The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/08/13 at 01:15 PM ET
Updated 12x at 5:05 PM: The Red Wings are back on the ice at Joe Louis Arena following their 3-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers last night, and MLive's Ansar Khan reports that all is...predictable, all ahead of the Wings' slate of back-to-back matinees against Blue Jackets (who've won 3 in a row, including a 2-1 OT win over Colorado, a 4-3 shootout win over Edmonton and a 2-1 OT win over Vancouver last night) Saturday at 2 PM at Nationwide Arena, and Sunday at 5 back at JLA (the Wings are scheduled to fly to Columbus just before 3 PM today):
The Free Press's Helene St. James confirms:
In terms of the Blue Jackets' personnel news, ColumbusBlueJackets.com's Rob Mixer offers updates...
As does the Columbus Dispatch's Shawn Mitchell:
Also: According to Rant Sports' Stephanie Lewark, today's Larry Murphy turns 52 today...
In the prospect department, the Edmonton Sun's Derek Van Diest took note of the friendship between former University of Wisconsin players and now Edmonton Oilers and Red Wings players Justin Schultz and Brendan Smith...
Brendan Smith was one up on his buddy, Justin Schultz, heading into Thursday’s encounter between the Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers. The Red Wings rookie defenceman went up against his former University of Wisconsin teammate during the lockout earlier this year. They met for the first time at the NHL level Thursday.
“I played him in the AHL one game when he was playing with Oklahoma City and I was in Grand Rapids,” Smith said prior to the contest. “I had the upper hand in that game, we won, so I think he’s going to try and come out and win this one against me to make it even, but I’m not going to let that happen.”
A Toronto product, Smith, 24, was selected by the Red Wings in the first round – 27 overall – of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He spent three years at the University of Wisconsin, one with Schultz who played with Smith as a freshman.
“We were really close, he was my roommate on the road, we always hung out, he’s a good guy,” said Smith. “We had a really close group of guys on that team. We’re good buddies. He was phenomenal, he came in as a freshman and ran our power play. We had such a fabulous power play that year and he was the point man on it. We saw the talent and I’m really happy and proud that he’s done so well for himself.”
Schultz went into Thursday’s game with five goals and 13 points in 22 games this season. Smith had one assist in 12 games for the Red Wings.
“They smoked us in Grand Rapids,” said Schultz. “But it’s nice to see guys that I played with make the jump to this level and have success. It’s fun to go out there and play against them.”
And the CBC's Tim Wharnsby penned an article discussing the top 5 NCAA-playing free agents-to-be--the day after Hockey's Future's D.J. Powers did the same--and he duly noted that there's one prospect the Wings rather desperately want to sign:
Third-year D, Western Michigan
Age: 23. Height: 6-3. Weight: 198.
Hometown: Clay Township, Mich.
The skinny: Many thought DeKeyser was going to sign with the Detroit Red Wings last year, but then he decided to return to school for another year ... He played youth hockey with Trevor Nill, son of Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill ... He'll have interest from 20 or more teams and, like Schultz did last year, DeKeyser will listen to all interested parties before he determines his best opportunity ... He has size, can move the puck and plays a safe, intelligent game.
Check out the rest of his list...
NCAA hockey is coming to Grand Rapids, as Van Andel Arena will host the West Regional of the 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament on March 29 and 30! Four of college hockey’s top teams will compete in West Michigan to secure a spot in next month’s Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, and fans can purchase a two-day, three-game pass for just $65 by clicking here. Several Griffins have participated in the NCAA tournament, and we’ll highlight their experiences throughout March.
First-year head coach Jeff Blashill has his Grand Rapids Griffins in good shape to make the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs, as the club has held first place in the Midwest Division for most of the season and sits among the top seeds in the Western Conference with just over 20 games to play. But it’s not the first time Blashill has coached a team to success in West Michigan. He helped the CCHA’s Western Michigan Broncos earn an at-large bid to the 2011 NCAA Tournament after a successful season and strong showing in their conference championship.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Blashill said. “It doesn’t seem like I was only there for one season, based on the memories I have from that year. We had a group of players that were committed to doing things that hadn’t been done in a long time there.”
In 2010-11, Blashill’s lone season at the helm, the Broncos finished with a 19-13-10 regular season record, which secured their first winning season since 2001-02 and first berth in the NCAA Tournament since 1995-96. After Blashill departed for an assistant coaching job with the Detroit Red Wings, longtime NHL coach Andy Murray led the team to a spot in the 2012 tournament, solidifying it as an up-and-coming power in college hockey.
“There’s a sense of pride and accomplishment,” Blashill continued. “When I was offered and took the job, I believed that Western could become a national power. For me, it’s more happiness than anything. There are so many people that have so much pride in that program and have worked for so many years, through some tough times. To see it now be a really prominent program in the country is a great thing.”
Coming off an eight-win season in 2009-10 and boasting just three NHL-drafted players, not many would have predicted the Broncos to end up in the NCAA Tournament at the beginning of the season. Beyond that, they were eventually selected to a group that included powerhouses like the University of North Dakota and the University of Denver, who rank first and second, respectively, in NCAA championships.
Western Michigan came out strong against the Denver Pioneers, holding a 2-0 lead with five minutes to play in the game. But two late goals from Denver forced overtime, and the thrilling contest ended with the Broncos falling in double overtime.
“It was a great game,” said Blashill. “We were a little bit of an underdog to Denver, but we certainly felt if we played our best game, we had an opportunity to win. We had a lead late and we gave it up, which was tough, but some of that was a credit to Denver. At the end of those types of games, you want to say that you gave it everything, played great and left it all out there, and sometimes the result doesn’t follow.
Update #0.5: Interesting...
Also: The Red Wings' latest contest involves submitting a video to prove that one is the ultimate "Wingman," with the contest offering a road trip with the team...
And the Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger received a one-sentence answer from Ken Holland regarding realignment:
Limiting the normally chatty Kenny Holland to just three words is about as rare as seeing Don Cherry in a ratty T-shirt and jeans. But when it comes to the seemingly imminent realignment plans of the National Hockey League, the reaction of the Detroit Red Wings general manager was short and to the point.
“Amazing. We’re thrilled,” Holland told the Sun on Thursday night.
With the NHLPA announcing late Thursday that it had given the thumbs up to the league’s proposal, all that remains now is for the NHL board of governors to give its stamp of approval. Such an official endorsement should be nothing more than a formality, given that it was the league that submitted the restructuring blue print in the first place.
In essence, the key move is that Holland’s Wings, one of the NHL’s marquee members, will now shift to the east along with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Heading west — and rightly so — are the Winnipeg Jets.
Update #4: The Wings told the Free Press's Helene St. James that they're relatively satisfied with their performance thus far...
"I think we should be proud of where we are," Daniel Cleary said. "I thought we've battled hard." Cleary cited the early strong play of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk as crucial to the success, saying, "we had Pav and Z come in and carry us offensively. And with the injury but that we've had, opportunities have opened, and you've seen guys play real well."
The Wings knew they were in for a tough transition as they faced a lineup absent Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart, but then on top of that came a domino-effect of injuries. Darren Helm, Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson, Jonas Gustavsson, Brendan Smith - the list is so long, it's easier just to point out that only eight skaters have played all 24 games.
"Missing Helmer and Bert, those are huge losses, that's an understatement," Cleary said. "And Sammy, especially, with his shot."
The fact that the majority of the Wings didn't play in Europe factored into the short start...For some players...
"It was uncharted waters for everybody," Cleary said. "Nobody's gone from skating at Troy three-on-three to here-we-go, full five-on-five NHL action. We had Pav and Z going, and that was big - it bought us some time until guys started settle in. I mean, I know it took me 10-12 games."
Some of the bright spots have been seeing forwards Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson, and defenseman Brian Lashoff, thrive after being called up from Grand Rapids. Cory Emmerton, who wasn't even penned in as a regular when the season began, has done a serviceable job as the fourth- or third-line center, and Jordin Tootoo, Mike Babcock said, "has a dimension and we need to challenge him to bring it every night."
Niklas Kronwall said, "now we've got four lines going, which is huge. We've got scoring from all four lines. That's going to be huge for us going forward."
Seven weeks ago, the Wings began the 2013 season with a stinker at St. Louis, losing 6-0 in a game that Kronwall said, "we're still trying to forget. I don't think we did anything right. I think we've moved in the right direction since then, and are playing some good hockey." Besides the run-away Chicago Blackhawks, the standings are crammed so tightly, Jimmy Howard appreciates the humor of checking out the daily chart in the locker room.
"Some nights you walk out of here with a win, you're in fourth place," he said, laughing. "You come back in the morning, you're in 10th. It's like, wow, what happened? It makes for entertaining hockey, and knowing so much is on the line every single night, it's imperative that you go out there and you find a way to win."
St. James posted a video discussing the Wings' take on their halfway point status as well:
Update #4.5: The Macomb Daily's Pleiness added more from Babcock in his official notebook:
“All those guys (from GR) got one game, period,” Babcock said. “And then they earned another game, and then they earned another game and I look down and they've played 14 games, some of them. Those came on an ad-earn basis. So good for them.
“We’ve just got to keep getting better and if we keep getting better every day we have a chance to be in the playoffs,” Babcock added. “And if we don't keep getting better we won't be in the playoffs. Obviously, health would be a great thing. It hasn't been something we've been fortunate to have so far but I see Helm was skating before us and Fil was skating with us. Looks like we have guys on the horizon.”
The only adjustment to Babcock's lineup for Saturday's game in Columbus will be Jonas Gustavsson in goal.
“The team we're playing has got five out of six points against us and has really been hot lately,” Babcock said. “We have back to backs against them and they're important four points.”
The AP has already posted a Wings-Blue Jackets preview, too:
The Red Wings (12-8-4) enter on a 5-1-1 roll that has seen them move into second place in the division behind Chicago as they seek a 22nd straight playoff berth.
No Western Conference team has fewer points than the 20 for Columbus (8-12-4), but the club has turned in its best hockey during this run. The Blue Jackets have played five straight games that have gone to overtime and look to cap a perfect four-game homestand after Matt Calvert's game-winner in Thursday's 2-1 victory over Vancouver.
Ten of Columbus' last 11 games have been decided by one goal. The exception was a 5-3 loss at Phoenix on Feb. 16 in which the Coyotes scored into an empty net for the final tally.
The Blue Jackets have won twice and lost in a shootout in their three meetings with the Red Wings this season.
The Red Wings have yielded more than two goals just once in their last seven games. Jimmy Howard is 4-1-1 with a 1.15 goals-against average in six starts in that span, making 22 saves Thursday for his second shutout of the season in a 3-0 victory over Edmonton.
Detroit is 0 for 16 on the power play against Columbus this season, 0 for 33 on the road and 0 for 10 in its last five games. The Blue Jackets have killed off all 18 penalties in their last eight contests.
Columbus has four skaters tied for the team lead with three points against Detroit this season, but two won't be available. James Wisniewski is out with a broken foot while Derek Dorsett sustained a broken clavicle Thursday and will likely be lost for the season.
Detroit's top four goal scorers are in the midst of droughts. Damien Brunner, Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Cleary haven't scored in five consecutive games, and Pavel Datsyuk has gone eight straight without a goal.
Update #5: Grumble:
3. What do you think the biggest challenge will be of playing in a shortened season?
The biggest challenge would be to stay healthy because there are so many games in such a short amount of time. The main thing is to eat well and get a lot of rest to keep my body healthy.
5. Who was your favorite NHL player growing up?
Bobby Orr and Brendan Shannahan
6. Where and how are you most likely to spend the off-season?
Working toward finishing my degree in Wisconsin as well as spending time at home in Toronto with my parents in MIMICO, Ontario
7. Where is your favorite place to play on the road? Why?
Chicago because the fans are unreal and I love the rivalry between the Wings and the Hawks.
13. What is the worst rookie initiation you’ve experienced with a team?
I ate a meal worm and swallowed a goldfish when I played Junior Lacrosse for the Mimico Mountaineers
14. If you had a sister, which teammate would you most likely to allow her to date?
15. If you had the first pick in an NHL fantasy draft, who would it be? Why?
16. Which of your teammates…
has the best one-liners?
should have his own reality show?
has the best playoff beard?
Update #8: The Free Press's Helene St. James asked Jimmy Howard about the new movie Oz the Great and Powerful, which is NOT about Chris Osgood:
THE RED WINGS WILL SWEEP THE WEEKEND: Detroit has a home-and-home with the Blue Jackets starting tomorrow afternoon in Columbus. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but the Wings have played their way up to second in the division and a tie for third in the conference. The defense has been much, much better (crazy what healthy skaters can do for you). And Jimmy Howard has been outstanding. The Wings have shut out their opponents in the first two periods in each of their last five games. It gets dicey after this weekend as Detroit heads west – so it will be a crucial four points in these two games. They’ll get all four of them.
And his post includes a wallpaper-sized picture of Niklas Kronwall.
Update #10: For the record, ESPN's Neil Greenberg penned an Insider-only blog entry in which he pegs the Wings' chances of making the playoffs at 66%;
And DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose's off-day story involves Justin Abdelkader's first goal in...a very long time:
hough Pavel Datsyuk’s English isn’t always easy to understand, he perfectly described what Justin Abdelkader meant to the Red Wings in the first half of this season, which ended with Thursday’s 3-0 win over Edmonton.
“He goes through and gets the puck to me or goes back in front of the net and fights for every puck,” Datsyuk said, Friday afternoon. “Some people only measure him if he scores. But if you see him … he does a lot of hard jobs.”
Abdelkader was finally rewarded for his hard work when he scored his first goal of the season Thursday at Joe Louis Arena, which snapped a 41-game scoring drought. Using an analogy to sum up Abdelkader’s contribution to the top six forwards this season, Datsyuk said, “It’s like somebody needs to pull the piano and somebody needs to play the piano. This is a guy who pulls the piano.”
Forget that Abdelkader’s first goal in nearly a year was an empty-netter. After the game, the former Michigan State standout – who scored perhaps the most important goal in Spartans’ hockey history with his last-second gem that clinched the 2007 national championship – said it felt like he hadn’t scored in four years.
“It’s one of those things where I felt that I had a lot of chances, but for whatever reason haven’t gotten the breaks,” Abdelkader said. “Hopefully this will break the bad spell and hopefully I keep doing the things that I’ve been doing, getting the pucks to the net and hope for some breaks. But it’s always nice to get that first one.”
Abdelkader went 41 games, including last season’s playoffs, without a goal. But what he has lacked in the scoring column, Abdelkader has more than made up for in other areas with energy and physicality. He leads the Red Wings with 52 hits this year, a category that he has led all Detroit forwards in over the last two seasons. Abdelkader also got a break when coach Mike Babcock elevated him to the Datsyuk line opposite Daniel Cleary on Feb. 21. Though he believes the dubious streak was his longest at any level, sticking to the basics will help lift him out of his doldrums, Abdelkader said.
“I’m just trying to get pucks to the net,” said Abdelkader, who is sixth on the team with 42 shots. “There have been a lot of chances that I’ve had. They’ve been real close, but not quite. I feel that it was coming, and I guess it’s always nice to break it on a goal like that last night. I just want to keep doing a lot of the same things. Points are one thing, goals are one thing, but at the same time you want to feel good about your game all over the rink, offensively and defensively.”
And finally, the Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek counts Niklas Kronwall among his Norris Trophy finalists in a halway point-awarding weekly notebook:
Norris (top defence): 1. Zdeno Chara, Boston. 2. Duncan Keith, Chicago. 3. Niklas Kronwall, Detroit.
The Norris race is complicated by Karlsson’s injury and the fact that perennial favorites Shea Weber and Drew Doughty are off to slow start in Nashville and Los Angeles respectively. Weirdly, Chara, even at 6-foot-9, is easy to overlook because he doesn’t put up the points that others do, but he remains a strong plus player (at plus-11) and plays almost 25 minutes per night for the NHL’s fourth-best defensive team. Keith doesn’t have to log nearly the same minutes he did three years ago, but he remains a reliable minute-munching defender on an improving defensive team, and Kronwall has stepped up to play big minutes for the hanging-in-there Red Wings a year after Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement.
“We're a work in progress,'' general manager Ken Holland said. “The best we're shooting for is the fourth seed; we're in the thick of things. All in all, lots of positive things happened. We're better today than we were a month ago. In the salary cap world, it's about qualifying for the playoffs and putting it all together at the right time.''
The Red Wings are playing their best hockey of the season. They are 5-1-1 in their past seven, having allowed only eight goals.
Their best players are leading the way. Henrik Zetterberg (26 points) and Pavel Datsyuk (24 points) are among the NHL's top 15 scorers. Niklas Kronwall has come on strong after a shaky start and is second among all defensemen with 17 points. Jimmy Howard has two shutouts and has allowed just seven goals in his past six starts. Damien Brunner leads the team with 10 goals, having made a fast transition from the Swiss league.
The silver lining in their rash of injuries is that young players called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins have gotten an opportunity and delivered. Brian Lashoff has helped solidify the defense. Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson have combined for seven goals, 13 points and a plus-nine rating. They have room for improvement as a team because veterans Johan Franzen, Daniel Cleary and Filppula can play better.
“We think we've done a lot of good stuff and we're getting better,'' Babcock said. “We're definitely getting better defensively and playing harder as a group and more structured and more organized. If we keep getting better every day we have a chance to be in the playoffs, and if we don't keep getting better we won't be in the playoffs.''
“If you look away from the game against Colorado (2-1 win Tuesday), when we didn't play very well, we've been playing better hockey, the way we need to play,'' Kronwall said. “We're staying on top of (teams), being more involved all over the ice, getting great goaltending. Defense is looking better. Power play has to get better.''
“If you're going anywhere you got to be good defensively, have to be comfortable in 1-0, 2-1 games,'' Holland said. “We're a lot younger than we've been in the last 15 years. I like what I see. I like the evolution that is going on. We're starting to play tight, grittier hockey.''
Update #12: Make it twelve. The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness penned two "quotes of the day," with one coming from Mike Babcock...
Wings coach Mike Babcock sees light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the injuries up front.
“It hasn’t been something we’ve been fortunate to have so far but I see Helm was skating before us and Fil was skating with us. Looks like we have guys on the horizon.”
And the other coming from Pavel Datsyuk:
Pavel Datsyuk on Justin Abdelkader getting a boost of confidence scoring his first goal in nearly a calendar year.
“Of course it’s much easier when you score. But some people can see how many, like, how tough (his) work is that he does,” Datsyuk said. “He goes through and gets the puck to me or goes back in front of the net and fights for every puck. Some people only measure him if he scores. But if you see him total, he does a lot of hard jobs.
“It’s like there is somebody who needs to pull the piano and somebody needs to play the piano,” Datsyuk continued. “This is a guy who is one of the guys who pulls the piano.”
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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.