Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Blues set-up and overnight report: it’s a trap game!

I don't generally get too nervous about the Red Wings' opponents (nervous about everything else? Yes), but tonight's game against St. Louis (7:30 PM EST, NBC Sports Network/TSN2/97.1 FM) scares the hell out of me.

The Red Wings have won three straight games coming into their 3rd meeting with the Blues this month (the Wings beat St. Louis 5-3 on February 1st and 6-1 six days ago) and the teams' 4th meeting since the Wings' ugly 6-0 drubbing by St. Louis on opening night. While Sunday's 3-2 rope-a-dope win over Los Angeles was anything but beautiful, the Wings are feeling pretty good about themselves going into games 3 and 4 of their 4-game home-stand...

But the Blues are coming off a 4-1 loss to Los Angeles on Monday; and they went 0-3-and-1 on their four-game home stand, and the Blues are 0-for-February (0-4-and-1), having last won against Columbus on January 31st.

With Nicklas Lidstrom in attendance as he's in town to talk about his role with the Wings and attend 97.1 FM's SportsFest on Saturday, the Wings (who remain without Todd Bertuzzi as well as everybody else who's banged-up) face a final examination of their first-quarter progress while welcoming a snarling, angry 800-pound gorilla into their living room.

The big, bad and physical Blues aren't just intent upon checking the Wings into and through the end and side boards at Joe Louis Arena tonight: Ken Hitcock's Blues are an incredibly tightly-wound team that preaches Hitchcock's mantras, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dan O'Neill found that the man in charge sounded downright Babcockian on Tuesday afternoon:

Hitchcock offered a unique perspective on the state of affairs with his team, which is winless in five games.

“I told the players today, I've been through this a lot,” Hitchcock said. “And I look at this as an unbelievable opportunity to build your team, but only if you're willing to look in the mirror. It's an unbelievable opportunity to build a very strong fabric of your team. You just can't pass it up.

“If you pass it up, it maybe never comes back to you. Maybe we'd be like everybody else, flounder around, couple of games over, couple game under, win one, lose one … that type of thing. But if we really want to build our team, you can't get a better opportunity than what's sitting in front of us right now.”

The players agreed with their coach, obviously, as they told the Belleville News-Democrat's Norm Sanders...

"If we really want to build our team, we can't get a better opportunity than what's sitting in front of us right now," Hitchcock said. "This is the time hockey clubs are built because you have no choice -- you either come together or you go the other way. I've seen it both ways and I expressed my opinion today on what needed to change. By the response at practice it was exactly what we were looking for."

Blues players have been saying all the right things during the losing streak. They have talked about paying better attention to detail and holding each other accountable for their actions. However, those words have not translated into on-ice success and the losing has continued. Gone are the intensity, the forechecking, strong goaltending and smothering defense that were Blues' hallmarks last season.

"The talking's been done, there's no more great speeches that are going to pull us out of this," Blues captain David Backes said. "It's putting the work in and doing this on the ice."

What better place to turn things around than Detroit, a place the Blues typically have struggled even during their stretches of good hockey.

"We're going to have to be really good and it's going to take all 20 guys pulling the same rope," Backes said. "It's another team that will expose you if you're not doing it together, so there's no better time than tomorrow to turn it around."

Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo agreed.

"That would be an emotional win," Pietrangelo said. "It's always an emotional game when you go in to Detroit. We know what our game is and we know how to win hockey games, we did it all last year. We've got to get right back to it."

Now I'm a Wings fan, but I'm reading that as, "We're going to go into Detroit and beat the shit out of the Wings, just check them into dust, and we're going to light up Howard," but that's just me.

The Blues continued on their philosophical tack while speaking to In the Slot's Louie Korac (who also penned an article for NHL.com, profiling defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, if you're into that sort of thing), but they also suggested that going on a three-game road trip that starts in Detroit and then heads West to Calgary and Vancouver could help the team re-set itself:

"You enter a microscope when you're in your own building," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "You feed off the energy of the crowd, but you have to create that energy. We haven't done that and maybe the crowd hasn't been in it and rightfully so. We haven't played well. You get on the road, and those little things get your bench excited and when you silence the other crowd, that's a pretty big feeling. Maybe getting away from here, simple hockey, road gritty hockey is what's going to get us back on track."

Unless players look at themselves in the mirror, the fall could last longer ... and continue to be painful.

"We can talk all we want, but proof is on the ice and making a change there," center David Backes said. "It starts with me and it goes down the list to everyone on the team's got to be better, more accountable. ... There's no more great speeches that are gonna pull us out of this. It's putting the work in and doing it on the ice."

When it comes to the NHL, there are no easy fixes. The Blues created their own mess. They have to clean it up.

"I would say that this would be a fix that would require everything necessary to become a team," Hitchcock said. "It's hard, but then it can look easy. Once you become a team, then it looks easy but it's hard to do. ... What we need to do to get to the next level is hard, pretty emotional, gut-wrenching at times, but man, once you're there, it just seems like it's a lot easier than you thought it would be. But it's going to be difficult getting there. We're looking for the necessary sacrifices to start taking place."

But ...

"Sometimes you have this view that it's just going to happen rather than make it happen, and we're going through that process," Hitchcock added. "We're learning all of the lessons, hard lessons that teams like San Jose, LA, Anaheim, Vancouver had to learn. We're trying to learn all those lessons and win hockey games. They're hard lessons and we've got to find a way to learn them. What's great about this sport is that at the end of the day, it's all about how tight you can become. What can you give up, how tight can you become."

I'd argue that the Blues are a little too "tight" for their own good, but, again, I'm a Wings fan.

We could go on with this philosophical mumbo-jumbo, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Joe Strauss does just that, but in terms of stuff that's pertinent to tonight's game, the Belleville News-Democrat's Norm Sanders suggests that the Blues may very well "pull a Petr Mrazek" on the Wings.

Jaroslav Halak was supposed to return from a groin injury for Monday's game, but he re-tweaked it, and as such, St. Louis recalled top prospect Jake Allen from the Peoria Rivermen on Tuesday. Hitchcock told Sanders that he may start Allen tonight to give beleaguered starter Brian Elliott a break:

Hitchcock did not divulge his starter for Wednesday's game at Detroit, but Allen could get the call over the struggling Brian Elliott.

Elliott has been in net for most of the Blues' current five-game winless skid. Now 3-5-1, his goals-against average has risen to 3.57 while his save percentage has plummeted to .849. Elliott has allowed 28 goals in nine games after leading the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage last season.

Allen, 22, played for just over 30 minutes in one Blues game this season. He was 12-16-2 at minor-league Peoria with a 2.94 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.

"Before he came up to back up, he was playing the best hockey he's ever played in his life so we can't discount that," said Hitchcock, who plans to talk to goalies coach Corey Hirsch as well as his netminders before making the decision. "Brian struggled; sometimes a mental break for Brian might work, too."

Allen told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jeff O'Neill, who believes that Wade Redden will sit out tonight's game in Kris Russell's stead, that he's ready to go:

A second-round pick [of the Dallas Stars], Allen was the 34th player taken in the 2008 draft. He is still only 22 years old. But the 6-foot-2 netminder feels he has absorbed much and matured significantly since joining the organization in 2010.

“I’ve been rounding out my game since I turned pro,” Allen said. “This is my third year now, so I figure I have a little more experience and I’m a little more knowledgeable about the game.”

One thing seems certain, Allen is not overwhelmed by his surroundings. He has practiced often enough with the Blues and watched enough games from the bench to be over any “shock and awe” jitters.

“It’s a little faster (game), but really, I don’t even think it’s that much faster,” Allen said. “It’s just guys have better shots here, and you have to be prepared that way. But everyone can skate nowadays, especially in the American League. It’s just more a case of different systems here. Execution is better. You have to be prepared for everything, have to know where guys are on the ice. So, you just have to be a little bit more aware of your surroundings. I think that’s the biggest difference for me.”

For their part, the Blues are trying to identify the difference between a team that started the season 6-1 and a team that is 0-4-1 in the past five games while being outscored 26-11. For defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the name of the goaltender matters much less than the quality of the play in front of him.

“No matter who’s in the net, we’ve got to play better for him,” Pietrangelo said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. We’ve got to find a way to support them better. We’ve got to find a way to pick things up when things aren’t going right, because we know they have our backs when we’re not playing well.”

O'Neill sets up tonight's game as follows...

BLUES PREVIEW • Stuck in a downward spiral, the Blues are winless in five games, a spin that began with a loss at Detroit on Feb. 3. The Jennings Trophy winner last season for allowing the fewest goals, the Blues have allowed 26 goals in those five games. The Blues lead the NHL in power-play efficiency, but they rank 16th in 5-on-5 scoring differential. With 18 goals in 5-on-5 play, the Blues are no better than 22 of the 30 NHL teams. They are 24th in the NHL in penalty kill efficiency. After a fast start, rookie Vladimir Tarasenko has gone scoreless in four games and is a minus-7 in that time. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk leads the team in scoring with one goal and 12 assists. With Jaroslav Halak nursing a groin injury, and Brian Elliott slump-ridden, rookie Jake Allen could the start in goal.

RED WINGS PREVIEW • Detroit has won three in a row, including a victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. The Wings have allowed 15 goals in their last six games while scoring 18. Special teams have improved, with the power play going from 4 percent to 20 percent. Four of the Wings’ next six games are at home. But once they reach the halfway point of the 48-game schedule, the Wings play 17 of their last 24 games on the road, including 10 against teams in California and Western Canada. With five goals and 13 assists, Henrik Zetterberg leads Detroit in scoring. He had three goals and five points when the Wings beat the Blues 5-3 in Detroit on Feb. 1.

INJURIES • RED WINGS: G Jonas Gustavsson (groin) IR, D Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) IR, F Todd Bertuzzi (back) IR. BLUES: G Jaroslav Halak (groin) day to day, F Jamie Langenbrunner (torn labrum) out for season.

NHL.com's Brian Hunter's game preview almost serves as our pivot point between the Wings' and Blues' perspectives...

Last 10: St. Louis 4-5-1; Detroit 6-3-1

Season series: Fourth of five meetings between these Central Division rivals; the final one won't come until early April. After St. Louis cruised past Detroit on opening night, the Red Wings have evened up the aggregate score with a two-goal win and a four-goal victory. Henrik Zetterberg is the offensive leader in the series with three goals and six points.

Big story: These teams have proven since the season opener that it's easy to get carried away by first impressions. In the first game of the post-Nicklas Lidstrom era, the Red Wings looked like a club that would have trouble challenging for the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, while the Blues appeared a runaway train set to rampage through the Western Conference again. There's still three quarters of the season to go, but the fortunes of both have turned in the ensuing weeks.

...

Blues [team scope]: A big sigh went up Monday when it was assumed St. Louis was getting goalie Jaroslav Halak back in the lineup against Los Angeles, but then the Blues scratched him prior to the game with what's believed to be a re-aggravation of the groin injury that had him on injured reserve. Brian Elliott got the nod instead and the Blues went down to their fifth straight defeat, 4-1 at the hands of the Kings. A power-play goal by Alexander Steen late in the second period was all their offense.

...

Red Wings [team scope]: Halfway through a four-game homestand of its own, Detroit happens to be enjoying the results so far. The Red Wings have taken the first two at Joe Louis Arena and enter on a three-game winning streak overall. They can thank Jimmy Howard for Sunday's 3-2 win over the Kings, with some late help from Jonathan Ericsson. Howard made 37 saves in the first two periods alone, 45 for the game, and Ericsson answered a late L.A. tally by scoring with 4.5 seconds left in regulation.

"If you watched that game, I think you'd say Howie stole that one for us, no doubt about that," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.

Who's hot: Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has four assists in the last three games and 12 for the season, tied for fourth in the NHL and first among blueliners. … Zetterberg has six assists in the last four games and 13 for the season, tied for the League lead. Pavel Datsyuk has goals in consecutive games.

Instead, as this is an NBC Sports "Rivalry Night" game, I'll let their commercial for tonight's tilt...

And Keith Jones and Mike Milbury's pondering as to whether Pavel Datsyuk's toughness matches his skills serve as our fulcrum:

After Tuesday's practice, the Wings told the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan that their opening-night loss to St. Louis served as a big-time wake-up call for a team that had no preseason games to utilize to round out the rough edges of their individual and collective games...

"It was one of those games where nothing worked for us," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said of the opening night loss. "We didn't do anything right. We were two steps behind and taking penalties. Our penalty kill was horrible and power play was dreadful. Not a lot of things worked for us."

The Red Wings would normally shake off that loss and forget about it. But, interestingly, they seemed to carry around that ugly loss. It was almost as if the team needed to remind itself it needed to do better than that.

"We owed it to ourselves and our fans," Kronwall said. "Everyone in here felt we were a better team than that. It was embarrassing walking off the ice. You didn't want to show yourself at the restaurant or anything for the next few days. But since then, we've done better. There's a lot of things to be worked on, but it's moving in the right direction."

This will be the fourth game between these two teams in 13 games — the Wings winning the two meetings after the opening night loss and dictating the tempo in the victories.

"We need that every night," coach Mike Babcock said. "We did that against L.A., too. The first couple of shifts, they were better than us, and then we really got going.  That's what we've got to do to be successful. We have to be aggressive, we have to be on our toes. We've got to set the tone, and if we don't, it's not going to be pretty. We're a team that can win if we're organized, and look after the details and compete our butt off. If we don't do those three things, we have no chance."

Babcock may be the most competitive athlete in the Wings' locker room, but I loved how he told the NHL Network that he's "on Twitter, just listening," and he's also both incredibly intelligent and...Thankfully pretty blunt and to-the-point.

The Wings do indeed need to start the game on their toes, they need to utilize the same short diagonal passes from defensemen to three forwards (as opposed to trying to fire a three-line pass to one forward skating into 4 or 5 Blues) skating up against the Blues' trap, and when they're not a play to be made, the Wings will need to either dump the puck in and get their forecheck going on the Blues' defense instead of allowing the Blues to dump the puck in and check them into sawdust (which requires the Wings to "gap up" in the neutral zone, stand up at the blueline, defend as a 5-man unit and utilize their sticks and skates to block passes and shots), or the Wings simply need to forecheck by shooting as many pucks on Elliott or Allen as possible.

This team succeeds when it skates up and down the ice as a 5-man unit, when its defensemen don't skate so far apart from each other that there's a big fat hole through which Alexander Tarassenko can lurk and take breakaway passes, and this team succeeds when it alters its game to match its opponent's style. The Wings turned and burned against the Oilers, but they're going to have to gunk things up a bit and play a more grinding game against the Blues while trying their best to match St. Louis' intensity and attention to detail.

As Babcock tends to say, the Wings' "compete level" will tell us whether they're willing to stand up and fight or whether they're going to try to play the same rope-a-dope style they did against Los Angeles, which won't be as successful against the hard-charging Blues.

The Wings know that they'll have to continue to out-work the Blues without a chunk of their roster, but they told the Free Press's Helene St. James that they plan on building upon their road game in St. Louis last week...

Niklas Kronwall called that last meeting among the Wings' finest outings because, "we did the little things right," he said after Tuesday's practice. "Our forwards were tremendous, all over the place. We got great goaltending. I definitely think that was one of our better games this year."

Coach Mike Babcock said the same lineup that stretched the streak through the weekend will play tonight, not that there are many options. Unfortunately, neither Darren Helm nor Todd Bertuzzi was able to skate, despite several days to rest each forward's ailing back. All Babcock knew was that "they're unavailable to us," and general manager Ken Holland confirmed there is nothing new.

The news was better among those bothered by groin injuries: Mikael Samuelsson and Jonas Gustavsson practiced for the first time, and Samuelsson said maybe he'll be ready by the weekend. Gustavsson wouldn't pin a date on his possible return.

As Daniel Cleary put it, "we're still missing a full line of talented people. Missing Bert is a huge loss, missing Helmer is a huge loss. And missing Sammy is a huge loss."

The Wings have been carried by their captain Henrik Zetterberg, who has 18 points, and Pavel Datsyuk, who has 13. Those two generally can be counted on; the biggest difference from opening night is how much better the whole team plays together.

"It feels like we have better structure now," Kronwall said. "We're all on the same page and we're doing the little things better. We still have a lot of things to get better at, but it's going in the right direction."

That quote's a repeat, but this one from Daniel Cleary, via the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness, is different and wisely-stated:

Over the last four games St. Louis has given up 21 goals. In three of those four games, the Blues have scored just once in each of them. But despite the Blues earning just one point in February, they are just two points behind Detroit in the standings for second place in the division.

“It’s so tight,” Daniel Cleary said. “It’s going to come down to the last week of the season for three or four spots. We’re doing OK, getting better as a team which is normal,” Cleary added. “We’re happy with where we are.”

The Wings do expect to receive some help sooner than later, though Bertuzzi and Helm's backs are going to take a while to heal, and Brendan Smith and Carlo Colaiacovo's shoulder issues are likely to keep them out until at least the beginning of March:

Mikael Samuelsson (groin) and Jonas Gustavsson (groin) both took part in their first full practices in quite some time.

“When I come back, still don’t know, got to ask the coaches,” said Samuelsson, who has been out since Jan. 22. “I feel better and better each day. I feel really close.”

At first Samuelsson said he was hopeful to return by the weekend, but then shot that down after being asked by Babcock.

“We have a conversation every morning I come in, then in the afternoon and evening,” Samuelsson said. “When I’m on the ice we’re talking, too, and then we’ll decide what’s best.”

Gustavsson, who hasn’t played since the season opener, shared the net with Petr Mrazek in practice.

“Maybe a few practices and then I’ll be good to go,” Gustavsson said. “I’ve been feeling good every time I’ve been on the ice now. I’ve been trying to push harder and harder. Maybe the next practice I’ll try to make some more shots and then I’m good to go. It’s always tough to say exactly what game I’ll be back.”

The Wings expect Jimmy Howard to deliver a very solid performance against the Blues tonight, and while Howard doesn't want to face the 47 shots he did against Los Angeles, he told DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose that his defensemen and forwards did do some things that they can build upon while relying on his goaltending to defeat the Kings:

“One thing that hasn’t been keyed on is how well we did at really eliminating their second and third opportunities,” said Howard of the Kings. “There weren’t a lot of times when they were there whacking away. We were able to control sticks and get the rebounds out to safe areas.”

In a matter of two games, Howard’s goals-against average has dropped from 3.07 to 2.78. His explanation was simply, “I’m just seeing the puck well.”

Clearly, the one-game rest last week seemed to do the trick for Howard who has been a workhorse for the Red Wings over the last three seasons.

“He’s obviously been playing really well and playing a lot,” forward Valtteri Filppula said. “It’s really impressive of what he’s doing, really keeping us in the games, and he did that again on Sunday.”

Howard will get the start against the Blues on Wednesday. Though he has yielded nine goals in two previous games against St. Louis, he believes the Wings have figured out their Central Division rivals.

“I think halfway through the second game we played them we started to limit their opportunities,” said Howard of the 5-3 win on Feb. 1. “They're a team that likes to get on the forecheck, get through the neutral zone fast and use their big bodies and speed to wear on your D, so by cutting them off halfway through the second game – and then when we went back to St. Louis – we executed the game plan really well of hemming them in their own zone.”

Uh huh.

Against the Blues, Howard has an 11-5-1 lifetime record – his best against any NHL club – with a 2.55 GAA in 17 career starts.

Roose penned a Blues scouting report which included Damien Brunner's recollection of a David Backes hit during the 6-0 loss that literally knocked his block off...

The Red Wings and St. Louis Blues are far from being done. The two Central Division rivals are set to face-off for the third time in the last 13 days, and the fourth time this season, when they meet Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena. The WIngs have won the last two games against the Blues, out-scoring St. Louis, 10-4.

Considered to be one of the best body-checkers in the league, Backes leads the Blues with 35 hits, including his first of the season on Brunner.

“The puck was on the boards,” Brunner said. “I had it on my back-hand and I put it between the defenseman’s feet and I saw Pavel (Datsyuk) going toward the middle and I knew someone was coming. But in Switzerland you know the stick is coming, not the body. And he just crushed me. It didn’t hurt, or anything.”

The Jan. 19 hit left Brunner in a pile, his helmet knocked off. But the first-year player vows that won’t happen again.

“The first two games the helmet was a little too big, so it came off a little easier,” Brunner said. “It’s tighter now.”

PLAYER TO WATCH: D KEVIN SHATTENKIRK – What’s happened to the St. Louis Blues this month? The 26 goals that they have allowed in the five games are 12 more than they surrendered in the first seven games of the season. Shattenkirk and defenseman Barret Jackman are the only Blues with plus/minus ratings better than +1. Shattenkirk also leads the Blues with 13 points, making him just one of three NHL defensemen currently leading their respective teams in scoring. The others are Columbus’ Fedor Tyutin and Winnipeg’s Tobias Enstrom. Shattenkirk said recently that he believes the Blues have gotten too content and have allowed “a little bit of arrogance” to crept into that game.

NUMEROLOGY

Season Series: 2-1-0

2011-12 Season Series: 4-2-0

All-Time Series Season: 118-109-37-7

St. Louis’ 2011-12 Season Record: 49-22-11

Top Scorer vs. Red Wings: Kevin Shattenkirk – 1 Goal, 3 Assists in 3 Games; Alex Steen – 4 Assists in 3 Games.

Red Wings’ Top Scorer – Henrik Zetterberg – 3 Goals, 3 Assists in 3 Games

And a few stats from the AP's game preview will take us out:

St. Louis (6-5-1) was spectacular in a 6-0 home victory over Detroit on Jan. 19, but the Blues have lost twice to the Red Wings (7-4-1) during their 0-4-1 slide. They'll be trying to avoid dropping six in a row for the first time since a 0-5-2 skid Dec. 26, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010.

...

Detroit has won four straight home matchups with St. Louis, the most recent a 5-3 victory Feb. 1. Henrik Zetterberg matched a career high with five points in that contest, and he's among the league leaders with 13 assists and 18 points.

The Red Wings also won 5-1 at St. Louis last Thursday, as Petr Mrazek made 26 saves in his NHL debut with Jimmy Howard getting a night off.

That started this win streak for Detroit, which has taken the first two of a four-game homestand with one-goal victories over Edmonton on Saturday and Los Angeles on Sunday.

Pavel Datsyuk scored in both contests after going three games without a point.

...

 

Elliott has gone 0-3-0 with a 3.03 goals-against average in three career starts at Detroit, while Halak is 1-3-0 with a 4.48 GAA in his five there.

Howard has posted a 1.86 GAA in winning seven straight home starts versus St. Louis.

The Blues have converted on a league-leading 34.8 percent of their power plays, including 7 for 13 against the Red WIngs. Their woes occur at even strength.

Ah, yes, the penalty-killing unit...How that improves, I do not know, but it must improve and it must improve tonight.

 

 

 

Red Wings notebooks: Something old, something new, so to speak. The Wings' former captain, Nicklas Lidstrom, isn't just coming to town to attend SportsFest with his buddy Tomas Holmstrom on Saturday, but that's the story, as the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness notes...

Wings fans may get a chance Wednesday or at least by Friday to thank Nicklas Lidstrom one last time for this service in Detroit.

Lidstrom will arrive in Detroit sometime Wednesday to attend this weekend’s Fourth Annual Detroit SportsFest on Saturday at the Suburban Collection Showcase in Novi.

It’s not known whether if he’ll arrive in time for Wednesday’s game with the Blues, but he will be there Friday against Anaheim where he may drop a ceremonial first puck.

The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan assumes as much...

The Red Wings say Lidstrom is expected to attend both Wednesday's game against St. Louis and Friday's game against Anaheim. It's natural to presume Lidstrom will be acknowledged somehow by the organization, possibly by a ceremonial dropping of the puck in one of the two games.

And there ain't nothin' like re-stating the obvious, as MLive's Brendan Savage does (seriously, it's not a bad thing here):

The Red Wings will retire Lidstrom's No. 5 jersey in a banner-raising ceremony next season. They originally planned on doing it Feb. 5, but decided during the lockout that next season would be better due to planning and logistical concerns.

This week's appearances will be Lidstrom's first at Joe Louis Arena since he announced his retirement in May.

Lidstrom will be joined at the SportsFest by his good friend, Tomas Holmstrom, who announced his retirement prior to the Red Wings home opener last month.

There is an optional $10 fee for fans to be entered into a lottery for a chance to win autographs from select athletes that include Lidstrom. Proceeds will go to the 97.1 The Ticket/Beaumont Student Heart Check Program.

Other athletes including Holmstrom will sign free autographs on a first-come, first-served basis.

There will also be several interactive exhibits that include a skating experience on synthetic ice surface. Participants can bring their owns skates to take part in 15-minute sessions throughout the day. Fans can register at the Red Wings booth.

Admission is free and parking is available for $5 per vehicle.

More stuff is available here and at the Ticket's website, which states that Lidstrom and Holmstrom will sign autographs from 12 PM to 1:30 PM.

Here's the unofficial story as to what's probably going to go down between now and whenver Lidstrom leaves to head back home to Vasteras. We will not include, "He and Homer will hang out" (and he will visit his old neighbors in Novi, I'm sure) as this is kind of obvious.

1. Lidstrom is going to meet with some sponsors. This is kind of his job now;

2. Lidstrom will probably speak to the Wings' scouts about players that have caught his eye while watching games in Sweden and while very slowly being brought into the player development-scouting circle by Hakan Andersson;

3. Lidstrom, Ken Holland, and probably Jim Nill and the management--and maybe the ownership--will talk about fleshing out his role as a team ambassador, a part-time scout and an at-large member of the front office braintrust, to be consulted at times like the trade deadline and prior to the draft and free agency.

They'll try to figure out what Lidstrom thinks about NHL players who may be available come March or April, whether Lidstrom feels that anybody in Europe is worth watching, and the organization will definitely start to flesh out dates for Lidstrom's jersey retirement and a sort of schedule for him to a) return to Detroit later this season and/or before the draft and b) come to town a couple times next season.

This is the time where his job with the team becomes somewhat formalized.

4. Lidstrom will probably allow Mike Babcock to pick his brain;

5. Lidstrom will probably make an appearance on Fox Sports Detroit during Friday's broadcast, and/or make a radio appearance. We can assume that the press corps will be allowed to interview him once;

6. And there is no doubt whatsoever that Lidstrom will speak to the Wings' players, their leadership, and consult with his successor, Henrik Zetterberg. As MLive's Ansar Khan notes, Zetterberg's played fantastic hockey. His teammates have taken notice:

“Hank has been huge for us,'' defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Right now, he may be as good as I've seen him, the stuff he does out there, all the little things right. He's outworking everybody. Him and Pav (Datsyuk) are just tremendous.''

Zetterberg is third in the NHL with 18 points, behind Buffalo's Thomas Vanek (23) and Chicago's Patrick Kane (20). Zetterberg is tied for second in assists (13) with Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, behind Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay (14).

“I just go out and play, and the puck's been bouncing my way,'' Zetterberg said. “(Linemates Damien Brunner and Johan Franzen) have done a good job, and the power play has been better the last couple of games. So you just got to keep going. I know it won't last forever. You will have slumps when you're not scoring and getting points. You better be happy when they're coming.''

...

“He's one of those guys that just wants to improve every day,'' Kronwall said. “I think so far this year he's been one of the best in the league.''

Do we need to say that the new captain got quite the jump-start, and probably a Babcock-style sense of refreshment and, "Holy crap, I love this game and the lockout made me realize how much better I can be"-ism while playing with EV Zug and Damien Brunner during the lockout, all to the good? Yes, yes we do:

“Some guys say they got freshened up (with time off), but you never get in shape,'' Babcock said. “It’s going to take some time to find your game if you’re one of those guys. These guys have found their game quicker. (Zetterberg) has been awesome and so has Pav. You hope to get those guys going and everyone will follow. It’s great to be talented, but it’s another thing to also be real competitive and talented, and that’s what they are.''

This is not Zetterberg's best start. In 2007-08, he set the franchise record for longest points streak at the start of a season at 17 games. He had 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) during that stretch. Even before Zetterberg officially was named captain, Red Wings forward Damien Brunner saw his leadership ability when they were linemates for EV Zug in Switzerland during the lockout.

“A real good leader,'' Brunner said. “He’s not too vocal. When he says something he has a point. There are some guys who want to do too much and they talk too much. But Henrik knows when he needs to talk, and something smart comes out.”

Surprised? Not really:

“I think he's been a leader ever since he got here,'' Kronwall said. “He's just Hank. Still doing the right things, still working hard every day, in practice, games, doesn't matter. Representing the Red Wings perfectly. We couldn't have a better captain.''

I would like to say that I'd love to be a fly on the wall when Lidstrom and Zetterberg speak with each other, but I'm guessing that they'll do so in Swedish, which means I wouldn't get much out of it, and aside from that, something tells me that it's gonna go like this (imaginary and roughly translated from imaginary Swedish):

Lidstrom: "So, how's it going, Zata?"

Zetterberg: "Good, good. Learned from you?"

Lidstrom: "Do you need to ask me anything?"

Zetterberg: "Yeah, what's the deal with Larry Murphy's glasses?"

Lidstrom: "I think they're screwed onto his head. Anything else?"

Zetterberg: "No, I'll give you a call if I need something. And go talk to Homer, he comes down here sometimes looking like a lost puppy."

Lidstrom: "Sigh. Poor Homer."

And if you're interested, Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner posted a video blog in which he offers a first-quarter assessment of the State of the Wings, and he warns Wings fans to expect the Wings' collective tasks to get more difficult as...

The schedule gets more difficult. 17 of the Wings' last 24 games will be played away from Joe Louis Arena, and they'll spend a ton of time in Western Canada. Art kind of freaks out about the Wings' awful road stats and the fact that Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula aren't playing lights-out hockey, and he kind of freaks out in general, but I understand his desire to preach an abundance of caution thus far:

 

 

 

In the prospect department, the Grand Rapids Griffins issued their weekly press release, and here are the highlights thereof:

This Week’s Games

Fri., Feb. 15 - Lake Erie Monsters at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. - WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM / AHLLive.com

Sun., Feb. 17 - Charlotte Checkers at GRIFFINS - 4 p.m. - WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM / AHLLive.com

Last Week’s Results

Wed., Feb. 6 - Houston Aeros 0 at GRIFFINS 2 - 27-14-2-2, 58 pts. (1st, Midwest Division)

Fri., Feb. 8 - GRIFFINS 3 at Oklahoma City Barons 4 - 27-15-2-2, 58 pts. (1st)

Sat., Feb. 9 - GRIFFINS 5 at Oklahoma City Barons 7 - 27-16-2-2, 58 pts. (1st)

Not OK in OKC: The Griffins started last week off on the right foot, earning a 2-0 shutout victory over the Houston Aeros on Wednesday following a 28-save performance by Tom McCollum. It marked the second consecutive shutout for the Griffins, which matches a franchise record set six times before, most recently on Dec. 20-21, 2008. Riley Sheahan scores the game-winning goal and Jeff Hoggan added insurance after an empty net tally with six seconds remaining in the contest. Grand Rapids was strong in the beginning of each of last week’s road games against Oklahoma City, holding 3-1 leads at different points each night. But the Barons rallied both times, winning 4-3 on Friday and 7-5 in a Saturday game that featured a combined eight third period goals. Luke Glendening had a pair of goals in Friday’s loss, while Gustav Nyquist did the same the following night.

Back on Track: After losing back-to-back road games for just the second time this season, the Griffins will look to get back on track with a pair of home games this week. The team returns to action on Friday, hosting the Lake Erie Monsters at 7 p.m before welcoming Charlotte on Sunday at 4 p.m. Sunday’s game marks the fourth and final meeting between the Griffins and Checkers this season. Charlotte has won each of its three previous games at Van Andel Arena, most recently a 6-4 win on Oct. 26.

Three Wings prospects played on Tuesday, too. In the QMJHL, Martin Frk went scoreless in the Halifax Mooseheads' 7-1 victory over PEI;

And, via DRW Prospects on Twitter:

Calle Jarnkrok didn't register a point in Brynas IF's 4-3 shootout loss to Timra;

Mattias Backman didn't play in Linkopings HC's 5-3 loss to AIK Skelleftea;

And Teemu Pulkkinen didn't register a point in Jokerit Helsinki's 3-1 loss to Assat.

 

Oh boy, power rankings! Following up Monday's summation, three more slates of power rankings hit the wires on Tuesday...Well, two of 'em did. NHL.com's Dave Lozo included the Wings in his "Super 16" list for the first time, and he happened to post his list on Monday (sorry, it slipped through)...

9 [last week not rated] Detroit Red Wings: After finishing the 2011-12 season with the Ottawa 67's of the OHL, 20-year-old Petr Mrazek played three games with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL. He was promoted to Grand Rapids of the AHL and after 25 games with the Griffins, made his NHL debut Thursday and stopped 26 shots in a 5-1 win in St. Louis. Not bad for a 2010 fifth-round pick.

Sportsnet's Luke Fox gave the Wings a big promotion on his list...

7 [last week] 15 [Red Wings] (7-4-1):  It started with a trip into St. Louis that ended in a 5-1 romp. And it ended with a homestand handling of the Oilers and Kings. The L.A. defeat came with just four seconds left on the clock. Heck of a long weekend for a Detroit team that stumbled mightily out of the gate.

And SI's Adrian Dater, being Adrian Dater, let his emotions get the best of him:

9 Detroit Red Wings Last Week: 18: Hold your hearses. The Wings ain't dead yet. Pavel Datsyuk scored an amazing goal (video) in a 3-2 win over the Kings on Sunday. Other than Evgeni Malkin, I say Datsyuk has still got the best stickhandling skills in the league. Swiss rookie Damien Brunner (undrafted) has points in eight of his last nine games, too. How do the Wings always find European gems? Simple: astute scouting. If GM Ken Holland can address a need by prying a solid defenseman from another team, anything is possible with these Wings. Last week: 3-1-0

 

Also of Red Wings-related note: I'll let you scratch your head at ESPN's Pierre LeBrun's subtle hints about the realignment issue, but I do think that it's worth noting that the Wings aren't alone in wanting to play a more "centrally"-based schedule. The Wild want out of the Northwest, and as LeBrun found, the Blue Jackets plan on stealing the Wings' desired spot in an Eastern Conference:

Detroit, Columbus, Nashville and Dallas were among the clubs that had the most to say in the last go-around when realignment was a hot topic, the Red Wings and Blue Jackets being a pair of Western Conference clubs in the Eastern time zone with obvious travel complaints under the existing format. The Red Wings have longed for a return to the East, which the Jackets would also like.

"I know our fans have spoken loudly about wanting to be in the East," Blue Jackets president John Davidson told ESPN.com Tuesday. "Whether that’s feasible or not, the league will tell us. We’re waiting to find out what they have to say. We’re an organization that wants to do what’s best for us and our fans, but we also realize we have to do what’s best for the league."

Dallas has long wanted out of the Pacific Division, annoyed by its massive travel plus late starting times for TV in its divisional road games. So the December 2011 model certainly works for the Stars, who would play more clubs in the Central time zone.

"We’re fully on board with it," Stars president and CEO Jim Lites told ESPN.com Tuesday. "It needs to happen. You have to take care of Winnipeg, the Jets can’t run around in Carolina every night. That’s got to be fixed."

"Listen, there will always be issues no matter what," Lites added. "But what you can’t do is put your head in the sand about the Dallas Stars playing in a division that is two time zones away and the Detroit Red Wings playing playoff series every year against teams three time zones away. You have to address those issues, they’re anti-competitive."

The Wings would agree with that, but I just don't see Detroit being moved to anything other than a more central-U.S.-and-Canada-based division or conference.

LeBrun also pondered awarding trophies based upon first-quarter performances, and Henrik Zetterberg (MVP), Niklas Kronwall (best defenseman) and Mike Babcock (best coach) lost out but were named "candidates" for said awards,  and while ESPN's Craig Custance didn't pick Zetterberg as his Hart choice, he mentioned that ESPN's Steve Levy made a preseason prediction that might stick (in an insider-only blog entry):

Before the season started, ESPN's panel of hockey enthusiasts was asked to make predictions for all the major NHL awards. Five players were picked to win the Hart Trophy by the panel of 12, with Steve Levy's bold Henrik Zetterberg prediction actually looking quite possible. A total of 20 candidates were picked to win the four major awards -- the Hart, Norris, Vezina and Calder trophies. That left plenty of other players to emerge besides the favorites that included usual award contenders such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Zdeno Chara and Henrik Lundqvist.

This was the year for bold predictions, like Levy's. The short season provides the opportunity for a dark horse candidate to emerge this year and that's exactly what has happened one quarter of the way through the regular season.

Zetterberg was named a "finalist" in NHL.com's Dave Lozo's Hart-assessing article (he's giving it to Pekka Rinne for now):

Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings -- The 32-year-old has taken on more of the leadership responsibilities with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom and has lifted the Red Wings. He has 18 points in 12 games while playing regular minutes on the penalty kill. Zetterberg is playing about 21 minutes per game and scoring at a career-high pace. He continues to prove that he is one of the game's best two-way players.

For the record, Joey MacDonald practiced with the Calgary Flames for the first time on Tuesday, and while he got some flak for continuing to wear his Red Wings mask, he told the Calgary Herald's Scott Cruickshank that coming to Calgary via the waiver wire was a pleasant surprise...

“I was on my way to Grand Rapids,” said MacDonald, who’ll wear No. 35 for the Flames. “I had stuff ready to pack. Got the call at 12:30. Then a three o’clock flight. It was a quick turnaround, but I was excited to come to a team like this. A great organization. To get an opportunity, it’s going to be huge.”

With Miikka Kiprusoff sidelined for another two weeks, with Leland Irving taking his first serious plunge into the National Hockey League, MacDonald promises to be ready. He’s ready now, in fact.

“I could probably jump right in,” said the Pictou, N.S., native. “I’ve been going pretty hard for the last three weeks in Detroit. But you can practise all you want, it’s not the same as a game. Once you get a couple games under your belt, that’s the most important thing. Once you get one or two, then it’s just like riding a bike. You don’t lose it, (you just need) a little tweaking here and there.”

Irving, as MacDonald entertained a gathering of reporters, shuffled over a couple of stalls to get some breathing room. His relationship with the career backup is about to begin.

“I’ve played against him in the American league and we have mutual friends, obviously, in the hockey world,” said Irving. “He seems like a great guy. I realize that Joey has a lot of experience. I’ve heard nothing but great things about him. He’s here to help the team, no matter what the situation is. We’re just trying to win.”

Because of a back injury, MacDonald hasn’t played games since March — 11 months ago. He had undergone surgery in 2006 and the latest setback, a bulging disc, was scar-tissue related. Now he says he’s fine. His gear, not so much. MacDonald’s pads and gloves — red and white — are perfectly coloured, sure. But his mask features a rather large winged wheel and a tribute to Chris Osgood. That has to go.

“I’ve got a new one — it’s in the shop getting painted,” he explained. “I had one ready to go, all white. I told them to hold off on the paint till we figured out what was going to happen.”

No one’s really sure when the veteran will be on full display.

“Right now, we’re evaluating his conditioning, his game,” said coach Bob Hartley. “Obviously, I met with him (Tuesday morning). It was brief. It was very positive. I sat with Jiri [Hudler] (on Monday) and he told me all great things about Joey MacDonald. He’s bringing depth to our goaltending. That’s great news for us.”

And the Calgary Sun's Scott Cruickshank found that MacDonald not only came highly recommended from Hudler and Alex Tanguay, with whom MacDonald played in the QMJHL, but he's also seen as more than a band-aid by Flames GM Jay Feaster:

“MacDonald is someone our scouts have identified as an ‘acquire in trade’, as we call it in our scouting system,” Feaster said. “He’s a player we had talked about as recently as the start of training camp, at our mid-winter pro scouting meetings. We made the decision, because he’s a guy with 101 games of NHL experience, that he was a player we wanted to add to the mix. We felt pretty strongly about Joey MacDonald as an experienced veteran backup goaltender. That’s why we submitted the claim.”

Feaster said acquiring a goaltender on a gameday was a distraction but insisted the Flames would have grabbed the journeyman ’tender whenever he became available.

“If this player had been on waivers three weeks ago, we would have put in a claim three weeks ago,” Feaster said. “If he’d been on waivers one week ago, we would have submitted a claim one week ago.”

MacDonald said hearing the Flames had wanted him for some time made him excited to get to the Stampede City.

“It’s great to have teams out there interested in you,” MacDonald said. “I didn’t think I would get claimed just because I haven’t played a whole lot. I was just going to go down to Grand Rapids (with the AHL’s Griffins) and work hard and, hopefully, get the opportunity somewhere else down the road. But (the second chance) came quicker. To come to a team like this with great history, it’s going to be good.”

In the charitable news department, 13ABC.com's David Holmes reports that the Toledo Walleye will be holding a blood collection drive next week...

On Tuesday, February 19, 2013 from 2 p.m. – 7 p. m. the Toledo Walleye will host their 4th annual blood drive at the Huntington Center in downtown Toledo. The blood drive will be held in the Aquarium at the arena, located at 500 Jefferson Avenue in Toledo.

Everyone who comes to donate at the Walleye blood drive will receive a ticket to a Walleye game! To schedule an appointment, call 1-800-RED CROSS or they can visit redcrossblood.org and enter the sponsor code: TOLEDOWALLEYE

When donors come to give blood they will:

►Receive a ticket voucher to a Toledo Walleye game! (limited quantity of 200)

►Enter to win Toledo Walleye memorabilia!

►Enter to win a Toledo Walleye Experience package!

►Meet Toledo Walleye players and mascots!

►Enjoy FREE parking at the Port Lawrence Garage! (receive your free parking pass at the blood drive)!

►Help save lives!

"We are thrilled to continue with this tradition with the Red Cross! We know how important it is to keep blood levels up and the best way for us to help is by hosting a blood drive. We are inviting the community to schedule an appointment to donate blood and help save lives!" says Cheri Pastula, Manager of Community Relations for the Toledo Walleye.

While the need for blood is constant, particular times of year present unique challenges for blood collection.

"At any given moment, patients rely on life-saving blood products. The need is constant -- even in emergency situations," said Tiffany Gradel, Spokesperson for the Western Lake Erie Region of the Red Cross.  "The quickest help will come from local blood donors."

And finally, I still can't get over how big Patrick Eaves' dog, Rueben, is. The Wings could sign Rueben to a pro try-out if they ever get too low on defensemen...

Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink
 

Comments

w2j2's avatar

The Wings have played better WITHOUT Todd Bertuzzi.

cool smirk

Posted by w2j2 on 02/13/13 at 07:05 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

I agree with w2j2.  I think sometimes, when the team starts to play well, the insertion of guys who have been out can just upset the apple cart.  I’m glad we’re going with the same line up as the last game.

I get how this could be a trap game, but the Blues - despite what they are saying - have got to be shaken a bit confidence-wise, while the Wings are getting more confident with each outing.

LGRW!

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 02/13/13 at 08:28 AM ET

Crater's avatar

Interesting question that just popped into my head. Do Lidstrom and/or Homer play in Sochi? Bit of rest for both of em, if they kept in shape no reason they couldn’t make a showing for their country.

Posted by Crater from SoCal on 02/13/13 at 12:20 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

No. My understanding is that Lidstrom is very, very happily retired, and hasn’t laced up his skates for any sort of competitive or even casual hockey game. He’s still working out, but he doesn’t want to work back into game shape, which is the whole reason he retired…And Holmstrom’s knees are bad enough that he’s going to need them to be replaced at some point. They’re going to stay retired.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 02/13/13 at 12:33 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.