Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Penguins pre-season wrap-up/overnight report: a shaky loss, Mrazek and Atlantic previews

The Detroit Red Wings' 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins marked the Wings' third consecutive home loss--the team's been out-scored 11-4 over the course of losses to Boston, Chicago and now Pittsburgh, all in front of fans paying regular-season prices to witness incredibly uninspired and unfocused efforts--and while the Wings' immediate concern involves Justin Abdelkader's injured left index finger, which required stitches after a scrap with Robert Bortuzzo...

Detroit has two more exhibition games left, in the form of a home-and-home series with Toronto on Friday (in Detroit, no local TV) and Saturday (in Toronto, on Hockey Night in Canada, and the Griffins are holding an exhibition game in Plymouth the same evening), and the fact that the Red Wings have looked so very, very lost when Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl of all people haven't played, well, it doesn't speak well to the concept that the team's improved its depth to the point that it will need something more than a top-heavy effort to succeed in the stacked Atlantic Division.

The Penguins iced an NHL-heavy roster for their final exhibition game, and as you might imagine, they were happy with the result, as they told PittsburghPenguins.com's Michelle Crechiolo...

As coach Dan Bylsma said, “this was a complete game in a lot of our areas.” They were strong in all three zones, had puck possession the majority of the game, delivered on special teams (2-for-3 on the power play; 3-for-3 on the penalty kill) and overall just executed. Playing like this as a team in the final exhibition game is important, as the guys were not pleased with how they’d performed in the other contests. It’s the perfect note to enter the regular season on.

We have been talking a lot this training camp about the open spot on Malkin and Neal’s line. But tonight, it was that other line in the top six – you know, Kunitz, Crosby and Dupuis – that dominated in this game. What was the best line in the NHL last season looked just that on Wednesday, as they combined for five points – Kunitz scored twice, Dupuis netted one and Crosby had two assists. There was a sense of relief from those guys surrounding their performance tonight, as Kunitz said they hadn’t been pleased with the way they’d played in their prior exhibition games together.

“We didn’t have a great preseason leading up to this one,” he said. “I think we played a little harder, we watched clips, we talked about what we need to do. Maybe just play better in our zone and come with our speed. It’s something that we did on the first goal, (I) got the puck out and Sid made a great play picking it up on the wall and making that play to ‘Duper’ and putting it in. so that kind of just led us off to have a good game tonight.”

And while the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Shelly Anderson's recap is spare...

The Penguins, with a lineup close to what they might use when the season opens, dominated a watered-down Detroit lineup in a 5-1 preseason win Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena. They finished their preseason schedule 3-2-1.

Chris Kunitz had two goals for the Penguins. Jussi Jokinen, Craig Adams and Pascal Dupuis each had one. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each had two assists.

One point of concern is defenseman Brooks Orpik, who did not play in the third period. He collided with fellow Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland and Red Wings winger Drew Miller just before Miller scored in the second period. There was no immediate update on Orpik's status.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 16 of 17 Red Wings shots and had an assist.

And the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Josh Yohe's recap is an afterthought...

Maybe returning to the building of his greatest triumph was just what Marc-Andre Fleury needed. Of course, it didn't hurt that most of Detroit's stars didn't play.

Nonetheless, the Penguins' goalie had his best performance of a shaky preseason as the Penguins handled a depleted Red Wings lineup at Joe Louis Arena, 5-1.

The Penguins got two goals from Chris Kunitz and one each from Craig Adams, Jussi Jokinen and Pascal Dupuis.

A misplay by Fleury led to Drew Miller's goal, but he was otherwise strong. He will see plenty of action when the regular season begins; backup goalie Tomas Vokoun won't be ready to start the season Oct. 3 as he recovers from surgery to dissolve a blood clot.

Anderson noted that the Penguins did have one wee little issue to worry about (and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Seth Rorabaugh posted a blow-by-blow game entry in his Empty Netters blog)

One point of concern is defenseman Brooks Orpik, who did not play in the third period. He collided with fellow Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland and Red Wings winger Drew Miller just before Miller scored in the second period.

Coach Dan Bylsma said he thought maybe it was an errant stick, not the collision, that knocked Orpik from the game. Bylsma did not seem to think it was something serious. We saw Orpik very briefly in the locker room after the game. He said he was OK.

NHL.com's recap is tolerable enough:

"This was a complete game in a lot of our areas," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said.

The Penguins dressed a lineup that was close to the one it will use next week and looked ready to go.

"We didn't have a great preseason leading up to this one," Kunitz said. "I think we played a little harder, we watched clips, we talked about what we need to do. Maybe just play better in our zone and come with our speed. It's something that we did on the first goal, I got the puck out and Sid made a great play picking it up on the wall and making that play to [Dupuis] and putting it in. so that kind of just led us off to have a good game tonight."

Drew Miller's goal 12:49 into the second period was the only shot to beat Fleury. Detroit rookie Petr Mrazek, who led the Red Wings' American Hockey League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, to the Calder Cup last spring, went all the way and made 32 saves for a team that sat star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg as well as defenseman Niklas Kronwall. All three are expected to play Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"You have to have the puck more than we did if you're going to have any fun out there I'll tell you that," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "They came in here with an NHL-looking team and we didn't have one. We still have to play so many games we have to spread out lineup out and we have so many guys hurt. We weren't deep enough; we didn't have the puck enough so that's what I took from it."

The coach's aggravation didn't translate into any sort of motivation from his players, and in theory, anyway, Johan Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi, Stephen Weiss, Daniel Cleary, Joakim Andersson, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Smith, Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser should've gotten the job done on their own.

They didn't get 'er done, and as Babcock told the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan, the Wings' biggest problem this preseason has involved the team's inability or unwilingness to play the puck possession style of hockey that's allowed them to transcend personnel issues for over 20 years:

“We didn’t have the puck and they made us look bad,” Babcock said. “We made some mistakes and we chased it (the puck) the whole way and didn’t execute at all. In the end, it was a one-sided game.”

The Red Wings were without Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, all of whom will play Friday when the Red Wings host Toronto.

“We had a tough time getting out of our zone cleanly,” forward Stephen Weiss said. “We you’re turning the puck over and they’re coming at you, it’s tough to generate offense.”

Johan Franzen's second-intermission interview with Fox Sports Detroit was telling, as MLive's Ansar Khan noted...

Johan Franzen summed it up during a second-period interview on Fox Sports Detroit by saying, “It kind of looks like boys against men out there.''

Detroit's top line featured Stephen Weiss centering Franzen and Justin Abdelkader, as Daniel Alfredsson continues to be idled by a sore groin.

Asked on FSD about the adjustment it will take playing with Weiss, Franzen said, “I don't know yet. We haven't had the puck yet this game, so we'll see.''

And after the game, all Babcock could suggest to Michigan Hockey's Stefan Kubus was that Petr Mrazek received a suitable amount of work thanks to 37 Penguins shots, many coming from giveaways, botched line changes and poor defensive coverage:

“Today we didn’t have the puck,” coach Mike Babcock said. “They made us look bad. We made some mistakes. They had it, we chased it the whole game. We were never on the offense. They were better than us. They executed and came out of their zone fast. We didn’t execute at all.”

One underlying benefit of the Penguins’ onslaught is that young Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek saw a lot of action against one of the league’s top squads.

“He got lots of opportunities to makes saves, that’s for sure,” Babcock said. “We broke down enough to give him lots of opportunities. It’s like anything – you don’t like to give up goals as a goaltender, but we gave up point-blank chances and I thought he made some good saves.”

Mrazek said he knew coming in that he would be facing some of the league’s top gunners and is now looking to learn from this experience.

“It wasn’t an easy night,” Mrazek said. “That was my first game I played the whole game. I felt good before the game and during the game, but it was a tough night for us… We have to look at the goals and see what happened, be quicker and out of the (crease), so that’s the most important stuff.”

Stephen Weiss may be visibly struggling to adapt to the Red Wings' system of play after spending his entire career with a dump-and-not-chase Panthers team, but he understands how he needs to play, and he's sure working his ass of to try and adjust to getting the job done...

“We had a tough time getting out of our zone clean tonight and getting through the neutral zone clean and when you’re having a tough time with that, you’re turning pucks over and they’re coming back at you,” Weiss said. “It’s tough to generate offense a lot of times. By the time you get in their zone, you’re changing and you can’t sustain anything.”

And he put things bluntly, at least regarding playing against Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, etc. while speaking with Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji:

"They’re a couple of the best players in the world, so to get ice time against them in a game like that is huge for young guys," Stephen Weiss said. "It gives them a little bit of an idea of what to expect at this level. When you have slight little breakdowns, they are going to make you pay, and that’s what they did to us."

Brendan Smith, who played 19 minutes and 37 seconds, second only to Kyle Quincey, has gone through experiences like the even younger Wings went through Wednesday.

"The top guys in the AHL are trying to make the third and fourth spots of the NHL," Smith said. "When they get a chance to play against the top two lines, they get a chance to see that much more difference, that much more world-class skill. That’s something they can take away and understand that ‘Hey, I can get better gaps by playing against these guys; I’ve got to work on stuff like my speed to create that.’ Whatever it is that they need to work on, that’s something they can look into. There’s a little bit extra skill and competitive nature, and that’s what they have to strive for."

The truth of the matter is that Smith's had a preseason indicating that he's got a lot to learn as well, and that's a concern.

As is the fact that the Wings' younger players haven't looked ready for prime time, with perhaps the exception of Adam Almquist:

Danny DeKeyser will be with the Wings this season. But Xavier Ouellet and Adam Almquist won't. Neither will Petr Mrazek after backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson recovers from his groin injury. They can go back and look at the video of this game and see where they can get better.

"It’s pretty clear, a few of the things we thought might work aren’t going to work for us because they’re not good enough players yet," Babcock said. "They need more time. That’s just the way it is."

Babcock wondered aloud about his team's non-superstar leadership while speaking with the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...

“Without the leadership of Kronwall, Datsyuk and Zetterberg it doesn’t appear we have much driving the bus either,” Babcock said. “You saw guys you were hoping for, but it’s pretty clear a few of the things we thought might work aren’t going to work for us didn’t because they’re not good enough players yet. They need more time that’s just the way it is.”

This was Pittsburgh’s last preseason game, while Detroit has two more left.

The Wings have scored one or fewer goals in three of their last five preseason games.

“I think it starts with defense,” Stephen Weiss said. “We had a tough time getting out of our zone clean and getting through the neutral zone clean and when you’re having a tough time with that you’re turning pucks over and they’re coming back at you, so it’s tough to generate offense a lot of times. By the time you get in their zone you’re either changing and you can’t sustain anything.”

And while Mrazek told DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose that the game was something of a learning experience--and it was most certainly so given that Mrazek was a world-beater on some occasions and was easily beaten on other occasions--Babcock's comment to Roose hits the nail on the head:

“It wasn't an easy night,” said Mrazek, who made 32 saves. “That was my first (preseason) game I played whole game. I felt good before the game and during the game, but tough night for us.”

Through the first 20 minutes, the Red Wings were out-shot by a 12-5 margin. The Penguins finished the game with a 37-17 edge in shots. The Penguins continued the assault on the Wings, building a 3-0 lead on a goal by Craig Adams in the opening minutes of the second period.

“Without the leadership of Kronwall, Datsyuk and Zetterberg it doesn’t appear we have much driving the bus either,” Babcock said, “but you can say that about lots of teams around the league. We missed E, Kronner and Kindl on the back. It was very apparent we couldn’t move the puck and they were all over us.”

Smith and Quincey have played pass-the-puck-sideways-repeatedly whenever they've had opportunities to move the puck to forwards skating through the neutral zone, often resulting in giveaways, and Danny DeKeyser's had no chemistry with Brian Lashoff at all ("Who's playing stay-at-home? NOT ME!"), to the point that Babcock paired DeKeyser with Xavier Ouellet and had Almquist skate alongside Lashoff.

If anything, this preseason's reminded Wings fans that DeKeyser is more than eligible for the Calder Trophy as a rookie--he still is a player with incredibly limited NHL experience, and he's going to make the occasional mistake--but when Smith and Quincey are getting too cute, and Lashoff's continuing to look like someone who doesn't quite have the skating or passing skills to keep up for more than a "pinch's" worth of injury replacement time, things get ugly in a hurry.

Todd Bertuzzi was also focused as focused could be, but Franzen was his predictably slow-warming preseason self, Weiss is, again, struggling but at least very visibly working hard to acclimate, Cleary seems to have run out of some steam after having chosen to remain with the Wings, Samuelsson's most fiery moments involved trying to get at Evgeni Malkin at the end of the game, and Abdelkader was distracted long before his fight with Bortuzzo. Hell, even Andersson, Nyquist and Tatar were less than sharp, and while Drew Miller was his steady self, it was hard to be steady with Cory Emmerton going 2-and-7 in the faceoff circle.

Riley Sheahan looked like Ouellet and Almquist--a little out of his element, and a little unsure of himself--and when the gents who are supposed to lead aren't leading, it's hard for a younger player to step up and play assertively.

So the Wings looked very, very pedestrian and very, very ordinary, as Babcock told MLive's Brendan Savage:

"For me, we needed some guys on the top end of this group to lead the way and that never happened,'' Babcock said.

With Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg resting and Daniel Alfredsson still out with a pulled groin, Babcock's top line consisted of Stephen Weiss centering Johan Franzen and Justin Abdelkader. Other veterans in the lineup included Daniel Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson and Drew Miller, who scored their lone goal.

"Without the leadership of (Niklas) Kronwall, Datsyuk and Zetterberg, it doesn't appear we have much driving the bus either, but you can say that about lots of teams around the league,'' Babcock said.

Weiss has struggled in the preseason, with no points in four games.

"That wasn't our best offensive series, for sure, but we just have to work our way out of it,'' Weiss said. "Keep doing the things that we need to do to be successful in that area: get pucks to the net, be hounding on the forecheck, and try not to give too many away. I thought we had a couple of breakdowns tonight and we gave them a couple of easy ones. Against a team like that it's tough to come back."

I can fault Weiss for his lack of production, but I can't fault him for the amount of effort he's putting into getting no results. I couldn't say the same for his teammates not named Miller or Mrazek on Wednesday night, and that's a problem given that the Wings will play a home opener against Buffalo next Wednesday, and will be 3 games into their regular season by Saturday, October 5th.*

Hell, make that nail on the head part 2, per the Free Press's Anthony Fenech (this popped up right before I was about to hit "post"):

“They made us look bad,” Babcock said. “They had it, we chased it the whole game and we were never on offense. They were better than us.”

The loss marked the fourth game this exhibition season they have been outshot, and the scoreboard now reads “Opponents 161, Wings 134” for the season.

This much is good?

Defenseman Adam Almquist, who skated 19 shifts and took a penalty in the second period, talked of the game being a confidence builder of sorts.

“You always learn,” he said. “It’s always a good experience when you’re playing the best in the world and such good players. You can get a little more confidence when you play guys like that next time.”

It's time for everybody to get their asses in gear, it's time for Jakub Kindl to test that sore hip, for Daniel Alfredsson to skate and make sure his groin is good to go on the 2nd vs. Buffalo, it's time for Abdelkader to deal with possibly losing a fingernail (the Detroit News's David Guralnick captured the post-scrap boo boo) on his left index finger, it's time for Jordin Tootoo to start testing that sore shoulder, and it's time for everybody who isn't banged-up to suck it up and remember that they're not far removed from playing for keeps.

Hell, there will be more than bragging rights at stake on Friday and Saturday, because both the Toronto media horde and HBO's 24/7 crew will be in attendance, and the stands will be filled to the gills at both the Joe and the ACC. For *#$%@&'s sake, every Leaf fan in Southwestern Ontario who can't afford a ticket to a "real" Leaf game tries to make Joe Louis Arena turn blue on Friday, and if the Wings continue playing at their current pace, they're going to have to deal with cheers when the opposing team scores.

I may be making a mountain out of a moderately-sized molehill, but if preparation is everything for these Red Wings, as the coach and players like to tell us, the fact that the team's been caught with its hockey pants down on three home-fan-paying occasions, and regardless of the personnel who played or sat out, the fact that the team's inability to stick to its fundamental system of puck possession hockey does ring an alarm bell.

Multimedia:

Highlights: NHL.com's highlights are at least narrated by Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond:

Fred Murtz also posted the Abdelkader-Bortuzzo fight:

Post-game: If you really want to watch Peguins coach Dan Bylsma speak to the Penguins' website, or Sidney Crosby chat with the Windsor Star's Bob Duff, you may most certainly do so;

The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness posted clips of Petr Mrazek and Stephen Weiss speaking with the press...

 

And the Windsor Star's Duff posted Mike Babcock's post-game presser:

Photos: The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review embedded a 20-image gallery in its recap;

The Detroit Free Press posted a 22-image gallery;

The Detroit News's David Guralnick posted a 33-image gallery;

The Windsor Star posted 5 big images from the game;

And the Red Wings' website posted a 19-image gallery.


Statistics:

Shots 37-17 Pittsburgh overall. Detroit was out-shot 12-5 in the 1st, 12-6 in the 2nd and 13-6 in the 3rd.

The Wings went 0-for-3 in 6:00 of PP time; Pittsburgh went 3-for-4 in 5:04 of PP time.

Petr Mrazek stopped 32 of 37 shots; Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 16 of 17 shots.

The 3 stars were picked by Fox Sports Deroit's Dana Wakiji, and she picked Drew Miller, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz.

The Wings' goal: Miller (1) from Samuelsson (1).

Faceoffs 26-26;

Blocked shots 8-8;

Missed shots 7-6 Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh had 52 shot attempts to Detroit's 31, and Detroit had 17 shots ON Fleury and 14 wide or into Pens players);

Hits 23-18 Pittsburgh;

Giveaways 8-2 Detroit;

Takeaways 7-6 Detroit.

Individual stats, TMR style:

Faceoffs:
Weiss went 10-and-8 (56%); Andersson went 10-and-4 (71%); Sheahan went 5-and-5 (50%); Emmerton went 1-and-7 (13%); Abdelkader went 0-and-2.

Shots: Bertuzzi and Samuelsson had 3 shots; Abdelkader had 2; Smith, Nyquist, Andersson, Miller, Quincey, Ouellet, Cleary, Weiss and Franzen had 1 shot.

Blocked attempts: Nyquist, Sheahan, Miller, Quincey, Samuelsson, Bertuzzi and Cleary had shot attempts blocked.

Missed shots: Nyquist missed the net 2 times; Quincey, Samuelsson, Bertuzzi and Weiss missed the net 1 time.

Hits: Abdelkader had 4 hits; Miller had 3; Andersson had 2; Smith, Sheahan, Tatar, Lashoff, Emmerton, Quincey, Samuelsson, DeKeyser and Franzen had 1.

Giveaways: Cleary had 2 giveaways; Smith, Abdelkader, Samuelsson, Bertuzzi, Franzen and Mrazek had 1.

Takeaways: Andersson had 2 takeaways; Smith, Ouellet, DeKeyser, Cleary and Weiss had 1.

Blocked shots: Smith blocked 3 shots; Abdelkader, Andersson, Lashoff, Emmerton and Quincey blocked 1 shot.

Penalty minutes: Abdelkader took a major penalty; Andersson, Miller, Quincey and Almquist took minor penalties.

Plus-minus: The Wings finished at a collective -10. Abdelkader, Ouellet, DeKeyser, Weiss and Franzen finished at -2; Sheahan, Andersson and Bertuzzi finished at -1; Miller, Emmerton and Samuelsson finished at +1.

Points: Miller scored a goal and Samuelsson registered an assist.

Ice time: Smith led the team with 24:47 played; Quincey played 23:08; DeKeyser played 20:49;

Lashoff played 17:43; Cleary played 17:25; Franzen played 16:45;

Weiss played 16:40; Ouellet played 16:22; Emmerton played 15:47;

Nyquist played 15:19; Tatar played 14:47; Abdelkader played 14:46;

Samuelsson played 13:59; Almquist played 13:47; Andersson played 13:34;

Miller played 12:50; Bertuzzi played 12:20; Sheahan played 12:08.

 


Red Wings notebooks: This isn't a Red Wings notebook per se, but the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Josh Yohe hopes that the Wings-Pens rivalry will receive a kick in the pants from Detroit's shift to the Eastern Conference:

“It's going to be special,” [Wings coach Mike Babcock] said. “When I look at our schedule, the first thing I do is look for the Original Six matchups. And the very next thing I do is look for Pittsburgh. And I circle them. It just always feels so heated when we play each other. You can feel the tension that still is there because of those series.”

No players embody that more than Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg. In those consecutive meetings in the Stanley Cup Final, Crosby and Zetterberg almost exclusively shared shifts. Zetterberg held Crosby in check, sacrificing his offense because of the exhaustion he felt from chasing Crosby. They met once this preseason, and despite occasional hostility, things seemed tame. Don't expect those feelings to remain.

“Me and Sid kind of take it easy in these games,” Zetterberg said. “It's pretty friendly between us in these preseason games. But just wait until the regular season starts.”

...

“Those playoff battles we had,” Zetterberg said, shaking his head, “I think those were very, very special battles. And now we play more often. I think it's going to be great.”

He isn't the only one. Babcock will coach Team Canada in the Olympics and potentially could face Team USA coach Dan Bylsma for a gold medal. It wouldn't surprise Babcock if his Red Wings met Bylsma's Penguins in May for the right to play for the silver trophy the teams have battled for twice.

“Rivalries are made in the playoffs,” Babcock said. “And you never know. We might see them in the playoffs once again.”

The Detroit News's Gregg Krupa attended the game and penned a feature article about one Petr Mrazek's maturation, and he found that Mrazek has a helluva fan in Wings goalie coach Jim Bedard...

“When you see him come in through the training camp and through the conditioning and development camps in the summer, you get to know his personality and how unflappable he is,” Wings goaltending coach Jim Bedard said. “He’s really focused and he seems to be on the same wavelength all of the time, and he’s a very positive kid. But one thing I noticed is that he got sent to Toledo at the start of last year, and he didn’t take that as being a demotion of any sort.

“I think he was there about three or four games and then he moved up to Grand Rapids. And I always tell people, he won his first game and he won his last game. And I was at both of them, and it was amazing.”

Who feels that Mrazek's presence is a big reason why the Griffins won the Calder Cup, as well as a big reason why the Griffins could very well defend their title...

“Just to be in the place where he put the team on his back and they trusted him,” Bedard said. “They knew what they were going to get on a night-in, night-out basis, and it was a great way to start a pro career. He’s a very unique personality, where he doesn’t come off as being cocky but he comes off as being very confident. And he just seems to go, and go, and go. And if something happens that is not favorable, he just pushes it off.”

And Mrazek himself understands that he's still on something of a winding road to NHL employment, even with Jonas Gustavsson out for the present moment with a groin injury (I can't qute Krupa's entire article, though I wish I could), this note about Mrazek's post-game interaction with reporters after the Wings' 5-1 loss to Pittsburgh is as telling as can be:

As reporters gathered at his stall, Mrazek moved away to toss his sweaty socks in the laundry bin. His mentor watched. Eying the media and the young goalie, Howard joked, “Hey, where you going? You’ve got to sit here and take this.”

Mrazek’s expression said it all. It was unchanging. He knew he needed to talk about a five-goal game. The reminder was unnecessary. But big brothers are like that sometimes.

“It wasn’t an easy night,” he said. “I felt good before the game, and during the game. I tried, but I didn’t stop (the puck). Nothing we can do about it right now,” he said, while vowing to study the video. “But I have to stop more, next time.”

The Windsor Star's Bob Duff profiled the players in front of Mrazek and Howard, discussing the very necessary maturation of Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser. As the Wings' coach notes, the team's defense is its question mark...

“Smith and DeKeyser are in their second year, so are they going to fall off the face of the earth or be like they’re capable of being?” Babcock wondered aloud. “That’s going to determine lots of what happens around here.”

And the players' priorities are a bit different over the course of a full NHL season:

“I just try to be a steady defender and not make any mistakes out there, make first good passes, get the forwards the puck, get up ice and get into the play if I can,” DeKeyser said.

Smith, on the other hand, is more of an adventure. On occasions such as that two-on-one play, he displays hockey savvy. Other times, especially, it seems when the puck is on his stick in his own end, he leaves something to be desired. Neither of Smith or DeKeyser has experienced an 82-game NHL campaign, which leaves both of them wondering what to expect.

“That’s a lot of games,” DeKeyser said. “It’ll be a grind.”

“I think it will be a lot different,” said Smith, who split last season’s lockout-shortened season between AHL Grand Rapids and Detroit. “Now I’ll get to play in a full season of 82 games. This will be a lot better and maybe help my production.”

Kindl told Duff that he's more than ready to go after having played in both the Czech Extraliga and the NHL this past season, and he believes that the Wings' blueline has a bright future:

“The lockout helped me out,” said Kindl, a spare part in Detroit up until last season. “I had the opportunity to go overseas (to the Czech Republic), played in every situation; played a lot of minutes. It gave me a lot of confidence so when I came over it was a little easier for me.”

His own growing pains evidently a thing of the past, Kindl, currently slowed by a hip flexor injury, is confident his young compatriots will figure things out sooner rather than later.

“The back end, we’re pretty young and in good shape,” Kindl said. “I think we can be even better.”

And as the Free Press's Anthony Fenech suggests, this is kind of inevitable:

And now, for your bi-weekly Darren Helm update. He feels a lot better, feels pretty good. And the Wings forward feels better about himself when he’s on the ice, skating with his teammates like he was on this morning for the first time this year.

“It gives me a better attitude, keeps me positive,” he said. “But I think my mental state has been pretty good the last couple of months knowing that I’ll get better at some point. Just a big long process that I have to deal with and I feel that’s coming to an end.”

How soon, he wouldn’t say. But when asked if he could play within the week, Helm said, “Never say never. But you can say very unlikely.”

Helm, 26, is nursing back and groin injuries.

“I’m still working on the groin,” he said. “I wasn’t going 100% out there, I was going pretty good but it’s still something we have to monitor and keep an eye on.”

As far as his back, Helm said he didn’t really push it very hard, but that he did feel “quite a bit better” than the past couple of weeks.

You may take the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness's assessment of the State of Helm, as well as that of the Red Wings' coach, for what you will:

He has yet to be cleared for contact due to his back, but he feels that could come soon.

“I think it’s probably around the corner,” Helm said. “I haven’t had a real test yet. You know how I work now, there’s no date. I’ll be ready when I’m ready.”

Asked if there’s a chance he could play in one of the two final preseason games this weekend Helm said, “Never say never, but I would say very unlikely.”

Helm was unable to take part in any of the Wings’ week-long training camp in Traverse City. Helm had just begun ramping up his workouts on and off the ice since returning from having a slightly torn disc in his back that never required surgery when the groin injury occurred. Helm played just one game last season.

“He’s missed two years of playoffs and one full season,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday. “It is what it is.”

 

 

 

In the prospect department: In the OHL, Jake Paterson continues to face an onslaught of shots on a nightly basis, but on Wednesday, he came out on top, stopping 43 shots and earning first-star status as his Saginaw Spirit defeated the Erie Otters 2-1. Yahoo Sports' Kelly Friesen named Paterson the first star of the Major Junior hockey-playing night:

No. 1 star: Jake Paterson (Saginaw Spirit, OHL): The Detroit Red Wings prospect stymied the Connor McDavid-led Erie Otters’ offense in a 2-1 Saginaw win. Paterson turned away 43 of 44 shots, including the first 27 that came his way throughout the first two periods. The Otters couldn’t get one by him until roughly four minutes into the final frame when Michael Curtis notched one on the power play. The icing on the cake for Paterson is that he outperformed Columbus Blue Jackets second-round pick Oscar Dansk at the other end of the ice.

The win over the Otters was Paterson’s second consecutive outstanding showing in the blue paint. In his previous game against the Kitchener Rangers, he stood on his head, stopping 52 of 55 shots in the 4-2 loss.

In the QMJHL, Anthony Mantha wasn't far behind, registering 3 assists in the Val-d'Or Foreurs 7-4 win over Rouyn-Noranda. Over the course of 3 games played thus far, Mantha's already amassed 4 goals and 4 assists for 8 points;

In Sweden, Mattias Backman went scoreless in 16:35 of ice time while Linkopings HC defeated Leksands IF 6-1;

And Mattias Janmark scored the shootout-winning goal (which counts as a goal in the SHL) as AIK Stockholm defeated Brynas 2-1. Janmark's registered 5 goals and an assist over the course of 5 games played.

 

 


Also of Red Wings-related note: The Wings may not have fared so well in TSN's Top 50 Players list, but USA Today's power rankings panel has the Wings listed as the 6th-best team in the NHL, and the Free Press's Helene St. James is one of three panelists (out of 12) who's picking the Wings to win the Cup:

USA TODAY Sports' 12-member power rankings panel predicted the Detroit Red Wings, moving to the Eastern Conference and the reorganized Atlantic Division, would benefit greatly from realignment.

"A team that was one goal away from reaching the final four last spring will thrive minus the burden of West Coast travel," said Windsor (Ontario) Star columnist Bob Duff.

The Red Wings received three votes to win the Stanley Cup.

"They've got solid goaltending, a better-than-acknowledged defense and tons of depth up front," Detroit Free Press reporter Helene St. James said. "Plus, moving to the East, they'll be much more refreshed come playoff time. They took the 2013 champs (Chicago Blackhawks) to seven games, and that was without a healthy lineup. Daniel Alfredsson could well be the tipping point as the Wings surge back into elite waters."

USA Today's Kevin Allen is picking the Wings to finish second in the Atlantic Division...

No. 2 Detroit Red Wings

2012-13 results: 24-16-8, lost in second round

Story line: Red Wings get help for their move to the East

Goaltending: Jimmy Howard (21-13-7, 2.13, .923). Howard's consistency has reached the level that he is considered one of the favorites to land a U.S. Olympic goaltending spot.

Analysis: The Red Wings had long lobbied for a move to the Eastern Conference, and they get their wish this season. The team prepared for its move by adding offensive firepower through the signings of veteran scorer Daniel Alfredsson and No.2 center Stephen Weiss. Because Nicklas Lidstrom retired in 2012, the Red Wings were often viewed last season as a team with defensive deficiencies. But the defense improved daily and became one of the league's more cohesive units by the end of the season. Detroit did have trouble scoring goals. The Red Wings hope the new additions will help, along with the improved health of Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson. As always, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are the engines that power the bus.

Breakthrough candidate: W Gustav Nyquist is 24, and the Red Wings are counting on him to become one of the team's primary offensive players. He can be a poor man's Datsyuk. He is very elusive and slick with the puck. He should generate 45-plus points.

Key question: How will the Red Wings get under the salary cap? They have 17 forwards — they need to get down to 14 — and they are more than $2 million over the salary cap. Injuries to Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves will buy time. Jordin Tootoo is also hurt. Plus, he's vulnerable to losing his roster spot.

Forecast: West or East, old or young, the Red Wings always stay in the hunt. They'll be a playoff team in their new conference.

And the Sporting News's Sean Gentile's at least picking the Wings to make the playoffs in his Atlantic Division preview:

DETROIT RED WINGS

Last season: 24-16-8, seventh in Western Conference, lost in conference semifinals.

Signing Alfredsson and center Stephen Weiss means that Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg can play on the same line consistently, which is good. … Justin Abdelkader showed signs of maturing into a legitimate top-six winger and will get a chance to play with Datsyuk and Zetterberg. … The defense isn't great, but a full year of Danny DeKeyser means it could be good. … Goalie Jimmy Howard is somehow underrated without being underpaid. … The bottom six is crowded, but the biggest question there is the health of lynchpin Darren Helm.

The Hockey News's Kyle Larkin also suggests that the Wings' new division should produce the "most anticipated rivalries" of the new season:

Battle of the Great Lakes: Detroit finally got what it wanted: a move back to the Eastern Conference - and for the third time since the NHL’s inception, they will be sharing a division with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs and Red Wings sit second and third on the all-time Stanley Cup list respectively and there’s no shortage of bad blood in the history of these two Original Six teams. 2013 will feature four matchups highlighted by the New Year’s Day Winter Classic and a decent chance at a first round playoff series if they manage to come second and third in the Atlantic (or first and fourth). This rivalry is rich in history and fans from both sides will be at each other’s throats, cementing this duel as the top rivalry to look forward to in the upcoming season.

The AP's Larry Lage penned an article about a rivalry of a different kind, noting that Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford's aiming to earn a spot on Team Canada, and that Jimmy Howard hopes to play in the Olympics for Team USA:

“It’s going to be a huge three months for everybody that’s in consideration because that’s when a lot of guys will make the team — or not,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who will be back on Canada’s bench after leading the team to gold at the Vancouver Games.

Howard plans to focus on helping the Red Wings win, hoping that helps him play for the U.S. when the NHL takes a break in February.

“In the back of my mind, I’ll know that I’ll also be auditioning for this team,” Howard said last month in Arlington, Va., at the U.S. hockey camp. “It’ll make the stakes higher for every single game, and I like that.”

Howard acknowledged he will keep tabs on his competition — Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick, Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, Ottawa’s Craig Anderson and New Jersey’s Cory Schneider — knowing they’re vying for one of three spots.

“Everybody will sort of be watching it,” Howard said. “But I’m not going to read into it too much. You just have to worry about your own game, take care of your business and make it difficult on the staff picking the team.”

Lage talked to Ken Holland about his status as both the Red Wings' GM and a member of Team Canada's braintrust:

“A lot of players from the 2010 team will be on our radar, but there will be some changes because Canada has a lot of good young players who have developed a lot over the last four years,” Holland said. “When we are playing an opponent, I know who I’ll be evaluating on the other team for Team Canada consideration.”

In the Bonus Swedish category, via RedWingsFeed, Team Sweden coach Par Marts told Expressen's Mattias Ek that he's going to include Daniel Alfredsson on the team's preliminary list of 60 potential players that will be submitted to the International Olympic Committee on October 1st.

In the reminder department, per the Wings, the team's holding an Oktoberfest-themed "BrewHaHa" on Saturday the 28th, and don't forget that Henrik Zetterberg and a coalition of Southeastern Michigan police and fire departments are collecting smoke detectors on Friday.

The Wings' email list also noted that the Hockey Hall of Fame is selling "Induction Showcase Weekend" travel packages to fans who want to see Brendan Shanahan and Chris Chelios inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 11th.

 

*That asterisk is there for a reason. The Wings play three games in four nights to start the season, with the home opener against Buffalo opening the campaign and then tilts in Carolina and Boston on the 4th and 5th, the Wings have a 5-day break, not playing again until they tangle with the Coyotes on the 10th and Flyers on the 12th. I will be absent for both of those games, and there's a reason for that: my pal Mark, who I've known since high school, is getting married. The rehearsal dinner's on the 10th and the wedding's on the 12th, so while I'll do my best to post stuff on the 10th, I'm obviously going to be incommunicado for the entire day on the 12th.

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Comments

wedge56's avatar

“For me, we needed some guys on the top end of this group to lead the way and that never happened,’’ Babcock said.”

*cough* Helm *cough, cough*

Posted by wedge56 on 09/26/13 at 09:04 AM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

Huh…I thought Clearly was signed for his leadership….

Posted by mrfluffy from Long Beach on 09/26/13 at 09:19 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

I’m sure Babs is telling them behind the scenes, so it’s a non-issue, but I’d much rather that he clarify specifically which players aren’t playing up to expectations because without specifically saying Franzen, it just feels like he’s also calling out Weiss, who I think has a number of much better excuses for his less-than-dominant play.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 09/26/13 at 10:22 AM ET

w2j2's avatar

The Wings might look bad on HNIC this weekend.  They still have a long way to go to get their 2nd line rolling.  It will take a while, but I am confident that eventually Babs will get them going.

Posted by w2j2 on 09/26/13 at 10:52 AM ET

Red Winger's avatar

Boston iced their “B"b team, and we iced our regulars, and we smoked them. The Pens play their regulars while we play our “B” team, and the Pens dominate. The other games kinda’ seemed like regular pre-season fare.

I say fingers off the panic button for now. If the Wings were sitting 6-0 in the pre-season right now we would rightly reign in anyone who thought that would be a harbinger of the upcoming season being a Stanley Cup season. So, the same restraint needs to be shown here.

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 09/26/13 at 06:17 PM ET

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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.