The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/07/14 at 03:23 AM ET
I'm afraid that the Red Wings may have to "win out" to stave off the Blue Jackets. The Wings will resume practice ahead of a slate of 3 games in 4 nights and 4 in 6 (@ Buffalo on Tuesday; @ Pittsburgh on NBCSN on Wednesday; home vs. Carolina on Friday; @ St. Louis on
Easter Sunday) today at Joe Louis Arena, and they'll do so with the standings whiteboard in their locker room looking like this:
Those damn Blue Jackets just keep rolling along. They defeated the Islanders 4-0 on Sunday, and they've gone 4-2-and-1 since defeating the Wings on March 25th. Their schedule is also comparable to the Wings' sked--they host Phoenix on Tuesday and head out on a 3-game road trip through Dallas, Tampa Bay and Miami to wrap up their regular season,
Meanwhile in Philly, Tuesday's opponent, the Buffalo Sabres, lost 5-2 to the Flyers, though they hope to receive all of Marcus Foligno, Drew Stafford, Anthony Stewart and Torrey Mitchell back in their lineup for Tuesday.
As NHL.com's Brian Compton notes, the New Jersey Devils also present something of a threat after beating Carolina 2-1 on Saturday...
Who gets the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference? -- A handful of teams are still in the mix for a wild-card spot, including the New Jersey Devils, who have managed to stick around despite being 0-11 in shootouts this season. The Detroit Red Wings seem primed to land the first wild card and earn a berth in the playoffs for the 23rd straight season. But the Devils, Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals are separated by four points.
New Jersey's gone 4-0-and-3 in their past 7 games, and they face the Flames, Senators, Islanders and Bruins, so they may have the best chance of earning 3 wins this week.
If you look at the standings chart above, the Blue Jackets have more wins than the Wings (40 to 37; New Jersey has 34 wins), but both the Devils and Blue Jackets have more Regulation-or-OT wins than the Wings to (35 for Columbus, 34 for New Jersey and 32 for Detroit), and that's the first tiebreaker thanks to Ken Holland, so the Wings face considerable pressure to take out the Sabres, do their best to earn at least a point against Pittsburgh and St. Louis and to take care of business in Carolina.
- The algorithm does not know about things like trades, injuries, and matchups. It does not know that a team has started believing in themselves.
- "Out" does not necessarily mean mathematically eliminated. It just means in the millions of times I played out the season the team never made the playoffs. Likewise for "In".
- The code could have bugs. The nice thing is the numbers are broken down such that bugs don’t stay hidden long. If you find a new one I’ll buy you a beer. Domestic. Milwaukee’s Best, Schaefer, something like that.
While you and I are conversing from a more-than-just-the-Wings perspective, let's look at USA Today's Kevin Allen's "Seven key games that could decide playoff fates" to offer some further, "Who you need to root for when" scoreboard-watching context:
Monday, Calgary Flames at New Jersey Devils, 7 p.m. ET: If the Devils win, they would be in serious contention to win a playoff spot.
While most focus has been on the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets for the Eastern Conference's final two spots, the offensively challenged Devils have gained at least a point in eight of their past 10 games.
If the Devils clinch, it would be a remarkable story, given they are 0-for-11 in shootouts this season.
Tuesday, Phoenix Coyotes at Columbus, 7: This game will affect the wild-card races in both conferences. Both teams desperately need points to stay alive in the wild-card race, and both might not know their fate until the weekend.
The Capitals aren't quite kaput either, which is why I keep including them on the list of enemies, as it were:
Tuesday, Washington Capitals at St. Louis Blues, 8, NBC Sports Network: If the Capitals could beat a strong Blues team, it could give their playoff hopes a charge.
The Caps are four points out of a playoff spot and might get in if they can earn seven points down the stretch against the Blues, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks and Lightning. That's a difficult mission, and they must start with a win at St. Louis.
As a bonus, Alex Ovechkin needs a goal to record his fifth 50-goal season. The Caps could use six or seven goals from him over these final four games. He scored 10 goals in 10 games earlier this season.
The Blues, meanwhile, probably need to win two of their last four games to close out the Colorado Avalanche in the race for the top seed in the Central Division.
Wednesday, Columbus at Dallas Stars, 7: The Stars lead the wild-card race but enter the game trailing 1-0. That was the score when a March 10 game was canceled because of Rich Peverley's collapse. The full game will be replayed, but the Blue Jackets get to keep the goal they scored.
So at least we know that the Coyotes and Stars won't be pushovers, and now we know that next Sunday's opponent won't be playing out the string.
Let's wrap up the out-of-town survey by preparing for the onslaught of, "Detroit doesn't have a chance against Pittsburgh...Probably..." articles via the University of Wisconsin Daily Cardinal's Adee Feiner:
It’s no secret which of these series will prove to be most interesting. It’s looking a lot like 2008 and 2009, isn’t it? Detroit and Pittsburgh can’t seem to get enough of each other in the playoffs. Of course, the Red Wings took home hockey’s holy grail in the 2008 finals, and Pittsburgh returned the favor exactly a year later.
However, Detroit didn’t display the dominance this season that we’ve all become accustomed to. Plagued by injuries that left them unable to find stability, it’s unusual that the Original Six team is fighting for a wild card spot instead of kicking back as the Presidents' Trophy winners.
And then you have Pittsburgh. Head coach Dan Bylsma recently became the fastest coach to reach 250 wins in the NHL. Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz have proved more than capable when it comes to scoring goals, and rookie goaltender Jeff Zatkoff has been solid between the pipes.
The Penguins are currently without top forward Evgeni Malkin, and as we’ve seen before, that’s about the only injury they can afford. This team’s downfall tends to happen when all their star players go down at once.
In terms of local perspectives, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose's "A Look Ahead in Hockeytown" article both breaks down this week's games and offers one final take on the Wings' situation:
Columbus and New Jersey appear to be the biggest threats to the Red Wings, who need to get five of the eight available points to hold off the surging Devils and secure one of the wild-card positions.
So far, the only definite in the East is that the Boston Bruins and Penguins are locked in at the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, in the Eastern Conference, meaning the first wild-card team will face Pittsburgh, and the second wild-card gets Boston.
The Red Wings wrap up the regular season with four games in six days, including three on the road in Buffalo, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Detroit will play its final home game Friday against Carolina.
The Blue Jackets have a tough road to hoe too, literally, with their final four games in five days, including road games at Dallas, Tampa Bay and Florida. While the Blue Jackets alone can’t eliminate the Red Wings, the Devils could become a serious threat to derail Detroit’s 22-straight postseason appearance streak.
While it’s realistic to think the Red Wings will wind up with wild-card spot, should they win out and Tampa Bay falters further, then there’s an outside chance that Detroit could finish in third place in the Atlantic Division and face the Canadiens in a first-round series. The Lightning has lost three of the past four. They have upcoming home games against Toronto, Philadelphia and Columbus, before finishing on the road Sunday in Washington.
If the season ended today, the Eastern Conference playoff matchups would be: Columbus-Boston and Tampa Bay-Montreal; and Detroit-Pittsburgh and Philadelphia-New York Rangers.
In terms of Red Wings roster news, the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa notes that Pavel Datsyuk held up pretty well over the course of Friday and Saturday's games...
Returning to the lineup, there was concern before Saturday about whether he could play in back-to-back games. But Datsyuk said he felt better against the Canadiens on Saturday than he did from his return to the lineup Friday against Buffalo.
“I feel OK,” Datsyuk said. “So, now I just try to pick up more of the pace, every day. I feel better. It’s a long way, and I have a tough season. It’s play, not play; play, not play. But I appreciate the coaches supporting me. It’s like something physical behind me: fans, coaches and teammates, too.”
In the NHL, teams are notoriously stingy divulging information about injuries. All the more so, with Datsyuk’s knee. Surgery in the off-season would hardly be surprising, but no one is talking about it.
As for the stretch drive, Datsyuk said he hopes the Red Wings do not make tight races in April routine.
“If you ask me if I like it, it’s no, I don’t like it. But it’s life and we need to go through it. For us, it’s like last four games — second season in a row — are like playoff games. I think it’s better for us to make it early, so we’ll be ready when the playoffs start.”
Asked if the team is better prepared for a high-stakes end to the season, after last year, he said, “Yeah — and I don’t want it to be our habit."
And Krupa noted the following:
After signing Luke Glendening, to what reportedly is a $1.9 million three-year deal, General Manager Ken Holland said he intends to sign the remaining restricted free agents, Danny DeKeyser, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar, this summer.
The Red Wings have three other RFA's of note (per Capgeek) in Adam Almquist, Landon Ferraro and Mitchell Callahan, among several other prospects who may or may not be issued qualifing offers;
It's safe to assume that the Wings will make Cory Emmerton an unrestricted free agent by simply not submitting a qualifying offer, which would allow the team to retain his rights;
And Daniel Alfredsson, Todd Bertuzzi, Daniel Cleary, Jonas Gustavsson, David Legwand, Kyle Quincey and Mikael Samuelsson will be unrestricted this summer, with Alfredsson, Legwand, Quincey and Gustavsson possibly being retained.
Regarding one of the players who's stolen some of those veterans' jobs, the Free Press's Helene St. James penned a story about Tomas Jurco's successful attempt to "shoot more"...
Tomas Jurco is spending a little extra time after practices taking aim at the net.
He has become a regular feature in the Red Wings’ lineup, and now he’d like to be a regular feature on score sheets. To that end, he’s honing his shot, with an eye on frequency and accuracy.
“I’m working to get it better. Hopefully then more pucks are going to go in the net for me,” Jurco said. “In NHL, you have to have quick release, and you have to have hard shot, with good aiming. It takes a little time to aim it, so if you have to do it really quick, it’s a little harder. So I’m trying to do all that stuff, just put it together. It takes a little while so I’m still practicing, but that’s what I’m focused on in practices and in the games. I’m just trying to shoot more, and maybe go for rebounds or just make some chaos in front of the net.”
Since returning from a broken rib March 27, Jurco has 21 shots in six games, with Saturday’s 5-3 loss at Montreal the only time he hasn’t registered at least three pucks on net. Two shots went in, giving Jurco seven goals in 32 games. The Wings took Sunday off because they don’t play again until Tuesday at Buffalo; four games remain in the regular season.
St. James also noted that the Riley and the Slovaks line has won the coach over, defensive gaffes included:
Coach Mike Babcock said he has kept the trio together while scrambling other lines because “they’ve given us offense and been good defensively at the same time. We’ve got to get them to take care of the puck. Sometimes they get a little careless with the puck, but other than that, they’ve been excellent.”
If you want to engage in a "Long Read," NHL.com's Tal Pinchevsky told the tale of a road trip which helped facilitate Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov's decisions to leave the Soviet Union for the NHL's Vancouver Canucks...
And Teemu Selanne told the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson that two Red Wings were among his most difficult-to-face opponents:
Now that we’re seeing Teemu Selanne’s final NHL lap, who does he say gave him the most grief as an opponent?
“Chris Pronger. He could be mean. We had lots of battles. He’d be yapping every game, dirty stuff, but it was fun to have him as a teammate,” said Selanne. "The day we got Pronger in a trade, I had a big smile on my face. I knew he was the missing part to us winning the Cup.
“(Chris) Chelios, too. He wasn’t as physical as Pronger, but he was smart. And one player who was really tough was (Vladimir) Konstantinov. He was a little scary. You didn’t want to turn your back. It was so sad to hear what happened to him (limo accident). He was so strong. I had so much respect for all of them.”
And finally, I'm getting better in terms of my endurance as I feel more and more "normal," but I've got some obligations on Tuesday that will prevent me from doing game-day updates. Paul will take care of the game-day news preceding the Buffalo Sabres game.
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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.