Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Sabres set-up and overnight report: Wings hope to remain true to form in the East

On what's forecasted to be an unseasonably warm 78-degree day in Downtown Detroit, the Red Wings will open their season against the Buffalo Sabres tonight (NBCSN only in the U.S./TSN2/97.1 FM), and aside from telling you that it is highly unlikely that those of us watching at home will be able to watch the "fun part" of the pre-game ceremonies in player introductions...

It's hard to say what will happen this evening. The Wings kick off the 2013-2014 season having posted a 3-and-5 preseason record in which the team lost 4 of its final 5 games and lost the services of Jonas Gustavsson (groin, on the short-term IR), Patrick Eaves (sprained ankle and sprained MCL, on the LTIR), Jordin Tootoo (bruised shoulder, on the short-term IR) and never regained the services of Darren Helm (back and groin issues, on the LTIR).

As you know by now, the Wings are starting the season with Gustav Nyquist in Grand Rapids and are regularly shuffling their roster (see: recalling Petr Mrazek on Tuesday night, retaining Cory Emmerton's services despite having waived him) to remain cap-compliant, and Tomas Tatar's starting the season on the outside looking in.

The Buffalo Sabres opened their preseason with 3 straight wins, and they posted a 4-and-3 record overall. The team's missing Marcus Foligno, who has an "upper-body injury," but they're otherwise healthy--mostly--and the vast majority of the Sabres press's stories from Tuesday involved the fact that Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott were named co-captains, with Ott wearing the "C" tonight as he's the "road" captain (Christian Ehrhoff is the permanent alternate captain). Buffalo Hockey Beat's Bill Hoppe took note of the news:

“We just thought both guys represented what we wanted; nothing more, nothing less than that,” said [Sabres coach Ron] Rolston, whose rebuilding club opens the 2013-14 season tonight in Detroit against the Red Wings. “It’s all about the influence they have on the team. Those guys are big influences on the team.”

Rolston chose two wildly different personalities to lead his team. The homegrown Vanek, one of the Sabres’ top talents since 2005, quietly goes about his business on and off the ice.

“I’m not the most rah-rah guy, but I think when I got something to say, I’ve always said it, and that will continue,” said the 29-year-old, the NHL’s first Austrian captain.

Meanwhile, the loquacious Ott, whose Sabres tenure began in January, has quickly earned his keep here.

“He wears his heart on his sleeve and he plays for the crest every night,” Rolston said.

As one of the NHL’s top agitators, the 32-year-old Ott’s constantly toeing the line.

Remember when he licked Jeff Halpern’s helmet last year?

“Since I’ve started wearing an ‘A’ … I’ve tried to stay on the right line and lead and be an example for the team,” Ott said. “Obviously, I play a hard style to try to be competitive. For myself, this isn’t going to change anything, who I am. What’s gotten me in the NHL is my work ethic. That’s what’s going to keep me there, with a letter or without it.”

The Sabres begin their season with a similar schedule to the Wings' sked--3 games played over the course of 4 nights, though their home opener's on Friday against Ottawa and they play in Pittsburgh on Saturday--and at present, it appears that the Sabres will ice the lineup listed on their website:

26 Thomas Vanek – 19 Cody Hodgson – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 63 Tyler Ennis – 23 Ville Leino
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 65 Brian Flynn
12 Kevin Porter – 8 Cody McCormick – 36 Patrick Kaleta
22 Johan Larsson – 32 John Scott

10 Christian Ehrhoff – 3 Mark Pysyk
20 Henrik Tallinder – 57 Tyler Myers
6 Mike Weber – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
4 Jamie McBain

30 Ryan Miller
1 Jhonas Enroth

No John Scott? Nope, at least based upon the Buffalo News's John Vogl's report from Tuesday's Sabres practice:

Rookie center Johan Larsson and enforcer John Scott skated as extra forwards in Tuesday’s practice and are good bets to be the Sabres’ healthy scratches up front tonight.

Winger Marcus Foligno has officially gone on injured reserve with what’s believed to be a shoulder strain and coach Ron Rolston said he’s unlikely to play this weekend, in either the home opener Friday against Ottawa or Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh.

Foligno skated in the early portion of Tuesday’s practice in a red (non-contact) jersey and then left the ice. The Sabres need him to be pretty much at 100 percent so he can play his normal physical game without worrying about his injury.

“He’s been going out and trying it and it’s not where it needs to be,” Rolston said.

The name Zemgus Girgensons should catch your eye if you were able to take in any of the Red Wings' prospect tournament games or coverage, because Girgensons was absolutely fantastic skating up and down the wing at Centre Ice Arena--where the Wings' prospects defeated Buffalo's prospects in the chammpionship game-and the 19-year-old Latvian's impressive preseason performance earned him a spot in the opening-night lineup, as Vogl noted on Monday:

There’s just something different about Zemgus Girgensons, something in his attitude and outlook that foretells of future promise. He proved it again Monday. Though Girgensons hadn’t officially been told he was on Buffalo Sabres’ roster, the signs were there. He practiced as a regular on a forward line. He was a key penalty killer during drills. Coaches typically don’t put spare pieces in such vital roles two days before the season opener.

Most 19-year-olds would be ecstatic, happy to have made it to the NHL in just their second professional season.

“For any young guy in this locker room, I don’t think there’s such a thing as ‘made it’ so far,” Girgensons said in First Niagara Center. “I think for the young guys, you have to make it every day. You have to make every day count. You’ve got to prove yourself every day to stay up here because any young guy can be sent down at any time.”

Girgensons’ play has matched the intensity of his words, a big reason he has, in fact, made the Sabres’ season-opening roster.

NHL teams needed to reach the 23-player maximum Monday evening, and the Sabres’ roster trimming lacked drama. Forward Marcus Foligno is still out with a sore shoulder, so he joined defenseman Nikita Zadorov (finger) and forwards Corey Tropp (jaw) and Joel Armia (hand) on the injured reserve list. The moves left the Sabres with 23 healthy players, and they kept them all rather than send a prospect to Rochester.

So it turns out that Tropp, who's from Grosse Pointe, and the prospect-tournament-starring Zadorov and Armia (Armia may have been better than Girgensons in my book) are the Sabres' injuries heading into tonight's game.

“We’ve been happy with where our young players are early on,” coach Ron Rolston said. “I think that’s been a good sign, just how they’ve fit in and acclimated into what we want to do, how they are in the room. They’re all guys that are hard-working players, and they want to be a part of things, and there’s a lot of respect that they have for the older guys. I would say that has been the pleasant surprise of camp.”

Unless you want to read Buffalo Hockey Beat's Hoppe's articles about the barely-sitting-out Johan Larsson (another prospect tournament star) or Ville Leino's desire to have a rebound season after yet another disappointing campaign, there really isn't much supplemental information heading into tonight's game given that it's the first for both teams.

NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale sets up tonight's game as follows...

Season series: While there isn't much of a history between the organizations, it's the third time the teams will face off in a season opener. Kris Draper and Tomas Holmstrom led the Wings to a 2-0 victory against Buffalo at Joe Louis Arena in 1999, and during the 1975-76 season the Sabres scored a 4-0 win at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. In the most recent meeting between the teams, Jan. 16, 2012, the Red Wings scored a 5-0 victory, the second win in two games against the Sabres that season.

Big story: The Red Wings begin play in the Eastern Conference with two additions -- Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson. The move into the Eastern time zone was music to the ears of players and coaches since the team will be playing the majority of its road games against teams in the same time zone. Detroit will play 14 games outside of the Eastern time zone this season, 15 fewer than it played in 2011-12.

...

Sabres [team scope]: One of the biggest talking points of the preseason was who coach Ron Rolston would have at center to begin the 2013-14 season. It appears as if Cody Hodgson will be the top-line center, with left wing Thomas Vanek. Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko played all seven preseason games in the middle while Cody McCormick served as center in the team's last few preseason games. Tyler Ennis was shifted to center two weeks ago and has been playing there ever since. Kevin Porter might also see significant time at center.

Red Wings [team scope]: The Red Wings lost four of their final five preseason games to finish 3-5 in September. The good news is that in the one victory during that stretch, Alfredsson earned his first preseason start and finished with a goal, an assist and four shots on goal. Alfredsson had missed the previous four games with a sore groin.

"I had some very good looks where I didn't bury it, but it feels good when you have the puck and you're playing on the offensive side more," Alfredsson told reporters after the game. "It gives you more energy, and I thought we had fun out there."

And the Associated Press's game preview adds some stats to the mix. Let's go with Sabres stats--and let's use these quips as the pivot point between the Sabres' and Red Wings' perspectives:

Coming off a 21-21-6 season during which longtime coach Lindy Ruff was fired in February and replaced by Ron Rolston, Buffalo hopes some youth will help lead to its first playoff appearance in three seasons.

...

[Sabres owner Terry] Pegula and Rolston hope the likes of 2012 first-round picks Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons will help improve a club that averaged 2.5 goals and ranked 29th on the power play, converting 14.1 percent. Grigorenko posted a goal and four assists in 25 contests last season.

Picked eighth overall in this year's draft, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who turns 19 at the end of the month, also is expected to be in the lineup Wednesday.

"You're probably not going to see the potential of our team unfold for a couple of months," Rolston said. "But everyone is excited about it. And everyone has expectations that we've got what we need here now."

Thomas Vanek recorded at least 25 goals in his previous seven seasons with the Sabres, then totaled 20 and 41 points in 38 games in 2013.

A free agent after this season, Ryan Miller hopes to improve after posting a 2.81 GAA - his highest in eight seasons as Buffalo's top goaltender. The Michigan native is 1-3-1 with a 3.81 GAA at Joe Louis Arena.

The Red Wings and Sabres' statuses as new division rivals was not lost upon Ryan Miller's brother, as DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose noted...

“Playing in the East and playing my brother a lot more is going to be great,” said Drew Miller, whose brother is Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. “I don’t see him much anymore because he lives in California during the summers, so the more I can see him during the season the better. It will not only be exciting for me and for him, but for our family and our friends who are around here.”

The Miller brothers have faced off a few times during their NHL careers, though the Wings’ forward is still seeking his first goal against the Sabres’ veteran.

“I got an assist on Helmer’s goal two years ago, Drew Miller said. “The goal this time is to get a couple more shots and get a goal passed him, and as always get a win for the team. You have to make it about your team and not about your brother.”

Now in the same division, the Red Wings and Sabres will play four times this season. But Wednesday’s opener will be extra special.

“There’s nothing like opening night at home versus your brother,” Drew said. “We have family and friends who want to coordinate tickets and a pass list and all of that kind of stuff. It will definitely be different having it on the first night, but I don’t think it changes anything. It’s always a little bit hectic when I play against him.”

And Roose noted the Wings' practice lineup...

The top three lines were intact at Tuesday’s practice. The fourth line featured Cory Emmerton at center with wingers Mikael Samuelsson and Miller.

Justin Abdelkader had been working at the net-front on the top power-play unit with Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and Alfredsson and Niklas Kronwall on the point. But Tuesday Johan Franzen joined the first unit as the net-front presence. Todd Bertuzzi replaced Franzen on the second unit during Tuesday’s practice.

Tomas Tatar, Jordin Tootoo (shoulder) and Helm all skated, but will not play against the Sabres. Tatar is expected to be a healthy scratch as it seems the coaches will go with veterans Bertuzzi and Samuelsson over the young forward.

As did MLive's Ansar Khan:

Here are the lines and defense pairings the Red Wings skated with on Tuesday:

Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Justin Abdelkader

Johan Franzen-Stephen Weiss-Daniel Alfredsson

Daniel Cleary-Joakim Andersson-Todd Bertuzzi

Drew Miller-Cory Emmerton-Mikael Samuelsson

Tomas Tatar and Jordin Tootoo and Darren Helm, both on injured reserve) are the extras.

Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson

Danny DeKeyser-Jakub Kindl

Kyle Quincey-Brendan Smith

Brian Ladhoff-Xavier Ouellet (extras)

Jimmy Howard

Jared Coreau

Ouellet and Coreau have been returned to Grand Rapids, and Petr Mrazek will back up Howard tonight.

Looking forward, Roose penned a slate of previews of the three games the Wings will play over the next four nights...

WEDNESDAY – vs. BUFFALO: Looks like the young Sabres will come to town with a trio of former first-round draft picks set to make their NHL debuts against the veteran-laden Red Wings. Center Mikhail Grigorenko (12th overall, 2012) and left wing Zemgus Girgensons (14th overall, 2012) skated Monday on a line with Brian Flynn, who has played a total of 26 NHL games. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (eighth overall, 2013) was paired with veteran Mike Weber at Monday’s practice. The 18-year-old Ristolainen, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 219-pounds, has a NHL-ready frame, similar to the Wings’ Danny DeKeyser, but four-years younger. … The Sabres moved Tyler Ennis back to the middle of a line with Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford. Coach Ron Rolston has said that Ennis wasn’t getting the puck enough on the wing. The move was made to get the former 20-goal scorer back on track.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Despite his struggles last season, goalie Ryan Miller, the older brother of Red Wings forward Drew Miller, still believes in his abilities and hopes to bounce back this season. The former Michigan State standout is in the final season of a five-year contract that has paid him $6.25 million per season. He can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Last season was brutal for the former Vezina Trophy winner, who finished with a 17-17-5 record. It was the first time since his rookie season in 2002-03 that he finished at or below .500. Pittsburgh (7-11-3), Ottawa (15-17-4), and the Red Wings (2-6-2) are the only Eastern Conference teams that Miller has posted a losing record against in his 10 NHL seasons.

FRIDAY – at CAROLINA: This is the season-opener for the Hurricanes, who have missed the playoffs in each of the last four seasons. They’ve been in the bottom third of the league in goals-allowed over the last four seasons, finishing 29th with a 3.31 goals per game last season. Yet the Hurricanes proved last season that they can score and do so in bunches with both Jiri Tlusty (22) and Eric Staal (18) finishing among the league’s top 20 goal-scorers. … Injuries have already plagued the Canes with forwards Alexander Semin (upper body) and Tuomo Ruuto (lower body) questionable for Friday’s opener, while third-line forward Jeff Skinner (lower body) is probable, and defenseman Tim Gleason (concussion) is out indefinitely.

...

SATURDAY – vs. BOSTON: The Bruins, who have been to the Stanley Cup finals twice in the last three years, are expected to be serious contenders against this season. Some significant changes have transformed the overall makeup of the team, however, the core remains intact with key figures Patrice Bergeron, David Krajci, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg still in the mix. The Bruins lost nine players to retirement, trade and free agency, while acquiring important pieces like Loui Eriksson (from Dallas) and Jarome Iginla (free agency). Eriksson is expected to slide onto Bergeron’s line with Brad Marchand.

But in terms of tonight's game, oddly enough, Tuesday's biggest "practice storyline" (and there were two practice posts) involved the fact that Cory Emmerton remains on the lineup despite having been waived to theoretically demote him and his $533,000 cap hit to Grand Rapids, as the Free Press's Helene St. James noted:

The Wings pegged Emmerton as expendable during the weekend, exposing him on waivers, where another team could have put in a claim by noon Monday. When Emmerton went untouched, plans were to send him to the minors.

Then, late in the afternoon, forward Patrick Eaves called general manager Ken Holland. Eaves said his sprained knee will keep him out at least three more weeks, making him eligible for long-term injured reserve. That created salary cap room to keep Emmerton in Detroit — but who knows for how long?

"He's going to be better this year than he was last year because he's stronger, and yet he's another guy — grab your piece," coach Mike Babcock said. "You don't want to play in the minors, you've got to grab your piece."

Emmerton said he doesn't think about the fact that he could be sent down at any moment, because what's the point? "I just want to play hockey," he said. "That's my focus. The rest of it will take care of itself. So long as you do what you can, personally, stuff has a way of figuring itself out."

For now, at least, Emmerton has a job centering Drew Miller and Mikael Samuelsson. That position could become precarious if Darren Helm shows signs of a comeback over the next three weeks. He, too, will start the season on LTIR. The Wings had an excess of three forwards heading into Monday's deadline to cut the roster to 23 and solved it by putting Helm and Eaves on LTIR and sending Gustav Nyquist, who didn't need to clear waivers, to the minors.

Being put on waivers Sunday "was a little surprising," Emmerton said, "just for the fact that we were down a centerman, but they were trying to figure out what to do."

Waiting to find out whether another team had interest wasn't easy. It can be demoralizing to discover not one of 29 teams wanted him, but at the same time, Emmerton knew the Wings were happy to keep him within the organization.

"I was torn, because you could end up anywhere, and you don't know the situation,” he said. “It could have been good or bad. But I'm happy to be here."

Emmerton told the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan that he wants to make the most of his time with the Wings, regardless of how long that might be...

"I worked even harder this summer to be ready and I have an opportunity to prove I can be -- should be -- on this team and help the team,” Emmerton said. “It’s up to me, and how I play, and it starts (Wednesday). I want to play hockey, that’s the only mindset I have. I’ve done everything I could to improve myself to become a better player and more useful, and now it’s just time to show it.”

Coach Mike Babcock expects Emmerton to contribute more this season given Emmerton’s work this past summer.

“He’s still in the growth part of his career and he’ll be better this year because he’s stronger than last year,” Babcock said. “But he’s another guy who, if you don’t want to play in the minors, you have to grab your piece (of the pie).”

And the pie-maker, if you will, spoke with Kulfan about not knowing the Sabres very well:

The last time the Sabres visited Joe Louis Arena was Jan. 16, 2012, when the teams were in opposite conferences – though Detroit and Buffalo are separated by just four hours. Now, they’re both in the Atlantic Division, though pretty much complete strangers currently.

“Until you play them yourself and see how you match up, you don’t know for sure,” Babcock said about how the teams compare.

The Red Wings did speak about the move East and their anticipation regarding the season to come, as MLive's Ansar Khan noted...

“It’s a lot of fun stuff, stuff you look forward to,'' captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “I actually think it’ll make the season a little easier. You won’t have some months where you’re just going through the motions.''

The Red Wings will be competing with Original Six rivals Boston, Montreal and Toronto, as well as Buffalo, Florida, Ottawa and Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division, following the NHL's realignment from six divisions to four. They will be playing the Maple Leafs in front of an expected world-record crowd in excess of 115,000 in the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

Half the lineup, potentially, could go to Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympics in February. It all starts Wednesday, when the Red Wings open the season against the Buffalo Sabres at Joe Louis Arena.

“Just going to the East, going to different cities and seeing different teams is going to be real exciting,'' Zetterberg said. “It’s not the same old thing. It feels new. You have extra energy, you want to go and play these new teams. It’s going to be easier to prepare for games.''

But the Red Wings also know that they've got to prove that they can get 'er done on the ice...

“We look good on paper, we have good depth; we have to execute on the ice,'' forward Daniel Cleary said. “I'm looking forward to playing these new teams more often. It'll be great for everybody, players and fans, just a different look.''

...

“This is a new opportunity,'' Babcock said. “Instead of one Original Six team (in their conference), we get to play against four others. The travel is going to be way better. Fans are going to see us earlier. When you put it all together it’s a positive thing.''

...

“I'm expecting with 10 games to go in the regular season we're going to be fighting with a whole lot of other teams to get in, fighting to be in the top four, fighting to win the division,'' general manager Ken Holland said. “I don't feel we're going to run away and hide and I don't feel teams are going to hide on us. It's important we get out of the gate and try to win six games out of every 10. I'm anticipating it's going to be a real photo finish in the East and the West to win the division, make the playoffs, get home ice.''

As Jimmy Howard told DetroitRedWings.com's Roose, this time of year always feels like the night before Christmas...But one never quite knows what presents he's earned:

“It's always a fun time of year,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “Pretty much all 30 teams think they have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup. There is that excitement, especially in this dressing room, seems to have a little bit of a hop in everyone's step, everyone seems energized. Looking forward to getting started and thankful we get to do it at home.”

Moving to the East will rekindle rivalries with old foes like the Maple Leafs and Canadiens while allowing travel will be much more conducive for extra player rest, opposed to playing in the Western Conference where the Wings were often required to cross three time zones.

“Those things are all exciting. I think change is exciting and you want to embrace it,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “This is a new opportunity for our team. Instead of one Original Six team we get to play against four others so that’s a positive, positive thing for us and the players really like that. The travel is going to be way better. Fans are going to get to see us easier and as coaches we’re going to get to pre-scout at seven at night instead of 10 at night which is kind of nice. When you put it all together it’s a positive thing.”

Pavel Datsyuk was in a good mood on Tuesday, and he also got cornered by the media, and when those two things come together, good quotes happen. The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness spoke with Datsyuk...

Even at age 35, Pavel Datsyuk is still one of the best two-way forwards in the league.

“Some days it hit me, but I don’t want to start thinking about age,” Datsyuk said. “I’m thinking about how I change my (driver’s license) to be younger.”

Datsyuk, who signed a three-year extension for $22.5 million this offseason, sits next to Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm in the locker room. Both are 26 years old.

“They keep me younger,” Datsyuk smiled. “Right now I’m like oldest player on the team.”

Datsyuk is actually the fourth oldest on the team, behind Daniel Alfredsson (40), Todd Bertuzzi (38) and Mikael Samuelsson (36).

“He’s not 20 anymore,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They’re still young enough I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Your window of opportunity as an athlete, if you’re going to be the main players, is only so long. That gets shorter. If you’re going to be a secondary or third-tier player you can do that until you’re 42. To be the main guys, driving the bus, time runs out. That’s just the way it is. That’s life.”

And the Free Press's St. James framed Datsyuk's enthusiasm within the context of season-opening anticipation and expectations:

[D]epth up front should reduce some of the wear and tear on Datsyuk and Zetterberg, though coach Mike Babcock pointed out the duo “need pressure on them, because that’s where all the fun is.”

Babcock has his concerns about the defense, mainly that the younger set like Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl continue the growth they showed last season. But at the very least, the Wings begin with a stability lacking last season, when a transition away from Lidstrom and Brad Stuart was exacerbated by a corps that changed personnel almost nightly.

The big change this season is location, as the move to the Eastern Conference will mean getting used to a bunch of teams the Wings haven’t played in 18 months.

“It’s funny,” Howard said. “We could sit here right now and probably go through everyone’s systems in the West without even going through video. It’s going to be a little bit of a new scenario, we’re going to be learning a lot on the go.”

There will be tendencies to learn, but that also holds true for the Eastern teams who now will see much more of the Wings. A primer on Datsyuk won’t be easy: Good luck deciphering when he’ll strike, slyly maneuvering the puck away from hapless opponents. Weiss, who has spent his entire career in the East, has been dazzled just watching Datsyuk practice.

“He makes everything look so easy, the way he can almost lose the puck but then just keep going,” Weiss said. “He’s pretty incredible.”

Datsyuk is, at 35, looking for a third Stanley Cup to add to the one he won as a rookie in 2002, followed by the 2008 championship. He’s under contract for four more years, and offsets aging with wit.

“I think about how I change passport to be younger,” Datsyuk said, smiling, before noting that since he sits between a pair of 26-year-olds in Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm: “Our average age is good. They keep me younger.”

And in that vein, while the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa's latest feature article falls into the, "part of a much longer article that is very much worth your time" category, I suppose that we may as well touch all the bases regarding the Wings' questions on defense (see: Danny DeKeyser, Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith, Kyle Quincey, Brian Lashoff)...

"Yeah, I guess we still are pretty young,” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “We’ve had a year under out belt with this crew, and I thought we made some pretty good strides. I just want to come in and play the exact same way. I just want to keep getting better, too. I hope to produce a little more offensively, and to help in that sense. But mostly just keep playing strong defensively and make sure I have to play defense first, and that will lead to offensive chances.”

As he anchored them and watched them develop, Kronwall provided a productive offensive season, considerable leadership and stoutness in the new top-two unit, with Jonathan Ericsson, whom Babcock credits with making enormous strides.

“I think we’re in a work in progress place,” Kronwall said. “I think the younger guys can take another step in their development this year. I think they did a great job stepping in. They got to play some big minutes already. They got a good feel for the playoffs, played into game sevens. So, they’re already very experienced at their young age and early in their career. I think they feel pretty comfortable, and now its just about working even harder and getting to the next level.”

The additions of Daniel Alfredsson, who missed part of the exhibition season with a sore groin, and Stephen Weiss, who's still adjusting to the Wings' puck possession system of play on offense and their man-on-man defensive scheme...

“I would have liked to play a couple of more,” [Alfredsson] said of the exhibition season. “But it is what it is, and you’ve got to be smart about things, especially now when you’ve got the time. It’s more about playing the right way. and once we do that — we feel comfortable in our roles, in what we do — I think we should be able to come and play without having to worry about where we are all of the time.”

The concern about Alfredsson and Weiss is that despite some considerable offensive accomplishments in their careers, both must now learn the Red Wings’ system while becoming accustomed to new team mates. For Weiss, the circumstances are even more difficult because a wrist injury that required surgery and limited his playing time to 17 games last season.

“But I’m feeling more comfortable with the systems every day, and I think the more games you get in the more comfortable you will be,” Weiss said. “Sometimes you’re thinking a little bit too much out there, where to be, what to do in terms of the system as opposed to just playing. But that’s to be expected, coming to a new team with new players, and getting to know your new line mates as well.

And the issue of physical play in the big, rough and tumble East, and especially the Atlantic Division, which the Wings aren't sure is necessarily so big and tough:

"We actually always thought there were some bigger, tougher teams in the West,” Weiss said, of his former teammates in Florida.

It does stand to reason the Red Wings will experience more situations like playing the gigantic and tough captain of the Bruins, Zdeno Chara, who performed a rare feat during an exhibition two weeks ago. Chara caught Datsyuk flush with a body-check along the sideboards in open ice. Datsyuk said he did not mind a clean check and suffered few if any ill effects. Moreover, he said, Chara is easy to spot. But, for Datsyuk, the obvious is acknowledged with a shrug.

“When you play with big guys, of course, you recognize they can crush you,” the 35-year-old Red Wings superstar said.

Alfredsson agreed while speaking with Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji (and again, Wakiji, Art Regner and Chris Osgood previewed the season online; FSD's half-hour season preview special will air at 6 PM on Friday, an hour before the Wings-Canes game starts, and at the same time on Saturday, prior to the Wings-Bruins game; it also airs at 12 PM EDT today):

"It’s tough to compare," said Daniel Alfredsson, who spent his entire career with the Ottawa Senators before coming to Detroit. "A lot of people think the East is more physical, and I thought the West was more physical. So I don’t know what’s true. It’s pretty even then, I guess. This team will do well in the East. It’s way better travel schedule, puck possession, a different style and a lot of teams haven’t seen them as much. Hopefully, especially early on when people haven’t scouted us as much, we can take advantage of that."

Babcock pointed out that the Wings have to learn 14 teams while the Eastern Conference teams need to learn only a couple, the Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Wings played Eastern Conference teams 18 times two seasons ago and went 10-7-1 in those games.

"I think we're gonna be fine," Babcock said. "That assessment on video, that's all fun. But the reality is, when you start playing them head to head is when you learn about them."

Let's knock the final subject off the "to-talk-about" list in hybrid icing, which the Wings are sold on. Maybe. Per St. James:

“I was against it,” forward Daniel Cleary said Tuesday. “I think it’s going to be a gray area in the linesman’s judgment. I think you either go straight to the Olympic icing situation, or you just keep it the way it was.”

In international hockey, the play is whistled dead as soon as a player shoots the puck out of his own half of the center line.

Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson voted in favor, saying “there’s a few times when you can get tripped or something, right by the goal line, and you’re coming with a lot of speed, so you can get injured pretty badly. I think it’s a good thing.”

Ericsson vocalized the reason behind the change: To cut down on injuries that can arise from players chasing the puck past the goal line. The Carolina Hurricanes, whom the Wings play Friday, are without defenseman Joni Pitkanen after he broke a heel on a touch-up icing in April.

Cleary put the onus on players to look out for one another, saying, “I know, as a forward, I would never go back and have incidental contact, of any sort. If I see he’s got a step-and-a-half on me, I let it go.”

I'd rather have some injury reduction than none--and I really like the fact that the hybrid icing rule also prevents teams from "burning clock" while not penalizing teams for making those "home-run" passes that are no longer waived off as "attainable," but what do I know? I'm no Don Cherry.

 

 

 

Red Wings notebooks: Red Wings GM Ken Holland, assistant GM Ryan Martin and "special assistant" Kris Draper spoke with the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association--thus the Tweetapalooza post--and, as the Detroit Free Press's Anthony Fenech noted, Holland defended the Wings' status as a team that isn't interested in carrying John Scotts or George Parroses...

“We’re sticking to what we believe in,” Holland said. “We’re going East, we’ve got to roll four lines — as long as you got players on your team that are physical, they don’t back off and they don’t change they way they play.”

The Wings open their Eastern Conference tenure tonight against Buffalo at Joe Louis Arena. Traditionally, the East has housed rough-riding teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins, teams not afraid to drop the gloves. Traditionally, the Wings haven’t carried those bruising bullies, instead focusing on putting the puck in the net.

“Nobody can change the way Henrik Zetterberg plays,” Holland said. “Nobody can change the way Pavel Datsyuk plays. That, to me, is toughness. Toughness is going into the hard areas time after time and you continue to go back and continue to win the battles. I don’t care how big, how tough, how hard those other teams are. If another team tries to deter you and ultimately you start to shy away, you’re not tough enough. We play hard and we play tough to protect the puck.”

The signings of centerman Stephen Weiss and veteran forward Daniel Alfredsson were made in part to strengthen the team’s secondary scoring.

“We’ve always liked four lines that can score and I think in a league where it’s hard to score, to eliminate your fourth lines and put two tough guys that are one-dimensional guys and they can fight, that’s great, but it’s too hard to get goals,” Holland said.

Joined on stage by assistant general manager Ryan Martin and former Wing turned front-office member Kris Draper, Holland shed light on the Wings’ developmental system.

“The plan is one of patience,” he said. “One that older players mentor other players and we’ve got to believe in the culture, in the history of the city, the ownership, those are the things we got to believe in.”

Though Holland did speak about the team's youth movement, as noted by the Detroit News's Krupa:

“Through the years, we’ve been a team in transition with lots of stars that have retired,” Holland said. “And we’re doing a great job of drafting and developing. Our kids stepped up and did a great job, last year. With the development of some of our kids down the stretch we were in a must-win situation probably the last four, or five, or six games. And we won our last four in a row. We’re a team that’s evolving.”

Scoring is a concern this year, and Holland attributed some of the power outage last season to the loss of Darren Helm, Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson to injury for all but a handful of games.

“Those guys are pros, and they know how to be pros,” Holland said. “And the younger guys are still learning how to be pros.”

That said, he credited Tomas Tatar, who is on the 2013 roster at the start of the season but still having difficulty cracking the starting lineup, and Gustav Nyquist, who was sent to Grand Rapids again, with good performances last season. But this summer, Holland and his staff went hunting for more veteran talent and they hope they accomplished the overall goal of improving the offense.

“So we went out and we obviously signed Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson,” he said. “We’re hoping that with good luck with Helm and with the good moves that we made that we’ll score a little more, and that our young defensemen can play as well as they did last year, and we can have a good year.” But lots has to happen.”

As for the whole trading extra bodies issue?

Meanwhile, the placement of Helm and Patrick Eaves on the long term injured list merely postpones some further personnel decisions, Holland said. He has said previously that he continues to talk to other general managers about trade possibilities.

I'm sticking this stuff in the "notebook" department, but the Detroit News posted a "Meet the Wings" photo gallery (Ted Kulfan penned the captions and David Guralnick took most of the photos), a list of writers' Wings predictions, and talk about the Wings' move East from Ted Kulfan...

Wait, stay with me here, he actually penned some new stuff,  and it's important:

Along with realignment — the East has two eight-team division, the West has two seven-team divisions — scheduling and the playoff format changed as well. The Red Wings play 30 games within the Atlantic and 24 against the teams in the Metropolitan. They’ll also play 28 games — one home and away — against every team in the West.

“There are some good rivalries we’ve established against teams in the West,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.

As for the playoffs ... There still will be 16 teams, eight in each conference, but there’s a wild-card element included.

The top three teams in each division qualify automatically. From there, the remaining two spots in each conference will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers based on regular-season points and regardless of division. So it’s possible for one division to send five teams to the postseason.

The new alignment and playoff format will exist for a minimum of three seasons, through the 2015-16 season, at which point the league and Players Association will reassess.

The things the Red Wings will miss most about the West? Sunshine, most of all.

“I’m going to miss a lot of those cities,” Abdelkader said. “There are some great cities. The California trips. Going out to western Canada, those are usually good trips. Going to miss Phoenix.”

As you already know, however, the whole, "Not having to play a West Coast team in the first or second round of the playoffs" part makes up for quite a bit.

For the record, the Buffalo News's John Vogl wrote an article about each and every NHL city, and here's what he had to say about the hockey fan who may want to take in a game at the Joe:

Detroit

What to do: The Detroit People Mover is an elevated rail that carries riders across the landscape through the city’s different neighborhoods.

What to eat: Fishbone’s in Greektown is an eclectic fusion of New Orleans specialties and fresh sushi. Not many places are equally adept at creating andouille sausage and California rolls.

Arena experience: Possibly the coolest moment of my career was walking through the Gordie Howe Entrance and seeing Gordie Howe on the other side.

Given what so many say about Detroit and the Joe, that's downright rosy.

I'm kind of getting tired of all these damn season previews and predictions, but Inside Hockey's Tom Stanek wrote a fine Wings preview, I refuse to post Mike Milbury and Keith Jones' Atlantic Division preview video in my blog (even though they're quite positive), the New York Daily News's Pat Leonard believes that the Wings will be a "thorn in the side" of every Atlantic Division team, and yes, the Sporting News's Sean Gentile, this storyline will be the oldest and tiredest Wings line save their age:

Detroit Red Wings: It'd be one thing if Daniel Alfredsson left the Ottawa Senators for a random Western Conference team. He didn't—he split for a new division rival. They play each other four times and potentially in the playoffs. Get ready.

 

In the prospect department: In Sweden, Mattias Backman didn't register a point in Linkopings HC's 3-1 loss to Orebo;

In the QMJHL, Phillipe Hudon scored the game-tying goal in the Victoriaville Tigres' 2-1 win over Chicoutimi;

In the WHL, Marc McNulty didn't register a point but finished at +1 in the Prince George Cougars' 2-0 win over Victoria;

And if you haven't been paying attention, RedWingsCentral notes that Anthony Mantha's having a fine time in the Q after a successful prospect tournament:

Mantha, back in the QMJHL as a 19-year-old after participating in training camp and one pre-season game with the Detroit Red Wings, has terrorized opponents of the Val-d’Or Foreurs through five games since his demotion, recording eight goals and six assists for a league-leading 14 points.

Scoring is nothing new for Mantha, who the Red Wings selected in the first round (20th overall) after watching him claim the QMJHL’s goal-scoring crown with a 50-goal campaign.

But what the Red Wings want to see along with his 6-foot-4 frame and James Neal-esque scoring savvy is more competitiveness and a better-rounded game.

...

Mantha, who is eligible to play in the AHL in 2014-15, was the only junior-aged Red Wings prospect to play in the NHL pre-season. He is the frontrunner to win the QMJHL scoring title — although Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Jonathan Drouin will have something to say about that — but perhaps the biggest step forward he can make will be to crack Canada’s world junior team.

 

In the Blatant Plugs and Stuff department (perhaps this will be a new thing), part 1:

Part 2: The Grand Rapids Griffins want you to take part in the 6th Annual MacKenzie's Pups and Pucks Walkathon on Monday, October 14th, per their Facebook page:

Come join the 2013-14 season Grand Rapids Griffins players and coaches at the 6th Annual Pups and Pucks Fall Walk-a-thon, benefiting our furry friends at Mackenzie's Animal Sanctuary!

Visit http://www.firstgiving.com/mackenzies/PupsandPucks to donate or for more information.

At the walk-a-thon, you and your family (four-legged friends too) can join the team by walking in an effort to raise awareness for abused, abandoned and neglected dogs. After the walk, join the fun and enjoy a variety of family-friendly activities including: Hay Rides, Petting Zoo, Arts and Crafts, a Pet-friendly Marketplace and so much more!

The Grand Rapids Griffins made a commitment to the betterment of our local animal community by partnering with Mackenzie’s Animal Sanctuary, the largest no-kill Sanctuary in the Midwest, dedicated to finding homes for abused, abandoned and neglected dogs.

And part 3, per DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose:

During the mid-1990s it wasn’t unusual to see Dino Ciccarelli and some of his Red Wings’ teammates at the Post Bar following a victory.

For hockey fans, one of the oldest bars in downtown Detroit was the epicenter for fun with many Wings among the regulars at the tavern located at 408 West Congress Street. The eclectic crowds used to fill every crevice of the long, narrow bar standing shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip from the front door to the bathrooms in the back.

Heck, the Stanley Cup was even known to drop in at the graffiti-laden bar back then too.

But that was years ago, before the place was mothballed. Now, Ciccarelli is resurrecting it.

Ciccarelli’s Sports Bar will be an ideal spot of hockey fans before and after Wings’ home games. They will be open at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, four-hours before the Wings host the Buffalo Sabres in the season-opening game for both NHL clubs.

The Hockey Hall of Famer, who already owns a bar in Shelby Township, recently purchased the Post Bar and one of its sister locations, near the Palace of Auburn Hills.

“We’ll be open for the Red Wings’ home-opener,” said Ciccarelli, of the downtown establishment that is walking-distance to Joe Louis Arena. “It’ll be an exciting day for sure.”

Part 4: I will not be around for the morning skate (I must ferry the mom to a doctor's appointment, Paul will cover the big stuff), but if you're around, Mickey Redmond's going to do a Q and A with Mike Babcock:

 

 

 

Also of Red Wings-related note: I can't make this stuff up, per the Los Angeles Times' Helene Elliott...

This has been a big year for figure skater Charlie White. First, he and his partner, Meryl Davis, who two years ago became the first American duo to win a world ice dancing championship, won another world title and established themselves as the ice dance favorites at the Sochi Olympics. No American couple has ever won an Olympic ice dance gold medal, so a triumph in Sochi would be a historic achievement for Davis and White, who won
silver at Vancouver in 2010.

Almost as important, White saw his beloved Detroit Red Wings move from the NHL’s Western Conference to the East, which means that most Red Wings telecasts will be aired at a time that better suits White’s training schedule. White, who played hockey when he was younger, trains with Davis in Canton, Mich.

“It was always the biggest pain for me to try and stay up late during the playoffs, when the Wings would play Anaheim or San Jose. And I have to get up early and train the next day, so I’d usually have to fall asleep halfway through,” White said Tuesday during the Team USA Media Summit. “I think the way they balance it out is nice. Obviously, losing the rivalry with Chicago is too bad but we’ll be with Toronto. Original Six. We’ll have a good rivalry.”

And I guess I get what I look for. I was poking around Swedish and Slovak-language websites, and wouldn't you know it, Henrik Zetterberg had a chat with ST.nu's Eric Westlund. Aside from saying that his team looks good on paper, and that he hasn't played with Daniel Alfredsson, here's a super "quick and dirty" translation of his interview:

"It's nice that the preseason is over and we can begin. It's always fun at the start and it's important to get off to a good one," says Zetterberg.

You had a rough start last season. What are your thought about that?

"We know it's important to earn points at the beginning because it's difficult to pick them up at the end. At the end of the year, when you look at the teams that are in the playoffs, you'll often see that it looks as it does after 20 games. It's incredibly important and it can be difficult to make up five or six points," says Zetterberg.

It's your 11th season in Detroit, how's this year's team as compared to the last one?

"It's always difficult to compare teams, but if I were to compare it to last year, we're deeper now."

Do you have a team that can win the Stanley Cup?

"I think we have a good mix of old and young and a very good set of forwards. Now the team is more like it was when we played in the final two straight years. We've got third and fourth lines that can score goals as well, and that's good because we haven't scored enough goals during recent seasons."

How does your body feel?

"I played in five of the eight preseason games and it was planned that way. I felt good and I didn't have any injuries. It'll be good to go into the season intact."

Aftonbladet's Per Bjurman predicts that you'll win the Stanley Cup and earn the Hart Trophy. What do you think?

"You could say that there's a greater chance that we'd win the Stanley Cup than I'd earn a Hart Trophy, anyway. We're one of the teams that will be there at the end, but there are many more teams that can win now than there were when I came into the league a decade ago."

What do you think about being in the Eastern Conference this year?

"It looks good. I'm looking forward to playing against teams that we haven't met so often in the past, like Boston, Montreal and New York's team. Now we get to play most of our games in our time zone. It can wear on your body to take those long flights. Now most of our flights will be under two hours. It'll be interesting to see how it feels after 82 games."

There are many games this season with the regular season, Olympics and playoffs...

"It's a very special year, and it's always special when it's an Olympic year. But you have to focus and put aside your own motivation, and there are 60 games to play before that," says Zetterberg. "There's not that much talk about it. The focus is on the team now, and most have already played in an Olympics. When the team is playing after Christmas there will certainly be more focus on it."

There's been a bankruptcy and crisis in Detroit this summer. How do you view it?

"I haven't noticed that much of it. Had the city gone bankrupt four or five years ago, I would've understood, but now I think it's on the rise again. Businesses are moving here and they're building infrastructure. But perhaps the bankruptcy was necessary for aturnaround. Anyway, there's much that's positive now."

Has it affected hockey?

"Attendance-wise, we haven't noticed any decline over the last couple of years. People come and watch sports anyway. Perhaps it might be that it's an escape from everyday life as well. But if you ask the marketing department, you might get a different answer."

Your grandfather, former Njurunda pro Bernt Zetterberg, passed away this summer. What did he mean to you?

"It's obvious that he meant a lot to me. Most of Njurunda also knows who he was and what he was like as a person," says Zata, and he continues: "It was hard when he passed away, and it was a hard summer for the family. I still managed to see him a few final times when I was at home, and at the funeral before I went back to Detroit."

Did he used to come over and watch some games?

"No, he didn't want to come over and watch games because he was so afraid that I would get hurt, but he was cocky and proud. He read the newspapers and still had a good handle on how things went. You couldn't fool him and say you had a good game when it went badly."

It's a novelty in Swedish ice hockey that Leksands IF is back in the Eliteserien, what do you think about that?

"It's a landmark team that's there, so of course this is fun. The whole countryside lives with Leksand, so it's great that they have a team in the top league. I played with Gabriel Karlsson in particular so I will definitely remember the games against Leksand in the qualification games. It was fun to go down there and play with Timra IK. They have great fans and weoften had many supporters with us, but it was a tough bus ride there."

Update: I will let you enjoy NHL.com's Dan Rosen discussing the Jimmy Howard vs. Ryan Miller "Rivalry Night" battle on your own, and it's simply too late (I have to get up in 5 hours) for me to translate Expressen's Gunnar Nordstrom's interview with Zetterberg (via RedWingsFeed). Sorry.

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Comments

cowboycoffee's avatar

Go Wings!

Posted by cowboycoffee from San Francisco, CA on 10/02/13 at 05:00 AM ET

Avatar

Hi people. I bought half season tickets so I could get Winter Classic and Alumni game tickets since we are coming over for it. Leaves me holding a whole bunch of single game tickets I obviously cannot use. Happy to sell them down at a discounted rate. Have an opening night ticket going cheap. Section 218b. Enquire within.

Checked with George before posting, he is ok with it.

Thanks

Posted by redwingsdownunder on 10/02/13 at 07:44 AM ET

w2j2's avatar

It will be interesting playing against Ville Leino.  He will likely be motivated to score on the Wings.
I think it is crazy to have Tatar on the bench and Gus in Grand Rapids.  Both of them are better than Samuelsson & Bertuzzi.

Posted by w2j2 on 10/02/13 at 10:35 AM 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.