The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/11/13 at 02:06 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings' coaches and management have spent the past two days engaging in what I'd argue is the worst course of action for the representatives of a team in the middle of a vicous battle for its playoff life: they made repeated public statements insisting that the team's personnel have performed up to expectations (much to the ire of annoyed Wings fans), and that the team did not need reinforcements going into its final nine games in order to "control its fate" (much to the ire of annoyed Wings fans).
The Wings begin a slate of three games in four nights against the San Jose Sharks tonight (7:30 PM EDT, FSD/CSN Bay Area/97.1 FM: tonight the Wings are also holding a food collection drive to benefit Gleaners' Food Bank at the Joe). Then the Wings head to Chicago tomorrow (8:30 PM EDT, and the NHL Network's gobbled up that game, so cue the Center Ice/GCL blackout) and battle the Predators on Sunday (7:30 PM EDT), and given what's transpired in the Western Conference Standings over the Wings' three-day break, the Wings need to win at least two of the next three games.
Why? The 19-15-and-5 Wings have 43 points and sit in eighth place, 3 points behind both the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues (who have a game in hand), but, thanks to the Phoenix Coyotes' 3-1 win over Edmonton on Wednesday, only a point ahead of Phoenix, and two points ahead of both the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets.
So the Red Wings are in quite the pickle if they don't shut up and start winning games, and they are in quite the pickle against the Sharks. First and foremost, the Wings are 1-and-2 against the Sharks this season: their 2-1 shootout win on February 28th preceded a 2-1 OT loss on March 17th and an ugly--and I mean ugly--2-0 loss to the Sharks on March 27th.
Second, the Sharks sit in 5th place in the Western Conference, 3 points ahead of Detroit with 47, and while they dropped a 4-0 decision to Columbus on Tuesday and a 5-4 shootout loss to Dallas on Sunday, those losses snapped a seven-game winning streak.
After their loss in Columbus, the Sharks told Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area's Kevin Kurz that they must improve their road record post-haste...
“Guys should have a lot of energy. I think we need as individuals to take it upon yourself to be ready, and make sure you’re on top of your game when the puck drops, because we haven’t had a lot of practices,” Stuart said. “I think tonight we failed at that aspect of that game, individually getting ready.”
The Sharks will practice in Detroit on Wednesday.
Stuart continued: “At this time of year with limited on-ice practicing, it’s got to be an individual effort. Every guy has to make sure they’re ready individually, because we’re not getting that practice time. It shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do. For tonight, for some reason, it was.”
The loss widened the gap between the Sharks’ impressive 14-1-5 mark at home and what is now a dismal 6-11-2 record. San Jose’s trip continues with three more road games, and five of the last nine are away from The Tank. Joe Pavelski didn’t have an answer as to why the team has found success much more often at its home rink.
“I don’t know. It shouldn’t be drastic like that,” Pavelski said. “It’s nothing in our head, I don’t think. We’ve been good on the road in the past, with a lot of the same guys here. It’s still a game we’ve got to play, and win.”
And coach Todd McLellan spoke to the Mercury News's David Pollak so emphatically that Pollak wondered aloud whether a "bag skate" was coming the Sharks' way:
"We skated in sand, but even worse, we probably had our heads in the sand, too. That's a bad combination," McLellan said. "We had the intensity of maybe an exhibition game and it's April. That's sad."
Columbus notched the only goal of the first period when it appeared the Blue Jackets had iced the puck, but play continued. Niemi stopped a wraparound attempt, but the rebound popped to Calvert who had plenty of open net in front of him at 8:39.
But the Blue Jackets broke the game open in the second period with two goals in a span of just under two minutes. Wisniewski fired a shot from the blue line past Niemi at 3:09 and Johansen took a pass from Gaborik in the slot and scored at 5:05 when Thornton pursued the puck instead of playing his man, the goal scorer.
"We should be able to kill those type of plays in our sleep by now," McLellan said of that third goal. "We've practiced it and worked on it long enough now, a sort-out coming into our zone."
Gaborik scored at 7:16 of the third period to make it 4-0 and end Niemi's night. McLellan said he made the move to get backup Thomas Greiss some much needed action as Greiss hadn't played since a March 6 injury.
The Sharks were supposed to have Wednesday off after an overnight flight to Detroit, but even before the loss McLellan scheduled an afternoon practice.
Pollak was genuinely surprised when McLellan conducted a short skate in Detroit after they more or less chased the Wings off the ice:
Today’s practice may not have been on the Sharks monthly calendar, but it was added long before the Tuesday night clunker in Columbus. And, no, it didn’t turn into a grueling, no-puck practice where players were gassed at the end. Not that the thought of a bag skate didn’t cross Todd McLellan’s mind.
“There’s a tendency to get emotional and come in here and work them into the ground because they didn’t work real hard last night,” the coach said, later calling that a natural instinct. “But that’s not going to do us any good tomorrow or for the rest of the road trip or the season. You have to do what’s right to give your team a chance to win the next day.”
McLellan did shake the lines up after that disappointing 4-0 loss to the Blue Jackets, though he could still decide to go back to the way things were by game time Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings.
Here’s how McLellan put the top three lines together at today’s practice:
TJ Galiardi is missing from those lines only because he had a maintenance day. He may be missing Thursday night as well because McLellan noted Galiardi is dealing with some soreness and isn’t a sure thing. As for the new lines, here’s what McLellan had to say while trying to remain non-committal.
“Maybe the lines that we’ve had are a little bit stale right now and we’ve ridden them long enough,” he said. “That could be one train of thought. Looking at Detroit’s lineup, you have to consider what they may throw at you and obviously things can change there. There’s a number of different reasons for it.”
Players knew today's practice was coming before they left on the trip. Originally, the team was going to fly out after Sunday's game against Dallas, then practice in Columbus on Monday and take today off. Instead, the coaching staff opted to wait until Monday to fly and shift the practice to Wednesday. Still, the players weren't sure what was in store until they went out on the ice.
Were they thinking it might be a bag skate?
"Because of last night's performance? No, you don't know what you're expecting, but there's 18 days left and we have nine games," said Marc-Edouard Vlasic. "Obviously if you look at the last game, we didn't play as well as we wanted to. But if you look at the last 10 games, we've been doing a lot of good things."
The Sharks know they went into a downward spiral immediately after their first seven-game win streak of the season ended. They don't want history to repeat. Logan Couture liked the fact Detroit is next on the schedule.
"I hope that playing in this building helps and playing against this team helps," Couture said. "We've got a history with these guys. Been here in the playoffs a couple years and we seem to play good games against these guys.
"I think we just got away from our game last night," he added. "We didn't get after their (defense), we didn't play fast like we had been doing or forecheck. We didn't play the way that we were playing at all. They are correctable though."
Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area's Kurz took note of the fact that the Sharks actually spent most of their time watching video instead of being skated into the ground...
Marc-Edouard Vlasic said: “It wasn’t long at all, three drills, but it was good. We worked on some things and did some video, as well. When you get a chance, video is basically practice, as well.”
The video session and on-ice drills were termed a “system review” by the coach, as the Sharks have had numerous off-days while trying to conserve their energy with the hectic schedule. The team has added some new players and changed roles for a few others, so Wednesday offered the opportunity for the coaching staff to remind the team how it wants and expects the team to play.
Brad Stuart said on Tuesday night that the Sharks failed at taking individual responsibility in regards to preparation, which is of utmost importance when there is a dearth of practice time. Tommy Wingels echoed those statements on Wednesday.
“The individual effort from each guy has got to be there and that aspect slipped last night,” Wingels said. "The onus is on each guy to be prepared and have 100 percent effort every night. There are certain things you can control in this game, and effort is the primary one. Games are every other day this time of year. Every team has that. People on this team, and the staff and the players, thought rest was what we needed. … Like Stuey said, it’s got to be on the individual to be ready and be prepared.”
There was no argument from McLellan.
“I think that was evident. The staff has the responsibility to prepare them technically for what to expect in a game. It’s our job to try to hold them accountable during a game, but the inner drive and commitment to grind it out in the game has to come from them right now. It’s their team. We just showed each other what we can do with a real honest, hard effort (during the homestand). We can’t give ourselves permission to take days off right now. We can’t afford that luxury.”
And Kurz's sidebar story's anything but optional reading, because the McLellan's decision to shift Brent Burns to a forward has yielded individual and team-wide increases in offense--or, in other words, he's no Mathieu Dandenault:
“It energized the team,” McLellan said. “He’s got size, he can shoot the puck. He brought an energy to the group that was contagious. There are a lot of good things about him being up there.”
The numbers bear that out. When Burns was shifted to forward before a game in St. Louis on March 12, the Sharks were scoring just 2.17 goals per game. Only the Nashville Predators had fewer. The team was mired in an epic scoring slump, failing to score more than two goals in regulation for 18 of 19 games.
Burns had a goal in that first game against St. Louis, a 4-2 Sharks loss, and six points in his first four games. The Sharks actually lost three of the four after the move, but the offense was finally showing signs of life, with 11 goals over that span – an explosion, considering what the Sharks had done over the previous six weeks.
Since then, the Sharks are 8-2-1, and all of Burns’ 14 points have come at forward (he played defense on March 30 against Phoenix, when Jason Demers was a late scratch due to injury). While the move kick-started Burns’ game, it also gave a jolt to the rest of the offense. In the 15 games since the switch, the Sharks have scored 2.67 goals per game, exactly half a goal more than they had been scoring up to that point. In the tight-checking and often low scoring games in the Western Conference, that’s often the difference between getting one or two points in the standings.
Combined with Joe Pavelski’s move to center – something that would have been unlikely without Burns’ versatility – the Sharks have finally found the offensive depth that had been eluding them since the season began.
“Burnzie going up front and Pavelski going on the third line has balanced things out. That’s probably the biggest reason things have been going well,” Dan Boyle said. “Him going up front is almost like at the trade deadline, where you get a power forward all of a sudden, and then guys kind of fall into place. Our balance has been that much better. He’s been really good up front.”
And if you want a "warm fuzzy," Sharks broadcaster Randy Hahn offers just that in his "Thought of the Day":
Any regular viewer of Sharks broadcasts know that Drew Remenda and I do a brief segment that kicks off the Esurance Postgame Live (aka “The Brodie Brazil Show”) following every game. I’m not going to lie. It’s always an easier segment to do when the Sharks win, but it must be done win or lose.
Yesterday’s 4-0 loss in Columbus was tough. The Sharks never seemed to find their legs and the desperate Blue Jackets took full advantage. Drew and I never discuss ahead of time what we’re going to talk about on the post-game show. It’s a spontaneous and organic thing, like my hair.
Last night our “theme” if you want to call it that was that the Sharks have to move on. Of course there were mistakes made on the ice and the coaches will go over that and more at practice. But then it has to be over. In this crazy compressed season there’s no time to dwell on negatives or positives for that matter. The Red Wings are every bit as desperate as the Blue Jackets are and they will be a formidable opponent on Thursday at The Joe. We can moan all day about how the Sharks got it handed to them twice in Columbus this year but it won’t change the fact that preparing for Detroit is all that really matters now. Onward.
I’m Randy Hahn
We'll slowly shift perspectives via NHL.com's Tal Pinchevsky's game preview...
Big story: With fourth and 13th place in the Western Conference separated by just 10 points, the Sharks and Red Wings are in the thick of a cluttered playoff push. San Jose held fifth place in the conference entering Wednesday's play, while Detroit has dropped four of their last six and are holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Sharks [team scope]: Following a perfect 7-0-0 record in January, the Sharks went 6-11-6 through February and most of March, causing speculation that the team's run of eight straight playoff berths could end. But San Jose rebounded nicely with a seven-game win streak that started late last month.
That streak ended with a 5-4 shootout loss to Dallas on Sunday, which was followed by a four-game road swing that started Tuesday night in Columbus.
Red Wings [team scope]: A 5-1-0 stretch last month put the Red Wings in a favorable position heading into the late-season playoff push. But they've gone 2-4-0 since then, combining for just nine goals in that span and putting their incredible streak of 21 straight postseason appearances in jeopardy. Heading in to Wednesday night's action, Detroit was just two points ahead of Dallas and Columbus, which had played one extra game.
A big divisional win on Sunday against the St. Louis Blues would have helped the Red Wings' cause. But Chris Porter scored the game's only goal and the Red Wings failed to beat Brian Elliott as they suffered a 1-0 defeat and were shut out for the second time in a week despite holding a 28-25 shot advantage.
Who's hot: Brent Burns has eight points in his past nine games for the Sharks, while TJ Galiardi has three points in his past four games. … For the Wings, Gustav Nyquist has three points in his past four games while Henrik Zetterberg has eight points in his past 10 games.
Injury report: San Jose activated forward Tim Kennedy from injured reserve this week and he is questionable for Thursday's game. Defenseman Scott Hannan (neck) remains out indefinitely. … For Detroit, forwards Darren Helm (back) and Mikael Samuelsson (upper body) are out, as is wing Todd Bertuzzi, who has been out two months but is traveling with the team. Rookie Damien Brunner returns to the lineup after missing three games with a sore hip flexor.
And the AP's game preview adds more stats to the mix:
he Red Wings won 23 consecutive home games Nov. 5-Feb. 19, 2012, setting a new league mark on their way to a 31-7-3 record in Detroit last season.
They haven't been nearly as good there in 2013, though, going 1-3-1 over the last five to drop to 10-7-3. Detroit (19-15-5) fell 1-0 to visiting St. Louis on Sunday and has lost four of six overall, beginning with a 2-0 defeat at San Jose on March 28. It hasn't missed the playoffs since the 1989-90 season, but it currently sits in eighth place in the Western Conference.
The Red Wings begin a four-game trip Friday against Chicago before finishing up with three of their last four at home.
The Sharks, who are 7-1-1 in the last nine regular-season meetings with the Red Wings, have a four-game homestand remaining before finishing with two contests on the road that could have implications for playoff seeding.
After posting a 1.41 goals-against average during the winning streak, Antti Niemi has allowed four non-shootout goals in each of the last two games. He's given Detroit fits, though, making 33 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss Feb. 28 and 27 in the last meeting. Niemi is 4-1-1 with a 1.64 GAA in his last six starts versus the Red Wings.
DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose gives us the Wings' take on the importance of both winning tonight's game and finishing strongly at the Joe...
“You always want to play well at home,” said Valtteri Filppula, who has been taken off the wing and will play his first game this season as the third-line center. “Definitely would be a good start to get a home win and then go on the road and hopefully get some confidence and get some wins on the road.”
The Red Wings can benefit by taking a page out of the Blue Jackets’ playbook from Tuesday night when they caused havoc for the Sharks by getting an abundance of traffic in front of net and chasing goalie Antti Niemi early in the third period. Niemi always plays great against Detroit with a career 9-2-2 record with a 1.81 goal-against average and three shutouts.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall agreed, the Wings need to get bodies in front of the Sharks’ net if they hope to get pucks past Niemi.
“Getting a lot of traffic, a lot of pucks in there, I think that’s the biggest key because we have to make it harder on him that way,” Kronwall said. “Try to make him not see so many pucks. But at the same time they’ve been playing really well defensively, making it hard on the other team, making it really tight, so we have to do a good job of getting through the middle and get more bodies in front.”
A key for the Red Wings might be in the rest that they’ve been able to enjoy with three days off between games this week.
“It’s been a tough month,” Kronwall said. “It’s been a lot of travel, so hopefully we can kind of reset everything and come back more energized, and be ready to go, because we’re coming down to the wire here and it’s going to be so tight all the way through.
And Wings coach Mike Babcock also addressed the team's crappy home record of late while speaking to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:
“We’ve survived by winning on the road and not at home,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We have to be better at home. We were good early at home and not on the road and now it’s vice versa so if I had the answer we’d fix it, but in saying that maybe we try to be too cute at home and more simplified on the road. We need to play a simple game and our guys understand that.”
The Wings won an NHL record 23 consecutive games on home ice last season.
“We’ve been way too inconsistent at home,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “I don’t know what the reason is. We need to find a way here in order to make the playoffs.”
Detroit is currently holding onto the eighth playoff seed in the Western Conference, two points ahead of Dallas and Columbus.
“It seems like the teams that are below us are hounding us and the teams that are above us are trying to win every game that they can,” Ericsson said. “It feels like if you win one game the other guys are winning too. It’s like there is no room for error here. We have to be really good here over the last part of the season.”
In terms of the Wings' lineup, as MLive's Ansar Khan noted, Babcock will make one tweak on defense...
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
Darren Helm (back) skated before practice and for the first few minutes with the team. Babcock said on Tuesday that he doesn't anticipate Helm playing this season, but Helm said he'll continue trying to come back.
Todd Bertuzzi (pinched nerve) hasn't practiced the past two days. General manager Ken Holland said he has gone for another opinion on his back. Mikael Samuelsson (sore pectoral muscle) skated briefly after practice.
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)
And the vast majority of the Wings' press coverage on both Wednesday and this morning involves Smith's status as a healthy scratch for a two-game stretch, perhaps marking the first time that Smith had been scratched since he had played midget hockey for the St. Michael's Buzzers. Babcock told the Free Press's George Sipple that he scratched Smith for a very simple reason...
"I just wanted the puck looked after better," coach Mike Babcock said of Smith sitting out. "I want him to be better. He's a better player than that, and I expect him to be better. He's had a few days to watch and think about it. I think Smitty's an ultracompetitive guy who has a huge upside, who has to take care of the puck better. In other words, after he has it, who has it?"Smith has four giveaways and is minus-five over his past five games.
"I think how I took it is you have to watch from the stands and figure out what got you out of the lineup," Smith said of being scratched.He has no goals and five assists and a minus-one in 26 games this season. Smith said he needs to make "a good first pass" and not try to make things more complicated. He said he needed to play the "Nicklas Lidstrom way," making sure the first pass gets through.
"Try to keep positive and get myself in the lineup again," Smith said.
And Babcock offered a slightly different take to MLive's Ansar Khan:
"It’s like anything, it’s a competitive business and you have to play well,'' Babcock said. “I don’t care whether you’re playing soccer, whether you’re playing basketball, whether you’re playing hockey or whether you’re playing football. It’s who has the ball, the puck or whatever after you’re done with it. If it’s other team all the time, then things aren't going good for you.''
Smith has posted a minus-1 rating in each of his past five games to go from plus-4 to minus-1 on the season.
“There’s always things that I have to work on, making a good first pass, not trying to get too complicated because maybe that’s one of the reasons why (he was scratched),'' Smith said. “I think things have to get better, just making my game a little more simple and playing the Nicklas Lidstrom way – see the first pass, make it.''
Smith has no goals and five assists in 26 games. He is embracing the challenge of high-pressured games the last couple weeks of the season, as the team tries to secure a playoff spot.
“I love the pressure,'' Smith said. “I love when it gets down to crunch time and playoff hockey. You watch it and the competition is already starting to get a lot better, and it’s cool to play in those games and it’s a lot of fun for myself.I’m a very competitive person, so once it gets to be like that I kind of feed off of it.''
Otherwise, the Red Wings acknowledged that they're in a dogfight to earn the right to play past April 27th while speaking to the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan...
"We were a little fortunate in years past, but at the same time this is a good learning experience," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "This is a test of character for a team, so it's about staying together and doing everything together as a unit. It's going to come down to the wire."
Forward Henrik Zetterberg generally watches more hockey in the playoffs than he does during the regular season.
"This year I'm watching a little earlier than normal," Zetterberg said.
Necessitating both better puck movement from all of the Wings' blueliners and, as Kronwall told Roose, more offensive jam...
Babcock wants to see the Red Wings, who don't have the natural goal scorers they've had in past seasons, score more gritty, ugly goals.
"(You have to be) harder at their net," Babcock said."When you're not a scorer, there's only one way to get it to the net and (then) just hang around and maybe it goes off your leg. You need some ugly goals."
But those interviews at the Detroit Economic Club and Ken Holland's appearances on The Fan 590 and WDFN didn't just have the Wings' players admitting to MLive's Ansar Khan that they're aware of the fact that their playoff streak
may be plain old IS in jeopardy after 21 straight years of post-season hockey in Detroit...
“We knew it was going to be like that coming into the season, a battle every single night,'' goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “There are no easy games anymore in this league.''
The Red Wings have nine games remaining, including Thursday against the San Jose Sharks at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit is in eighth place in the West, three points behind St. Louis and Minnesota, but only two points ahead of Dallas and Columbus.
“It seems like the teams below us are hounding us and the teams above us are trying to win every game they can,'' defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “It feels like if you win one game the other guys are winning, too. It’s like there is no room for error. We have nine games left and we have to win five or six of those, at least.''
“We got to forget about trying to make fancy plays when we get into the offensive zone; those days are over, the way teams play defense, the way they collapse down in front of goalies,'' Howard said. “It's going to be dirty goals and you're going to have to go to the front of the net, hopefully get one banked off you.''
“We can do a lot better coming out with more energy from the start, instead of sitting back and waiting,'' Kronwall said.
The Red Wings' postseason streak began in 1990-91, one season before former captain Nicklas Lidstrom entered the NHL. It is the longest active run in the four major sports. Having to battle to get in is a new experience, but “a good learning experience'' Kronwall said.
“This is really when you test the character of the team,'' Kronwall said. “It's about sticking together, it's about doing everything together as a unit. It's going to come down to the wire.''
The Oakland Press's Pat Caputo pondered the Wings' fate in a "spirit of the thing" column...
The Red Wings have been extremely confusing this season. As a seventh-seed, for example, their likely first-round opponent would be the Ducks. As part of their quirky schedule this season, the Red Wings played the Ducks in back-to-back road games March 22 and 24. Detroit won both games. The Red Wings have also played Vancouver extremely tough, while they have struggled with lesser teams such as Columbus and Calgary.
There was all this concern about a schedule that had the Red Wings on the road out West in late March. They did very well in that stretch, but have often played dreadful hockey at home.
Nicklas Lidstrom, arguably the greatest defenseman of all time, retired, so there was major concern about the Red Wings’ defensive prowess. Actually, the Red Wings have been sound defensively. Their Achilles Heel has been an inability to score goals. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk remain two of the NHL’s best forwards, but aren’t pure goal scorers. Jimmy Howard is experienced now. There is a possibility he could steal a series or two in the playoffs.
But if the Red Wings do come on, it would be one of those improbable playoff stories - like the Los Angeles Kings, who won the Stanley Cup last year as an eighth seed. It would be, well, an upset.
The Red Wings haven’t been nearly as aggressive acquiring veteran players as they once were. With lots of salary cap space, they weren’t able to land a big fish in free agency last summer. They didn’t make a trade at the recently passed deadline. The Kings were spurred on last year by a trade that acquired goal scorer Jeff Carter from Columbus.
The Red Wings need one of their younger forwards, such as Tomas Tatar or Gustav Nyquist, to emerge - or Johan Franzen to re-gain his goal scorer’s touch.
If there is an organization in this town that has earned slack, it’s the Red Wings. But a spring without playoff hockey in this town would be like a spring without flowers abloom.
And the Free Press's relatively new shift disturber, Jeff Seidel, actually went for the sincere instead of sarcastic approach in "celebrating" the Wings' playoff streak precisely because it's in danger of being snapped:
"This is a little uncharted territory for our organization," said former Red Wing Kris Draper, who has no idea what it's like to miss the playoffs after playing in 222 playoff games over 17 years for the Wings. "I was talking to some of the guys. Right now, they don't need any help. We control our destiny. We just need to win games. If we beat San Jose (tonight), we create a little cushion."
For the sake of comparison, consider this: San Jose has the second-longest active playoff streak in the NHL -- at a measly nine straight years. So today, before this short season gets even shorter, before the tension mounts, let's celebrate what this organization has accomplished. Let's celebrate how wonderfully spoiled Red Wings fans have become. It has been a long journey, step by step.
"A day goes by and a day goes by and a day goes by," general manager Kenny Holland said, "and one day you wake up and you've been in the playoffs for 21 straight years."
Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser, 22, wasn't born when the streak began.
"It's a pretty good streak we have going here," DeKeyser said. "If we are going to make it happen this year, we have to play hard and make sure we get in."
DeKeyser grew up in Macomb and was a huge Red Wings fan -- a huge fan of playoff hockey. April in the D. Playoff beards. All that stuff.
"A lot of times, they would be out West for playoff games, and I remember staying up late and being tired for school," DeKeyser said. "It was always fun."
Now that's scary to me as a 35-year-old. I remember when the Wings didn't make the playoffs, when they'd make them one year and not make 'em the next, and especially, during my formative years as a Wings fan, when the one-round-and-done playoff runs were the rule and not the exception...But I'm also old enough that this year's draft class will include players who were born during my last year of high school and my first year of college, so you get used to it after a while, I suppose...
Anyway, I can't quote the entire article, but he speaks to Holland and Babcock about Mike Ilitch, he discusses all the things that have changed since the 1989-90 season and tosses off more than a few pop culture references...And it's most reassuring to have the Red Wings' captain suggest that he doesn't want the streak to end on his watch:
"The last couple of years, it's been more difficult," Henrik Zetterberg said. "It's not so much about the streak. It's that we want to be in the playoffs."
Sounds like a plan. Now get 'er done.
Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note: instead of focusing on the obvious sidebar that is the "Brad Stuart returns to Detroit" angle, while I was writing this, Jokerit Helsinki officially posted a "Thanks, Pulu!" banner on their Facebook page, and while my Finnish is wretched, Jokerit's website posted an interview with Pulkkinen, basically confirming that he's leaving for North America after 185 regular-season games played for the organization that helped him develop as a player--from his teenage years onward--and this part is interesting as well:
After the season Pulkkinen will be returning to Finland, and will perform military service during the summer in Lahti, Finland. He won't practice with Jokerit in the summer, but will work out at the facility.
"I'm going alone, which I can do, and of course the Lahti sports school has a lot of good players and facilities. I'll be able to maintain my fitness level and feel good," the forward said.
Jokerit thanks Teemu Pulkkinen for his stellar contributions to the club! Best of luck in your future endeavors, Pulu!"
Physically speaking, Pulkkinen's built like many European prospects, bulked up in his shoulders, chest and arms, and in North American hockey, you need to have a strong core, strong thighs and a strong butt, frankly speaking, so he's going to have to reset himself physically, and having much less time and space on a North American rink is going to take time to adjust to as well...
But as inconsistent as Pulkkinen can be and as inconsistent as he probably will be with the Griffins next year, it must be said that he's played 185 games of pro hockey in Finland, not junior-hockey against kids his own age.
He's played for three seasons against men in a very competitive and surprisingly tough SM-Liiga, and just as you see Joakim Andersson fitting into the Wings' roster very specifically because he already had two years of experience with the Swedish Eliteserien's Frolunda Indians under his belt, the fact that Pulkkinen's played professionally places the 22-year-old ahead of the curve in terms of knowing what it's like to play against players who are much bigger, stronger and more seasoned than he is, and that's three years of experience that most of the Wings' 22-year-old prospects simply don't have.
“It’s nice to be back. I’ve got a lot of good memories here, but it’s a little strange at the same time coming into the other side of the locker room,” said Stuart, following the Sharks’ practice on Wednesday. “I’m sure tomorrow night will be a little different, fun, but I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a fun experience and I’m sure it will be fun to come back and play here.”
Thursday’s home game against the Sharks is Stuart’s only visit to Detroit this season, and the third and final game of the season series between these two Western Conference rivals. The first two games this year were at HP Pavilion, where the Sharks managed to earn three points in a shootout loss (Feb. 28) and a win (March 28) over the Wings.
Last spring, Stuart requested, and was granted, a trade to the Sharks so that he could be closer to his wife and young boys, who live in northern California. A custody issue with her teenage daughter from a previous marriage prohibited Stuart’s wife from relocating to Michigan during his four years with the Red Wings. So the Wings would often allow him to miss occasional practices so he could fly home to visit his family. Being away from his family was painful for Stuart. He was a favorite among the Wings’ coaching staff and his teammates, which made his decision to return to a team on the West Coast even more difficult.
Between the fact that Stuart left Detroit after the Wings were eliminated by the Predators about a year ago, the fact that he's spent his off-seasons in San Jose and the fact that he'd been training and practicing with Sharks players both during and after the lockout, well...
It sounds like this may very well be just another game for a good foot-soldier who got used to the concept of "being a Shark again" long before you or I wrapped our heads around it:
“It’s going to be a good game, and they’re still a good team,” Stuart said. “They still have a lot of elite-caliber players and a lot of desperation to go along with that. That’s a dangerous combination and as a group we have to be ready for that, and be aware of the guys that can hurt you.”...
“As we were playing better that’s one thing that was standing out, our forecheck and how our guys were using their size and their speed to get in and cause turnovers,” Stuart said. “We need that again tomorrow. If you can get guys who are 6-4, 6-5, getting in there and using their body, good thing are going to happen. So we need that tomorrow. We didn’t have that last night and you saw the results.”
What are the rules for booing Stuart? The usual ones for a long-time Wing who did nothing but work hard during his tenure with the team: if he scores a goal, if he commits an illegal hit and gets away with it or if he hurts somebody. The end.
The other "story of the day" for the beat writers involved the fact that while Mike Babcock's ruling Darren Helm out for the rest of the season, Helm still believes that he may be able to return for the playoffs, as he told the Macomb Daily's Pleiness:
Forward Darren Helm (back) skated before practice and for the first few minutes with the team before leaving. Wings coach Mike Babcock said Tuesday that he wasn’t planning on having Helm back this season.
“I thought he might have put it that he can’t really count on me being ready to play or he’s got to be prepared for me not to play,” Helm said. “I want to play. I think he’d still like me to get healthy and be in the lineup but right now it’s been three months and it hasn’t changed so he can’t expect me to make a remarkable recovery, so just be prepared not to.”
Forwards Mikael Samuelsson (sore pectoral muscle) skated briefly after practice, while Todd Bertuzzi (pinched nerve) hasn’t practiced in two days.
Wings general manager Ken Holland said Bertuzzi has gone for another opinion on his back.
In the Alumni Department, from greatest to least: The Hallmark Channel will premiere the Mr. Hockey: the Gordie Howe Story on May 4th, but the CBC will air the movie on April 28th. As such, the CBC posted a snippet of cast interviews...
And regarding Mr. Hockey himself, via RedWingsFeed, the Calgary Herald's Rita Mingo reports that Mr. Hockey will be in Calgary on Friday to help kick off a "pro-am" hockey tournament that will benefit Alzheimers' research:
Gordie Howe may have turned 85 on Mar. 31st, but the birthday party continues in Calgary on Friday with some of his best friends and former adversaries in town to bestow best wishes.
“Him and Bobby Hull were my idols growing up,” admitted Mark Napier, the former NHL player who is now executive director of the alumni association. “It really is amazing what he’s done for hockey. I’ve gotten to know him and he’s such a great person. It’s not easy to believe he’s 85, but he still is doing a lot of good things out there, so God bless him.”
NHL legends will gather at the Westin hotel for a star-studded luncheon in honour of the birthday boy, Mr. Hockey himself, in conjunction with the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories. The luncheon is the first official event for the 2013 Pro-Am Face Off for Alzheimer’s Tournament.
Some of the players expected are Napier, Alex Delvecchio, Guy Lafleur, Frank Mahovlich and Garry Unger.
This will be the third year the Pro-Am Faceoff will be held in Calgary. It is also being run in Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver. The event gives local amateur players the chance to rub shoulders with NHL greats while raising funds for Alzheimer’s research and care. The top fundraising team gets first pick in the draft and the weekend will include hanging with the former stars, playing in the game, as well as enjoying beer and chicken wings afterward.
“I like to say it’s the best hockey tournament out there,” suggested Napier. “Here in Calgary, we bring Calgary Flames guys. It’s kind of funny Marty McSorley comes in and he was the first pick overall I think the year before. A dreaded Edmonton Oiler was the first pick. He can tell a few stories about the games he played in from a different perspective than, say, they had drafted Lanny McDonald.”
In a very different vein, the Austin Statesman's Sean Shapiro reports that Mike Commodore's caught on with the AHL's Texas Stars;
In the promotional department, part 1: The Red Wings are holding a "Social Media Meet-Up" in Chicago on Friday from 5 to 6:30 PM CDT;
In the promotional department, part 2: The Wings are still accepting entries for their Dunham's "VIP" experiences, which include watching warm-ups from the penalty box and riding the Zamboni between periods and/or meeting a Wings player after a home game. The contest closes on April 18th;
And now it's time for player Tweets!
(That's 1 PM to 2 PM EDT on Saturday)
In the prospect department, tomorrow evening Nick Jensen and Saint Cloud State University will battle Quinnipiac in one of the two Frozen Four Semifinals in Pittsburgh, PA. The game is the second semifinal of the day (Yale and UMass-Lowell tangle in the 4:30 PM game), taking place at 8 PM, and it will air on ESPN2. The Winners of the quarterfinal will advance to the NCAA championship game on Saturday at 7 PM.
US College Hockey Online posted a video fo SCSU's Wednesday press conference, and Jensen's the third player to appear (the guys have long hair because they're growing it out for "Locks of Love"), at the 2-minute mark, and he's the only clean-shaven player:
Because the Wings' prospect pool of defensemen is so very deep right now (see: Adam Almquist, Max Nicastro, the unsigned but probably-will-be-signed Chad Billins, Ryan Sproul, Gleason Fournier and Richard Nedomlel are playing with the Griffins and/or Walleye right now, and Xavier Ouellet and Alexei Marchenko will turn pro this summer) that the Wings are likely to allow Jensen to finish his senior year at Saint Cloud State, but the lankier-than-he-looks 6'1," 190-pound defenseman is a puck-rusher of the first order.
In other playoff action, the ECHL, the Toledo Walleye are in all sorts of trouble. They dropped a 5-2 decision to the Cincinnati Cyclones, who can sweep the Walleye on Friday. Max Nicastro scored a goal but Trevor Parkes and Willie Coetzee were held off the scoresheet. The Walleye's website and the Toledo Blade provide recaps;
In major junior hockey playoff action, in the QMJHL, Phillipe Hudon faces an uncertain professional hockey future now, because he went without a point in the Victoriaville Tigres' 2-1 loss to Baie-Comeau, which swept Victoriaville.
Hudon had a good season for Victoriaville, posting 35 points in 65 games, but he's not big (listed at 6'1," which is an inch or two optimistic, and 190 pounds, which includes ten pounds of optimism), and I'd guess that the Wings might encourage the Toledo Walleye to sign him as he's battled serious OCD to simply continue playing hockey, but he's no going to be signed by the time the Wings' rights to signing him expire in June.
In brighter news, Baie-Comeau will face off against Xavier Ouellet and the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in one of the QMJHL semifinals as Ouellet registered an assist in the Armada's 2-1 win over Val-d'Or, giving the Armada a second round sweep;
And Martin Frk and his Halifax Mooseheads will play in the other semifinal (they won't know who they'll play until at least Friday) as Frk went scoreless but his Mooseheads defeated Gatineau 5-3, sweeping Gatineau out of the playoffs.
In regular season play, in the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins are offering a playoff ticket giveaway in an attempt to drum up season ticket plan interest, but they'll have to wait at least another day or three to officially qualify for the playoffs. They dropped a 3-2 decision to the Chicago Wolves on Wednesday night (and none of Richard Nedomlel, Ryan Sproul, Jake Paterson or Teemu Pulkkinen dressed for the Griffins). The Griffins' website provides a recap (and photo gallery)...
The Chicago Wolves rode an impressive 28-save performance by Matt Climie to their first win in seven tries this season against the Grand Rapids Griffins, a 3-2 decision before a Wednesday night throng of 8,348 at Van Andel Arena.
After having lost to Grand Rapids thrice in overtime, once in a shootout and twice in regulation this year, the Wolves bolstered their playoff chances and prevented the Griffins from clinching their own postseason berth by prevailing in the sixth one-goal decision between the Midwest Division rivals this season. With Peoria’s 4-0 win over Rockford tonight, a Grand Rapids win in regulation would have officially secured the team’s first playoff appearance since 2009.
The Griffins (40-24-3-4), who began a four-game homestand on the heels of a season-high seven-game road trip, maintain an eight-point lead atop the division over Milwaukee, Rockford and, now, Chicago (35-26-5-4). They’ll host the Admirals on Friday at 7 p.m., when a regulation win by the Griffins would clinch at least a tie for a playoff spot.
An opportunistic Wolves squad escaped a back-and-forth first period – the only frame in which any scoring occurred – with that one-goal margin. Just 4:01 into the game, Petr Mrazek lost sight of the puck in his crease after making a save, and when Adam Almquist rushed in to try to sweep it out of harm’s way, Jordan Schroeder intercepted the puck and put it over the line just before the net was dislodged.
It took the Griffins only 11 seconds to answer, off a faceoff deep in the Chicago zone after Nicklas Jensen was whistled off for tripping. A Wolves clearing attempt deflected off Calle Jarnkrok and onto the stick of Tomas Jurco, who immediately popped a shot into a yawning net from the doorstep.
Chicago went ahead 3-1 with a pair of quick goals less than 10 minutes later. A Schroeder centering pass bounced off the leg of Bill Sweatt and past Mrazek at 12:04, before newly acquired Jon Matsumoto connected on a rocket from the slot at 13:33, prompting Griffins coach Jeff Blashill to call his timeout.
Grand Rapids cut its deficit in half with 2:58 left before intermission, as Almquist took a cross-ice pass from Jan Mursak and ripped a shot inside Climie’s far post from the right circle.
An extremely quick whistle negated what would have been the tying goal and Jurco’s second of the night with just over two minutes remaining in the second period, as Landon Ferraro’s shot slid beneath Climie’s glove before Jurco tapped the loose puck into the net.
Instead, that 3-2 score held until the final horn, despite the Griffins’ best efforts to put another one past Climie.
Mrazek finished with 25 saves.
Notes: With tonight’s attendance of 8,348 and pre-sale figures for their final three home games, the Griffins have secured an attendance increase for the third straight year and the sixth time in the last seven seasons. Hershey, which will finish with an increase for the 10th straight season, is the only AHL team with a longer/better attendance trend since 2006-07.
As well as a slate of higlights and interviews...
And the Grand Rapids Press's Dean Holzwarth spoke to the Griffins and coach Jeff Blashill after the game:
"Their goalie was playing well, and we just couldn't score,” said Grand Rapids' right wing Tomas Jurco, who scored a power play goal in the first. “We played a good two periods, but the first period cost us the game.”
Jurco had an apparent game-tying goal taken away late in the second period when the referee blew an early whistle.
“I saw the puck the entire time, and it was on the goal line,” Jurco said. “I skated in and put it in, but unfortunately, he blew the whistle before. It was too bad for us because it could've been 3-3 and a totally different game.”
Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said the disallowed goal was a bad break, but it didn't affect the outcome.
“He lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle,” he said. “That's the way it goes sometimes. Things like that are going to happen, but we had plenty of time to come back and it didn't have an impact on the game at all. We had plenty of chances, but we just didn't score when we needed to.”
Climie was stout in the net for Chicago and finished with 28 saves. He thwarted several chances while facing constant pressure in the offensive zone by the Griffins.
“It was a little uncharacteristic for both teams to give up that many goals in the first, but both teams settled their defense and both goalies made big saves at big moments,” Blashill said. “I thought we did a real good job of coming back with a lot of energy, but we didn't get the start we wanted at all.”
[The] Griffins will hold their annual equipment sale Saturday night in the Van Andel concourse. It begins at 5:45 and lasts until the second intermission. It will be a cash only sale with a variety of new and used equipment available for purchase. Those interested must have a ticket to the game.
Update: Don't tell anyone that Jimmy Howard lives "in my backyard." Fox Sports Detroit's Trevor Thompson rode down to the Joe with Jimmy Howard recently, and the video's worth your time:
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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.