The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/18/13 at 04:11 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings sit in fifth place in the Western Conference standings as the team will practice today at Joe Louis Arena, ahead of tonight's Toast of Hockeytown, thanks to a back-to-back wins over Edmonton and Vancouver, assuaging their crappy performance against Calgary last Wednesday.
The packed nature of the Western Conference standings probably means that the 14-10-and-5 (with 12 regulation or OT wins) Wings will be out of the playoff pack by the time the Wings and Minnesota Wild tangle in an NBC "Rivalry Night" game on Wednesday, and today, we can expect to find out whether Kyle Quincey will require surgery for his broken cheekbone and whether the NHL will name Pavel Datsyuk one of its Stars of the Week after scoring a goal and adding three assists over the course of a dominant pair of weekend performances.
“If you look at the workload we've put Pav and (Zetterberg) under this year, with the amount of injuries we've had and who they've played with, their support when they line up at the start of the game, what they have vs. what the other guys have, hasn't been the same,'' coach Mike Babcock said. “And they've just dug in and played night in and night out. They've been great for us. We continue to need that effort. For us to have success, they've got to be good.''
“Pav and Z are the best two-way players in the game, I think,'' defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “They’re the best defensively and even when they’re not scoring they’re working hard at getting the pucks back and working to create chances. They keep doing that on a nightly basis.”
And Datsyuk seems to be content playing alongside two-goal-scorer Justin Abdelkader:
“It’s my partners who work hard to make everything that happened,'' Datsyuk said. “Abby, he just go and fight through injury. Looks like he don’t need a stick now anymore to score.”
Datsyuk said he likes playing with Abdelkader because he does the dirty work, likening him to somebody who “pulls the piano'' as opposed to playing it.
“Some people can see how tough (his) work is that he does,'' Datsyuk said. “He gets the puck to me or goes back in front of the net and fights for every puck. Some people only measure him if he scores. But, if you see him total, he does a lot of hard jobs.''
In terms of Datsyuk's uncertain future, the Wings know that he may return to Russia once his contract expires in 2014, but they're hoping that he sticks around for a little while longer:
“Obviously, he would be truly missed,'' Howard said.
The Detroit News's Gregg Krupa discusses the challenges coach Babcock faces as his team battles an incredibly tightly-packed schedule, an incredibly tightly-packed race for playoff spots and a team decimated by injuries and desperately in need of what they won't receive--82 games and seven months' worth of regular season hockey to establish a post-Nicklas Lidstrom/Tomas Holmstrom/Brad Stuart identity.
Babcock believes that his still-inconsistent and very young team's literally mucking along at present...
"It is difficult for everybody except two teams," coach Mike Babcock said, referring to the Blackhawks and Ducks, who have separated from the 13 playoff contenders. We're, as Kenny Holland says, in the mud puddle. You know, we're a group that's kind of been in survival mode from the start. We've been hanging in there the best we can, and we're hopeful we can make a push, here."
But Krupa notes that the Wings believe that Darren Helm(back) will return either this Wednesday or during the Wings' odd road trip--the team will play the Anaheim Ducks on Friday and Sunday (March 22nd and 24th with both games taking place in Anaheim, they'll then travel to Phoenix for a back-to-back affair on Monday the 25th, and then they'll hang loose for a couple of days before tangling with the San Jose Sharks on the 28th, wrapping up the month with a home game against Chicago on March 31st.
Then the team will face only 27 more days and 13 more games before the playoffs begin, and by then, the team hopes to have Mikael Samuelsson (wrist) back as well. We still don't know whether Todd Bertuzzi (back) or Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) will play at all this season, but Kyle Quincey (cheekbone) shouldn't miss too much time--perhaps two weeks--unless his orbital bone is severely broken as he can probably return wearing a full cage as his cheek heals (like Ian White did last year when suffering a "minor" fracture to his jaw).
Krupa duly notes that the Wings' inconsistency drives fans like you and me nuts, but Babcock believes that neither injuries nor the condensed schedule can serve as excuses for poor performances...
"You can tell yourself a whole bunch of things this year," Babcock said. "You can talk about this schedule going on, you can say, 'Oh, we play all this hockey. We travel this far.' Every game, there's two points on the line, and if we're competitive and we're mentally in touch, the legs will be fine. The mind drives the body, anyway. It's got nothing to do with where you play or where you slept."
And in the interim, with 19 games to go, Babcock's enjoying the challenges he's been presented with this season:
If they make the playoffs, they might be the last team anyone wants to play. Just ask the Canucks.
"I've coached a lot of teams over the years, and when I was in Anaheim and then I came here, and this is a much different team than I've coached," Babcock said."But it's fun for the coaching staff. I think sometimes people think we're in the room crying. But we do a lot of laughing."
The Free Press's Helene St. James touches upon similar topics while noting that the Wings have returned to relative health and more consistent play (by this season's standards) as their injured players have slowly returned to the lineup:
"I think it went good, especially after the first one in Calgary, where we basically gave away the game," captain Henrik Zetterberg said after scoring twice against the Canucks. "The way we came back in Edmonton, down 2-0, and found a way to score three goals and win that game, and then play like we did here, it's really fun to see that we can do that."
It's impossible not to tie the winning streak into the surge in personnel: Valtteri Filppula returned from injury against the Flames and contributed a point in all three games. Johan Franzen has four points his last four games, having gotten his legs back after an injury layoff. Those two coming back enabled coach Mike Babcock to provide both Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk with quality wingers.
"Our team is better, personnel-wise, than it was two weeks ago," Babcock said. "Now Z and Pav got legitimate players to play with. For a while there, it was heavy sledding for those guys. You're able to generate more with more people."
Babcock's enthusiasm over the next likeliest guy to return was transparent: Barring any setbacks, Darren Helm is expected to play this week, possibly Wednesday, after missing all but one game because of a sore back. Even as it'll take Helm time to fully get into game shape, "he flat-out can just dominate in the bottom six," Babcock said.
Five days after there were questions about the Wings' maturity when they gave up three goals in the third period at Calgary, the answer came in the form of four points. "When you think about it," Babcock said, "probably our best start and most dominant effort was the game we lost, not vice versa. So who knows why it works that way? I just know that we've tried to hang in here the best we can."
Overall, the Wings will take their points in the standings over style points, as the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness suggests:
“It was a good trip,” said Howard, who missed the game in Calgary with the flu. “Other than the third period in Calgary we did a lot of good things on this trip.”
Things didn’t start out well in the 3-2 overtime win over Edmonton or the 5-2 win over Vancouver. The Oilers got the first goal just a little over three minutes into the game. The Canucks topped that with the first goal six seconds into the game.
“In Calgary we basically gave away the game,” Zetterberg said. “The way we came back in Edmonton down 2-0 and win that game and come out (Saturday) and play like we did, it's real fun to see we can do it.”
The Wings’ penalty kill was perfect on eight combined chances in their two wins, while Howard made 63 saves on 67 shots he faced.
“I liked the goaltending,” Babcock said. “We had real good goaltending. Outstanding penalty killing and I thought once the guys got their legs, you always know in a back-to-back situation when a team is fresh you're going to be in a little bit of trouble at the start. We were able to weather the storm and got some breaks at the start because of Howie being so good and then I thought we got playing pretty good.”
In setting up "The Week Ahead in Hockeytown," DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose notes Babcock's take on the team's return to health before offering game previews.
According to Roose, it's been a long time since the Wings have played a "on the road and still on the road" series:
With a unique twist to this year’s schedule, the Red Wings and Ducks will face-off twice in three nights. It’s been seven years since the Red Wings last played consecutive games against an opponent in the same venue. In 2005, Detroit skated away with back-to-back wins at Columbus.
I don't know if you remember it, but in the days of 8 within-division games, the Wings faced a 5-game slate in which they played the Wild, the Blue Jackets, the Blue Jackets again, and then had a home-and-home series against Minnesota waaaayyy back in December of that 05-06 season.
Here are Roose's game previews in part. You'll have to read the rest of his story for his "players to watch" (hint: Ryan Suter's starting to pile up points with Minnesota, which will face off against the Canucks in Vancouver tonight)
WEDNESDAY – vs. MINNESOTA WILD (15-10-2): The Wild has won four of their past five games, and is 11-5-1 since Feb. 9. They’re one of the league’s best when leading after two periods with a 10-1-1 record this season. … Minnesota has scored the opening goal in seven straight games, tying a franchise record originally set in October 2007. The Wild is 10-4-0 when scoring first this year. … They’re also perfect on the penalty kill in 10 of its last 13 games, killing 31-of-34 chances in that stretch. Minnesota’s penalty kills ranks fourth in the league. The Wild is 11-5-1 when not allowing a power-play goal. Especially stingy on the road, Minnesota has yielded just 31 shorthanded chances in 13 games. … Minnesota has scored power-play goal in eight of its last 10 games, going 8-for-35 in that stretch. Minnesota is 8-5-1 when scoring a power-play goal and 7-5-1 when it is stopped on the advantage.
FRIDAY – at ANAHEIM DUCKS (20-3-4): The Ducks are riding an 11-game home winning streak, which equals the club record set during the 2009-10 campaign. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, only four teams have won as many as 11 straight home games, including the Red Wings, who won 23 straight at Joe Louis Arena last season. … In mid-February, the Ducks ranked ninth in the NHL on the power play (9-for-44). But in the last month, the Ducks’ special team has skyrocketed to league lead, going 11-for-34 on the power play for a 32.4 percent success rate over the last 12 games. In all, the Ducks are 20-for-78 on the power play with a 25.6 percent success rate.
SUNDAY – at ANAHEIM DUCKS (20-3-4): The Ducks have won 13 games this season when trailing. Incredibly, they are 11-2-1 when opponents score first. Conversely, Anaheim was 1-10-2 through 26 games last season in the same such situation. According the Stats, Inc., both of those win totals (13, 11) are the most by any NHL team through the first 26 games of a season since 1987-88.
Again, the Wings will then head to Phoenix on Monday the 25th, they'll tangle with the Sharks on Thursday the 28th, and will conclude the month with back-to-back home games against Chicago on Sunday the 31st and Colorado on Monday, May 1st (nice timing, eh?).
Also of Red Wings-related note: The Vancouver Province's Ed Willes and the Vancouver Sun's Elliott Pap are still peeved about the Canucks' collapse on Saturday, but Datsyuk's performance left Pap in awe:
Red Wing centre Pavel Datsyuk was the undisputed star of Saturday’s game with three assists, four shots on goal, eight shots directed at the net, one hit, one blocked shot, numerous take-aways, 15-for-24 on faceoffs and plus-2.
In terms of the trade deadline on April 3rd and a summer of free agency to come, Wings GM Ken Holland does indeed kick every tire and inquire about every player on the market as part of his due diligence, but he told the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson that he's on the fence about "buying," though he does want to re-sign unrestricted free agents-to-be Jimmy Howard and Valtteri Filppula.
The Wings want to re-sign Damien Brunner, too, but MLive's Ansar Khan pointed out that both the Wings and Brunner's agent need to figure out what the suddenly-cold Brunner can do over the course of a regular season and playoff run before they can talk about "comparables."
In terms of the rest of the Wings' free agents-to-be, UFA's-in-waiting Danny Cleary and Drew Miller are playing for their jobs, and as Capgeek.com's organization chart notes, Jakub Kindl, Joakim Andersson, Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist will all be restricted free agents this summer.
As far as Filppula's concerned, USA Today's Kevin Allen believes that the Wings should sign him, not trade him:
Valtteri Filppula (Detroit Red Wings), sign him: This situation is tricky because it's hard to determine his market value. He's an impressively skilled player who, at 28, has had one 20-goal season. But the romance of Filppula's potential is alluring, and he'd be attractive on the open market. The Red Wings want and need to sign him, particularly with Pavel Datsyuk's status unknown after next season.
Allen also debates the fates of nine more unrestricted free agents-to-be.
And finally, via RedWingsFeed, this is the kind of story that I love reading and love sharing. Most people don't know that Michigan has several "local" equipment companies and goalie mask artists.
Vaughn Hockey is based in Oxford, MI, and they have plants making goalie gear in Oxford (it's near Lake Orion) and in London, Ontario; Warrior Hockey makes its gloves and goalie in Montreal and its sticks in Tijuana, Mexico, but it's based in Warren; Gary Warwick makes goalie masks in Port Huron; Ray Bishop paints goalie masks and motorcycles in Grand Blanc; and Eagle Hockey and Sher-Wood hockey's goalie department make their gear in London, ON and Strathroy, ON.
You're more familiar with these brands than you might think: Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Cleary and Carlo Colaiacovo use Warrior gear exclusively, and Johan Franzen wears Warrior gloves. Jonas Gustavsson is decked out in Warrior goalie pads as well, and Jimmy Howard uses their sticks; Howard uses Vaughn goalie gear otherwise; Bishop painted Howard and Jonas Gustavsson's masks, and the custom-painted motorcycles decked out in airbrushed designs at the Hockeytown Cafe are his works of art.
The vast majority of equipment companies almost exclusively make their gear in either Mexico or China, Thailand, the Philippines and Korea these days, so North American gear is harder and harder to come by (though Bauer still makes its goalie gear in Canada, Easton and Reebok make their gloves in Canada, and by today's standards, Easton's stick plant in Tijuana is at least "North American"), but Jimmy Howard is very happy with his relationship with Vaughn, as does Gustavsson with his Warrior gear, as both told WXYZ's David Solano:
"If you need something switched up on your pads, you can usually get it back in the same day so it's one of the perks of having the company so close," said Howard, who's been using Vaughn gear since his playing days with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
"When something bothers you out there you want to be able to fix it quick so you can focus on stopping the puck instead of your equipment," Jonas Gustavsson, a Red Wings goalie, said. "To be able to get that service that quick is huge."
Here's something that's also huge about Howard wearing the Vaughn gear:
"It is very rare," said Paul Boyer, the Red Wings head equipment manager. "With a lot of production of hockey equipment, and the manufacturing of hockey equipment going overseas now, and made by an individual who doesn't play the game, you kind of see some of the nuisances and it doesn't work.here's flaws with it. It breaks down a little faster."
"Montreal has its set up up there, but a lot of product is not made in North America anymore," said [Vaughn hockey pro rep Scott] Hughes. "To go to The Joe, pick something up, get it fixed and have it back there the same day it doesn't exist."
"We're very fortunate that you have the company so close," said Howard.
"I think you've got goalie people making goalie equipment out there, and the quality coming out of that shop is fantastic," said Boyer.
Here's the video that accompanies the story:
In the prospect department: In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins had a rough weekend, dropping 2 of the 3 games they played, but they did earn a point in a 3-2 OT loss to the Peoria Rivermen on Sunday night. The Griffins' website provides a recap:
The Peoria Rivermen defeated the Grand Rapids Griffins for the fifth straight time this season with a 3-2 overtime victory Sunday at Carver Arena. The Rivermen (27-28-4-3) struck first as Mark Cundari scored his seventh goal of the season. The center snapped his shot inside the upper right hand corner of the goal past Tom McCollum to give Peoria a 1-0 lead at 1:42 of the opening period.
Tomas Tatar tied the game at one for the Griffins (36-21-2-2) with a goal at 1:11 of the second period. Jan Mursak fed the puck to Tatar coming up the middle, and the left wing slipped his shot over the right shoulder of Mike McKenna for his 21st goal of the season.
Anthony Nigro restored Peoria’s one-goal lead at 4:21 of the second period. The Woodbridge, Ontario native trailed on a breakaway play, and pulled up and caught a pass in stride, burying his shot in the right hand corner of the net. The goal was Nigro’s 4th of the season.
Grand Rapids tied the game at two as Louis-Marc Aubry found the back of the net at 14:28 of the second period. Tomas Jurco made a move around the right side of the net and gave a centering feed to Aubry, who tapped the puck past McKenna.
After a scoreless third period, Peoria scored 30 seconds into the overtime period to defeat the Griffins 3-2. Taylor Chorney tucked his shot inside the right goal post to give Peoria its fifth straight win over the Griffins.
McCollum stopped 25 of 28 shots and McKenna earned the victory behind 24 saves.
The Griffins will get a rematch against the Rivermen this week as they take on Peoria again at Carver Arena Tuesday at 8:05 p.m. EDT.
In the ECHL, the Toledo Walleye dropped a 3-2 decision to the Wheeling Nailers. Trevor Parkes had an assist and Willie Coetzee took seven shots, but Gleason Fournier didn't register a point and Jordan Pearce sat out the game. The Walleye's website provides a recap and highlights, as does the Toledo Blade's Mark Monroe.
In the OHL, Ryan Sproul sat out the Soo Greyhounds' 6-2 loss to London.
The OHL's regular season ended on Sunday, and in terms of the Wings' prospects, here are their playoff match-ups:
Alan Quine and the Belleville Bulls will take on the Mississauga Steelheads, beginning on Thursday, March 21st;
Andreas Athanasiou and the Barrie Colts will face the Kingston Frontenacs, beginning on Thursday, March 21st;
Jake Paterson and the Saginaw Spirit will tangle with the London Knights, beginning on Friday, March 22nd;
And Ryan Sproul and the Soo Greyhounds will battle the Owen Sound Attack, starting on Thursday, March 21st.
In the QMJHL, Martin Frk went scoreless in the Halifax Mooseheads' 5-2 win over Cape Breton.
In terms of Wings prospects playing in the Q, here are their playoff match-ups:
Frk and the Mooseheads will play the Saint John Sea Dogs;
Xavier Ouellet and the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada will face the Acadie-Bathurst Titan;
And Phillipe Hudon and the Victoriaville Tigres will face the Moncton Wildcats.
In the WHL, the Richard Nedomlel and the Swift Current Broncos will battle the Calgary Hitmen, starting on Thurdsay, March 21st.
In the WCHA, Nick Jensen and the Saint Cloud State Huskies will play the University of Wisconsin Badgers in the WCHA playoff semifinals on Friday, March 22nd;
And Ben Marshall and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers will play the winner of Thursday's Colorado College-North Dakota game on Friday, March 22nd.
In the BCHL, James De Haas and the Penticton Vees lead the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 2 games to 0, and their first-round playoff series will resume tonight.
In Sweden, Mattias Backman registered an assist in Linkopings HC's 5-4 OT win over HV71 Jonkoping. Linkoping leads their Swedish Eliteserien first-round series 2 games to 1;
And Calle Jarnkrok and Brynas IF face elimination this afternoon as Brynas IF will play Skelleftea AIK, which leads their first-round series 3 games to 0.
In Finland, Teemu Pulkkinen and Jokerit Helsinki will begin their first round SM-Liiga playoff series against Lukko Rauma on Wednesday, March 20th.
For the record, prime target and NCAA-playing free agent Danny DeKeyser's Western Michigan University Broncos did not make the CCHA finals, which will take place at Joe Louis Arena this weekend. I don't believe that the Broncos will advance to the NCAA regional playoffs, but the NCAA's picks for said tournament are kind of odd, so DeKeyser may or may not be done playing at the NCAA level.
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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.