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Red Wings-Capitals game-day articles: Mrazek starts, Sproul in for Ouellet

Updated 4x at 2:48 PM: The Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals held optional morning skates ahead of tonight's game (7 PM EST on FSD/CSN Mid-Atlantic/97.1 FM), but CSN Mid-Atlantic's J.J. Regan believes that the Capitals will ice the following lineup...

Based Wednesday's practice, here are the projected lines:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Daniel Winnik - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Defense
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Nate Schmidt

Goalies
Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches
Zach Sanford, Taylor Chorney

And the Free Press's Helene St. James filed a morning skate report:

The Wings take on the Washington Capitals tonight at Verizon Center (7, FSD). The Capitals have won four straight games -- the last two were 5-0 victories. They have scored 18 goals over the past four games. They’ve won 10 in a row at home.

The Wings, meanwhile, have played well for the last three games, banking five points as they attempt to rise into the playoff picture.

Jared Coreau was in the starter’s net during Wednesday's practice, but that likely was a ruse -- though Petr Mrazek allowed two bad goals in his last game, he’s the guy that the Wings see as capable of taking them on a run.

The morning skate was optional, but based on the last practice, Henrik Zetterberg is with Gustav Nyquist and Anthony Mantha, Riley Sheahan with Tomas Tatar and Dylan Larkin, Darren Helm with Andreas Athanasiou and Thomas Vanek, and Luke Glendening with Justin Abdelkader and Tomas Jurco or Steve Ott.

On defense, Ryan Sproul is getting a shot in the lineup after being scratched the last 11 games. His asset is his big shot, but he has had a hard time sticking because of lack of hard play in the defensive zone. He is partnered with Brendan Smith, leaving Mike Green with Danny DeKeyser and Jonathan Ericsson with Nick Jensen. Xavier Ouellet is the odd d-man out.

Here's MLive's Ansar Khan's game-day report as well:

Petr Mrazek will make his fourth start in a row and Ryan Sproul will play for the first time in more than four weeks when the Detroit Red Wings face the Washington Capitals tongiht at Verizon Center (7 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit).

Mrazek is 2-0-1 the past three games. This will be the second time this season he's started four in a row (also from Nov. 26-Dec. 1, when Jimmy Howard was out with a groin injury).

Mrazek has one shutout in four career appearances against the Capitals (1-2-1, 1.54 goals-against average, .944 save percentage).

Sproul, a healthy scratch the past 12 games, will be making his first appearance since Jan. 10. He has played in only seven of the previous 28 games. He has one goal, five assists and a minus-5 rating in 21 games.

Sproul replaces Xavier Ouellet and will be paired with Brendan Smith.

Also of note from the Washington Post's Isabelle Khurshudyan:

Detroit's Jeff Blashill called Backstrom "easily one of the best players in the league." Also said he's an underrated.

The Detroit News's Gregg Krupa also confirmed that Sproul will play tonight...

sproul in lineup, tonight.

...

.... ryan sproul said he will get PP time tonight

blashill's criticism of sproul this year & in GR 3 years ago: lack of assertiveness.

MLive's Ansar Khan confirmed...

Sproul in for Ouellet for #RedWings that's only change as Jurco remains in for Ott.

As did DetroitRedWings.com's Dana Wakiji:

As suspected from practice yesterday, #RedWings Sproul returns to lineup for first time since Jan. 10.

Tom Gulitti also weighed in:

Mrazek is starting in net for Red Wings tonight vs. Holtby for Capitals.

...

DET coach Jeff Blashill on Caps: "They’ve got probably as complete a roster as anybody in the League in terms of forwards, D and goalies."

FYI:

The Capitals also posted a video of Mike Vogel speaking with Dmitry Orlov:

Quick update: MLive's Ansar Khan posted a clip of Sproul speaking with the media:

 

Update: Here's St. James' game-day article with a quote:

"Our defense has been, the last couple of games, against a couple of teams that are good hockey teams," coach Jeff Blashill said after the morning skate. "I think if you listen to both Nashville and Columbus, if you listen to their coaches' comments, they were happy with their games. They came to play -- it wasn't like we caught teams not ready to play. The Columbus game, I thought, was a pretty complete game overall."

 

Update #2: TheDetroit News's Ted Kulfan spoke with coach Blashill regarding the Capitals' many weapons...

The Capitals have scored 66 more goals then they have yielded, leading the NHL in goal differential by a dozen over the next closest team, the Wild (54).

“I’ve got enough of the numbers to be very aware of it,” Blashill said of the Capitals glittering performance this season. “At the start of the year, a lot of people said that they were certainly one of the top teams coming into the year, and they’ve proven that with their record. For the last month, couple of months, it’s been outstanding.”

The Capitals have benefited from the arrival three seasons ago of Barry Trotz, the former Predators coach who emphasizes defense. Both of their goalies have goals against averages below two and save percentages at .930 or better (Braden Holtby 1.94, .930 and Philipp Grubauer 1.98, .931).

“They’re a complete team,” Blashill said, asserting it is unlikely any other NHL team is as complete at each of the three positions — forward, defense and goalie positions. So we have to play a great road game,” he said. “We have to do a great job of managing the puck. We have to do a great job of getting the puck of our blue line, getting the puck in at our blue line and making them defend.”

Defensive zone play, especially the quick exits that drove the Red Wings powerful transition game for two decades, has been in decline since the departure of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart five seasons ago, and Brian Rafalski six seasons ago.

Especially in his second season with the Wings, Mike Green provided some improvement. But, attending to the forward position in the off-season with the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, the Red Wings failed to pick up a puck-moving defenseman.

Sproul is a potential candidate. But his inability to stick in the lineup is slowing his development.

“Ryan is successful when he’s assertive, he’s confident, he’s getting the puck and he’s skating it,” said Jeff Blashill, who also coached Sproul three seasons ago in Grand Rapids. “He’s getting back and breaking pucks out with his feet. He’s attacking. He’s always been good from the offensive blue line in. He does good things on the power play.”

The Free Press's Helene St. James spoke with Blashill regarding Sproul's role...

“For Ryan to be successful, he’s playing assertive,” coach Jeff Blashill said after the morning skate. “He’s confident. He’s getting the puck and skating it. He’s going back and breaking pucks out with his feet. He’s attacking. He’s always been real good from the offensive blue line in. He does good things on the power play. To me, that’s the synopsis of what makes Ryan Sproul successful. Again, the No. 1 thing is that he is being assertive.”

Sproul sounded eager to prove himself, to prove he should be a regular after playing just 21 of the Wings' first 53 games.

“I think I am very capable of that,” he said. “I have been working on that a lot in practice and I have had a lot of time to work on that, so I am going to come in tonight and be very aggressive and assertive, just like he wants.”

That the Wings see potential in Sproul showed this month, when they waived Alexey Marchenko instead of him. At the same time, Sproul has been jumped on the depth chart by Nick Jensen, whose mobility and competitiveness have earned him a regular spot since being called up mid-December.

Sproul is slated to be paired with Brendan Smith tonight. Having him in the lineup enables the Wings to have all three defense pairs consist of a right-handed shooter and a left-handed shooter.

And St. James posted a video of Sproul discussing his job this evening:

 

On the Capitals' side of the ice, the Washington Post's Jesse Dougherty reports that the team's trying to keep its stellar PK going strong, and:

>>> The Capitals host the Detroit Red Wings at 7 p.m. on Thursday, which is the second-to-last game before a six-day bye week break.

While the league-mandated break provides rest before the regular season turns into the playoffs, the Capitals have won 17 of 20 games and are streaking into the Red Wings matchup. They also lead the NHL with 80 points and are coming off back-to-back 5-0 wins. Fresh legs will surely return to the ice after the seven-day vacation. The Capitals hope their momentum comes back too.

“I think we’ve talked enough about that, I think all the players know we want to finish strong,” Trotz said of these next two games. “So at the end of the day when we come back we’re in good standing, if you will. But at the same time the break, you look at all the teams that have breaks they’ve had sort of a little bit of struggles coming back out of it.

“As I said, you come back and you have three games in four nights, you sort of shut the mind off and the body off a little bit, and you have to rebuild your game, which is okay. I think we understand that.”

>>> The Red Wings are 2-6 in their last games and have the league’s sixth-worst goals allowed per game average. They are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, and have 29 more games to extend that streak.

Next they will have to corral a Capitals offense that’s scored 18 times in four contests. Nicklas Backstrom has six points in that stretch (two goals and four assists) and Red Wings Coach Jeff Blashill has certainly noticed.

“Backstrom’s one of the best players in the league without question,” Blashhill said after the Red Wings skated Thursday. “He’s easily one of the most underrated players. But easily one of the best players in the league. We’ve had a chance to watch him lots here, and his poise with the puck is outstanding. He just does lots of things. He’s a complete player. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

 

Update #3: The Capitals' website posted a 13:03 clip of Barry Trotz's game-day comments:

 

Update #4: Of note from DetroitRedWings.com's Dana Wakiji's game-day article:

CAPS TOUGH, ESPECIALLY AT HOME: When you look at the numbers, the Wings' challenge tonight in Washington seems even more daunting. The Capitals have a 10-game winning streak at home, they have scored five or more goals in each of their last nine home games and they have outscored opponents 50-12 in the streak, including five shutouts.

"I've got enough of the numbers to be very aware of it," Blashill said. "At the start of the year many people would say they were one of the top teams in the league and they've proven that with their record. Their record the last couple months, month and a half, has been outstanding. They're a complete team. They've got probably as much a complete a roster as anyone in the league in terms of forward, D and goalie. There is not a natural weakness you can pick apart."

The Capitals have outscored opponents 58-23 in the first period, so the Wings know they have to maintain their recent good play at the start of games.

"That's been one thing here that we really wanted to focus on coming out of the break, having better starts," Zetterberg said. "I thought, except the first one after the break, we've been pretty good from the start. But it will be a challenge here tonight. Loud building, they come out flying from the start so we got to be on our toes."

The Wings played well the last time they were in Washington on Nov. 18, but they couldn't solve Holtby, who earned a 1-0 shutout.

"I think it's imperative that we stay above, try to eliminate their speed," Green said. "They play a fast-paced game and those pucks around the net or shot opportunities, we got to make sure we're there. They've got some guys that can shoot the puck."

The Capitals also have the seventh-ranked power play in the league to go along with the fourth-ranked penalty kill.

"Stay disciplined, obviously not give their power play many chances," Justin Abdelkader said. "Stay disciplined with our play, not turning pucks over, being smart and efficient that way."

Wakiji continues...

And, from NHL.com's Katie Brown's game preview:

Red Wings team scope

Goalie Petr Mrazek will start his fourth straight game for the Detroit Red Wings after making 24 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. The Red Wings, who have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons, are five points out of the second wild card from the Eastern Conference and 2-3-4 in their past nine games. "We have to play a great road game," coach Jeff Blashill said. "We have to do a great job of managing the puck. We've got to do a great job of getting the puck out at our blue line, get the puck in at their blue line and trying to make them defend. I think we've proven to be a really good hockey team when we play in the offensive zone, so let's do everything we can to transport the puck and play in the offensive zone as much as possible." Defenseman Ryan Sproul returns after being a healthy scratch for 12 games. Sproul will be on the third defensive pairing with Brendan Smith.


Capitals team scope

The Washington Capitals have won four straight and 10 in a row at Verizon Center, where they are 22-5-1 and haven't lost in regulation since Dec. 21 (2-1 against the Montreal Canadiens), but coach Barry Trotz is bracing for a Red Wings team deep into its playoff push. "They're finding ways to dig in, they're finding ways to get extra points every night," Trotz said. "That's been a real good committed mindset. They've got a team with good speed and good structure as they always do. Right now they know they're in a real war to get into a playoff spot. They've got a legacy that I think everyone on that team wants to continue." Goalie Braden Holtby will start for the Capitals. Holtby is 12-0-0 with 19 goals allowed in his past 14 games and has four shutouts in his past 12, including his seventh of the season when he made 23 saves in a 5-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.

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Comments

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I am all for giving Sproul an opportunity, but if the consensus is that Sproul is such a defensive liability, playing him on the road against the best offense in NHL sounds strange. And benching probably our most solid dman in the last 10 games sounds strange too.
And I agree that Mrazek should start pretty much all the games from now on because imo he is just a better choice, but in any case looking at the schedule the next game we can realistically win is feb.21 against the Islanders, which is 5 games from tonight. Unless Mrazek has some miracle performances.
And I am not negative about it, just realistically we are a heavy underdog in the next 5 games.

Posted by VPalmer on 02/09/17 at 01:59 PM ET

PierreC's avatar

to bench XO doesn’t make any sense…just like all Blashill’s decisions.

Posted by PierreC from Montreal, Canada on 02/09/17 at 02:23 PM ET

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VPalmer, agree with you, going with Sproul’s heavy shot and weaker defense to XO’s better defense does seem odd. It must be Jeff is thinking their going to get theirs we better try and get ours.

Posted by stateofmifan on 02/09/17 at 02:34 PM ET

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hopefully Sproul with rise to the occasion. LGRW!

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle on 02/09/17 at 02:47 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

Xavier Ouellet is the odd d-man out.

I’ll just leave this here for the record.

Ericsson: 50 games • 1 goal • 8 assists • 9 points • 43 shots • -2

Ouellet: 38 games • 1 goal • 7 assists • 8 points • 48 shots • +5

On defense, Ryan Sproul ... has had a hard time sticking because of lack of hard play in the defensive zone. He is partnered with Brendan Smith…

Another brilliant Blashill move. Pair Smith, the least defensively responsible d-man, with a guy who’s weakness is defense. So, if that pair gets lit up, I wonder which of the two Blashill will blame?

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 02/09/17 at 03:00 PM ET

MurrayChadwick's avatar

Sproul should play HHHT cries.

Sproul in for Ouellet

Why is Sproul playing HHHT cries.

This forum sounds more and more like my wife each day.

Posted by MurrayChadwick from Holland Hate Hyperbole Town (HHHT) on 02/09/17 at 03:37 PM ET

Hockeytown Wax's avatar

The only explanation I can come up with is ... maybe this is a process of elimination type move.
Blash knows for sure they’re going to keep XO so he’s the one you sit while you re-evaluate the rest including Sproul. If he doesn’t play his ass off tonite he’s history.  And yes, pairing him with Smith makes sense.  It will force Sproul to keep it simple and play better D.

It looks like winning has become secondary and whom to offer up in a trade has become primary.

March 1st could actually be fun this year.

Posted by Hockeytown Wax from West Bloomfield, Mi. on 02/09/17 at 03:55 PM ET

Avatar

Blash knows for sure they’re going to keep XO

I do not think there are any games here. I am pretty sure Blashill indeed thinks that XO is worse than 5 dmen he kept in the lineup.

Posted by VPalmer on 02/09/17 at 04:00 PM ET

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Sproul should play HHHT cries.

Sproul in for Ouellet

Why is Sproul playing HHHT cries.

And you know exactly what we are talking about here (I am sure you are not missing the point), but you still have to make a condescending comment:)

Posted by VPalmer on 02/09/17 at 04:15 PM ET

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Ericsson: 50 games • 1 goal • 8 assists • 9 points • 43 shots • -2

Ouellet: 38 games • 1 goal • 7 assists • 8 points • 48 shots • +5

I’d sure hope XO has more points than Ericsson, he has had a higher O-zone start average. XO=48% JE=42%

I wonder which of the two Blashill will blame?
the one given more defensive responsibilities.

This forum sounds more and more like my wife each day.
ha hah aha hah ah ahahaha hah ah!
too bad you can’t sign out from your wife….I guess….

And yes, pairing him with Smith makes sense.  It will force Sproul to keep it simple and play better D.
yep. yep. and yep with extra-yep sauce.

I am pretty sure Blashill indeed thinks that XO is worse than 5 dmen he kept in the lineup.
my god. someone take that record off the player. it’s skipping.

but you still have to make a condescending comment

It’s kind of needed. there is a full jar of chill pills here.

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle on 02/09/17 at 04:28 PM ET

ilovehomers's avatar

I’d sure hope XO has more points than Ericsson, he has had a higher O-zone start average. XO=48% JE=42%

Is 6% that big of a difference? Let’s compare salaries….

12 less games, more shots, better +/-, and one less point.  That doesn’t even speak to ice time!

Posted by ilovehomers on 02/09/17 at 04:32 PM ET

Avatar

Is 6% that big of a difference? Let’s compare salaries….

oh. lets look at skate size next since your point is better than mine.

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle on 02/09/17 at 05:37 PM ET

ilovehomers's avatar

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle on 02/09/17 at 04:37 PM ET

Way to back up your own claim after I simply asked a question about it.

Instead, you take it as a slight against you because….inferiority complex or little man syndrome. Your pick.

Posted by ilovehomers on 02/09/17 at 06:53 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

oh. lets look at skate size next since your point is better than mine.

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle

When your “facts” turn out not to back up your claim, you immediately turn, as always, to a nonsensical “argument” – just as ILH pointed out. It’s your go-to MO, and I’ve personally had enough of your silliness.

Fortunately, Paul created the “Ignore” feature for folks like you and the “empty suit” (Mr Chadwick). Please feel free to add me to your list as well.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 02/09/17 at 07:21 PM ET

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sorry. how else was I supposed to interpret your poor language….

Is 6% that big of a difference? Let’s compare salaries….

which then you go on…not comparing salaries but other stats.

12 less games, more shots, better +/-, and one less point.  That doesn’t even speak to ice time!

so take your personal projection of inferiority or short man problems and stop looking in your pants with disdain.

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle on 02/09/17 at 07:42 PM ET

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When your “facts” turn out not to back up your claim

explain. I’m not following your subject statement “my facts didn’t turn out” with your supporting sentences.

It’s your go-to MO, and I’ve personally had enough of your silliness.
so????????????????? oh…......

Please feel free to add me to your list as well.
take a little responsibility. do the blocking yourself? I have no problem with you.

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle on 02/09/17 at 07:49 PM ET

ilovehomers's avatar

I figured salaries was a given, just like looking at other basic numbers, but ya know, common sense ain’t all that common no more!!

Posted by ilovehomers on 02/09/17 at 08:19 PM ET

ilovehomers's avatar

Sincerely though, this is why people have an issue with fancy stats. Because some proponents of fancy stats paint an inaccurate picture soleley with fancy stats that is not supported and directly contradicts basic common sense things like:

Ericsson has 274 minutes of TTOI more than XO and only one more point.

But hey, XO starts more frequently in the ozone, so he is obviously not THAT much better than Ericsson, he just gets the favorable starts!

Posted by ilovehomers on 02/09/17 at 08:28 PM ET

Avatar

Salaries sure as heck seems like a salient point to me, especially considering the difference we’re getting between the two looks like 1 measly assist in 12 more games played.  Is that one assist worth the additional $3.5 million dollars?

Posted by BarryKlob on 02/09/17 at 09:09 PM ET

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I figured salaries was a given, just like looking at other basic numbers, but ya know, common sense ain’t all that common no more!!

Posted by ilovehomers on 02/09/17 at 07:19 PM ET

scapegoating.

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle on 02/09/17 at 09:35 PM ET

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But hey, XO starts more frequently in the ozone, so he is obviously not THAT much better than Ericsson, he just gets the favorable starts!

Posted by ilovehomers on 02/09/17 at 07:28 PM ET

coaches start better (trusted) players on defensive FOs more often.

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle on 02/09/17 at 09:38 PM ET

Avatar

Posted by BarryKlob on 02/09/17 at 08:09 PM ET


it is a very relevant point when a person actually makes it relevant. that didn’t happen in the comment I quoted and now someone is all bent out of shape over it.

Posted by howeandhowe from Seattle on 02/09/17 at 09:39 PM ET

Avatar

coaches start better (trusted) players on defensive FOs more often.

Jeff Blashill’s ice time allocation is the last thing I’d point to as an endorsement of a player’s quality.  See:  Athanasiou, Andreas.

Posted by BarryKlob on 02/09/17 at 09:45 PM ET

ilovehomers's avatar

Since when we’re we talking about defensive ability? Got any straw left?

Posted by ilovehomers on 02/09/17 at 09:52 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.