The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/17/13 at 06:18 PM ET
The Red Wings received Sunday off after wrapping up their three-games-in-four nights trip through Western Canada with an overtime win over Edmonton and a big win over Vancouver, and the team will get some time to rest their bumps and bruises as they won't play again until they host the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.
Before spending all night flying back to Detroit, MLive's Ansar Khan reports that Wings coach Mike Babcock gave his team downright effusive praise for their efforts over the weekend, though Babcock was still baffled by the team's "disturbing" loss to the Calgary Flames this past Wednesday:
“Special and determined,'' Babcock said of his team. “We knew (Saturday) was going to be a hard game for us, but it was going to be a great win for us, too, so we were going to have to pay a price to get that done, and I thought our guys dug in. It wasn't easy and we knew it wasn't going to be easy. They got a good team. We were able to hang in there early, and once we got going we were good. But I thought Pav and Z set the tone for us.''
“We had real good goaltending, outstanding penalty killing,'' Babcock said.
Fatigue could have been an issue on Saturday, but the Red Wings beat a rested Vancouver club.
“You always know in a back-to-back situation that when a team is fresh you're going to be in a little bit of trouble at the start,'' Babcock said. “We were able to weather the storm and got some breaks at the start because of Howie being so good, and then I thought we got playing pretty good.''
The Red Wings fly all the way back home for just one game, Wednesday against Minnesota, before embarking on a four-game Western U.S. trip to Anaheim (games on Friday and Sunday), Phoenix and San Jose.
“We knew it was a big road trip,'' Zetterberg said. “We lost the first game and then came back and played two really good games. Finished off back-to-back. It's going to be a little easier to have that five-hour flight to Detroit.''
I watched Fox Sports Detroit's feed for Saturday's game, but the vast majority of the U.S. and Canada watched the CBC's feed as the Hockey Night in Canada affair also aired on the NHL Network U.S. Many of you informed me that the CBC's usually Canadian-team-friendly broadcasters gave way to The Pavel Datsyuk show.
And in terms of quantifying Saturday's team and invididual performances "in black and white," ESPN rattled off the following statistics about the Wings' win:
Red Wings 5, Canucks 2
* Pavel Datsyuk (Red Wings): season-high 3 assists
* Red Wings: won 2 in a row (winless in previous 3 games)
* Roberto Luongo (Canucks): 1st regulation home loss (4-1-2)
* Red Wings: 14-5-3 vs Canucks since 2007-08
Heading back to the head coach's take(s) on his team, the Windsor Star's Bob Duff notes that Babcock didn't plan on utilizing Cory Emmerton as much of anything other than a healthy scratch going into the season, but Emmerton's become a fixture in the lineup as an incredibly consistent fourth line center:
“I think Cory’s played real well for us,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said of the second-year centre who shows 2-1-3 totals through 29 games. “And yet he’s in the three hole when he should be in the four hole. But he’s done a good job for us and he’s playing hard for us. Now, how much can he grow his game?”
As training camp got underway in January and Babcock began penciling players into roles, he wondered what would be Emmerton’s role.
“When we came into the year, I didn’t know if Cory would be part of it,” Babcock said. “If you have (Darren) Helm and Abby (Justin Abdelkader) and you’ve got Pav (Datsyuk) and Z (Henrik Zetterberg), that’s four centres. There’s no room for him.”
Things changed quickly. Helm has only played one game due to a back ailment. Datsyuk and Zetterberg began the season on the same line and though they are now separated, Babcock moved Abdelkader to the wing on Datsyuk’s line, a position from where he scored two goals in Saturday’s win at Vancouver over the Canucks.
Meanwhile, Emmerton continues to fill a steady checking role for the Wings.
“Well, he’s played every game and gotten more and more ice time,” Babcock said. “It just shows you what injuries do, they provide opportunity. When you get that opportunity you’ve got to grab it.”
In the prospect department, in Sweden, Mattias Backman registered an assist and played 21:18 in Linkopings HC's 5-4 win over HV71. Linkoping now leads HV71 2 games to 1 in their first round playoff series;
In Finland, Lukko Rauma won the Finnish SM-Liiga's "wild card" series, and as such, they'll play Wings prospect Teemu Pulkkinen and Jokerit Helsinki in the first round of the SM-Liiga playoffs on Wednesday;
In terms of college hockey-playing prospects, both University of Minnesota defenseman Ben Marshall and Saint Cloud State defenseman Nick Jensen have advanced to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's playoff semifinals next weekend.
Jensen's a lanky (he's listed at 6'1" but looks and plays bigger than his size because he's built like Darren Helm) swift-skating defenseman, and he's slipped under most Wings fans' radar screens while making slow but steady progress over his first three years at Saint Cloud State.
He was named the WCHA's defensive player of the year recently, and while I'd argue that ESPN's Corey Pronman's suggestion that Jensen is among a list of NCAA-playing prospects who are "close to making an impact at the NHL" level is a little overly optimistic, Jensen definitely merits mentioning in the the Insider-only blog entry because he's developed tremendously both physically (he was a rail-thin 150-somehing pounds when the Wings drafted him, and he's very honestly listed at 193 pounds on the Huskies' website) and mentally (Jensen can pass and shoot the puck pretty darn well, but his superb skating allows him to join the rush and generate plays because his size and speed back off opposing defenses) over the past three-and-a-half years:
Nick Jensen, D, Detroit Red Wings (St. Cloud State Univ.-WCHA)
Jensen was a fifth-round pick by Detroit in 2009 and has been a top offensive defenseman in the WCHA conference for the last three seasons. Among drafted prospects, Jensen was second in defense scoring this season behind Oilers prospect Joey Laleggia. Jensen is a very talented defenseman who can show above-average to plus mobility, puck skills and puck moving ability. His defensive game has been coming along and that area of his game is ok, but it won't be where his value comes from. Detroit's young defense situation is interesting, as they've brought Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff up to the NHL this season, have Adam Almquist in the AHL, and will have Ryan Sproul and Xaiver Ouellet going pro next season. Jensen though will turn 23 next September and is far along enough in his development that, should he sign with the Red Wings, he could be an option next season for NHL time.
Again, I don't think that he's exactly "NHL-ready," but Jensen will be signed either this year or next (depending on the Wings' 50-man roster status), and between Jensen, Marshall (who's 5'9" and weighs about 180 pounds now-he was listed at 5'8" and was more like 5'6" when he was drafted--and the John-Michael Liles at-his-best-like Marshall will remain at Minnesota for at least another year or two) Sproul, Ouellet, Almquist, Max Nicastro and likely signee Chad Billins (the Griffins signed Billins to an AHL-only contract last summer, and I'm not quite sure how Gleason Fournier fits in going forward as he's been excellent at the ECHL level but has yet to establish himself at the AHL level), the Wings' defensive prospect pipeline looks much deeper and much "bigger" than anyone had expected it to be, especially given Smith and Lashoff's graduations to the NHL.
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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.