The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/27/13 at 05:02 AM ET
Stupid internet. Oh, how you trick me, going out for long enough that I wait for you to return, get sleepy, decide to not write an overnight report, and then, poof! Back on you go!
I'm in a grumpy mood this morning as my "rest day" mostly involved not sleeping and engaging in a pain-in-the-ass chore. It happens.
Thankfully, regardless of what you think of Brendan Smith's Tweet (I think that between ordering 50 In N' Out burgers for their post-game meal and relaxing by the pool on Tuesday, somebody said, "Whatever everyone at the bar wants, this round is on us!" and they charged it to Smith, but that's my gut feeling, because I just can't picture anyone but Todd Bertuzzi having a Pina Colada), it's good to know that the Red Wings had a restful day off, and it's good to know that the team feels that it's finally finding its stride and identity.
The Free Press's Helene St. James follows up MLive's Ansar Khan and the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan's takes on the now 5th-place Wings' state of mind during what she duly notes coach Mike Babcock has deemed their "spring break."
The Wings have already banked away the 6 of 8 road points they needed to earn on their 4-game road trip with Thursday's game against a San Jose team that will have played back-to-backs against Anaheim and will be playing 2 games in 2 nights on Thursday...
And as the team returns to practicing this afternoon before taking a short flight to the Bay Area, the probability of the Wings going 4-for-4 on their road trip no longer seems like a pie-in-the-sky idea, mostly because the frustratingly inconsistent Wings finally seem to believe in themselves:
"It definitely feels good right now," Niklas Kronwall said. "We're in good shape. But at the same time, we've got another game here in a few days, so don't get too confident. We've still got some work to do that we can do better."
Remember March 9-10? That was the Lost Weekend in which the Wings were defeated in back-to-back games by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Babcock questioned their maturity the next game when they dominated Calgary for two periods only to self-destruct in the third. Recovery began two nights later in Edmonton, continued the following night in Vancouver. After a blip at home against the red-hot Minnesota Wild, the Wings have shone all the brighter since they headed West.
It has helped to get Valtteri Filppula and Johan Franzen back. They have made the power play better, enabling the Wings to field two legitimate units. The other noticeable difference on the power play has been the work ethic -- defensemen shooting the puck more, and forwards retrieving it with zeal.
"That's been the big thing for us ... making sure we get the second opportunity," Daniel Cleary said. "Hate to get too far ahead, but ... you get good goaltending and good special teams, your chances of winning are pretty high."
The overall numbers for the power play (17.6%) and penalty kill (78.9%) aren't great because both were so bad for so long. But over the past seven games, the Wings are 8-for-28 with the man advantage and 18-for-23 on the penalty kill. They have improved to seventh in the NHL defensively with a 2.46 goals-against average, showing a poise that was lacking only two weeks ago.
"At the beginning of the season," Kronwall said, "there were a lot of times they went up a goal or two and we just kind of ... we couldn't find any energy really to do anything. Right now, it feels like we just keep going, regardless of what the score is."
The success helps general manager Ken Holland as he approaches next week's trade deadline. He'll try to improve the team, of course, but seeing the Wings get six points already on this trip alleviates some pressure. It also looks like Mikael Samuelsson will be back Sunday, giving the Wings another big body and big shooter.
There's one month left in the regular season. Over the past week, the Wings have looked more and more like a playoff team. Playing in the sun has been fun -- and fruitful.
As St. James also points out, Jonas Gustavsson delivered a job-saving performance during the Wings' 2-1 win over Phoenix, and given the team's struggles to find a capable back-up for the soon-to-be-re-signed Jimmy Howard, Gustavsson's performance has the team breathing a sigh of relief:
"Your team has also got to be confident in him," Babcock said after the victory at Jobing.com Arena. "Things haven't gone great for him this year, he's been hurt all along, and it's hard to get into a rhythm and get any confidence in yourself. Ideally, this will be a confidence builder, and he'll go from there."
Gustavsson played his first game when he relieved Jimmy Howard in the 6-0 opening-night disaster at St. Louis; then a pulled groin delayed Gustavsson's next start until Feb. 28. He won that game, then lost his next two.
Gustavsson knew he needed to redeem himself and did so in the desert. He didn't look good on the second goal, which found him on his rear as Rob Klinkhammer sent the puck high, but the rest of the way, Gustavsson was impenetrable.
"I felt good," he said. "Maybe couple of unnecessary rebounds here and there, but that's going to happen in a game. Overall, I felt pretty confident. Felt like my guys helped me, too, so it was a good step. When you lose a game you want to come back and win a game, especially for me, with the last two games. You want to bounce back and get a win."
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall said "it was awesome to see" Gustavsson have a night like he did against Phoenix. "He came up huge for us."
It worked out well for everyone: Howard got a mental breather, and Babcock got the impression Gustavsson can be counted on to help the Wings as they steer toward the playoffs. If everything goes as planned, Gustavsson should get his next start Monday against visiting Colorado in the second game of a back-to-back.
The Wings' schedule after Thursday's game ain't no picnic: the team will play an NBC matinee against Chicago on Sunday the 31st, tangle with the Avs on April Fool's Day and then head right back out West to play Phoenix on the 5th and the Avs on the 6th, but after yet another matinee game against St. Louis on Sunday the 7th, the Wings will receive another 3-day break before playing the Sharks on the 11th and then heading to Chicago and Nashville for Friday-Sunday tilts on the 12th and 14th.
By the middle of April, the Wings are heading out West one more time to play the Flames on Tuesday the 17th and the Canucks in a Hockey Night in Canada game on the 20th, they pound out a Monday-Wednesday-Thursday slate of games against Phoenix, Los Angeles and Nashville at the Joe on the 22nd, 24th and 25th, and after the team heads to Dallas to tangle with the Stars on Saturday the 27th...
If all goes well, they'll be opening a first-round playoff series on Tuesday (April 30th), Wednesday (May 1st) or Thursday (May 2nd).
That's how it's gonna roll, and after the last half-dozen games, it seems more and more likely that the Wings won't need any "help" from losing teams to make the playoffs.
By April 14th, the Wings have to release Red Wings prospect Calle Jarnkrok back to the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation (Jarnkrok's expected to star for Sweden at the World Championships,which will be held in Helsinki and Stockholm, with Nicklas Lidstrom, Mats Sudin and Peter Forsberg serving as "ambassadors" to market a Worlds whose finals will be held in Stockholm this year), but for the present moment, he's slated to play in 9 games with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins before "turning pro" at the AHL or NHL level next season...
Or perhaps being left with Brynas for one more season--based upon his performance with the Griffins, as Ken Holland told Expressen's Gunnar Nordstrom (the Wings are still worried about Jarnkrok's physical readiness for North American play)--and Jarnkrok spoke to Grand Rapids' Fox 17's Steve Amorose after engaging in his first practice with the Grifins:
“It’s smaller ice and the speed is much faster,” said Jarnkrok when comparing his first AHL practice to his time in Sweden. “I have to make all of my decisions faster. I think that’s the biggest change (I need to make),”
After just one day of practice, Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill saw some of what had been advertised regarding the Red Wings second round pick in the 2010 draft.
“He’s real, real smart. Competes real hard, strong on his skates for not a big guy, can really pass the puck and actually showed an ability to shoot the puck out there,” said Blashill. “He’s got lots of tools. Now it’s putting it together and showing you can be productive on the smaller sheet.”
Jarnkrok has been compared to Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg and that’s just fine by him. Jarnkrok’s favorite team growing up was the Red Wings and his favorite player was Zetterberg. “When I watch him play, I try to take after what he’s doing good.”
The Griffins will get a good opportunity to know their newest teammate. They are set to be away from Grand Rapids for the next two weeks as they embark on a six-game road trip. Jarnkrok was centering a line with Landon Ferraro and Tomas Jurco during today’s practice. With the Griffins holding a nine-point lead in the Midwest Division, Blashill can ease Jarnkrok into his role which will include time on the power play.
“We want to give him an opportunity to succeed,” said Blashill. “We’ve got lots of other guys that have helped as well. But I think everybody understands, you give certain guys opportunities and see how he does. We don’t want to give him too much too soon, but we also want to make sure we are utilizing his skills.”
The Griffins will have the services of Jarnkrok for the next nine games. Afterwards he will have return to Sweden to prepare for the World Championships, but Jarnkrok hopes to be making a return trip to North America as soon as next season begins.
“We will see about that but I hope to play here next year,” said Jarnkrok. His first North American stint begins Thursday in San Antonio.
Here's the video of Amorose's interviews with Jarnkrok and Blasihill. The video is more than a re-hashing of Amorose's story:
In the prospects playing playoff hockey department:
In the QMJHL, Phillipe Hudon scored a hat trick in the Victoriaville Tigres' 6-5 OT win over Moncton, allowing the Tigres to take a 2-1 series lead.
As Hudon scored all of his goals in the 3rd period, rallying Victoriaville from a 3-1 deficit to a 5-5 tie (he didn't score a natural hat trick because teammate Phillipe Haley scored a goal as well, but Hudon scored the game-tying goal), Hudon was named the game's first star, and Yahoo Sports' Neate Sager named Hudon his 2nd star of the night, too:
No. 2 star: Philippe Hudon, Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
Hat tricks for everyone! Hudon and Victoriaville trailed the Moncton Wildcats by four goals with 12½ minutes to play in their crucial Game 3, but the Detroit Red Wings fifth-rounder scored a third-period hat trick to help realize a thrilling 6-5 overtime win.
The 'Cats seemed home free when captain Alex Saulnier (2G-2A) scored to open a 5-1 lead with 12:44 on the play. Hudon, who was goal-less in six previous QMJHL playoff tilts, scored 28 seconds later with assists from Carl-Antoine Delisle and William Cochrane. The 5-foot-11, 191-pound Saulnier was promptly whistled for goalie interference on Victoriaville's 6-5, 201-pound 'tender Brandon Whitney.
Hudon scored on the ensuing power play and Philippe Halley scored 31 seconds later to get the lead down to 5-4. That cued up Hudon to score with 25 seconds left. Philippe Maillet then won it in overtime for Victoriaville, which is now up 2-1 on the Wildcats and their former captain Phillip Danault.
Xavier Ouellet registered an assist in the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada's 5-4 OT loss to Acadie-Bathurst, but the Armada still lead their series 2 games to 1;
And Martin Frk scored a goal in the Halifax Mooseheads' 6-1 win over Saint John, giving Halifax a 3-0 series lead.
In the OHL, the Belleville Bulls were supposed to steamroll the Mississauga Steelheads, but Alan Quine went scoreless in his powerhouse team's 5-2 loss to Mississauga on Tuesday, giving the Steelheads a 2-1 series lead;
And Jake Paterson may be an excellent goalie, but the London Knights are favorites to win the both the OHL title and the Memorial Cup. Paterson was lit up for 7 goals on 28 shots in the Knights' 7-1 win over Paterson's Saginaw Spirit, and the Knights will probably sweep Saginaw out of the playoffs on Thursday.
“I’m disappointed in a lot of guys,” Saginaw coach Greg Gilbert said. “Their effort and how they played, it’s very disappointing.”
The Knights now hold a commanding 3-0 lead on the Spirit heading into Game 4 on Thursday, March 28 at The Dow Event Center.
“It’s definitely not the Game 3 we were coming out expecting to play,” Spirit captain Garret Ross said. “Again, it’s a 7-game series. This team has a lot of heart, and we’re going to battle to the end.”
In the WHL, Richard Nedomlel's Swift Current Broncos are "in over their heads" against the Calgary Hitmen. Nedomlel went scoreless in Swift Current's 1-0 loss to Calgary, and the Hitmen lead the series 3 games to 1.
In Europe, Mattias Backman and Linkopings HC will begin their Swedish Elitesrerien semifinal against Skelleftea AIK on Thursday, and by tonight, it's entirely possible that the Wings will be talking with the Finnish Ice Hockey Association about bringing Teemu Pulkkinen over to Grand Rapids as Jokerit Helsinki faces a 3-1 series deficit heading into today's game against Lukko Rauma.
And on Friday, in the NCAA playoffs, Ben Marshall and the University of Minnesota will tangle with Yale at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, MI, at 2 PM EDT, and on Saturday, Nick Jensen and Saint Cloud State University will battle CCHA champion Notre Dame University at the Huntington Center in Toledo, OH at 1:30 PM EDT.
In the potential prospect department, the Windsor Star's Bob Duff noted the following on Twitter, via RedWingsFeed:
According to the Tennessean's Josh Cooper, Predators coach Barry Trotz and GM David Poile headed to Toronto to speak with DeKeyser at Don Meehan's Newport Sports Management offices in Mississauga (conveniently located near Lester B. Pearson International Airport), and they're not alone.
Based on the vast majority of reports from a place I will call EVERYWHERE, the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks are doing the same, and you can assume that a good 15-to-20 teams will come and go from Newport Sports Management, just as Zach Parise was wined and dined until he turned teams away last summer.
Do I LIKE this concept? No, I think it's kind of creepy. But the 23-year-old DeKeyser is a #3/4 defenseman in the mold of a slightly more offensively-talented Brad Stuart, and he's probably never going to receive this kind of treatment again.
Are the Red Wings still the "favorites" in the bidding for DeKeyser? I've heard that he might sign with Detroit or Tampa Bay since he took part in the Wings' prospect camp two-and-a-half years ago, and I don't think that will change when he finally makes his decision on what ESPN's Craig Custance has said will be a Thursday or Friday time frame.
If you wish to listen to Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner talk about DeKeyser in his latest video blog, enjoy:
As Regner points out, Grand Rapids Griffins coach Jeff Blashill recruited DeKeyser to Western Michigan University and coached him during his freshman year, but current WMU coach Andy Murray has ties to the St. Louis Blues.
I still think that it's Wings-or-Bolts in the end, but whether DeKeyser believes that playing for his "hometown team" will involve too much pressure or not enough of an opportunity to step into the lineup is his call, not mine.
I think he'd be better off in Detroit because the Wings won't rush him and know his strengths and weaknesses very well as Jim Nill's son Trevor went to high school with DeKeyser, Blashill was his coach, Mike Babcock's scouted the young man and this team offers the best balance of living in a "hockey region" where the community's nuts about hockey and a place where--as we already know--the team protects its players from the media spotlight to some extent, allowing them to just do their jobs, living as publicly or privately as they wish to live.
I also believe that Metro Detroit's a great place for players to live because we're both spread out over a large geographical area (see: Henrik Zetterberg and Emma Andersson blending into the woodwork) and are classic Midwesterners when it comes to interacting with players. I know people who see the Wings' players and management shopping at grocery stores, getting coffee at the coffee shop and eating out at restaurants on a very regular basis, and they tend to believe that perhaps engaging in a polite conversation and then giving fellow human beings personal space is the way to go.
We're not Toronto, where players live in the spotlight 100% of the time, nor are we Nashville, where anonymity reigns. We're Metro Detroit, and the weather may suck in Michigan, but the people and the food make up for the gray skies.
Also of Red Wings-related note:
If you missed it, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose spoke to Kyle Quincey after he and Darren Helm skated at the Joe on Tuesday. Quincey won't need surgery to repair his multiple cheekbone fractures, but it sounds like he may need reconstructive surgery down the line, which is kinda scary;
As an FYI:
As noted by the Free Press's Steve Schrader:
• Red Wings fans who are upset that Larry Murphy was dropped from Fox Sports Detroit telecasts, alternativehero.com has a T-shirt for you. "Bring Back Murph" shirts are available through Sunday for $24.
Also via RedWingsFeed, the NHL Network praised Jimmy Howard on Tuesday while noting 5 NHL players who've played very well after playing college hockey:
I count quite a few people who I've met online through the hockey business as real friends.
Update: After the tab was paid...
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About The Malik Report
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.