The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/03/13 at 05:25 PM ET
The Detroit Red Wings are recharging their batteries after wrapping up their second of 12 sets of back-to-back games in the form of a 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night.
The Wings will play 13 more times over the course of February's final 24 days, with 4 games over the course of 6 nights scheduled for this upcoming week and next weekend, so the Wings rather desperately need some good news on the injury front. They're not going to get it: this afternoon, the Free Press's Helene St. James confirms that Brendan Smith will miss approximately two weeks after suffering a shoulder injury during last night's loss:
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith won't be back before the middle of February at the earliest.
Smith, a top-four guy, injured a shoulder during Saturday's 4-2 loss at Columbus. General manager Ken Holland told the Free Press Sunday that Smith "is going to see a doctor on Monday. Initial diagnosis is he's out minimum 10-14 days."
The Wings next play Tuesday against Calgary. Ian White may be ready to play that game, but if not, Brian Lashoff, called up last month from the minors, is in reserve.
Eight games into the season, the Wings already have seen more than half their blue line corps injured in one way or another. Jakub Kindl missed the first three games because of a pulled groin. Jonathan Ericsson missed three games after hurting his right shoulder during a practice mishap Jan. 20. Carlo Colaiacovo hurt his left shoulder in the second game, and is out at least through mid-February. White suffered a deep gash to his left leg Jan. 22.
The injury to Colaiacovo prompted the Wings to bring in unrestricted free agent Kent Huskins; he suffered an upper-body injury Friday on a big hit but was able to play Saturday.
The Wings still don't know when Jonas Gustavsson (groin) will return, the same can be said for Jan Mursak (shoulder) and Darren Helm (back), and only Joey MacDonald (back) has begun to talk about making some sort of comeback via a conditioning stint with the Griffins, as he suggested to MLive's Ansar Khan.
This is just me talking, but even having anticipated a tremendous amount of wear and tear on players' groins over the course of the condensed 2013 season, I really do wonder whether the Wings need to review their on and off-ice training protocols, as well as the nutritional supplements they're encouraging their players to take, given the enormous number of injuries the team's had to withstand over the past three years.
Today's Wings news is of the "bare minimum" variety as both the beat writers and players are recovering from a 3-games-in-5-nights slate via an "off day" today, with the Wings scheduled to return to the ice at Joe Louis Arena to prepare to face the Flames Tuesday night at home, the Blues on the road this Thursday and then the Oilers and Kings in matinee games at the Joe next Saturday and Sunday (before wrapping up their min-series against the Blues on February 13th, after their last two-day break until just before the team heads out west to play the Kings and Sharks at the end of the month)...
But the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness decided to look on the bright side of all things Wings-related this afternoon by discussing the remarkably mature and savvy player that is rookie but not Calder trophy-eligible 26-year-old Damien Brunner, who's been something of a revelation to even the Wings' players and coach who fully believed that the Swiss forward would earn his spot on the team's top line:
"He looks like a hockey player to me,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after a recent game. “He shoots. He goes to the net. He’s getting better defensively. We feel we’ve found ourselves a pretty good player. We feel real fortunate when we saw him and we were able to convince him to come here. He seems like a good fit.”
“I feel comfortable on the ice,” Brunner said. “Every shift gets better. I try to take small steps to get better every day.”
“The last three years I had a lot of success in Switzerland,” Brunner said. “There was a chance to come over last year but I thought it was good to play another year in Switzerland and get a good World Championship and now I'm here for a new chapter and new challenge.”
“There's less room to make plays, bodies are bigger,” Brunner said. “It's much more physical but also there are a lot of positive things on the small ice, you got better angles to shoot, you're closer to the net all the time.”
“He's obviously a goal-scorer, but he's got more qualities than that,” Zetterberg said. “He's a good skater, sees the ice very well and he wants to win. That's a good quality to have.He'll need time to adjust for it,” Zetterberg added. “There's nothing more to do over there. This is the next step in his career, and we're all glad he picked us to do that with.”
“The last couple of games I’ve felt comfortable out there, getting used to the smaller ice has taken a bit,” Brunner said. “I’m finding spots where I have time and find spots where I have to go to get into shooting position. It’s a learning process and I hope to keep getting better.”
The Wings have kept Brunner on a line with Zetterberg when the season began. Brunner is also playing the point in the first power-play unit and is second on the team in shots on goal with 29.
I can't quote all of Pleiness's article, but I highly recommend that you give it a read. Brunner's registered 4 goals and 2 assists over the course of 8 games thus far, and while he's listed at 5'10" and 176 pounds, he's very clearly fearless in traffic, enjoys grinding out pucks in one-on-one battles in the corners, he goes to the front of the net to tip pucks down and chase rebounds, he's a speedy, efficient skater, he's a good playmaker as well as a superb shooter (though he still passes too much when he should be taking the lack of "time and space" in the NHL into account by shooting even more than he's already shot pucks at the net) and an excellent playmaker, excelling at making the kinds of tap-passes and give-and-go exchanges that sustain puck possession and facilitate necessary movement in the offensive zone.
With Jiri Hudler coming to back to town on Tuesday, Fox Sports Detroit's Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond suggested that Brunner was something of an upgrade over Hudler. I think that's an understatement: Brunner's not only a much better skater, but he's much more active in terms of generating offense, meshing with his teammates, and, unlike Hudler, hauling his rear out of the offensive and neutral zones to help out his defense, sometimes preceding his defensemen into proper positions to stifle opponent rushes in his own end.
Brunner's "a player" and then some, and he's only going to get better as the season rolls along. We're now a full sixth of the way in, and the next five sixths of the schedule should allow Brunner to truly blossom and bloom into a bona-fide star.
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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.