The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/04/14 at 03:49 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings continue a stretch of 3 games in 4 nights (technically speaking, the season ends with 6 games in 10 nights) as they battle the Buffalo Sabres this evening (7:30 PM, FSD Plus/MSG-B/97.1 FM; the ice at the Joe may be sketchy as we're supposed to have thunderstorms today), and the Wings were done no favors in terms of the out-of-town scoreboard on Thursday evening, as DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose and the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa noted:
In plainer English, the Leafs ain't dead after defeating Boston 2-1 in OT (though they lost Jonathan Bernier in the process), those Damn Blue Jackets beat Philly 2-1, and now the Wild Card standings look like this:
As the Leafs have only 4 games remaining to 6 for Detroit, Columbus and Washigton, they'd essentially have to win out to make the playoffs, but beating Boston (thanks, Bruins) lifted them up off the mat; Columbus would face Boston in the 1st round, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, and, by the way, the Wings' opponent for tonight lost 2-1 to the St. Louis Blues...
And now Friday's schedule becomes very important for the Wings, as Roose suggested, because each and every one of these games matter (per ESPN):
1. Montreal plays in Ottawa, so at least the Wings' opponent for Saturday night will have also also played on Friday;
2. The Wings could REALLY use an assist from Chicago given that Columbus has more total wins (39 vs. 36) and regulation-or-OT wins (34 vs. 31) than Detroit;
3. If the Devils beat the Capitals, suddenly the Devils' playoff chances are alive again, though their wins and ROWs (31 and 32) aren't terrifying, and if Washington wins (34 wins, 25 ROWs), all of a sudden, both Detroit and Columbus are looking at a Capitals team that could conceivably catch up with 'em;
4. While the Sabres sit last in the Eastern Conference with 46 points and a 21-46-and-9 record, the Sabres can have a large say as to whether the Wings make the playoffs.
Detroit hosts Buffalo this evening and will head to Buffalo on Tuesday (next week's sked: @ Buffalo on Tuesday, April 8; @ Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 9; home vs. Carolina on Friday, April 11; and @ St. Louis on Sunday, April 13), with Buffalo playing in Philly on Sunday, and something tells me that the Sabres would like to do nothing more than spoil the Wings' spring.
I don't know if you remember, but the Wings defeated Buffalo 2-1 during the home opener, waaaaaay back on October 2nd, and the Wings beat Buffalo 3-1 on November 25th (the Monday of Thanksgiving week).
These games are the 3rd and 4th meetings between Buffalo and Detroit as division rivals, but Buffalo's a very different team minus Thomas Vanek, Steve Ott and Ryan Miller, with Matt Moulson in tow and having recalled Mikhail Grigorenko and Joel Armia from the AHL's Rochester Americans. They're younger, leaner, and
In terms of the Sabres' situation heading into tonight's game, after defeating the Devils on Tuesday, Buffalo had a bit of a rough outing against the Ryan Miller-less Blues: the Buffalo News's Mike Harrington reports that the Sabres lost forward Marcus Foligno's services; highly-heralded defenseman Mike McCabe also suffered some cramps in his NHL debut, but WGR 550's Dan Cave reports that the game's result was somewhat predictable:
The Blues set a new franchise mark with 52 wins on Thursday, beating the Sabres 2-1. Cody Hodgson scored Buffalo's lone goal -- a late power play tally -- and Nathan Lieuwen stopped 26 shots in the loss.
The Blues opened the scoring about two minutes into the second period on Maxim Lapierre's eighth goal of the season. The St. Louis forward let a shot rip from the slot and beat Lieuwen to put St. Louis ahead 1-0. Brenden Morrow made it 2-0 with just 1:52 remaining in regulation. Morrow was credited with the goal after his rebound attempt slid over the goalline following a scramble in front of the net.
Cody Hodgson's power play goal less than a minute later cut the deficit in half, but the Blues held on for the win. Elliott made 24 saves in the victory, getting the start over Ryan Miller. Former Sabres captain Steve Ott was held to just one shot on net with zero hits. Derek Roy registered two shots over 13:52 of ice time.
The Blues assisted to the Associated Press that they managed to earn a close win over a spoiler team...
"It was a trap game for us," St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You want the game to be easier. We're trying to get through the game without putting much investment into it and you end up with games like this.This is when you need your goalie. I've been around Brian for three years. This is the best I've ever seen him play. He's playing terrific."
[Maxim] Lapierre scored his eighth goal of the season at 1:59 of the second period, giving St. Louis a 1-0 lead. Parked in the slot, Lapierre took a pass from Ryan Reaves and sent a wrist shot past Buffalo goalie Nathan Lieuwen, who was making his sixth career start.
And as you might imagine, the Sabres are doing a lot of "learning" right now, so keeping the game close was a big positive for Buffalo...
"We can definitely look at our mistakes and see where we can get better," Lieuwen said. "We could have definitely taken this game to overtime and given them a run for their money. They're really good, especially in front of the net. They're a very good team."
Buffalo's Cody Hodgson cut the Blues' lead to 2-1 with his 18th goal at 19:04. He took a pass from Tyler Ennis and one-timed it past Elliott.
The Sabres are pretty banged up...
Ryan Miller, St. Louis' No. 1 goalie, got the night off after shutting out Philadelphia on Tuesday. Miller and Steve Ott, who was Buffalo's captain, came to St. Louis on March 1 in a trade that sent goaltender Jaroslav Halak and forward Chris Stewart to the Sabres. Buffalo then dealt Halak to Washington. Stewart played two games with the Sabres before sustaining a lower-body injury that likely will keep him out for the remainder of the season.
Sitting out for Buffalo was D Tyler Myers, and G Michal Neuvirth, both with lower-body injuries.
But the Sabres really did give the Blues a test, as NHL.com's Louie Korac noted:
Brenden Morrow also scored for the Blues, knocking in a rebound with 1:52 left in regulation after Nathan Lieuwen made a sprawling save on Vladimir Sobotka in the slot to make it 2-0. That goal proved to be the winner when the Sabres (21-46-9) got a power-play goal from Cody Hodgson with 55.1 remaining to break [Brian] Elliott's shutout and scoreless string of 169:03.
"We had a number of chances, and good teams don't rely on just one goaltender," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "They have a couple and Elliott stood tall when he needed to be there and he made some key saves when he needed to. He was very good."
Lieuwen finished with 26 saves in his sixth NHL start.
"Considering that's the best team in the League right there, that's a heck of an effort," Lieuwen said. "I thought we were right there with them and I thought we definitely could have taken this game to overtime."
The Sabres, already decimated with injuries, lost left wing Marcus Foligno 1:58 into the game when he fell awkwardly on his right leg in the slot by the Blues' goal. He lay on the ice in pain, had to be helped off and did not return.
"It's not as bad as we think, but he's going to be out for probably the rest of the year," Nolan said of Foligno.
The Buffalo News's Harrington reports that Nolan was pleased with the rookie McCabe's debut while offering more lineup news in his recap...
“I liked him,” said coach Ted Nolan. “He got a little tight at the end, probably nervous, but he played well for his first game. To come into the National Hockey League and playing against arguably one of the best teams in the league, it was a good first impression.”
The Sabres played most of the game a man short after Marcus Foligno left just 1:58 into the contest with what looked like a severe right knee injury following a collision in front of the Blues’ net. Nolan said the injury is “not as ‘bad bad’ as we think” but that Foligno would miss the final six games.
Henrik Tallinder (lower body) and Drew Stafford (undisclosed) also missed this one, and Nolan is pessimistic about Stafford playing tonight, when the Sabres meet the Detroit Red Wings in Joe Louis Arena. A forward may be recalled from Rochester.
The good news there is that the Grand Rapids Griffins play the Amerks on a regular basis, so Sheahan, Jurco, Glendening, Nyquist, Nyquist, Kindl, Lashoff and Smith should have a pretty good idea of who they're playing, especially as Sheahan and Jurco were the players who led the Wings' prospects to their first prospect tournament win last September.
It was a good effort by the Sabres against a St. Louis team that’s tied with Boston for the Presidents’ Trophy and won its franchise-record 52nd game. St. Louis got goals from Maxim Lapierre at 1:59 of the second period and Brenden Morrow at 18:08 of the third as Nathan Lieuwen made 26 saves in the Buffalo net.
Cody Hodgson scored on a power play for the Sabres at 19:04 to snap Brian Elliott’s shutout and the Sabres pressed for the equalizer but couldn’t produce it.
McCabe, the franchise-record 44th player to suit up for the Sabres this season, is almost certain to get a long look over the final six games. He was drafted under the Darcy Regier regime, but new General Manager Tim Murray is certainly high on him as well.
44 players...That's more than the Wings' 36...
And if the Sabres didn't have enough motivation to spoil the Wings' season on their own, Harrington reports that former Plymouth Whalers goalie Matt Hackett will start tonight:
Nolan said Matt Hackett will play goal for the Sabres tonight in Detroit, and Hackett will be greeted by the return of one of the NHL’s top playmakers.
Pavel Datsyuk will play for the Red Wings, ending a five-week absence nursing a left knee that has nagged him since December. Veteran Daniel Alfredsson (back), who hasn’t skated in four days, will try this morning and could also return.
Prior to the game, NHL.com's Korac had the Sabres icing the following lineup...
Cody Hodgson - Zemgus Girgensons - Brian Flynn
Ville Leino - Tyler Ennis - Nicolas Deslauriers
Marcus Foligno - Johan Larsson - Matt D'Agostini
Cory Conacher - Matt Ellis - John Scott
Christian Ehrhoff - Rasmus Ristolainen
Mike Weber - Chad Ruhwedel
Jake McCabe - Jamie McBain
Injured: Drew Stafford (undisclosed), Henrik Tallinder (lower body), Kevin Porter (lower body), Chris Stewart (ankle), Alexander Sulzer (upper body), Michal Neuvirth (lower body), Jhonas Enroth (lower body), Torrey Mitchell (undisclosed), Tyler Myers (midsection), Zenon Konopka (back)
Regarding all of those injuries, I don't know about you, but I tend to worry about the Wings' players assuming that they don't have to play as hard when they're battling a banged-up opponent--let's just say that the team has a crappy habit of "playing down" to its competition--so in its own way, with the Wings beginning a stretch of 4 games in 6 nights and 2, I worry that the Sabres games will be the "let-downs" preceding the Habs and Pens games.
If you wish to read more Sabres injury news or watch pre-game videos, BuffaloSabres.com's Chris Rydnak posited a superb "Morning Skate" blog entry, but this isn't a Sabres blog, so let's move on.
NHL.com's Mike Battalgio penned a balanced game preview...
Sabres [team scope]: Buffalo lost 2-1 at the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, starting a stretch of six straight games against likely Stanley Cup Playoff participants.
Defenseman Jake McCabe, who signed Wednesday, made his NHL debut, the 44th player to get in a game for Buffalo this season, a Sabres record.
"I've just been here for a couple weeks, but it's been up and down," forward Nicolas Deslauriers, who made his NHL debut March 7, told MSG Network. "A lot of guys are coming in. Everybody's just trying to pitch in, and I think everybody's doing a good job."
If the Sabres do not win out, they will have their fewest wins in a full season since they were 16-43-19 (ties) in 1971-72, their second in the NHL. Buffalo was 27-45-10 in 2002-03.
Red Wings [team scope]: Datsyuk is likely to play wing on a line with two players who recently returned from injury: Darren Helm (concussion) and Justin Abdelkader (finger).
Who's hot: Sabres forward Tyler Ennis has three points in the past two games. Forward Cody Hodgson has a three-game point streak, and forward Ville Leino has an assist in two straight. … Nyquist has a three-game goal streak after a six-game streak ended; he has 12 goals in that span, 28 for the season. Forward Tomas Tatar has four two-point games in the past six. Legwand has three points in the past two games. Goalie Jimmy Howard has a .935 save percentage winning his past two starts.
Injury report: Sabres forward Marcus Foligno (lower body) was injured on his first shift Thursday and did not return. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder (lower body) did not play. Forward Chris Stewart (ankle) skated with the team and may play again this season. Forwards Torrey Mitchell (undisclosed), Kevin Porter (lower body), Drew Stafford (undisclosed) and Zenon Konopka (back), defensemen Alexander Sulzer (upper body) and Tyler Myers (midsection) and goalies Michal Neuvirth (lower body) and Jhonas Enroth (lower body) are out. … Red Wings forward Daniel Alfredsson (back) stayed off the ice for a fourth consecutive day, but Babcock said he may be available. Forwards Daniel Cleary (knee), Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder), Stephen Weiss (hernia) and Henrik Zetterberg (back) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (finger fracture) are out.
Nyquist has scored 12 times in his last 10 games - the most by any player this season in a 10-game stretch - and has a league-high 23 goals since Jan. 20.
Suddenly, he's a big part of opponents' scouting report and they still can't seem to slow him down.
"When a guy is that hot, you want to be aware of him and finish when you can on him," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. "You have to know where he is because he's a very skilled player with a lot of speed. He's a threat, for sure."
Nyquist didn't have a point in either of the Red Wings' two matchups with Buffalo this season - he was in the minors for the first one - but Detroit won both to extend its win streak in this series to six.
The Red Wings are 21-2-1 with one tie in the past 25 meetings, including 12-0-1 in Detroit. The Sabres' only win there in that span came in 2006 and they haven't had a regulation victory at Joe Louis Arena since March 6, 1994.
While the Red Wings have won three straight, the Sabres have dropped five of six after a 2-1 loss at Western Conference-leading St. Louis on Thursday.
As you know by now, the big news on Thursday involved Pavel Datsyuk's highly probable return, and the positive barometer regarding said return given his demeanor, per Fox Sports Detroit...
And the Free Press's Helene St. James:
Datsyuk's linemate, Darren Helm, also spoke with the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...
As did coach Mike Babcock:
As Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji noted, the Wings' biggest worry involves falling into "superstar syndrome" (and Wakiji confirmed that Howard will start tonight):
"I expect him to be one of the best players in the world," Babcock said. "(He) has an ability to change the game. In saying that, we can't stand around watching him play. We've been doing it without him and we've got to continue to make sure we're doing our part. We've got to guard against saying, 'Oh, Pav's gonna look after it.' He isn't gonna look after it, we gotta look after it as a group."
Babcock made that clear to his team.
"Everyone has to keep doing what they've been doing and keep doing their job out there," Gustav Nyquist said. "Pav is going to help but he can't do it just all by himself, it's got to be a team effort out there so everyone's got to chip in. It's gonna be nice to have him back."
Babcock said Datsyuk's ice time would be determined by how he looks during the game.
"He knows how to play, so he knows how to play with and without the puck," Babcock said. "When he gets his hands on it, he's gonna be good with it. Without it, he knows how to play. I'm not sure how much pace he'll have, I don't know that for sure. We didn't do a lot of pace stuff today, just because the other guys, just the amount of games we're playing. I saw him out there battling after practice. If it appears he's ready and feels confident, then I'm sure he is."
Babcock is also very wary of the Sabres, as he and Gustav Nyquist told Wakiji...
"It's so tight in this league," Nyquist said. "We beat the best team in the league (Wednesday). Everyone can win on any given night in this league, the teams are so close. They're going to be a challenge for us. They're a good team so we gotta be ready."
Babcock said he watched the Sabres play the New Jersey Devils the other night and planned to watch their game against the St. Louis Blues.
"I just thought they skated good, their back end was pretty active," Babcock said. "I liked how they played. Anytime you're putting on an NHL sweater, you're an NHL player and you're going to come out here and play hard and if you don't respect the opposition, it usually doesn't turn out very well for you."
And the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan--and while this quote is only slightly different, the difference is worth the repetition:
"They have kids who are playing real hard," Babcock said. "All we have to do is look around our room -- nobody knows the names on our team, either. We have to play hard. I like how they (the Sabres) play. Anytime you put on an NHL sweater, you're an NHL player and you'll come out and play hard. If you don't respect the opposition, it usually don't work out very well for you."
Good point about the Wings' cast of thousands.
Kulfan also noted that Datsyuk will play alongside Helm and the human log analog that is Justin Abdelkader...
"He's a guy we need," Helm said. "He slows the game down and plays with so much poise. He backs the other team's defense. He's going to be a good help on the power play. He doesn't yap at you, he just wants you to play your game. You can get distracted with how skilled he is. I'm just going to try and play the same way I have."
Datsyuk was shut down by the team March 5, given three weeks to rehabilitate and rest, and it's apparently worked. Conditioning has been more of a factor in recent days than any sort of pain or discomfort.
"It definitely helped, I feel improved now," Datsyuk said. "I feel much better. The knee doesn't bother me like before."
Playing on a wing with Abdelkader and Helm, Datsyuk won't have to skate as much and he's likely to utilize their speed. Although Datsyuk isn't sure what the younger and speedier Helm and Abdelkader are thinking about lugging around Datsyuk.
"I don't know if his (Helm's) speed helps me; he looks at me (as an) old, slow guy," Datsyuk said. "They play with confidence, they have speed, power. And they sit on (either) side of me (in the locker room), so when I need water they can bring it to me."
The Macomb Daily's Pleiness noted that Helm's hoping to break through a little bit as more than just a water boy...
Helm has also missed considerable amount of time this season due to numerous injuries and Abdelkader just returned from a leg laceration.
“It’s going to be kind of a fresh start,” Helm smiled. “I’m kind of fresh, he’s kind of fresh and Abby is kind of fresh so it’ll be a pretty interesting line out there.”
The team has played much of the season without Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg together.
“Things are rolling along right now and hopefully things will continue to roll with him back in the lineup,” Helm said. “I can’t see anything changing. He’s one of the elite players in the league and all he’s going to do is help.”
While the Free Press's St. James noted the Datsyukian bottom line...
Datsyuk hasn’t played since Feb. 27, two games after he dazzled for Russia at the Sochi Games. It should encourage teammates — and discourage opponents — that Datsyuk judged himself to “feel much better now” than he did at the Olympics. “Knee is not really bothering me, not like before. It was really bad before. I feel I can push now,” he said.
Datsyuk said he’d start out with short shifts in his first game back. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to play in a back-to-back right away, as the Wings are at Montreal Saturday.
“Long time don’t play, so now I play one game and we see,” Datsyuk said. “I hope I play all games left.”
And Babcock told MLive's Ansar Khan that he thinks Datsyuk will be OK:
“He knows how to play with and without the puck,” Babcock said. “When he gets his hands on it, he’s going to be good with it. I’m not sure how much pace he’ll have. We didn’t do a lot of pace stuff today, just because the amount of games we’re playing. I saw him out there battling after practice. If it appears he’s ready and feels confident, then I’m sure he is.”
Khan took note of the forward lines in practice (the defensive corps remains Kronwall-Smith, Quincey-DeKeyser and the Kindl-Lashoff Defensive Mistake in Progress)...
Gustav Nyquist-David Legwand-Johan Franzen
Tomas Tatar-Riley Sheahan-Tomas Jurco
Drew Miller-Luke Glendening-Joakim Andersson/Todd Bertuzzi
And Pleiness noted that there's an x-factor in play--sort of:
Daniel Alfredsson was given another day off, but there’s an outside shot he’ll be able to play Friday against Buffalo.
“He’s had the same thing, the back stuff, so he’s getting it worked out,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He could be a go (Friday) though.”
I happen to believe that the Wings' youngsters are much calmer with Alfredsson in the lineup, on the bench and in the locker room, so I hope he can return as soon as possible.
I'll wrap up what is a slightly repetitive game preview with this Babcockian quip from DetroitRedWings.com's Roose...
“I wouldn't spend too much time worrying about the lines in practice today,” Babcock said. “I still got 24 hours to decide what I'm doing. I think Pav will probably start on the wing, to be honest with you, because that's what he normally likes to do when he comes back. I'll talk to him tomorrow morning and kind of get a read on where we're at.”
Who also offered the following:
With 28 goals, Gustav Nyquist will likely join some of the youngest players in franchise history to lead the Red Wings in single-season scoring with 25 or more goals.
He will become the 13th player at the age of 24 or younger to lead Detroit in goals, and the first to do so since a 24-year-old Sergei Fedorov scored a career-best 56 goals during in 1993-94.
Both Gordie Howe and John Ogrodnick led the Red Wings in scoring four times before they celebrated their 25th birthdays, and Steve Yzerman did it three times.
Others to do it were Mike Foligno (21 years old) in 1979-80; Dale McCourt (21) in 1977-78; Michel Bergeron (21) in 1975-76; Mickey Redmond (24) in 1971-72; Tom Webster (22) in 1970-71; Garry Unger (22) in 1969-70; Ted Lindsay (22) in 1947-48; and Ebbie Goodfellow (23) in 1930-31.
Also of Red Wings-related note: As stated in that long-winded prospect post, 2 prospects played playoff hockey on Thursday night.
Neither Marek Tvrdon nor Mitchell Wheaton registered a point, but their Kelowna Rockets opened their 2nd-round WHL playoff series with a 6-2 win over Seattle;
I did not know this, and it terrfies me, per the Vancouver Province's White Towel blog, asking ten questions attempting to discern what went so very wrong with the Vancouver Canucks this past season:
Q7: What could have been done differently last offseason?
[Tony] Gallagher: Obviously they could have hired a different coach and gone with somebody like John Stevens and continued to try to play the upbeat, transition game they did when Alain Vigneault wasn’t falling back into his old habits. And it’s easy to say in hindsight, but they clearly should have moved defenceman Alex Edler to the Detroit Red Wings before his no-trade kicked in. They could have had Tomas Tatar in at least one of the suggested returning packages.
I don't believe that the Wings were moving Tatar, thus no deal...
[Ben] Kuzma: Trading Alex Edler at the draft. Before his no-trade clause and five-year, $30-million-US extension kicked in July 1, there was significant interest from Detroit and Anaheim. Two roster players and a first-round pick in return for the Swedish blueliner then became a four-player wish-list, and the Red Wings walked away.
And that is indeed why they walked away. 2 players and a 1st rounder is one thing...Four is crazy.
But hey, Edler's been a disaster this season--he has 19 points in 58 games and is a -33--so maybe he can be had more cheaply!
I did not know this, and you may take it for what you will, per TSN's Kerry Fraser (and this is only part of his answer):
Bruins fan here, so probably biased. In the game on Wednesday against Detroit, there was a definite loss of sight of the puck on the Wings' second goal. After what I believe was at least five seconds, it dropped out of Andrej Meszaro's uniform and was kicked over to a Tomas Jurco for a goal. No one seemed to have any idea where the puck was.
Maybe the official was guessing it was hung up in a uniform, but is that a valid reason for not blowing the whistle? I'm thinking there is no definitive amount of time in the rules before blowing the whistle, so its subjective, but would you have blown that play dead?
Presented with the same set of circumstance and perspective that the referee had on the play, I would most likely have delayed blowing the whistle as well. Let me explain how the 'hot spots' in front of the net required the refs immediate focus of attention and ultimately delayed any action he might have taken to blow the play dead.
Niklas Kronwall fired the puck from the point and it was immediately swallowed up in a tightly knit maze of eight players engaged in hand to hand combat directly in front of Bruins goalkeeper Tuukka Rask. The referee was in very good position just ahead of the goal line, approximately 15 feet from the action but looking through the backs of the majority of the players.
And finally, if you are interested in doing something Red Wings-related that doesn't involve buying playoff tickets when they go on sale to the general public at 10 AM this morning, the Wings are holding a contest in which the winner can accompany the team's representatives to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas this June.
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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.