The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/02/13 at 04:28 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings took a very short, 27-minute flight to Columbus to prepare for tonight's game against the Blue Jackets (7 PM on FSD, FS Ohio, 97.1 FM) a world away from the team that had its collective ass handed to it on opening night, courtesy of the St. Louis Blues.
The Wings' 5-3 victory on Friday night was an identity-defining one and then some.
The Wings definitely received a fortunate "bounce" in what may have been the strangest miscalculation by officials on Joe Louis Arena ice since Tomas Holmstrom saw a goal waived off against the San Jose Sharks on the night before Thanksgiving, 2008, when he was 10 feet away from the crease--while David Backes definitely hit Kent Huskins, and apparently hurt Huskins, there's no way in hell that Backes should have been assessed a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for a hit to the head--but the Wings also needed it to some extent, and just as no team gave the Wings any sympathy when Holmstrom's goals were waived off, legal or not, the Wings can't afford to not take the breaks afforded them.
Again, they needed the break: this team still in search of itself, with its personnel in flux thanks to retirements, voluntary exits and this year's cavalcade of injuries, raced out to a 2-0 lead over the hard-charging Blues, scoring two goals in just under two minutes, surrendered the 2-1 goal within two minutes of taking that 2-0 lead, let the Blues tie things up three minutes later, and by the 4:30 mark of the second period, surrendered a lead that would take the Wings a full period to assuage.
By the time Pavel Datsyuk scored the game-winning goal eleven-and-a-half minutes into the 3rd period, the Wings looked unstoppable, but between Zetterberg's second goal at the 8:05 mark of the first period and Datsyuk's goal at 11:55 of the 3rd, the Wings looked, at times, anyway, vulnerable, slow, skittish, indecisive, intimidated and sometimes downright confused and frustrated with themselves.
Thankfully, Zetterberg and the Wings didn't have any sympathy for the Backes or the Blues--and Jimmy Howard thankfully had a resilient groin, because Justin Abdelkader tossed Patrik Berglund into Howard about halfway through the second period, but Howard managed to shake it off--and while the team's still giving up at least one power play goal per game, while the team's bottom six forwards have all of 1 point and while this team is still in rather desperate need of some consistent play...
Leaders have to point the way for their teammates on a team in transition, and Zetterberg (3 goals and 2 assists, and if you print out the box score, you can get curly fries from Arby's thanks to Z's hat trick), Datsyuk (1 goal, 1 assist), the suddenly at least competent power forward that is Johan Franzen (3 assists), slick rookie Damien Brunner (1 assist), the ever-present leader on defense in Niklas Kronwall (1 assist) and his surprisingly excellent understudy in Jonathan Ericsson (1 goal, 1 assist) stood up when it counted, the team's goaltender remains superb (Howard gave up a "meh" game-tying goal, but was otherwise excellent, stopping 23 of 26 shots), and the Wings managed to not only carve out a measure of revenge for their season-opening thrashing, but also made a critical positive statement to the most important people at Joe Louis Arena who are paid to play hockey--themselves.
I probably don't need to tell you that the Blues were pissed off as pissed off could be about the Backes penalty, but I will, and so will the Blues themselves, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dan O'Neill (who penned a quote-less recap as well):
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock bit his tongue and offered no comment about the penalty on Backes, other than to say: “It ended up being the turning point of the game. There was a lot of special teams. We played great. We came back and played great.”
The Blues have not won in Detroit since walloping the Wings 10-3 on March 30, 2010. A 6-0 opening night laugh track at Scottrade Center suggested better days in Detroit were imminent. Maybe they are ... maybe next time.
The Wings will also visit the Blues in St. Louis next Thursday the 7th, and will host the Blues on Wednesday the 13th, so I'm not bullshitting you by suggesting that the winner of the "three-game series" may tell a better tale as to which team measures up to its expectations than tonight or the season-opener's do, because we're going to be talking about teams that have played 4 times in another 12 days...
“I mean, it was definitely a roller-coaster of a game,” Shattenkirk said. “We got down 2-0, did a good job of fighting and getting it back. From then on, it was anyone’s game. It just didn’t go our way.”
“We kind of got off to a slow start there, gave up a couple [goals], but we’ve got a resilient bunch here,” D’Agostini said. “We know we’ve got 40 more minutes left.”
Oddly enough, Jaroslav Halak took a Damien Brunner shot (I believe) off his mask and bled, but supposedly left after playing most of the first period (Halak gave up 2 goals on 11 shots; his reliever, Brian Elliott, gave up 2 on 19) for a different reason..
“He has a lower-body injury,” Hitchcock said. “We’ll know more tomorrow.”
But Ericsson's game-tying goal most certainly tilted things back in the Wings' favor...
“The third goal was a killer,” Hitchcock said. “That gave them a little bit of momentum.”
The officiating adventure continued with 10:22 to play when Backes was given a match penalty for “illegal contact to the head” of defenseman Kent Huskins. Replays showed Backes’ shoulder hit on Huskins had nothing to do with his head. Nonetheless, Detroit enjoyed a five-minute power play that essentially decided the outcome.
“There’s breaks in the game and some of them don’t go your way,” Shattenkirk said. “We have to be able to kill that off there. They have a lot of skilled forwards, and that’s just a moment there where we have to just bear down and get it done.”
And the Blues somewhat understandably hissed and growled their way through the Associated Press's recap, aas well as the Windsor Star's Bob Duff...But, well, they said the same damn thing (apparently the Blues wanted to get out of town as quickly as the Wings did), so we're just going to skip with the pleasantries and allow Duff to begin to tell the Wings' side of the story:
“I hear a lot about the things we don’t have, but I don’t know how many teams have Pav and Z,” Babcock said. “And, that’s a pretty good starting point for me. We’re not going away here.”
Detroit entered the season with predictions of its streak of 21 straight post-seasons being in peril. Seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom and net-front specialist Tomas Holmstrom both retired, and key players Brad Stuart and Jiri Hudler from last season are now playing elsewhere.
The Red Wings, though, showed they could skate and score with the talented Blues. St. Louis, which had won four straight, beat Detroit 6-0 in the opener.
“They just beat us like a rented mule,” Babcock said, referring to the earlier meeting in St. Louis. “This was a good opportunity for us to respond.”
Zetterberg and Datsyuk — the team’s top forwards when it was a win away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions in 2009 — led the way in a game that gave Detroit a measure of redemption against a rising power in the Central Division.
“It was a big win for us,” Babcock said. “I believe it’s going to give us a confidence boost, and we’re going to keep getting better.”
Zetterberg missed practice Thursday — a day after the team didn’t skate — because he wasn’t feeling well.
“Sometimes it’s nice to have two days off, especially with a schedule like this,” he said. “I got a little extra rest, so I can’t complain.”
Some things don't change from captain to captain, as you might imagine, and Zetterberg did his best to talk about the team while speaking to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness, who noted that Zetterberg not only scored the team's first first-period goal of the season, but also took six of the eight shots he fired toward the Blues' net in the 1st...
“It was good (to score in the first period), unfortunately they scored two right back, so it didn’t last that long,” said Zetterberg, who had six of his team-high eight shots in the first period. “But it was definitely nice to get the lead, especially against a team like this it’s tough to be behind.”
But Zetterberg's teammates wouldn't let him off the complimentary hook:
“It was great to see, especially with him being sick yesterday,” said Howard, who’s now tied with Dominik Hasek for seventh in goalie wins with 114 as a Red Wing. “Just goes to show how much of a competitor he really is.”
Zetterberg also matched a career high with five points.
“Oh my god, if I had been out for a day like that I would be struggling to be skating, and he was flying out there,” Ericsson said. “I don’t know how he does it.”
The Blues handed the Wings a 6-0 drubbing on opening night.
“It was nice to see that we could bounce back,” Zetterberg said. “It wasn’t the prettiest sight when we were playing in their building. It was a tough game again. They’re a good team. They were playing really physical. I think our second period wasn’t our best, but we came back in the third and played a solid 20 minutes.”
Zetterberg also attempted to joke with the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan about his empty-netter, which involved Zetterberg out-battling two Blues players to a puck that was eventually batted into St. Louis' net by Matt D'Agostini...
"Usually I miss those, so it was fun to get it," Zetterberg said of the empty-net goal that completed his fifth career hat trick.
Ericsson, who scored the tying goal on an assist from Zetterberg, was impressed by a replay of the empty-net goal.
"He really wanted that one," Ericsson said. "He showed some strength on that one. He's not that little guy on that goal, he was battling."
And Wings coach Mike Babcock gushed about Zetterberg's performance:
Z's goal was fantastic," coach Mike Babcock said. "The longer I'm in the game, I understand skill is a great thing to have but the best players are so competitive, it's not even funny. That was an example tonight. The good players on the good teams are ultra competitive and that's why their teams win."
As for Howard, who will start on Saturday...
The Wings received a scare midway in the second period when Berglund slammed into Howard on a rush, leaving Howard wincing for a few minutes. Howard skated to the bench at the next timeout and met with trainer Piet Van Zant and appeared to shake off the injury as the period progressed.
It seems Howard was hit in a vulnerable area in the lower body.
"Just unfortunate I sort of got stuck in the lower region," said Howard, who made 23 saves. "It took about 10 minutes for it to settle down."
Goalies tend to wear "double cups" with abdominal protection added as well, but you can still get, well, nailed in the wrong spot if things shift around. Especially if the foam in one's goalie pants slides out of place.
Again, as Zetterberg told DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose, Friday night's game was about redemption in more ways than one...
“We weren’t happy about our effort in their building and we had a chance to kind of bounce back today,” Zetterberg said. “It’s nice to see we played the way we did, especially when they got ahead and we found a way to get back and get the win.”
The Red Wings took a 2-0 lead in the first period on Zetterberg’s first two goals of the game. It was just the third time in his career that he scored twice in the first period. The last time came during a 4-3 loss at Los Angeles on Feb. 6, 2010. The first time occurred in a 7-3 win at Chicago on April 13, 2006....
Detroit built a 2-0 lead when Zetterberg skated in alone on the Blues’ goaltender. It was a rare breakaway for the Wings’ captain, but he made sure made a pretty play to finish, sliding a back-hand shot underneath Halak at 8:07.
“I just tried to skate as fast as I could and then you do what you think is best and it went in five hole,” Zetterberg said.
The second goal was set-up by Ericsson, who spotted Zetterberg circling alone in the neutral zone. Ericsson, who was behind the Wings’ net, fired a perfect pass, hitting Zetterberg in stride, and victimizing Pietranglo, who couldn’t catch up to the Wings’ captain. While Ericsson’s pass set Zetterberg off to the race, the Wings’ defenseman gave credit to Franzen for starting the play.
“First of all, Mule did a really good job as the forward coming down low there and bumping it over to me and giving me a lot of time,” Ericsson said. “So I had pretty much all day to take a cup of coffee in-between and make the play. I had so much time there. It was a great play by Mule.”
Howard told the Free Press's Helene St. James that the Red Wings' leaders led off the ice, too, letting the team know that going into the third period down 3-2, and having surrendered a 2-goal lead, wasn't gonna cut it:
"Z and Kronner spoke up in here and seemed to get the guys' attention," Jimmy Howard said. "We've got to go out there and play with more intensity, win the battles. We did that."
Zetterberg led the way: Wheeling around in the left corner, he eluded defenders and threaded a pass to Ericsson in the right circle.
Kent Huskins left in the third period after suffering an upper-body injury that has left him day to day pending further tests. David Backes got called for illegal contact to the head, though it was Huskins' chest that absorbed the impact; the Wings weren't going to argue a 5-minute power play. Zetterberg used it to find Datsyuk, who maneuvered the puck around until he deftly sent a shot in from the right dot while Franzen blocked Brian Elliott's view.
"I see Mule do good screen," Datsyuk said. "I just make sure I hit not Mule, but he is very big in front of net. I just missed him."
Otherwise, Datsyuk got on the Zetterberg praise parade...
"I hope he sick every day if he play like that," Pavel Datsyuk said. Fans at the game got a Fathead sticker of Datsyuk, who commented, "We need change. Tonight, Hank night."
As did Ericsson, via St. James' notebook...
Ericsson, on the pass he got from Zetterberg: "I don't know how he makes those -- I think he passes through three or four guys."
Zetterberg, on winning the second game of the season against St. Louis after being shut out in the first: "It was nice to see that we could bounce back. It wasn't a pretty sight when we played in their building. They're a good team. They're really physical. But we came back and played a solid third period."
And the Wings uttered similar statements to Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji...
"I hope he's sick every day if he plays like that," Datsyuk joked. "Of course, he's the captain now. He every year better and better and more hard to play against him. I never seen a five-point night. Or maybe I have a short memory."
Ericsson was impressed with his fellow Swede's perseverance and competitiveness.
"Oh my God, if I had been out for a day like that I would be struggling to be skating, and he was flying out there," Ericsson said. "I don’t know how he does it."
No doubt the season opener was weighing on Zetterberg and his teammates' minds. They were routed, 6-0, in St. Louis that night and were determined not to let that happen again.
"It was nice to see that we could bounce back," Zetterberg said. "It wasn't a pretty sight when we went and played there in their building. It’s nice to see we played the way we did, especially when they got ahead and we found a way to get back and get the win."
The way his new captain is playing gives his coach great confidence in what is possible for the Wings this season.
"All in all he was ultra-competitive and I thought Pav was great, too," Babock said. "I hear a lot about the things we don’t have, but I don’t know how many teams have Pav and Z and that’s a pretty good starting point for me. We’re not going away here. We’re going to continue to battle and keep getting better and better."
But Babcock told Michigan Hockey's Matt Mackinder that his goalie helped save the Wings' bacon, too:
“The guys, I don’t question their character, we just had to compete a little harder,” said Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock. “We got off kilter a bit, but then we battled back and our big guys were outstanding. We got a big save from Howie at 3-2 and then Pav’s goal to go ahead and obviously, Z’s goal at the end was fantastic.”
The Wings made sure to let the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan know that Friday night's game was merely the start of a bigger process in terms of climbing up the Central Division standings, one point at a time (again, the Wings play in St. Louis on February 7th and host the Blues on Wednesday the 13th):
"Every game is so important in the short season," said defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, who had the tying goal in Friday's victory. "We have to win games in our division. They beat us 6-0 the first game (the season opener) and we wanted to get back at them."
Said coach Mike Babcock: "If you want to find out where you stand, they (the Blues) and San Jose and Chicago are rolling in the West."
The Blues return to Joe Louis Arena for the last time April 7. After San Jose, Chicago and St. Louis, there's been little separation in the standings through two weeks.
"It's a cliché, but you have to play these games one at a time because the points are crucial," Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi said.
MLive's Ansar Khan's quote-less recap offers some wise observations (and I'd post his Babcock video if the Wings' website hadn't already snagged the full presser, which you can see below)...
--Zetterberg played with a lot of energy, one day after missing practice with the flu. He staked the Red Wings to a 2-0 lead, finished with a hat trick and also assisted on two goals.
--Ericsson had a two-point game. He made a nice stretch pass to set up Zetterberg's second goal and then notched the tying goal in the third period.
--Detroit's penalty killing regressed, after showing signs of improvement the past few games. St. Louis scored twice on the power play.
ISSUE OF THE DAY: EARLY RETURNS: We asked if Brunner, the 26-year-old Swiss star, has exceeded expectations during his transition to the NHL. Brunner made a nice pass to set up Zetterberg's first goal, on the power play. He has five points in seven games and doesn't look out of place on one of the top two lines, giving the team an added scoring threat.
But I like giving Babcock the last word when I can, and the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness allows me to do so via his "Quote of the game":
"I actually thought a couple of our power plays were really good, but we weren’t scoring on it so I changed it up, divided the group up and that was the worst power play of the night for sure so that wasn’t a very good move on my part,” Babcock admitted after the Wings’ 5-3 win over the St. Louis Blues Friday night. “The bottom line is you want to score every time on the power play and you’re not going to every time. We just have to continue to evolve our power play. I thought the guys shot the puck so that’s good. We had trouble with entries.”
Highlights: The Red Wings' website posted a highlight clip narrated by Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond:
Post-game: I'm going to put things delicately by suggesting that both Fox Sports Midwest's broadcasters and Alex Steen were a wee bit peeved after the game;
As the NHL Network covered the game, Henrik Zetterberg gave a post-game interview from the Joe...
And Kathryn Tappen and Jamie McLennan talked about the Backes-Huskins hit and Zetterberg's hat trick. FTR: McLennan's a former Blue.
The Windsor Star's Bob Duff posted a video of Henrik Zetterberg speaking to the media after the game:
The Red Wings' website posetd clips of Zetterberg...
And coach Mike Babcock speaking to the media...
Photos: The Detroit News posted a 15-image gallery;
The Detroit Free Press posted a 27-image gallery;
The Windsor Star posted 3 images (?) from the game;
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch embedded a 6-image gallery in its website's recap;
ESPN posted a 9-image gallery;
Yahoo Sports posted a 14-image gallery;
Why CBS Detroit posted a wallpaper-sized image of Kyle Quincey hitting Mikael Backlund is beyond me, but if you want it...
And NHL.com, the Blues' website and the Wings' website posted 26-image galleries (though the Wings' website's Game Day Blog also posted a picture of Zetterberg jabbing the puck toward the Blues' empty net).
The Red Wings out-shot the Blues 31-26 overall. St. Louis out-shot Detroit 14-13 in the 1st; the teams tied 7-7 in the 2nd, and the Wings out-shot St. Louis 11-5 in the 3rd.
Power plays: The Blues went 2-for-5 in 7:01 of PP time; the Wings went 2-for-8 in 15:26 of PP time, including 1 for 1 in 42 seconds of 5 on 3 time.
Jimmy Howard stopped 23 of 26 shots; Jaroslav Halak stopped 9 of 11 shots; Brian Elliott stopped 17 of 19.
The 3 stars were picked by Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji, and she picked Kevin Shattenkirk (3), Jonathan Ericsson (2) and Henrik Zetterberg (1).
The Wings' goals: Zetterberg (3) from Brunner (4) and Kronwall (6), PPG;
Zetterberg (4) from Ericsson (1) and Franzen (4);
Ericsson (1) from Zetterberg (6) and Franzen (5);
Datsyuk (3) from Zetterberg (7) and Franzen (6), PPG;
Zetterberg (5) from Datsyuk (6), shorthanded, empty-net.
Faceoffs 35-27 Detroit (Wings won 56%);
Blocked shots 16-11 St. Louis;
Missed shots 11-4 St. Louis (total attempts 51-48 Detroit);
Hits 30-25 St. Louis;
Giveaways 11-4 Detroit;
Takeaways 6-4 St. Louis.
Individual stats, TMR style:
Faceoffs: Datsyuk went 12-and-11 (52%); Zetterberg went 9-and-6 (50%); Abdelkader went 5-and-3 (63%); Emmerton went 5-and-3 (63%); Filppula went 4-and-2 (67%); Cleary and Franzen lost their only faceoffs.
Shots taken: Zetterberg led the team with 8 shots; Abdelkader had 3; Smith, Cleary, Eaves, Tootoo, Brunner and Emmerton had 2; Kindl, Quincey, Bertuzzi, Filppula, Ericsson, Kronwall and Franzen had 1.
Blocked attempts: Kronwall had 4 more attempts blocked by Blues players; Smith had 3 attempts blocked; Brunner and Zetterberg had 2 attempts blocked; Cleary, Datsyuk, Eaves, Tootoo and Bertuzzi hit Blues players 1 time.
Missed shots: Huskins, Cleary, Filppula and Kronwall missed the net 1 time.
Hits: Abdelkader and Franzen co-led the team with 4 hits apiece; Kronwall had 3 hits; Eaves, Tootoo and Emmerton had 2; Smith, Huskins, Miller, Quincey, Zetterberg and Ericsson had 1.
Giveaways: Smith and Cleary had 2 giveaways; Datsyuk, Brunner, Zetterberg, Filppula, Ericsson, Franzen and Howard had 1.
Takeaways: Smith, Datsyuk, Brunner and Filppula had 1 takeaway.
Blocked opponent shots: Smith, Huskins, Kindl, Miller and Quincey blocked 2 shots; Ericsson blocked 1 shot.
Penalties taken: Cleary, Emmerton, Quincey, Ericsson and Kronwall took minor penalties.
Plus-minus: the Wings finished at a collective +10. Huskins, Abdelkader, Miller and Tootoo finished at -1; Smith finished at +1; Datsyuk, Brunner, Quincey, Ericsson and Franzen finished at +2; Zetterberg finished at +3.
Points: Zetterberg had 3 goals and 2 assists for 5 points; Franzen had 3 assists; Ericsson had a goal and an assist for 2 points; Datsyuk had a goal; Brunner and Kronwall had assists.
Ice time: Smith led the team with 23:56 played; Kronwall played 22:39; Zetterberg played 21:45;
Datsyuk played 21:16; Quincey played 20:05; Brunner played 19:14;
Franzen played 19:11; Filppula played 19:03; Ericsson played 17:36;
Kindl played 16:58; Bertuzzi played 16:57; Cleary played 14:56;
Miller played 12:38; Abdelkader played 11:48; Huskins played 10:35;
Tootoo played 8:17; Emmerton played 8:02; Eaves played 7:53.
Red Wings notebooks: The MSM and most bloggers are reacting to the Backes call by stating that Backes didn't hit Huskins and that Huskins didn't get hurt. The latter part isn't true, as MLive's Ansar Khan noted (and the Free Press's Helene St. James is confirming...assume that Brian Lashoff gets back into the lineup tonight):
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Kent Huskins was being evaluated for an upper-body injury following Friday's 5-3 win over the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena.
The club said it would have a further update on Saturday.
Huskins was shaken up on a hit by David Backes at 9:38 of the third period. Huskins, who was a teammate of Backus' in St. Louis last season, struggled to get to the bench and had to be helped to the dressing room.
He did not return.
Otherwise, in terms of injuries, the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan offers a summary of where the Wings' injured stand, or attempt to stand up, anyway:
Red Wings defenseman Ian White (leg laceration) skated Friday and could return Tuesday.
"That's the goal," White said. "If not, definitely Thursday."
Babcock said he wants to see White in a practice before returning to the lineup.
As for the other hurt Red Wings, none appear as close. Goaltenders Jonas Gustavsson (groin) and Joey MacDonald (back), defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder), and forwards Darren Helm (back), Mikael Samuelsson (groin) and Jan Mursak (collarbone) remain days or weeks from returning.
So Jimmy Howard's definitely starting tonight, and Babcock didn't even blink before telling the press as much. The Free Press's Helene St. James took note of Babcock's comments...
"He's been good for us and given us a chance each and every night," Babcock said. "We're not quite as smooth as we'd like to be some nights, we give up some chances, so the goalie has had to be good."
Howard also has had to be the go-to guy, even when the Wings played back-to-back games, even when they played three games in four nights. Jonas Gustavsson, acquired during the off-season in the hopes of providing a stable backup presence, has a sore groin. Minor league veteran Joey MacDonald, who had some solid outings in relief last season, has a sore back.
As Babcock said Friday: "There's no light at the end of the tunnel with the goaltenders."
So, it has been all Howard, all the time, save the third period of the opener when he was relieved by a then-healthy Gustavsson, not a reflection on Howard but because his teammates played so poorly. The workload makes Howard laugh, because "you figured you were done playing threes-in-fours regularly when you got away from the American league," he said. "But it's fun."
His performance, overall, pleases him, because "after the first game, I think it's been pretty good, better than I expected, to say the least."
Howard, 29 in March, is in the last year of a deal paying him what this season will be a pro-rated $2.25 million. General manager Ken Holland wants to re-sign Howard. This is usually the time of year extension talk heats up, but it's a little different now because the lockout means the season is only two weeks old. And for Howard, who two years ago admitted a new contract weighed on his mind, there's little time to worry.
"To be honest, there's no time even to think about it these days," he said. "Last time around, there was a lot more downtime. Now it's just, you're constantly going and constantly playing."
As did MLive's Khan:
“He’s fine,'' coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s a young guy. We’re playing only 48 games.''
Howard is workhorse, having averaged 61 appearances the past three seasons. He jokingly was asked if he could play all 48 games.
“Realistically, if I had to, I would,'' he said. “It (compressed schedule) is going to be taxing on everyone. We’ll need two goalies kicking out there.''
Howard certainly is kicking, off to a strong start. He is 4-2-1, with a 2.80 goals-against average and .904 save percentage, despite playing behind an injury-riddled defense.
“I feel pretty good about my game right now,'' Howard said. “It’s just about going out there and getting points for the guys. I feel good and energized about there. As each game goes by it’s becoming easier and easier to read plays out there.''
Howard, like most NHL goalies, did not play in Europe during the lockout. He was concerned about his timing and game condition at the start of the season.
“He’s been huge for us, but preparation is everything,'' Babcock said. “You’re responsible for your own preparation. Everyone had the same amount of time off and ideally,you’re not going in perfect game shape but you can be really well-prepared. He’s been good for us, given us a chance every night. We’re not quite as smooth as we’d like to be in our own zone every night. We give up some chances, so the goalie has had to be good.''
Aside from the season-opening 6-0 loss in St. Louis, when the team did not compete and hung its goalie out to dry by allowing three breakaways, Howard has given the Red Wings a chance to win every game.
“I've felt pretty good, felt really good out there again tonight,'' Howard said. “They're no slouch of a team. whenever you can get two points, you put it in your back pocket and move forward, so that was a huge two points tonight.''
Somewhat ironically, Howard was featured in an article by the AP's John Marshall, who spoke to Howard, his GM and other goalies about trying to get their legs under them in a hurry:
"We're in the season, but it's like we're still in the preseason," said Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, a former goalie. "We've played five games and we usually play eight preseason games."
One problem for the goalies is that it is a far more technical position than any of the others. Because NHL coaches weren't allowed to work with players during the lockout, the goalies didn't do much technical work, if any, during the time off. Knowing that goalies may need some time to get their timing down, teams have put an emphasis on creating traffic in front of them and spent the early part of the season throwing as many shots at them as possible.
"Tracking the puck through traffic, you can't get that in practice as a goaltender," Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. "So it was a lot tougher for us to start the season without preseason games."
It hasn't helped that defenses have struggled to congeal early in the season. On the offensive end, it's easy for players to freelance a little, whip pucks around teammates or take shots from wherever.
Finding a rhythm defensively, as several teams have found out, can take a while.
"There's a little rust on the goalies, but there's a lot of rust on defense," Holland said. "And if you give major-league shooters space to shoot, I don't care how good goalies are, the puck is going to go in the net."
And you won't be surprised to hear that Yahoo Sports' Greg "Puck Daddy" Wyshynski named Zetterberg his first star for Friday night.
In the prospect department, in the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs 5-1 thanks to a Tomas Tatar hat trick and a 3-point game (1 goal, 2 assists) from Gustav Nyquist. There were actually a couple of scraps at the end of this game, but as of the present moment, they're not available for viewing, but the Bulldogs' website does have a slate of YouTube highlights up!
In the QMJHL, Xavier Ouellet returned to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada's lineup and registered a goal (and was named the game's first star) in the Armada's 2-1 win over Phillipe Hudon and the Victoriaville Tigres. Hudon went scoreless for Victoriaville;
Martin Frk registered a goal in the Halifax Mooseheads' 3-1 win over Baie-Comeau;
In the OHL, Ryan Sproul put on a show with the Red Wings' scouts watching his Soo Greyhounds defeat the Plymouth Whalers 6-5, registering 2 goals and 3 assists;
Jake Paterson didn't tend the net in the Saginaw Spirit's 4-2 loss to Peterborough
Ditto for Andreas Athanasiou, who's not a goalie, as his Barrie Colts defeated Kingston 3-2 in a shootout;
in the WHL, Richard Nedomlel didn't register a point in his Swift Current Broncos' 3-0 loss to Edmonton;
And in the WCHA, Nick Jensen registered an assist in Saint Cloud State's 4-0 victory over Bemidji State.
In foreign-language news, very simply, Henrik Zetterberg told Expressen's Gunnar Nordstrom that he hopes that the Wings keep improving in terms of special teams play after winning something of a revenge match against the Blues, and after cracking some, "Maybe I should be sick more often" jokes with Aftonbladet's Per Bjurman, he suggested that playing for EV Zug during the lockout gave him a huge competitive advantage, that he felt that Jonathan Ericsson, Damien Brunner and Johan Franzen played big parts in his goals. He also stated that he's taken more responsibility over the past couple of seasons, so he doesn't feel any more pressure to lead at present!
Wings-Blue Jackets set-up: The Wings will head into Columbus playing a team that dropped a 4-1 decision to St. Louis on Thursday and took Friday off. The Blue Jackets issued a frustrated message to ColumbusBlueJackets.com's Rob Mixer after giving up 3 first-period goals--and Mixer says that in six of the eight games Columbus has played, they've given up the game's first goal...
“I think everybody has their own way of getting into it,” [Blue Jackets coach Todd] Richards said. “When I played, I always wanted to get a hit on the first shift. I felt it got me into the game and gave me a focus. I don’t know what’s going on inside our players’ heads as far as what their goals or objectives are to get themselves into the game. As coaches, we try to prepare them and we can certainly try to motivate them, but that comes down to the players preparing themselves. They’re professionals and that’s what they have to do.”
The Blue Jackets have given up 10 goals in the first period this year, which is the most in the NHL. The Blues scored three goals in the first 13-plus minutes of last night’s game and chased Sergei Bobrovsky after only 11 shots on goal, marking the first goaltending change made by the Blue Jackets this season.
Richards said he made the change because the team needed a spark and not necessarily because Bobrovsky was at fault, but admitted “Bob” has to be better as well. And it wasn’t as if the Blues were lighting it up with highlight-reel goals; the Blue Jackets didn’t manage the puck well and their mistakes ended up in their net.
“They have good players, no doubt about it, but they weren’t good enough to make us look they way we did in the first period – I can tell you that much,” Brandon Dubinsky said. “We have to have some conviction with the puck and without it. It wasn’t good enough in the first period, and that seems to be the theme. We’ve got to come here tomorrow ready to work and find that passion. The game you see in the last 30 minutes of these hockey games – the way we’re capable of playing – it’s gotta be a start-to-finish effort and that’s the only way we’re going to win hockey games.”
Columbus dug in after the first period and countered with a much better middle period, denting the St. Louis lead on a Derick Brassard power play goal. But even prior to that, the element of confrontation played a factor in getting the Blue Jackets’ bench jacked up; four different players were involved in fights and one was Nick Foligno, whose frustration was released in a spirited bout with Barret Jackman. Fights, goals, big hits, whatever it may be…Richards wants one thing from his players and that’s to get emotionally involved earlier in games.
“(The fisticuffs) got some emotion in the players, and we have to get emotionally attached to games,” Richards said. “I think that’s some of what happened in Minnesota is the emotional attachment wasn’t there on the ice and then it’s got to be created. And sometimes, it’s got to be created by me. But once we got engaged and stood up to them…I don’t want to say it helped the game but it certainly leveled the playing field.”
A big part of getting engaged is getting back to what makes up the Blue Jackets identity -- puck pressure and their forecheck. They see success when they stick to it, and the opposite when they don’t.
“We didn’t come out and play hard enough,” Dubinsky said. “That’s been the theme the whole year so far, and we have to come out with some fire. We have to come out with some passion and we didn’t do it again tonight. Forecheck…it’s simple. We had some chances once we started doing that, getting some shots and getting some traffic. That’s the only way we’re going to score goals here.”
I'm just going to conveniently ignore Derek Dorsett's insistence to the Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline that he didn't bite Anthony Stewart in the fight the pair engaged in Thursday evening, and as the Dispatch doesn't publish its Blue Jackets articles till 6:30 or 7 AM, well...I need to sleep sometime, so I'm gonna post what I can now and catch up in the morning. I have to be awake for these games and try to enjoy watching 'em, too!
Anyway, there is some preview material. The Columbus Dispatch's Shawn Mitchell reports that the Blue Jackets didn't officially practice on Friday, though some of 'em skated after a lot of video-watching. Here's what they had to say to Mitchell after re-watching the Blues game:
“We talked about (practicing), long and hard,” Richards said. “But again, it’s that line you walk as a coach. What do we need at this particular junction? I think once we get past this (game on Saturday vs. Detroit) we will have some practice days coming up. We’ll use Monday to prepare for Tuesday’s game and then we play almost like every other day for a while. We’ll have days in between where we can go out and work on the ice.”
The Red Wings will visit Nationwide for a second time in two weeks on Saturday. It will be the second game of a back to back for Detroit, which plays host to the Blues tonight. It will be the first time a rested Columbus will play an opponent who is on the second leg of a back-to-back, but Richards doesn’t see it as much of an advantage.
“We’re still at the end of a touch stretch for us,” Richards said. “Sometimes I think there is an advantage to playing the night before. There might be motivation (for Detroit) based on how their game goes tonight. But we can use the fatigue, for them, if we go out and play a hard and fast game and make them work and break them down.”
The Blue Jackets have been horribly slow starters. They have been outscored 10-2 in the first period. But they might get a strange boost from playing the Wings, who have romped in Columbus countless times. Fear, Richards said, can be a motivator.
“Detroit is a dangerous team,” Richards said. “We’re in a tough division and it really doesn’t matter who we’re playing on any given night. But as far as energy, playing them will create some energy in the building. Detroit is an easy team to get up for and prepare for because maybe there is a fear of embarrassment. It’s a real thing. It’s the Detroit Red Wings. They’ve got great players, and it’s the way they play, too. That’s a real thing.”
Richards questioned the "emotional engagement" of his team this week and was uncharacteristically critical during postgame media sessions on Tuesay and Thursday.
Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski said the first-period struggles are “a mystery right now.” But he said the blame for a 2-5-1 start falls on a dressing room full of players who have yet to realize their capabilities.
“I don’t think we realize the team that we actually have,” Wisniewski said. “We have guys with skill. We don’t have guys with world-class skill but we have guys that put the puck in the net, that can make plays. Until we buy into the roles that we have to have to win hockey games – and that’s staying the course, doing everything that is asked, providing high energy – we’ll probably continue to struggle. I think we all need to step up, myself included. You have to be able to look in the mirror and say ‘I (freaking) gave it 110 percent today.’”
Otherwise, ColumbusBlueJackets.com's Mixer mostly scouts the Wings in his game preview, adding the following tidbits...
- The Blue Jackets scored a pair of power play goals in their last meeting with Detroit, and they were big-time goals in crucial moments. James Wisniewski tied the game with a wicked one-timer in the third period, and Vinny Prospal gave them their first lead just minutes later. Their puck movement was quick, snappy and they had bodies at the net, and it was as deadly as the power play has looked all season.
- Brandon Dubsinky drew the other assist on Derick Brassard’s man-up marker, giving him points in three of his last four games. He's been a consistent player for Columbus and it's only a matter of time before he notches his first goal as a Blue Jacket.
- The Blue Jackets dropped the gloves four times on Thursday night, giving them 12 bouts on the season (most in the NHL).
- Wisniewski picked up an assist on the Brassard power play goal Thursday, extending an assists streak to three straight games.
And NHL.com's Mike Battaglio offers a more substantial preview:
Season series: The Wings won the first meeting Jan. 21, 4-3 in a shootout, with rookie Damien Brunner scoring the winner on a highlight-reel attempt. Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made 39 saves. They play again Feb. 21 before wrapping up with a home-and-home March 9-10. Detroit is 14-3-2 against Columbus since 2009-10.
Big story: The Red Wings were alternating a loss and a win before getting their second straight victory, 5-3 over the St. Louis Blues, on Friday at Joe Louis Arena.
The Blue Jackets are off to a better start than last season's 0-7-1 beginning, but remain near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
"We're playing Saturday against another good team so we just need to play on our toes and take it to them and bring our intensity," Derrick Brassard told the team's website. "We just need to bring our game to them."
Blue Jackets [team scope]: Columbus spent Friday lamenting its slow starts to games; the Blue Jackets have been outscored 10-2 in the first period this season, 8-1 in the past five games and 5-0 in the most recent two.
"Something has got to change," Derek Dorsett told the Columbus Dispatch. "Our first periods have been horrendous. We've been chasing from behind, and it mentally drains you, makes you a fragile group. … We have to be ready to go when the puck drops. I don't know what the solution is, but we have to figure it out as a group."
Columbus has been outscored 16-12 in the remaining two periods, plus two scoreless overtimes.
"I think we just need to relax," Brassard said. "Just relax, make plays, play as a unit of five on the ice, come back to the puck, good transition from defense to offense. Just relax out there."
Who's hot: Zetterberg has five goals and 12 points during a six-game point streak. Datsyuk has nine points and defenseman Niklas Kronwall has six assists in that time. … Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski has a point on three of the team's four goals in the past three games. … Defenseman Fedor Tyutin leads Columbus with five points.
Injury report: The Red Wings have several players sidelined: Gustavsson, MacDonald, Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder), Darren Helm (back), Jan Mursak (collarbone), Mikael Samuelsson (groin) and Ian White (leg laceration). … Blue Jackets defenseman Nikita Nikitin (upper body) and Adrian Aucoin (lower body) were scratched Thursday. Matt Calvert (upper body) and Cam Atkinson (lower body) are on injured reserve.
And the AP's game preview adds some statistical notes:
Zetterberg has five goals and seven assists during a six-game point streak. Detroit's new captain has at least one point in four straight contests versus Columbus (2-5-1), tallying two goals and six assists in that stretch.
Datsyuk has six points in his last three games against the Blue Jackets.
Jimmy Howard may make his eighth consecutive start despite games on back-to-back nights. He's 10-1-1 with a 1.78 goals-against average lifetime against Columbus, and coach Mike Babcock's other option is Tom McCollum, who has never started in the NHL.
Since a season-opening shootout win at Nashville, Richards' team has lost six of seven and scored 11 goals during that span.
It comes as no surprise that the Blue Jackets have struggled offensively after the offseason trade of captain and perennial scoring leader Rick Nash to the New York Rangers. The forwards acquired in that deal - Artem Anisimov and Dubinsky - have combined for only two goals and six points. R.J. Umberger has no goals in eight games after he was second on the club last season with 20.
The Blue Jackets rank second-to-last in the league with 1.63 goals per game and have converted just 5 of 38 power-play opportunities.
That's almost better than the Wings' PP, and that's it from me for now. I don't speak football, so I don't mind staying up late to catch the Blue Jackets' press on Sunday, but tonight I do need to get some sleep. I won't be missing anything I'm interested in if I catch up on sleep on Sunday, and as someone with an early February birthday, the Superbowl has become a party and/or dinner-planning pain in the butt more than anything else for me. I know that sounds blasphemous, but I just don't get into football. Dunno why.
With that, I'll bid you goodnight and good morning. See ya in a few hours.
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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.