment trying to block the shot. And that's why you see deflected pucks off skates, off blades, off shafts ...because you're scrambling back into position.
"When you play loose and you play with a sense of offensive flair without the conscious defensive structure, you end up scrambling back in your zone. Nothing good happens when defensemen are skating forwards back into your zone. And that's where we've caught ourselves. The wrong people are skating the wrong into our zone. We don't give up many chances at all. But the ones we give up are with people skating the wrong way, and that's why we get ourselves caught with these funny goals."
Detroit coach Mike Babcock has long been signing the praises of Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, and recently he was at it again.
Babcock told Detroit reporters, "One of the best players in the league, in my opinion, is Pietrangelo. He’s a Nick Lidstrom-type guy with his calmness and his execution and his offensive ability and his ability to play defense without being involved physically. I think he’s a special player and I’ve been saying that for a long time now. Now it’s showing. As you saw, Nick made a huge difference for us. (Pietrangelo) makes a huge difference there.”
- Blues defenseman Wade Redden will play in his 1,000th NHL game tonight.He becomes the 31st active player to reach the milestone and the 10th active defenseman. Redden is the 11th player in club history to hit 1,000 games while playing for the Blues.
- The Blues are 6 for 10 on the power play in two meetings against the Red Wings this season.- Andy McDonald has a six-game point streak (2 goals, 6 assists) against Detroit going into tonight's game.
If you're interested in reading more about Redden's 1,000th game, Korac penned an article for the Blues' website talking about Redden's NHL comeback, and the Blues' website posted clips of Redden discussing his milestone in the making...
And Jaden Schwatrz talked about returning to the Blues' lineup, too:
Update: WOW, I apparently missed a Twitter firestorm regarding Mrazek's start, at least if I'm looking at RedWingsFeed's timeline...
NHL.com's Louie Korac also spoke to Mrazek about his first NHL start...
Mike Babcock felt like Jimmy Howard couldn't play 48 straight games, so the Detroit Red Wings coach is going to give a young Czech Republic native his first experience in the National Hockey League.Petr Mrazek will make his NHL debut tonight when the Red Wings face the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.
Mrazek, 20, was recalled as the Wings have a host of injuries, including to goalies Jonas Gustavsson (groin) and Joey MacDonald (back). Plus, Babcock feels like Howard needs a break. He's started all nine games for the Red Wings this season and in a compressed schedule, could use a breather.
Mrazek, who played for the Czech Republic at the 2011 World Junior Championships and was named to the tournament's all-star team, including the top goaltender award, was 16-7-1 for the Red Wings' American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids. He had a 2.26 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage and was a member of the Western Conference all-star team.
"I'm really excited," said Mrazek, who includes Dominik Hasek and Marc-Andre Fleury as his idols growing up. "I didn't expect it to happen that fast, but I can't wait for tonight. I will try and do my best to stop the pucks tonight. I will enjoy every minute on the ice."
Added Babcock: "This kid ... he's been the berries everywhere he's been, so let's watch him.
"He just wins," Babcock added. "Nothing seems to faze him ... he just wins. Grand Rapids was 0-4-1 when he arrived there, and then all he did was come there and change the whole thing."
If you really want to read up about Redden, KSDK has also posted a profile of him, and if you want to read an in-depth scouting report of the Wings from an opposing media perspective, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jeff Gordon posted one...
And amongst our background information weaponry, from the Windsor Star's Bob Duff...
From the Wings...
The Wings posted a video of Ken Kal speaking to Jim Nill about Mrazek, which was filmed in early January...
You may take this for what you will...
Michigan Hockey posted a spiffy little video from the Griffins...
Ken Kal offered some factoids via his Twitter account...
Kal offered three "Keys to the Game" to the Wings' Game Day Blog:
Stay Out of the Box - The Red Wings have killed only 4 of 10 penalties against St. Louis so far this year, so the Wings have to be aggressive, but disciplined.
Bring the Energy - St. Louis prides themselves on outworking their opponents, so the Wings need to compete for 60 minutes and play a solid road game.
Get a Power Play Goal - The Wings are 0/22 on the road so far on the Power Play. The Blues are tough to score on, so the Wings need to capitalize on the Power Play and get it going tonight.
And, also from the Game Day Blog:
On This Day in Red Wings History...
On February 7, 1956: Gordie Howe scored the 300th goal of his NHL career in a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Update #2: MLive's Brendan Savage talked to Jiri Fischer, the Wings' director of player development, about Mrazek:
Mrazek could very well be Howard's heir apparent and the Red Wings have been excited about him since last year's world junior tournament in Calgary.
"He was the goaltender of the tournament," said Jiri Fischer, the Red Wings director of player development. "He was the guy who took all the spotlight and at the same time wasn't affected by the media, all the hype and 20,000 people at the games. He loved it. He thrived in that tournament. He couldn't get enough of it. Petr spent three games in Toledo, earned himself a call-up and the rest is history. He's played in the AHL All-Star Game. He has just a ton of passion and is one of the more mentally strong guys out there."
Howard, whose 527 minutes played rank fourth in the NHL, said he could have started tonight if needed. But he admitted getting the day off was nice in the sense that it will allow him to get in some extra work with goalie coach Jim Bedard.
"Obviously, you want to be out there every single game playing for the guys," Howard said. "It's just one of those things. Babs decided to go with someone else tonight. Stuff hasn't been going exactly as I would have liked out there. But I'll use this to do some work with Jimmy, which I haven't been able to do a lot of. It's good to refocus."
Howard said he won't have any words of wisdom for Mrazek before tonight's game. They've already spoken – Mrazek found out Wednesday he was starting – and Howard advised the rookie to just go out and play, stay in front of the puck and don't try and do too much.
Howard still recalls the afternoon leading up to his NHL debut in 2005-06.
"I wasn't nervous at all," he said. "It was more excitement. I think that's what he's feeling. I wasn't nervous at all until Stevie (Yzerman) told me I better not lose this one. That's when the butterflies probably kicked in a little bit."
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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.