The Malik Report
by George Malik on 10/23/13 at 04:09 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings face off against the Ottawa Senators tonight (7:30 PM, FSD/TSN/97.1 FM, and this game is one of all of 2 on the NHL schedule for Wednedsay, so everybody who's not watching the Bruins-Sabres game will be weighing in on this one) hoping to snap a two-game winless streak and make something ouf their 3-game home stand, which began with a 1-0 shootout loss to San Jose (and a difficult loss to Phoenix last Saturday).
In all honesty, if we're not talking about the whole Daniel Alfredsson Reunion Game storyline, which has resulted in oodles of "exclusives" and some honest-to-goodness good reads about Alfredsson's decision to leave Ottawa, as well as his superb fit with and comfort level as a member of the Detroit Red Wings...
I'm still trying to get a bead on the Senators as an "opponent."
I certainly know the Wings well enough to tell you that tonight's game would matter if Daniel Alfredsson was a fourth-line grinder and not a highly-probable Hall-of-Famer who's sitting in third place in Red Wings scoring only because both Pavel Datsyuk (5 goals and 6 assists) and Henrik Zetterberg (6 goals and 5 assists) are tied for first, ahead of Alfredsson's 9-in-10 (1 goal and 8 assists).
There's no doubt that Alfredsson's played like a 35-year-old on a mission as opposed to a 40-year-old who may or may not be on a farewell tour, and from that standpoint, never mind Alfredsson's status as the team's leader in all offensive categories and games played for the franchise he chose to leave for reasons he still wouldn't reveal to Sportsnet's Arash Mardani (Alfredsson received a $2 million bonus for playing in 10 games, but he insisted to both Mardani and TSN's Brent Wallace that money wasn't his prime motivator)...
And as such, I'm sure the Wings want to ensure that their 6-3-and-1 record doesn't get worse as they welcome old friends (Senators coach Paul MacLean and frequent Ducks nemesis Bobby Ryan) and new ones alike to what is sure to be a spirited Atlantic Division rivalry.
Put bluntly, regardless of who's coming to town, or what their ties might be to the players and coaching staff, the Wings "need" this game, and with another struggling team coming to town Saturday in the Rangers and a tough road trip through Western Canada in the offing--never mind with the team knowing that Darren Helm isn't coming back on Saturday, or that Jonathan Ericsson's out for 2-3 weeks due to a dislocated but not popped-out shoulder issue--the Wings know that they've got their hands full against the 3-3-and-2 Senators tonight, and that this game matters.
But what do I know about Alfredsson's former employer?
They haven't played since Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, and they head back to Canada's capital to host the Ducks on Friday and Sharks on Sunday, all before wrapping up October with a visit to Chicago.
They've made a personnel swap, demoting Stephane Da Costa and recalling Mika Zibanejad from the AHL, and the Senators' lines and defensive pairings were scrambled enough during Monday and Tuesday's practices that Ottawa media didn't make much of the jumble.
The Senators practiced in Ottawa on Tuesday and hauled tail to Detroit, so there was little in the way of audio and video offerings on Tuesday, and given that the team's essentially stayed still since Saturday, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose's Sens scouting report is still spot-on...
WEDNESDAY – vs. OTTAWA (3-3-2): This is a game that many Senators’ fans have been waiting for, or more likely loathing, to see their team’s former longtime captain in a different sweater. It’ll be the first time that Daniel Alfredsson faces off against his former team. … This will be the seventh road game already for the Senators, who have played just twice at home so far this season. The Sens have registered a 2-2-2 road record. Bobby Ryan (three goals, two assists) and Jason Spezza (four goals, one assist) share the team-lead with five points respectively on the road. Spezza leads the team with four road goals, while Kyle Turris and Patrick Wiercioch share the away assist lead with four each. … The Senators have overcome 37 of 44 (84.1 percent) shorthanded situations this season after leading the NHL in penalty kill efficiency (88 percent) last season. … Former Red Wings assistant coach Paul MacLean begins his third campaign as the Sens’ head coach. MacLean is the 10th head coach in franchise history and currently ranks fourth all-time among team coaches in victories with 69.
PLAYER TO WATCH: In September, Spezza was appointed the eighth captain in franchise history succeeding Alfredsson, who signed a one-year contract with Detroit during the offseason. Spezza, a Mississauga, Ontario, native is the current active franchise leader in goals (233), assists (396), points (629) and only trails Chris Phillips (+81) for the active lead in plus-minus rating (+78). Spezza has six points – including a natural hat trick in an overtime win at Phoenix last Tuesday – in the last three games. He has five goals and three assists in seven games. He’s battled a sore groin since training camp, but the injury has held him out of one game, an OT loss at Los Angeles on Oct. 9. … In eight career games against the Red Wings, Spezza has produced three goals, three assists and a minus-3 rating.
And OttawaSenators.com's' Chris Lund's summary of Paul MacLean's comments from Monday still ring true:
On the shifting in D pairings at practice: That sense (mixing guys together) yeah. With Chris [Phillips] not there we wanted to go left and right so we had an opportunity to have everybody left handed and right handed with what we were going to do today. That's what we wanted.
Phillips was back on Tuesday, and he would neither confirm nor deny that the Sens had placed a friendly wager on beating Alfredsson when asked as much by the Ottawa Citizen's Allen Panzeri and Ken Warren.
On today's high practice intensity: This was a Monday so historically with a day off and a couple of days before we play, those Mondays were always work days for us. Whether or not it's as long as today was or shorter in the past, it always kind of depends on how we're playing. Today is more about it's a work day, it's Monday, but there's also things we have to work on.
On mixing in skating drills to the practice: The theory behind that is if we're going to get conditioning for the players you would just skate the 12 minutes at the end of practice when there's already fatigue in place. We felt that our team is in condition but that we could use a little extra pop, the quick step in our game. The theory behind it is if we take the 12 minutes of skating and break it up into segments in practice, that'll give us the pop in our first three steps. Whether or not it works remains to be seen, but that's the theory behind it.
On the discipline of the team: I think still we took penalties we shouldn't take. So that's still something we have to talk about and the players have to talk about. The two penalties for the 5-on-3 we can flip a coin. Was it or wasn't it? They were penalties obviously because they called them. Was it a direct — one guy is going to the net hard and the other guy is turning and trying to get to a puck. The straight answer to your question is it's still a concern, we still take too many penalties and we still have to get our feet moving and play defence with our feet and not our sticks.
On going to Detroit with Alfredsson present: Well, Mike Babcock is still there, Pavel Datsyuk is still there, Henrik Zetterberg is still there, there are a lot of people that are still there. It's still a great place and I had the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup there so it's always going to be a place where you're going to go back to and know lots of people. As far as I'm concerned it's the next game on the schedule really, and they're a difficult opponent. We need to be more focused on them than anything else.
On if they'll say anything to the team ahead of the game: I think Bobby Ryan went back to Anaheim and it was emotional for him, I'm not going to be able to speak for Daniel. We're just going there to play the Red Wings, that's all my focus is on is we're playing the Red Wings. That's a big enough task in my book.
On prepping the team to play Detroit as a team: Every game somebody knows somebody. This is the first time so I guess that makes it more significant, but the first time Bobby went back to Anaheim he seemed to get through it alright. We all have our first so I think it's more on Daniel than it is on us. They have a good team, they have lots of good players, Daniel is one of them. Our focus is on the Red Wings and how they play as a team, not one guy.
You can watch MacLean speak with the media below:
On Tuesday, MacLean refused to name his starting goalie, though Craig Anderson's likely to start ahead of Robin Lehner, and he told the Ottawa Citizen's Wayne Scanlan that his team needs to improve its team defense in a hurry to keep up with Detroit, Anaheim, San Jose and Chicago:
“Last week would’ve been a better time,” cracked Senators head coach Paul MacLean. “But we have (Wednesday), we’ll continue to work at it.”
His point being, it can’t happen soon enough. Last season, when so many of Ottawa’s most skilled players were out with injuries, the Senators became a defensive team out of necessity – and finished a respectable 7th in the Eastern Conference while giving up just 2.16 goals per game. It will take some home improvements – and the Senators have 22 home games before the New Year – to get back to those kind of numbers.
Does the mindset of yesteryear’s “pesky Sens” change with a healthy Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and the additions of Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur? The Senators might be thinking they can score their way out of trouble.
“It shouldn’t (change),” says defenceman Chris Phillips. “Play in our zone is a long way away from their zone. You can say a good offence makes for a good defence. You always look at the play in our own zone and it’s tightening it up,” Phillips says. “It’s not for all the wrong reasons – sometimes you try to do too much or help out the other guy and you get running around a little bit, lose your guy.
“Mistakes happen so fast and suddenly it’s in the back of your net . . . be a little more patient in our own zone, that will help out a lot.”
MacLean was asked to name the top three crimes against good defensive play. That is, three things the Senators need to do better to compete against the league’s elite. He didn’t need half a second to rifle them off:
1) “the faceoff circle.” Win faceoffs and get puck control.
2) “Turnovers at the offensive blueline which lead to . . .
Turnovers and penalties “lead to time in your end and that’s never good,” MacLean says.
Jason Spezza inevitably had to parry questions about succeeding Alfredsson as the Senators' captain, as the Ottawa Sun's Don Brennan noted...
"For the most part (being captain) has been a pretty smooth transition," said Spezza, who will have worn the 'C' for 19 (his number) regular season days when the Senators square off against Alfredsson and the Red Wings Wednesday at the Joe Louis Arena. "I've talked to different guys at different times. I've had to address the group a few times, especially when we were going through that stretch in San Jose and Anaheim. Nothing that's too out of this world, too different. But you are forced to speak up at certain times, for sure."
"It will be nice to see Alf," said Spezza, who might have dined with his good friend Tuesday night had he not made plans to eat with "Pete and Sandra," his billets when he played two seasons with the Windsor Spitfires. "I think he's playing well and I'm sure he's feeling healthy. They have him situated on the point on the power play, which I think suits him really well. He's shooting the puck really good. But I don't think he has more jump than last year. I thought he was good here at times, too. His game isn't about speed anymore. Where they have him on the power play, that has helped him. He gets a lot of touches, a lot of shots and open looks."
But the Senators mostly stayed on the, "We've got to straighten ourselves out" message:
Coach Paul MacLean refused to reveal Tuesday who he will start against Detroit, but the assumption is it will be Craig Anderson. If MacLean really hadn't made up his mind by the time he had met with the media following his last full practice of preparation, it might have something to do with the fact Anderson has a career 2-5-0 record and a 3.14 goals against average versus the Wings.
But then, Robin Lehner has faced Detroit just once, and he surrendered four goals in just over 30 minutes of play that night.
"Historically, the next three teams we play are pretty high in standings," MacLean said of what lays ahead for his team after Detroit. "You've got to be ready to play. I just think it's an every day league. We have to get in every day and try to be better."
The Senators want to build on their last game, even though it was a loss. MacLean called it probably the best 60 minutes the team has played all season.
"We did lots of good things in the Edmonton game," agreed Spezza. "If we score three or four goals, we talk about it being such a good game. We didn't get the breaks and because of it we pick apart the game. It's a fine line between winning and losing. Some of the games we've won or gotten points from we probably didn't deserve. That one we probably deserved a better fate.
The "Zibanejad recall" sidebar story yielded some reminiscing about Detroit when Zibanejad spoke with Brennan, who added context to the move...
Recalled from Binghamton in time to be at Tuesday’s practice, the sixth overall pick of the 2011 entry draft is supposed to be back with the Senators just in case Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s “minor” injury prevents him from playing against the Red Wings.
But it’s hard to imagine the Senators won’t find room for Zibanejad in the lineup either way.
In fact, they might be wise to get him some work on the first two lines (instead of using him strictly with Derek Grant and Erik Condra, where he spent most of the Sensplex skate) given how fired up the 20-year old Swede is to prove he belongs at this level.
“Very excited, especially having my first NHL game in Detroit two years ago. I’m excited to be back there. And I’m excited to be back here with the guys, in the NHL,” said Zibanejad. “I think the time in Binghamton, even though it was only six games, I think it helped me a lot. I’m just trying to get back on track and get back to the basics.”
But his tale was more of a cautionary one, with the Ottawa Citizen's Allen Panzeri noting that Zibanejad was demoted because he took his spot on the NHL roster for granted at training camp. Demoted, recalled, message sent?
“Obviously,” he said. “When something like that happens, you want to prove them wrong, but you try not to think about it too much. I just thought about playing hard and doing the things they wanted me to do. I hope I took it the right way: just work hard and play, and have fun with the guys and not let that destroy anything for me.”
During training camp, his mistake was in thinking that what he did last season counted for something. He didn’t realize he was in competition with other players for the few available jobs. Before he knew it, he had been passed by Pageau and Stéphane Da Costa.
In Binghamton, Zibanejad was a go-to guy. He played big minutes on the power play and was on the ice in crucial situations. That helped restore his confidence.
“Obviously they’ve been watching me these six games and they’ve been happy with what they’ve seen, so I just have to keep doing what I’ve been doing and even take another step,” he said. “I hope I’ve started to build something down in Binghamton, and I just have to keep building on it.”
MacLean said Zibanejad had earned his recall through his play with Binghamton. To stay here, the equation is simple.
“He has to play good,” MacLean said. “We made the call down there and asked who the best player was and it was Mika. Before it was Derek Grant, now it’s Mika. We want him to come up and play with speed, play with energy, use his size and shoot the puck, and just do the things that he does to be successful. If he does those things consistently, he can stay in the lineup and ultimately in the NHL.”
NHL.com's Brian Hunter, who reports that the game will also air on the French-language TVA Sports channel, provides a preview which will serve as our pivot point between the Senators and Red Wings' perspective...
Season series: This is the first of four meetings between the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings. The New Atlantic Division rivals didn't face each other last season when Detroit was still in the Western Conference. In fact, their most recent matchup was the 2011-12 season opener, when the Red Wings raced to a 5-0 lead behind a goal and an assist from Cory Emmerton before holding off the Senators for a 5-3 win on Oct. 7, 2011.
Big story: Daniel Alfredsson, the former Ottawa captain who played the first 17 seasons and 1,178 games of his career there, faces his old team for the first time. In years past this might've been the only time the Senators and Red Wings met; now that they're division rivals, it's just a dress rehearsal. Alfredsson will see them on three more occasions, including a return to Ottawa on Nov. 23.
Senators [team scope]: It's right back on the road for Ottawa, which is tied for the second-fewest home games played at two (the New York Rangers don't play their home opener until Oct. 28). The Senators began the season on a six-game road trip, won their first game at Canadian Tire Centre last Thursday and then went for two in a row Saturday afternoon against the struggling Edmonton Oilers.
The Senators were averaging more than 40 shots against coming into the game, most in the NHL, so it was a good sign holding the Oilers to just 21. However, two of them beat Robin Lehner and a third found the empty net in a 3-1 loss. Neil scored his first of the season for Ottawa.
Red Wings [team scope]: There were zeroes all across the stat sheet Monday night when Detroit hosted the West-leading San Jose Sharks at Joe Louis Arena. Jimmy Howard held the visitors off the board through 60 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime, but so did his opposition across the way, Antti Niemi.
Both goalies were credited with shutouts, but only one was going to come away with the 1-0 decision. That turned out to be the Sharks and Niemi after Logan Couture scored on Howard in the second round of the shootout.
Who's hot: Craig Anderson, the expected starter for the Senators on Wednesday, has stopped 74 of 79 shots (.937 save percentage) in winning his past two starts. … In his second start back from a minor hand injury, Howard recorded his 17th career shutout for the Red Wings.
While I was writing this, NHL.com's Daily Primer hit the wires, and John Kreiser framed tonight's game as follows...
Ottawa Senators at Detroit Red Wings -- The Senators will have Mika Zibanejad back in the lineup after recalling their 2011 first-round pick from Binghamton of the American Hockey League. Ottawa is still last in the NHL in average shots allowed per game at 39.4; the Senators are being outshot by nearly eight per game. Detroit hasn't scored since taking a 2-0 lead in the second period of its road game against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night. The Red Wings could get defenseman Niklas Kronwall back after he missed two games with a concussion, but they'll be without another defenseman, Jonathan Ericsson, for at least two weeks with a partially separated left shoulder.
(The Senators are completely healthy. I wonder what that's like...)
And the AP's preview adds stats to the mix:
Alfredsson will have to get used to facing the Senators as the teams meet four times as Atlantic Division rivals, including his return to Ottawa on Dec. 1. For now, he's focused on helping Detroit snap a two-game skid after it fell 1-0 in a shootout to San Jose on Monday.
Jimmy Howard, who went 1-3-0 with a 3.28 goals-against average in his previous four starts, made 27 saves. He's won each of his three career starts while posting a 3.00 GAA against the Senators, who had their two-game winning streak snapped with Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton.
Chris Neil scored for Ottawa (3-3-2), which committed seven penalties. It has taken 19 more penalties than its opponents, by far the league's worst margin.
''Penalties are not something we're going to forget about,'' Spezza said. "We'll continue to talk about it until we start to take less penalties.''
Robin Lehner made 18 saves against the Oilers, but Craig Anderson, who is 3-1-2 with a 2.88 GAA, should be back in net for this contest.
Detroit will have Niklas Kronwall back from a two-game absence due to a concussion, but his defensive partner Jonathan Ericsson is expected to miss two weeks with a partially dislocated shoulder joint suffered in Saturday's 5-2 loss to Phoenix.
The Red Wings have won four straight meetings.
The Alfredsson story is the obvious angle from the Wings press's point of view, and they got to it on a delayed basis, but I'm going to have to toss some repetition at those of you who aren't late to the party for completeness' sake.
Jonathan Ericsson's out with a shoulder injury, and he'll miss two to three weeks, which may not be a bad thing given that his wife gave birth to the family's first child, a daughter named Liv after Stefan Liv, on Monday. The Free Press's Helene St. James took note of both Ericsson's status as a new dad and his status as an injured player...
Ericsson might get to spend some down time with his family, as he could end up staying in Detroit when the Wings depart next week for a four-game swing through western Canada. Ericsson isn't yet certain whether he'll need surgery. For now, all he can do is rehab.
For now, he's on short-term injured reserve. He was injured on a seemingly innocent sequence during the third period.
"The play ended in front of our our net, the whistle blew, but I kind of bumped into someone. I was relaxed with my arm, that's why it happened. It felt bad, right away, but then after the game, it felt a lot better. But then the next day, it was a lot worse again."
Ericsson is a top-pair shutdown defenseman and one of the team’s key penalty killers. Danny DeKeyser might move up to play in Ericsson's spot next to Kronwall, leaving Kyle Quincey with Brendan Smith, and Jakub Kindl with Brian Lashoff, giving each pairing a puck mover.
That's the good news--Niklas Kronwall's expected to return after missing a game-and-a-half due to the concussion incurred when Cody McLeod rammed him into the boards from behind, and Kronwall spoke about the 5-game suspension to McLeod on Tuesday afternoon.
Darren Helm's groin has acted up--this time, it's the opposite side of whatever groin muscle he injured prior to the start of the regular season--as the Macomb Daliy's Chuck Pleiness noted:
Darren Helm has suffered another setback in his hopes of returning to the Wings’ lineup and again it’s a groin that’s acting up.
“He felt it Friday in Grand Rapids and played Saturday,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He told me Sunday it won’t be an issue. It bothered him in practice Monday and he felt it again today, so the trainers told him to get off the ice.”
It’s not the same groin that gave him issues last month. Helm will have an MRI later this afternoon to see if there’s a tear.
Okay, that was Tuesday, so we'll find out what's up this morning.
“It’sprecautionary,” Holland said. “It appears he won’t be ready to go Saturday. If he can’t practice he can’t play Saturday. We believe it’s just a nagging groin injury.”
Helm, who played back-to-back nights with the Griffins, has played just one game over the last 18 months with the Wings.
“He’s had a tough go the last 18 months,” Holland said. “We need to make sure it’s nagging and not a tear.”
I get the whole, "DARREN HELM IS INJURED AGAIN I'M A RED WINGS FAN STAB MY EYES HE'S A SOAP BUBBLE WHO GOES POP" thing, but for Monkey's sake, players who end up suffering back injuries inevitably--INEVITABLY!!!!111--overcompensate with their lower bodies and incur groin injuries.
It's a painful and return-delaying part of the recovery process.
The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan took note of Kronwall's progress--the Wings demoted Xavier Ouellet on Tuesday, which is a pretty strong sign that the Wings have six healthy defensemen (though I wouldn't be surprised if the team recalls Adam Almquist to give him his cup of coffee next)...
Kronwall resumed skating Monday and didn't hold back at all during Tuesday's practice.
"I feel fine," said Kronwall, who passed earlier tests and is waiting for one final exam result. "The only issue is the timing. Even when you've been off for a few days, it takes a little bit to get back into the swing of things.”
As well as that of Patrick Eaves:
Forwards Darren Helm (back, groin) and Patrick Eaves (knee, ankle sprain) are eligible to come off the long-term injured list for Saturday's game against the New York Rangers. But only Eaves looks like he'll be ready.
"I'll be ready to go," said Eaves, who has been practicing regularly. "I feel real good. That's all I have circled (Saturday) on the calendar."
We did eventually get some coach's comments, but they came later in the evening, via Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner. Regner reports that:
A) Babcock rolled his eyes when asked about Helm. I get the feeling that Helm rolled his eyes when asked about himself;
B) And Babcock went between very serious and tongue-in-cheek in a hurry when discussing the team's strong showing sans both Ericsson and Kronwall on the blueline against San Jose--and then he got incredibly serious about the fact that the Wings' reluctant embracing of their youth movement (despite Gustav Nyquist's status as a Griffin, and I just said on Twitter what I will say to you: the Wings and Gustav Nyquist probably operate with significantly more patience regarding the temporary demotion than fans like you and me have with the situation) means that the team is "in flux."
“There’s no question we’re deeper on the back end,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We had 500 games in league dressed or something like that last night. Stewie (Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart) probably had a thousand himself. When you go through it all, it's not like we’re experienced, but we have players knocking on the door that are going to be NHL players. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to win Cups, though.”
Detroit’s young blue-line corps played well against the league-leading Sharks on Monday. But with Kronwall back, the Wings sent rookie Xavier Ouellet back to Grand Rapids, leaving Detroit with six healthy defenseman.
Babcock amused himself when he explained that he wasn’t trying to mislead the media on Monday about Ericsson’s injury. He said that Ericsson’s MRI was pushed back because of the birth of Ericsson’s daughter, Liv.
“When I talked to you yesterday, cause I get the sense that you (media) feel that I didn’t tell you truth, he was having a baby,” Babcock said. “When I talk to you today, he had an MRI and he has a shoulder problem. I’m glad I cleared that all up. I feel way better about myself.”
After joking around a bit with the media, Babcock offered a serious assessment of where he believes the Red Wings team and organization are at 10 games into the NHL season.
“We have to find a way to play our team so we can have success on a nightly basis,” Babcock said. “We’re going to continue to have change. As much as we got off to a fairly good start, we’re a team in flux. We’re trying to find out whom we are and how we’re going to play. That’s still a work in progress. You need high-, high-end players, and we feel we’re going in the right direction again. After ‘09, we thought we were going in the wrong direction as far as having a chance to win.”
Babcock's spot-on. We forget that Danny DeKeyser's still a Calder-eligible rookie, that Jakub Kindl really has one full season under his belt, that Brendan Smith is a work in progre...Well, okay, we know that already, but Joakim Andersson and Tomas Tatar are still finding their way, and the swap-outs of Damien Brunner and Valtteri Filppula for Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss were much more significant in terms of a personnel overhaul than we might like to believe (especially in the latter case).
The Wings' 6-3-and-1 record is something to be proud of, all things (and Jimmy Howard's injury) considered, but the whole, "Winning or taking points 2/3rds to 75% of the time" trend has to continue for the Wings to avoid another late-season scramble for the playoffs.
If you're looking for multimedia, the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness posted a short snippet of Daniel Alfredsson's media availabilty...
As well as Niklas Kronwall speaking with the media about the Wings' injuries...
The Free Press's Helene St. James also caught Jonathan Ericsson getting emotional when speaking about the reason he named his daughter "Liv":
The Wings press getting their jabs in regarding Alfredsson's transition from Senators captain to part of the Big Red Machine is inevitable, however, and we're actually going to start with the London Free Press's Morris Dalla Costa's attempt to squeeze some new insights as to why Alfredsson left Ottawa.
“It was a quick process in early July. I didn’t have any ideas of leaving,” Alfredsson said. “We got to the period were teams could contact pending free agents. (Detroit) made a really good impression on everything, how the family fit in, how I fit in with the team.”
How did Alfredsson get away? The perception is that Detroit went after Alfredsson hard while the Senators didn’t. Alfredsson prefers to publicly abstain from discussing any residual bitterness toward his old organization. He says he has no hard feelings.
“Not toward anyone especially,” he says. “It was more emotions about leaving the city, all the friends and people behind that made my time there so special. But there is no resentment towards anyone or anybody.”
But from the scrum of media surrounding Alfredsson after practice there was an eagerness to hear how he would react to playing against a team he spent 18-years playing with.
Alfredsson isn’t quite sure exactly how he’ll feel until he takes the ice. He does anticipate the Dec. 1 meeting in Ottawa will likely be more emotional for him.
“I think I’m (excited),” he said. “Obviously there are a lot of good friends on the other side . . . for another 32 hours. It will be a relief once the puck drops. There will (be a) lot of emotion for me tomorrow afternoon going into the game. It’s a bit exciting.”
Alfredsson had dinner with former housemate and mentee Erik Karlsson, and the Free Press's Helene St. James (whose article was co-published in the Free Press and USA Today, with the latter posting including an Alfredsson photo gallery) snagged one hell of a quote from coach Babcock about Alfredsson's ability to deal with stepping into a supporting role after seventeen years spent with the Senators:
“He was there a long time,” Babcock said, “and I don’t care who you are, there’s lots of emotion when you face your old team. He made a decision, and we’re thankful for that decision. He’s fit in well so far. Any time you change environment after that long, it’s going to be not as comfortable as the old place, but I think life is about embracing change.”
I said from the get-go that Alfredsson's the opposite of Mike Modano, someone who came to Detroit for a season to play out the string, and Alfredsson's certainly shown a desire to make his legacy in Detroit a strong (and possibly multi-season?) one.
After things soured between Alfredsson and the Senators — reportedly, Alfredsson perceived the Senators took his re-signing for granted; the Sens contend Alfredsson’s camp didn’t disclose what they were really looking for — he turned his attention to Detroit. He signed a one-year deal with a base salary of $3.5 million, plus a $2-million bonus that kicked when he played in his 10th game.
For Alfredsson, the decision was also about being as daring as he was two decades ago, when he uprooted his life in Sweden to move across the Atlantic Ocean.
“Leaving Gothenburg was harder than this has been,” Alfredsson said. “That was a huge step. I look back at my life right now, I don’t think I would have been the person I am, if I wouldn’t have taken that chance. This is another steppingstone for me and my family to grow and experience new adventures.”
In his various interviews with the Senators' press and Canadian media outlets, Alfredsson did admit that moving his wife and four kids to the U.S. after spending his playing life in Canada has in fact been the biggest challenge he's dealt with.
Alfredsson addressed the root-planting issue (Alfredsson did sell his house in Ottawa, and his family didn't move into their house until a little earlier this month) while speaking with MLive's Ansar Khan...
"It was a very tough decision, especially when it happened fairly quickly,’’ Alfredsson said. “The way I looked at it at the time and still do today, it’s a huge challenge for myself, both on and off the ice. It’s a big challenge for our family (wife and four sons). I will look back on this as something of a stepping stone in my life, moving my family and making sure they’re fitting into schools and sports and then also testing myself, proving myself to a new organization.’’
Khan took note of Babcock's comments about his new leader--and the truth of the matter is that while Alfredsson's more of a complimentary part here as opposed to his time in Ottawa as "The Guy," he's part of the core of players that Babcock's leaning upon both on the ice, on the bench and in the locker room...
“I don’t care who you are, there’s lots of emotion when you face your old team,’’ Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s fit in well so far. Anytime you change an environment after that long it’s going to be not as comfortable as the old place, but I think life’s about embracing change. He’s been the captain of that team for a long time and you come in here and it’s different. You’ve got to get used to who you’re playing with and his line’s been different just about every day. So it’s just a matter of time. He’s been excellent.’’
And while Niklas Kronwall raved about Alfredsson's play, Khan noted that Alfredsson himself isn't satisfied with a goal and eight assists over the course of ten games:
“You could tell from the first time he skated with us how smart he is, how good he is with the puck, and he’s been making some great plays,’’ defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “I didn’t know that he was so good all over the ice, not just offensively, but coming back. He reads the plays very well and he’s been a big, big, leader in our room.”
Alfredsson described his first 10 games as “so-so.’’
“I can’t say I’m really happy,’’ Alfredsson said. “Some games have been good, some games haven’t been good, but I definitely feel my game is pretty good right now and I feel confident and stronger on the puck than I did earlier in the season.’’
NHL.com's Brian Hedger's in town to take in tonight's game, too, and he penned an Alfredsson story that didn't publish until 3 AM. Hedger noted that Alfredsson doesn't mind taking on a supporting role...
"It's been mixed emotions, I guess," Alfredsson said. "I mean, I miss a lot about Ottawa, there's no question ... being at the rink and being 'the guy.' At the same time, I also enjoy not being 'the guy,' and kind of worrying about myself a little bit more."
He confirmed that the Alfredsson family was living in a hotel for an extended period of time, and noted Alfredsson's comparison of the "big move" to Detroit to his "first move" from the Frolunda Indians in Gothenburg, Sweden to the Senators...
"When you've been in one place for so long ... I was in Gothenburg for the first 22 years of my life and leaving that was definitely harder than this move has been, because you go to a different continent. I didn't know anybody on the team and [my] English language was OK but not brilliant," he said. "That was a huge step. If I look back at my life right now, I don't think I would be the person I am if I wouldn't have taken that chance. This is another stepping stone for me and my family to grow and experience new adventures."
And Hedger captured quite the quote from Alfredsson regarding any pangs of guilt regarding leaving his North American home:
"I think it was more just the emotions about leaving the city and all the friends and people behind who made my time there so special," he said. "I think that was the hardest part. There was no resentment toward anyone or anybody. It was just leaving the city and everything behind. When I decided to come over to Ottawa in 1995, it was the same emotions ... and both Gothenburg and Ottawa are still there and are going to be there and that's a very comforting feeling."
For Alfredsson, the Senators' arrival Wednesday is sure to bring out some emotions not typically felt during the regular season. There's no sense hiding from it....
Alfredsson probably summed up his feelings about leaving Ottawa best with a one-liner toward the end of his media huddle Tuesday. While talking about various NHL jerseys his sons now wear, aside from Red Wings garb at games, he was asked if any of them had donned Toronto Maple Leafs attire. After the laughter subsided, Alfredsson smiled and drew an invisible line in front of him.
"We have to draw the line somewhere," he said.
We should end this preview-y narrative on a thoughtful note, and there are few scribes more thoughtful than the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa.
Krupa wrote quite the novella about Alfredsson and the hoopla surrounding tonight's game, confirming that Alfredsson spent what some writers stated was 15 minutes answering questions (Krupa has it at 14)--before his sit-downs with TSN and Sportsnet--and Alfredsson talked about the move to Detroit as a new beginning, as a familial transition, and, as Krupa noted, as going from being "the guy" to "one of the guys":
He discussed advantages and disadvantages of no longer being captain and the focus of attention, the guy the media approaches after a loss to ask, “What happened?” But asked if the transition is easier for him because the Red Wings’ deep core of talent takes pressure off him, Alfredsson would have none of it.
“Well, I don’t know if I look at it that way,” he said. “I think my role here is I’m going to do everything I can to make them feel like they don’t have everything on their shoulders, and not the other way around: that they should take something off me. I think that if I stay healthy and play to my abilities, I should do that and I think that’s important.”
Alfredsson spoke about the game to come with some trepidation and some excitement, and his final statement about what's to come speaks to his willingness to stand up and answer hard questions off the ice after standing up and delivering clutch performances on the ice:
Asked if he is looking forward to it, Alfredsson paused and said, “I think I am. Today, anyway. A lot of good friends on the other side.” Then he glanced briefly at a clock on the wall.
“And, I think now, in another 32 hours, it will be a relief when the puck drops, and a lot of emotion going into the game tomorrow. But it’s a bit exciting, too... You’re going to have to deal with it,” he said, referring to himself. “It’s not something I want to hide from, either.”
Krupa concludes his missive (and you really should read it all) by asking TSN's Brent Wallace to estimate the reaction when Alfredsson returns to Ottawa on December 1st:
“It’s very pro-Daniel, for sure,” Wallace said of the sentiment within the Senators fan base. He did a lot for the community and regardless of the way it ended, he’s done a ton for charity, he’s been a classy individual throughout the 17 years.
“There’s certainly some people who’ve switched and gone negative. But it’s maybe 80-20 in favor of Daniel. He is the face of that franchise and it’s tough for people to move on.”
If you're looking for "further reading," I went and reread the Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren's interview with Alfredsson, and I really enjoyed the fact that the Canadian Press's Stephen Whyno managed to speak to unusual suspects in Jonas Gustavsson, Pavel Datsyuk, Justin Abdelkader and even Sharks coach Todd McLellan about Alfredsson.
And regarding tonight's game as a whole?
Alfredsson was my favorite skating player who wasn't a Wing prior to his decision to join Detroit's ranks, and he's even ahead of my goalie idols, Kirk McLean and Nikolai Khabibulin, in terms of, "Favorite non-Wing period" status.
I really hope that the Wings can take tonight's game, but the team's status as 0-1-and-1 of late and tonight's opponent's status as a team that believes it's "Better Off Without" the guy who joined the Wings would have me hoping that the Wings make mincemeat out of the Senators regardless of who was wearing #11.
In the prospect department: On Tuesday, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose noted that Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, Zach Nastasiuk and Andreas Athanasiou are all playing very well for their respective Major Junior teams, and Bertuzzi registered no points but had a familiar impact--i.e. a fight--in the Guelph Storm's 6-3 victory over Kitchener;
In the WHL, Mitchell Wheaton didn't register a point in his second game after returning from shoulder surgery. His Kelowna Rockets dropped a 2-1 decision to the Calgary Hitmen.
RedWingsCentral posted its weekly prospect report on Tuesday evening, and they took note of Xavier Ouellet's recall over Adam Almquist, the play of Luke Glendening, Martin Frk's rough start to his pro career and the strides made by a player who had a Frk-like first half of his "rookie pro season in one Tomas Jurco:
Back with the Grand Rapids Griffins for his sophomore year after an outstanding second half and playoff run as a rookie, Jurco is off to a good start with a goal and four assists in his first five games, second only to Gustav Nyquist in team scoring.
Jurco, a highly-skilled winger, started slowly as one of the AHL’s youngest players during the NHL lockout in 2012-13. Although he finished the regular season with just 28 points in 74 games, he put up 14 points in his final 22 contests and was even better in the playoffs, helping the Griffins win the Calder Cup with eight goals (third on team), six assists and 69 shots (second) in 22 games.
Now he’s being counted on to carry the offensive load on the Griffins’ top lines and it looks like he’s ready to take another step.
“He’s got a chance to be a top-six forward in the NHL, and very few guys get that opportunity,” Grand Rapids head coach Jeff Blashill told griffinshockey.com. “What he has to do now is take his play and turn it into production on a consistent basis without sacrificing anything from his defense or team game. That’s the challenge of learning to be a go-to guy.
Jurco's gotten off to a stronger start than Riley Sheahan, who emptied the tank playing as the Wings' de-facto captain at the prospect tournament, but I'm sure that Sheahan's going to display more offensive aplomb sooner than later.
Also of Red Wings-related note: The Wings "welcomed" the Henrik Zetterberg Foundation to Twitter, and the charitable organization has a Facebook page and webpage as well. If you've been wondering what the former Emma Andersson's been up to since she retired from the TV presenting and pin-up-posing business, their "projects" page lists 59(!) charitable endeavors. And counting;
In charitable news of a you-can-attend-it kind, the Port Huron Times-Herald's Joseph Hayes reports that the Red Wings' Alumni Association will be playing in Port Huron this weekend:
At 7 p.m. Saturday, the Detroit Red Wings Alumni Association will play the Port Huron Area first responders to raise money for several community organizations.
“We are trying to do something for this community,” Former Port Huron Flags left wing Bill LeCaine said. “It’s all community oriented. I played 15 years of pro hockey, and I’ve been able to give back to the community. If you ask them, people would like to give back as well.
“There are a lot of proud people in the community. Port Huron has taken a bad wrap in a lot of issues. But I think people will stand up and support this.”
Tickets to the game are $5 and will also raise money for the Native American Tribute, which is part of the St. Clair County Community Foundation Blue Water River Walk Project.
Police, fire and emergency technicians all are expected to play in the game. Former Detroit Red Wings player, coach and general manager Alex Delvecchio will be on hand signing autographs. There also will be games on the side, including Score-O shoot-out, Chuck-a-Puck and a 50-50 draw.
“There is a great base of hockey fans here,” LeCaine said. “People have paid their dues in hockey since I moved here in 1962. I have been involved in hockey here, and I know fans from all the way back to the new fans. Hockey is strong here, I think it’s a big community effort.”
In less-than-charitable news, the Free Press's Evil Drew Sharp will probably attend tonight's game, so his 11 AM chat on Freep.com may be worth your time if you dig mixed sports metaphors;
In the "Bonus Swedish" category, Norrkopings Tidingar noted that Ericsson stated earlier this month that he and the Mrs. had set up a room for their daughter...
And I'd like to conclude on a strong note, so here's a rough translation of HockeySverige.se's Ronnie Ronnqvist's interview with one Nicklas Lidstrom, who shared his observations about the NHL season thus far and his former employer on individual and team-wide bases:
Former star player Nicklas Lidstrom's now working as a scout and an advisor to Detroit. Hockeysverige.se asked him if he thought, before the season that San Jose would be the top team in the league and that Philadelphia would be at the bottom of the standings.
"Yes, I thought that the Sharks would be a top team again this year. I think they have a very good team, so that they're the best team right now isn't surprising. I thought that Philadelphia would be a little better than they've been. They had a tough season last year, but I thought they'd have a better start."
What is it that makes San Jose the league's best team?
"First, it's about coach Todd McLellan, who left Detroit and has been with the team for a few seasons now, because he's a very good coach. There's a system that suits the team and it's worked well. Looking at their centers, for example, every one of them is very good. Combine that with their system of play and that helps a talented team."
How many conclusions can someone make this early in the season?
"I think that it has to go a little further, at least a few games, before you can see trends in how teams are. I thought that the Rangers would be better, but Colorado's been a pleasant surprise. They've started off very well. They've got a new coach in Patrick Roy, and their young guys started very well, and it shows that they've had a year to mature. It's not surprising, but it's impressive that they've started so well."
Gabriel Landeskog is the captain of Colorado, and he's a player who's impressed Nicklas Lidstrom thus far.
"Gabriel's had a very strong start. The entire team's started well, and the young player who was the first overall pick in the draft, Nathan MacKinnon, is an impressive player. He's at least had a very good beginning. But you know it's a long season, and it'll be interesting to see whether the young guys can keep it up when it gets tougher in the second half. But so far, it's really impressive for Gabriel and the whole team that's performed so very well in the beginning with a new coach"
How do you view Detroit's start?
"Detroit's started strongly. They had a very good start, but fell back a bit in two or three games. Now they've come back well and won a lot of games at the end."
What has Daniel Alfredsson brought to the Wings?
"First, he's a very good right-hander on the power play, as we've seen in recent games. With his experience, he helps a lot, even in the locker room. Although there's been a lot of experience in the locker room before, being able to add a guy like 'Affe' who's been the leading player for Ottawa for so long, that brings a lot to the team."
Jonas Gustavsson started the season in a very impressive manner, and is third in the league after Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Tuukka Rask [in goals-against average. Though he's only played in three games.
"Impressive! Really impressive. It's great that he had to start right away when he entered the game. He was very strong against Colorado. I also believe that he needed a strong start, and that it gave him confidence. Especially given that he didn't play as well as he wanted to last season. It's cool for the team to know that you've got Jonas who can step in and play as well as he has over the first couple of games."
Which other Swedes have impressed you thus far?
"Alexander Steen's impressed me. I haven't seen St. Louis very much, but from what I've seen and from statistics, he's been impressive. I also think that 'Zata' (Henrik Zetterberg) has had a really good start in Detroit.
There have been a significant amount of tough hits in the NHL that crossed the limit of what was permitted at the start of this year. Is there more reckless play in the league now?
"It's early in the season, and many guys are geared-up and hungry when the season's just begun. It's been a little careless, but I don't think that this years been worse than before. I think it happens more early in the season. Since Brendan Shanahan has issued quite harsh suspensions for the hits that have happened, I think things will calm down a little. Players know there are strict rules and that you'll miss a lot of games if you do that kind of stuff. Shanahan and the league have taken hold of this in a good way, and theyv'e shown that you can't accept reckless hits."
How's Niklas Kronwall, who got a concussions in the game against Colorado?
"From what I understand, Kronwall feels good. He has no symptoms and doesn't feel any effects from the hit. He didn't play [Monday] night in Detroit shows that the doctors in Detroit want to conduct a thorough investigation before they let him back on the ice. We'll see how it goes in the next game, but he says he feels good after all."What more Swedes have impressed you this initially?
And you're making a comeback after Chirstmas, is that right?
"On New Year's Eve I'll play in an alumni game against Toronto, which will lead up to the Winter Classic game on January 1st. It's former Red Wings players and hopefully I'll visit with Mats Sundin and Toronto's players."
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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.