The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/04/13 at 02:48 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings took Superbowl Sunday off after sustaining a blow to their collective confidence in the form of a 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, and the team's decision to recall both Petr Mrazek and Tomas Tatar on Sunday evening suggests that the team doesn't anticipate Jonas Gustavsson (groin), Mikael Samuelsson (groin), Jan Mursak (shoulder) or anybody else save perhaps Ian White (lacerated quadriceps) to return any time soon.
Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder), Samuelsson, Gustavsson and Darren Helm (back) are hoping to do little more than take small steps toward getting back into hockey shape this week, and Joey MacDonald (back) hoping to head down to Grand Rapids for a two-week conditioning stint soon (thus the goalie shuffle, with Tom McCollum heading back down to Grand Rapids on Sunday evening).
Worse, the Wings believe that Brendan Smith's going to miss at least two weeks after suffering a left shoulder injury in Columbus, with Smith likely to spend today hanging out in an MRI machine at the Detroit Medical Center, and the team's severely undermanned defense (again, White wants to return on Tuesday, but whether Dr. Douglas Plagens will allow White to jeopardize the sutures holding his muscles together is another story) will be facing a very angry Calgary Flames team on Tuesday.
The Flames dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night. Despite out-shooting Chicago 47-19, the Flames gave up a game-tying goal with 2.1 seconds left in the third period, and they told the Calgary Sun's Wes Gilbertson, the Canadian Press and the Calgary Herald's George Johnson (who believes that the Flames will be OK given their offensive aplomb) that they plan on righting the team's 1-3-and-2 record during their two-game road trip to Detroit and Columbus.
Jiri Hudler's new team is only missing Anton Babchuk and Sven Bartischi due to injuries, and their additions of Hudler, Roman Cervenka and Dennis Wideman at least theoretically make the Flames a team with a sound defense, still-excellent goaltending from Miikka Kiprusoff and balanced scoring...
Which is something the Red Wings have yet to receive from forwards not named Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen, Brunner, Filppula or Bertuzzi. The Free Press's George Sipple duly noted that the Wings' "bottom six" forwards--Jordin Tootoo, Cory Emmerton, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves and Danny Cleary--have registered one whole assist for the 4-3-and-1 Wings, and with the team slated to play four games in six nights starting on Tuesday (the Wings will entertain the Flames on Tuesday, head to St. Louis on Thursday and entertain the Oilers and Kings in matinee games next Saturday and Sunday), the lack of secondary scoring has become something of a millstone around the Wings' necks:
"We need some balance, some support," coach Mike Babcock said. "I think the whole group there, six guys, has got one assist. I mean, c'mon."
Cleary's gotten quite a bit of flack from Wings fans for his seeming decline since suffering a set of debilitating knee and groin injuries over the past two seasons, and Cleary knows that he's not exactly Darren Helm, but the UFA-to-be is expected to lead the "bottom six" in the scoring department:
"Gotta be better," Cleary said. "Gotta produce offense, momentum, energy. That's the only way to win in this league."
Asked about his play, Cleary said: "Gotta be better. You know, just gotta be better."
Babcock believes that Cleary, who had knee surgery last spring, will come around, and he believes that Justin Abdelkader will, too, but he knows that both players didn't play during the lockout, and that may explain their slow starts--and why Todd Bertuzzi isn't far behind in the "not quite 'right' yet" department:
"Cleary's No. 1 skill is skating," Babcock said. "The better he skates, the better he plays. You know, we're using him in lots of different situations: power play, penalty kill, regular shift. He's working hard."
"There's no one more committed to being in shape than Abby," Babcock said. "But you're not as in game shape as you could be and it affects your cycle grind game, because that's heavy lifting with guys on your back."
Abdelkader said he's starting to get his legs under him.
"I knew it was going to be hard, but there's only so much we could do when we were practicing," Abdelkader said of the informal skates players organized in Troy during the lockout. "I didn't think the lockout was going to go past Thanksgiving ... at the time I didn't feel like I wanted to go over and come right back if we were going to get something done."
MLive's Ansar Khan took note of the lack of secondary scoring as well, suggesting that Jimmy Howard's not been given much room for the few errors he's made because the top two lines have had to carry the team.
The same could be said for Niklas Kronwall (7 assists in 8 games, good for fourth in the team in scoring, playing 25-27) minutes a night), who's taking criticism because he and Jonathan Ericsson (seventh on the team in scoring with 1 goal and 3 assists over the course of 5 games played, also playing about 22 minutes a night) have been so overworked that the two are being remembered for their handful of egregious defensive errors resulting in goals and their lack of particularly punishing physical play (which is hard to sustain when someone like Kronwall's playing for almost half the game every night) instead of their status as absolutely integral to the team's offensive output, and their plain old excellent performances for the most part.
But the stats don't lie in terms of the harsh light they cast upon the "bottom six," as Khan points out:
Cleary is struggling, with no points and a minus-2 rating. He has taken seven minor penalties, second-most on the team, behind Niklas Kronwall's 10.
The litany of penalties the Wings are taking are partially due to the fact that the NHL's cracking down on any contact with players' hands and obstruction to an almost ridiculous extent some nights (see: Friday against St. Louis) and is "letting 'em play" on others (see: Saturday vs. Columbus)...
Cleary said he feels fine physically, after battling through an assortment of injuries the past few seasons and undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in May.
Justin Abdelkader also has no points, but Babcock said he is starting to skate better.
“There's no one more committed to being in shape than Abdelkader, but you're not as in game shape as you could be,'' Babcock said. “It affects your cycle grind game because that's heavy lifting with guys on your back. I thought he had his best game against Chicago (Jan. 27), so he's coming.''
Drew Miller is off to a surprisingly slow start (minus-4 rating), considering he was the only player among the club's current third- and fourth-liners who played during the lockout (in Scotland).
Tootoo and Cory Emmerton also have no points. The only point produced by the group was an assist from Patrick Eaves – and that came on the power play.
The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan offered a stark illustration of the incredible statistical gulf between top and bottom six production before letting Cleary state the obvious:
Six players — Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Damien Brunner, Pavel Datsyuk, Valtteri Filppula and Todd Bertuzzi — have combined for 18 goals and 45 points.
"It has to be better," Cleary said. "We have to produce offense. We have to produce momentum and energy. That's the only way to win in this league. You have to have depth."
The Wings' defensive gulf isn't pretty, either--Kronwall and Ericsson have 10 points between them, and the other six defensemen, Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo included, have exactly three points between them, with White and Brian Lashoff having registered a goal apiece and the now-injured Smith having registered 1 assist, so Jakub Kindl, the thus-far-awful Kyle Quincey and Kent "Popcorn" Huskins (zero points, zero points, zero points) need to step up as well.
Otherwise, Kulfan noted that Smith's absence is gonna hurt...
"That's a loss," Babcock said of Smith's injury. "He's a competitive kid, he moves the puck and he competes awfully hard. We're already on fumes a little bit, and to lose him, we don't know for how long obviously, but it's a blow for us."
White was cut just above his knee by Howard's skate Jan. 22 in a game against the Stars but began skating last week. White said there's a concern if he bends his knee too much, the laceration could open again. But White believes a return to the lineup this week, possibly even Tuesday against Calgary, is possible. Brian Lashoff , who has been a healthy scratch the last three games, is also available to play.
And here's why the team recalled Mrazek:
"I'm feeling good," MacDonald said. "I've been on the ice and I just want to keep progressing, working, and getting back."
MacDonald had a tremendous stretch in February and March last season when Howard was hurt, helping the Wings during their record 23-game home win streak. Gustavsson has been unable to shake his injury and there is no target for a return.
"You're supposed to have more than one goalie and be able to hand the baton to someone else," Babcock said. "Gus and Mac are on the shelf. Where are you supposed to go?"
Fox 17's Steve Amrose suggests that the Wings should receive lifts from Mrazek and Tatar, who've been tearing it up in the AHL at scoring levels only second to Gustav Nyquist's production:
The Detroit Red Wings are set to have Tatar and Mrazek join the team before its next game on Tuesday against the Calgary Flames.
Tatar is second on the Griffins roster in points scored with 39. Gustav Nyquist leads the Griffins with 39. Tatar recently scored a hat trick in Hamilton and leads the Griffins with 19 goals this season. Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock recently complained about a lack of offense coming from his third and fourth lines.
Mrazek has been the Griffins top netminder in his rookie season. He is 16-7-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average and just recorded his first professional shutout last night in a 1-0 win against the Abbotsford Heat. Mrazek also participated in the AHL All-Star Classic last weekend and worked the third period for the Western Conference which won the All-Star game.
The Red Wings will send goaltender Thomas McCollum back to Grand Rapids. McCollum is 10-6-1 with the Griffins this season. He had a 2.69 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage.
I've got to admit that I feel very badly for McCollum. He's still in the organizational goaltending mix because the team's invested a significant amount of Jim Bedard and Chris Osgood's time, effort and energy attempting to help him evolve into Jimmy Howard's understudy, but at this point, the affable goaltender has been surpassed by Mrazek, and if he remains with the organization next season (he probably will as the team's likely to allow Jake Paterson to play his "over-ager" season with the Saginaw Spirit), he'll have to clear waivers to be sent down.
I don't think anyone will claim him, and I still believe that McCollum has a pro hockey future, but I'm not sure if it's an NHL one, or whether he'll remain with the Wings long-term.
The Red Wings' assistant coaches tend to be "off limits" to the media, and it's a somewhat understandable restriction.
As I've continued to follow hockey and learned more and more about the kind of workloads players and coaches face on a daily basis, I've discovered that players actually tend to put in 8-to-12-hour days most days of the week thanks to team meetings, preparing for and participating in practices, working out, attending to nagging injuries and fulfilling commitments to sign stuff and appear at team-sponsored events directed toward season ticket-holders and the general public, as well as the players' private charitable initiatives and equipment sponsorship deals, leaving them with little free time...
It's worse for coaches. Mike Babcock's status as someone who sleeps for 4 or 5 hours a night and spends a good 14-to-16-hours a day working as the team's coach is the norm, not an exception to said norm, and the team's assistant coaches face similar workloads.
At the same time, I find it somewhat regrettable that the "leave the assistant coaches alone" policy never really allowed Wings fans to get to know Paul MacLean, Todd McLellan or even Brad McCrimmon until their tenures with the Wings ended, and assistant coach Bill Peters and video coach Keith McKittrick remain something of unknown quantities.
Thankfully, associate coach Tom Renney was featured in Saturday's episode of Wingspan on Fox Sports Detroit, and Renney's a very media-friendly person. The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson caught up with Renney for this week's edition of Matheson's Hockey World column (his other topics for the week involve Shane Doan and some stuff we'll get to in a minute), and Renney reflected upon his time as the Edmonton Oilers' coach and discussed his reasons for joining the Wings, even though doing so meant that he was temporarily shelving his desire to remain a head coach:
"There was really only one job available and that was probably Washington (Adam Oates got the Capitals job). I wasn’t going to Montreal (who hired Michel Therrien) or Calgary (Bob Hartley) or back to Edmonton,” said Renney, who didn’t hesitate when Babcock called. They were together on Canada’s world championship gold medal team staff in Prague in 2004, so there was a comfort level there.
“I had a few other NHL teams that had ventured into the fray but Mike came with lots of encouragement and a good idea with what I’m about as a coach. He came up really big. I had say ‘no’ to a couple other teams,” said Renney. “It’s different not being a head coach, but you’re in the game and I’m at a high level with a coaching staff that’s superior in lots of ways in Detroit. I’ve put myself in a position to learn and grow and it doesn’t matter how old you are or what your walk in life is, if something’s available you embrace it,” he said.
Coaching in Detroit is somewhere in between Renney’s jobs in New York and Edmonton.
“More like the Rangers because there’s veteran leadership here that can take hold of a dressing room without a whole lot of dialogue from the coach,” said Renney, who is looking after the Red Wings power play, along with other in-game responsibilities.
Is it a little different having a power play without Nicklas Lidstrom on the point?
“Yeah,” laughed Renney. “We’re working on making it effective, but I don’t think it’ll ever look the same without Lidstrom.”
What’s it like coaching (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk?
“Outstanding,” said Renney. “Great people and their attention to detail in terms of their fitness is terrific. They play the game 200 by 85 with a ton of talent on top of it all. That goal by Zetterberg (a diving, empty-net marker against the St. Louis Blues on Friday) … darned right that shows how competitive he is. He’s got the ‘C’ on his jersey and that ripples through a dressing room,” he said.
Matheson's Hockey World notes ironically feature a friendship between the aforementioned McLellan and Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, some stats regarding the Wings' "best players"...
Henrik Zetterberg’s three-goal night against the St. Louis Blues was a hat-trick all the way around — even-strength, power play and short-handed. He is the first Red Wings player to do that in 12 years, since Brendan Shanahan did it against Calgary.
By the numbers
64.1 – Pavel Datsyuk’s success rate in the faceoff circle
11 – Tampa’s Sami Salo leads the NHL with a plus 11 rating
5 – Career hat tricks for Henrik Zetterberg
And the following tidbit about the happily retired Nicklas Lidstrom:
Is Detroit’s ace European scout Hakan Andersson now tasked with finding another Nick Lidstrom? “No, that’s Nick’s job, finding himself,” joked Red Wings pro scout Bruce Haralson. The great Detroit defenceman is in Sweden doing some part-time work for his old team. Chances are, Lidstrom won’t find anybody close to hockey’s otherworldly defenceman. “I read somewhere that Nick played more minutes than any NHL player in history. I guess when you play 25 minutes a game for 20 years and you almost never get hurt, that makes sense.”
There wasn’t an ounce of fat on Lidstrom’s body. “I played in Toronto with Borje Salming and he was like that. It was like they had stretched skin over a skeleton,” said Oilers scout Dave Semenko.
Also of Red Wings-related note: In the prospect department, Alan Quine registered a goal and 2 assists in the Belleville Bulls' 8-3 victory over Sarnia on Saturday, but Quine, who's followed up a 26-points-in-26-games performance with the Peterborugh Petes with a remarkable 19 points (4 goals and 15 assists) during his 10-game tenure with the Bulls, didn't fare in the scoring as his Bulls had the tables turned on them by Oshawa, which defeated Belleville 8-2 on Sunday...
And CBS Detroit posted a wallpaper-sized picture that might remind those of you who still think that the Red Wings' third-best point producer, with 2 goals and 6 assists in 8 games played, is still a "bum": yes, that was Johan Franzen first screening Steve Mason and then deftly depositing a rebound behind him on Saturday night.
Update: The Calgary Sun's Wes Gilbertson penned a column offering "five 'burning' questions" about the Flames (that must get as old as the Wings "flying over" or being "winged" by opponents), and some of Gilbertson's questions are pertinent to your and my interests as Red Wings fans:
Despite playing five of their first six games in the familiar confines of the Saddledome, the Flames have managed just one win and find themselves dead-last in the NHL standings with only four points.
They're headed east on their scavenger hunt for some positive results, with road tilts against the Red Wings in Detroit (Tuesday) and the Blue Jackets in Columbus (Thursday) before crossing three time-zones to cap their roadie with Saturday's Hockey Night In Canada clash against the Vancouver Canucks. String together a few road wins, and suddenly the early-season setbacks are a non-issue. Continue to squander opportunities and ... uh oh.
1. Are you (bleeping) kidding me? That's what the Flames were wondering after Saturday's shootout loss, a game that everybody -- Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville included -- knows they should have won. Through six regular-season games, the Flames have outshot their opponents five times and finished in a saw-off on the shot-clock once. Yet, they have just four points to show for it. The Flames are satisfied with the amount of scoring opportunities they're generating, but as head coach Bob Hartley said earlier this season, "close is only good in curling." It's high time to start capitalizing on more of their chances.
2. When will Iginla and Cammalleri score? Good question. Calgary's two highest-paid forwards, Jarome Iginla and Michael Cammalleri, have combined for zero goals and six assists through the first half-dozen skates of the new season. In other words, not enough. Iginla has been generating a pile of scoring chances -- he was stopped on a breakaway in Saturday's loss and also clanged a shot off the iron in overtime -- and could get on a roll as soon as one finds the back of the net. Cammalleri had a sluggish start but is coming off his best game of the season against the Blackhawks, including a shot off the post.
Iginla tends to be a "Wing-killer," and Cammalleri always gets fired up when visiting his old stomping grounds (he attended the University of Michigan)...And Bob Hartley coming to Detroit = time to dust off the "Bob 'Artley" impressions from his days with the dastardly Avalanche.
3. What brings out their best? The Flames have played some of their best hockey against their toughest opponents. Case in point, their fabulous first period against the San Jose Sharks, a gritty effort against the Canucks and Saturday's impressive showing against the Blackhawks. The Nik Lidstrom-less Red Wings and perennial punching-bag Blue Jackets don't exactly rank among the NHL's most feared squads, although it's worth remembering the Flames are looking up to everybody in the standings. If they fancy themselves a playoff team, they need to beat the other likely contenders for the final few berths.
4. What's the problem in the shootout? The Flames were 3-9 in the skills competition in 2011-12, squandering enough points to make the difference between a post-season invite and their status as a playoff wannabe for the third consecutive spring. The shootout has been a problem spot this winter, too. The Flames are no-for-two so far and have only scored once -- take a bow, Alex Tanguay -- on eight attempts. The addition of Jiri Hudler, who has a 31.6% shootout success rate in his career, should help, but he was stopped against the Blackhawks. It's too soon to be wondering what if, but those two points could ultimately prove costly.
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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.