The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/29/13 at 04:37 AM ET
Red Bird III remained parked at San Jose International Airport as the Red Wings' players chose to spend the night in San Jose instead of enduring an all-night flight back to Detroit after their game against the Sharks. After dropping a 2-0 decision to San Jose, whose only highlight involved Pavel Datsyuk dekeing Logan Couture out of his shorts, the Wings may have slept a little less easily in their beds, because a very "winnable" game got away.
The Wings will head back to Joe Louis Arena for Sunday-Monday tilts against the Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche, respectively, before hitting the road, and the Wings spent the vast majority of this past seven-day period making statements, defeating the Anaheim Ducks 5-1 last Friday and 2-1 on Sunday, all before heading to Phoenix and dropping the Coyotes 3-2 on Tuesday.
Even having lost Thursday's game to San Jose, the 17-12-and-5 Wings still sit in 6th place in the Western Conference with 39 points, five points ahead of the 9th-place Predators and 6 ahead of the Dallas-Edmonton-Phoenix-Columbus mash-up.
The Wings did what they needed to do on the road in separating themselves from that desperate playoff pack, and there's no doubt that the Wings did in fact establish an identity of sorts while spending over a week away from the Joe.
That being said, the Sharks one-upped the Wings--they defeated the Ducks twice, and opened a 7-game home-stand with back-to-back shutout wins, dropping Anaheim 4-0 on Wednesday and suffocating the hell out of the Wings on Thursday.
As the Sharks told the San Francisco Chronicle's Ross McKeon, rope-a-doping Detroit while Antti Niemi faced 27 shots and the Sharks blocked another 23 and didn't have to worry about the 17 that the Wings fired wide of the net. Was the game truly one marred by a single penalty? Of course not, but that didn't matter to the authors of most of the night's hooks, holds, gropes and grabs:
"Not too many chances for either club," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "Two lucky bounces off skates and they end up in the back of the net."
The hosts scored late in the first and early in the third to support their suddenly hot netminder, who recorded his third shutout of the season and No. 22 for his career.
"When we had little mistakes he bailed us out," Joe Pavelski said of Niemi.
Thornton picked off Detroit rookie defenseman Brian Lashoff's pass and fed Brent Burns for his fifth goal of the season with a shot over the left shoulder of Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard 2:07 into the final period.
Sharks forward T.J. Galiardi was whistled for the first penalty of the game 10:44 into the third period. Detroit did little with the 5-on-4 advantage, however, putting two shots on net and icing the puck once. Detroit had scored a power-play goal in eight straight games.
The Sharks scored the only goal of a fast-paced, clean first period as Pavelski received a fortuitous bounce to collect his 10th of the season. Working from behind the Detroit goal, Pavelski pushed the puck out front and it bounced off the stick of Kronwall and then off of the defender's left skate past Howard with just 1:01 left in the period.
"For whatever reason we play real well at home," Thornton said. "If we just get two goals, Nemo is good for a shutout or one goal. It was a good, solid game and an important four points the last two nights."
As Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area's Kevin Kurz noted, Thornton's been playing with converted defenseman Brent Burns, and that line was lethal against Detroit, as was...The Sharks' third line?
In the worst scoring slump of his career, going eight games without a point, [Joe] Pavelski was shifted to third-line center before the Sharks’ game in Anaheim on Monday. He’s scored a first period goal in every game since, including against the Red Wings, when his wraparound attempt bounced in off of Niklas Kronwall’s skate. It was the 10th goal for Pavelski, who tied for the team lead with a career-high 31 last season. It was one of those bounces that neither he, nor the Sharks, were getting from February through mid-March.
“It’s one of those things when they come, you welcome them and move on,” Pavelski said.
As for Burns, the defenseman made headlines around the league when he returned from a leg injury on March 12 in St. Louis to skate up front. He scored a goal in that game against the Blues and has never looked back. He has five goals and five assists in the nine games total as a forward.
Joe Thornton set him up on Thursday after taking advantage of a giveaway by Red Wings defenseman Brian Lashoff in the Sharks' offensive zone. Burns unleashed a high shot over Jimmy Howard’s glove for a key insurance goal in the third period.
Burns said: “When you’re contributing, it makes the game fun. It’s been a good time.”
Although the Sharks didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard on Thursday, the four forward lines were all effective at times throughout the tight-checking affair, in which open ice was at a premium. That’s a result of a more balanced attack, and the fact that the Sharks have the last change at home and can get the matchups they want before the faceoff.
[Sharks coach Todd] McLellan said: “The way the lines are set up – a very good night from [Scott] Gomez’s line again tonight, they were very effective – some of the matches we can use here at home, put us in certain advantages at times.”
At the other end of the ice, as both Kurz (if you want to read his "instant replay," you may do so on your own) and the Mercury News's David Pollak noted (Pollak also penned a blog entry, but at 4:18 AM, it doesn't seem to fit in with the recap narrative, so I'm leaving it as optional reading for you) Antti Niemi got the job done:
"I felt good after last night," Niemi said following his 27-save performance 24 hours after blanking the Anaheim Ducks. "I thought I was really patient and waited for the pucks, and I wasn't cheating or expecting anything else. I was just reading the play. That's a confidence thing for sure."
The goals in San Jose's third consecutive win came from Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns -- two players who are on a scoring tear after coach Todd McLellan found them new roles. Pavelski now has a goal in each of his three games as a third-line center, and Burns has five goals and five assists since being moved from defenseman to right wing. All of which makes the coach look pretty good, right?
"I don't know if they're making the coach look good," McLellan said, "but they're competing hard and getting rewarded for it. More importantly, the team is getting rewarded for it."
This game didn't have the up-and-down speed that marked the two wins over Anaheim. Instead it was a tight contest with both teams fighting for every inch of ice. Despite that, only one penalty was called -- a hooking minor against TJ Galiardi that the Sharks were able to kill off -- making it the first time in franchise history that a Sharks opponent played a penalty-free game.
"A tight contest" is an understatement. And it was a grab-fest as far as I'm concerned, but I'm a Wings fan.
The game was scoreless until late in the first period when Pavelski outworked Zetterberg behind the Detroit net for the puck, then banked it off Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall's skate and into the net at 18:59.
Joe Thornton and Burns both used their long reach to give San Jose a 2-0 lead at 2:06 of the third period. First Thornton forced a turnover, then Burns kept it away from Brendan Smith to get off the quick shot that beat Red Wing goalie Jimmy Howard.
The win gives the Sharks 38 points for the season and the seventh spot in the Western Conference, one point behind Detroit with a game in hand.
"We're playing like a team," McLellan said. "Each line's contributing. We've come to a little bit of an agreement. I don't know if we've actually talked about it but guys have come to the conclusion that we actually have to play a certain way to be successful."
Yeah, I forgot to mention that the Sharks are now on the Wings' heels with "a game in hand," something the vast majority of the Wings' Western Conference foes can boast to possess.
If we are to believe the Associated Press's recap, the game was fairly-played and simply "tight"...
With backup Thomas Greiss out with a neck injury, Niemi has started 11 straight games and has shown no signs of wearing down with the heavy workload. He made back-to-back saves on Gustav Nyquist and Jordin Tootoo in the second period to thwart Detroit's best chance and preserve the 1-0 lead.
The Sharks took advantage of a Detroit mistake for an insurance goal early in the third. Joe Thornton took the puck from Brian Lashoff on the forecheck and slid a pass to Burns, who beat Jimmy Howard up high to make it 2-0. Burns now has 10 points in nine games since moving from defense to forward, including goals in three straight.
"I think a lot of it is the linemates," Burns said. "They're both playing well. They're both so smart. A lot of times I'm just running around trying to cause chaos and those two are making great plays. Tonight it was just a great pass by 'Jumbo.'"
Niemi preserved the shutout with a nice stop on a backhander by Henrik Zetterberg with Detroit on the only power play of the game later in the third period.
"It was tight both ways," Zetterberg said. "There were not a lot of chances both ways. We got halted on the rush, but we also kept them to the outside. The first goal was off a skate, and the second one was a giveaway. That's about it."
Pavelski got San Jose started on the scoring front for the second straight game when his pass deflected off Niklas Kronwall's skate and past Howard for a goal with 1:01 left in the opening period. Pavelski has now scored in three straight games after having just one goal in the previous 18 contests. He had earlier missed an opportunity to score when he attempted a pass to Ryane Clowe on a 2-on-1 that was broken up by the Detroit defense.
And we'll pivot from the Sharks' perspectives to those of the Red Wings' players and coach via NHL.com's Eric Gilmore's recap. Gilmore noted that the Sharks were satisfied by the referees' lack of work...
"Fast, hard, fairly clean," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the game. "There weren’t situations where either coach was up in arms because of a missed call. The officials did a good job as well."
Niemi improved to 9-2-2 all-time against Detroit, a team he often faced while playing for the Chicago Blackhawks and one that usually brings the best out of him.
"I think just they've been one of the top teams for a long time so they have lots of skill," Niemi said. "I think it's been a rivalry here against them, too. I think it's fun playing them. It's always a little bigger game against them."
But "tight" and "not good enough" had quite a bit in common for the Wings on Thursday night:
"It was a real good road trip and we did a lot of good things tonight," coach Mike Babcock said. "There wasn't a lot to choose between the teams. We just had a tough break. I thought we were in good shape in the first period and we got better and better. In the end we didn't get enough going offensively."
Pavelski gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 18:59 of the first period with his 10th goal of the season. He scored for the third straight game since being switched from a second-line wing to a third-line center. Linemates Ryane Clowe and TJ Galiardi each earned an assist on the goal. Pavelski won a battle for the puck along the boards behind the net and scored on a wraparound shot that bounced off Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall's skate and past Howard.
Kronwall and the Red Wings, who had their five-game road winning streak snapped, were on the wrong side of that bounce.
"We had some turnovers," Kronwall said. "That's it. I think it just went off my skate and straight in. Going back for years, and in the playoffs, we know each other so well that there is not a lot of room out there. At the same time, we gave up a couple. I didn't think we had a lot of energy in the third."
"Tight" might also be a synonym for, "The Wings kind of choked their own offense out by playing east-west hockey against a north-south team, and the number of quality scoring chances they voluntarily gave up to make an extra pass doomed them," though the Wings didn't exactly suggest as much to the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan:
"It was extremely tight," said goalie Jimmy Howard, who made 22 saves. "I thought it would be one of those up-and-down games we usually play against them. But for some reason it was really tight in all three zones."
"A real good road trip, but in saying that, you would have liked to have won tonight," coach Mike Babcock said. "We did some good things but there wasn't much for both teams."
The injury bug came back to haunt the Red Wings. Forward Johan Franzen left after two periods with a lower body injury.
"They'll go back and take a look at him," Babcock said. "Obviously he couldn't play (in the third). It was serious enough to leave the game."
Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns scored for the Sharks (16-11-6, 38 points), who've won three consecutive games and four of five. Goalie Antti Niemi had 27 saves to earn the shutout for the Sharks.
"They did a great job in front of Niemi," Howard said. "They packed five guys in front of Niemi and made it tough on us."
The Sharks shut down their slot completely, and the Wings made mistakes that cost them the game. Close enough? Not quite. Babcock told the Free Press's Helene St. James that the Wings emerging from the 1st period down 1-0 thanks to a goal giving up with 1:01 remaining didn't necessarily doom them...
"I thought we were in real good shape," Babcock said. "I thought we'd get better and we did lots of good things in the second. In the end, we just didn't get anything done offensively. It was just one of those games."
Jordin Tootoo forced a sprawling save from Niemi early in the second period. Howard robbed Martin Havlat of a rising backhand attempt past the halfway point, one of the fews shots the Sharks got the entire period.
Any chance of rallying dimmed two minutes into the third period, when a give away by Lashoff led to Joe Thornton finding Burns, newly converted from defenseman to forward, for a 2-0 lead.
"There are some guys you don't pass the puck by," Babcock said, smiling. "You don't pass the puck by Pav or Z, and you don't pass it by Thornton. But until you've played in the league a little bit and you've been through there and you've turned a few over to those guys, you don't learn. So that's a little lesson for Lash."
The Wings got a power play halfway through the third period, but were unable to score after converting in eight straight games.
"It was tight both ways," Zetterberg said. "There weren't a lot of clear scoring chances. Nothing on the rush, nothing in either zone. That was about it, I think."
MLive's Ansar Khan (who also penned a quote-less recap) calls the game bland--as opposed to sleep-inducingly boring--in his recap, but he also offers more from Zetterberg regarding "that's about it," with Zetterberg noting that the Sharks did shut the Wings down...
"Really tight played game,'' Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Nothing really on the rush. Nothing really through the neutral zone either. Both teams kept the other team outside.''
No flow. As constipated as Gary Bettman looks. That's a little more like it.
And regarding the "lesson for Lash?"
“There's some guys you don't pass the puck by,'' Babcock said. “You don't pass the puck by Pav (Datsyuk) or (Henrik Zetterberg) and you don't pass it by Thornton. But, until you've played in the league a little and turned a few over to those guys you don't learn. So that's a little lesson, not just for Lash, but I imagine (Jakub Kindl) watched that and so did Smitty (Brendan Smith) and our kids get those lessons.''
Smith's had a rough go of late, and Kindl may have escaped an injury when receiving an "inadvertent" knee from Tommy Wingels, but he tends not to escape from Babcock's "dog yard."
Quite frankly, I noticed that the Sharks were pressuring the Wings' right defenseman and not their left every time they forechecked Detroit, and it ended up yielding not a warning that the Wings needed to get the puck out of trouble, but a pair of lateral passes from left defenseman to right defenseman and back, and that's what led to the Burns goal.
It was the third time this season the Red Wings have been shut out. Their streak of eight consecutive games with at least one power-play goal was snapped. They had only one power-play opportunity, in the third period. The hooking call on T.J. Galiardi was the only penalty of the game.
“I thought it was going to be one of those up and down games we usually play against each other, but tonight for some reason it was tight in all three zones,'' Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “They played last night (4-0 win over Anaheim) and did a great job in front of Niemi of packing five guys in. They made it extremely tough on us.''
The Sharks (16-11-6) have won three in a row.
As Khan notes, the most baffling and perhaps frustrating part of the loss involved the fact that the Wings were playing a team that had 2 games in 3 nights and was playing its 3rd in 4 nights, whereas the Wings spent Tuesday resting by the pool in Phoenix and Wednesday practicing...
But it was the Wings who looked mentally and physically exhausted.
“Tonight we came up a little short in the third, didn't have enough energy to generate a whole lot,'' defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Games like this you need some ugly goals. You got to throw it in and get some rebounds. We weren't able to get those.''
Maybe the Wings were suffering from a Vitamin D overdose or something. Today they'll be greeted by sunny skies and 50 degrees, so who knows, maybe they're bringing back good weather...But I hope they leave the lethargic performance they offered some grumpy and sleep-deprived Wings fans on Thursday night behind them.
Highlights: The Wings' announcers narrate NHL.com's highlights:
If you wish to watch Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area's game highlights, enjoy.
Fox Sports Detroit posted a clip of Niklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard and Wings coach Mike Babcock discussing the game:
And in the middle of the night, my specialty, the Wings' website posted clips of Niklas Kronwall...
And coach Mike Babcock speaking to the Wings' press corps:
Photos: The Mercury News posted a 24-image gallery;
The Detroit Free Press posted a 7-image gallery;
The Detroit News posted a 9-image gallery;
MLive posted a 7-image gallery;
ESPN posted a 20-image gallery;
Yahoo Sports posted 13 images in its Wings gallery;
Shots 27-24 Detroit overall. The Wings were out-shot 8-7 in the 1st, out-shot San Jose 9-8 in the 2nd and out-shot San Jose 11-8 in the 3rd.
The Wings went 0-for-1 on the game's only power play.
Jimmy Howard stopped 22 of 24 shots; Antti Niemi stopped 27 of 27;
Dan Rusanowsky picked the 3 stars, and he picked Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Joe Pavelski and Antti Niemi.
Faceoffs 31-23 San Jose (Detroit won 43%);
Blocked shots 23-16 San Jose;
Missed shots 16-12 San Jose (total attempts 66-52 Detroit);
Takeaways 9-8 San Jose.
Individual stats, TMR style:
Faceoffs: Datsyuk went 10-and-10 (50%); Zetterberg went 6-and-9 (40%); Andersson went 4-and-6 (40%); Emmerton went 1-and-4 (20%); Filppula went 2-and-1 (67%); Nyquist lost his only faceoff.
Shots: Zetterberg led the team with 5 shots; Cleary had 4; Miller had 3; Abdelkader, Nyquist, Brunner and Ericsson had 2; Datsyuk, White, Tootoo, Lashoff, Kronwall, Andersson and Franzen had 1.
Blocked attempts: Brunner fired pucks into Sharks players 4 times; White, Filppula and Ericsson had 3 attempts blocked; Kronwall and Andersson had 2 shot attempts blocked; Abdelkader, Datsyuk, Nyquist, Lashoff, Emmerton and Zetterberg had 1 attempt blocked.
Missed shots: Brunner missed the net 3 times; White missed the net 2 times; Smith, Kindl, Datsyuk, Nyquist, Miller, Tootoo, Lashoff, Zetterberg, Ericsson, Kronwall and Franzen missed the net 1 time.
Hits: Miller, Tootoo and Emmerton were credited with 2 hits; Smith, Abdelkader, White, Lashoff, Brunner and Ericsson had 1.
Giveaways: Smith, Datsyuk and Kronwall had 2 giveaways; Lashoff, Brunner, Emmerton and Franzen had 1.
Takeaways: Kronwall had 2 takeaways; Smith, Cleary, Datsyuk, Miller and Franzen had takeaways.
Blocked opponent shots: Andersson blocked 4 Sharks shots; White and Kronwall blocked 3 shots; Filppula blocked 2 shots; Kindl, Nyquist, Lashoff and Emmerton blocked 1.
Penalties taken: No penalties were taken by the Wings.
Plus-minus: The Wings finished at a collective -10. Miller finished at -2; Smith, Cleary, Lashoff, Zetterberg, Filppula, Ericsson, Kronwall and Andersson finished at -1.
Points: No Wing registered a point.
Ice time: Kronwall led the team with 26:40 played; Ericsson played 21:32; Zetterberg played 21:23;
Filppula played 20:50; Datsyuk played 20:33; Abdelkader played 19:54;
Smith played 18:21; White played 18:04; Kindl played 17:04;
Lashoff played 16:40; Brunner played 15:52; Cleary played 14:56;
Miller played 14;32; Nyquist played 13:57; Andersson played 11:50;
Franzen played 10:20; Emmerton played 9:49; Tootoo played 9:43.
Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note: As previously noted, Fox Sports Detroit's Ken Daniels reported that the Wings will wear jerseys commemorating Gordie Howe's 85th birthday when they take to the ice for pre-game warm-ups before Sunday's game against Chicago;
The Free Press's Helene St. James provides something of an update regarding Johan Franzen's status:
Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen left Thursday's game early, with what the team said is a lower-body injury.
"They're going to go back and have a look at him," Mike Babcock said. "Obviously, he couldn't play in the third. We'll see what happens. It was serious enough to leave the game."
Franzen played 10:20 in the 2-0 loss to the Sharks at HP Pavilion. He was not available to reporters after the game.
A team spokesman said Franzen did not go to hospital for tests, and that Franzen was to fly home with the team Friday.
Franzen missed seven games last month with a hip flexor injury.
His status for Sunday's game against Chicago is uncertain, but Mikael Samuelsson has been cleared to play, and Patrick Eaves is also available.
Before the game, St. James penned a notebook pointing out that the Wings are returning to relative health, and that they stayed in San Jose to preserve their energy reserves...
The Red Wings could get at least one reinforcement back as soon as Sunday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks. They wrapped up a four-game road trip Thursday with a 2-0 loss to the Sharks at HP Pavilion, then opted to spend the night in San Jose in order to get a full night's sleep rather go the red-eye route.
"We can't recover," coach Mike Babcock said. "It just kills us. Two times in a row, it's killed us."
Should they want a fresh body against the Blackhawks, Samuelsson will be available. He's been limited to three games, first because of a pulled groin, lately because of a broken finger.
Quincey is also on the mend; general manager Ken Holland said he's been riding a bike at Joe Louis Arena, keeping company with Darren Helm. Quincey suffered a fractured cheekbone March 15 at Edmonton, but with no surgery needed, plans are to have him start skating next week and then be back playing within two.
[Todd] Bertuzzi hasn't played since Feb. 7 because of a pinched nerve in his right leg, and it remains unclear if he'll be able to return - only 14 games remain before the end of the regular season - but at least he's on the ice regularly. Holland is optimistic about the chances for Helm, whose back pain has limited him to one game. He suffered a setback two weeks ago and didn't come on this trip, but on the upside, Holland said he's heard no news since, so the anticipation is that Helm will try to resume skating next week.
General manager Ken Holland spent Wednesday meeting with defenseman Danny DeKeyser in Toronto, making one last pitch at convincing him to sign with the Wings.
DeKeyser became an unrestricted free agent last weekend when his Western Michigan Broncos career ended, and while the Wings already had made it clear they wanted him, Holland met with the camp again.
Several NHL clubs are pursuing DeKeyser, who was never drafted, but the Wings are the only team that can offer the De LaSalle High School graduate a chance to play in front of his family. They can guarantee him a spot on the NHL roster, and assure him he'll get every opportunity to prove he should be among the team's minute munchers on the back end.
Holland wasn't told when DeKeyser would announce his decision. Whenever it happens, DeKeyser will make his NHL debut within days.
Somewhat strangely, the Red Wings and Sharks' players were queried about Jarome Iginla's trade to Pittsburgh, and they all told the media that they were happy for Jarome. I'm going to point out St. James' quip about it...
The moves pulled off this week by Detroit's old Stanley Cup rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, make the Red Wings happy realignment wasn't instantaneous.
Before Thursday night's game against the Sharks, both locker rooms buzzed with the news of the Penguins' acquisition of Calgary superstar Jarome Iginla. Earlier, they'd traded for ex-Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray and Stars captain Brenden Morrow.
"They had a good team before they made those additions, so it will not be a surprise if they go deep," Zetterberg said. "I'm happy we don't see them until late June."
But I'm going to ignore MLive's Ansar Khan's conversations with both Mike Babcock and Brad Stuart about the subject, and I'm going to focus on the balance of the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan's notebook. Kulfan took note of the team's decision to spend the night in San Jose...
"It wore us out so much the last few times we've been doing that," said Babcock of flying overnight and adjusting to the jet lag. "Guys want to see to their families but we can't recover. It killed us two times in a row. I asked them (the captains) what they wanted to do and they wanted to stay."
The one change in Thursday's lineup was forward Jordin Tootoo replacing Patrick Eaves. Tootoo had been a healthy scratch for two of the last three games.
… The Red Wings and the rest of the league continue to wait on undrafted college free agent defenseman Dan DeKeyser (Macomb, Western Michigan). DeKeyser and his representatives have fielded offers in Toronto the last few days.
… The Red Wings had won five consecutive road games heading into Thursday after early-season trouble away from Joe Louis Arena.
"The confidence is growing and we're keeping our game simple," goalie Jimmy Howard said. "We're not trying to overdo anything. There will be times when the other team takes over but we haven't lost focus and continued to battle."
Khan penned a secondary notebook discussing the quick maturation (albeit not without hitting bumps in the road) of Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff, and it's the gem of the notebook bunch:
“I think Lash and Smitty and Kindl have really improved,'' Mike Babcock said, prior to Thursday's game at San Jose. “Kindl, just confidence and his ability to play with authority and going back to get pucks and being assertive. Smitty is just more under control and really competing hard, and the same with Lash. They're big guys. They're getting better. They make huge mistakes at times, but they battle. If you compete hard, you have a chance to be successful.''
Kindl, the club's highest draft pick in the past 20 years (19th overall in 2005), had trouble cracking the lineup last season. He appeared to be on shaky ground earlier this season, getting scratched after a couple of bad games. But, he has been steady, consistent and a fixture in the lineup since Feb. 23. Kindl, 26, leads the team with a plus-17 rating. He has posted a minus rating in only two of 26 games.
Smith, a puck-rushing, offensive-minded defenseman throughout his college and AHL career, has adjusted to a more defensive style in his first full NHL season.
“I've been playing really well in my own end and that's what's going to make me become a better pro,'' Smith, 24, said. “I just have to focus on those little things – have good sticks (to break up plays), good pivots, make the right first pass. I've definitely grown as a player this season.''
Said Babcock: “I think Smitty's two greatest assets are his skating and his compete level and I would say with Lash it's his patience and compete level. Those are good assets to have. I think those guys have gotten a lot better, and therefore our team's gotten better.''
Nobody on the team has come further than Lashoff. He wasn't expected to be in Detroit this season, but a rash of injuries forced the club to recall him from the Grand Rapids Griffins prior to the second game of the season. He's been with them ever since. Lashoff's minus-7 rating is the worst on the team among defensemen, but it doesn't reflect how well he has played. The Red Wings signed him to a three-year extension on Feb. 25.
“You don't really know if you can do it until you get in it and stay for a little while,'' Lashoff, 22, said. “As the games have gone and the more minutes I've gotten and starting to play every night, I definitely feel more confident every game. As a D corps, we're committed to blocking shots and playing physical and moving the puck out of our own zone as quickly as possible. We've grown as a unit since the start of the season.''
And finally, I can't believe that this cheap shot by Marc-Edouard Vlasic received no penalty, nor a response from the Wings. From We All Bleed Red on YouTube:
Jokerit headed into the SM-Liiga playoffs as the league's best team, but they dropped a 6-game series to Lukko, which had to win a playoff play-in series to earn the right to play Jokerit.
It is possible that the Wings may ask the Finnish Ice Hockey Association to release Pulkkinen to the Grand Rapids Griffins so he can receive some North American ice time. I'm guessing that the Wings will be more willing to let Pulkkinen turn pro with Grand Rapids than they would be willing to send Jarnkrok to the AHL next season as Pulkkinen's had a pair of sub-par seasons with Jokerit, and he needs to adjust to the AHL game now.
In Sweden, Mattias Backman didn't register a point but played 24:51 in Linkopings HC's 3-2 OT win over Skelleftea AIK, allowing Linkopings to open the Swedish Eliteserien semifinal on a superb note;
In the OHL, Wings prospect Jake Paterson gave his all for the Saginaw Spirit, but the London Knights are a powerhouse team that's likely to win the OHL title, and they chased Paterson after firing 6 goals past Paterson on 23 shots en route to a 6-2 victory and first-round series sweep.
Paterson had a rough outing, as the Saginaw News's Cory Butzin noted:
London scored two goals in quick succession to close out the first period after Remi Elie took a pass while skating in front of the net and snuck it by Paterson at 15:55 of the first, followed by Max Domi’s deflection a minute and a half later to make it 3-1.
“I came out preparing the same way I always do,” Paterson said. “But we didn’t get the bounces, and it seemed like I was fighting the puck all night. It wasn’t good.”
The Spirit played London to a draw in the second period, even outshooting the Knights 9-8, until Bo Horvat punched one through with 16 seconds remaining in the period to give London a 4-1 lead.
An Olli Maatta slapshot founds its way through the 5-hole early in the third to make it 5-1 Knights and chase Paterson to the bench.
"It's a learning experience, especially for the young guys returning," [Spirit coach Greg] Gilbert said. "Hopefully it opens their eyes to what playoff hockey is all about and how well the details have to be and how strong you have to play. I guess no better team to learn it from than London."
In the WHL, Richard Nedomlel and the Swift Current Broncos experienced a similar fate. They lost 3-1 to the Calgary Hitmen, with Nedomlel registering an assist in the loss, and the Broncos were eliminated in 5 games;
In their eighth three-in-three of the season, the Grand Rapids Griffins fell to the San Antonio Rampage 4-1 Thursday at the AT&T Center. Goaltender Brian Foster shined in San Antonio’s victory as he stopped 39 of 40 shots against the Griffins.
San Antonio (28-29-1-6) jumped on the scoreboard first as Wade Megan scored in his first professional game at 9:13 of the first period. The fifth round draft pick from Boston University showed great speed as he danced around the Griffins defense and snapped a quick wrist shot over Petr Mrazek’s right hand shoulder.
Jed Ortmeyer gave the Rampage a two-goal lead at 1:50 of the second period. San Antonio took two long shots before Ortmeyer picked up a rebound at the left wing faceoff and blew it past Mrazek for his sixth goal of the season.
Grand Rapids (37-22-3-3) scored at 4:09 of the second period to cut San Antonio’s lead to 2-1. Jan Mursak sent a drop pass to Jeff Hoggan, and the left wing drilled the puck into the upper right hand corner of the goal from 40 feet away past Foster.
The Rampage restored their two-goal lead on a power play goal at 10:15 of the middle period. Brendon Nash knocked down a clearing attempt with his chest at the blue line to keep the puck in Griffins territory. A dozen seconds later, Jon Rheault deflected a shot past Mrazek to give San Antonio a 3-1 lead.
Rheault finished the game off for the Rampage with his second goal of the game at 19:30 of the final period. The right wing’s empty net goal was his fifth goal against the Griffins in four games.
The Griffins had multiple breakaway opportunities to cut into San Antonio’s lead, but were unable to get another shot past Foster, who had 39 saves in the victory. Mrazek blocked 12 of 15 shots in the loss.
The Griffins will stay in Texas for their next contest, as they will against the Houston Aeros Friday at 8:05 p.m. EDT.
The Holland Sentinel's Lee Lamberts also penned a profile of Griffins defenseman Chad Billins:
This season, through 63 games, Billins has seven goals and 26 assists, but coach Jeff Blashill doesn’t need to remind him of his primary responsibilities.
“Chad has been a very good player for us from the beginning of the year,” Blashill said. “Chad is an experienced rookie in the sense that he is an older player, having played four years of college hockey. He has come in and done a real good job. Early in the year he had lots of points, but too many minuses. As the year has gone along, he’s really helped our defensive game, but still added offense. He’s become a real efficient player and someone we rely on a lot to help us win ballgames.”
Once he learned how to play on the blue line, Billins really honed his hockey skills. After two years with the Alpena IceDiggers of the North American Hockey League, where 16 of his 25 points came on the power play, Billins spent a year with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League before four years with the CCHA at Ferris State University.The Bulldogs made it to the Frozen Four in Billins’ senior season where they lost to Boston College in the championship game.
“Obviously, my dream is to play in the NHL some day,” Billins said. “You’ve got to put in years of hard work and if I work in this league … I don’t think it stops here. If you continue to work hard you can keep going.”
Billins might even end up wearing the Winged Wheel, the logo on the sweaters of the Detroit Red Wings players, where an idol of his, so to speak, played until his retirement at the end of the 2011-12 season after 11 years in the NHL.
“I’ve been told by a lot of people I look like Brian Rafalski,” Billins said. “That’s a pretty big honor. He was a good player, a good puck-moving defenseman. We do have the same hairstyle, you know.”
Billins said his task while on the ice is simple: Keep the puck away from the net and help on, when he can, on the power play. The points are really nice, but for me, at the end of the season, it’s more about getting the wins and making a strong playoff push,” he said.
Update: This is the kind of story I tend to sit on, a story that I don't know how to address, but I need to post it. I don't want to make an entry out of it, but it's important.
When I was 14 years old, my best friend and mentor passed away suddenly. He was my dad, and losing him was the most devastating thing that's ever happened to me. As I've grown older, I've learned that almost every person who loses a parent, loses a sibling, a spouse, a child, a grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend that we hold dear...We all go through that same sense of devastation, regardless of how swift or slow our loved ones' passings may be, and it doesn't get any easier to deal, regardless of how young or old we might be.
So in an all-too-serious vein, my heart goes out to Wings assistant coach Tom Renney, who missed Thursday's Wings-Sharks game to attend his mother's funeral, as the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan noted:
The Red Wings will be without associate coach Tom Renney for Thursday’s game against San Jose.
Renney’s mother Helen Patricia Renney passed away March 21 at Joseph Creek Care Village in Cranbrook, British Columbia.
Here is the official obituary:
Helen was born in Cranbrook in 1928 and as a teenager moved with her family to Nanaimo. There she met her husband Joe and they were married on December 1, 1945. They moved back to Cranbrook in 1952. During their 65-year marriage they were blessed with three sons, six grandchildren and one great grandchild.
During her working life, Helen worked for a shoe store on Baker Street that saw three owners: Lyons, Maddocks and Merchants. Upon it’s closure, she worked for the Bay and when the Bay closed, she decided to retire and spend more time at “the farm”. Joe and Helen moved into Joseph Creek Village in 2007.
Mom will be sadly missed by her three sons Jim (Bernie), Phil (Sue) and Tom (Glenda); six grandchildren Lisa (Nick), Heather, Natalie (Greg), Craig (Whitney), Jessica (Adam) and Jamie (Tucker); her great grandchild Lily and many nieces and nephews and friends. She was predeceased by her husband Joe; brother George, and sisters Margaret, Ida and Ethel.
The family would like to thank Dr. Dave Lenz for his excellent care of our mom. His visits always brightened her day. The staff of Joseph Creek Care Village had become her second family and we will always be grateful for their wonderful care and dedication.
The fact that Renney's mom was 85 when she passed doesn't make things any easier or any less painful for him, I'm sure, and while I'm not a particularly religious person, I do "believe," as they say, so my thoughts and prayers do go out to him and his family.
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