Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings Friday practice post in progress: lineup changes unlikely, Gustavsson starting, Fil out

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:

Sigh:

 

In terms of the Blue Jackets' personnel news, ColumbusBlueJackets.com's Rob Mixer offers updates...

As does the Columbus Dispatch's Shawn Mitchell:

Go figure:

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:

Dan DeKeyser

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...

And, via RedWingsFeed, GriffinsHockey.com's Kyle Kujawa spoke to DeKeyser's former coach, Jeff Blashill, about the NCAA playoffs to come:

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...

Update #1: No surprise here:

Update #2: The Hockey News's Lyle "Spector" Richardson weighs in on the Ian White situation and the rest of the Wings' trade options:

The Detroit Red Wings are among a number of clubs still undecided over what they’ll do prior to the April 3 trade deadline.

Mlive.com's Ansar Khan believes the next two to three weeks will determine GM Ken Holland's course of action.

The Wings expect to get injured defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo back soon, which would give them nine blueliners. Ian White, who's been a healthy scratch since Feb. 27, could become a trade candidate.

Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Samuelsson and Darren Helm are also due to return later this month and will provide some much-needed depth up front.

If Holland decides to go shopping, Khan believes he'd seek either a top-four defenseman or a top-six forward. The overall health of Holland’s lineup and the club's performance throughout March will determine if he becomes a buyer or seller.

Yahoo Sports' Nicholas J. Cotsonika weighs in on the realignment issue as well...

[It] was no rubber stamp. Union leadership worked with the league for weeks, and it spent more time than the league wanted consulting with players – on conference calls, in large groups, in small groups – before the executive board made the decision. There were many different viewpoints and ideas.

But the players appreciated that the league came to them first this time. They asked for mock schedules for three teams, and the league provided them. They didn't want to leave the Winnipeg Jets – formerly the Atlanta Thrashers – in the Southeast Division for a third season since their relocation. This is considered a temporary Band-Aid that will allow them to see how they like it.

And frankly, it just wasn't worth going to war over this after a bitter lockout that cost almost half of this season. There really was no better option, because the NHL simply has more teams in the East and so many competing interests market to market. In the end, no matter what you do, not everyone is going to be happy.

Realignment is like real estate. It's all about location, location, location.

The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning don't like the plan, because they have to travel to Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto for division games. (The idea is that they will sell tickets to snowbirds when those teams come to visit.) The Nashville Predators don't like the plan, because they lose the Detroit Red Wings as division rivals.

But the Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets love the plan, because they were Eastern time zone cities playing in the Western Conference. Detroit owner Mike Ilitch had been lobbying commissioner Gary Bettman for 15 years, so his team could have better travel and his fans could have better TV start times, and he felt he was owed the move to the East. The Wings are an Original Six team that sucked it up and played at a disadvantage for a long time. The Blue Jackets needed the move as they continue to establish themselves in the league.

The Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild love the plan, because they are in a division with teams in the Central time zone. They won't be going west like they used to. The Jets obviously love the plan because they won't be jetting to Carolina, Washington, Tampa and South Florida like they used to, and those teams have to be glad they're not going all the way to Winnipeg all the time anymore.

Hey, it could be worse. The NHL could be a 21-team league with imbalanced divisions that put 16 teams in the playoffs. Good thing that's never happened.


For the record, the Hockey News's Adam Proteau is on the "Niklas Kronwall as a Norris Trophy candidate" bandwagon...

And the Free Press's Helene St. James just filed her off-day story, updating Valtteri Filppula's status and Wings coach Mike Babock's hope that his team will finally get healthy sooner than later:

Forward Valtteri Filppula skated with the Wings during practice today at Joe Louis Arena, while forward Darren Helm skated on his own beforehand. Neither will play this weekend in a home-and-home series against the Blue Jackets, but Filppula is eyeing Wednesday at Calgary as a possibility. Filppula hasn't played since hurting a shoulder Feb. 24 against Vancouver.

"I feel better," he said. "Now I've skated a few times, and I'm getting there. Still, shooting is the biggest thing. Obviously, there is not contact in practices, so shooting has been the biggest issue. Today, I felt better shooting than yesterday, so hopefully, it keeps going. But still having some issues. Skating feels good."

Filppula said he'll go to Columbus, where the Wings play Saturday, so that he can skate on his own, albeit very early. From there, "I'm hoping for Wednesday, see how it feels after a couple more practices with the team," Filppula said.

Helm has been sidelined all but one game by a sore back. He isn't expected back until late this month at the earliest, but he's making strides simply by getting on the ice.

"Health would be a great thing," Babcock said. "It hasn't been something we've been fortunate to have thus far, but I see Helm was skating before us, Fil was skating with us, so it looks like we've got guys on the horizon."

Update #3: MLive's Ansar Khan's filed his practice post, duly noting that the Blue Jackets are in fact a formidable opponent, at least of late:

Columbus (8-12-4) has gained five out of a possible six points against the Red Wings (12-8-4) and has won the past two meetings between the teams – 4-2 in Columbus on Feb. 2 and 3-2 in Detroit on Feb. 21. Detroit won the first meeting between the teams, 4-3 in a shootout, on Jan. 21 in Columbus.

This marks the start of the second half of the season for both clubs. They wrap up their five-game season-series Sunday at Joe Louis Arena (5 p.m.). It is reverse jersey weekend, so the Red Wings will wear red on the road and white at home.

“I think they're getting good goaltending (from Sergei Bobrovsky, who's 6-6-3, with a 2.46 goals-against average), I think they're well-structured and they're working hard and they're a group that seems to have life,'' Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

This will be Gustavsson's second start this season. He is coming off a strong 25-save performance in a 2-1 shootout win at San Jose on Feb. 28.

“I'm happy with my first start, but that's in the past now,'' Gustavsson said. “Just got to look forward to the next game, put all my focus on that one. It's always a new challenge every time you go out there. You just got to be mentally ready.''

Khan offered updates on Valtteri Filppula and Darren Helm's statuses as well...

“Getting there. Still, shooting is the biggest (issue),'' Filppula said. "Today, I felt better shooting than yesterday, but still having some issue. But skating feels pretty good. In my head I's kind of hoping for Wednesday (at Calgary). See how it feels after a couple more practices with the team.''

Said Babcock: "I see (Darren) Helm (back) was skating before us and Fil was skating with us. Looks like we have guys on the horizon.''

And I'm with coach Babcock regarding the Wings' record thus far (12-8-and-4). The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness found that Babcock had hoped that the Wings would've secured six more points at the 24-game mark:

“We thought that if we had 30 points we’d be in a good position, so we came two shy of our goal,” Babcock said after practice Friday at Joe Louis Arena. “We actually had hoped to get 34. But we still think we’ve done a lot of good stuff and we’re getting better. We’re definitely getting better defensively and playing harder as a group and more structured and more organized.”

Heading into play Friday, the Wings are fourth in the Western Conference with 28 points.

“I think we should be pretty proud of the fact they we’ve really buckled down defensively,” forward Daniel Cleary said. “Obviously, the injury bug was a huge factor for us. It was good to see guys come in and have an opportunity and play real well.”

The Wings have been hardest hit on the blue line, losing Carlo Colaiacovo, Jakub Kindl, Jonathan Ericsson, Kyle Quincey, Brendan Smith and Ian White missing some amount of time. That unit has gotten healthy and has stabilized of late, along with the help of rookie Brian Lashoff.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Lashoff said. “We just needed to find a way to win with this group. I think sticking to the system, playing strong in our own end and getting it out of our own end as quickly as possible is something we’ve focused on the last couple of weeks and we’re not giving up that many goals because of it. If we continue doing that we’ll be fine.”

The Wings are 6-1-1 over their last eight games and have allowed a total of five goals during that stretch.

“I think our defense and Jimmy Howard has been really helping us out a lot,” Smith said. “We’ve had a lot of adversity with injuries. Now that we have pretty much everyone back, but we’re still missing guys like (Todd) Bertuzzi and (Darren) Helm who are a very big part of this team.

“The Red Wings are all about winning and have that competitive nature,” Smith continued. “You’ve seen them plug in Grand Rapids players and we’ve done really well. I’m not surprised.”

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:

Update #6: Via RedWingsFeed, the Detroit News's Ted Kuflan's filed his off-day report, focusing on the Wings' self-standard:

"We're two shy of our goal," coach Mike Babcock said. "We actually had hoped to get 34 (points). But we still think we've done a lot of good stuff. We're getting better defensively. Playing harder as a group, and we're more structured and organized."

One of the key developments of this first half has been the maturation of young players such as defenseman Brian Lashoff and forwards Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson. Promoted from Grand Rapids when injuries hit, the three Griffins have become key factors.

"All those guys got one game, period," Babcock said. "They earned another game, and another game, and you look down and they've played (Tatar 16 games, Andersson 14), Lashoff has played in all but four (games). Those all came on an at-earned basis. Good for them."

The second half will be imposing. The Red Wings only have nine home games left, while playing 15 on the road.

While sitting as the fourth seed in the West entering Friday, they were only three points from missing the playoffs as the ninth seed. Everyone expects the playoff race to remain that tight.

"Just keep getting better," said Babcock, of the second-half mission. "If we keep getting better every day we'll have a chance to be in the playoffs. If we don't get better, we won't be in the playoffs, it's that simple."

Update #6.5: From Jakub Kindl:

Update #7: Brendan Smith Tweeted this:

So Colleen Grimes spoke to Smith about hockey, his family and his teammates, asking him 16(?) questions:

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?

Niklas Kronwall

15. If you had the first pick in an NHL fantasy draft, who would it be? Why?

Pavel Datsyuk

16. Which of your teammates…

    has the best one-liners?

Kyle Quincey

    should have his own reality show?

Jan Mursak

    has the best playoff beard?

Hank Zetterberg

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:

Update #9: Via RedWingsFeed again, the Free Press's Jamie Samuelssen's making quite the prediction on 97.1 the Ticket's website...

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.

Update #11: Via RedWingsFeed, I hope this is my final update for the day: MLive's Ansar Khan spoke to Ken Holland and the Wings' coach and players about the team's first-half performance:

“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.”

Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink
 

Comments

stonehands-78's avatar

As usual, thanks for the write-up, GJM.

... but, um ... wasn’t the final 3 - 0 last night?

( ... or doesn’t Abby’s empty netter count?)

L.G.R.W.

Posted by stonehands-78 from the beginning ... a WingsFan, on 03/08/13 at 02:40 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Brain not working!

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 03/08/13 at 02:49 PM ET

klank's avatar

Posted by
     
    stonehands-78
     
    from the beginning ... a WingsFan, on 03/08/13 at 02:40 PM ET

I had a good chuckle this morning thinking George did that on purpose.

Cool to see White sweaters @ home.  Wish NHL would flip halfway through each season.

Posted by klank from the finest hot tub in Marin on 03/08/13 at 03:13 PM ET

WingedRider's avatar

“Getting there. Still, shooting is the biggest (issue),’’ Filppula said.

I don’t get the problem? Fil never shoots anyway.

Cleary said they miss Samuelsson’s shot. I think those players standing between him and the end boards might disagree?  Shoot high and miss the net Sammy!!

Wings need at least 3 of 4 points against Jackets, IMO On pace for a 56 point season is cutting it close and not home ice for 1st round, IMO

Posted by WingedRider from Saskatoon, SK on 03/08/13 at 06:08 PM ET

Slumpy's avatar

Panthers and Bolts get the long travel now for next season lol.
bettman should get a team in Puerto Rico and New Orleans so they can form there own division, haha.
The new divisions seem to be thrown together like they used darts to form them.

 

 

Posted by Slumpy from Detroit on 03/08/13 at 09:20 PM ET

Avatar

The new divisions seem to be thrown together like they used darts to form them.

Or time zones, but whatever.

Posted by Garth on 03/08/13 at 11:51 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.