The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/29/13 at 05:33 PM ET
I don't know how this didn't get posted, but it didn't, so here it is belatedly...
Between NHL.com's photo gallery and the Twitter feed of Getty Images' Dave Sanford, we're receiving more and more reminders that, amidst the Hockeytown Winter Festival's festivities downtown, the Winter Classic is nearly upon us, and the Red Wings want us to know that the festivities downtown have just begun...
But the Red Wings' players, coaches, and to some extent, their dads have to earn their way back to Metro Detroit, and with the Maple Leafs nudging Detroit in the standings, it was plain old time to get back to work for the Wings on Saturday.
Detroit's 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday contained all the hallmarks of this herky-jerky season in a blown 2-goal lead and a too-tight finish, but it also included something the 18-13-and-9 Wings have lacked far too often this season in the form of two points.
The win pushes Detroit 2 points ahead of Toronto in the Atlantic Division standings (the Wings are 4 behind 4th place Montreal and 5 behind the third-place Lightning; the Bruins' 12-point lead may be unassailable, injuries included), and as the Leafs will host the Hurricanes today, and the Wings flew to Nashville after Saturday's affair for a Monday tangle with their old Central Division foes in the Predators (who defeated Los Angeles 3-2 on Saturday evening)
Both teams will play in one more game before they open the second half of their respective 2013-2014 seasons on Wednesday.
Given the way the Wings dropped that ugly 3-0 decision to the Islanders last Monday, I almost cringed when Red Wings coach Mike Babcock made sure to tell Fox Sports Detroit's Justin White that the Wings have in fact won 3 of their past 4 games (with Saturday's being the Wings' first in regulation) after dropping 6 in a row (during an 0-4-and-2 stretch), but Babcock did have a point...
And the Wings are theoretically on an upward trajectory given that Henrik Zetterberg returned from a nearly month-long absence and scored a goal, given that Justin Abdelkader looked solid enough in playing 15:44 and doling out 3 hits in his return from a concussion, and given that Darren Helm (shoulder) and Jimmy Howard (knee) are at least more likely than not to return from their respective injuries by Wednesday at the latest (Johan Franzen remains a bit fuzzy after suffering a concussion).
Saturday's game played out a little more realistically: Zetterberg and Abdelkader weren't the only players who looked a little rusty after a 3-day Christmas break, the Wings' 2-goal lead evaporated over the course of 2:07 at the game's midpoint, Babcock's attempt to separate Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith failed so fantastically that he had to reunite them to stave off the damage they were doing to Danny DeKeyser and Niklas Kronwall, Tomas Jurco hit a bit of a conditioning wall, and as Babcock duly noted, the Wings looked like what they remain without Helm, Howard, Franzen, Ericsson and Weiss--a very young team that is far too often a mistake-prone one.
Daniel Alfredsson's walk-into-it-one-timer and Zetterberg's top-shelf snipe job disappeared thanks to a power play marker and a Tomas Jurco turnover that neither DeKeyser nor Quincey seemed intent upon chasing down, and when the Wings rallied with a pair of goals in 38 seconds--with Smith and Quincey of all people scoring the 3-2 goal on the 3rd period's first shift and Nyquist scoring the "insurance" goal 1:20 into the 3rd period--it was all but inevitable that the Panthers would both score another goal to make it close in short order (3 minutes and 7 seconds later), and it was all but inevitable that Jonas Gustavsson and some of his defense-playing friends would have to make some spectacular saves to earn the Wings an ever-elusive win of any shape or form, never mind a regulation one.
The mistakes have gotten old, and they seem to portend something worrisome in a team with no margin for error having to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs yet again, but the good news is that the Wings have 43 games left with which to get their shit together--and the good news is that they did at least beat the Panthers for the first time in three tries (with two more meetings to come).
The Panthers weren't thrilled with losing for the first time while featured on HBO's 24/7 series, as they told the Sun-Sentinel's Harvey Filakov, suggesting that a miraculous rally should have been completed...
"I think we've shown we can do it, we've done it many times, but it's too much to put ourselves in that position so many times,'' said Panthers forward Sean Bergenheim, who had two goals, about coming back from two-goal deficits. "It's kind of getting old, to be honest.''
The Panthers' recent five-game winning streak has morphed into a three-game backslide with three games remaining on this bah, humbug holiday homestand, including Sunday's 5 p.m. meeting with the Canadiens.
The Panthers downed their new division foes from Hockey Town twice in four days earlier this month, marking the first time they had ever beaten the Red Wings twice in one season. They also whipped the Maple Leafs 11 days ago during their recent spirit-lifting 3-1 Canadian trip that seems like a distant memory.
Tied at 2-2 after two, surprise starter Scott Clemmensen stopped a point-blank shot by Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, who had missed the previous 11 games with a back injury. However, the puck found defenseman Brendan Smith, who one-timed a riser for a 3-2 lead at 42 seconds. Just 38 second later, Clemmensen couldn't corral a soft-shot rebound that Gustav Nyquist poked in for another two-goal lead.
The wide-open, street-hockey game continued as a long rebound off defenseman Dylan Olsen's shot ended up on Sean Bergenheim's stick in the slot where he rifled it past Jonas Gustavsson at 4:27 for his second goal of the game.
The Panthers had one more power play, but came up empty to finish 1-of-6 with the extra man. In the closing seconds, Gustavsson somehow got a leg pad on Tomas Kopecky's point-blanker to seal the deal.
"Those chances early in the third period hurt us, too,'' Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. "That's not a good timing situation after having a second period you come back and tie it up. Our power play had a lot of chances; I don't know how a lot of them stayed out. I counted 29 scoring chances.''
The Wings did win the special-teams battle, but it wasn't just the Wings' finish that was shaky, as the Miami Herald's George Richards noted:
The Panthers were the aggressors early, but former Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson made it 1-0 on Detroit’s first shot 3:47 in. Florida gave up its second power-play goal of the night four shots later when Henrik Zetterberg scored to make it 2-0.
“I’ve seen Detroit do that a lot,’’ said Panthers coach Peter Horachek, who spent the past decade in Detroit’s division as an assistant with Nashville. “We were outshooting them 7-1, 9-1, but they scored. In the third, they had chances that were hurtful to us. They take advantage of their opportunities.’’
And the Panthers did make things uncomfortably close for the Wings...
Florida countered with second-period goals from Bergenheim and Nick Bjugstad before Bergenheim made it 4-3 with 15:33 left.
The Panthers had numerous opportunities in the final minute. With goalie Scott Clemmensen on the bench, Florida went with an extra skater and poured on the pressure. But Jonas Gustavsson held Florida off — and kicked away a potential game-tying goal in the final seconds from a Tomas Kopecky offering — to get Detroit’s first win against Florida this season.
The Panthers, who have lost three in a row, had won the first two meetings between the new division rivals.
“We kind of calmed things down, which is what we wanted to do,’’ said Bjugstad, who tied the score with a beautiful breakaway goal that fooled Gustavsson (30 saves). We had a chance in the last minutes, had chances. We just had to bury it. We get down two and have come back a lot. When Bergenheim scored, we figured we were right back in it.’’
But Bergenheim duly noted that the Panthers' lapse in concentration early in the 3rd period killed 'em...
“They got two easy goals in the third, and we can’t have that,’’ Bergenheim said.
And he told FloridaPanthers.com's Glen Odebralski that he wasn't too taken with his status as a near-Wing-killer:
"It doesn't really mean anything. Disappointment is what's on everybody's mind right now. That was too bad. We had chances...First period, we weren't too happy about that."- Panthers forward Sean Bergenheim on scoring twice in the loss.
Odebralski's wrap-up includes "Three Takeaways"...
1. Wings Powered First: Florida found themselves in penalty trouble early and the Red Wings capitalized. The Cats had did a good job otherwise, limiting the Wings to a couple of chances but the man advantage killed them in the first period. Detroit, in fact, scored on their very first shot as Daniel Alfredsson scored on a screened Scott Clemmensen 3:47 into the game. Then, in his first game back from an injury, Henrik Zetterberg ripped a shot top shelf with 5:31 to play in the period. The Wings would go on the power play three more times in the game and failed to convert but going two-for-two to start would give the Cats a lot to handle.
2. Tied Up Second: Like they've done almost all year, Florida battled back and it came via the second period. The Panthers have been a good second period team of late and Saturday night was no different. Sean Bergenheim scored in his second straight game, taking a feed from Brian Campbell and scoring on the backhand past Jonas Gustavsson with Florida on the power play. That made it a 2-1 game with 12:52 gone in the period. A little over two minutes later it was Nick Bjugstad's turn as the young gun netted his sixth goal in the last 14 games on a beautiful breakaway. The momentum seemed to have turned as Florida had a lot of great chances to take the lead.
3. Two To Many Times: The Cats came back to tie the game after being down a pair of goals but getting down by two once again proved to be too much. Detroit took control of the game early in the third, scoring twice in 38 seconds. First it was defenseman Brendan Smith scoring 42 seconds in. Then Gustav Nyquist gave them the needed cushion 1:20 later. It was a lapse in play from the Panthers and the Wings made them pay. Bergenheim made it a one-goal game with his second of the night at the 4:27 mark. The Panthers had a couple of golden opportunities to tie the game late but Gustavsson foiled Marcel Goc, Tomas Kopecky and Shawn Matthias from in close.
But let's just say that I'm not putting my faith in this stat:
37. Florida finished the game outhitting Detroit 37-18. Leading the way were defensemen Dylan Olsen and Mike Weaver who finished with seven and six hits respectively.
If we are to believe the Panthers' stats crew, the Wings also only missed the net 2 times to Florida's 15, and if we are to believe the Panthers' stats crew, the Panthers also fired 22 more shot attempts into Detroit players (compared to 12 Detroit attempts blocked), yielding a shots-attempted total of 70-45 with the edge to the Panthers, and while the Panthers generated their share of scoring chances, I'm not so sure that they fired 70 pucks at Gustavsson.
In any case as the AP's recap notes, pluck and shots, real and imagined, weren't quite enough for the Panthers to tie things up...
"We showed a lot of battle," Bjugstad said. "We fought back and worked hard. Unfortunately, it didn't go the way we wanted it to."
Trailing 2-0, the Panthers scored twice in just over two minutes in the second period to tie the game.
Florida closed to 2-1 on Bergenheim's power-play goal at 12:52. Bergenheim took a pass from Brian Campbell in front of the crease and backhanded it past Gustavsson.
Bjugstad tied the game on a breakaway, bringing the puck to the crease and slipping it past Gustavsson's pad at 14:59 to make it 2-all.
"I got kind of lucky that puck landed right on my tape. My eyes were real big when I was skating down the ice," Bjugstad said.
(DeKeyser and Quincey's eyes got real big, too)
And no one will dispute that things got hairy for Detroit at the end, as NHL.com's Alain Poupart--whose recap will serve as our pivot point between the Panthers and Red Wings' perspectives--noted:
Gustavsson preserved the victory with a pad save on Tomas Kopecky off a scrum in front of the net in the final 30 seconds.
"I think there were a couple of times where I thought that the puck was going in, but there was always something it hit," Bergenheim said. "We had belief all the way to the end. Even to the last faceoff, I thought we were going to do this."
The Wings' coach thought that his team wasn't exactly sharp...
"We won three out of four here suddenly and some things are better, obviously getting [Zetterberg] and [Abdelkader] back," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "[Abdelkader] skated well tonight, and Zetterberg is just a good player with good will and provides leadership for us.
"We made some big mistakes. We gave them two goals with turnovers, kids making mistakes, but you learn from those things. We found a way to win a game and we're going to skate a lot better after another day's practice. Everyone had turkey legs at the start, but they got going."
And he didn't like the ridiculous amount of stick fouls called early on (seriously, was there a quota or something?)...
Detroit took advantage of special teams to take the lead in the first period, converting on two of three power plays and killing three penalties. The Red Wings finished the game 2-for-5 on the power play; the Panthers were 1-for-6.
"Each team has three power plays in the first; it's a nightmare," Babcock said. "You're trying to play your whole bench and they won't let you. In the end, we had good special teams for us and it was positive."
The Free Press's Helene St. James noted that Babcock emphasized the same points in discussing both the Wings' 3rd period goals and the mistakes that got Detroit into a 2-2 situation (and she posited a "Why the Wings Won" capsule recap):
"We needed a push, and we’ve got good leadership that way,” Babcock said. “We responded right away and got going. I thought we had the game well in hand, but kids make mistakes. Got to take care of the puck.”
The game was interrupted by a combined 11 penalties, prompting Babcock to wonder whether “there was a new memo out from the league. Each team has three power plays in the first, it’s like a nightmare. In the end, we had good specialty teams, and that’s a positive for us.”
The biggest positive was the return of Zetterberg after an 11-game absence dealing with back pain. He had an immediate impact, taking a pass from Pavel Datsyuk and shooting glove-side on Scott Clemmensen to build on Alfredsson’s goal.
“Hank brings so much to this team, on and off the ice,” Nyquist said. “When him and Pav are playing, you can really feel the difference.”
Jonas Gustavsson came through with 30 saves, improving to 11-3-2. Babcock said Gustavsson had put himself in position “to save our season,” as Gustavsson has carried the workload while Jimmy Howard struggled and then succumbed to injury.
The Wings are getting healthier having, over the past week, regained Danny DeKeyser, Nyquist, Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader. That has helped spur a 3-1 run. It looked a little dicey Saturday after the second period, which saw Sean Bergenheim score on a power play and Nick Bjugstad burn Tomas Jurco for a turnover at Florida’s blue line.
“We made some big mistakes, we gave them two goals just from turnovers,” Babcock said. “Kids make mistakes, you learn from those things.”
That's the theory, anyway.
In practice, it was a messy affair--though Henrik Zetterberg made a wise point to MLive's Ansar Khan, one that might suggest that the Wings are finally acclimating to their "new" surroundings, in discussing the mucky-gucky quality of the game:
“It was a lot of back and forth, typical Eastern Conference game," Zetterberg said. "This is what we’ve been watching for a few years, back and forth, it’s kind of fun to play that way, too “It’s a lot more open than it is in the West. Today was a typical game like that.”
The game featured a few big momentum shifts. Smith and Nyquist provided a boost for the Red Wings at the start of the third.
Smith picked up his first goal of the season, the second of his career, at the 42-second mark.
Nyquist scored at 1:20, picking up the rebound of a shot from Jakub Kindl and depositing it past Clemmensen. Joakim Andersson won the offensive-zone faceoff to set up the goal.
“I was just trying to get to the net as fast as possible,"Nyquist said. "Got a little bit of a lucky bounce, kind of bounced right on my stick. It was an easy goal for me.”
But Sean Bergenheim narrowed the deficit by scoring his second of the night at 4:27. The Red Wings killed two penalties after that goal to preserve the lead.
“It’s huge," Gustavsson said of the win. "That’s what we talked about, we need the points. The standings are tight. Just got to keep trying to build on something."
Nyquist had this to say when the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan asked him about Babcock's "we have to get some traction" phrase from Friday...
“For sure we have to do that,” forward Gustav Nyquist, who scored the eventual winner, said of stringing victories together. “If you look at the standings, it’s real tight and we’re just in a playoff spot right now. If you keep losing, not getting consecutive wins, you’re going to drop pretty fast in the standings. It’s real important for us to get in a good groove in the second half and tonight was a good start. We have to keep building on it.”
And at least Gustavsson had a good time:
[G]oalie Jonas Gustavsson was key the remainder of the game, as the Red Wings survived two Panthers power plays and a flurry in the final minute. Gustavsson (30 saves) made a game-saving stop on former Red Wing Tomas Kopecky at the side of the net, maintaining the lead.
“You want to play those games, especially in a tight game in the third,” Gustavsson said. “You try to shut the door and help the guys and we all did a good job together.”
I will suggest that this quip from Babcock's worth repeating, because the, "Call every horizontal stick foul" crackdown always hits this time of year, though it'll be gone by the Olympic break
“I didn’t know if there was a memo from the league or what,” Babcock said of the amount of penalties. “You’re trying to play your whole bench and they’re not letting you play them. But in the end we had good special teams which was a positive thing for us.”
At this point, as Nyquist and Gustavsson suggested, the Wings really do need to find somewhere to dig in, and if this win is it, I guess we all have to take it and run with it.
In the Bonus Swedish department, Henrik Zetterberg was asked about both his back and the game when Expressen's Gunnar Nordstrom called him (what follows is roughly translated)...
"It was Christmas break, so I think I only had time for one full practice with the team, plus the morning skate before the game preceding Christmas," he says.
Can you reassure the fans back home in Sweden now that the danger that you might miss the Olympics because of this injury has passed?
"Yes, the back shouldn't be a problem. But you don't know what else might happen. But we have a pretty good schedule over the next couple of weeks, so there should be time for rest between games."
Have you had a nervous [Swedish Olympic team coach] Par Marts on your phone in recent weeks?
"We've remained in very good contact. He's been aware of what was happening here in Detroit the whole time, and he knew I was going to resume playing."
Daniel Alfredsson gave Detroit a 1-0 lead only four minutes into the game, and he scored on the power play. And Gustav Nyquist's goal gave the Wings a 4-2 lead early in the 3rd period, so the scoring was very Swedish. Plus some great goalkeeping by Jonas Gustavsson.
"Yeah, he was awesome again," says Zata.
On the power play in the first period, he took a pass from radar partner Pavel Datsyuk and scored his12th goal of the season.
"Yes, I got a very good pass, and all I hadto do was shoot. Of course, it felt really good to score," he says when we reach him after the final whistle.
"It was really great fun to be out there and play in a game again. I've been waiting for this."
The 33-year-old captain played over 21 minutes--most of all Detroit forwards--and he stated that he had no problems with the disc in his back that forced him to rest through December.
"Nothing during the game, I felt absolutely nothing, but I don't know if that was because it was so much fun to play again. We'll see how the body reacts over the next few days," he says.
Daniel Alfredsson scored a goal, his 10th of the season in a match that the long-suffering Red Wings were very happy to get as they've had all sorts of problems with the Florida Panthers over the previous games.
"Yes, but they played well, too. There's nothing wrong with that team at all, they play with a lot of energy, and it'll be fun hockey when we play them, so much back and forth," says Zata.
"But of course it was nice to finally beat them, and I think we played okay. Above all the Monster was awesome in the net. He made four or five saves that should make all the highlights on TV tonight."
Quickie update: Khan penned a 6 AM-posted article which noted Zetterberg's status...
Said Zetterberg: “It was fun to play again. It felt pretty good, my legs; see how I feel in Nashville.”
But his article mostly focuses on Gustavsson...
“I thought he made some good saves,” Babcock said. “Some of the rebounds come off him; he’s probably not as sharp as he normally is, but he found a way to win the game and make a big save there when it was all scrambly at the end.”
Gustavsson improved to 11-3-2. His play has been invaluable, since No. 1 goalie Jimmy Howard (6-8-7) has not been sharp much of the season.
“Very impressive (record),” Babcock said. “You could even say he’s put us in a position to save our season. When Howie went down, he’s really stepped in and done a heck of a job.”
“You want to play in those games, when it’s tight in the third,” Gustavsson said. “Hopefully you have the lead and you try to shut the door and help the guys. I think we all did a good job together. I don’t know how many shots we blocked, and just battled in front of me. It was a lot of fun.”
And this quote may very well tell the tale (otherwise, Zetterberg's comments re-hash the ones he made in Swedish):
Said Nyquist: “Hank brings so much to this team, both on and off the ice. When him and Pav are playing, you can really feel the difference in this room. That’s why they’re our leaders.”
Highlights: NHL.com got lazy, so it's the Panthers' announcers for us:
Post-game: Fox Sports Florida posted a 52-second clip of Sean Bergenheim discussing his team's loss;
Fox Sports Detroit posted Justin White's 56-second interview with Zetterberg...
And the Free Press's Helene St. James posted a clip of coach Mike Babcock, Jonas Gustavsson and Gustav Nyquist discussing the game:
Photos: The Detroit Free Press posted a 26-image gallery;
The Detroit News posted a 15-image gallery;
The Miami Herald posted a 14-image gallery;
The Sun-Sentinel posted a 10-image gallery;
ESPN posted a 65-image gallery;
Shots 33-31 Florida overall. Detroit was out-shot 12-7 in the 1st, they out-shot Florida 11-10 in the 2nd and out-shot Florida 13-11 in the 3rd.
Special teams: The Wings went 2-for-5 in 7:12 of PP time; the Panthers went 1-for-6 in 9:52 of PP time.
Goaltending: Jonas Gustavsson stopped 30 of the 33 shots he faced for Detroit; Scott Clemensen stopped 27 of the 31 shots he faced for Florida.
The 3 stars were picked by the "South Florida Media," and they picked Nick Bjugstad, Henrik Zetterberg and Sean Bergenheim.
The Red Wings' goals: Alfredsson (10) from Kronwall (22) and Datsyuk (16), PPG;
Zetterberg (12) from Datsyuk (7), PPG;
Smith (1) from Quincey (5);
Nyquist (5) from Kindl (10) and Tatar (8).
Faceoffs 34-32 Florida (Detroit won 48%);
Blocked shots 22-12 Detroit;
Missed shots 15-2 Florida (total attempts 70-45 Florida?);
Hits 37-18 Detroit;
Giveaways 6-1 Florida;
Takeaways 6-5 Florida.
Faceoffs: Datsyuk went 6-and-12 (33%); Zetterberg went 11-and-6 (65%); Andersson went 6-and-7 (46%); Glendening went 8-and-4 (67%); Tatar went 0-and-4 (0%); Abdelkader went 1-and-1 (50%).
Shots: Nyquist led the Wings with 5; Jurco had 4; Kindl, Tatar, Quincey and Zetterberg had 3; Alfredsson, Datsyuk, Miller and Kronwall had 2; Smith and Lashoff had 1.
Blocked attempts: Zetterberg hit Panthers players 4 times; Quincey and Bertuzzi had 2 attempts blocked; Alfredsson, Nyquist, Andersson and Kronwall had 1 attempt blocked.
Missed shots: If we believe the Panthers, only Kindl and Nyquist missed the net.
Hits: Bertuzzi led the Wings with 4 hits; Abdelkader had 3; Smith, Kindl and Lashoff had 2; Datsyuk, Jurco, Zetterberg, Kronwall and Cleary had 1.
Giveaways: If we believe the Panthers, only Gustavsson had a giveaway.
Takeaways: Datsyuk had 3 takeaways; Nyquist had 2.
Blocked opponent shots: Both Lashoff and DeKeyser blocked 4 shots; Smith and Kronwall blocked 3; Kindl blocked 2; Alfredsson, Andersson, Miller, Quincey, Bertuzzi and Cleary blocked 1.
Penalties taken: Quincey took 2 minors; Smith, Lashoff, Zetterberg and Bertuzzi took minor penalties.
Plus-minus: The Wings finished at a collective zero. Jurco and DeKeyser finished at -2; Datsyuk, Quincey and Bertuzzi finished at -1; Smith, Kindl, Abdelkader, Alfredsson, Tatar, Lashoff and Zetterberg finished at +1.
Points: Datsyuk had 2 assists; Smith, Alfredsson, Nyquist and Zetterberg had goals; Kindl, Tatar, Quincey and Kronwall had assists.
Ice time: Kronwall led the Wings with 24:58 played; DeKeyser played 23:02; Quincey played 21:46;
Zetterberg played 21:43; Smith played 20:28; Datsyuk played 18:53;
Alfredsson played 18:00; Abdelkader played 15:44; Kindl played 15:15;
Bertuzzi played 15:11; Andersson played 14:08; Miller played 13:17;
Glendening played 12:23; Tatar played 12:08; Cleary played 10:54;
Nyquist played 01:40; Lashoff played 10:39; Jurco played 10:32.
Red Wings notebooks: Prior to the game, MLive's Ansar Khan took note of the statuses of Darren Helm and Jimmy Howard. Helm wasn't feeling particularly good about his recovery from a shoulder injury...
Helm’s status is murky. Out since Dec. 4 with a sprained left shoulder, Helm thought he’d be ready earlier this week. Now he’s not sure when he’ll return.
“Not to where I wanted it to be at this stage,” Helm said Saturday, after the morning skate at the BB&T Center. “I thought I was going to be questionable for the last game before the break and I thought for sure I’d be ready for tonight, but that’s not the case. Just see how it goes tonight, tomorrow and hopefully can find a way to get better.”
Helm’s biggest concern is how the shoulder will react to contact.
“For the most part going up and down the ice in practice it feels really good,” Helm said. “The physical play, I don’t think it can hold up to that yet. Just a couple of times (last week), I felt like I was going to be get pushed over, I braced myself and then I’d kneel over for the next two minutes in pain. If it continues to stay like this, at some point you just got to test it out.”
But Jimmy Howard still believes that he's going to start tomorrow as his sprained left MCL has healed:
“Practicing has gone well,” Howard said. “(His knee) is still a little stiff, but that’s probably form not using it for two weeks or so. Flexibility and everything is starting to come back real well.”
Howard said of the Winter Classic, “Of course, we all want to play in it, but I’m not going to risk anything, not going to set myself back weeks just because of one game. We’re going to be smart about it.”
The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan also took note of Helm's desire to play in the Winter Classic...
“It would be a tough one to swallow,” Helm said of possibly missing the Winter Classic. “It wouldn’t be very fun to miss that one, especially after (returning from) the back injury and feeling real good and then this fluky thing.”
And Kulfan noted that Tomas Jurco had a "learning experience" on Saturday:
In 10 minutes of ice time, Jurco was minus-2 including turning the puck over to Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad in the second period that led to a game-tying goal. But those things are going to happen to rookies, Babcock said.
Jurco didn’t know what to expect when he was promoted to the Red Wings
“I didn’t know if I could play at this level,” he said. “I didn’t know anything. So I’ve just worked hard since the first game and I know I’ve seen I can do it, (I can) play here. I’m just trying to impress the coaches every day.”
Jurco was scheduled to play on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi on Saturday, an indication of Babcock’s increasing trust and confidence.
“This is just a good experience to see where I’m at,” Jurco said. “And it’s good for me to know what the hockey is like (in the NHL).”
Kulfan's notebook continues...
Also of Red Wings-related note: If you wish to read the Detroit News's Lauren Abdul-Razzaq's declaration that, "Maple Leaf fans converge on Detroit to root for home team in Winter Classic," you may do so on your own, but the Red Wings told the Free Press's Helene St. James that they intend to be the "home team," and the winning team, too:
The Wings last played outdoors at the 2009 Winter Classic, at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Blackhawks. This season’s edition “is going to be even better because it’s on our home turf,” Henrik Zetterberg said.
He returned Saturday after missing 11 games because of back pain, and while playing in what’s expected to be 18-degree weather might sound challenging, Zetterberg said that in Chicago, “we started with a lot of clothes underneath and took some off after every period.” Benches are heated, too, to help offset the chill.
Brendan Smith played outdoors at Camp Randall Stadium while at Wisconsin, against Luke Glendening’s Wolverines in February 2010. That was college hockey, which is probably why one of Smith’s memories is of, “people with no shirts on. They were red because of how cold it was, but they just kept partying. It was a lot of fun.”
Gustav Nyquist missed out by a year on his university, Maine, playing at Fenway Park. “I haven’t played outdoors, so it’s going to be an amazing experience,” he said.
The Wings have waited for this more than a year, as the original date, Jan. 1, 2013, was canceled by last season’s labor dispute. Datsyuk said the Winter Classic is so highly awaited “it feels like another big holiday.”
There is a romance about outdoor hockey that makes everyone just a little mushy.
“It makes everyone feel young again,” Bertuzzi said, as his teenaged son stood nearby. “It’s where hockey started. It’s something we’re all looking forward to. It’s going to be phenomenal.”
In terms of Wednesday's weather, NHL.com's Corey Masisak provided a forecast update...
The forecasts the NHL has been receiving for Jan. 1 are calling for overcast skies, a potential snow flurry and a game-time temperature somewhere around 15 degrees Fahrenheit with winds up to 10-15 miles per hour that could drive the temperature down into single digits.
"If that maintains I don't think we'll have an issue," NHL Executive Vice President of Events Don Renzulli said Saturday afternoon.
While Dan Craig, the NHL's Senior Director of Facilities Operations, said mid-20s with overcast skies would be ideal conditions for the ice surface on the day of the game, he can work with temperature in the teens or even slightly below because of the power of his refrigeration truck parked outside the stadium.
Craig may even get a dress rehearsal Tuesday when the Red Wings and Maple Leafs are scheduled to practice at Michigan Stadium because he said the weather reports for the practice day are "almost identical" to Jan. 1.
"Hey, that's winter," Craig said. "Hopefully the people who came early don't get used to the 47 degrees and sunshine that we had [Saturday] and expect to play a hockey game. You can be as cold as you want, if we have bright sunshine we have a problem."
That's what Craig and his ice crew dealt with Saturday afternoon, when it was around 45 degrees with sun beating down on the ice. The glare would have made defending the north end of the rink difficult, and the ice crew had to keep tarps down on the playing surface in order to protect the recently installed lines, markings and Winter Classic logos.
"The sun will melt down over a quarter of an inch and then next thing you know all you have is water overtop your lines that you worked all night to install," Craig said. "You can be as cold as you want, but if we have sun we have a problem."
In terms of "local ties," MLive's Pete Cunningham noted that both Jimmy Howard and Toronto's James van Riemsdyk have something in common--they spent their senior year of high school in Ann Arbor, playing for the U.S. National Team Development Program...
The doorbell rings at Natalie and Gary “Chic” Ceccolini’s home in Ann Arbor, and before either of them get to the front door two barking dogs emerge. The Old English sheepdog, Cosmo, is a mainstay, but the yellow Labrador, Murphy, is a visitor. The Detroit Red Wings are on the road, so the Ceccolinis are watching Murphy for goalie Jimmy Howard.
Well, technically, they’re watching Murphy for James Howard, Jimmy’s 2-year-old son, to whom Natalie and Chic are Nana and Papa.
Behind Murphy and Cosmo in the living room, stockings hang above the fireplace for Natalie, Chic and their three children, but there’s three more: One for Jimmy, one for James and one for Rachel, Jimmy’s wife. It’s only appropriate, considering it’s where the Howards often spend the holiday season.
Dog-sitting, stocking hanging, Christmas dinners. These are normally reserved for members of the same family and this is no exception. There’s no blood relation between the Ceccolinis and Howard, but ever since Howard lived with the Ceccolinis in Ann Arbor more than a decade ago while playing with the United States National Team Development Program, they’ve been like family.
“It’s been great just to be able to have someone here,” Howard said. “It’s great because I’m constantly gone. If every once and a while, if Rachel needs some help they’re always there and never hesitate. We’re very thankful that they’re 25 minutes away, front door to front door. And James loves them a lot, so it’s good to have them.”
When it became apparent that Howard would be in Detroit permanently he called Natalie and said he and Rachel were going to move into the basement. Natalie was flattered by the gesture, but instead offered to act as his unofficial real estate agent. Natalie found a house for the two to rent and Howard signed the contract sight unseen.
“I trusted Nat,” Howard said. “It’s worked out.”
And in terms of Tuesday's event...
The Red Wings have not yet split their rosters for the Winter Classic Alumni Showdown on Tuesday--the first game will start at 1 PM and the second will start at 4 PM as NBCSN's bumped it to a later start date--but MLive's Kyle Austin, in penning a profile of University of Michigan coach and 74-years-young forward Red Berenson, seems to have given us a hint:
Berenson, a Red Wing from 1971-74 near the end of his 17-year NHL career, is one of nearly 100 former Red Wings and Maple Leafs players scheduled to participate in the Alumni Showdown, a doubleheader of games starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Comerica Park that pit former players from the two teams against one another. And while Berenson may not be the biggest or fastest skater on the ice scheduled to participate in the event, he has undeniable bragging rights in at least one area -- one he proved that before a recent practice for the event.
“Mickey Redmond felt like he was old, and then I walked in,” Berenson said. “I’m eight years older than Redmond.”
Of all the skaters scheduled to participate in the event, Berenson is the oldest by five years. Mike Walton, who played for the Maple Leafs from 1966-71, is the next oldest at 68 (he turns 69 Friday.) Seven other players are 60 or older, including the Red Wings’ Redmond, Garry Unger and Dennis Polonich.
Each team’s roster will be split up in half for the event, based on age. That fact helps allay one of Berenson’s main concerns when he agreed to participate in the showdown: that he would be matched against players 30 years his junior and prove a burden on his team.
“You just don’t want to get in a footrace,” Berenson said. “I’m not worried about the contact or any part of the game. The only part I’m worried about is letting the team down, being a weak link, not having the speed or being able to keep up with the intensity that they’re playing with.”
I've heard that it's going to be the non-Cup-or-individual-award-winners first and then the Cup-or-individual-award-winners, which would naturally place the players who skated on the 97-and-later teams in the second game, but we shall see.
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