The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/15/13 at 05:45 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings face a literal and figurative uphill battle as they hope to salvage their Western Canadian swing starting tonight against the Edmonton Oilers (9:30 PM EDT, FSD/Sportsnet West/97.1 FM) and continuing tomorrow against the Vancouver Canucks (10 PM EDT, FSD Plus/CBC/NHL Network U.S./1270 AM).
Thanks to their 5-2 loss to Calgary, the Wings now sit in 9th place in the West with 29 points, only 4 ahead of the 13th-place Oilers--but they're also only 3 points behind the 3rd-place Canucks--and the 12-10-and-5 Wings really are at a point where the vast majority of their remaining 21 games are must-wins, lest they have to start relying on "help" from other teams to make the playoff cut.
The Oilers might already be in that situation, but they're returning from a massive 9-game road trip which concluded with a 6-5 win over Chicago on Sunday and a 4-0 win over Colorado on Tuesda. The Oilers addressed their desire to get back to taking care of business at home with the Edmonton Journal's Joanne Ireland...
The Oilers netted eight out of a possible 18 points in the club’s longest road trip in franchise history, which was one win off the goal. The team also hit rock bottom after they were thumped 6-0 by the Nashville Predators, but did respond with a 6-5 win over the Blackhawks and a 4-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
“It was tough. It was just having to continually go into a new rink, someone’s home rink, and it was one game after another.” goaltender Devan Dubnyk said. “It’s hard to win on the road. That was the toughest part about a road trip like this. Then when you don’t win, there’s just that more pressure with each game that comes along.”
The goal now, of course, is to sustain some momentum. The Oilers yet to win three straight games this season, and with 14 of their final 22 games on home ice, they have to start rolling up some victories at Rexall Place to make any kind of last-gasp playoff push. They are 4-4-2 on home ice, 6-7-3 on the road, and sit three points back of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“We have to start making a statement for ourselves in our building. We have to start winning games,” said defenceman Ladislav Smid. “Teams have to be scared to come to our building. We have to create an identity that we’ll be hard to play against and that we won’t give up two points easily.”
And the Edmonton Sun's Robert Tychkowski graded the Oilers' road trip performances, both collectively and individually, thusly:
ROAD WARRIORS: Sam Gagner was a leader up front on the trip, potting five goals, three assists and getting in a fight. He was the lead dog in just about every game and returned to Edmonton first in goals and points and second in plus-minus and penalty minutes on the trip … Taylor Hall missed some of the action with a suspension and then a groin injury, but delivered seven points in seven games … Defenceman Ryan Whitney, a healthy scratch to start the trip, showed he can still produce, putting up five points in seven games. He’s come from nowhere, literally, to sit second in goals and points among Oilers defencemen this season … Could the Oilers ask anything more of Mike Brown? He provided instant energy when he was on the ice, getting in a pair of really good scraps and even contributing a goal.
MISSING IN ACTION: Ryan Jones returned home with a pretty pedestrian stats line, no goals, one assist, minus 3 and two minor penalties in eight games. It was enough to get him healthy scratched in Game 8 … Ryan Smyth, while turning in some good penalty killing work, didn’t help offensively, contributing just two assists in 27 periods of work. Smyth and Jones were both out-pointed by Lennart Petrell … Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a miserable trip offensively with just one point in the first seven games. He recovered late, however, generating three points in the all-important last two wins … Ben Eager’s body of work (one point in six games) contributed to his being placed on waivers Wednesday.
WORST OF TIMES: A close second was the fourth game, in Minnesota, in which the Oilers were outhsot 18-0 in the second period and 29-7 through 40 minutes of a 4-2 loss. That it wasn’t 10-2 is a testament to Devan Dubnyk’s ability to withstand relentless pressure. Lifeless doesn’t begin to explain what happened there. But even the Minnesota Meltdown didn’t look as bad as those back-to-back shutout losses in Detroit (3-0) and Nashville (6-0) in which the Oilers didn’t even work hard enough to draw a single penalty. Worst 120 minutes of the season.
BEST OF TIMES: Dubnyk, having watched Nikolai Khabibulin start three of the previous four games and bring the Who’s No.1 debate to the surface again, needed to deliver in his first game in over a week. In Dallas. Where the Oilers NEVER win. He answered the bell in a big way, stopping 33 of 34 shots to break the Texas curse and give Edmonton three of four points to start the trip. The great start, however, didn’t last and the Oilers were sinking badly in the middle stretch, winning just once in five games and dropping to 15th. Lose the final two games of the trip and the season was over. Enter Shawn Horcoff. Maybe it was a coincidence (it wasn’t), but the Oilers rose up upon his arrival and salvaged the season, beating Chicago and Colorado in a span of three days. If Edmonton makes the playoffs, those will be the two games they look back on.
According to the Edmonton Journal's Robert Tychkowski, the Oilers possess an absolutely awful record when returning from road trips...
It’s 11 road trips and counting (dating back to the start of last season) that the Oilers flew back to Edmonton just in time to lose the first game of their home stand. Twice so far this season, nine times last season. It didn’t matter if they were two-gamers or six gamers, if they’re on the road for anything longer than one game, it means trouble when they get back.
“There’s a lot of things that go into coming back from the road,” said Sam Gagner. “It seems a little hectic at home sometimes and maybe you don’t simplify your game at home the way you do on the road, but we can’t fall into that trap.”
A lot of teams tend to struggle in their first game back, but the Oilers don’t just struggle, they drown. If you include the 2011-11 season — for a total of 24 road trips of two games or longer — it’s three wins and 21 losses. There’s obviously something very real there.
“On the road you’re always going, always on the move, and when you come home you settle down a little bit, so maybe that could be a factor,” said winger Magnus Paajarvi. “I don’t know, but we definitely want to come out flying on Friday. Going on a little streak would be huge for us.”
A 3-21 Welcome Home record doesn’t bode well for a team that just returned from a nine-game road trip, one that desperately needs to keep its momentum and slim playoff hopes alive with a win Friday night against the Red Wings.Twelve losses in a row, and 22 out of the last 25, wouldn’t be good.
“We can’t really let that happen,” said resurgent defenceman Ryan Whitney, adding he’s glad it’s Detroit visiting and not one of those Western Conference teams that can put you to sleep. “With a team like Detroit, you have to be ready. They beat us pretty good last time so I think we’ll be ready. We just want to get off to a good start and get the building going.”
It always takes a while to get the head and legs back after a long trip. The time-zone changes, 3 a.m. check-ins and jet lag do leave a mark. So how long does it take to recover from a 17-day road trip?
“It’s hard to say. This is the longest trip I’ve ever been a part of in my career,” said Gagner. “We did our best to make sure we were resting and recovering. Hopefully we can build off that. We had a good practice in here today, the guys came in refreshed after the day off Wednesday. It’s nice to have a day away from the rink to kind of recover and get things in order. Guys are focused now and ready to get back at it.”
But the Oilers reiterated their, "We can turn things around" points to the Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones:
“The biggest thing is to get our crowd into it,” said Jordan Eberle, saying this team, coming home after huge season-saving wins in Chicago and Colorado, needs to create a wave they can ride all the way to the playoffs. We need momentum from the crowd. We need to feed off that energy. This homestand is big for us that way,” he said of visits by Detroit, Nashville, San Jose and St. Louis. We haven’t done that well at home, but now we have a chance to change that around. A big thing is to get our crowd really into it from the first five minutes on.”
Maybe they had their heads together but the guy who sits beside him in the dressing room, Oilers leading scorer Sam Gagner agrees.
“It’s important to keep our foot on the gas,” said Gagner. “The biggest thing is to inspire Edmonton fans to have that passion and emotion and it’s up to us to help create it by bringing that passion and emotion early in every game.”
There’s a lot of optimism about having 14 of their final 22 games of this lockout-shortened season at home to make their move up the ladder into a playoff position. But what’s it based on? The problem with the Oilers hasn’t been the way they play on the road, it’s the way they play at home.
Percentage-wise, the Oilers 6-7-3 road record, going into games Thursday, was better than 17 other NHL teams. Seventeen! That’s one amazingly positive statistic considering this team is coming off a nine-game road trip, the longest in franchise history. But 25 teams have better records at home. Twenty-five!
“It is definitely not acceptable, not acceptable at all in this environment and with the great support we have here in Edmonton,” said coach Ralph Krueger. “To be .500 at home is just not good enough for us and it’s a number we’d like to improve on very quickly — that we need to improve on very quickly to get into the playoffs. I believe it is so critical for us to understand that the way we play at home and on the road are two styles that need to be exactly the same.
“I believe that earlier in the season there were possibly expectations that the Edmonton Oilers were going to be some team that was going to be able to put on an offensive spectacle. But that is not possible in the Western Conference.
“The biggest thing that happens at home is your puck management. Your puck management changes just on the pressure of the crowd, of wanting to do maybe too much all of the time. That’s the most important part for me is to be a patient team offensively, continue on the 5-on-5 track we’re now on and maintain our power play position. Starting games properly at home is always an advantage. If you get off to good starts, you get the crowd in the building involved. We have to get the people in the building involved. That’s going to be important for us every time we step on the ice here now.”
Both Jones and the Edmonton Journal's Joanne Ireland revealed that the Oilers plan on being buyers, not sellers, at the trade deadline (the Oilers just demoted Ben Eager because there wasn't room for him on the team's roster), and Oilers GM Steve Tambellini told the Edmonton Sun's Tychkowski that he's looking to re-sign his free agents-to-be...
The Oilers have a handful of players eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, including Ladislav Smid, Ryan Whitney, Marc Fistric, Lennart Petrell, Ryan Jones and Nikolai Khabibulin.
“We’ve had discussions with some of them to this point and we’ll see if we can get some deals done,” said Tambellini, who getting good feedback in his negotiations. “I can tell you there’s a strong feeling that people want to be part of this group moving forward. That’s a good sign. That doesn’t dictate whether we’re going to get a deal done, but there’s a strong feeling within this group that they want to stick together.”
And the Oilers can thank the play of Sam Gagner for part of their resurgence of late, as the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson notes...
When people talk about the Edmonton Oilers’ ‘young guns,’ they always mention Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz. But Sam Gagner is an addendum. He’s an afterthought. Maybe it’s because the Oilers centre, now in his sixth season with Edmonton, is the team’s ‘old’ young gun. He’s just 23. He also leads the Oilers in scoring with 25 points in 26 games this season, which puts him 23rd on the NHL points parade.
Gagner and Hall have been Edmonton’s best players through half this lockout season, with the Detroit Red Wings on the playbill Friday night at Rexall Place.
Even so, Gagner, who has the second-longest points streak at 10 this season — Carolina Hurricanes’ Eric Staal is riding an 11-game streak — he really is the Oilers’ Rodney Dangerfield. He doesn’t get the love from fans that the other young players get. They think he’s too small, a second-line centre, or not that fast.
What he certainly is this season is underpaid by NHL standards at $3.25 million, but that will change this summer if he stays a point-a-game player, even if he’s not an unrestricted free agent this summer. He’s a restricted free agent, which doesn’t give him triple- or home-run contract ability. The London, Ont., native been flying under the radar for years, but what about now?
“He should be right in the middle of that radar,” said Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger, giving the sixth overall pick in the 2007 entry draft his due. You can tell by the opposition, by the defensive pairs out against him. They’re respecting him in a different way right now,” Krueger said.
Gagner is playing 19:22 a game, 31 seconds more a game than Hall, 24 seconds less than Nugent-Hopkins and 29 behind Eberle. The Oilers are using him to kill penalties for the first time regularly, and also on the power play. He’s getting the same well-rounded work captain Shawn Horcoff was getting before his role on the club changed and his minutes were cut back.
“Sam’s been our most consistent forward the whole year. His battle and compete level is at an all-time high, and he’s been prepared every game,” Horcoff said.
But you might be surprised to hear that supposed has-been Ryan Whitney's turned things around, too. I'm not one for advanced hockey stats, but the Edmonton Journal's David Staples says that Whitney's cranked things up as measured by hockey metrics over the past three games, and the Oilers' offense and defense are improving as a result:
In the three games, Whitney has played 48 even strength minutes at even strength, chipping in on 12 scoring chances while making mistakes on just seven chances against. Again, as I’ve often said, an NHL d-man who is chipping in on one scoring chance for every chance he makes a mistake on is getting the job done.
Compare Whitney’s recent spurt with his first 16 games, where he contributed to 29 chances but made mistakes on 46 against. He was in danger of being run out of the NHL with that level of play. Whitney is not out against the toughest of competition yet, but he’s nonetheless now performing at a level that will earn him a new contract next season, that is, if he can keep it up.
Of course, that’s always the issue with Whitney, whether or not he can be consistent, something that will be uncertain with him given his chronic injuries, which have robbed him of a good part of his mobility.
However, as my Cult of Hockey colleague Bruce McCurdy’s outstanding work on ZoneExists shows, Whitney still has his good hands, which allows him to make a high number of pinpoint passes that launch Edmonton attacks towards the opposition goalie.
After Jeff Petry, Whitney is the second most likely Oilers defenceman to successfully advance the puck out of the Oilers zone, and the second most likely to advance it in a controlled fashion, with the Oilers maintaining control of the puck in the neutral zone after he skates or passes the puck out.
Say what you will about Whitney’s poor foot speed, he’s got a great head and great hands for the game.
As for other Oilers in the “who is not and who is not” categories, Sam Gagner and Magnus Paajarvi are on excellent runs at even strength, while the recent woes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz continue. Perhaps with the return of Shawn Horcoff, and the renewal of Whitney, a bit of pressure will come off both Nugent-Hopkins and Schultz the younger, and they will be more able to turn around their seasons and again perform with a high level of success at even strength.
Maybe the Oilers' return to a more healthy status is the real story here. When the Wings defeated Edmonton 2-1 on February 9th and 3-0 on March 7th, the team was missing a near Wings-like number of players, and now the team's only missing Andy Sutton and Eric Belanger. Shawn Horcoff's back from his wrist injury, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' shoulder has healed, the same's true for Teemu Hartikainen, Mark Fistric will return from an elbow injury tonight, Nikolai Khabibulin's groin has healed, and support players like Anton Lander, Theo Peckham and Corey Potter are all good to go.
EdmontonOilers.com's Mark Ciampa gives us some line combinations in his "The Team Today" column from Thursday...
The Oilers returned home to practice at Rexall Place for a full practice for the first time since way back on February 20.
Ryan Jones was absent due to having a touch of the flu but the rest of the team was there. Eric Belanger (groin) went for a quick skate but did not take part in the full 45-minute practice.
As for the lines, Teemu Hartikainen skated with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle while Shawn Horcoff centred Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky. The third line was Sam Gagner with Nail Yakupov and Magnus Paajarvi and the fourth line was Ryan Smyth between Lennart Petrell and Mike Brown.
And he noted that Nikolai Khabibulin's good to go...
"I'm cleared to practice and, I guess, play so that's the status. I physically feel pretty good. It's just a matter of seeing a few shots in practices and I should be okay."
Khabibulin started the first game of the nine-game jaunt in Chicago but hurt his groin on Marian Hossa's overtime winner. He subsequently returned back to Edmonton to try and get healthy.
"It's never fun to be by yourself. It would probably be nicer to be on the road with the guys but it is what it is. Things happen and I got back here to try and get better as quick as possible," said the goaltender, who added that his recovery came quick and he is now 100%. It was right in the middle of the muscle so it healed pretty quickly. Right now I feel perfect."
As is the hard-hitting Fistric:
Fistric said after the practice that he has been constantly improving since injuring his elbow on February 28 in Dallas.
"I've just been taking it day-by-day. I've been feeling better every day I wake up so that's a positive sign. Now for me it's just a matter of feeling comfortable conditioning-wise and being able to come back at 100%."
If you're interested in watching videos from the Oilers' website, they posted clips of Shawn Horcoff, Nikolai Khabibulin, Mark Fistric and coach Ralph Krueger discussing the team's road trip (and, in the players' cases, their health), but this consolidated clip covers the highlights thereof:
NHL.com's Brian Hunter's game preview serves as our pivot point between the Oilers and Wings' perspectives....
Season series: Third and final meeting of the regular season. The Red Wings will be aiming for a sweep, having won the first two matchups in Detroit. Jimmy Howard has given up just one goal, while Pavel Datsyuk has a goal and two assists.
Big story: This is the start of a four-game homestand for Edmonton, which salvaged a difficult nine-game road trip that at one point threatened to derail its season with back-to-back victories at Chicago and Colorado. As a result, the Oilers finished the trek with a 3-4-2 mark and remain very much in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
Red Wings [team scope]: There's every indication Detroit will be battling down to the final days of the regular season to secure a postseason berth, and if that's the case Red Wings coach Mike Babcock may have no choice but to run Howard out as his goalie night after night. Jonas Gustavsson has been underwhelming in each of his two previous starts, giving up five goals on just 22 shots Wednesday night in a 5-2 loss in Calgary to begin a three-game road trip that concludes Saturday in Vancouver.
Oilers [team scope]: Here's a chance for Edmonton to build off one of its most impressive wins of the season, against a Colorado team playing some of its own best hockey and which had been tough to beat on home ice. But the Oilers made it look fairly simple Tuesday, getting a goal and an assist each from Sam Gagner and Magnus Paajarvi and 35 saves from Devan Dubnyk in a 4-0 victory. The Oilers had started their road trip 1-0-1, then hit an 0-4-1 skid, but finished up strong.
Who's hot: Valtteri Filppula scored a goal on four shots in his return to the Red Wings lineup on Wednesday. … Gagner has three goals in the Oilers' past two games. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could be emerging from his sophomore slump, with a goal and two assists over the same span.
Injury report: Howard has been battling the flu, which led to Gustavsson starting in Calgary. Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) and forwards Darren Helm (back), Todd Bertuzzi (back) and Mikael Samuelsson (finger) are on injured reserve. … Edmonton forward Eric Belanger (groin) is on injured reserve.
And the AP's game preview offers some stats of note:
Edmonton (10-11-5) went 4-8-3 while Shawn Horcoff missed 15 games with a broken knuckle. Starting a franchise-record nine-game road trip without Horcoff didn't help, and the Oilers lost five straight in the middle of that trek.
Horcoff returned for the final two games of the trip and scored a goal in each to help his club to back-to-back wins - including one at NHL-leading Chicago Sunday. Wearing extra reinforcement in his glove to protect his hand, Horcoff has twice as many goals in the last two games as he had in seven contests before the injury.
Edmonton scored four times on eight power-play chances in the two games after going without a power-play goal during the five-game skid.
The Oilers, trying to reach the post-season for the first time since 2006, still surrender more shots on goal per game - 33.9 - than any other team, but Devan Dubnyk's mostly sturdy play in net has allowed them to withstand it. Dubnyk posted his fifth career shutout in Tuesday's 4-0 win at Colorado, stopping 35 shots to improve his save percentage to .919.
Detroit has taken at least one point from 40 of the last 42 regular-season games in this series dating back to 2001. The Wings (12-10-5) have lost three straight overall, though, and they continue to struggle badly on the road, going 1-4-1 in their last six. Detroit has committed 27 giveaways in its last two games, and the sloppiness was costly again as a turnover led to a crucial goal in a 5-2 loss at Calgary Wednesday.
Detroit did snap a season-long road slump on the power play. The unit had gone without a goal in its first 37 chances away from home in 2013 before Valtteri Filppula's second-period score Wednesday.
Some moron cut a fiber optic cable in South Lyon on Thursday afternoon, so I missed covering practice.The Free Press's Helene St. James reported that the Wings "got healthy" in a literal sense...
Goaltender Jimmy Howard and defenseman Ian White both were sick -- very sick, vomiting sick -- on Wednesday but back at work today and ready to play Friday.
"I feel much better," Howard said. "I'm ready to go."
Coach Mike Babcock said Howard will start against the Oilers; it wouldn't be surprising if, considering Howard served as backup in Wednesday's 5-2 loss at Calgary, he also played Saturday at Vancouver.
White was excused for personal reasons, but those reasons turned out to be nausea. "I wasn't feeling very good the night before -- I was throwing up for quite a while, actually," White said. "But I feel fine today. Could have been something I ate. Something in Calgary, I don't know."
Babcock said he wasn't sure whether he'd make any lineup changes among his skaters, but White said, "I expect to play," against the Oilers.
And MLive's Ansar Khan confirmed...
Jimmy Howard returned to practice after the flu forced him to dress as the backup on Wednesday. Howard will start against the Oilers.
“I'm fine,'' Howard said. “I woke up this morning feeling good.''
Defenseman Ian White also was back at practice after not coming to the rink Wednesday because of what the team said was a personal day.
“I wasn't feeling good (Tuesday night), throwing up for quite a while,'' White said. “Could have been something I ate. I felt good today, a little sluggish to start.''
Before noting that the Wings tweaked their practice a bit...
The Detroit Red Wings had what coach Mike Babcock called a quick, efficient 30-minute practice Thursday, as they tried to purge from their system the third-period meltdown from the night before.
And may change their lineup as well:
Babcock said there might be some lineup changes. He'll decide Friday. Options include putting Jordin Tootoo back in at forward – he was a healthy scratch for the first time this season on Wednesday – and putting White back in on defense.
Valtteri Filppula also told the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa that he's fully healthy for perhaps the first time this season:
Valtteri Filppula , who missed seven days with a shoulder sprain, said he felt good on the ice and that the time off finally healed a knee he injured playing in Europe during the lockout.
"I got two weeks rest out of that," said Filppula, who scored the first Red Wings road power-play goal this season late in the second period against the Flames. "And you want to look for something positive out of it and, personally, that's it: I've got no issues with my knee."
In terms of the Wings' goals heading into this evening, Krupa says that the team chose to not forget their crappy loss to Calgary, but instead, chose to study their mistakes...
"We had some video and we went over what we did yesterday," Niklas Kronwall said after practice Thursday as the team prepared for tonight's game against the young Oilers, who have won two consecutive. I thought we played two really good periods. The third, way too many mistakes."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said he wondered if part of what happened was an untoward reaction to players returning to the lineup after injuries.
"You know, it's interesting, the less skill we had, we tried to win 2-1," he said. "Now, here we are, it's 5-2 (and a loss). More skill shouldn't mean more careless, it should just mean better opportunity to be patient, stay with the game longer and harder and get the job done."
Babcock said lineup changes may be in order, but did not discuss them.
"I've got a lot of time left."
Babcock was still pissed off about the way that the Wings dropped Wednesday's game, as the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness notes...
“The part that I don’t understand is it looks like we know how to play and we look like we’re organized, why would we be more dangerous to ourselves when we have the puck than we are to the other team? That’s just crazy,” Babcock said. “It makes no sense. You can work and do all of the work that we did and you turn the puck over three times for the third, fourth and fifth goals. You can’t win like that.”
Detroit dominated play for the first 40 minutes against the Flames, but three costly turnovers led to three unanswered goals in the third period.
“It’s interesting, the less skill that we have we try to win 2-1,” Babcock said. “We’ve talked about this already this year and here we are and it’s 5-2. More skill should win more than being careless. It’s just a better opportunity to be patient and stay with the game longer and harder and get the job done. We didn’t do that.”
Wednesday marked the return of Valtteri Filppula to the lineup along the insertion of Gustav Nyquist, who was leading the American Hockey League in points when he was recalled.
“We played really well for two periods, had a lot of jump, a lot of energy, did a lot of good things and then for some reason we started making some bad decisions, kept turning the puck over and it ended up in our net,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “They really took advantage.”
Detroit will play the middle game of its three-game Western Canada trip tonight in Edmonton. However, out of the loss the Wings did score their first power play goal on the road.
“What I liked about it is we won back-to-back face-offs, we shot (the puck) and we got it back,” Babcock said. “We just did a simple little thing and the guy came up from the wall and we just got it to the net and buried a rebound. It wasn’t complicated. It was real simple and that’s how you’re rewarded. Do good things and good things happen.”
But the Wings insisted to the Free Press's Helene St. James that they can right their listing ship before it sinks:
"When we left the rink [in Calgary], we weren't in a good mood, going on the bus and on the plane," captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "We did so many good things, and then we shot ourselves in the foot again. We have to throw that game away. We know it's really tight in the standings. We need every point we can get, and we gave two points away. We did a lot of good things, but we did some mistakes that cost us the game. So we just have to find a way to do the good things, but when we make a mistake, we have to recover better than we did yesterday."
The Wings gave up three goals in the third period to lose, 5-2, a situation that looks worse because of a weekend series with Columbus when the Wings got only one point. Now they play the Oilers -- another team that's below them in the standings -- and face Vancouver on Saturday night. It's a hectic pace, so Thursday's practice was reasonable.
"We just tried to be efficient with the time, we only practiced 30 minutes," coach Mike Babcock said. "We obviously have to play back-to-back. We had a good meeting, then practiced on things we need to improve. We've got to help ourselves when we have the puck."
Jimmy Howard will be back starting in net after serving as backup in Calgary because of sickness. Other than that, Babcock would only say "there might be" lineup changes; the options aren't many -- forward Jordin Tootoo is likely to come back in, and Ian White is an option on defense.
What the Wings really need is to get more out of their regular personnel. Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who shouldered the team the first third of the season, have suddenly gone as cold as Edmonton's weather, with Datsyuk on an 11-game goal drought and Zetterberg coming in at two assists the last eight games. Damien Brunner has cooled off, going seven games without a goal. After a shoulder-injury layoff, Valtteri Filppula scored Wednesday in his first game back, but it was only his fifth goal in 20 games overall.
Babcock, though, isn't as concerned about goals as he is about players sticking to a simple game plan -- do that, and the scoring will follow.
There isn't much time for the Wings to recover. At this point, it's fair to say Chicago, Anaheim, Vancouver, St. Louis and Los Angeles have all but locked up five of the slots in the Western Conference playoffs. That leaves three spots -- and the Wings are in a race foremost with San Jose, Nashville, Minnesota and Phoenix for those. Too many more turnovers, and not enough teamwork, and the Wings are in trouble.
The Wings offered similar comments to MLive's Ansar Khan...
"The part I don't understand is we look like we know how to play, look like we can be organized,'' Babcock said. “Why would we be more dangerous to ourselves when we have the puck than we are to the other team? That's just crazy, it makes no sense. You can do all the work we did last night and you turn the puck over three times and you can't win like that.''
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall called [Thursday's practice] a good skate.
“Had some video, went over what we did,'' Kronwall said. “Played two really good periods, had a lot of jump, a lot of energy; the third we made way too many mistakes, kept turning the puck over, and it ended up in our net.''
Babcock found it odd that they would change the way they played just because they added more skill to their lineup with Valtteri Filppula and Gustav Nyquist.
“The less skill we had, we tried to win 2-1,'' Babcock said. “More skill shouldn't mean more careless. It should just mean better opportunity to be patient, stay with the game longer and harder and get the job done, and we didn't do that.''
The Flames entered the game with the worst record in the Western Conference, but they are 2-0 vs. the Red Wings. Edmonton, whom Detroit has beaten twice, also is near the bottom of the standings.
“We can't afford losing games like yesterday,'' Kronwall said. “It's got to start tomorrow.''
And it's worth noting that Babcock told the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa that he tried to manage his team's energy levels given their back-to-back schedule. I'd guess that he'll do his best to monitor Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zeterberg's ice time, too:
"We just tried to be efficient with the time, we only practiced 30 minutes," coach Mike Babcock said, when asked if had skated the team hard after a 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames that resulted mostly from some talented Red Wings players assisting on too many Flames goals — in other words, what the NHL statisticians call "giveaways."
"We've obviously got to play back-to-back," he said, referring to road games Friday against the Oilers and Saturday against the Canucks. "We had a good meeting this morning and practiced on things we need to improve.Obviously, we've got to help ourselves when we have the puck."
Smart captain is smart:
Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall both talked about some benefit of looking at video Thursday morning.
"We've got to be ready, we've got to do well," Zetterberg said of the Oilers, who have defeated the Blackhawks and Avalanche in their previous two games after six losses in their previous seven before that. "We know every time we play a game, we're going to play a good team. And everyone is in the mix, so they're going to do their best to win the game. There's going to be nothing different tomorrow, because we know if we do a lot of mistakes tomorrow, it will cost even more."
The Wings' YouTube Channel posted clips of Kronwall's comments...
And Howard's comments:
As you might imagine, the Wings spent just as much time discussing the fact that the NHL's Board of Governors made the league's realignment plan official on Thursday, with the Wings suggesting that a little less sun and fun is okay with them while speaking to the Free Press's Helene St. James:
The announcement could hardly have been better timed for the Wings, who are in western Canada through Saturday night, come home for three days and host Minnesota and then embark on a nine-day, four-game trip to California and Arizona.
"You know what," Henrik Zetterberg said, then stopped to laugh as Drew Miller walked behind him going "brrr" in response to the 0-degree weather in Edmonton.
"Even if we would wake up in sunny California, we would be happy," Zetterberg continued. "It's a good thing for hockey, it's a great thing for our fans. We're going to see a lot of different teams and fun matchups next year."
The Wings gain three Original Six foes in the Bruins, Canadiens and Maple Leafs. They'll also see more of the Rangers, who are in the other Eastern division along with Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, the Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington.
The Wings have gotten used to long travels, but they relish the opportunity to spend less time adjusting their body clocks.
"It's good for our team," coach Mike Babcock said, "because it's the time change that kills you."
The Wings haven't seen any Eastern teams this lockout-shortened season and only sporadically over the past few years as the NHL switched to a conference-centric schedule, but "there's so much video nowadays," Jimmy Howard said, "that it won't take us very long to learn everyone's tendencies."
St. James both penned a second article on the topic...
Pavel Datsyuk joked that the zero-degree weather that greeted the Detroit Red Wings today in Edmonton "is like summer in Russia."
Temperatures aside, the Red Wings were delighted to hear the news that the NHL officially will realign for the 2013-14 season, meaning Detroit will, among other things, trade two trips per season to western Canada for more trips to eastern Canada and Florida. Instead of being one of two teams from the Eastern time zone playing in the Western Conference, the Wings will be in a new division with Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto -- a grouping entirely within the Eastern time zone.
General manager Ken Holland called it "a great day for the Red Wings organization."
Goalie Jimmy Howard, an upstate New York native, called it a great day for his family.
"I'll get to see a lot more family members, so that will be great," Howard said. "Ticket requests will go up."
And she posted a video of Wings coach Mike Babcock and the team talking about their move to "Conference C" (the Free Press posted a photo gallery of the Wings' new "divisional opponents" as well):
The Windsor Star's Bob Duff took note of Ken Holland's comments made on a conference call discussing the league's decision...
“It’s a win-win for our fans and our team,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said Thursday after the NHL announced it had approved the realignment of the league’s divisions for the 2013-14 season. Detroit will be placed in an eastern grouping with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators.
“To go to a division with Montreal, Toronto, Boston, it won’t take long to renew rivalries in the East,” Holland said. “There will be a real buzz in our marketplace with a whole new set of opponents. The transition from West to East will be seamless. Our fan base will be extremely excited. It won’t take long for fans to get excited once the schedule comes out and they see the home opponents.”
Holland was especially excited that the club’s wicked travel slate playing almost all their road games outside the Eastern time zone will be a thing of the past.
“There are more road games in prime time,” Holland said. “I think it’s an hour-and-a-half max to go everywhere in the East other than Florida and Tampa Bay, so there’s less time in the air and more opportunities to come home after road games at an earlier hour.”
Currently in the midst of a Western Canadian swing, Detroit coach Mike Babcock felt that being in the East next season will cut down on the wear and tear on his team.
“It’s not the travel, it’s the time changes that kill you,” Babcock said. “It’s way better for our fans.”
Wings goalie Jimmy Howard was already doing the math on treks his family will be able to take to Wings games next season from their upstate New York home.
“Ottawa is 40-minute drive, Toronto’s three hours. Buffalo’s three hours, Montreal’s an hour and a half, so I’ll get to see a lot more family members, so that will be great,” Howard said. “Ticket requests will go up, but it’ll be a lot of fun.”
As did Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji...
"We're obviously thrilled we're moving back to the Eastern Conference for a lot of reasons," Wings vice president and general manager Ken Holland said on the conference call. "Obviously an Eastern Conference city, Eastern Conference division is going to make many more road games prime time. We're excited to move into a division where we can renew rivalries with Boston, Toronto and Montreal and create strong rivalries with Buffalo, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Florida. It's a great day for the Detroit Red Wings. We're thrilled we're going to play all Western Conference teams home and home."
In the Western Conference which will have two seven-team divisions, Division A is the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks. Division B will contain the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.
"We haven't settled yet on (division) names," Bettman said. We're looking at sensible geographic (names) that are fan-friendly and easiest to remember. Probably in the next few weeks. The name will come shortly."
Western Conference teams will play five games versus five teams within the division and four games versus one team with teams rotating yearly. Within the conference, non-division, teams will play three teams versus each team. Non-conference games will be two games versus every team, home and away.
Unlike before, every team will visit every team at least once so despite the Wings moving into a separate division and conference from the Chicago Blackhawks, they will meet twice a year.
The playoff format changes as well. It will still be 16 teams, eight in each conference but it will be based on divisions. Plus a wild-card option has been added.
The top three teams in every division will make up 12 of the 16 teams. The next two highest-place teams in each conference will take up two of the other berths. Wild-card teams in each divisional playoff will be seeded based on points in the regular season. The division winner with the most points will face off against the wild-card team with the fewest points.
And while DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose spoke to the Wings' players about the swap...
“I think it's a great time for our fans,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We're not going to be heading out west as much. They'll be able to watch our games in prime time a lot more than they have in the past. And of course playing Montreal, Toronto, Boston more often, I'm hoping it's going to spark that (enthusiasm from fans) even more. I know it will for us, for sure.”
.“That’s great news,” forward Daniel Cleary said. “Everyone should be happy, especially in Detroit. … In a couple of years we’ll see how it goes, see how the playoff situation unfolds and how the teams respond to that.”
Travel considerations, especially in the playoffs, has been an issue in the past for the Red Wings, who in this new plan won’t have to make four annual transcontinental trips to California and western Canada. The new plan ensures that all 30 teams play in all 30 arenas at least once a season.
“You talk to a lot of the guys about the travel out West and it’s tough,” rookie defenseman Brian Lashoff said. “Now you get yourself in a situation where the travel isn’t as bad and that’s always a good thing.”
Lashoff made his first cross-country trip with the Red Wings last month.
“It was tough. I’ve never had to do that,” Lashoff said. “Getting your sleep patterns back together is tough and tougher when you’re coming back and playing right away, but at the same time it’s all about getting your rest. As long as you’re not doing it too much during the season, it’s fine.”
Rookie defenseman Brendan Smith, who is from suburban Toronto and still has family and friends in the area, is thrilled to be moving to the East Conference for more than one reason.
“To get to play Toronto more, because it’s back home, that’s pretty cool,” Smith said. “Some people think after you watch the game and turn off the TV (that) you’re done. Maybe we have an eight hour trip home. There is a lot of wear and tear on the body.
MLive's Ansar Khan spoke to the coach and GM...
The Red Wings can't complain about the success they've had in the Western Conference, but they're looking forward to moving East for a variety of reasons – reduced travel, having most road games in their own time zone and renewed rivalries.
“It's a win-win for our fans and our team,'' general manager Ken Holland said. “There is more road games in prime time. We still have a home-and-home with the teams in the West. It's an hour-and-a-half max to go everywhere in the East other than Florida and Tampa Bay, so there's less time in the air, more opportunities to come home after road games at an earlier hour.''...
“There will be a real buzz in our marketplace with a whole new set of opponents,'' Holland said. “Our fan base will be extremely excited.''
Said Babcock: “It’s way better for our fans. I’m excited about who we get to play. I’ve never coached in the East, so I have to learn the (opponents), but I’m excited about that opportunity. Some of my favorite cities in the world are New York, Boston, Montreal.''
Holland said he's not concerned about being in an eight-team division, having to compete with an additional club for a playoff spot (the Western Conference will have seven-team divisions). Players said the pluses far outweigh the minuses, which they said were few, if any.
“It's a good thing for hockey, it's great for our fans,'' Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “They're going to see a lot of different teams and fun match-ups next year.''
But the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa wondered aloud whether the Wings might have to change their personnel to deal with a bigger and more physical Eastern Conference--even though checking's tighter in the West these days:
Holland, to the extent he has approached the topic publicly, begins to say things like: Getting bigger has been one of our needs for a while and we are always trying to address it. And, besides, the skilled teams win everywhere.
So, will he sacrifice skill for size and toughness? Do not look for a significant change there, but it might well color the Red Wings' personnel decisions.
And Babcock, understandably, simply is not there yet. He is a little busy just now, trying to preserve the Red Wings 21-year streak of playoff appearances.
"I think it's great," he said, as he prepared to play the Oilers tonight. "It's good for our team in the fact that the travel — it's not the travel, it's the time changes that kill you. It's good for our fans. But, you know, I can't even list them — I know I'm supposed to know everybody in each division. But I'm excited about who we get to play. And as a coach, I've never coached in the east, so I'm going to have to learn the whole thing. But I'm really excited about the opportunity, too."
Asked specifically for his evaluation of the theory that the Eastern Conference is bigger and tougher, Babcock's unwillingness to provide an assessment only underlines just how hazy a proposition that is, let alone whether it is important.
"That's what I'm saying to you is I haven't done enough work on the east to know that. By the time we get around to it, don't worry, I'll have that covered."
Something tells me that the Wings aren't too worried about a bigger and meaner Eastern Conference, because the players told the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness as much:
“It won’t be hard to adjust to it at all,” Cleary said. “It’s not like we’re going to a harder conference, no offense. It’s different conferences. I don’t want to say one is easier than the other all I know is the West is a tough conference. I’ve never played in the East so take that for what it’s worth.”
A Western Conference team has won the Cup in four out of the past six seasons.
“You see in the East there are a lot of high scoring games,” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “In the West it’s all low scoring and close one- or two-goal games. The styles are different. It won’t be hard to adjust. We just have to play our style and our team likes to dictate the game anyway.”
NHL.com's Dan Rosen posted a summary of the comments made by Dallas Stars president Jim Lites, Winnipeg Jets chairman Mark Chipman, Columbus Blue Jackets president John Davidson, Chairman Mao and Ken Holland during said conference call, and Holland didn't speak much, so Rosen went with this quip:
"One of the things that was really important to us was a matrix that had a home-and-home with every team in the other conference," Holland said. "So, even though we're heading East, we're still thrilled that we're going to play all the teams in the Western Conference home-and-home."
Also of Red Wings-related note: In the promotional department, the Wings are offering suite tickets to the team's April 11th game against San Jose, and you can still send video submissions in to their "Miller Lite Red Wing for a Day" contest;
Via RedWingsFeed, is this bad timing? The Wings could have "gone green" before St. Patrick's Day...
And MyFoxDetroit wants to remind us that the Toast of Hockeytown is slated to take place on Monday:
In terms of trade talk, this quip from ESPN's Pierre LeBrun surprised me:
Another team that I believe has some level of interest in [Jarome] Iginla is Detroit, but the Red Wings have to figure out if they’re actually buyers come April 3 depending on where they are in the standings.
Though his suggestion that Mike Babcock will be brought back as Team Canada's Olympic coach for the Sochi Games in 2014 didn't...
Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman will assemble with his Olympic management staff -- Ken Holland, Doug Armstrong, Kevin Lowe -- along with Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson and Hockey Canada senior director Brad Pascall on Thursday in Toronto. Yzerman’s group will update their player evaluation list after the games they’ve been watching/scouting since the beginning of the season.
Canada hasn’t announced its coaching staff yet, waiting for the NHL to officially sign off on Olympic participation, but you can bet Mike Babcock will be back as head coach.
For the record, part 1, from the Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger:
Bettman pretty much confirmed the worst secret in the NHL -- the one that has the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings once again trying to do battle in front of 115,000-plus fans at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbour, Mich. The game was originally scheduled to take place at The Big House on Jan. 1, 2013 but was wiped out by the ugly labour dispute.
“That’s a pretty good rumour,” Bettman said when asked about the chatter that has been going on concerning the game being moved back to Jan. 1, 2014.
In true Bettman fashion, he was quick to add that “nothing is official as of yet.” But the league may have already tipped its hand by running a contest via email in which the winner wins two tickets to the 2014 Winter Classic in Detroit.
For the record, part 2: The Vancouver Canucks defeated the Nashville Predators 7-4 on Thursday.
In the prospect department, in Sweden, Calle Jarnkrok and Brynas IF
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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.