The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/07/14 at 02:16 PM ET
Updated 9x at 4:46 PM: The Red Wings took to the ice at Joe Louis Arena preparing for an incredibly busy week admist a tightly-packed race for the Eastern Conference's Wild Card spots.
As the Wings hope to rebound from their difficult loss to Montreal on Saturday when they tangle with the Sabres tomorrow and the Penguins on Wednesday (both games will take place away from Joe Louis Arena), MLive's Ansar Khan reported good news on the injury front--no changes in terms of the players skating at the Joe...
Wings on ice for practice. Everybody who played in Montreal is skating, plus Bertuzzi and Andersson.
Though the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness reported that Wings coach Mike Babcock's line combination switch-ups, which began late in the 2nd period on Saturday, continue to involve experimentation:
Babcock juggling up the lines. Datsyuk skating with Franzen and Abdelkader. Nyquist with Sheahan and Tatar.
Jurco down to the fourth line with Glendening and Miller. Jurco sharing time with Andersson. Legwand with Helm and Alfredsson
Given that the Free Press's Helene St. James duly noted that Jurco's firing pucks on the net on a regular basis, as noted in the overnight report, it's hard to believe that Jurco would be on the shutdown line for long. Legwand appears to have lost his "Nyquist privileges" on a semi-permanent basis, however.
Lines shuffled a bit in practice: Datsyuk centering Franzen and Abdelkader, Sheahan is with Nyquist and Tatar.
Legwand centering Helm and Alfredsson. Glendening with Miller and Jurco. Andersson rotating in. Bertuzzi rotating in with top six.
This makes much more sense:
Now Legwand is skating with Glendening and Miller. Andersson and Jurco rotating in with Helm and Alfredsson. Lots of juggling in bottom six.
Maybe Babcock has a second job in the offing:
And DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose revealed what will be taking place at Joe Louis Arena while the Wings are away on Tuesday and Wednesday (this is just my gut feeling talking, but the Tue-Wed-Fri-Sun schedule seems to ensure that the team won't skate on Thursday):
Then Roose noted the line-switching...
#RedWings lines at practice are Abdelkader-Datsyuk-Franzen; Helm-Legwand-Alfredsson; Nyquist-Sheahan-Tatar; and Miller-Glendening-Jurco.
And the Wings' official Twitter account made its presence known...
As did WXYZ's Brad Galli:
When the practice focus shifted to special teams play, Pleiness reported that the line-swapping continued...
Babcock is changing everything up. First PP unit -- Datsyuk, Franzen, Nyquist, Legwand and Kronwall.
Second PP unit is Alfredsson, Jurco, Sheahan, Tatar and DeKeyser.
The Wings' magic number for getting into the plaoffs is 5. That's any points they earn and any points New Jersey can't get to gain on them.
Again, Columbus, who defeated the Islanders on Sunday, hosts Phoenix tomorrow and then plays in Dallas, Tampa Bay and Miami;
The Wings play in Buffalo tomorrow, in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, they host Carolina on Friday and they head to St. Louis for a Sunday afternoon finale against the Blues. DetroitRedWings.com's Roose previewed those games in his "A Look Ahead in Hockeytown" article.
SI's Allan Muir posited a set of "must-watch" games for this upcoming week, and two of his picks are of interest to Wings fans:
Tuesday, April 8: Coyotes at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. EDT; FS-Arizona, FS-Ohio): A pass on almost any other night, this game becomes a must-watch with two wild-card berths at stake. Columbus can essentially narrow ITS list of pursuers down to one — New Jersey — with a win. Phoenix, currently trailing Dallas by one point in the West, needs to find a way to beat goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who has two shutouts to show for his past three starts. The Coytoes were blanked, 2-0, by Jackets backup Curtis McElhinney when the teams last met on Jan. 2.
Wednesday, April 9: Red Wings at Penguins (8 p.m. EDT; NBCSN, TSN2): The second-ranked Pens are on a first-round collision course with the seventh-ranked Wings, a team that suddenly looks much more dangerous with young guns Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Jurco firing and Pavel Datsyuk back in the lineup. These two have met twice in the playoffs during the past five seasons, each time with the Stanley Cup on the line, so there’s bound to be some residual animosities in play along with the usual statement-making ahead of a postseason meeting. Expect this one to be fast, aggressive and high scoring.
(Yes, that damn NBCSN game doesn't start until 8 PM EDT)
This week's first slate of power rankings rolled in during practice. Here's ESPN's Pierre LeBrun's take on the state of the Wings:
11. Detroit [record] 37-27-14 Last Week: 14 This is the wild-card team nobody should want to face in the first round. It just so happens the Red Wings are in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night in what could be a first-round preview.
LeBrun also took part in a chat on ESPN.com at noon...
Paul (NY): Give us your playoff upset shocker that could happen this year based on where the teams are right now? Thanks
Pierre LeBrun: Wouldn't want to play Detroit in the first round....
It turns out that I have to take the mom to a doctor's appointment tomorrow at 1, I have an appointment I can't cancel tomorrow at 4, and I have to take the mom to an appointment on Wednesday at 10:30, some 50 miles from home, so you'll be seeing a lot of Paul in terms of morning skate coverage.
In prospect news, RedWingsCentral's weekly prospect report focuses on Kelowna Rockets defenseman Mitchell Wheaton this week. Wheaton took part in the Wings' summer development camp as a spectator due to shoulder surgery, but he's healthy now:
The 19-year-old had seven goals and 21 assists for 28 points along with a plus-31 rating in 57 games in the regular season, and has followed that up with three assists and a plus-4 rating in seven playoff contests.
Head coach Ryan Huska described Wheaton as the team’s “most consistent defenseman” in a recent Kelowna Daily Courier article, lauding his vision. Similar comments were made by assistant coach Dan Lambert earlier this season.
“You see how much game sense he has,” Lambert told the Kelowna Capital News in December. “Typically guys his size are more physical and play that big, more brutal game. Mitch does have some of that, but certainly his biggest asset is his vision and his ability to break pucks out of our end.”
Size-wise, RWC reports that Wheaton's listed at 6'2" and 215 pounds, and I can tell you that he's still got some filling out to do.
RWC also notes that University of Minnesota defenseman Ben Marshall's Golden Gophers will battle the University of North Dakota in the Frozen Four semifinal this Thursday, it points out that Teemu Pulkkinen's got 30 goals and that Adam Almquist is headed toward a 50-point season (among other observations), and it makes a surprising prediction regarding Tom McCollum's future:
Goaltender Thomas McCollum (Grand Rapids, AHL) won the Griffins’ Man of the Year award. McCollum, a restricted free agent, will likely sign with the Red Wings this summer to share the Griffins’ goaltending duties with either Jake Paterson or Jordan Coreau, assuming Petr Mrazek graduates to Detroit.
The Wings' ECHL affiliate, the Toledo Walleye, posted a final weekly set of notes as well:
The Week that Was: Toledo could not find a way to score on Wheeling goaltender Mike Condon sending 65 shots on goal combined in Tuesday and Wednesday night’s games, losing 4-0 and 3-0. The Walleye returned home on Friday only to see Fort Wayne score two late goals to pull away from Toledo 4-1. Sunday, defenseman CJ Chartrain scored 22 seconds into the game but the Walleye could not hold the lead in a 2-1 loss.
Making the Saves: Goaltender Hannu Toivonen was on fire Sunday evening turning aside 45 of the 47 shots he faced from the Fort Wayne Komets. Toivonen stopped a total of 100 shots over his last three starts and now owns a .906 save percentage for the season.
Finishing the Season: The 2013-14 season comes to a close this week with three games on tap. On Friday night the Walleye host the Kalamazoo Wings. Toledo is 5-7-0 this season against the Wings. Saturday night Toledo makes one final road trip to Fort Wayne. The Walleye are just 1-6-1 against the Komets. Toledo will close up the home portion of the schedule with Cincinnati in town Sunday evening. Toledo is 4-5-1 against their I-75 rivals this season.
Cue the, "Aww":
I'm not sure whether I'd pick this as the "Ram Guts & Glory Play of the Week" (via RedWingsFeed), but a Nyquist goal is a Nyquist goal:
Here comes the good stuff?
Yeah, but those closed doors are the doors leading to the team's secure area, coach's offices, medical room and locker room included, and when they're closed, they're closed for the day.
If the beat writers snagged any player comments, they have to have done so prior to those doors being closed.
Instead of Tweeting out Babcock updates, the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness penned an article about the team's "magic number"...
“The job’s not done,” Justin Abdelkader said. “Things can always change within a game or two games. We’ve just got to go and take care of business and play the way we’ve been playing up until Montreal. We’ve been doing a lot of good things, getting good play out of a lot of guys. We’re close but we’re not there yet. There are important games coming up for us.”
The Wings had their four-game win streak snapped Saturday against the Canadiens.
Detroit’s magic number is also reduced when the New Jersey Devils fail to gain two points in any of their four remaining games.
“I think we take one game at a time here, but obviously we’re going to need a few more wins to get in,” Gustav Nyquist said. “The other teams are all playing for their playoff lives and they’re going to do their best and I’m sure they’re going to win some games down the stretch. So obviously we’re going to need some more points. How many? I don’t know, it’s tough to say but we’re taking it one game at a time and it starts here (Tuesday) in Buffalo.”
The Wings head into play Monday holding down the first wild card spot, a point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“We have to win our games and we can’t expect other teams to lose,” Daniel Alfredsson said. “We’ve got to expect that everybody is going to win their games to close the season. So we have to win our games to get in. It’s obviously better to be in a position where you control your own destiny and that’s what we want to do.”
Pleiness continues, and Babcock agreed with his players:
“I would think the urgency has to be there every night,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “That doesn’t go away. When you have a shorter window it’s more obvious to everybody. These games are the same amount of points as the ones in October. There’s eight points available and we have to get some.
“Each year you want to get off to a real good start so you don’t have these types of games at the end of the year,” Babcock continued. “You’re thrilled to have them when you don’t.”
It's also worth noting that--as of yet, anyway--we didn't get any updates on the statuses of Henrik Zetterberg or Jonathan Ericsson.
Meanwhile in Buffalo, the Sabres are reporting that their roster's in flux, with goaltender Nathan Lieuwen suffering a concussion, defenseman Chad Ruhwedel having suffered a concussion and Christian Ehrhoff having missed today's practice due to a torn and then stitched-up ear:
Just four defensemen at practice: McBain, McCabe, Ristolainen, Scott. #Sabres
There are 15 forwards skating at practice though. #Sabres
Forwards: Adam,Conacher,D'Agostini, Deslauriers,Ellis,Ennis, Flynn,Foligno,Girgensons, Hodgson,Konopka,Larsson, Leino,Mitchell,Stewart.
[Sabres coach Ted] Nolan: Went through the list, we have 12 guys injured right now. Hopefully a few coming back in the next 24 hours. #Sabres
Nolan says Ruhwedel & Lieuwen have concussions. #Sabres
Nolan says we'll have to find another goalie for tomorrow. #Sabres
Nolan says Mitchell looks close; game-time decision tomorrow. Foligno should be back. Stewart also possible to return. #Sabres
Nolan: Tough situations reveal tough character. You have to see who steps up. #Sabres
Quickie update: Here's the Buffalo News's Amy Moritz on the Sabres' injuries:
Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen and defensman Chad Ruhwedel both suffered concussions against the Flyers while Christian Ehrhoff took a puck to his ear that needed about 40 stitches, according to his graphic Twitter picture last night.
"We talked about that, is it bad luck? I’m not too sure. I don’t believe in luck but that just one of those things," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said after practice Monday afternoon. "That’s two concussions in one game last night. The injury before, Ehrhoff takes a puck to the ear. I mean how many chances does a puck have to hit the ear? It’s just one of those things. But we’ve got four games to go. Hopefully we can get through this unscathed and get a couple guys back."
Ah yes, the good news.
Marcus Foligno will be back after his knee injury turned into more of a bone bruise than any serious damage to the joint. Chris Stewart was visiting with the doctor after participating in practice and Torrey Mitchell feels ready to go, although he'll be a game-time decision, according to Nolan.
Matt Hackett will get the start while the Sabre will likely call up another goaltender from Rochester to back him up Tuesday when Detroit visits First Niagara Center.
Update #1: The Free Press's Helene St. James just filed her practice article:
Abdelkader spent practice skating with Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen, with Gustav Nyquist replacing Tomas Jurco next to Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar. Jurco was in the bottom-six mix, as was David Legwand, among others. Babcock could well put Jurco with Darren Helm and Daniel Alfredsson, creating what could be a very effective third line with speed and skill.
However combinations shake out, Babcock is preaching hard work and attentiveness. He pushed practice a little longer than usual Monday, partly because Sunday was a day off and partly because the playoffs are a week away.
"We think we have to be a real detail-orientated team in order to have success, so it's just reminders," he said. "It's turning light bulbs on again, making sure guys are on top of their game. Each year you like to get off to a real good start so you don't have these games at this time of year, but you're thrilled to have them when you don't."
The Wings are protecting a one-point lead on Columbus for the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Detroit sits at 88 points, with the Blue Jackets, New Jersey and Toronto all within four points, and Washington within five.
"Our mind set is, we have to win our games," Alfredsson said. "We can't expect other teams to lose, we've got to expect them to win their games going out to close the season. So we've got do our job to win our games to get in. It's obviously always better to be in a position where you control your own destiny, and that's what we want to do."
Since they can't swan in like Boston and Pittsburgh, the Wings are looking at the upside, which is that by the time the playoffs begin, they'll have been mentally playing pressure hockey for weeks.
"I think we've built a really good foundation, we're really trusting each other as a group, so that's good," Alfredsson said. "We just have to make sure we keep it going this week."
Update #2: MLive's Ansar Khan has filed his practice article:
The Red Wings juggled their lines a bit during Monday’s practice at Joe Louis Arena. Pavel Datsyuk centered a line with Johan Franzen and Abdelkader; Riley Sheahan was centering Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar.
Datsyuk has logged 17:45 and 17:41 in two games since returning from a knee injury that kept him out since Feb. 27.
“I’m just going to play him as much as he’s ready to play, just like we do with every player each and every night,” Babcock said. “The sheet is something for the players to look at in the end, but I don’t worry about that too much. If he’s playing good he’s going to play more.”
There was some rotation on the third and fourth lines. Darren Helm was skating with Daniel Alfredsson and David Legwand for the most part while Luke Glendening skated with Drew Miller and Tomas Jurco. Todd Bertuzzi rotated in with the top six and Joakim Andersson with the bottom six.
Alfredsson said he’s ready to play Tuesday after experiencing no problems with his back from playing on consecutive nights.
“I feel fine, so it’s basically no issues and I’m happy with the way I felt yesterday after back-to-back games,” Alfredsson said. “And we’ve got it coming up again Tuesday and Wednesday, so it’s nice to have two days in between it to energize again.”
Update #3: Here's the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan's practice update:
"The job isn't done," forward Justin Abdelkader said. "Things can change in a game or two. We have to go out and take care of business and play the way we've been playing up until Montreal (Saturday's 5-3 loss). We'd been doing a lot of good things. (So) it's one game at a time starting with Buffalo; we knew these points are important. We don't want to be waiting until the last game and hoping teams are losing. That's not a fun position to be in."
The Red Wings have defeated the Sabres three times this season, and Buffalo comes into this game with the worst record (21-48-9, 51 points) in the league.
It's crucial the Red Wings don't stumble in this game, with a game in Pittsburgh the following evening.
"I would think the urgency would be there every day," coach Mike Babcock said. "When you have a shorter window, it's more obvious to everybody these games are worth the same amount of points as in October, but we don't have as many left. There are eight points available (this week) and we have to get some."
Update #4: I find it a little ironic that the Sabres already have posted Ted Nolan's off-day presser but the Wings' press corps hasn't really revealed what Babcock stated, and Buffalo Hockey Beat's Bill Hoppe has yet another Sabres injury update:
– Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff needed about 40 stitches – he tweeted gruesome photos – after Scott Hartnell’s shot him in the right ear. Ehrhoff will be a game-time decision Tuesday, Nolan said.
Has Nolan ever seen a rash of injuries like this before?
“Never,” he said following practice this afternoon inside the First Niagara Center. “We talked about that. Is it bad luck? I’m not too sure. I don’t believe in luck. But it’s just one of those things.”
At least some players are healthy.
– Four days after suffering a scary right knee injury, winger Marcus Foligno said today he’ll play Tuesday.
“It feels really good,” he said. “It’s kind of almost back to normal. It feels good enough to play.”
– Winger Torrey Mitchell pronounced himself ready today. Nolan said Mitchell will be a game-time decision, however.
– Winger Chris Stewart, thought to be lost for the season after hurting his right ankle in his Buffalo debut March 6, is questionable for Tuesday. Nolan said Stewart was seeing the doctor this afternoon.
I dunno, were the beat writers suffering from travel fatigue, though St. James and Kulfan didn't go to Montreal? Or were they told by their newspapers that "nobody cares about the Wings because of the NCAA Division I basketball championship game tonight?"
With four games remaining in the regular season for the Detroit Red Wings, head coach Mike Babcock started his Monday media availability with a little levity, announcing gleefully that assistant coach Tom Renney lost the college basketball pool and would be buying dinner for all the coaches. Who won the pool? Babcock grinned and said that the winner was beside the point.
“It doesn’t really matter as long as you don’t lose,” Babcock said with a smile. “It’s like going bear hunting. You take a slow guy with you in case the bear’s hungry, right? Take one guy slower and everything’s good.”
Babcock had plenty of reason to be in a good mood. In a season fraught with injuries, particularly ones that took stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg out of the picture for months, young players fresh from Grand Rapids stepped up. The veterans who remained healthy continued to contribute, and the Red Wings faithfully and tirelessly toiled away to keep themselves in the playoff race down the stretch.
By winning four of their last five, they have all but locked up a spot.
“Obviously we’ve done a lot of really good things this season, we’ve had a lot of fun doing it, we’ve had a lot of kids that have really grown,” Babcock said. “If you want to focus on the injuries, you can do that, but I think we’ve chosen not to do that and just keep on getting better. We feel we’ve gotten better as a team, but the reality is the measure here is going to be over these next four games. You want to keep plugging.”
And she continues...
Alfredsson credits the young guys themselves as well. After starting the season in Grand Rapids, 24-year-old Gustav Nyquist leads the team with 28 goals and ranks in the team’s top four with 47 points. Tomas Tatar has also come on strong with 36 points, and Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Luke Glendening and others have made significant contributions as well.
“It’s awesome to see,” Alfredsson said. “They’ve obviously been very well coached throughout their careers and probably especially with Grand Rapids to make the transition so seamless, I guess. They’re willing to work really hard. They all have skills to go along with it. The biggest thing is probably handling all the pressure that we’ve been under,” Alfredsson added. “They’ve done the most of it and done a great job.”
Update #9: From the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:
Before beginning his post-practice press conference with the media, Wings coach Mike Babcock said that assistant coach Tom Renney had lost the basketball pool and therefore had to buy dinner for the coaches.
When asked who won, Babcock said, “Well it doesn’t really matter as long as you don’t lose. It’s like going bear hunting, you take a slow guy with you in case the bear is hungry.”
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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.