The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/09/14 at 01:07 PM ET
Updated 3x at 2:38 PM: The Detroit Red Wings hope to earn two points, if not send something of an, "We're not going to be easy pickings" message, when they tangle with the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight (8 PM EDT on NBCSN, TSN2 and 97.1 FM). If anything, the biggest message will be two points, however, because the Columbus Blue Jackets will be spotted a 1-0 lead in their Rich Peverley make-up game against Dallas.
Very optional for the #RedWings this morning with Howard, Gustavsson, Bertuzzi and Andersson on the ice here at Consol Energy Center.
Roose then revealed the starting goaltenders...
Marc-Andre Fleury gets the start for the #Penguins tonight. He has 4-5-1 all-time record with 2.95 GAA and .903 SV% vs. ##the #RedWings.
Babs said #RedWings will start Gustavsson on goal. Also said that Andersson is preparing to play; won't say for who.
#RedWings Jonas Gustavsson has a 2-4-1 all-time record with 3.68 GAA and .882 SV% vs. the #Penguins.
As did the Free Press's Helene St. James, who confirmed the goaltending and Andersson skating issue:
Jonas Gustavsson starting tonight for #RedWings at Pittsburgh
Mike Babcock said Joakim Andersson to take warm-ups tonight in case needed for #RedWings at PIT. Someone questionable, but it's not Datsyuk.
Ditto for the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan:
Babcock said there could be a game time decision in terms of personnel. Andersson will take pregame skate
Roose also tossed off some stats...
Tonight is the ultimate rubber match between the #RedWings and #Penguins with the all-time series record currently standing at 62-62-17.
The #Penguins have lost five of their last eight home games.
And it was apparently quite literally all fun and games for the Wings after their skate:
One point is all the Detroit Red Wings need in their final three regular season games to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
It would be the franchise's 23rd consecutive trip to the postseason.
The Wings will be in Pittsburgh Wednesday night to take on the Penguins, the same team they could end up facing in the first round.
The last time these teams met was March 20 when Daniel Alfredsson scored his second goal of the game with 1 second left in overtime to give the Red Wings a 5-4 victory at Joe Louis Arena.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports, TSN2
ABOUT THE PENGUINS (50-24-5): The Penguins beat the Colorado Avalanche in a shootout Sunday night, 3-2.
Otherwise, things have been rather unstable the past few games for the Metropolitan Division champs. The Penguins have endured some late-season injuries, something they and the Red Wings have dealt with all season.
But Pittsburgh's 105 points are enough to lock up the No. 2 playoff seed.
The Penguins announced that Kris Letang will return to the lineup after suffering a stroke two months ago, as PittsburghPenguins.com's Sam Kassan noted:
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang has missed the last 26 games after suffering a stroke Jan. 29. While Letang isn’t concerned about his health in his return to the lineup tonight against the Detroit Red Wings, he is worried about rust from the lengthy absence.“I’m nervous because it’s been a long time without playing,” he said. “But about my (health) situation, not at all.”
The Penguins will be inserting into their lineup a gifted talent and former Norris Trophy candidate as the NHL’s best defenseman.While the Penguins know the elite player that Letang, 26, can be – and the reason the team re-signed him to an eight-year, $58-million contract – the team is cautious with their expectations in his return.
“We’ll take this a game at a time,” general manager Ray Shero said. “We do know that a healthy Kris Letang is a huge part of our hockey team and makes us better. … I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves and have any expectation for him and our team at this point. We’ll see where he is after this game and go from there.”
Otherwise, per PittsburghPenguins.com's Michelle Crechiolo:
Here are the lines and D pairs the Pens used at their morning skate. All of the guys who sat out in the Pens' last game on Sunday in Colorado due to injury - Crosby, Kunitz, Orpik and Maatta (he was sidelined for both of Pittsburgh's weekend games) - all skated in their normal spots. Letang was paired with Scuderi and was practicing on the second PP unit. So amazing to see.
The other three D (Bortuzzo, Despres, and Engelland) rotated
PP1: Niskanen, Martin, Crosby, Kunitz, Neal.
PP2: Letang, Maatta, Jokinen, Bennett, Sutter.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma had a couple of updates following morning skate...
Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal
Evgeni Malkin and Chris Conner skated on their own before practice
And of course, "Kris Letang, as you know, will be in the lineup tonight."
At first, Bylsma finished his updates by saying the rest of his lineup was a game-time decision, as per usual. But when Jim Colony of 93.7 the Fan asked the coach later about his D-pairings and whether having nine healthy blueliners meant Deryk Engelland would move back up to forward, Bylsma revealed a few things to us about his lineup with Letang back.
- Bylsma said having nine healthy blueliners increases the possibility of Engelland moving up to forward. "I don’t want to say that’s what we’re looking to do or probably going to do. But we did have nine defensemen out there today."
NHL.com's Wes Crosby confirmed Letang's return and noted who he'll be playing with:
Coach Dan Bylsma said Letang will be partnered Wednesday with Rob Scuderi. Bylsma said it's a pairing he's been hoping to use all season, but injuries to both players mostly prevented it.
Scuderi said he isn't concerned about Letang's conditioning because "he could sit for a year and look fine."
"It's an incredibly serious injury and something I'm sure he'll have to be aware of for the rest of his life," Scuderi said. "But as long as the doctors have given him the clearance … it seems like he's taken a barrage of tests and I'll be glad to have him back. It's a big thing to come back from."
Bylsma also said Letang will play on the Penguins' second power-play unit.
The Penguins, who have more than 500 man-games lost to injury, now have nine healthy defensemen. Defenseman Paul Martin, who recently returned from a broken hand that sidelined him for 19 games, said he thinks Letang's addition will help with Pittsburgh's puck possession.
"I'd like to think, for us, hopefully we'll spend less time in our [defensive] zone," Martin said. "I think the team has done great even without us for a long time. I think the biggest thing is that hopefully we'll be spending less time in our own zone."
Babcock's wary of Letang...
"You have to be real excited for him and his family," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "As much as we're all competing against one another, he's been a competitive, good player in this League, and when that [stroke] happens you're just cheering for him that he's going to get, number one his family life back and number two his game back, which he loves. So it's great to see him here [Wednesday]. I think he should get a warm ovation, obviously, from the crowd and I just know that as a competitor against Pittsburgh, we'll be thrilled to have him back."
And NHL.com's Crosby posited the following:
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock complimented Kunitz, who has scored a career-high 35 goals and 67 points this season, after Detroit's optional morning skate.
"I was in Anaheim when he came out of college and I thought, 'Oh my God' when I saw him. I thought, 'I don't know how he's going to play,'" Babcock said. "He's smart and very, very competitive. He knows how to play.
"He now plays with Crosby on a line and has won Stanley Cups and won a gold medal, so we weren't very smart."
Detroit forward Pavel Datsyuk will play in his fourth straight game since missing 16 due to a knee injury. Bylsma said he expects the matchup to be a measuring stick for both teams with players returning on each side recently.
"They've been playing very well to put themselves in position to be in the playoffs," Bylsma said. "They've kind of been adding players back to their lineup as well. You can see in their lineup some of the young players they have. We're expecting this to be a potential first-round matchup and for it to be played as much."
Here are the expected lineups for the Penguins and Red Wings:
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Beau Bennett
Brian Gibbons – Jussi Jokinen – James Neal
Tanner Glass – Brandon Sutter – Lee Stempniak
Taylor Pyatt – Craig Adams – Adam Payerl
Kris Letang – Rob Scuderi
Brooks Orpik – Paul Martin
Olli Maatta – Matt Niskanen
Scratched: Simon Despres, Deryk Engelland, Robert Bortuzzo
Injured: Evgeni Malkin (foot), Marcel Goc (foot), Joe Vitale (upper body), Chris Conner (broken foot), Pascal Dupuis (ACL), Tomas Vokoun (pelvis)
USA Today's Kevin Allen also took note of the Wings' situation...
The last time the Detroit Red Wings didn’t make the playoffs was in 1990, and their leading scorer Gustav Nyqvist was in diapers. Gas cost $1.16 per gallon and the film Driving Miss Daisy beat Field of Dreams, among others, to win the Academy Award for best picture.
The Red Wings can earn their NHL-leading 23rd consecutive playoff appearance tonight if they can pick up one point in their road game against the Pittsburgh Penguins (8 p.m., ET, NBC Sports Network). Backup Jonas Gustavsson will be in net.
Coach Mike Babcock should receive Jack Adams Coach of the Year consideration for the work he has done to keep this team in contention after the team was overrun by injuries.
Still playing without captain Henrik Zetterberg and top pairing defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, among others, the Red Wings have gone 6-3-1 in the past 10 games to get themselves in position to grab one of the Eastern Conference wild-card spots.
The Red Wings have been fully invested in younger players, including Nyqvist, plus the line of Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco. Their speed and energy have made a difference.
After struggling to score goals earlier in the season, the Red Wings have scored three or more in 11 of their past 12 games.
Update: Here's a sans-quotes morning skate update from MLive's Ansar Khan:
Jonas Gustvasson will start in goal tonight for the Detroit Red Wings as they look to clinch a playoff spot for the 23rd consecutive season in a potential first-round preview against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network exclusive).
The Red Wings (38-27-14, 90 points) need just one point in their three remaining games to secure a spot.
Detroit currently has the top wild-card playoff position in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The top wild card team will face the Metropolitan Division-winning Penguins in the first round.
Gustavsson (16-5-3, 2.63 goals-against average, .909 save percentage) hopes to rebound from Saturday’s 5-3 loss at Montreal.
Forward Joakim Andersson, a healthy scratch the past two games, will take the warmup and prepare as if he is playing. He might replace an unspecified player who has a minor injury.
On This Day in Red Wings' History...
On April 9, 1907: Hall of Fame member Ebbie Goodfellow was born on this day in Ottawa, Ontario.
On April 9, 1988: Forward Petr Klima (left) scores the Red Wings’ first-ever playoff goal on a penalty shot, beating Toronto’s Allan Bester, en route to a 6-3 win in Game 3 of their first-round series.
As well as Ken Kal's keys to the game:
Start fast - The Penguins are rested and didn't play last night. The Wings need to find their legs early and keep up with Pittsburgh's pace.
Keep Pittsburgh to the outside - Take away their time and space in the neutral zone. Force them to take shots from the perimeter.
Solid goaltending - The Wings' goalie will need to make timely saves. Get into playoff mode now.
Prior to the morning skate, the Free Press's Helene St. James posited an article about Pavel Datsyuk...
"He looks to me like he's getting ready to break through, because always before he breaks through, he's doing good things with the puck, but he's not quite as quick as normal," Babcock said. "Pretty soon he'll start pulling away from people."
Datsyuk has had a rough go of it in the second half. His left knee became inflamed back in December, and Datsyuk didn't play for five weeks after appearing in the Winter Classic. He squeezed in two games before heading to Sochi - then starred as Russia's captain through four Olympic matches - and returned to play twice for Detroit before a three-week shut-down was ordered as his knee continued to nag.
The rest seems to have worked. Datsyuk was in fine form when asked if he was the one who green-lighted being used during a five-on-three penalty kill Tuesday at Buffalo, a scenario that requires being able to hustle. "I tell Mike?" Datsyuk said, smiling. "What is it like, we change captain of our boat?"
There's every indication that this time, Datsyuk isn't going to play a few games and then be gone again. His sense of humor is high. His conditioning is improving. His knee, he said, "feels fine, thank you to ask me.
"Every game, better and better. After it happen in early December, I still try to, we try to, make it happen. After Olympics, just make decision to do something better."
And MLive's Khan penned an article about Kyle Quincey:
Quincey and DeKeyser have played together the past couple of months, forming a reliable second pairing.
“He’s a great player; we work well together,” Quincey said. “He listens. It’s fun to see his growth. We have good chemistry going and hopefully we can continue that.”
DeKeyser said he and Quincey communicate well, on the ice and after each shift, discussing what they could have done better or what worked well.
“The past couple months we’ve been able read off each other and get some chemistry,” DeKeyser said. “I think we’ve been playing pretty well; some games we wish we were better, some we thought we were pretty good. Overall we just have to step up, especially with Big E (Jonathan Ericsson) being out, and try to help the team as best we can.”
Quincey played his 79th game Tuesday in Buffalo, equaling his career high (2009-10 with Colorado). He and Drew Miller are the only Red Wings who have played every game, no small accomplishment in a season in which the club has been decimated by injuries.
“In years past I’ve had some injuries,” Quincey said. “Knock on wood, that doesn’t happen coming up here. It’s just one of those things like plus-minus. Last game against (the Sabres on Friday) I’m standing beside a guy (Luke Adam), he takes a slap shot in the face and I’m standing three inches from him. That could easily be me. It’s a big thing now, just staying in the lineup, staying healthy and helping the team.”
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang will return to the lineup tonight against Detroit at Consol Energy Center, general manager Ray Shero announced this morning.
Letang, 26, has been out since he had a stroke Jan. 29. He has been practicing with the team for weeks, but it had been unclear whether he would play this season.
Shero said Letang has been pushing to play for some time.
“We don’t take these decisions lightly,” Shero said. “After a lot of begging and asking me questions and wanting to play, tonight’s the night.”
Shero said Letang and the team have gotten assurances that playing hockey neither caused the stroke nor puts him as risk any more than “going to the grocery store.”
Although Letang still has some bouts of dizziness – “or, what we call unsteadiness,” Shero said – he might have to get used to that being what Shero described as “the new normal.”
The Detroit Red Wings are one point away from clinching their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance and it’s only fitting the team they most recently saw in the Stanley Cup Final stands in their way.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference locked away and that means they’ll face the No. 1 wild card team. As of now, that makes tonight’s Rivalry Night showdown a playoff preview. If the Penguins are hoping to avoid the Red Wings in the first round, they’ll come out firing hoping to take advantage of a Wings team that played last night (a 4-2 win against Buffalo).
The Penguins have been “resting” players lately since they don’t have much to play for and getting anyone hurt ahead of the playoffs is bad news. Whether they break out the full deck against the Red Wings remains to be seen, but talk this morning from TSN’s Bob McKenzie surrounds the possible return of Kris Letang to the Penguins lineup.
If he does return from his stroke, it makes Pittsburgh that much more dangerous to deal with in the postseason and gives the Red Wings a better look at who they might be taking on in the first round. Of course, the Penguins will have to deal with a refreshed and healthy Pavel Datsyuk as well as Wings goal leader Gustav Nyquist.
And NHL.com's Kevin Weekes offered the following:
The big challenge for me with Pittsburgh is who are they? I know they can score, but I don't feel like they have played to their offensive talent. I know that they have that "go north" philosophy. But outside of James Neal and Evgeni Malkin, I don't think they use the width of the rink enough to make plays. I don't think there's enough give and go and interchanges when they attack. As lethal and talented as they are, they can be more productive, which is scary. I don't think they've hit their full stride offensively. And not just because of injuries. Just stylistically, there is a gap between how they defend and how they attack. It's still not 100 percent in synch. There are more opportunities for them to attack in a more varied way.
They like to push the pace, which is fine. They want to keep the opposition on their heels. But when I look at the pure talent of the Penguins, I think there is a lot more meat on the bone offensively than what we've seen so far. Not enough diagonal passes. A great example of what their team can be is Malkin and Neal. You see it in their game, but I don't see it enough through the rest of their lineup.I think Detroit is dangerous heading into the playoffs. With Detroit, what is so crazy is nobody really has the full book on how to stop their kids. If I'm an opposing team, I'm not only talking to my pro scouts and video coach, I'm talking to people around the American Hockey League. What did you guys do to slow these guys down last year when they won the Calder Cup with Grand Rapids? Maybe I'm speaking to so-and-so with the Lake Erie Monsters or so-and-so with the Manchester Monarchs. How did you stop these guys? There is no long, detailed scouting report for them at the NHL level. With Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, they're so unpredictable. It's hard enough to check Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen. It's the ultimate curveball.
Datsyuk recently returned to the lineup after dealing with a knee injury and gives the Red Wings more depth offensively and takes the heat off the team's young forwards. He can just come in and be good. He doesn't need to place excess pressure on himself. Just play within his game and get in the rhythm. That will only add to the confidence of an already-talented Detroit team.
How confident are they? One prominent Red Wing texted me three weeks ago when I got home. He said "Weekesy, we're going to be in. We'll be in the dance."It was a very prominent player on that team who plays a very big role. That really impressed me, and his own individual game has been great this season.
Via RedWingsFeed, the Wings posted a different kind of video, promoting their youth hockey clinic...
Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner duly noted that Mike Babcock first caught the Wings' eye while he was coaching the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, the Wings' interim AHL affiliate between their tenures with the Adirondack Red Wings and the Grand Rapids Griffins...
Former Wings assistant GM Jim Nill made several trips throughout the season to check up on prospects and was impressed with Babcock as a coach. And Nill let it be known to Detroit's hierarchy.
When Babcock was promoted to head coach of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2002, he led his seventh-seeded team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Ducks would lose the Cup in a seven-game series to the New Jersey Devils. But along the way, the Ducks swept the second-seeded and defending Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings in the first round, which cemented Babcock's glowing reputation within the Wings organization.
Babcock turned down an offer to stay with the Ducks after the 2004-05 lockout, and the Wings jumped at the chance to hire him as their head coach.
Since his arrival in Detroit, Babcock has established himself as the NHL's best coach and one of top hockey minds in the world.
His abrasive, no-nonsense approach sometimes rubs players the wrong way, but his results are second to none: A Stanley Cup, a gold medal in the World Championships, two Olympic gold medals, and the proven ability to transform any roster into winners.
So being Detroit's franchise leader in total coaching victories isn't really unexpected, but until an arena deal fell through, the Wings had never heard of Mike Babcock. That's certainly not the case anymore, and Detroit's a better hockey team because of it.
And while we're talking about Grand Rapids, the Griffins website's Mark Newman filed a feature story about Landon Ferraro:
Landon Ferraro smiles when he thinks about his maturation process, how he had to modify his style of play in order to become a more responsible player at both ends of the ice, how he learned that being defensively responsible was an attribute that was just as important as being able to score goals.
Now in his third year with the Griffins, Ferraro has come to grips with the development process.
"Coming into Grand Rapids, I thought, ‘I'll play half a year here and then I can move on,’" Ferraro said, relaxing after a recent practice at Van Andel Arena. "I don't know one player who doesn't think that way, but you figure out pretty quickly that between maturing as a player and learning what role you're going to play – not to mention building strength – it's going to take time. I feel like I finally figured that out."
Ferraro turned pro after a junior hockey career as a pure offensive-minded prospect. With diligence and determination, he’s worked to discredit that description, remaking himself into a defensive force and becoming one of the top penalty killers in the American Hockey League.
"Honestly, I'm a completely different player today," Ferraro said. "Before, I was all offense. My attitude was 'If you get scored on, you get scored on.' It wasn't that big of a deal. Now I understand that if I want to move up to the NHL, I've got to be a solid two-way player."
To remodel himself as a player, Ferraro had to rethink the way he approached the game.
"Defense has to come first – I've got to be sure that I'm good on that side of the puck," he said. "I have to be really good on the penalty kill with my speed and blocking shots. I need to create energy. I need to forecheck and hit. My play has matured. I now understand what I need to do."
Update #3: Here's the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan's game-day report. He asked the Wings about "sending a message" and received this reply:
"I don't know about a message," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "But we want to do things right. This is a big game for us. We might be playing them next week, so we want to do everything we can to play right and give ourselves a chance to win the game."
The Red Wings need one more point in their final three games – or have New Jersey or Washington lose a point in any of their remaining games – to clinch a playoff spot. And that won't be easy against a Penguins team that will be energized by the return of defenseman Kris Letang (stroke) to the lineup tonight.
"For us it's about getting points every night," Kronwall said. "We've put ourselves in a good spot but we haven't accomplished anything yet. They're (the Penguins) an elite team, one of the best in the league. They have superstars in (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin (out with a foot injury). Now Letang is back.
"I'm happy for him and for the game. He's one of the best players in the league. Players like him don't grow on trees.”
Coach Mike Babcock doesn't put much credence in the "message" theory, either.
"I believe this is a regular-season game," Babcock said. "I've seen a lot of those ‘message’ games and then the playoffs start and there's no statement. We're going to play tonight."
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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.