The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/15/13 at 01:00 PM ET
Updated 7x with something of a Wings-Canucks preview at 8:04 PM: The Detroit Red Wings hope to rebound from an ugly loss to Calgary as they prepare for a 2-games-in-2-nights slate starting tonight against the Edmonton Oilers (9:30 PM EDT, FSD/Sportsnet West/97.1 FM), while the Oilers are hoping to end an 0-for-coming-home-from-a-road-trip winless jinx.
Edmonton comes into tonight's game having completed a 9-game road trip with wins over Chicago and Colorado, and while they sit in 13th place in the Western Conference, their 25 points are only 5 behind the now-9th-place Wings.
Not much happened during the Oilers' morning skate, at least initially...
(YEG is the airport designation for Edmonton. Detroit usually falls under the Metro Airport category, DTW. Technically speaking, all Canadian airport designations begin with a "C" and all U.S. airport designations begin with a "K," so CYEG and KDTW are more accurate, but the three-letter designations tend to be used more frequently. All Canadian airports have a "Y" in their "call sign" as well, so Windsor is YQG, Winnipeg is YWG and Toronto is YYG...Coleman Young Airport is DET)
It turns out that the Oilers are indeed making some pesonnel tweaks out of necessity, however:
Prior to the Wings' morning skate, the Wings' Game Day blog and DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose posited tidbits of note:
On This Day in Red Wings History...
On March 15, 1994: Sergei Fedorov becomes the fifth Red Wings player to score 50 goals in a season in a 5-2 win over the Canucks.
And while MLive's Brendan Savage and Ansar Khan pondered what the NHL should name its new divisions in their game day feature...
ANSAR KHAN: Any old league can give geographical names to its divisions. For the NHL, it's time to bring back the Norris, Adams, Smythe and Patrick Divisions. We've gone too long without them.
What geographic designation could they possibly give the Red Wings' new division? The Central? The Northeast? Not with Tampa Bay and Florida in it.
I say name the Red Wings' division the Norris (brings back fond memories). The Rangers' division should be the Patrick. The Blackhawks' division should be the Adams. And the Kings' division should be the Smythe. There, that solves that problem.
BRENDAN SAVAGE: I like the idea of honoring people rather than using the generic geographical names. Others surely don't feel the same but it's a way to not only recognize notable figures in the league's history, it also would set the NHL apart from the other pro leagues.
Howe has been associated with the NHL for eight decades and is a great goodwill ambassador. Gretzky is probably the most well-known player ever so like Howe, he's a no-brainer. Orr revolutionized the game and Lemieux saved hockey twice in Pittsburgh so they'd be good choices, too.
The players ultimately make the NHL what it is and has been so I'd probably go in that direction.
The Windsor Star's Bob Duff reached into his notebook to recall what Oilers coach Ralph Krueger had to say about coaching Damien Brunner on the Swiss national team (which Krueger addressed when the Oilers were in town in February), all while pointing out that Brunner's enduring a significant scoring slump at present:
Like many of the Detroit Red Wings’ skill players, first-year NHLer Damien Brunner is in the midst of a goal slump. He’ll carry an eight-game goalless skid to the ice Friday when the Wings play the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place.
“When I came over here, I knew it was going to be tougher to create scoring chances because the players were bigger and tougher,” said Brunner, 27, who shows 10-9-19 numbers through 27 games. “But I tried to come in with the strategy to just play my game, be confident and when I got the puck, do the same things that I did in Switzerland.”
Keeping up with the hectic pace of this lockout-shortened NHL season is proving to be his most daunting challenge.
“I have to admit that’s the toughest part so far, playing in so many games and the travelling,” Brunner said. “You have to be mentally focused every night and try to get the best out of yourself. You can’t have nights off, because they will take advantage of you.Since I got here, I feel like I’m always sleeping, recovering and eating. But it’s an excellent challenge and you have to learn to grow in this role.”
Edmonton coach Ralph Krueger, who coached the Swiss national team for 15 years and is quite familiar with Brunner’s work, isn’t the least bit surprised by his virtually seamless transition to the NHL.
“When you look at Damien, he dominated the Swiss League the last few years with his speed and his skill level, which is elite,” Krueger said. “He’s a bit of a late developer, a bit of a late bloomer. He wasn’t at that complete level as a 20 or 21 year old. At the world tournaments the last few years, he really showed that he could play at this level.”
Krueger also believes that Brunner’s time during the lockout playing alongside current Detroit linemate Henrik Zetterberg helped smooth his adjustment period.
“Having time with Zetterberg in Zug was very helpful for him in the transition,” Krueger said. “It made him coming in a lot more comfortable, which could have been possibly something that would have challenged him. Being under the wing of somebody like Henrik Zetterberg has certainly added to the puzzle, but Damien Brunner will be an excellent player here for a long time.”
And here comes the first Wings news of the day:
As for the Wings' side of the ledger...
And EdmontonOilers.com's Jack Michaels spoke to Jimmy Howard about the pressure he feels going into tonight's game, especially as the Wings are struggling to score goals:
Update #2: Here's EdmontonOilers.com's Mark Ciampa's morning skate report...
The Oilers had an optional morning skate today in preparation for tonight's game against the Detroit Red Wings. Ryan Jones and Mark Fistric both skated -- as did Eric Belanger -- but none of them will play tonight. Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger said Jones is still feeling the effects of a flu bug that flattened him following Tuesday's Avalanche game.
The head coach also added that even though Mark Fistric is off injured reserve, the team is giving him another couple of days to get ready.
Hartikainen will be playing on the left side with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. Taylor Hall will skate with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. That's a combination that Krueger says has helped give his team a different look.
"Horc is physically our strongest centreman. Especially when you're looking down low so that alleviated a lot of that pressure on Nuge. With Hallsy and Hemmer on his sides there's an offensive threat there all the time. The respect that line had, you can see it already since Horc came back that the way other teams matched up changed dramatically. There was more rolling of pairs and forward lines."
The addition as well of a line featuring the team's leading scorer Sam Gagner centring Magnus Paajarvi and Nail Yakupov has suddenly given the Oilers some scoring depth.
Having four lines has enabled Coach Krueger to wear down the opposition, as was done in Denver.
"We're really big on the pace that we were able to have with the four lines. Colorado cut down pretty early to three lines and we could feel that as the game went on, the advantage of sticking with the Smyth line right through the game and not looking at any type of match-ups. So I think it's game-by-game how you feel the group is and how the energy is. Getting everybody involved -- and the confidence we have in all four lines being able to play against everybody -- is there."
MLive's Ansar Khan spoke to Red Wings defenseman Ian White about being scratched yet again...
“I just want to play,'' White said. “I'm going to come to the rink every day and be a good teammate and try to make my teammates better. I haven't asked for a trade. That's up to management, what personnel they want around and what changes they want to make to the team. So, I just show up and work hard and try to help everyone get better, help this team get wins.''
Coach Mike Babcock said it's not a matter of what White needs to do better to get back in. He believes the six defensemen he used in seven of the previous eight games gives the team the best chance to win.
“I don't think it's about (White) as much as the guys in front of him,'' Babcock said. “I want (Brian Lashoff) in because the Oilers got a good power play and Lash is a good penalty killer. We want (Brendan) Smith in because we think he's a competitive guy and he really skates. So I don't know if that's the question at all. What we try to do each and every day as a coaching staff is try to make the right decisions to give us the best chance to win.''
The Red Wings would be hesitant to deal White unless they can get another defenseman in return or in a separate move, because an injury or two could put them in a bind. They have nine defensemen on their roster, but they don't [know] what they can expect from Carlo Colaiacovo, who's skating but has been out since Jan. 21 with a shoulder injury since.
White is in the final year of his contract and playing for a new deal, so that makes sitting even tougher.
“It's disappointing, doesn't get any easier,'' White said. “I thought yesterday I was in the lineup. You just got to keep a positive head and get back when you can. We play a lot of hockey in a short amount of time and sometimes things happen. You don't want to have to have an injury to get into the lineup. Hopefully, when you play, you play well and your play speaks for yourself and you get in the lineup.''
White said he's spoken to Babcock twice about the situation.
“This is the position I'm in,'' White said. “Hopefully, I'll get back in the lineup soon.''
White has one goal, one assist and a minus-1 rating in 15 games.
“Some years you're getting some more goals, some more points,'' White said. “Not necessarily because you're playing any differently, sometimes you get the bounces. You could obviously contribute a little better offensively."
And the Free Press's Helene St. James spoke to coach Babcock about the team's attempt stop its 0-2-and-1 slide:
"We haven't been as good in our last three games," coach Mike Babcock said. "We actually didn't think we gave up much two games ago. Our last game, I thought we self-destructed. We had the puck a ton and found a way to give them clear-cut chances. I didn't like our last game at all from that end of it. We're just a team like everybody else, we're trying to get better each and every day."
Several Wings come into the game on a cold spell: Pavel Datsyuk, who hasn't scored in 11 games; Henrik Zetterberg, who hasn't scored in eight, and Damien Brunner, also without a goal his past eight games.
Jimmy Howard will get the start for the Wings, and Babcock said he is sticking to the same lineup on the back end, meaning Ian White is out again. Babcock has gone with the same six - Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Kyle Quincey, Brendan Smith, Brian Lashoff and Jakub Kindl for seven of the past eight games.
"What you do every day as the coaching staff is try to make the right decision to give us the chance to win," Babcock said. "That's what we did."
Babcock wasn't sure what he was doing up front, but it's likely that Jordin Tootoo will come back in, with Patrick Eaves the likeliest to then be scratched.
Even after Brian Burke’s departure as GM, the Leafs still would love to put Perry’s truculence and testosterone in the lineup. But you can’t rule out Detroit either, a team that bid for Suter last summer and came up short. The Red Wings have money to spend and Perry would give them the same qualities that Brendan Shanahan did for years – size, nastiness and scoring off the wing. Detroit needs an infusion of talent everywhere, but a natural goal scorer would really help. Their 1-2 punch at centre, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, remain two of the elite players in the game, but Datsyuk has zero goals in his past 11 games, and Zetterberg one in the past 20. This past week, there was speculation that Datsyuk might return to Russia following the 2013-14 season when his contract expires. Datsyuk is 35, one year younger than Iginla, and also has a July birthday. By the summer of 2014, he will be 37 and if he wants to play a year or two in the Kontinental Hockey League at the end of his career, that might be the time to start.
Well, it is official: NHL realignment is set for the 2013-14 season. For the Detroit Red Wings and all you fans, this has been a long time coming – 20 years, to be exact, since the Wings were part of the Norris Division in the Clarence Campbell Conference.
Yes, it was the 1993-94 campaign that saw conferences change to East and West, replacing Campbell and Prince of Wales. Divisions went from Norris and Smythe to Central and Pacific in the newly named and configured Western Conference. The East replaced the Patrick and Adams with the Northeast and Atlantic. And for anyone wondering about next year’s unbalanced look with 16 teams in the east and 14 out west, this isn’t new to the NHL. Back in that 1993-94 season the league had 14 teams in the East and 12 franchises in the West.
Two of the franchises were Original Six teams from the Eastern Time Zone – your Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. As the NHL continued to expand and juggle with geography, the Leafs landed back in the Eastern Conference as part of the Northeast Division in 1998-99. The entry of the Nashville Predators made the move possible and saw the league move to three division in each Conference, with the East adding the Southeast and the West adding the Northwest Division.
Talk about unbalanced. The two new divisions only had four teams, as well as your Red Wings, along with the Blues, Blackhawks and Predators making up the Central. Not until the Columbus Blue Jackets entered the league in 2000-01 did the NHL get to a full 30-team roster with five teams per division. But change was imminent when the Atlanta Thrashers (1999-2011) became the Winnipeg Jets – who for the second season in a row still skate in the Southeast Division. That doesn’t make sense even by NHL logic.
So, with that backdrop, the Jets head west and the Red Wings and Blue Jackets head east. Of course, nobody is really going anywhere. The cities aren’t physically moving. It’s the league getting closer to a geographical set-up based on, well, geography. The time-zone relevance is a critical factor for travel and television – two components that take the players and fans into consideration. It reunites the Red Wings and Maple Leafs for the first time since that fateful split 15 years ago.
Other Original Six members of the new eight-team division in the east include the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. The Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators complete what would be a terrific six-team set-up, but the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers are part of the package, with the notion that snowbird traffic will help attendance in those locales when their northern home teams are visiting either building. Interesting concept and it certainly can’t hurt interest or attendance in either city.
What else is interesting is that once again, the NHL is unbalanced, with 16 teams in the East and 14 in the West. To address that disparity – kind of – and keep fan interest piqued for as long as possible, the league will have a wild card component. The top three teams from each Division makes the playoffs, with the final two spots awarded to the next two teams with the highest point totals in the Conference. Play downs continue to be conference-based through to the Final, meaning the Stanley Cup will remain an East-versus-West affair.
Yes, with your Detroit Red Wings vying to come out of the Eastern bracket. It has a nice ring to it.
Update #3: From RedWingsFeed:
And Helene St. James just added a video if Ian White to her morning skate article:
Here are Ken Kal's "Keys to the Game" from the Wings' website, too:
Play a Complete Game - Compete hard for 60 minutes. Make every shift count. Grind it out for three periods and don't take shifts off.
Protect the Puck - Turnovers were costly in the last game vs Calgary, especially in the 3rd period. The Wings need to do a better job taking care of the puck tonight.
Strike on Scoring Chances - Make the most of scoring opportunities. The Wings have scored 3 or more goals just once in their last 8 games. They'll need to put the puck in the net tonight against this young and skilled Oilers team.
Update #4: The Edmonton Journal's Jonathan Willis brings us his keys to the game from the Oilers' perspective:
Edmonton enters tonight’s game in a nearly “must win” situation – they are four points out and desperately need to put together a winning run to keep their playoff hopes alive. Detroit – currently tied for the last spot with 29 points – is one of the clubs they need to pass to get there.
The lines are going to be nearly the same as last time out. The only change from last game comes on the second line, where Ryan Jones will be replaced by Teemu Hartikainen. Defence and goaltending remains unchanged, as do the other forward lines.
1. Get the second line going. In the two games since Ralph Krueger adopted his current lineup scheme, the Oilers have been out-chanced 32-to-36 at even-strength. The other three lines combined hold a slight edge (25-to-23) but the duo of Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle have been out-chanced by nearly a 2-to-1 margin (13-to-7). They have to be able to play relatively tough minutes – the top duo of Horcoff, Hall and Hemsky is seeing some, and the third line group of Yakupov, Gagner and Paajarvi are doing great work in a depth scoring role (in the five periods where Yakupov has been on that line, they have out-chanced the opposition 11-to-3).
2. Win the third line battle. Ralph Krueger made it clear in his press conference today that he’s worried more about pace than matchups, but Mike Babcock is a matchup man (he seems to get his way surprisingly often even on the road) and it’s a good bet he’ll have his Datsyuk/Zetterberg lines spending a lot of time on the ice against the Horcoff/Nugent-Hopkins groups. The Red Wings still have two lines that can carry the play against virtually anyone, but they’re weaker in the bottom-six. So far the Oilers’ third line has done a good job of exploiting third-line opposition; it’s a good bet they’ll need to do it again tonight.
3. Take advantage of special teams. The Red Wings, for all of the talent loss the franchise has suffered over the last few years, are still an exceptional team 5-on-5 – in the same range as Los Angeles and Vancouver in terms of goals in that department. Where they’ve been brutal is on special teams- they rank 25th on both the power play and the penalty kill.
Update #5: The Oilers posted an "in focus" game-day video...
I can't embed it, but TSN posted a gigantic 7:04 video discussing the Wings and Oilers' tasks at hand...
And Wings coach Mike Babcock took part in an interview with AM 630 CHED. You'll have to endure an interview with Craig Button to get to the Babcock part, which doesn't start until the 16-minute mark of the 20-minute clip!
Update #6: NextSportStar.com's Josh Rimer interviewed Ken Holland yesterday:
Update #7: Sportsnet posted a game preview...
As did the Red Wings...
And the Wings posted a clip of Jimmy Howard speaking to the media after practice as well:
Amongst the quips and quotes from today's "Game Day Blog's" "Morning Skate Update":
"We can't afford losing games like (Calgary)...It's got to start (tonight).”
- Niklas Kronwall
"We know it's really tight in the standings, we need every point
we can get."
- Henrik Zetterberg
"We have to start fixing this right now. It's up to all of us in here. We all have to be better.”
- Niklas Kronwall
Jimmy Howard is feeling better and will be between the pipes tonight.
Coach Babcock said the defense will likely stay the same tonight as last game.
Ian White will be a healthy scratch tonight.
"I don't think it's about (White) as much as the guys in front of him. I want (Lashoff) in because the Oilers got a good power play and Lash is a good penalty killer. We want Smith in because we think he's a competitive guy and he really skates....we try to make the right decisions to give us the best chance to win."
- Mike Babcock
Patrick Eaves will be in the lineup tonight.
Jordin Tootoo may again be a healthy scratch, but Coach Babcock said he'll make a decision during warm-ups.
Bill Roose penned an article about the Wings' concerns in terms of their spot in the standings...
“The league is close, and the three-point nights are making it a tighter race,” Wings forward Patrick Eaves said. “I knew there were a lot of three-point games, but I didn’t know that it was up that much.”
For whatever reason, overtimes and shootouts in the West are up by more than 10 percent over the Eastern Conference, where 40-of-200 games played through Thursday have gone beyond 60 minutes.
The conference standings certainly reflect the overtime/shootout statistics. The West standings are much tighter with only eight points separating No. 4 and No. 15. Contrastingly, the playoff race in the East isn’t as cramped with 19-points wedged between the fourth and 15th seeds. Even with just two games on the Western Conference docket tonight – No. 10 Nashville plays at No. 14 Calgary – the Red Wings will wake-up Saturday in Vancouver somewhere between No. 5 and No. 10.
“We can’t be worrying about other teams, it’s about getting the job done here with the 20 guys that are dressed, night in, night out,” forward Jordin Tootoo said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the lineup or out of the lineup, everyone has to be on the same page. Two days ago we were fourth, and next thing you know we’re ninth, so we just have to worry about us.”
There has been some talk over the years to have the NHL move to a point system that rewards winning. Right now there are two Western teams – Vancouver and Nasvhille – who remain in the thick of the playoff hunt as each has five shootout losses.
Currently some European leagues and the CCHA in the United States use a 3-2-1 system that awards three points for each win in regulation or overtime, and one point for an overtime tie. Games tied after 65 minutes advance to a shootout with the winning team receiving an extra point in the standings. But Tootoo doesn’t think change is necessary.
“You see the parity now because of the three-point games. For me personally, it’s about winning,” he said. “When you win more often than not, good things are going to happen. I think it’s fine, personally, it’s not a big deal.”
The Wings aren’t hitting the panic button, but there needs to be an emphasis on winning, and doing so in regulation.
“You never want to give away another point, especially this year,” Eaves said. “We need to get as many points as we can, trying to get some sort of separation just because there’s such a logjam. We still have a ways to go. We just started the back end of the schedule, but it is so tight. If you don’t play a game you can move down significantly, so it’s just the way it is. We have to win the games when we play.”
And in addition to noting Ian White's frustrations, the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa spoke to the Wings' captain about the standings:
Losers of three in a row, including an overtime loss, the Red Wings made clear after the optional skate Thursday morning in Rexall Place they need to beat the young, speedy Oilers. If participation in the optional skate was any guide, they are into it. A nearly full retinue of Wings skated, and it appeared that all of those who did not were busy under the stands of the old arena with strength and conditioning coach Peter Renzetti.
"It's really important," Henrik Zetterberg, the captain, said of the need to end the losing streak, especially in a short season, with the schedule and standings both compacted. We've been here before, this season, and we found a way to get out of it. You just got to do the same thing again, you know, you've got to get out and play a good game."
When a reporter asked about "a little bit of a losing streak," Babcock said, "Well, not a little bit, I would say, we've got to win.. You know, I think the biggest challenge for us, just like any team in the league is that with the exception of two teams in the Western Conference, everybody seems to be up and down, a little bit.
"We haven't been as good in our last three games. We actually didn't think we gave up much two games ago. Our last game, I thought we self-destructed. We had the puck a ton and found a way to turn it over enough to give them clear cut chances. … We're just a team like everybody else. We're trying to get better each and every day."
MLive's Ansar Khan spoke to Damien Brunner about his struggles to find the back of the net of late...
“He has cooled off,'' coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s like anything, the season this year with 48 games in (99) days is a grind, and if you’re coming from Switzerland it’s probably really a grind. The mental toughness to be an every-day (player), to keep your confidence, to do it right all of the time is a challenge. Him and I have spoke about that.''
Brunner already has played 60 games, including 33 for EV Zug in the Swiss-A league. After a strong start with the Red Wings (10 goals and 16 points in 19 games), Brunner has gone eight games without a goal (five assists during that time) heading into Friday's contest in Edmonton. Ordinarily, Babcock might have sat out Brunner for a game. But, his 10 goals still leads a team that is offensively challenged.
“When you go through our group, and you’re saying, ‘OK, I’m going to take someone out,’ he’s got 10 goals – and three assists in his last five games,'' Babcock said. “To some guys, that’s a home run. So let’s be careful.”
Brunner said it's been tough since his two-goal, four-point game against Vancouver on Feb. 24.
“We have a lot of games,'' Brunner said. “I had a good start. Now, I've had a rough couple games, but I (will) work hard, get back on track.''
He admitted the grind could be catching up to him.
“Yeah, that's the tough part with the travel and stuff, but you know that's the mental thing you got to work through,'' Brunner said. “It's a fun experience and it's a challenge you got to expect. I have to get mentally prepared every game and get the best out of it.''
The dry spell is a new experience for a player who dominated offensively in Switzerland.
“Last four years I never had an eight-game streak without a goal,'' Brunner said. “I have to get the good memories back and start scoring. I came over here, had a good half-year in Switzerland, had a lot of confidence. I tried to not put too much pressure on myself. I'm going to come out there and work hard and get it worked out. … I don't think there's a reason to get nervous, just stay positive and good things happen.''
"It's a good chance for myself and for the team to get back at it and erase what was a pretty painful game," said Luongo, who will make his third-straight start.
The Canucks (13-7-6) will wear maroon jerseys with a large "V" and the word Vancouver along with similarly-coloured helmets and socks and greyish pants in celebration of a century of hockey on the West Coast. The uniform is a replica of the one worn by the Vancouver Millionaires, the city's first professional team that toiled in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1912 through 1922.
Luongo, his mates and the coaches wore vintage practice duds Friday in preparation for the Wings. While trying to honour early 20th Century hockey in the city, they will try to make amends for their effort in the recent past.
"It was not a game that was fun to be part of," said Luongo. "It happens once in a while, unfortunately. The main thing is, you've gotta know how to respond — and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Luongo has responded well most of the time — when called upon — since the debacle in Detroit. He backstopped the Canucks to their second-straight win Thursday as they put on a rare offensive display in a 7-4 victory over the Nashville Predators.
The strong showing, which included a shootout victory over Columbus, came after he watched five of six games as Cory Schneider's backup following the one-sided loss to the Red Wings. Consequently, coach Alain Vigneault has kept the coin that he sometimes flips to determine his starting goaltender, has not been seen or mentioned lately.
"I just believe right now it's the right call to do," said Vigneault of starting Luongo.
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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.