The Malik Report
by George Malik on 09/15/13 at 07:52 AM ET
The Red Wings' exhibition schedule has almost always involved a heavy dose of Eastern Conference play, so the fact that six of the Wings' eight exhibition games involve the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs tends not to strike Wings fans as a regular season schedule-previewing slate of games.
This year the Wings have finally moved to the Eastern Conference, and the Traverse City Record-Eagle's Chris Dobrolowski spoke with Ken Holland, Justin Abdelkader and Brendan Smith about the soon-to-be-apparent switch:
“I think it’s going to be exciting for the fans to play four Torontos, four Montreals, four Bostons, three Rangers, Pittsburghs, Washingtons,” said Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.
Being in the East should make travel easier on Detroit, eliminating so many Pacific Time Zone trips.
“Travel is going to be good,” said Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader. “We haven’t seen a lot of the Eastern Conference teams, but it will be fun. It will be something new, a change. I think it will be good for our fans.”
Last year’s lockout meant no conference crossover games, which has taken some familiarity with Eastern Conference teams from the Red Wings as they make the transition.
“We don’t really know what the East is like too much, especially not playing them last year with the shortened season,” said defenseman Brendan Smith.
With the realignment comes a change in playoff qualification. The top three teams in each division will automatically qualify for the postseason and the next two best teams in each conference will qualify as wild cards. Holland said he doesn’t think Detroit’s move makes it any easier or harder to make the postseason.
“I think hockey teams are hockey teams,” he said. “It’s the NHL, there is lots of good players, lots of good teams. The West was a real tough conference. It was hard to make the playoffs. I’ve got to believe the East is the same. It’s a good conference and it’s hard to make the playoffs.”
The Wings' training camp unofficially closes with the Red vs. White game this morning at 11 (the roster's available here and the box score will be up on Pointstreak soon). After the game, the Wings will make their first set of cuts, and will then split the team into two squads to take part in exhibition games in Pittsburgh on Monday (the game will air on WPCW TV in Pittsburgh, so there may be some sort of stream somewhere) and in Chicago on Tuesday (no TV as of yet).
The fact that the team's staying in Traverse City for a pair of morning skates and practices for non-game-day players on Monday and Tuesday is a little different, and I would imagine that the unofficial "stories" of the preseason will involve the Red Wings' concerns about depth in goal and on the blueline.
The issues up front and in terms of the cap are pretty obviously apparent, but I do believe that the team's going to watch its blueline very closely given that Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson can't keep pulling 25-to-27-minutes-a-night performances if the team's to survive an 82-game season...
And as we all know, the Wings' puck possession game's foundation starts with a puck-moving defense.
To me, anyway, "the story" involves whether Danny DeKeyser and Jakub Kindl can provide Kronwall and Ericsson some relief in terms of both producing offense and providing sound defense, and as such, the Free Press's Helene St. James' article about Danny DeKeyser--and his maturation going into his sophomore season--is particularly well-timed:
DeKeyser, 23, looked very capable in games late last season before getting hurt, so much so he was invited to August’s U.S. Olympic orientation camp. Now he’s coming in from orientation camp with the Wings, and should be so much better.
“I think it’s going to help him, big-time,” veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “He already got a taste of it last year. He came in and did unbelievable. Coming in now, he knows what to expect, and he knows what’s expected of him. I think he’s going to do really well.”
Just spending a few days bonding at camp already has helped, as DeKeyser has gotten a chance “to get to know a lot of the guys better,” he said. “It made my transition a little easier, so now I’m just looking forward to having a good year.”
Coach Mike Babcock said DeKeyser, Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff — the youngest guys on defense — are “huge for us because they’re kids. Can they do it again? Because if they don’t do it again, we’re not as good. We need them all to advance if we’re going to be a good team.”
DeKeyser in particular, “just skates so good, and he’s so smart,” Babcock said. “He’s gotten way stronger — he came in at 197 pounds, which is significantly stronger and heavier than last time. One day he might be 210, but right now, it’s still great advancement for him.”
Even at a young age and with only 11 NHL games to his credit, DeKeyser “makes things look so simple,” Kronwall said. “Regardless of the situations he gets put in, he just seems to figure out a way to do it. DK really solidified our top six when he came in, even our top four. He was that good.”
DeKeyser was specifically asked about this particular question on a repeated basis Saturday--as were his fellow defensemen...
Defensemen tend to be less vulnerable to the so-called sophomore slump than forwards, who put much more stock in offensive numbers. DeKeyser is in for a big adjustment going from the relaxed pace of college hockey to an 82-game marathon, but to his good luck, that comes just as the Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference, so at the very least, he escapes a lot of jet lag.
But I can at least tell you that he's playing much more calmly and with much less of a "rushed" sense in terms of both his DeKeyserfaces and in terms of the pace of his game. I really believe that he's going to be an even better player this year.
Otherwise...The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness posted a clip from yesterday's scrimmage...
The Free Press's Steve Schrader gave a "Stevie" to the Daniel Cleary...
The “They Know Boo” award: To Dan Cleary, who walked away from a more lucrative deal with the Flyers because his heart belongs to Hockeytown. A refreshing story in this day and age, eh, a pro athlete putting loyalty ahead of money? And surely Philadelphia fans also will see it that way when the Red Wings visit their new Eastern Division rivals this season.
Because I can do so, I'm going to post a little more of the Left Wing Lock's Sarah Lindenau's fantastic Saturday night notebook...
Mitch Callahan admitted to being humbled by winning the Calder Trophy last season. The agitating forward played a big part in the team’s success all season long.
“Seeing all the veteran guys who have never had a chance to win it, kind of opened up my eyes to see how exciting it was,” he said. “I have won a championship in junior but this is a bigger trophy. It was pretty exciting.”
The 6-foot, 190 pound forward took a huge step forward in his development playing in 71 regular season games and all 24 playoff games. He did all that despite having a slight tear in his shoulder AC joint which bothered him all season.
“This year I had a should problem that was bugging me all season,” Callahan said. “I worked through it and didn’t let it stop me. I just tried to create chances with the energy and play a simple game.”
The Whittier, California native reduced his fight majors from 14 to five in 2013 and focused more on his hockey skills. His hurt shoulder also caused him to be more selective with his bouts.
“I don’t have the big guys coming after me like I did the first year, but I am still not shying away from the guys in my weight class,” he said. “I was also laying low because of my shoulder but I stepped up when I had to.”
Callahan, who celebrated the Calder Cup victory with a pool party for close friends and family, enters this season trying to take the next step toward the NHL. The 22 year-old continues to try and show he is multidimensional in an energy role.
“I just want to improve and be more consistent,” he said. “The coaches want me to be more reliable in the defensive zone and not take penalties. I also want to work on my agitating game and maybe get in a few more scraps in than last year.”
And you'll have to read the rest of her article to find out more about this...
And finally, this was both flattering and a little unusual: The Traverse City Record-Eagle's Dennis Chase interviewed me on Friday:
Q: What are you most interested in observing at camp?
A: The mainstream media are working very hard to get the quotes and get the big stories out — and I’m very interested to hear all that — but it’s the little details like the pace of the drills, who’s wearing new hockey equipment, how line chemistry is working between certain players, that’s what I’ll be looking at. I’ll take as many notes as I can, and hopefully find something unique.
Q: The big story is the additions of wingers Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss. Will that grab your attention?
A: Of course. Weiss wanted to be here, which is really neat, and the Wings believe he’s an upgrade over Valtteri Filppula as a second line center. And having Daniel Alfredsson, even at age 40, he’s an absolute legend. For somebody who has been with an organization for 17 years (in Ottawa) to decide he wants to join the Detroit Red Wings is pretty exciting and it’s also intriguing because this is going to be his first training camp that he’s not familiar with everybody. The adjustment period is going to be something to watch.
Q: Playing in the Eastern Conference, Wings fans didn’t see much of Alfredsson or Weiss. What can fans expect?
A: As long as Weiss has recovered from his wrist surgery from last year, he is going to be a more stable second line center. Weiss is more of a two-way guy (than Filppula). He’ll win a lot of faceoffs, he’ll play on the penalty kill, which is something Filppula didn’t do all that often. And he can be counted on to deliver a lot of offense from his position. You don’t have to move him around to tap the offense you want from him. In terms of Aldfredsson, the Wings obviously want to get a 20-goal season out of him, which he can still do at 40. He’s played a lot on the power play point — a righthanded shooter on the right point. And he’s very capable defensively Even though he’s not going to have a letter on his chest, he’s going to be one of the leaders. He’s going to be one of the people the Red Wings count on to sort of be a consultant for the coaching staff on the bench and in the lockerroom. I think that is absolutely essential.
Q: You covered the NHL Prospects Tournament, which the Wings won. Who impressed you?
A: Although Calle Jarnkrok didn’t necessarily impress because he’s still adjusting to the aggressiveness, pace of play and size of the rink in North America, I think he’s going to be excellent. I think he is, without a doubt, the top prospect in the Red Wings system. He does everything well and I think he is going to be in the NHL sooner than later. Teemu Pulkkinen showed quite the slapshot, quite the one-timer and had great defensive awareness. Obviously, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan displayed some really impressive two-way play. On defense, Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouelett were just spectacular. I expect to see them in the NHL in short order. And you can’t forget players in Grand Rapids like Landon Ferraro, Petr Mrazek and Adam Almquist, who is very small but very skilled.
And there's more to the interview. Go figure.
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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.