The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/31/13 at 04:21 AM ET
Even I will admit that, until Tuesday night's game against Dallas, anyway, I was scratching my head a bit about Jordin Tootoo. For somebody who supposedly came to Detroit to play more regularly and to register points, Tootoo had been playing anywhere between 7-10 minutes over the Wings' first five games, and he was registering a couple of hits and a shot here and there, but wasn't doing much else.
While Damien Brunner's dazzled us all on the scoresheet and aesthetically speaking--and again, I have to offer the, "It's early yet" caveat--I had begun to think, "Geez, here's another physical player brought into Detroit to be physical, and here he is being used in an extremely limited role, penalty parade included, and he can't seem to get his checking timed right or really get on the forecheck with the time he's getting. Are we seeing another Mike Commodore situation in the making here?"
Apparently not! Tootoo is being paid the 48-game equivalent of $1.7 million this season and will be paid $2 million over the next two seasons to play for 7-9 minutes a game, while Brunner's scoring goals while earning his pro-rated $1.35 million to deke and dangle and score.
Who's really giving the Wings bang for their buck?
Both of 'em. I can tell you for a fact that just as the Red Wings are looking for the next Zetterberg, the next Datsyuk and the next Kronwall when they draft players, they also hope that some of the skilled players they pick end up evolving into grinders, into the kinds of players that can deliver eight-to-twelve minutes of rock-solid defensive hockey on the third and fourth lines or third defensive pairing, hopefully while adding a little physical panache to the mix.
Those "support" players are just as important to develop and sometimes harder to find, especially in terms of picking players who skate well enough and handle the puck well enough to keep up with the Wings' ever-present puck possession system, so the Wings have had to import more than a few speedy, forechecking grinders over the past, oh, twenty years (see: Kirk Maltby from Edmonton, Kris Draper from Winnipeg, Dallas Drake in a long-winded way from a trade to Winnipeg, Darren McCarty from retirement, Aaron Downey as a free agent, Joey Kocur from the beer leagues, etc.), and they've usually been willing to sacrifice size for a solid-enough level of skill to ensure that the team's not simply bringing a meathead with fists into the mix.
Tootoo's no exception to that rule, and, as the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan suggests, Tootoo is very enthusiastic about being just the kind of player the Red Wings believe is nothing less than integral to building a playoff-contending team:
"It is what it is," Tootoo said after Tuesday's victory over Dallas, a game in which Tootoo fought twice in the first period and revved the crowd at Joe Louis Arena. "It's all part of the game. If you're me, I don't mind that part. When you're brought in to play a certain role and bring energy, that's kind of a telltale time to get after it for me. Mentally I just go out there and give her all I got and play for the guys. You don't think about it (the fighting). You just show up at the rink and have a fresh mind and bring what got you here. There's a fine line between being too high or too low. You keep an even keel mentally and keep doing the right things."
Tootoo fought Dallas forward Eric Nystrom three seconds into the game, lighting up Joe Louis Arena. Later in the period, Tootoo squared off with Dallas' Brenden Dillon in a bout that lasted nearly a minute, and had fans out of their seats.
Tootoo's fights were the first time a Red Wings player had two fighting majors in the same regular-season game since Todd Bertuzzi did it on April 2, 2011 in Nashville, against a Predators team with Tootoo on the roster. By the way, Tootoo would have bettered that mark Tuesday, if given the opportunity.
"I still had one more fight in me," said Tootoo, who squared off against Columbus' Jared Boll at the start of the game Jan. 21. "The guys on the bench got involved and that's part of my DNA, to bring emotion to the game and having guys feed off that."
To some extent, one might argue that Tootoo serves as something of a bridge to Mitchell Callahan's probable eventual status as the Wings' first home-grown pain-in-the-ass since McCarty, but for this truncated season, where having only 48 games with which to make the playoff cut yields incredible emphasis on earning two points every night, and that intensity and urgency may yield players taking the kinds of liberties with a perceived-to-be-vulnerable Red Wings team that still lacks inches and pounds against the vast majority of its opponents--like the Blues, who they'll play three times this month...
I almost get the feeling that when Ken Holland, Jim Nill, Ryan Martin and the pro and amateur scouts got together and held their pre-draft powwow last June, they'd anticipated the lockout to come like the rest of us, knew that a team without Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart and Tomas Holmstrom would be perceived as easy pickings in terms of literal as well as figurative intimidation, and could be easily knocked off the puck, knocked into the boards and then knocked off, period.
In that sense, adding Tootoo seems almost prescient, because a 48-game schedule against a slate of big, tough and mean Western Conference opponents could literally beat the hell out of the Wings without someone in the lineup whose job is to keep the other team honest.
Tootoo isn't going to bowl anybody over with his size or strength (nor should we expect Niklas Kronwall to do so given that he's got 25 minutes a night to play and the team's offensive breakout to run), but he's definitely going to be tapped on the shoulder to go over the boards when somebody attempts to take liberties with a Wings player, or when the team needs a lift, and Tootoo's ready to do so, all while fulfilling some Wings fans' long-held desires to see some donnybrooks on a more regular basis this season:
"Definitely it brings out muscles you never know you had and I'm sure I'll feel it (before today's practice)," Tootoo said. "That's part of my game, being physical. I may not be the biggest guy out there, but I play with big heart and play for the other 25 guys in the dressing room."
"For me it's about the guys on the bench and you kind of tune in with the game and focus," he said, when asked whether he heard the reaction from frenzied Red Wings fans. "You block everything else out."
The Wings' players certainly liked what they saw...
"I don't know if we're used to it yet," said goalie Jimmy Howard, noting fighting Dallas' Eric Nystrom. "We're not really used to seeing that. But Toots goes out there and sets the tone for us, whether it's a big hit or dropping the gloves. He got the crowd into it early for us. He's really good at it, good at getting underneath the other team's skin. He continued to do that (Tuesday), banging bodies. It's great to have him on your side, that's for sure."
And Babcock wasn't smiling on the outside when he spoke to the press after Tuesday's game, but he didn't seem to mind what he witnessed:
"It sure wasn't our intention, I just expected him to get on the forecheck," Babcock said of Tuesday's opening bout. "But he took it upon himself to have a couple of bouts and we don't mind that either. He's a guy that gives us a different dimension than what we've had here and when he's out there, guys know he's out there."
The Red Wings get back to work today after playing three games in five nights to conclude the January portion of their schedule...And February is kind of vicious.
The Wings play 15 times over the course of 28 days, including 4 sets of back-to-back games (starting on Friday against St. Louis and Saturday in Columbus, which, oddly enough, warms up the Wings' third straight opponent as the Blues will tangle with the Blue Jackets this evening), and while the Wings play 9 of their 15 games at home, the team will see a steady diet of Central Division rivals in the Blues (3 times), Predators (2 times) and Blue Jackets (2 times).
They'll also be playing a team that will probably be rebounding from a rough start in the Los Angeles Kings twice, and they're going to play a slate of mostly Western Canadian opponents--Calgary, Edmonton, Anaheim, Minnesota and Vancouver--before ending the month on their first sustained West Coast swing. The Wings will end February with their first West Coast swing, playing in LA and then against San Jose...
And then March and April get particularly nasty as the team will spend over half of its time on the road, including playing six of seven away from the Joe between March 13th and 26th, and they play 14 and 13 times in March (31 days) and April (27 days on the schedule), respectively, so things theoretically ease up in terms of the workload in exchange for the extra time on the road...
But I think it's safe to say that whatever MLive's Ansar Khan has to say about Joey MacDonald's health will fare into the equation as the schedule gets busier--but MLive has yet to allow us to read anything more than, "Red Wings goaltender Joey MacDonald starts skating, hopes to be cleared in couple of weeks: Veteran had quite a run last season replacing an injured Jimmy Howard, but a bulging disc has sidelined him since March 14. When he returns, he has no idea where he will be playing" as of 3 AM, when I tend to write these overnight reports.
Ditto and perhaps more importantly so for Jonas Gustavsson, who rotated with Tom McCollum during Tuesday's morning skate and is recovering from a groin injury, because Jimmy Howard's would-be back-up is going to get some action one way or another this upcoming month.
The Free Press's Helene St. James suggests that Howard's play is one of several storylines worth noting over the first six games of the season (that's 12.5% of the schedule!), but in my opinion, he's been of absolutely central importance thus far:
Howard's consistency has been a good storyline so far; other than opening night in St. Louis, when he was exposed to one breakaway after another, he's been big in net and shouldered the Wings through their numerous slow starts.
Now the rest of the team seems to be catching up, or at least those not named Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Damien Brunner, who provided the offense from the get-go. Valtteri Filppula delivered a big performance with two goals in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the Stars. Johan Franzen has points in three straight games. Todd Bertuzzi, 38 on Saturday, is showing why the Wings love their old guys, as he's got three points in three games since returning from a misdiagnosis of mononucleosis.
Overall, the Wings have strung together three strong games, starting last week against Minnesota and continuing at Chicago and against Dallas. The next test comes Friday against the Blues, who together with the Blackhawks and Sharks are running away with the Western Conference.
The Wings are with the main pack, and that's not bad considering the lineup hasn't once been at full health and the defense hasn't yet been the same twice. Playing after the departure of Nicklas Lidstrom always was going to be an extremely tough transition, and then add on the losses of Brad Stuart and Tomas Holmstrom -- there were bound to be trying nights.
Brunner's addition has helped smooth things. He's fast, and for a guy who isn't very big, he's remarkably good about going to the net and staying there. His team-leading third goal Tuesday came when he was at the crease, deflecting a puck in mid-air. He loves to shoot the puck as much as Zetterberg, which is saying something, and he gives the Wings a rare right-handed shot option. There's definitely going to be a push to re-sign Brunner, but Brunner's camp would be crazy not to wait and see how high his points go before committing to any contract.
The penalty killers have righted themselves after an ugly start; the power play less so.
Brian Lashoff has come up from the minors and looked at home. Brendan Smith has shown he's a top-four guy on defense. Jordin Tootoo has provided a physical presence -- not just via three fights, but with a team-high 12 hits. Kyle Quincey and Daniel Cleary are among those from whom more is needed.
Usually after six games, what stands out is just how far off the playoffs still are. If nothing else, the labor dispute that sullied the fall has made every game of the 2013 season so much more interesting.
See: why Tootoo's in the lineup every night.
We talked about Brunner on Wednesday evening, but going back to Howard...
He's played in all but 13 minutes of the Wings' first six games (Jonas Gustavsson spelled Howard after the 5th goal he surrendered to St. Louis), and while a 2.77 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage are not wow-worthy numbers, the Wings have been in games 2 through 6 because Howard's kept the Wings in 'em.
He's given a up a couple of suspect goals while swimming in his crease, and I can't say that his performance on breakaways against St. Louis was great, but he's faced about 29 shots per game thus far. That kind of number isn't very Wing-like, but when you're playing in front of Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo on the second pair one night and Kent Huskins and Jakub Kindl on another, you've got to make due with what you've got, and Howard's done just that.
Here's hoping that we get good news regarding Gustavsson and the other injured Wings today, though, because the team's going to need as many warm bodies as it can get its hands on to get through February while continuing to at least tread water in the middle of the Western Conference.
Maybe this is just a Wings fan hoping here, but I would like to believe that once Ken Holland and company do get to March and have figured out "what they've got" on the roster, they'll start looking for the top-pair defenseman the team still obviously needs.
Niklas Kronwall can't keep playing 25-27 minutes a night if he is to hold up over the long and hard road ahead, but he's going to have to do his best to stay healthy over the next month. I just hope the "natural" (i.e. teammate) reinforcements for Howard, Kronwall and the rest of the Wings come along sooner than later, because it's hard to learn what this team really is when half a dozen players aren't playing.
We'll just have to wait to hear what the beat writers have to report from practice today, which will probably get underway around noon.
In other news, regarding the "Datsyuk joined the 1,000 point club" news out of Russia, Sport-Express did indeed add up every single point Datsyuk's registered as a junior player, his regular season and playoff point totals in the old Russian Superleague, the KHL, with the Red Wings, his points in games as an Olympian, at the World Championships and even in his Euro Hockey Tour appearances to round up from his 726 NHL points to 1,000.
If you're interested, Sport-Express's Pavel Osipov had a short conversation with Datsyuk's former Ak Bars Kazan coach, Vladimir Krikunov, and by Sport-Express's calculations, 10 Russian NHL'ers have registered 1,000 points over the full course of their professional hockey careers, even though Sergei Fedorov's the only member of that club by North American standards...
Regarding Todd Bertuzzi's near miss in terms of avoiding an eye injury on Tuesday, the Free Press's St. James added a note regarding that Todd Bertuzzi's suggestion that he can get away with not wearing a visor due to stubbornness is kind of...well, antiquated at this point:
"Wearing a visor might be a good thing," coach Mike Babcock said. "I hate to see that happen to a guy -- it'd change your life forever. That's part of the game, but a visor would fix that."
The Wings didn't practice Wednesday, but it's a safe bet Bertuzzi is giving some hard thought to adding a visor to his helmet. The NHL can't mandate players wear a visor, but even veterans usually do so after they've had a close call, like Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom both did.
Players used to lament they couldn't see as well with a visor, or that it would fog up, but it doesn't seem to impair the play of such visor-wearing superstars as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Sidney Crosby, Marian Hossa and Alex Ovechkin.
Otherwise, this morning's news revolves around prospects. Fox 17's Steve Amrose offers a "human interest" story about Gustav Nyquist's connections to West Michigan...
Gustav Nyquist might be destined for an NHL career. But when it comes to West Michigan athletics, he isn’t the only Nyquist who’s enjoyed success.
Gustav’s father, Fredrik, was an exchange student at Reeths-Puffer high school in Muskegon. While in Muskegon, Fredrik was a member of the 1973 Reeths-Puffer golf team which would win the first ever state championship in school history. Fredrik averaged 40.3 shots over nine holes in the championship season, ranking third on the team between Jeff and Jon Gates.
Fredrik lived with John and Kathleen Snider when he was going to Reeths-Puffer.
In actual on-ice news, in Europe, Alexei Marchenko did not play in CSKA Moscow's 3-2 overtime win over Severstal. CSKA went out and brought Danny Markov over from Vityaz Chekhov, so Marchenko may see the bench a little more often during the final stretch of his KHL career;
In the QMJHL, I don't have any news as to why Xavier Ouellet sat out of his second straight game, with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada dropping a 6-5 shootout decision to Val-d'Or using only 17 skaters, but he's injured and my French is terrible;
Phillipe Hudon registered an assist in the Victoriaville Tigres' 2-1 win over Saint John;
In the WHL, Richard Nedomlel scored a rare goal as the Swift Current Broncos defeated the Calgary Hitmen 5-4;
In the OHL, and this seems to be a pattern here, Andreas Athanasiou didn't play in the Barrie Colts' 4-1 loss to Owen Sound;
And Alan Quine, who's in his need-to-be-signed year, definitely upped the ante yet again with a wonderful performance for the Belleville Bulls, registering a goal and five assists in the Bulls' 8-2 win over Kingston.
Quine's registered 16 points in his 8-game stint with the Bulls thus far, following up a 26-points-in-26-games performance with the Kingston Frontenacs, so he's really taking off at the right time.
I would be remiss without noting that the Red Wings are offering tickets for Saturday's Michigan State University vs. the University of Michigan game at Joe Louis Arena,
MLive's Ansar Khan is going to hold a Q and A with MLive readers shortly;
Art Regner delivered a fantastic video blog report on Fox Sports Detroit's website last week--and I missed it--sharing some hilarious stories about Tomas Holmstrom...
And I don't know where to start with this morning's final story...According to CBS Sports' Chris Peters, a cousin of a certain celebrity "actress" who spends more time in court than she does on the set has committed to the University of Michigan.
My father was a probation officer in Detroit in the 70's, 80's and 90's, so this soon-to-be-35-year-old doesn't get offended easily, but there are one or two swear words that I don't employ because I find them to be truly heinous, and then there are about half a dozen celebrity names that my fingers simply refuse to type, so go and read the story and find out for yourself.
Speaking of weird twitches, I'm headed to the psychiatrist's office today to be told that I need to suck it up (the public health system: you get what you pay for. Thankfully I only see the guy once every three months...), so I'll be in and out.
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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.