The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/07/13 at 03:39 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings have something of a problem on their hands. The Wings have dropped 2 straight games--an ugly loss to Columbus on Saturday and a disappointing showing against the Flames on Tuesday--and as the 4-4-and-1 Wings prepare to play their second of three February games against the St. Louis Blues tonight (8 PM EST, Fox Sports Detroit, Fox Sports Midwest, 97.1 FM), amidst a stretch of four games played over the course of six nights...
The Blues have played exactly one game since their 5-3 loss to Detroit last Friday night, and they played the kind of game which bodes poorly for the Wings: the Blues were thrashed 6-1 by Nashville on Tuesday, and the Blues aren't planning on going into their fourth meeting with the Wings next Wednesday, February 15th (oh boy, it's an NBC game) with anything less than a Wing-beating win in the fashion of the 6-0 beating the Blues inflicted upon the Wings on the 2013 schedule's opening night.
Blues captain David Backes (who you might remember was assessed a bogus match penalty in last Friday's game) told the Belleveille News-Democrat's Norm Sanders that the Blues plan on shaking off their loss against Nashville in order to render some vengeance upon the Wings...
"Disappointing but it's not the end of the world," "Backes said of Tuesday's loss. "We've got to learn from it and come back against a Red Wing team that we owe a little bit. It's hopefully a lesson learned that there's no nights off. There's no taking it easy."
And toward that end, the Blues were afforded the time to reflect upon what they did wrong on Tuesday...
On Nashville's previous visit to St. Louis this season, the Predators managed only 13 shots in a 3-0 loss to the Blues. This time they were facing a well-rested Blues team that hadn't played since Friday and chased Blues goalie Brian Elliott with four goals on their first 11 shots.
"I dont think we've played outstanding all year," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "We've found ways to win; we've spotted teams a goal or two and come back. We've played all right and hung on, but if we were having too much confidence after such a good start, then it's definitely a kick in the pants right now."
[Injured goaltender Jaroslav] Halak (3-0, 2.10 goals-against average) has dropped from a .926 save percentage last season to .889 this year. Elliott (3-3, 2.95) has dropped even further, going from .940 last season to .874 now.
"It's not going to happen overnight," [Blues coach Ken] Hitchcock said. "We can play better in that position. We can defend better, too."
And Backes delivered a downright Babcockian statement regarding his team's competitiveness...
"It's disappointing, no question," Backes said. "I think it's a case of feeling too good about ourselves after eight games, being at home where maybe some of us thought that we play well at home regardless. The preparation wasn't there."
In the midst of a four-game homestand in a 48-game schedule, the Blues cannot afford any prolonged slumps.
"You know it's going to be a playoff(-type) game any time you're playing within the Central," Blues winger Chris Stewart said. "Every game's crucial and it's a four-point game at the end of the day. Those losses definitely sting a little more than the other ones."
Because Blues coach Ken Hitchcock very specifically chose to not skate his team into the ground, and instead reinforced fundamentals. Hitchcock used to be quite the proponent of the "bag skate," but he told In the Slot's Louie Korac that he'd rather utilize what little "teaching time" there is in a 48-games-in-99-nights demolition derby to accentuate the positive:
"Because there's limited time to teach," Hitchcock said, specifically referring to Wednesday's practice at the Ice Zone. "... It was not long, but it was fast and furious. I think we're going to come with a good mindset moving forward now."
Depending on the coach or player, some might want to get right back at it the next day in game action. It can help alleviate all that went wrong the previous night, or help forget about it quickly. But the Blues wanted -- and needed -- Wednesday to get reacclimated with what's been ailing the last few days.
"We kind of needed today to get our act back together ... get a message from coaches," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "If we went back out today, it would have been hard to learn our lesson. I think coming and being able to see some video, just the obvious mistakes that we were making will hopefully be good for us. It was a slap in the face that we most certainly needed. I think it will be a good wake-up call for us and we'll be ready to go tomorrow."
As players have stated the previous couple days, they've gotten off to a good start but have gotten by with some late-game heroics to be on the plus side of the win column. But as Hitchcock said, one glaring aspect needs to be reaffirmed ... and done so quickly after a lengthy video session prior to practice.
"The video tells you everything. The details of checking have left us, so get it back as fast as you can," Hitchcock said. "You might win a game or two based on skill, but at the end of the day, if you don't have the details of checking, you're not going to win anything. It's not the quantity of chances you give up, it's the quality. The quality we gave up were just way too high. We had breakdowns at the net, little things at the end of the day that end up being big things. We stopped paying attention to some of the little things that mattered and it ended up biting us. It's the mindset when you go into the game ... are you going to check or you just gonna throw your sticks on the ice and play."
Yes, that's right, the gigantic Blues plan on checking the Wings into and possibly through the end and side boards all night long. Oh joy. Their goalie's pissed off about having been chased from the net, too...
""You don't get to this league without a sense of pride," said Elliott, who will get the start against the Red Wings while Jaroslav Halak (groin strain) recovers. "Nobody likes that to happen, but you have to take it for what it is and go forward. The more you beat yourself up about it, the more it hurts you."
And again, it's all about playing hard-charging, Dallas Stars-era hockey for Hitchcock, about checking, checking and checking some more...
"I think we just started the process. The hockey gods are going to make us pay for not checking, so we're going to have to check like crazy and then battle through to get back on the right page of things," Hitchcock said. "I think any team you see having to re-engage in the mindset of checking and managing the puck properly, it doesn't happen overnight. It kind of came on us quick from where we were.
"It started coming in the Detroit game, and it hurt us and then it came back and really hurt us against Nashville. We've got to get back on that page as quickly as we can, but realistically, I know as a coach that it doesn't turn automatic overnight. There's some mindsets that have to be impacted here, so we'll get to enforcing that. ... When we do practice as a group, you'll see more and more of them like the one today."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dan O'Neill has deemed the Blues' inconsistencies to amount to something of an "identity crisis" for the team, and he does so while weaving quite the tale:
Cracks in the foundation have materialized here and there. They were caulked with come-from-behind wins in Nashville and Dallas. But the cracks became more prevalent at Detroit on Friday, where the Blues fell behind 2-0 and eventually lost 5-3. That game also is known as the “Match Game,” not because Gene Rayburn did the play-by-play, but because David Backes received a match penalty that sparked Detroit’s winning goal. The major penalty was rescinded the next day by the NHL; the outcome was not.
Those foundation fractures turned became deep fissures Tuesday. Nashville, playing a seventh consecutive road game, showed more jump, more gumption and more attention to detail. The guys in blue, coming off three days of rest, starting a four-game home stand, were impersonators. And with a chance to rescind last Friday’s result while hosting Detroit at 7 tonight, the Blues’ practice Wednesday was purposeful, not punitive.
“It was a real good practice,” Patrik Berglund said. “It was a tough practice, which we deserved, but it was a practice to get us going for everything we can do to win (tonight). We learned a lesson (Tuesday) night. We weren’t ready to play from the beginning, and that’s something obviously we need to change. We were too comfortable out there, and that’s not how we play our game.”
To elaborate, Berglund added: “We had been winning every game at home, so far. I think we were light on the puck in the corners and we didn’t win the battles. We have to be better.”
It’s good to be light on your feet, particularly if you’re a dancer. It’s not good to be light on the puck. It is even worse to be light and loose with the puck, which has happened too often in recent games....
Visiting Detroit also has experienced turbulence since the “Match Game,” losing two straight. The Blues would do well to rediscover their identity tonight. “We’ll see if we can get it stopped and get back on track,” Hitchcock added.
Amongst O'Neill's notes from Wednesday afternoon:
Hitchcock indicated rookie Jaden Schwartz, a healthy scratch on Tuesday, will be back in the lineup against Detroit tomorrow. However, Hitchcock had not decided on who was coming out, or other lineup tweaks.
Blues netminder Brian Elliott is not a big believer in “bad bounces.” Elliott has had some lately, which helps explain his unsightly .874 save percentage. Elliott had a .940 SP last year, tops in the league.
But he's not looking for excuses. “You do work hard for your bounces and they work hard for theirs,” Elliott said. “It's about out-working the other team and that's when the bounces start going the other way.”
Defenseman Wade Redden's next game will be his 1,000th in the NHL. Redden will have a large contingency on hand to see his milestone game against Detroit on Thursday, including his father Gord, brother Bart and sister Niki. His mother Pat, passed away of cancer in 2006.
"It's a great milestone," Redden said. "I think when you look back at your career afterward, it's something you definitely can be proud of. To be around that long, not a lot of guys can say that."
According In the Slot's Louie Korac, the Blues utilized the following lineup for Tuesday's game...
David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Alex Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner-Scott Nichol-Matt D'Agostini/Ryan Reaves
Wade Redden-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott is in goal
NHL.com's Tal Pinchevsky frames tonight's game thusly:
Season series: This is the third of five meetings this season between these Central Division rivals, who will face off four times in the season's first four weeks before concluding their season series on April 7 in Detroit. St. Louis dismantled the Red Wings 6-0 in their season opener before the Wings got some revenge with a 5-3 win on Feb. 1. Detroit went 4-2-0 against St. Louis last season, winning all three contests played at Joe Louis Arena.
Big story: Both teams are mired in a two-game losing skid and hoping to snap that streak with a big division win. Goaltending has been a problem for these clubs lately, as Jimmy Howard has posted an .843 save percentage in his last two games while St. Louis' goaltenders sport a woeful .796 save percentage in the same span.
You already know what the Wings have done of late, so let's stick with the Blues for a moment...
Blues [team scope]: St. Louis came out flying early this season, posting a 6-1-0 record in January. But since starting the month with a 5-3 loss in Detroit, the Blues are winless in two games in February. Hosting the lowest-scoring team in the League on Tuesday, statistics dictated that it would be an easy night for the Blues, who allow a League-best 21.3 shots per game.
But division rival Nashville had other ideas. With starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak out with injury, the Predators feasted on St. Louis' defense. Ryan Ellis opened the scoring 2:10 into the game before Rich Clune notched his first NHL goal later in the period. By the time Kevin Klein and Gabriel Bourque scored a minute apart in the second period, the Predators led 5-0 in St. Louis and had chased Brian Elliott, who allowed four goals on 11 shots. Rookie backup Jake Allen didn't fare much better and the Predators ran away with a 6-1 victory despite being outshot 28-10 in the last two periods.
Who’s hot: Captain Henrik Zetterberg leads the Wings with 13 points and has 11 points in his last six games. Franzen has scored in consecutive games and has eight points in his current six-game point streak. … For the Blues, Alex Pietrangelo scored the lone goal against Nashville and has five points in his last five games. Rookie Valdimir Tarasenko has five points in his last six games while David Perron has seven points in his last five games.
Injury report: The Red Wings' infirmary is a busy place, as their injured reserve list includes Brendan Smith (shoulder), Jan Mursak (collarbone), Mikael Samuelsson (groin) and Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder). Center Darren Helm (back) is out indefinitely, as are goaltenders (Jonas Gustavsson (groin) and Joey MacDonald (back). … Halak, who is nursing a strained groin, is St. Louis' only missing player.
And the Associated Press's game preview will serve as our pivot point between the Blues and Wings' perspectives. It does so by laying out some unpleasant statistical facts:
The Detroit Red Wings' defensive issues can be partially traced to their poor penalty-killing unit.
Leaking goals is a more recent problem for the St. Louis Blues, but both clubs are staring at a potential three-game slide. The Red Wings and Blues are looking to show improvement defensively Thursday night when they meet for the third time already this season.
Detroit (4-4-1) opened the season with a 6-0 loss at St. Louis (6-3-0) on Jan. 19, allowing the Blues to go 4 for 5 on the power play. The Red Wings weren't much better in the latest meeting with the reigning Central Division champion on Friday, giving up two more power-play goals in a 5-3 home win.
Of the 28 goals Detroit has surrendered, a league-high 13 have come on the man-advantage. They've also allowed a league-high two short-handed goals - one to the Blues in the opener.
The penalty kill did Detroit no favors again Tuesday, giving up two goals, with one putting the Red Wings behind by two in the opening period of a 4-1 home defeat to Calgary. That came three days after they blew an early lead by giving up three straight goals in a 4-2 loss at last-place Columbus.
Howard has played all nine games, and he's 1-2 this month, compiling a 3.67 goals-against average and .857 save percentage.
"Obviously, he's been getting too much (work)," [Wings coach Mike] Babcock said.
We don't know whether Howard will play tonight, or whether Babcock did decide to start Petr Mrazek tonight while the team flew to St. Louis. What we do know from Wednesday's practice news is that Howard didn't practice, and that Babcock is concerned about Howard's workload, as he told the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:
“I’ll talk to Howie, see how he’s doing and then go from there,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Obviously, he’s been getting too much (work), he’s played great for us, but we’re giving up too much the last couple nights so get him freshened up.”
Petr Mrazek and Joey MacDonald shared the duties in practice.
Mrazek has played well in Grand Rapids, while MacDonald just resumed practicing after dealing with a bad back.
“Today was the first time that I had my own net, so it was good to work on the cardio and timing and stuff like that,” said MacDonald, who added he’ll see a back specialist Friday to see if he’s cleared to resume playing. “Every day feels a little better. I’d say by the end of the weekend if everything keeps going (I’d be ready) maybe Friday or the weekend or something.”
MacDonald hasn’t played since March 14.
Jonas Gustavsson (groin) skated on his own before practice, but there is still no timetable for his return.
“First of all I’ve got to be back to where I can do a full practice, and maybe a couple in a row, and then after that it’s just a matter of when you’re ready to play,” Gustavsson said. “It’s really tough to speculate how many days from now that’s going to be. I feel positive today. It was another step in the right direction.”
The Red Wings know that they'll continue to give up goals at an unacceptable level if they continue to take penalties at the same rate that they did over the course of their first nine games, as they told DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose:
Detroit has nearly doubled their penalty rate from a season ago when the Wings averaged the second fewest penalty minutes per game (8.5). Through nine games, Detroit is No. 20, averaging 15.4 PIM.
“If you look at them and go through them like I did, I don’t think anyone thinks, ‘Geez, that’s an awful penalty.’” Babcock said. “When you put your free hand on somebody you’re going to the box. You knock someone’s feet from under them you’re going to the box. So let’s look after it. Those are things we can control. The big thing for me is when it’s details and work ethic, things we can control, those things should never ever happen.”
Detroit has allowed a league-high 13 power-play goals on 43 chances. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall said that cutting down on the penalties will help a struggling penalty kill.
“We’re spending way too much time in the box, so we’re shortening out the bench as far as who’s playing on the PK,” Kronwall said. “We need to do a better job staying out of the box, but at the same time we need to play quicker on defense. Win the puck back, that way we can go on offense.”
Kronwall's taken the most penalties of any Wings player, and I would argue that he's getting the "Nick Lidstrom" treatment, being used as something of an example as he's the Wings' #1 defenseman--and a physical one at that--but he's part of the problem, too.
The Wings know that the standard of officiating under the NHL's supposedly new crackdown and "new" rules is spotty at best, as they told MLive's Ansar Khan, the team has to adapt to whatever's being called on a given night:
“When you put your free hand on somebody, you're going to the box,'' Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday. “You knock someone's feet from under them, you're going to the box. So let's look after it. When it's details and work ethic, things we can control, those things should never, ever happen.''
Babcock is particularly disturbed by needless offensive-zone penalties. His team took two in Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames. He said the issue was addressed heading into Thursday's game at St. Louis.
“Why would you shoot yourself in the foot?'' Babcock said. “You can say on a lot of those penalties, as a player, 'Oh, that's a cheap call.' You're in the box or you're not in the box, real simple to me. The bottom line is, you got an offensive-zone penalty. (Daniel Cleary) got two (Tuesday). We took a tough one (by Kyle Quincey) that put us down five-on-three. You're digging yourself out of a hole. We have to look after that.''
The fact that, as Khan points out, any and all contact with either free and open hands placed upon opponents and any stick contact with gloves are being called is a problem, as is the fact that players can no longer touch pucks during faceoffs, and that hand passes are illegal, period...
“Obviously, the rules are a little bit different, but that's no excuse,'' defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It's the same thing for everybody. Me and the rest of the guys need to do a better job of staying out of the box because it's costing us too much.''
Kronwall leads the club with 10 minor penalties and Cleary has nine.
“Stick down, move your feet,'' Kronwall said. “We're shorting out the bench as far as who's playing on the PK and stuff like that.''
But the stats, they stink:
The Red Wings ranked 28th in penalty killing (69.8 percent) before Wednesday's games. They have been particularly bad on the road (10-for-18 on kills, 55.6 percent).
"We need to be more organized,'' Kronwall said. “Sometimes, I think we're thinking too much instead of just going out there and staying on our toes, being aggressive. Sometimes, we're a step behind."
The Wings also spoke with the Free Press's Helene St. James about their penalty-taking problem:
"It's tough to get momentum going," Kronwall said. "There's no doubt, we've made some huge mistakes that cost us. We've got to stay out of the box."
That holds true for no one more than Kronwall. Jordin Tootoo leads the team with 30 penalty minutes, but 20 of those are from fighting majors and 10 from a misconduct. Of the ones who've left the Wings shorthanded, Kronwall has been in the box 20 minutes over nine games. Daniel Cleary is next, at 18.
"I think we haven't adjusted well to the new rules," Kronwall said. "They're cracking down on pretty much everything, and that's something for us players that we have to do a better job staying within the limits. Myself, I've taken way too many penalties, putting our team in trouble."
The Blues dinged the Wings for four power-play goals in the season opener, and St. Louis' power play still operates at a staggering 33.3%. The Wings' penalty kill has been sporadic at best and, after allowing five goals over the past three games, has dropped below 70%.
"We've got to bear down a little bit more on our clears and make sure every puck goes 200 feet," Justin Abdelkader said. "They've got a good power play, so we don't want to put ourselves shorthanded too much. It's a tough place to play. We've got to be up to the task."
If you add in the fact that the Wings' bottom seven...Erm eight...However you do the counting, Patrick Eaves is the only Red Wings forward not named Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Damien Brunner, Pavel Datsyuk, Valtteri Filppula or Todd Bertuzzi who has a point--a single assist--and that's a big problem, too, as the players suggested to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:
“We just want to keep improving our game and play the way we do and play with energy,” Justin Abdelkader said. “Everyone’s got to be better and we’ve definitely got to pull our end a little bit. Just keep funneling pucks at the net and eventually it’s going to go in.”
Of the four forwards that have played every game – Abdelkader, Daniel Cleary, Drew Miller and Jordin Tootoo – they’re a combined minus-11.
“Offensive numbers are going to come and go,” Abdelkader said. “I think you can always control your defensive play and attention to detail. You might win some 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 games. You don’t need to score four goals every night. We’ve just got to come out with better start. We might not be a team that’s going to score 4-5 every night, but we’ve got to play well defensively and not give so many chances and so many goals.”
Last season Miller scored 14 goals, while Cleary added 12 and Abdelkader eight. The three combined for 80 points. The biggest piece missing from the bottom six is third-line center Darren Helm, who’s played one game this season after hurting his back.
“When they get one or two goals ahead it’s tough to score sometime,” Henrik Zetterberg said referring to Tuesday’s loss. “But still, I think getting production from everyone would help too. But it’s almost if you play good defense and win 1-0 or 2-1 it’s better than winning 5-4.”
Coach Babcock believes that better defensive play will cure all wounds...
"When you’re not scoring, just don’t give any up and give your team energy,” Babcock said after practice Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena. “Just do good things defensively and everything else will work out fine. Let’s just keep plugging and go from there.
“When you look at the end of the game, our big dogs can’t get outscored 2-0 either,” Babcock added referring to the Wings’ 4-1 loss Tuesday to Calgary. “There’s a whole bunch of ways you can look at it. We’re in it together, that’s the great thing about being on a team. Sometimes guys pick you up and sometimes you got to pick yourself up. We got to be better, that wasn’t good enough.”
But you can talk about stats seven ways from Sunday, and ain't shit gonna happen unless the Wings step up their game tonight. They know, or at least they told the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan that they're aware of said concept:
Reeling with two consecutive losses to the two worst teams in the Western Conference, the Red Wings now have to play one of the best. The Red Wings visit St. Louis on Thursday, facing a Blues team that'll likely be angry after a 6-1 loss Tuesday, at home, to Nashville.
"Obviously it's a talented team that's a come off the rails a little bit but we'll probably have a tiger by the tail," coach Mike Babcock said. "Bu we should be the same way. It's two teams that need a win badly."
The Wings have split two games with the Blues this season — an ugly 6-0 loss on opening night Jan. 19, and a 5-4 victory at home Feb. 1.
"So far, St. Louis is definitely the best team we've seen," forward Henrik Zetterberg said. "They have four good lines, they work hard, and they play a good system."
Zetterberg summarized all of the storylines heading into tonight's game up, and tied them together with a bow (not really, but work with me here, my internet's been going in and out for the past two hours and I'm trying to keep from getting stabby as the customer service line closes at 10 PM) while speaking to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:
“The thing is we haven’t seen that many teams,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “You know, we’re been playing Columbus, St. Louis and Dallas it seems like the whole year. So far St Louis is definitely the best team we’ve seen and I think they have four good lines, they work hard, they play a good system and they’re real tough to play against. So the same way, they’re fun games because you challenge yourself to be good.”
The Blues scored four power play goals and one shorthanded in the opener. Three of their goals came on breakaways.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” Zetterberg said. “And if you look back at what happened the last time we were there we weren’t happy with the result and how we played. We want to come out and be a better team and play a good game.
“It’s crucial every night (to stay out of the penalty box),” Zetterberg added. “But if we take penalties, and we will, we’ve got to be better at the PK.”
Red Wings notebooks: The Wings won't receive any forward reinforcements of the substantial variety, like Darren Helm (back) or Mikael Samuelsson (groin), for at least another week or two, and on defense, Brendan Smith (shoulder) is out for a month, Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) is just starting to skate and in goal, Jonas Gustavsson (groin) is still a ways out, but MLive's Ansar Khan reports that Jan Mursak (shoulder) actually took part in Wednesday's practice festivitie...I mean activities:
Mursak on Wednesday participated in his first full practice with the team since he suffered a collar bone/shoulder injury on a hit from David Backes in the season opener Jan. 19 in St. Louis.
“I felt pretty good,'' Mursak said. “I’ve been skating for a few days now on my own. My shoulder is getting better. I’m still a week or two away from being able to get some contact on that shoulder. Hopefully, it goes the same way as it did the last week and I’m back playing pretty soon.''
The fast-skating right wing said he can do everything in practice, except take contact.
“I felt good shooting, passing and skating,'' he said.
Mursak probably won't be back for another week or two, either, but given the team's almost desperate need to inject a little speed into its "bottom six" (ahem!), progress is progress.
In the prospect department, in the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins exacted a measure of revenge upon the Houston Aeros, who defeated the Griffins in back-to-back games at Van Andel Arena right before the All-Star Break, winning a narrow 2-0 decision. The Griffins' website provides a recap...
So much for having to shake off any rust. After an 18-day layoff, Tom McCollum returned to action on Wednesday and stopped all 28 shots he faced to earn his second shutout of the season and lead the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 2-0 win over the Houston Aeros at Van Andel Arena.
McCollum, who hadn’t played since Jan. 19 while serving seven straight games as Jimmy Howard’s backup in Detroit, logged his 100th game as a Griffin and followed Petr Mrazek’s shutout of Abbotsford on Saturday with one of his own. The consecutive shutouts are the first for Grand Rapids since Dec. 20-21, 2008.
The Griffins (27-14-2-2), who restored their lead atop the Midwest Division to nine points over Chicago, will travel to Oklahoma City for a Friday-Saturday set against the Barons. Faceoff each night is 8 p.m. EST.
After having scored just one goal while being swept by the Aeros (22-18-4-3) and goalie Darcy Kuemper on Jan. 25-26 at Van Andel Arena, the Griffins solved Kuemper just 3:45 into the contest. Tomas Jurco carried the puck into the Houston zone and centered a pass to Brett Skinner that was immediately tipped ahead to Riley Sheahan, who scooped a backhand over Kuemper from close range.
With 1:48 remaining in the third period, Kuemper went to the bench in favor of an extra attacker. McCollum denied several scoring chances over the duration, and the Griffins appeared headed for their first back-to-back 1-0 victories in franchise history until captain Jeff Hoggan scored into the empty net with six seconds left.
McCollum won for the third time in his last four games and improved to 11-6-1 on the season with a 2.94 goals against average and a 0.905 save percentage. He helped increase the Griffins’ team shutout streak to 154:19, within striking distance of the club’s all-time mark of 184:07 set from March 1-7, 2002.
The Griffins' website also posted a Flickr photo gallery and a slate of highlights and post-game interviews...
And the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner spoke to McCollum about his win:
“Yeah, it’s been a while since I played in a game, but I just tried to keep it simple and, fortunately, the guys in front of me just played unbelievable and made for an easy night for me,” said McCollum, who picked up his second shutout of the season and third of his career. He came in with a 2.69 GAA and .899 save percentage.
McCollum was last in goal in back-to-back games Jan. 17 at Charlotte (5-3 win) and in relief of Mrazek two nights later at Rockford (11-6 win).
“It’s tough to go that long without playing but, unfortunately, I’ve had some experience with that in the past,” McCollum said. “But I got a chance to watch Jimmy Howard prepare for games every day and that was beneficial for me, and helped give me the confidence to go out there tonight and really play well.”
The Griffins (27-14-2-2) have back-to-back wins with a total of three goals. Mrazek blanked Abbotsford 1-0 on Saturday. It marked the first consecutive shutouts for Grand Rapids since Dec. 20-21, 2008.
The Griffins got all the scoring they needed four minutes into the game when Riley Sheahan converted a pass from Tomas Jurco and backhanded a shot past Darcy Kuemper. Just scoring against Kuemper was notable. The second-year pro had allowed one goal and notched a shutout in his two previous games against Grand Rapids this season, and was 4-0 in his career at Van Andel Arena.
“I think it was pretty impressive we could score that goal early and then keep it that way the rest of the way,” said Sheahan, whose 14 goals are third on the team. “I think everyone played a solid game and we were well structured defensively.”
The Grand Rapids Press also posted a 10-image photo gallery, and this is an important note:
Griffins center Marc-Louis Aubry completed his six-game suspension stemming from a Jan. 19 fight at Rockford.
And in the QMJHL, Xavier Ouellet registered an assist in the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada's 4-0 victory over Chicoutimi.
Also of Red Wings-related note: From the Wings themselves...
The Free Press's Helene St. James has learned how to make videos, and she's doing a great job...
Speaking of which, is there anybody who'd be willing to lend me a podcasting hand? Or a t-shirt idea? The budget here is string cheese thin, but any assistance would be appreciated as I don't have much resources in the way of professional development...
And in the "unprofessional development" news of the best kind, Fox 2's Ryan Ermanni reported about the Michigan Pond Hockey Classic in Whitmore Lake, MI:
Just as a personal FYI, I will be out of the hous...Condo...I mean home office to ferry the mom to some appointments on early Wednesday afternoon, so if anything earth-shattering happens at the "morning" skate, Paul will handle it. I'll be back just in time for the four to six inches of snow we're supposed to get on Thurdsay night, and the subsequent digging out of the two cars this household owns on Friday morning so that Mr. Plow can push snow around our condo complex's shared parking lot.
I really need a "Feelin' Stabby" button. I really do. Especially given that I have this bizarre phobia of sharp objects, and am more of a "blunt object" kind of guy. Go figure.
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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.