The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/24/13 at 04:44 AM ET
Ahead of tonight's "Rivalry Night" game against the Los Angeles Kings (7:30 PM EDT, NBCSN/TSN2/97.1 FM), the Red Wings received help from one team they're battling with for a playoff spot and none from two others.
The 21-17-and-6 Wings still sit in 9th place in the Western Conference with 50 points and 19 regulation-or-OT wins, 1 point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets (51 points, 21-17-and-7, 17 ROWs, 2 games left, at Dallas on Thursday and home vs. Nashville on Sunday).
With three games remaining on Detroit's schedule (tonight against LA, tomorrow against Nashville and Saturday in Dallas), the Wings have almost no chance of catching the St. Louis Blues (56 points, 2 games remaining) thanks to St. Louis' 3-1 win over Colorado, and the Minnesota Wild now sit 3 points ahead of Detroit after pissing off Kings via a 2-1 win on Tuesday evening (Minnesota's got 53 points, a 25-18-and-3 record and 21 ROWs with 2 games remaining)...
But the Dallas Stars dropped a 3-2 decision to San Jose, and still sit 2 points behind Detroit (50 to 48, Dallas is 22-20 and 4 with 20 ROWs,with a tilt against Columbus on Thursday and Saturday's showdown with the Wings in the Stars' future.
In an ideal world, the Wings either "win out" or earn 2 wins and a point out of their other remaining game to ensure that they earn more points than Columbus should the Blue Jackets "win out," but the "worst" Dallas can do from a Wings fan's perspective is beat the Wings on Saturday and steal the Wings' playoff spot--assuming they beat Columbus tomorrow (which wouldn't be a bad thing from the Wings' perspective).
From here until Saturday, however, the Wings only need to worry about themselves and catching the Blue Jackets.
If they're not up to their tasks, the Wings might want to know that Sport-Express's Andrey Kuznetsov reports that the Russian World Championship team is holding a spot open for Pavel Datsyuk, and ahead of the World Championship warm-up that is the Czech Games, Expressen's Gunnar Nordstrom reports that the Swedes are holding out hope that Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson can aid the Swedish cause sometime on or before the Worlds begin in Stockholm and Helsinki on May 3rd.
Both of the Wings' tasks (the Wings have given themselves plenty to worry about, and Columbus can max out at 55 points) may or may not be made a little easier given that Dustin Brown's shoulder made an acquaintance with Jason Pominville's face on Tuesday night, but Ken Holland made the Wings' beat writers aware of the fact that Todd Bertuzzi may be cleared to play after the morning skate: Darryl Sutter coached the Kings to a Stanley Cup by utilizing a very big and very mean roster that took to playing like the Calgary Flames, circa 2004, and the Kings might be a little bigger and a little meaner this year.
With the standard of refereeing retreating to the same, "Let 'em play, let 'em hook, let 'em hold, let 'em wrestle and tackle" standard it took toward the end of the last lockout-affected season--if not the Year of the Trap that was the 1994-95 season--the Wings are in tough both tonight and tomorrow against the spoiler-happy Predators, and they'll be playing against a team that's gone 4-1-and-1 over its past 6 games, loss to Minnesota included.
NHL.com's Dan Myers reports that the Kings were in a foul mood after the game as they've lost 5 straight away from the Staples Center:
"We didn't play three periods tonight. We didn't deserve to win," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "We knew [Minnesota was going to be desperate] coming in, they're fighting for a playoff spot, they're right there. They played with the determination to win tonight."
Minnesota played one of its finest periods of the season in the first, getting back to the basics of coach Mike Yeo's system -- getting pucks deep, using an effective forecheck to create turnovers and generally making life difficult for its opponent.
After a slow first couple of minutes, the Wild started winning shifts and before long, Yeo had cycled a couple of times through each forward line with Minnesota carrying the play. The period was reminiscent of each of its last two opening periods at home -- the lone difference being the Wild capitalized on a couple of chances, allowing them to play most of the night from in front.
With just three whistles through the first 16 minutes of game time, the Wild finally took advantage of its zone time when Parise raced to a loose puck behind the net and saucered a pass over the stick of Kings defenseman Matt Greene's stick right to Coyle, who was standing in front of the net. The rookie buried his eighth of the season past a sprawling Bernier at 16:21.
On the next shift, Clutterbuck gave the Wild its first two-goal first period in more than a month.
"They're a veteran hockey club, they're not a young hockey club," [Kings coach Darryl] Sutter said. "They have a lot of guys used to playing in big games. That's what they did."
Things got chippy late in the second period when Brown appeared to elbow Wild winger Jason Pominville in the head. Pominville stayed on the ice a few moments before skating wobbly to the bench. He did not return and no penalty was called.
"I haven't seen it yet," Brown said. "I had the puck on my stick, he's coming to hit me. I'm just bracing myself."
"Got the puck on your stick, pretty tough to do anything else," Sutter said.
The Los Angeles Times' Lisa Dillman reports that the Kings felt that they gave the game away...
Simply flipping on the switch in the last 15 minutes or so of a game doesn't usually work at this juncture of the season. The Kings almost got away with it, coming close to tying the game in the final 14 seconds when defenseman Slava Voynov was stymied by Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom.
"The first two periods we didn't play," said Kings captain Dustin Brown. "They played a good game — they were desperate, they were hungry. We just didn't have any of that. We can't win a game … I mean, we've done [it] in the past, where we've played one good period and won a game. But this time of year, it's not going to happen, especially against a team like that."
The odd twist is that if Brown does not play against Detroit, it could in fact hurt Minnesota, because it is fending off the Red Wings, among others, in the race for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. As for Tuesday night's game, its importance was not merely Wild-centric.
"It was a pretty important one for us too," said Carter, referring to the Kings' pursuit of home-ice advantage in the playoffs. We should have been ready, right? We needed these two points. No excuses…. Now it's a really big two points."
The Kings and goaltender Jonathan Bernier shut out the Wild on April 4, and Bernier again was the starter Tuesday. So was it a different Wild team or a different Kings team?
"No disrespect to them or discredit, but we did not play our game," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "We can't kid ourselves. We've got to be a lot better."
And the Kings' comments to LAKingsInsider's Jon Rosen reflect that, starting with Brown...
On the improvement in the third period: “We got the goal at the end of the [second] period. I think that’s just like any team. We built momentum off that. We had a first good shift, and you kind of build on that. Bernie made a couple saves in the third that he had to to give us a chance to win, and we had some opportunities at the end. I don’t know if Backstrom – it looked like he made a great on Slava there with 10 seconds left. But we didn’t play three periods and we didn’t deserve to win the game.”
On whether he expected a desperate Minnesota performance: “Yeah, I mean we knew that coming in. They’re fighting for a playoff spot. They’re right there. There’s…three or four teams fighting for two spots, and they want to keep pushing forward. They played with the determination to win the game tonight.”
On whether the game was a case of “a little too late”: “The first two periods we didn’t play. I mean, they played a good game. They were desperate. They were hungry. We just didn’t have any of that. We can’t win a game – we’ve done it in the past where we’ve played one good period and won a game, but this time of the year it’s not going to happen, especially against a team like that. We need some points.”
On players moving up and down on lines in the third period: “At that point, we weren’t even playing the right way, so maybe just moving guys around gives some guys some more ice time that were playing. Hey, that’s sometimes how it goes.”
As well as those of Jeff Carter...
On his late second period goal:“I just came off the bench. It was a good play – I know Richie (Brad Richardson) was out there. I’m not sure who the other winger was, but they were battling hard, though. I came off the bench and I think they just kind of lost me. It was one of the only times that we actually got on the forecheck and stopped pucks up.”
On the game’s struggles in the first and second periods: “I think we just got outworked. We turned pucks over. We weren’t skating. They were the hungrier team, and they won all the battles.”
On playing a desperate team: "Yeah. It was a pretty important one for us, too. Mean, we should’ve been ready, right? We needed these two points, and there’s no excuses. We needed to be ready. We better be ready tomorrow.”
On whether it’s good to be playing again on Wednesday: “Yeah. It’s always good. Obviously we need to learn from this, but it’s nice that we get to go right back at it tomorrow. Now it’s a really big two points.”
And Anze Kopitar:
On the loss to a “desperate” team: “Our start was not good at all. We had too many turnovers in the neutral zone in the first period, and they came at us pretty quick and that was a desperate team. We found that out in a hurry. Going forward, we’re going to play some desperate teams [and] a desperate team in Detroit tomorrow that’s trying to get in and then [we’ll] battle pretty much head-to-head against San Jose, I think, for the fourth spot. We’re going to have to have better starts than tonight.”
On whether playoff hockey can be simulated by playing desperate teams repeatedly: “Yeah, you can. I mean, I know we were in that position last year, and our playoffs started with about 15 games to go in the season or 20. Now we definitely know what the other team is thinking to get into the playoffs and what we were thinking last year. There’s going to be playoff intensity, and tonight we weren’t ready for it.”
The Associated Press's recap allows coach Sutter to get the last word:
Jeff Carter's slap shot whizzed past Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom with an improbable 0.8 seconds left before the second intermission, pulling the Kings within one. It was Carter's 26th goal, tied for third in the NHL. Then as the Kings created some late energy, Slava Voynov's shot from the far edge of the right circle was stopped by a sprawling Backstrom with 11 seconds remaining in the game to preserve the lead.
"You've got to play 60 minutes playing a desperate hockey team," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said, adding: "We turned the puck over too much in the first period. Eventually, when you have that much skill on the other side, they're going to score."
The Kings failed to get a point for only the third time in their last 15 games. Bernier, in the net for the first time in seven games in relief of Jonathan Quick, made 23 saves. The Kings can't do better than the fourth seed, but they don't want to fall to fifth or sixth and lose that home-ice advantage for the first round. San Jose and St. Louis have been right behind all month.
The Wings defeated Los Angeles 3-2 at the Joe way back on February 10th, and when my laptop was kerplunk, the Kings defeated Detroit 2-1 in a snoozer and a half on February 27th, on what may have been the worst ice the Wings have played on all season long.
NHL.com's David Battaglio sets up tonight's game as follows...
Big story: This is the game in hand Detroit holds on the Columbus Blue Jackets, trailing by one point for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Red Wings close with a home game against the Nashville Predators on Thursday before a season finale at the also-in-contention Dallas Stars on Saturday. If Detroit wins all three, they are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 22nd consecutive season.
Kings [team scope]: Los Angeles closed last season 3-0-3 to grab the eighth seed that led to a run that won the championship. The Kings, after a 2-1 loss to the playoff-chasing Minnesota Wild on Monday, expect to gain a competitive edge facing hard-working teams down the stretch.
"Yeah, you can," Kopitar said. "I mean, I know we were in that position last year, and our playoffs started with about 15 games to go in the season or 20. Now we definitely know what the other team is thinking to get into the playoffs and what we were thinking last year."
The loss at the Wild was the Kings' first in regulation since April 9 (4-1-1). Los Angeles is 8-11-4 on the road this season.
"We're facing another desperate team (Wednesday), one that's fighting for their playoff lives, and positioning, and so are we," defenseman Robyn Regehr told Fox Sports. "I think we're in the same situation; we need a little bit more urgency, especially early on in the game."
Red Wings: Detroit has made the playoffs 21 straight seasons, a streak almost as old as some of the emerging players who are trying to get them to 22.
We'll get to that...possibly?
Who's hot: Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who did not play against the Wild, has four wins in his past five games with a 1.72 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Defenseman Drew Doughty has five goals in April after scoring one before it. Forward Mike Richards has six points in his past six games. … Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard has two shutouts in his past four games, and has allowed more than two goals once in his past eight. Forward Johan Franzen has 10 points in 10 April games.
Injury report: Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi (back, leg), who last played Feb. 7, could return Wednesday; if not, perhaps Thursday, according to the Detroit Free Press. Forwards Darren Helm (back), Mikael Samuelsson (pectoral) and Drew Miller (hand) are out.
So the Kings plan on taking out the Wings, or at least that's how I read his preview. Anyway, the AP's preview adds stats to the mix:
The Red Wings are trying to build some momentum after beating Phoenix 4-0 on Monday, severely denting the Coyotes' chances of reaching the playoffs. It was Detroit's highest scoring output since a 5-1 win at Anaheim on March 22.
The offensive struggles have increased the pressure on Jimmy Howard, who is doing his part with a 1.77 goals-against average during a 6-5-3 stretch that started with that win over the Ducks. He owns a 1.25 GAA over the last seven games, but the Wings are 2-2-3.
Johan Franzen is giving Detroit some scoring punch, netting five goals in five games after scoring twice against the Coyotes.
The Red Wings haven't had a problem finding the net against the Kings at home, scoring 15 goals while winning the last three matchups at Joe Louis Arena. That includes a 3-2 victory thanks in large part to a season-best 45 saves from Howard on Feb. 10. Howard stopped 27 shots, but gave up a pair of third-period goals in a 2-1 defeat at Los Angeles on Feb. 27.
The Kings are trying to avoid a sixth straight road loss for the first time since Feb. 25-March 14, 2009. They lost as the visitor Tuesday, never recovering from allowing two first-period goals to fall 2-1 at Minnesota.
Jeff Carter has two goals and two assists over the past two games, netting Los Angeles' only goal against the Wild after scoring with 51 seconds left in OT on Sunday. The right wing, fourth in the NHL with 26 goals, has three scores and three assists in four meetings with Detroit as a member of the Kings.
Anze Kopitar has found the net once in each of the last three games versus the Red Wings, but enters this meeting on a 14-game goal drought.
DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose's game preview from Sunday still holds up quite well...
WEDNESDAY – vs. LOS ANGELES (25-14-5): It’s not unfathomable for the Kings to can catch the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks for the No. 2 or 3 seed. But with San Jose breathing down their backs, the Kings are more interested in keeping a hold on the No. 4 spot that comes with a guaranteed home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. … Like the Red Wings, goal-scoring has become an issue for the Kings over the last half dozen games. Los Angeles hasn’t scored more than two goals in regulation in any of the last six contests. The odd thing is the Kings’ defense hasn’t allowed more than two regulations in the last four games. … Since the end of the 2008-09 season, the Kings have registered an astonishing 104-1-11 record when leading after two periods. … After a considerably slow start, last spring’s Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick is returning to playoff form. The 6-foot-1 goalie from Milford, Conn., is 3-0-1 in his last four starts with a 1.44 goals-against average. He has stopped 98 of 104 shots in that time.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Mike Richards has suffered from inconsistency issues all season. But over the last eight games he has produced eight points for the Kings, who, since the 2011-12 season, are 40-8-10 when the veteran center from Kenora, Ontario, records a point. He has 11 goals and 30 points in 44 games this season. He recorded a ‘Gordie Howe hat trick’ when he produced a goal, an assist and had a fighting major with Columbus’s Brandon Dubinsky on Feb. 5. … In 10 career games against the Red Wings, Richards has two goals and two assists. Both goals were short-handed tallies.
And yes, as the Free Press's Helene St. James noted, the Wings hope that Todd Bertuzzi will be able to make his return from back and leg issues in time to battle the muck-grind-grab-and-trap-happy Kings:
“Bert is close,” general manager Ken Holland told the Free Press Tuesday afternoon. “Decide after the morning skate.”
Bertuzzi last played Feb. 7 at St. Louis, where he left in so much pain he was hospitalized for three days upon returning to Detroit. Bertuzzi had to overcome both back problems and nerve pain in his right leg. He has been skating for nearly a month.
If Bertuzzi doesn’t play Wednesday night when the Wings host the Los Angeles Kings at Joe Louis Arena, the next opportunity comes Thursday against the Predators. The Wings, who are chasing a playoff spot in the Western Conference, finish the regular season Saturday at Dallas.
It’s a tough time of the year for a player to return, but the Wings could use Bertuzzi’s soft hands as they try to regain their footing offensively. They are also down to only 12 healthy forwards as is, after Drew Miller broke his hand last Saturday. Bertuzzi could be valuable especially on power plays, and certainly in shootouts.
The Wings are trying to extend a 21-year streak of making the playoffs. Speaking after Monday’s 4-0 victory over Phoenix, coach Mike Babcock said no one needed to spell out in the locker room what’s on the line this week.
“They’re big boys,” Babcock said. “They understand what’s going on more than anybody. They make their living here and they’ve got a lot of pride in wearing the sweater. I think our commitment to detail and our commitment to the process and all that has been very good. We’re a different team than we’ve been. That doesn’t mean we’re not working, not competing.”
Monday's game was extremely well-attended in the media department (when does the Detroit News send three correspondents to the Joe, when does the Free Press send two, when do two of the three local networks send down crews to do first-sports-story newscasts, and when do USA Today's Kevin Allen, Yahoo Sports' Nicholas J. Cotsonika and ESPN's Craig Custance make appearances at the Joe, all at the same time? Only when the playoffs are near--or the lack thereof is near--which makes for a "compelling story" and "good viewing for those of us who have no rooting interest, and nerve-wracking times for you and me), and the Toledo Blade's Rachel Lenzi spoke to Henrik Zetterberg about the pressure the Wings face amidst increased spotlight tonight (NBCSN, NHL.com, and others, I'm sure), especially given that the Wings essentially need to "win out" their schedule...
“It’s going to be like that for the rest of the year,” Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said after Monday’s win.
And in the final three games of the regular season, Zetterberg anticipates a playoff-like intensity.
“It definitely helps,” Zetterberg said. “It’s nice to get these kinds of games when you have to win. Otherwise, you’re not in. Right now, it’s kind of like the playoffs. If you lose, you go home. It’s a good experience for us, and for the team.”
The 48-game season started in January after a four-month lockout of the players and made the playoff chase into a sprint, instead of an 82-game marathon during six months.
Among the Red Wings’ struggles this season have been injuries to Bertuzzi, forward Drew Miller, center Darren Helm, and center Damien Brunner; stretches in January and March in which the Red Wings went a combined 7-11-4 (including 2-4-1 in January); and the absence of Nicklas Lidstrom on the blue line, after the Hall of Fame-caliber defenseman announced his retirement in May.
Now, the Red Wings have to hustle to assemble and bring together all of their moving parts.
“In the playoffs, you have to have good goaltending, you have to have good defense, you have to have good special teams, and you have to score goals. You have to go all the way. Everything’s gotta click. A lot of guys here [have] done that, and been through it. We’ve gone all the way and won, we’ve gone all the way and lost the last game. We know what it takes and the more games we can have like [Phoenix], the more games that are playoff-like before the playoffs start, it’s really going to be good for us.”
And USA Today's Kevin Allen spoke to Jimmy Howard, Howard's coach and the GM who inked Howard to a 6-year, $31.8 million contract extension about his role in the Wings' playoff-making equation, especially given the Wings' scoring struggles (so this is just a snippet of a longer article):
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock doesn't spend time wondering whether goalie Jimmy Howard can carry a team that has struggled to score this season.
"He has to," Babcock said. "It's not about 'can.' He has to. There's no other option."
The Red Wings have long been known as a dynamic offensive team. But they are ranked 20th in goals a game, and the primary reason they're still in the playoff hunt is their better-than-expected defensive play and Howard's work in net.
"He's been unbelievable for us this year," Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said.
Howard has some similarity to former Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood: He is popular with his teammates and not bothered by the pressure of being the No. 1 goalie in Hockeytown.
"For me, it's just about going out there and continuing to have fun," Howard said. "You don't want to put too much pressure on yourself in these situations, because that's when you tend to tense up. You have to stay as loose as possible."
The Red Wings have to win two of their last three or perhaps all three to make the playoffs.
"We all know what's at stake," Howard said. "There's no panic."
The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness delivers Babcock's quote in unadulterated form...
Wings coach Mike Babcock on riding Jimmy Howard the rest of the way.
“He has to,” Babcock said when asked if Howard could carry the team. “It’s not about ‘can,’ he has to. There’s no option. We have a huge game against LA. They’re a big heavy team, they’re going to be hard to play against.”
And he deals with the player that would be the centerpiece of an "off-day" entry in Valtteri Filppula. Filppula's 29, he's being paid $3 million in terms of his cap hit and a pro-rated 48 games' worth of $3.5 million in real-world dollars, and there is no doubt that Filppula's abilities and promise could get him $5 million a season elsewhere...
But the Wings are having trouble scoring goals, and Filppula's regressed from last year's 23-goal, 66-point-scoring form to his career averages of about 15 goals and little under 30 points. That's $4-5 million somewhere else, but not in a town where the Wings rather desperately need players not named Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk or Johan Franzen to produce up front.
The Wings are likely in the market for a top-six forward with size who can score and a top-pair defenseman this summer (aside from Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl, the Wings' blueline doesn't score much, either), and Filppula doesn't fit that bill...
But he scored on Monday, and the Wings need the same Filppula to show up tonight:
“He’s got a good shot, but obviously he’s a creative player and creative players like to pass,” Cleary said. “Just like (Pavel Datsyuk) or (Henrik Zetterberg), he likes to pass first. It’s just in them. But certainly when they decide to shoot the puck on net, even late in the season, that’s when they’re going to score goals. It’s good to see it, because he’s an important player for us.”
Hello Daniel Cleary, who's also a free agent and also needs to pick things up offensively...
“It’s different seeing Fil shoot the puck on a two-on-one,” Cleary said of Filppula’s goal that he one-timed after a pass from Zetterberg to beat Mike Smith on the short side. “He probably could have had three (Monday), for sure.”
The goal was Filppula’s first in eight games and just his second in the last 17 games, giving him eight on the season.
“It’s just great, get a goal, we needed him to get a goal, to be an important player, to be on the inside, shoot pucks, be dominant for us,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We count on him for that. Ideally, (that) goal will help him take a step for us.”
Filppula had a career-high 23 goals last season to go along with a career-best 43 assists. He has 16 points in 38 games this season.
“Obviously I don’t think I’ve been playing as well as I should, but at the same time I’ve been trying to do the same things that I have been doing,” Filppula said. “I’ve been feeling pretty good out there of late and hopefully I can keep on improving.”
And the Free Press's Helene St. James rather delicately tears into Filppula the player of truly remarkable offensive potential versus frustratingly inconsistent and disappointing form in both her Tuesday afternoon article and in her chat with Jeff Marek and Greg Wyshynski (see below), taking a different tack to attempt to figure out what makes the Wings' Finnish Enigma tick.
When the Anaheim Ducks were in town, she asked Filppula's idol, mentor and friend, Teemu Selanne, about Filppula's, uh, issues:
"It's all about confidence," Selanne said. "He needs a couple of really good games to get going and get the feeling that good things can happen. It's tough — but the guys who find a way to do it, even when they are not 100%, even they they are hurting, those are the superstars. They find a way to do the job. That's hard. Because you never feel good in this league, after 10 games. There's always something wrong."
To his credit, Filppula is the first guy to admit he isn't playing well. I should know; he has told me several times already this season. He said it again Monday night: "I don't think I've been playing as well as I should, but at the same time, I've been trying to do the same things. I'm happy I got one goal —hopefully, I can keep improving."
Filppula went on to admit that, for a guy who plays as much as he does, "You need to produce, and that's something I haven't been able to do. Hopefully, that changes."
Daniel Cleary, an on-and-off linemate of Filppula, is among the legions who would like to see Filppula shoot more. Filppula is a borderline stealth shooter; opponents don't even expect it.
"He's got a good shot, but obviously, he's a creative player, and creative players like to pass, just like Pav, just like Bert, they like to pass first," Cleary said, bringing up Pavel Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi. "It's in them. But when he starts thinking, ‘Shoot the puck, get in on net,’ that's when you're going to score goals. It was good to see, because he's an important player for us."
What the Wings have to decide is just how valuable Filppula, 29, is to them. He's in the last year of a contract, and some team out there — such as Calgary — will give him $5 million per year. Monday night's Filppula is worth that, especially because the Wings are worried that Datsyuk might return to his native Russia after his contract expires in the summer of 2014. But where has he been the rest of the season?
Shifting focus from frustrating players back to the frustrating roster (it's much harder to name a player who's exceeded expectations than one who's sank below even the most even-handed and realistic hopes Wings fans had for them this year, but this week, they're all cheer-worthy heroes in the making...Right?), MLive's Ansar Khan took note of both Dustin Brown's indiscretion and the team's take on their situation...
Which is quite important given that they didn't practice on Tuesday (which makes sense as they've got 3 games to play over the course of 4 nights):
If Dallas beats Columbus in regulation and Detroit gains three points in its next two games, the Red Wings will clinch a playoff spot.
“It feels like it’s the playoffs right now,'' Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “That’s the type of urgency it feels like. You have to win every game to stay in. That’s how it is for us right now. If we don’t win, we’re not going to be in. Essentially, it’s all up to us.''
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said pressure is good because it means they have a chance.
“They're big boys, they understand what's going on more than anybody,'' Babcock said. "They make their living here and they got a lot of pride in wearing the sweater. I think our commitment to detail and our commitment to process has been very good. Just because people on the outside don't see it the same way doesn't change what we think. We're a different team than we've been. That doesn't mean we're not working and competing.''
Detroit's Jimmy Howard has two shutouts in his past four starts and has allowed only four goals during that stretch.
The Red Wings are trying to extend their playoff streak to 22 seasons.
“Reality is the streak's important because it's impossible to do,'' Babcock said. “All you got to do is look at pro sports, it's impossible. We've been able to maintain it. When I arrived here eight years ago we said the same thing. We came from $75 million (payroll) to $39 million (under the salary cap). You didn't know if we could keep the thing going. Now, here we are.''
And I'll let the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa take us out as Krupa believes that the Wings head into tonight's game as the beneficiaries of playing a slightly more physical brand of Red Wings hockey, and while I can't quote all of his "spirit of the thing" article, here's the thrust thereof (because we can all hope, and I sure hope that the Wings are playing more physically...I see it as regularly as I see Filppula deliver on his promise, but maybe that's just me):
This season, Abdelkader leads the Red Wings with 115 hits through 45 games, good for 27th in the NHL. If he finishes in the top 30, he would be the first of the Red Wings player to rank that high since Stuart and Helm finished 17th and 27th, respectively, three seasons ago.
Would we call what Abdelkader and Doan did on Monday a "fight?" It was more like wrestling, which Doan did on more than one occasion...
But if there is one player who's exceeded expectations and consistently played a physical, aggressive game, it's Joakim Andersson, and he earns deserved praise from Krupa:
Andersson, 24, provided lots of speed during 16 minutes, 15 seconds of play on 25 shifts, with more than 25 percent of his time on the penalty kill. The Red Wings killed five penalties against the Coyotes. Andersson improved to 54 percent on faceoffs during a game in which Mike Babcock said the Red Wings would have to excel on faceoffs.
At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Andersson can be a handful. He is also quick, as he showed when Jonathan Ericsson sent him in alone, with a fine long pass up the gut that allowed Andersson to split the Coyotes defense and skate in on goaltender Mike Smith .
Furious pursuit and terrific stick work by David Schlemko helped prevent a goal.
Andersson is lauded by Red Wings coaches for his hockey sense, and he has made much of his 34 games with the team. He likes the exposure to critical games and end-of-season play, which approach the intensity of the NHL playoffs.
"I played a couple years in the Swedish playoffs," he said. "We went to the semifinals once, and I won two Swedish junior championships," Andersson said of his experience with the Frolunda Hockey Club, beginning at age 16. "It's a new situation, for sure. This is a new level for me, compared to the playoffs I've been in."
Maybe that's as good a place as any to wrap up the game preview portion of this entry. While we expect Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen, Howard, Ericsson and Kronwall to know what they're doing, the same is true for Jordin Tootoo, Patrick Eaves and Justin Abdelkader, and we've expected more from Filppula, Cleary and Quincey...
Of the Wings' young players, only Abdelkader's truly participated in "playoff hockey" NHL games, with Brendan Smith, Danny DeKeyser, Andersson, Gustav Nyquist (no, Bertuzzi won't bench Nyquist: Eaves or Tootoo will sit, because Nyquist's been far too good offensively), Jakub Kindl and even Damien Brunner are truly new to playing NHL playoff-level hockey, and Emmerton has only experienced it on a very limited basis (the Nashville series, after Darren Helm got hurt).
That's seven of the 18 skaters the Wings will dress tonight, or about 38.9% of the guys who don't wear goalie pads. A little under a little under half, like Filppula's career average points-per-game totals. And the Wings need the "kids" to contribute to the cause, too.
In the prospect department, in playoff hockey, in the QMJHL's Conference Finals, Martin Frk was held off the scoresheet as his powerhouse Halifax Mooseheads were delivered something of a shocker in the form of a 2-1 OT loss to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Rouyn-Noranda still trails the series 2-1;
Xavier Ouellet's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada climbed back into their series against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, taking a penatly-filled game 3-0, and Ouellet scored the game's first goal and added an assist on the 3rd...And only took 2 of the game's 69 penalty minutes. The Armada trail Baie-Comeau 2 games to 1;
In the USHL, Mike McKee's Lincoln Stars were eliminated from the first round of the USHL playoffs. They dropped a 2-0 decision to the Sioux Falls Stampede, which won the 5-game series 3 games to 2. McKee's highly likely to head to Western Michigan University this fall;
And while no Wings prospects are taking part in this series, but the Plymouth Whalers dropped a 6-4 decision to the London Knights in game 3 of the OHL's Western Conference Final, and the series will resume in Plymouth this evening with the Whalers trailing the series 2-1. Yahoo Sports' Neate Sager reports that the reffing was so poor that Whalers coach Mike Vellucci tore into the officiating after the game.
In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins are heading to Houston today to begin their 1st-round series against the Aeros on Friday.
WZZZM13 took in their practice and filed a practice report (I'm guessing that Chris Chelios will travel with the team to Houston as something of an informal assistant coach as he's shown in the video and has been helping the Griffins work through practices all year long)...
The Grand Rapids Griffins return to the American Hockey League's Calder Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Griffins open the Western Conference best-of-five first round at Houston with games Friday and Sunday before returning to Van Andel Arena for game three Wednesday. Games four and and five would also be in Grand Rapids if necessary.
The Griffins are the number three seed in the Western Conference playoffs. "It's nice that we had such a good season and that it's the best this organization has had in a long time," says Landon Ferraro, who was third on the team with 47 regular season points. "But it doesn't really mean anything if we lose in the first round."
The Griffins went 3-2 against the Aeros in the regular season including two road wins. "We've had decent success against them," says first-year head coach Jeff Blashill. "They beat us twice in our building here, we've had success down there. They're a real good team, they play very good defense. They have very fast and skilled forwards. We're going to have to go and execute. It's two real close teams. Whichever team executes better is the one that's going to have success."
Griffinshockey.com's Kyle Kujawa penned an article about Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan (and this is just a snippet of his article)..
The first-round pairing puts Hoggan in a peculiar spot, as the Griffins will meet the Houston Aeros. The only other time the teams met – the 2003 Western Conference Finals – Hoggan was a first-year pro with the Aeros. Down 3-1 in the series, the Griffins became the third team in AHL history to win consecutive overtime games when facing elimination to force a Game 7 at home, but Houston ultimately prevailed, handing the Griffins a heart-breaking loss and eventually winning the Calder Cup.
Now residing in the home team’s locker room, Hoggan will lean on his championship experience as he looks to help his current team extract revenge on his old one.
“We’re going to talk about it before the playoffs for sure,” he said. “One thing is, you can’t get frustrated. Things are going to go wrong, but you’ve got to bounce back. You’ve got to be poised, and you’ve got to be resilient. It’s a lot of little things that will be a huge part of our mindset going into the playoffs.”
While Hoggan is the first to say the team would have liked to have put together more wins in the final stretch of the regular season, he likes the makeup of the club. It was a team that responded all season to the adversity it faced, ranging from early season struggled that saw it on the bottom of the Western Conference (followed up by an eight-game winning streak) to the various NHL call-ups, including Nyquist, who was leading the AHL in scoring at the time of his recall and could have been an MVP candidate.
“It’s just that feeling,” Hoggan said of the team’s postseason chances. “You know guys are going to battle for one another. We know we have a chance to do this, and that’s all you ask for. There are so many variables that you can’t control, but you can control your effort and your mindset. That’s what we have to focus on right now.”
MLive's Peter J. Wallner duly noted that the Griffins have something of an x-factor in their lineup in Teemu Pulkkinen, who registered 1 assist in his first three North American pro games (and this is just a snippet of his article, again)...
Pulkkinen, 21, maneuvered well and was able to show his speed in games at Lake Erie and Chicago over the weekend to conclude the regular season. He picked up an assist against the Wolves in the finale. He also got off three shots in the two games.
“I thought Teemu adjusted very well to the smaller rinks and showed flashes of what he can do,” Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said. “He showed he has a lot of strength and I thought he also showed at times what he can do defensively.”
Blashill liked what he saw, and Pulkkinen is expected to be active for the start of the playoffs. Blashill will keep him on a top-three line with leading scorer Landon Ferraro and Tomas Jurco as the Griffins are at Houston beginning Friday for the start of the best-of-five series.
Pulkkinen doesn’t mind the reputation as a sniper, but he is also eager to learn everything he can about American hockey.
“Of course, I want to score and make plays,” Pulkkinen said. “But you also have to be good on defense to play the style of hockey they play here. I’m ready to play and I’m ready to practice and do what I can,” he added. “I want to learn everything. The American hockey style and playing in smaller rink. The game is more physical and faster than it is in Europe.”
“He’s played pro, which means he’s played against men. So that means the transition easier than a junior or college player,” Blashill said. “What makes it harder for the guys from Europe is there’s less space. And you just don’t know as a player or a coach how a player is going to adjust until they are in games and you see them.”
“They’ve got a lot of kids down there that we (like),” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said on CBC’s After Hours program on Saturday night. “Landon Ferraro, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar … We’ve got some kids, some forwards, coming through the organization. I’m not going to tell you they’re going to be superstars, but we think we’ve got a lot of real good, solid players who can develop into real good pros. And in the meantime, you hope one or two players turn out better than you (projected).”
Tatar, second in Griffins scoring with 23 goals and 26 assists for 49 points in 61 games, is clearly ready to graduate to the NHL next season — if not sooner. Sheahan, a big, strong rookie who had 36 points in 72 games, and Ferraro, a two-way center who was third on the team with 47 points in 72 games, are likely another season away. Jurco, a highly-skilled rookie who closed out the year with seven goals and seven assists for 14 points in his final 22 games, will need another two full seasons on the farm.
Not to be forgotten is Petr Mrazek, who is showing signs of becoming a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL. As a pro rookie, he appeared in the AHL All-Star Game, made his NHL debut, and was stellar in the Griffins’ net with a 23-16-2 record, a 2.33 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.
Wuest also reports that the Griffins have kept Richard Nedomlel on their roster but have released Jake Paterson back to the Saginaw Spirit, and his prospect report continues, too...
The Grand Rapids Griffins' weekly press release breaks down the team's first round match-up and dates at Van Andel Arena (cue, "It's just part of a much longer press release!"):
This Week’s Games
Fri., April 26 - GRIFFINS at Houston Aeros - 8:05 p.m. - WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM / AHLLive.com
Sun., April 28 - GRIFFINS at Houston Aeros - 6:05 p.m. - WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM / AHLLive.com
Best in the Midwest: The Griffins entered last week searching for some momentum to end the regular season, as they had tied a season high by losing four straight games. On Friday night, they ended that streak as well as a seven-game losing streak against the Peoria Rivermen, beating their division rivals 3-1 in the 10th and final meeting of the season. Brett Skinner and T.J. Hensick traded goals in the first two periods, as the game was tied at one until Tomas Jurco scored with 13 seconds remaining to put Grand Rapids in front. After an empty net goal by Jan Mursak, the Griffins captured the Midwest Division title – their first division crown since 2005-06. The following night in Cleveland, the Griffins ended up on the wrong end of a goaltender’s duel and fell 1-0 to the Lake Erie Monsters, after 29 saves by Calvin Pickard and 32 by Petr Mrazek. Jeff Hoggan helped the team end the season on a high note, potting two goals in a 3-1 win over Chicago on Sunday to seal the team’s 42-26-4-4 record, its highest win total since 43 victories in 2008-09.
Western Conference Quarterfinals: After capturing the Midwest Division title with Friday’s win versus Peoria, the Griffins were locked into the Western Conference’s third seed, as they were unable to catch Toronto. A 3-0 win by Oklahoma City over Houston on Sunday confirmed that the Griffins and Aeros would meet in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Grand Rapids and Houston faced off six times during the regular season, with the Griffins taking the season series 4-2. The series will open with two games in Houston – Friday at 8:05 p.m. EDT and Sunday at 6:05 p.m. EDT – before the series turns to Grand Rapids for Game 3 on Wednesday, May 1 at 7 p.m. Games 4 and 5 will also be at Van Andel Arena, if necessary, on Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3.
Thank You Fans!: With Friday night’s crowd of 10,829, the Griffins finished their home slate with an average attendance of 7,681 (291,892 total), giving them an increase for the third straight year and the sixth time in the last seven seasons. Hershey, which finished with an increase for the 10th straight season, is the only AHL team with a longer/better attendance trend since 2006-07. The Griffins finished fourth in the league in attendance, trailing only Hershey, Chicago and Providence.
Playoff Roster: The Griffins on Monday set their 2012-13 playoff roster. The following 28 players are currently eligible to suit up for the Griffins in the postseason: goaltenders Tom McCollum, Petr Mrazek and Jordan Pearce; defensemen Adam Almquist, Chad Billins, Brennan Evans, Gleason Fournier, Richard Nedomlel, Max Nicastro, Nathan Paetsch, Brett Skinner and Ryan Sproul; and forwards Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan, Willie Coetzee, Landon Ferraro, Luke Glendening, Triston Grant, Jeff Hoggan, Tomas Jurco, Jan Mursak, Andrej Nestrasil, Francis Pare, Trevor Parkes, Teemu Pulkkinen, Brent Raedeke, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar. Additionally, if assigned by the Red Wings, defensemen Danny DeKeyser and Brian Lashoff and forwards Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist will be eligible for Calder Cup Playoff action.
Playoff Promos: Tickets for home Game A (series Game 3), which are included in Griffins full season ticket packages, are now on sale for $33, $27, $23, $19, $17 and $15 (additional $2 per ticket on day of game), reflecting a league-wide increase of $1 over regular season prices. Playoff tickets may be purchased in person at The Zone at Van Andel Arena and all Star Tickets locations, by phone at (800) 585-3737, or through http://griffinshockey.com In ce.lebration of the team’s return to the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Griffins are adapting their popular Friday promotion and will offer $2 beers and $2 hot dogs for all home playoff games, including Fridays, from the time doors open until one hour after the start of the game. In addition, Griffins playoff posters will be handed out to the first fans through the turnstiles for Game 3, while 2,500 will receive a playoff rally towel courtesy of Auto Value Parts Stores following the game. Fans can also purchase a Playoff 4-Pack to receive four or more tickets to a playoff game of their choice to save $3 off of day-of-game pricing per ticket. Visit http://griffinshockey.com/tickets/specials for more info.
Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note:
SI's Adrian Dater offered the following take on the state of the Wings while offering his final slate of power rankings (for the 2013 season):
15 Detroit Red Wings Last Week: 16
They did what they had to do, which was beat Phoenix, 4-0, on Monday night with Jimmy Howard looking great. So, the chance to make the playoffs for a 22nd straight season still is very much there, with just a one-point deficit to make up on Columbus with a, OK I'll stop now, crucial game in hand. These guys still look awfully stale at times, though. The clock really is ticking down on the good times with this tremendous organization. At least for the time being. The Wings used to score at will, but of the top nine teams in the West, Detroit's 113 goals rank last. Last week: 1-1-1
Rankings aren't my favorite, but compiling them isn't fun, so head over to MLive's Brendan Savage's compiliation thereof if you're interested in reading more;
In similar fluffernutter, USA Today suggested that Kris Draper's playoff beard is the 13th-best playoff beard in NHL history;
In foreign-language news, we may be hearing about Henrik Zetterberg and Swedish hockey even if the Wings make the playoffs, as Expressen's Linus Sunnervik and Adam Eriksson report that Zetterberg's alma mater, Timra IK, may go bankrupt;
It takes a while, but somewhat tangentially, Yahoo Sports' Greg "Puck Daddy" Wyshynski and Sportsnet's Jeff Marek spoke to the Free Press's Helene St. James about Don Brennan's...Encounter...With Matt Cooke and the uncouth remark Duncan Keith sent Vancouver's Team 1040's Karen Thompson. St. James appears at the 23:20 mark, and she discusses the Wings' situation at length--talking about Valtteri Filppula's struggles as well as the team's playoff streak being in jeopardy:
And as Team Tootoo night at Joe Louis Arena went woefully undercovered, we'll conclude with the Chatham Daily News's David Gough's report about Tootoo's visit to the First Nations community on Walpole Island, across the Saint Clair River from Algonac and just west of Wallaceburg, ON:
The former Nashville Predator established the Team Tootoo Fund, which addresses and supports suicide awareness and prevention, as well as non-profits supporting children and teens in need.
Tootoo said he has experienced a lot in his 30 years. In 2002, Tootoo's older brother Terence, who had just embarked on a professional hockey career, committed suicide at the age of 22. Noting that suicide touches a lot of people in a lot of communities, Tootoo urged people to reach out for help if it's needed.
“Don't be shy to speak up,” he said.
When his brother died, Tootoo said it was a shock. He encouraged people to have the will power and inner strength to open up and talk to someone if they need help. He also advised people to lend a helping hand and be there when friends and family need help.
Tootoo is also a recovering alcoholic. He said he has been sober for two-and-a-half years.
“Everybody has demons deep down you have to face – for me it was alcohol,” he said.
Tooshkenig said Tootoo is familiar with Walpole Island.
“He knows a lot about our community,” [Steve] Tooshkenig said. “... He said in his speech (at the elementary school) that he has known about (Walpole Island) for 12 years and now (he) gets to be a part of it.”
Update: This is pretty cool, per the Belarusian Telegraph Agency (seriously):
MINSK, 23 April (BelTA) – Belarus Cup will be renamed into Ruslan Salei Cup starting from the 2013/14 season. The decision was taken at the meeting of the Ice Hockey Federation of Belarus on 23 April.
It has been earlier reported that the final of the tournament should take place at Chizhovka Arena that is due to open in September.
According to sports director of the Ice Hockey Federation of Belarus Vladimir Shvabovsky, the design of the cup will be ready by late August.
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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.