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Red Wings-Sharks game-day updates: Smith in, Tootoo out, Jensen in Frozen Four this eve

Updated 9x at 2:14 PM: The Detroit Red Wings are preparing for what is essentially a must-win game against the San Jose Sharks tonight (7:30 PM EDT, FSD/CSN CA/97.1 FM), and while I don't expect to hear much of anything regarding TSN's Aaron Ward's report that the Wings may be close to re-signing Jimmy Howard, I will say this: until it's done--and the Windsor Star's Bob Duff tossed some cold water on the report--all we can do is speculate, and sometimes that's counter-productive, especially given that the beat writers are saying, "Hold your horses there, folks."

Anyway, regarding tonight's game...Comcast Sportsnet California's Kevin Kurz has already penned a game preview...

Where they stand
Sharks: 20-12-7, 47 points, 3rd Pacific Division, 5th Western Conference
Red Wings: 19-15-5, 43 points, 3rd Central Division, 8th Western Conference

Vitals

Sharks
Goals per game:
2.36 (25th)
Goals-against per game: 2.41 (7th)
Power play: 18.5 percent (12th)
Penalty kill: 86.9 percent (4th)

Red Wings
Goals per game:
2.49 (21st)
Goals-against per game: 2.54 (14th)
Power play: 18.1 percent (15th)
Penalty kill: 80.0 percent (21st)

Probable lines

Sharks
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Brent Burns
TJ Galiardi – Joe Pavelski – Marty Havlat
Tommy Wingels – Joe Thornton – Raffi Torres
James Sheppard – Andrew Desjardins – Adam Burish

Matt Irwin – Dan Boyle
Brad Stuart – Jason Demers
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

...

Keep an eye on…

Sharks: Joe Thornton. The Sharks captain skated a season-low 10 minutes and 30 seconds in a loss to Columbus on Tuesday, and took responsibility afterwards for his poor game. Thornton could have new linemates against the Red Wings, as he skated with Tommy Wingels and Raffi Torres in practice on Wednesday. He has 35 points (13g, 22a) in 37 career games against Detroit.

Red Wings: Niklas Kronwall. The hard-hitting defenseman leads the Red Wings in ice time with 24 minutes and eight seconds per game, and is always looking to land a crushing blow. He can also help on the offensive end, with 26 points (5g, 21a), fourth among NHL defensemen. In 26 games against the Sharks, Kronwall has 3 goals and 11 assists.

I can't quote his entire article, but it's assumed that the Wings will swap out Ian White for Brendan Smith on defense, and the lines should look like the ones MLive's Ansar Khan reported that the Wings practiced with on Wednesday:

Here are the lines they skated with today:

Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Justin Abdelkader

Gustav Nyquist-Johan Franzen-Drew Miller

Daniel Cleary-Valtteri Filppula-Damien Brunner

Cory Emmerton-Joakim Andersson-Jordin Tootoo/Patrick Eaves

...

Here are the defense Babcock plans to use for Thursday:

Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson

Kyle Quincey-Brendan Smith

Danny DeKeyser-Jakub Kindl

Carlo Colaiacovo, Brian Lashoff and White are expected to be the healthy scratches.

Jimmy Howard (starting Thursday)

Jonas Gustavsson

Things kind of got weird during the Wings' morning skate--or the lack thereof (something tells me that it was "optional")--because the beat writers were asking Howard questions instead of reporting lineup tweaks.

Urgh:

Well, we finally got lineup news of a sort:

Equally strangely, ESPN's Craig Custance's Insider-only blog focuses on the Sharks this morning, praising Antti Niemi...

While other goalies worked to find their game, Niemi was perfect in January with a 6-0 record, 1.95 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. His save percentage has seen the expected regression since then but he's still at .922 for the season, good for No. 13 in the league.

"Just getting ready and getting a good start helped [with confidence]," Niemi said on Wednesday.

He's been especially effective at home, with a 13-1-4 record at HP Pavilion to go with a 1.75 goals against average and .936. He just might be the least talked about Vezina candidate in the league.

And offering some Shark-friendly stats:

This season, there's been a dramatic improvement [in the Sharks' penalty-killing]. Adding Brad Stuart, who leads the Sharks with 2:45 of short-handed icetime per game was a big part in that improvement. So has the development and contributions of some of San Jose's younger defensemen in Justin Braun and Jason Demers.

San Jose currently has the league's No. 4 penalty kill (86.9 percent) and is tied with St. Louis in allowing only five power play goals all season at home. A strong penalty kill is no guarantee for postseason success but a bad penalty kill all but eliminates a team from contender status. So that's a positive.

Another positive for the Sharks, who currently cling to the No. 5 seed in the West, is their team PDO, a metric that measures a team's luck by adding shooting percentage and save percentage at even strength. Over time, teams regress to 1.000 -- anything above that suggests teams are lucky and below it unlucky. The Sharks PDO is currently at .990. If anything, they're due for some better bounces during the remainder of the season.

The one somewhat alarming stat is San Jose's goals for/against at even strength. They're currently at No. 21 in the league at 0.91, with the Islanders the only other playoff-position team with a lower number (0.88). If it's any consolation, last year's Stanley Cup finalists -- New Jersey and Los Angeles -- were both very average at even strength during the regular season last year.

Hell, by the time I got ready to post this, the Sharks were already skating:

 

 

Um, yay?

 

 

Meanwhile, in Grand Rapids...

The Griffins posted a "Best of March" video, too:

And if you don't already know it, Red Wings prospect Nick Jensen and Saint Cloud State University will battle Quinnipiac in one of the Frozen Four semifinals in Pittsburgh tonight (8 PM EDT, ESPN2), and Yahoo Sports' Ryan Lambert gave Jensen oodles of praise in his Frozen Four preview:

St. Cloud's Nick Jensen is the highest-scoring defenseman in the frozen four with 31 points in 41 games this season, but that doesn't even begin to attest to the fact that in reality he's also top-class when it comes to shuttering opposing offenses.

 

Update #0.5:

Update #1: The Windsor Star's Duff adds injury news to the mix...

Detroit right-winger Mikael Samuelsson, out since March 31 with a left pectoral muscle tear, will make the Wings’ four-game road trip starting Friday in Chicago, but remains uncertain as to when he’ll play.

“I will get in there,” Samuelsson said. “It’s just a matter of when. I don’t even want to guess. No guesses from me. At least it feels better every day. From yesterday to today was the best day, so hopefully I got over the hump.”

Samuelsson, who’s missed 12 games this season with a groin strain and 19 games due to a broken finger, will be on the sideline for his fifth game with his current ailment.

“It doesn’t look like the other shoulder when you compare them,” Samuelsson said. “There’s some tear in there, in the muscle.”

He admitted that his frustration with his bad luck is mounting. “It’s different injuries and two of them definitely in a fluky way,” Samuelsson said. “Like the shot in practice (that broke his finger), in my mind that shouldn’t really happen, but what are you going to do? This one, too, I’ve never seen any guy have that injury. I’ll stick with it, but it’s been really frustrating.”

And, regarding Brad Stuart...

“It’s nice to be back,” said Stuart, who won a Stanley Cup with the Wings in 2007-08. “I’ve got a lot of good memories here, but it’s a little strange at the same time. It will be a little different, but I’m looking forward to it.”

The Sharks can’t say enough good things about what Stuart has added to their mix.

“He’s been great,” Sharks forward Brent Burns said of Stuart. “He’s a vet, a calming presence back there. He’s pretty quiet, but pretty steady.”

MLive's Brendan Savage and Ansar Khan engage in their usual game-day debate, pondering which team "represents the biggest threat" to the Wings' playoff chances:

ANSAR KHAN: Dallas might pose the biggest threat. And it just so happens the Red Wings and Stars wrap up the season in Dallas. The teams each have 17 regulation/overtime wins, the first tie-breaker. That's something to keep an eye on.

The Red Wings have a more favorable schedule, with five games against clubs not currently in a playoff position, compared to just two such games for the Stars.

I'd rate Phoenix as the next-biggest threat. The Coyotes have one remaining set of back-to-back games, the final weekend, against Colorado, which will be eliminated from the playoffs, and Anaheim, which will have nothing to play for.

Columbus has the worst remaining schedule, with six consecutive road games, sandwiched between two home games. The Blue Jackets have only 13 regulation/OT wins, so they likely would lose the tie-breaker with Detroit or Dallas.

Forget about Edmonton and Nashville. The Oilers are always young and fast but rarely any good. This year is no different. And the Predators can't score.

BRENDAN SAVAGE: The Red Wings have two games in hand on Nashville, which has lost four straight, so count out the Predators. Two games against the Predators could also help boost Detroit's chances.

The Red Wings also have one in hand on Columbus, which plays its next six on the road before ending the season at home and was swept by the Red Wings in its only playoff appearance, so forget about the Blue Jackets, too.

Dallas has won three in a row but plays seven of its final nine against teams holding down playoffs spots. That includes the Red Wings in the season finale in Texas, a game I don't see Detroit losing. And Phoenix's last six games include road outings at St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit and Anaheim. That's a tough stretch.

That leaves Edmonton. The Oilers have six of their final eight at home so if the Red Wings don't make the playoffs, the Oilers are most likely to be the team that will keep them out. Just don't count on it.

And the Mercury News's David Pollak offers lineup changes for the Sharks, or at least hints in that regard:

Update #2: I missed this...

I don't know why Sportsnet's Luke Fox waits until Thursday to post his power rankings, but he does wait until Thursday...

17 Red Wings [last week 15]: This version of the Red Wings is too thin to succeed if not running on all cylinders; their postseason streak is in danger. Darren Helm, Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson and Damien Brunner can’t get back to 100 per cent fast enough.

And, from the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan...

Smith in the lineup: Babcock confirmed again defenseman Brendan Smith will be in the lineup Thursday night, with Ian White a healthy scratch.

White, Brian Lashoff and Carlo Colaiacovo are out of the lineup on defense.nSmith was held out of the last two games.

Samuelsson improving: Forward Mikael Samuelsson (pectoral muscle) said he felt noticeable improvement skating after the Red Wings completed their morning skate. Samuelsson has only played four games this season and hasn't played since injuring himself March 31.

"I will get in there," said Samuelsson of returning before the end of the regular season. "It's just a matter of when. I see progress definitely. At least it feels better every day. From yesterday to today, it's been the best day. Hopefully I'm over the hump."

Update #3: In the prospect department, via RedWingsFeed, the Grand Rapids Griffins have named defenseman Chad Billins--who's currently on an AHL-only contract--their "man of the year":

The Grand Rapids Griffins are proud to announce that Chad Billins has been named the team’s winner of the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award for his outstanding contributions to the Grand Rapids community during the 2012-13 season.

A native of Marysville, Mich., and a product of Ferris State University, Billins took an active role in the Griffins’ community relations endeavors during his first professional season. Billins has enjoyed success on the ice, as he’s currently one point away from becoming the franchise’s all-time highest-scoring rookie defenseman, while also making time off the ice, representing the team at more evens and functions than any other Griffins player.

Billins attended every full-team charitable activity, walking dogs at the Pups and Pucks Fall Walk-a-Thon (Mackenzie’s Animal Sanctuary), serving beverages at Red, White and Brews (Easter Seals), packing lunches at Kids’ Food Basket, appearing at a local Uccello’s restaurant for the return of the popular Tip-a-Griffin fundraiser (Griffins Youth Foundation), skating with fans at the Great Skate Winterfest and participating in the Griffins versus Sled Wings sled hockey game.

The 23-year-old defenseman was also a staple in post-game events, including open skates and autograph sessions, and he was a fixture at local youth hockey practices as part of the Growing with the Griffins program. He made visits to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and spent time at other community events, including attending the Griffins Kids Club party and reading to students at a local elementary school.

In recognition of his efforts, Billins will be presented with an etched crystal trophy during an on-ice presentation prior to an upcoming Griffins home game. In addition, Billins will receive a cash prize as the winner of the Griffins’ community player of the year award, sponsored locally by Centennial Securities.

Billins is now one of 30 finalists for the AHL’s 2012-13 Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, honoring the overall IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year. The league award is named after the former Hershey Bears forward and AHL All-Star who died in 1997 following a 16-month battle with leukemia. The winner of the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award will be announced by the American Hockey League on April 18.

Update #4: News from the Wings' morning skate, not so much. News from the Sharks' morning skate? Comcast Sportsnet California's Kevin Kurz provides oodles thereof, so here are some of the highlights from his morning skate report...

The Red Wings, like Columbus on Tuesday, are fighting for their playoff lives. Detroit (19-15-5, 43 points) sits in eighth place in the Western Conference, just one point ahead of ninth place Phoenix and two points better than the Stars and Blue Jackets. The Sharks (20-12-7, 47 points) are also no lock to make the postseason, either, although their chances greatly improved with a recent 6-0-1 homestand.

“We’re in a good position, and we control our destiny. If we win we get in, and if we don’t we don’t,” [Joe] Thornton said. “Each game is important and we know they’re behind us by four points, so it’s a huge game for them.”

Red Wings winger Dan Cleary said: “The game is huge. It’s going to be like a playoff game.”

Detroit coach Mike Babcock is taking a page out of McLellan’s recent playbook and altering his lines. Valtteri Filipulla is expected to center the third line, while Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen are in the middle of the top two lines. The Red Wings have just nine goals in their last six games, and were shut out by St. Louis on Sunday, 1-0, in their most recent match.

“We’re just looking to spark something to get our team to score more goals,” Babcock said.

He also mentioned how strong the Sharks are down the middle since moving Joe Pavelski to the third line center position.

“The big thing for us is they’ve got three lines that I think have real good centers,” Babcock said.

...

On the road, San Jose is just 5-for-66 [on the power play] in the last 17 games away from HP Pavilion. The Sharks have scored 30.4 percent of their goals on the power play; only the Oilers and Flyers have a greater percentage.

Update #5: It took a while, but MLive's Ansar Khan did write a game-day update:

The Detroit Red Wings have scored only 14 goals in their past eight home games, following an 8-3 outburst against Vancouver on Feb. 24.

In search of more goal-scoring, coach Mike Babcock is spreading out his offense over three lines for tonight's game against San Jose (7:30, Fox Sports Detroit).

Valtteri Filppula moves from the wing to the third-line center slot, with Damien Brunner, who's back after missing three games with a sore hip flexor, and Daniel Cleary.

“We’re trying to get Val Filppula to help us out, too, so we moved him to the three-hole and maybe they can generate some offense there with Brunner back,'' Babcock said. “I think change is a good thing, and we’re just looking to spark something to get our team to score more goals.''

Update #6: Here's the Mercury News's David Pollak's morning skate report:

Optional skate for the Sharks this morning so there’s no real way to know if the lines Todd McLellan put together Wednesday will be the ones skating at the start of tonight’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.

(If you’ve forgotten from a couple posts back, the top three lines were Marleau-Couture-Burns, Torres-Thornton-Wingels and Sheppard-Pavelski-Havlat – not in any particular order).

After a poor showing like the one in Collumbus last game, McLellan is usually inclined to tinker with who’s playing as well as where. He acknowledged considering a couple changes – one on the blue line, one up front – but didn’t go into specifics.

That said, don’t be shocked to see Matt Tennyson in for Jason Demers and Scott Gomez back on the fourth line after being scratched against the Blue Jackets.

...

Tonight’s game is Brad Stuart’s first back at the Joe Louis Arena since leaving the Red Wings at the end of last season and returning to the Sharks. And, yes, he said, the fact he spent four-plus seasons here makes it a little bit of a special event.

“I had a lot of good memories here,” Stuart said. “I think as a player, I got better being here. Won a championship with this team and that’s going to be a special thing that you always have – a bond with those players – that nobody can take it away from you. It is a little different coming back here now, but I’m looking forward to it,” he continued. “I’ve got a lot of friends that’ll be here and I’ll get to see. It’ll be a good experience.”

Last night Stuart had dinner with three of his former teammates – Valterri Filppula, Johan Franzen and Jonathan Ericsson – to “get caught up on what was going on in their lives. That was good. Tonight,” Stuart said, “we’ll get down to business.”

There's more from Joe Thornton regarding keeping the Wings in the Sharks' rear-view mirror, but you'll have to read that on your own.

Update #7: The Red Wings' Game Day Blog offers a historical note...

On This Day in Red Wings History...On April 11, 1936

Led by captain Doug Young, the Red Wings capture their first Stanley Cup title, defeating Toronto, 3-1, in a four-game series.

And Ken Kal's "Keys to the Game":

Compete Hard - Detroit worked hard against St. Louis. They need to be at that same level to beat the Sharks, who have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL of late.

Score Goals - The Red Wings have played well defensively lately, but they've had a tough time scoring. Detroit needs to find ways to score tonight; get people to the front of the net, get second and third opportunities, and connect on the Power Play.

Need Solid Goalkeeping - Jimmy Howard has been very good for the Wings. He needs to continue his fine play again tonight against a potent Sharks offense.

Update #8: Here's the Wings' Game Day Blog's "Morning Skate" update:

"It's really close...hopefully by the end of the weekend...Pretty much all the little stuff (is left)."
- Jimmy Howard on potentially signing a contract extension

"I wanted to be here. I get along great with everyone here. I believe in this organization and I think we're going to get the job done."
- Jimmy Howard

"Howie has worked hard and the organization has confidence in him. It's important for us. We need good goaltending. Just how much parity there is, we need him each and every night and he's been excellent for us."
- Mike Babcock

Damien Brunner will return to the lineup tonight after battling a lower-body injury, which has resulted in some line shuffling for tonight.

"We put Mule in (at center). We’re trying to get Filppula to help us out too, so we moved him to the (third line) and maybe they can generate some offense there with Brunner back."
- Mike Babcock

Brendan Smith will be back in the lineup tonight after being a healthy scratch Sunday.

Ian White will be a healthy scratch tonight.

Update #9: Oh swell, via RedWingsFeed, tonight's game is "ESPN's Game of the Week." and ESPN's Craig Custance is focusing almost entirely upon the Sharks:

Maybe the Sharks' core is getting old, but [Dan] Boyle believes there's another run left in this group. GM Doug Wilson made it pretty clear leading up to the deadline, in dealing Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray, that he won't wait forever for it to happen.

"If you don't win, guys go," Boyle said. "Whether it's Clowe or Murray, or this summer someone else. If you don't win, guys are going to move, guys are going to leave. I don't want to go anywhere. We have to win as a team, that's the only way."

Lately, that's what the Sharks have been doing. They enter Thursday night's ESPN.com Game of the Week against the Detroit Red Wings with wins in seven of their past nine games. They've been dominant at home with a 14-1-5 record but quite the opposite on the road, with only six road wins all season. The Ottawa Senators are the only other current playoff team with so few wins away from home.

And things have especially clicked into place since Brent Burns' shift to forward, which is slowly moving from experiment mode to something the Sharks might want to consider long term. Burns' success at forward has opened opportunities on defense for Jason Demers, Justin Braun and Matt Irwin, with coach Todd McLellan singling out the play of Irwin since Burns moved to forward. Irwin's average ice time per game in April is at 19:53, his highest of any month this season. And with Burns at forward, Boyle's presence on defense is as crucial as it's been at any other time in his San Jose tenure.

"When Brent went up front, it created depth immediately," McLellan said. "It created size, shot, a bull in the China shop-type player to play on one of our top lines. That depth kind of reset a number of guys. It's worked until this point. We'll see what happens."

It's a bit reminiscent of the Kings' addition of Jeff Carter last season in that it allowed other forwards to slot into their proper positions on the ice. McLellan shuffled the lines a bit at practice Wednesday partly because of the matchup with Detroit, so the trio of Joe Thornton, Burns and Martin Havlat may not remain intact. But with three lines anchored by centers Logan Couture, Thornton and Joe Pavelski as well as a fourth line that brings speed and grit, the Sharks are more balanced up front than they have been all season.

The game plan is the same as it always is with the Sharks -- get in the offensive zone and try to wear down the opposition.

"When you get tired, they pick you apart" Red Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey said. "We have to do a good job of not being in our zone for a minute, minute and a half."

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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.