The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/17/13 at 10:40 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings face a must-win situation when they tangle with the Calgary Flames this evening (9:30 PM EDT, FSD Plus/TSN/97.1 FM), but the Wings' "morning" skate won't take place until around 1:30 PM EDT, so here's a round-up of the stories that were posted too late (or early) to make the overnight report:
MLive's Brendan Savage duly notes that one of the main reasons the Wings were willing to sign Jimmy Howard to a 6-year, $31.8 million contract extension involves a simple truth: since the beginning of Howard's full-time tenure with the team during the 2009-2010 season, the coaches and management haven't been able to find a health or consistent goaltender to back Howard up.
The last two seasons of Chris Osgood's career were beset by chronic groin and hip injuries. Bringing Ty Conklin back plain old didn't work, and while current Flames back-up Joey MacDonald nearly earned himself a spot on the team when Howard was injured last season, MacDonald's back problems flared up and gave the Wings cause to go out and sign Jonas Gustavsson...
And Gustavsson's 2-2-and-1 record, .879 save percentage and 2.92 goals-against average aren't exactly stellar, and Wings coach Mike Babcock's frustration with Gustavsson's led both the team's beat writers and the team's fans to believe that Gustavsson's going to be bought out this summer (he has 1 year and $1.5 million remaining on his contract).
So Savage points out that Howard's played 36 times this season (36 out of 42 games = Howard starting 85% of the time, which would translate to Howard playing in 69.7 games over the course of an 82-game season...Which is probably going to hold true as the Wings simply can't afford to not start Howard in the team's remaining 6 games) and his previous three seasons have included 63, 63 and 57 starts, respectively.
The Wings don't want Howard to start 85% of the team's games, but Howard told Savage that he has no problems with his incredibly heavy workload:
"I've been feeling it here for a long time," said Howard, who ranks seventh among NHL goalies in minutes played this season. "As a goalie, the more you play the more and more you just go out there and let things happen. You're out there stopping pucks and you sort of get into that rhythm. You don't think, you just go out there and play, nothing else matters. You're not over-analyzing anything about your play, you're just going out there and stopping pucks, which allows you to get into a rhythm out there.''
One thing Howard tries to do in order to combat fatigue is take advantage of downtime when the Red Wings are on the road.
"It's just a lot of relaxing," he said. "Laying in bed at the hotels and watch movies and relaxing. That's all I can do. That's normally what I do on the road. I feel fine. Expecting this, especially with how tight it is, that most likely I was going to be in every single night. There's nothing wrong with that. I enjoy competing for the guys.''
Howard has a 17-12-6 record, 2.31 goals-against average and .920 save percentage this season.
Savage spoke to both Jakub Kindl and Niklas Kronwall about their goaltender's play, and Kronwall was emphatic in stating that Howard's earned the team's MVP title:
"He's been so stellar for us, the backbone of our team," Kronwall said. "He's been nothing but great for us all year and given us a chance to win every night. You can't say enough good things about him. I'd say he's stolen some games for us. If you watch enough of our games you can see that he means so much to our team and organization. We're definitely happy to have him with us."
Savage penned a second published-at-7-AM notebook, and it involves Johan Franzen's production of late, Todd Bertuzzi's attempts to recover from his back and leg issues (Bertuzzi hopes to return to the lineup for Monday's game against Phoenix, and the Wings could use his size and snarl...If he's healthy enough to employ them), the NHL's security worries given what happened in Boston, and the fact that Miikka Kiprusoff will start tonight for a Jarome Iginla-less Flames team that's still defeated Detroit in both of the teams' previous meetings (in the form of a 5-2 loss at the Joe on February 5th and another 5-2 loss in Calgary on March 13th) ...
"They have a lot of other guys up front," said defenseman Niklas Kronwall. "We have to look after our own business. That's the main focus for us, regardless of what they do. As long as we play our game and play hard for 60 minutes we'll be OK."
But it's the disconnect between Wings coach Mike Babcock's opinion of Franzen's play (in theory, the Wings pay him to score goals, but Franzen's registered 9 goals and 16 assists for 25 points over the course of 36 games played, which makes him something of an assist machine) that makes for an eyebrow-raising story:
"The Mule's been scoring goals," Babcock said. "I think Mule's been good. We played him at center, we played him at wing, changed lines. I thought him and (Valtteri Filppula) in Chicago, with (Daniel Cleary), were our best line. And then (Sunday vs. Nashville) they were solid as well. That's important for us."
Franzen, however, doesn't see it that way. Before scoring against the Blackhawks and Predators, he went seven games without a goal and had scored just twice in the previous 15. Although he's got seven points in his last seven games, Franzen isn't happy with his output.
"My last seven games, I don't want to talk about this," Franzen said Tuesday. "This makes me pissed."
Savage's notebook continues and addresses the aforementioned topics...
There's no doubt that the Wings' signing of Danny DeKeyser has both pleasantly (if you're a Wings fan) and unpleasantly (if you're the Wings' coach) affected the team's defense.
As Savage and the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness noted overnight, Brian Lashoff, Brendan Smith, Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian White and Kyle Quincey have rotated in and out of the lineup over the past 5 games, and Babcock's not thrilled with the fact that none of the above-listed players have played well enough to "grab hold" of the sixth and final spot on the team's blueline...
But DeKeyser's no-frills, no-fuss style and lack of "panic level" have served him incredibly well, and DeKeyser told NHL.com's Dan Rosen (via RedWingsFeed) that he's had very little trouble adjusting to playing at the highest professional level after three years of NCAA hockey:
"I would say overall the game isn't a whole lot quicker [than the college game]," Dekeyser, who was playing for Western Michigan University last month, told NHL.com. "There are times when guys are coming down the wing and they're flying, so that would be the one thing I have noticed about the speed. But it's more individual plays and not an overall game speed."
Maybe Dekeyser feels that way because he has adapted well to the speed, or at least had a good idea of what to expect because his coach in college was Andy Murray, the former coach of the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues.
"He's a 10-year NHL coach, and since he's been there [at Western Michigan] it's run more like a pro-style program," Dekeyser said. "I've noticed that since I left there and came here there's not a whole lot that's different. Obviously there are different players and more skill, but everything he does there with video and with practice planning and the meetings and when we're on the road, he just treats us like professionals. It's been really a smooth transition for me because of what he does there."
It's always interesting to read what young defensemen and goalies have to say about playing in the NHL, because it usually goes along the same lines: they say that the game is a little faster and involves bigger, stronger and smarter opponents, but the players tasked with keeping pucks out of their own net tend to suggest that crisper passing, playmaking and better-shooting opposing players yield a game that is, to a large extent, much less chaotic and therefore easier and simpler to play than AHL, NCAA, Major Junior or European pro hokey.
When players know what they're doing and fewer quality scoring chances result from blown passes, shots gone awry or plain old mess-ups, it's a lot easier to read what's about to happen, even if it's happening at an incredibly fast tempo. As most beer-league goalies will tell you, they find it harder to stop players with pro experience, but they're much less fearful of facing them because they know that if a pro player's aiming for the goaltender's left leg pad, he's not going to end up hitting the goalie in the head thanks to a whiffed shot and then accidentally-on-purpose run the guy because the forward knows how to skate but doesn't know how to stop.
Speaking of hockey at the developmental level, as noted last night, the Toledo Walleye were eliminated from the ECHL playoffs, leaving goaltender Jordan Pearce at a crossroads (see: Petr Mrazek, Jared Coreau and Tom McCollum all signed and in the system, Jake Paterson heading back to Saginaw for one more OHL season, the fact that Pearce will turn 27 this fall and the fact that Pearce has open invitations to attend medical school from several universities)...
But the Teemu Pulkkinen-reinforced Grand Rapids Griffins have secured a playoff berth (and a big "2013 Calder Cup Playoffs" sticker affixed to the side of Van Andel Arena because the Griffins have made the playoff cut for the first time in four years), and RedWingsCentral's Matthew Wuest notes that four Wings prospects are also competing for OHL and QMJHL titles and berths in the Memorial Cup:
Right-winger Martin Frk of the nationally-second-ranked Halifax Mooseheads and defenseman Xavier Ouellet of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada are skating with two of the QMJHL’s final four teams, while center Alan Quine of the nationally-10th-ranked Belleville Bulls is set to square off against left-winger Andreas Athanasiou of the Barrie Colts in the OHL semifinals.
Frk is tied for 11th in QMJHL playoff scoring six goals and eight assists for 14 points in eight games — granted, five goals and three assists came in one game — while Ouellet is tied for second in QMJHL defense scoring with three goals and seven assists for 10 points in nine games.
Frk’s Mooseheads face the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies while Ouellet’s Armada are up against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar.
Wuest's prospect report continues at length...
And finally, Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill will probably remain with the Red Wings for another season or two (the reason is kinda complicated), but he remains an ever-present name at the top of the, "Assistant GM's who could be had as managerial 'free agents,' oh boy!" rumor mill, and ESPN's Craig Custance placed Nill atop an insider-only blog entry's list of 10 executives who could very well run their own teams:
1. Jim Nill, Red Wings: In February, colleague Pierre LeBrun reported that Nill's contract includes a six-week out window in which he can leave the Red Wings starting this offseason. The bit of flexibility in his personal services contract with the Ilitch family is something rebuilding teams should take advantage of in the summer. There's not an NHL executive more prepared and ready to run his own team than Nill. He has encyclopedia-like knowledge of every young player already in the NHL or on the way in the next few seasons and the Red Wings' ability to stay competitive without the assistance of first-round picks near the top of the draft is a credit to his ability identify and develop talent.
"He's got tremendous gut instincts based upon his playing day career and 20ish years of player assessment," wrote Red Wings GM Ken Holland in an e-mail. And there's not a more quality individual in the league than Nill. "He treats people and the game with respect," Holland said. Detroit's CBA expert and salary cap manager Ryan Martin is another strong mind who deserves consideration, especially with his background on the other side of the table when he worked as an agent with Kurt Overhardt.
Martin essentially serves as a second assistant GM, scouting pro players, prospects and free agents just like Nill and Holland do, and Kris Draper's working with the front office as well.
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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.