Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Wild set-up and overnight report: Wings begin slate of 4 in 6 against surging Wild

The Red Wings resume battling for a playoff spot amidst an incredibly tightly-packed Western Conference against the Minnesota Wild tonight (7:30 PM, NBC Sports Network/TSN2/97.1 FM).

The Wings' schedule has "let up" in terms of rest between games over the past week and the next two or three weeks to come, with the Wings having received a 3-day break this week and will be receiving a pair of two-day breaks next week and weekend...But the "play a game every other night for two weeks" grind during the first half of their 48-games-in-99-nights demolition derby has given way to, "three games in four nights, then two days off, four games in six nights, then two days off" or "five games in eight nights and three days off," which was the case for the Wings during that ugly slate of back-to-back losses against Columbus.

The Wings' beginng-tonight slate of 4 games over 6 nights is going to be particularly tricky for the Wings due both travel (the team has to head out to California and then play a back-to-back game in Phoenix on Monday) to the quality of their opposition: the Wild have won 5 of their past 6 games and 10 of their past 14 games, and Friday and Sunday's opponent, the Ducks, have won 21 of their 28 games.

Next Monday's opponent, Phoenix, isn't chopped liver, either, sitting 3 points behind the 14-10-and-5 Wings, but that's another story for a different day.

The Wild come into town having completed a Western Canadian swing the same way the Wings did--by defeating the Vancouver Canucks--and the Associated Press's recap of Monday night's Wild-Canucks tilt offers a nuts-and-bolts recap...

Charlie Coyle scored the tiebreaking goal in the third period, Niklas Backstrom made 35 saves and the Minnesota Wild took sole possession of the Northwest Division lead with a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.

Jonas Brodin and Matt Cullen also scored for the Wild, who moved two points ahead of Vancouver for the division lead with their eighth win in the last 11 games. Henrik Sedin scored as the Canucks suffered their second straight loss and 11th in 16 games.

Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo made his fourth straight start despite being in net for Vancouver's 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Luongo, who finished with 22 saves, foiled Cal Clutterbuck on a rush up the middle in the first period and also stopped Coyle on a close-range shot from the wing.

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Minnesota did not get a shot in the second until Devin Setoguchi's slapper forced Luongo to get his left pad down in time.

Backstrom then gloved a Jason Garrison wrist shot and watched as Tom Sestito's backhand sailed just over the crossbar. He also stymied Sedin as he tried to backhand the puck through his own legs, and denied him again on a mid-air deflection. But Sedin finally turned the red light on during a power play midway through the second when he put in Garrison's rebound. The goal ended Vancouver's power-play drought after 36 unsuccessful opportunities dating to Feb. 21 against Dallas.

However, Brodin, the NHL's youngest defenseman (19 years, eight months) created a 1-1 tie less than 5 minutes later on a slapshot from the point during a power play.

Coyle gave the Wild a 2-1 lead at 3:20 of the third, deflecting Clayton Stoner's point shot off the crossbar. Cullen increased Minnesota's lead to 3-1 about 6 minutes later when he converted a give-and-go against Chris Tanev after Keith Ballard got caught up ice and could not get back into position in time. The goal ended Cullen's scoreless skid at 11 games.

The Star-Tribune's Michael Russo adds context to the mix...

Jonas Brodin, 19, Charlie Coyle, 21, and Matt Cullen (cough, cough), 36 (skating like he’s 26) scored the goals, Pierre-Marc Bouchard had two assists and Niklas Backstrom looked great with 35 saves.

“It was a big challenge for us,” Backstrom said. “We played as a team. We played a great game. They came hard in the second, we battled that. I felt good. I saw the pucks pretty good and guys helped with rebounds. Team effort.”

All this talk about Backstrom’s workload and he brushed off the fatigue. He said in a season like this, you have to move along and refocus on the next game. He certainly did that after a tough win in Colorado. I felt he may get the game off Wednesday in Detroit. My guess is coach Mike Yeo will see how Backstrom feels after Tuesday’s flight and before Wednesday’s skate. There are two off-days Thursday and Friday to recover before a matinee with San Jose on Saturday.

The Wild did all the little things tonight, blocking 23 shots to Vancouver’s five, winning 44 of 65 faceoffs. Zenon Konopka went 10 for 10 in the circle, Kyle Brodziak 13 of 18, Cullen 11 of 19.

...

“They were ready to play. We were expecting a hard game,” Yeo said. When things mattered most, especially in that third period, we were able to bring it to a new level.”

He also said on the battle from the start, “That’s what’s going on right now. It’s fun to be on the bench and listen to the guys talk and say the things they’re saying. It’s a good focus right now.”

The Star-Tribune's Michael Rand adds a little rah-rah-ing to the mix:

Minnesota has scored 34 actual goals in its past 10 games (35 in the goals for because of one shootout win in that span), getting 14 points in that span (seven wins, three losses). The two most recent games were back-to-back road victories at Colorado and, more importantly, 3-1 last night in Vancouver, where the Wild hadn't won since Sid was born (or something like that). The standings show the Wild now in sole possession of an admittedly weak Northwest with 34 points, two more than the hated Canucks. The team's 16-10-2 record is even actually four games over .500 (if a shootout win is a win, a shootout loss is a loss. Sorry Gary Bettman). In a normal season, the Wild would be on pace for about 100 points.

Just as notably, this team is not just winning. It is, in many cases, playing dominant hockey. And it is getting that domination from multiple lines, while Niklas Backstrom has found his form. There are 20 games left in this truncated regular season, and we are going on record to say this: the Wild will make the playoffs and should even win at least one series. Gear up for some May hockey, everyone. It's coming.

The Pioneer Press's Bruce Brothers punctuated a Monday night recap with this statement of Wild belief...

The Wild have become a legitimate contender in the NHL West this season, and it has fostered a belief system among the players that they belong among the league elite.

"That's what's going on right now," Yeo said. "It's fun to be on the bench and listen to the guys talk and say the things they're saying. It's a good focus right now."

His Monday night notebook praised the Wild's balanced scoring...

It was an oddity that when the Wild scored a season-high six goals in a 6-4 win at Colorado on Saturday, 11 Wild players had at least one point but the top line got just one, that on an assist by Parise.

"We don't really have any weak spots on this team," [forward Charlie] Coyle said. "We have a good, solid four lines that can roll, and that's what you need. That's what we've been doing; that's how we've been successful."

Coyle, who had two goals and two assists in his first 16 games, has left the scoring on his line to Koivu and Parise, who before Monday's game were tied for second in team scoring with 22 points, one fewer than Ryan Suter.

And on Tuesday evening, Brothers declared the Wild a contender and playoff favorite thanks to their recent surge:

"I'll start by saying that if we thought that we were just going to sign a couple of players and all of a sudden, we've arrived ... open the gates and here we are a playoff team, that's not reality," [Wild coach Mike Yeo] said. "It's hard, you know? You have to do a lot of things to be a winner, to find yourself at that point. There's great teams you're competing against; there's teams that have been there, that have done it year after year. And you have to beat them out. And you have to deal with the emotions, the physicality, the toll that it takes night after night. This is what we're learning."

The learning curve has continued. [Ryan] Suter, who played seven seasons under the same coach and most of them with the same defensive partner, found a new comfort level and has become one of the best if not the best defenseman in the league. [Devin] Setoguchi went from zero goals through 10 games to an offensive force who has 16 points in his past 17 games.

[Darroll] Powe was sent packing, and newcomer Mike Rupp brought veteran savvy and poise.

[Jared] Spurgeon recovered, and Granlund and Scandella were dispatched to the AHL for seasoning.

[Dany]Heatley, known as a goal scorer, suddenly produced as many assists as goals.

Defenseman Jonas Brodin played like a bona fide candidate for rookie of the year, while rookies Coyle and Jason Zucker supplied strength and speed.

[Matt] Cullen and Setoguchi emerged as a dynamite twosome, and Bouchard rebounded from a rare benching to contribute five points in his first three games back. Minnesota's offense has exhibited depth through all four lines, taking a huge burden off the shoulders of Parise and Koivu.

In addition, Backstrom has done yeoman work in the nets. With [Josh] Harding still missing, Yeo has been asked several times if he is worried about riding Backstrom too much, if Backstrom might be getting worn out. But Backstrom started his eighth consecutive game Monday in Vancouver and posted 35 saves in one of his best games of the season, lowering his goals-against average to 2.34 and upping his save percentage to .915.

And with no Wild practice on Tuesday due to the team's travel from Vancouver to Detroit....

The Wild and their fans were allowed to dream big. The Star-Tribune's Russo penned a column discussing possible trade deadline acquisitions with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, who told Russo that he's not in the mood to deal his unrestricted free agents-to-be in Matt Cullen and Niklas Backstrom...

“I’ve basically said to all the guys, ‘Let’s just get through the year just because of our situation,’ ” Fletcher said. “Backstrom and Cullen, they’re huge parts of our team. They can play through the end of their contract and, at the end of the year, we can talk to them. They’ll know what they want to do and we’ll know what we want to do. I’m not saying things are easy, but they’re not complicated. It’s, ‘Do you want to stay and do we have room to keep you and how’s the fit and how did we do?’ To me, there’s no pressure at all. ”

Cullen, one goal from his 200th, has been outstanding since late January. He has 18 points in his past 22 games and is riding a five-game point streak.

“It’s all over the ice,” coach Mike Yeo said, referring to Cullen’s improved play. “Penalty killing, his defensive-zone coverage, the way he’s tracking back, faceoffs, forecheck, creating turnovers. He’s using his speed every game.”

Backstrom, with Josh Harding sidelined since Feb. 12, is tied for third in the NHL with 14 victories and has a 2.34 goals-against average. He is 11-3-1 in his past 15 starts.

And instead, the Wild will look to add, though Fletcher told Russo that he's happy with the team he's built:

“But besides [Zach] Parise and [Ryan] Suter, we’ve added a lot of players — Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, Jake Dowell, re-signed [Stephane] Veilleux — that can compete and check and provide depth. I think we’ve tried to get ahead of it by making our moves in the summer as opposed to at the deadline and allowing our team time to come together.

“We’ve added [Mike] Rupp. Brett Clark helps our blue-line depth. We have depth in goal. We have guys in Houston who can come up and play. We’re protected against some of the things that have plagued us in the past, so I don’t know that we have to go do anything.”

NHL.com's Brian Hedger's in town to cover the game as well (it sounds like this game will be well-attended given the number of Tweets from Tuesday's Wings practice), and he spoke with Fletcher about the state of his franchise, too:

You did mention how it is an important year for the franchise, and that's obvious with what you did this summer in signing both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. How do you think the team has managed the expectations that were immediately heaped on it in early July?

"It's been difficult at times. On any given night we have eight or nine players in the lineup that essentially didn't play for us last year. So you're talking about 40-45 percent turnover from last year on any given night. I think the expectations are high, and that's understandable, but the reality is that the focus in the early part of the year was coming together as a team and establishing continuity, getting the new players to understand the system and having the coaches get to know the players as well. We felt there would be a transition period where it would take time for the group to come together, and that's been the case.

"But we hoped we would be able to hang in there early and as chemistry built we'd get better. I think now everybody has settled in. There's a long road to go here, but it looks like we're trending in the right direction."

A lot of general managers will say they look at the Detroit Red Wings as the model for consistency as a franchise. As a younger GM with experience working in the League for several teams, does that play with you as well and do you want to model your team after the Red Wings?

"I think so, but it's a pretty tough path to duplicate their success. Their success has been phenomenal going back over two decades of just winning. But when you think of Detroit, you think of how well they draft and how well they develop. A lot of teams draft well, but not every team develops the players well after they draft them. The way Detroit develops players is tremendous. They don't rush their players. They make them take all the necessary steps to get to the NHL. You look every year, they have good young talent. It's just phenomenal.

"I don't think we're anywhere near what the Red Wings have done, but certainly that's what we're trying to do. In today's day and age you have to develop your own talent. It's just too hard to find top talent. I mean, we were fortunate to sign Parise and Suter, but you can't expect to go into the market and get the top players every summer; it just doesn't work that way -- so you really have to draft well and you have to develop your own talent. In a salary-cap system you have to make sure you have good young players that can contribute playing every year. It's just a necessity in the salary cap world."

Bleh. Something tells me we'll hear, "The Wild are the new Red Wings" more than once before the Wings board Red Bird III to fly to Anaheim.

In any case, the Star-Tribune's Russo sets up tonight's game as follows...

Preview: The Wild stopped an 11-game winless streak in Vancouver on Monday. Now it heads to the Joe, which has offered similar problems. The Wild is 6-16-1 there, having lost 10 of its past 13. But the Wild has won three in a row and five of six. The Red Wings have won two in a row since a three-game winless streak. A Wild victory, and it would be .500 on the road at 7-7-1.

Players to watch: The Wild didn’t practice Tuesday, so it’s unknown whether G Niklas Backstrom, 11-3-1 in his past 15 with a 2.12 goals-against average, will start or rest as Matt Hackett makes his season debut. RW Devin Setoguchi has nine goals and 16 points in the past 18 games. C Matt Cullen is one goal from becoming the 37th American and ninth Minnesotan to score 200 goals. Red Wings G Jimmy Howard is 9-2-2 vs. the Wild with a 1.96 goals-against average. LW Henrik Zetterberg has 34 points in 35 games against the Wild, C Pavel Datsyuk has 28 points in 38 games.

Numbers: In Detroit, the Wild has been outscored 90-50 and outshot 852-500 in 23 games. … Its special teams have struggled there, too. The Wild has scored seven power-play goals on 87 chances (8 percent) and allowed 18 on Detroit’s 94 chances (19.1).

Injuries: Wild D Tom Gilbert and LW Mike Rupp (both lower body) are day-to-day. G Josh Harding (symptoms related to multiple sclerosis) is out. Red Wings D Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder), F Darren Helm (back), LW Todd Bertuzzi (back), RW Mikael Samuelsson (finger) and D Kyle Quincey (cheek) are out. F Patrick Eaves (jaw) is day-to-day.

The Associated Press's game preview adds more stats to the mix...

Datsyuk has five points in two meetings with Minnesota this season, with Detroit losing 3-2 on the road Feb. 17. The winger can extend his point streak to five games - which would match a season high - after his three-assist performance Saturday in a 5-2 road victory over the Canucks.

Henrik Zetterberg scored twice to end a nine-game goal drought as the Red Wings (14-10-5) capped a three-game trip with their second straight win.

While Datsyuk is surging for Detroit, the Red Wings will try to slow down Zach Parise. Parise has three points against Detroit this year and seven in a 5-1-0 stretch for the Wild.

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[Brian] Lashoff has made an immediate impact for Detroit, and an even greater one has been made by fellow rookie defenseman Jonas Brodin for Minnesota. The 19-year-old Brodin is fourth on the Wild in ice time and has scored goals in two of his last three games.

Niklas Backstrom has posted a 2.14 goals-against average in his last six starts. He's 1-4-2 with a 3.17 GAA in eight career starts against Detroit.

...

Jimmy Howard is 4-0-1 with a 1.36 GAA in his last five starts, and 5-0-2 with a 1.98 GAA in seven at home against Minnesota.

The Wild have scored on the power play in nine of their last 11 games, including four straight on the road. Detroit's penalty kill is at 88.2 percent over its last 16 games after it was 73.3 in the first 13.

And NHL.com's Brian Hunter's game preview serves as our pivot point between the Wild's and Wings' perspectives:

Season series: Third and final meeting of the regular season. The home team has taken each of the first two matchups. Pavel Datsyuk had a goal and two assists in Detroit's 5-3 win on Jan. 25, while Minnesota rallied for a 3-2 victory on Feb. 17 as Dany Heatley, Jason Zucker and Torrey Mitchell all scored in a span of 4:10 in the second period.

Big story: A national television audience will join those in attendance at Joe Louis Arena watching to see if the Northwest Division-leading Wild can extend their win streak to four straight games, or if the Red Wings can end it while pushing their own run to three in a row.

Wild [team scope]: With first place on the line Monday night, Minnesota accomplished something it hadn't in over four years and won a game in Vancouver. Rookie defenseman Jonas Brodin answered Henrik Sedin's power-play goal in the second period that opened the scoring with one of his own, and rookie forward Charlie Coyle had the go-ahead goal 3:20 into the third as the Wild went on to a 3-1 triumph. Niklas Backstrom stopped 35 shots, Matt Cullen added an insurance goal and Ryan Suter logged over 29 minutes on the back end.

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Red Wings [team scope]: This is the only stop back in Detroit in a stretch of eight games for the Red Wings, who just took two of three during a trek through western Canada and after Wednesday will head back out on the road for four more in California and Arizona. They took another hit Monday when it was announced defenseman Kyle Quincey will miss 4-6 weeks with fractures to his cheekbone. Justin Abdelkader was ailing as well Friday after suffering a skate cut to his left foot in Calgary, but played Saturday and scored his second and third goals of the season to spark a 5-2 win in Vancouver. Henrik Zetterberg also had a pair, his first goals in 11 games.

...

Who's hot: Cullen has a goal and five assists during a five-game points streak for the Wild. Devin Setoguchi has four goals and two assists during a four-game points streak. Pierre-Marc Bouchard has a goal and four assists during a three-game points streak. Brodin has his first two NHL goals in the past three games after going 22 without one. … Datsyuk has a goal and five assists during a four-game points streak for the Red Wings. Niklas Kronwall has two goals and two assists during a three-game points streak. Jimmy Howard is 6-1-2 in his past nine starts and has given up two goals or fewer in eight of those games.

Injury report: Minnesota forward Mike Rupp (lower body) and defenseman Tom Gilbert (undisclosed) are day-to-day. Goalie Josh Harding (illness) is out. … Detroit forward Darren Helm (back) suffered a setback at practice Monday. It had originally been hoped he could return as early as this week. Forwards Todd Bertuzzi (back) and Mikael Samuelsson (finger) and defensemen Quincey and Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) are also out.

As DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose offers a succinct game preview:

The Wild visit Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday, in what is the Red Wings’ only home game prior to Easter Sunday. The game is also the season-series finale between the two clubs, who split the first two contests this season.

“They’re a hard working team,” Wings defenseman Brian Lashoff said. “Obviously, a guy like (Zach) Parise is on the puck a lot and he’s tenacious, as is (Ryan) Suter, two new guys who are helping them out a lot. So I think if we can keep our special teams going the way that they have in the last couple of games I think we’ll be alright.”

Special team play will be a challenge for the Wings, who have struggled with consistency all season. Minnesota, however, has scored a power-play goal in nine of its last 11 games, going 9-for-39 in that stretch. Minnesota is 9-5-1 when scoring a power-play goal, and 7-5-1 when it is stopped on the man-advantage.

The Wild are benefiting from their defensive unit, which aside from Suter, are a combination of young prospects, like 2010 first-round pick Jonas Brodin, and crafty veterans, such as Tom Gilbert.

“They have a real good back end,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Everybody knows about Suter, but Brodin is a player that’s going to be known well in the league over time. I think (Jared) Spurgeon is really smart guy, and playing well. (Clayton) Stoner and (Justin) Falk are great big men that can skate and move the puck, and Gilbert is playing in their 5-6 pair, which is pretty good D-men to be playing in their 5-6 pair. That’s a pretty good group.”

As someone who has played against some of the top forwards in the Western Conference in his first season, Lashoff said the Wild’s lines are extremely dangerous, especially a guy like Parise, who has seven points in the last six games, and eads the Wild with 11 goals this season.

“He’s definitely one of the guys that I’ve noticed,” Lashoff said. “He’s very aggressive and on the puck and he never gives up and battles in the offensive zone for sure. He’s one of the tougher players that I’ve had to play against.”

The Red Wings' Tuesday practice went as you might imagine it would given the team's bad news about Kyle Quincey, Todd Bertuzzi and Darren Helm on Monday. Patrick Eaves left after getting dinged in the face with a puck, as noted by MLive's Ansar Khan...

Detroit Red Wings forward Patrick Eaves does not have a broken jaw, X-rays revealed. He is just sore and is day-to-day, general manager Ken Holland said.

Eaves was hit with a puck that deflected off his stick during today's practice.

And it appears that both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have been struck with the flu bug that's going around the Wings' locker room, as noted by the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan:

Eaves wasn't the only player who dropped during Tuesday's practice.

Forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk left practice early, although Babcock said both were "fine."

Datsyuk has been fighting a bit of a flu bug. Zetterberg was running the Joe Louis Arena hallways as practice was ending.

Brendan Smith took a deflected puck near the head but finished practice.

Kyle Quincey didn't have anything good to offer DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose regarding his jaw...

Sporting a pair of dark sunglasses and a white baseball cap, Kyle Quincey was in the Red Wings dressing room after seeing an eye doctor on Tuesday morning. The Red Wings’ defenseman learned Monday that damage to his fractured cheekbone is worse than originally diagnosed.

“It’s not good,” said Quincey, who has multiple fractures. He’s still a week away before doctors will be able to determine whether surgery is necessary.

“It’s so early right now I really don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “I’ll have more information as the week goes along and as the swelling goes down."

And Mikael Samuelsson declared himself at least a week from playing as his healing-but-still-broken left index finger's sore and can't be placed in a splint:

“If I set a date it’ll be missed probably anyway,” Samuelsson said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m taking one day at a time. It feels better, but I’m not quite there yet.”

Samuelsson skated for about 40 minutes with defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) and Kent Huskins after the rest of the team had finished practicing Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena. The finger continues to be a source of pain, especially as it pertains to stick-handling. Since Samuelsson is a right-handed shot, he holds the top of his stick with his left hand. He could try to play with a splint, but it’s uncomfortable and limiting, Samuelsson said.

“I’ve tried that. It’s the stick on your (top) hand as well so you want to have it OK,” he said. “It’s not the best finger.”

Babcock offered the following assessent of the state of his team:

“I don’t know the answer when we’re going to see him,” said Babcock, of Samuelsson. “I don’t know when we’re seeing Bert. I don’t know when we’re seeing Helm. I just know that these are the guys we’ve got. We have to find away.”

I don't think that the Red Wings should be practicing much at all given that they're 29 games into a 48-game season, and seem to drop like flies whenever Babcock doesn't declare an optional, but that's just me.

The beat writers spoke to Damien Brunner regarding his goal-scoring slump of late, with the Detroit News's Kulfan inquiring about said topic...

Damien Brunner leads the Red Wings in goals with 10, yet hasn't scored a goal in 10 games. After a torrid start to his NHL career, Brunner has hit a cold patch. A natural goal-scorer throughout his career, Brunner is confident the goals will come again.

"You're obviously not happy when you're not scoring," said Brunner after Tuesday's practice. "But on the other side, you can't put yourself under too much pressure. The more you want it (goals), you try to push it and it won't work. Just make the easy plays and you're finally going to get a bounce. I'm hoping to have a positive feeling soon and get going again."

Despite not scoring, Brunner has contributed with four assists and has played well defensively. His work effort on a couple plays during the recent Western Canada trip led to Red Wings goals.

"Points are out there," Brunner said. "The goals will come again. I have to work hard to get them."

...

In his first NHL season Brunner, 27, feels the adjustment to North American hockey has gone as he expected it would.

"You hear from friends (about the NHL) and watch the games, but it's different when you're on the ice and see it on your own," Brunner said. "It's (been) all positive since I've been here. I really enjoy playing here, and playing for the Red Wings is an honor."

As did the Macomb Daily's Pleiness:

“As a goal scorer you’re not happy when you’re not scoring,” Brunner said after practice Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena. “But on the other side you can’t put yourself under too much pressure because the more you want it, you try to push it and it’s not going to work. I’ve got to keep doing the easy things, make the little plays and I’ll finally get a bounce. I’ll get a positive feeling soon and then get on a roll again. I’m not putting myself under any pressure saying ‘I have to score, I have to score’,” Brunner added. “It’s a short season and we’ve got to get wins. If we’re not winning and I don’t score then obviously it’s on me.”

Despite the goal-scoring drought, Brunner still leads the Wings with 10 goals.

“I hear lots of things, but I actually like what he’s done for us and I think he’s been excellent,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s a guy that’s got 10 goals in the league. Who else has 10 goals on our team? That’s kind of the way I look at it. I think you get more rope when you score. I think he’s working real hard and I talked to him the other day. He knows that he’s going through it. Relax and keep playing hard.”

Despite not getting goals to go in, Brunner has four assists over the last 10 games.

...

Brunner however is a minus-5 over his last five games. He was taken off the Wings’ top line last Saturday in Vancouver and replaced by Drew Miller midway through the game.

“I think probably a lot of it had to do with the matchup with the Sedins, they’re offensively pretty good,” Brunner said. “So they probably wanted to match better defensively and (Miller) is probably better than me so they wanted to do that. That’s one the things I have to learn to get that spot and stay there in future. That’s OK with me. We got a big win so I’m happy for the team.”

...

“I buy the fact that the league is hard and in an 82-game schedule if you score 20 goals you had a good year,” Babcock said. “So in a 48-game schedule if you have 20 goals you had a pretty good year, so let’s just get going and not worry about it.”

This morning, MLive's Khan duly notes that Jakub Kindl has gone from a nearly certain waiver wire casualty to an essential and every-day defenseman...

Many would be surprised to learn that Kindl has the best plus-minus rating on the team (plus-14) heading into Wednesday's game against the Minnesota Wild at Joe Louis Arena.

“He's playing better, it's a positive thing for him,'' coach Mike Babcock said. “He's always been good offensively; he's being way grittier and more determined. That, to me, is the key for him being successful. If he continues to do that then he's earned himself confidence.''

Kindl took three penalties in the first period of a 4-3 overtime loss at Nashville on Feb. 19. He was scratched the following game. He returned to the lineup on Feb. 23 and hasn't been pulled since. Kindl has had a minus rating in only two of 22 games. He is averaging 17:39 per game in ice time, up from 14:03 in 2011-12.

“I’ve said it many times, it’s all about confidence,'' Kindl said. “It’s different when you play 10 minutes than 20 minutes. I’ve been feeling good lately, playing game-by-game and every time I play I just try to do the right things. Play simple. Play good defensively. I believe if I do all of that stuff, play hard, that good things will happen.''

...

“The big thing for me with Kuba (Kindl), if he'll go back and get the puck, he'll be courageous and compete, he'll be fine,'' Babcock said. “His skill's all there. It's being competitive every shift, it's the plays without the puck. As long as he stays out of the scoring chances against, he'll find himself in every game.''

As for tonight's opponent?

“I like their team,'' Babcock said. “They have a real good back end. Everybody knows about Suter, but (Jonas) Brodin is a player that’s going to be known well in the league over time. I think (Jared) Spurgeon is a really smart guy and playing well. (Clayton) Stoner and (Justin) Falk are great, big men that can skate and move the puck, and (Tom) Gilbert is a pretty good D-men to be playing in their 5-6 pair.''

And...

Howard in net: Babcock plans on starting Jimmy Howard for at least the next two games, maybe more. He said he'll consider using Jonas Gustavsson either Sunday or Monday, when the club has back-to-back games at Anaheim and Phoenix.

 

Red Wings notebooks and/or feature stories: The Detroit News's Gregg Krupa provides the Wings' "spirit of the thing" story in praising Niklas Kronwall's leadership. As usual, Krupa's article is far too long and far too thorough for me to quote in its entirety, but it's also worth your time:

When he heard Lidstrom finally decided to retire, Kronwall did not assume a great weight on his shoulders.

"I don't really try to think of it that way," Kronwall said. "It is what it is, and the rest of us are trying to pull it together as a unit, and there's still things to work on."

But the biggest mistake he could have made was to do too much. When defensemen do that, they can take themselves right out of their game and the team's game.

"Nick is the perfect example," Kronwall said of Lidstrom. "If you look at Nick, he never put himself in trouble. A lot of times when you try too hard, you try too much, that's when you put yourself in trouble, you run out of time. And that's when you put your team mates in a bad spot. That's something I don't want to do. I know it still happens every once in a while."

And when young players like Smith, Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff see Kronwall working, remaining within himself and talking about the importance of doing so, the impact is real.

"He was the guy I was paired with when I first came up, and he really helped me slow things down," Lashoff said. "He talked to me a lot, and he really settled me in as far as on and off the ice. I think a guy like him has learned from some pretty good leaders, himself."

Meanwhile, Kronwall was the third-leading scorer among defensemen, entering play Tuesday, with five goals and 17 assists. His minus-7 is something he works to improve. But one of Kronwall's attributes is that he often says he needs to play better before he is asked. His role is key to the success of the Red Wings after the loss of Lidstrom, Brad Stuart and Brian Rafalski along the back end in the past two years, the lockout and all the injuries this season.

"I think at the end of the day, you're just trying to do what you can do," Kronwall said. "And I know I can be better than I have, and I think we all have a few more percentages of effort to give, in here."

Again, the rest of Krupa's article's worth a read.

Wings GM Ken Holland won't be attending today's game. He'll be in Toronto today, attending the GM's meetings, and while it's assumed that most rule change discussions will be discussed during the summer because CBA issues are more pressing, coach Babcock would love it if the GM's talk about several topics, as he told the Free Press's George Sipple...

Wings coach Mike Babcock has his opinions about several topics that should be discussed.

"I haven't seen a whole lot of embellishment this year," Babcock said after practice Tuesday.

Asked whether he liked the idea of bigger nets, Babcock said: "If the goalies get bigger, is the net not getting smaller? By refusing to change, you are changing. Purists would say, 'you can't do it because you're changing the game,' but by not changing you are changing the game."

Babcock said making the goaltender equipment smaller "is a fantasy."

"When you're 6-5, you're bigger," Babcock said. "My general manager used to be a goalie. You seen the size of him?"

Babcock was referring to Holland, who is 5-feet-8.

"You go to the draft, and all of these guys that were your hockey heroes when you were kids ... have you seen the size of Mr. (Ted) Lindsay? He's one of the toughest guys to ever play. You seen the size of him? C'mon," Babcock said. "So my point is the game has gotten bigger and we don't change anything."

And the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:

Wings coach Mike Babcock was asked if embellishment to draw penalties should be addressed by the league.

“I just know when someone gets touched in the face their head snaps back,” Babcock said. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of embellishment this year. If we’re going to focus on something lets focus on scoring. To me that’s the whole key is that the goalies are too big for the size of the nets and too good.

“The other thing is the ice surface is the same size it’s been forever,” Babcock continued. “And I don’t like Olympic size at all, but somewhere in-between. In my opinion, since we’ve taken the red line out, it’s like the European game, lets not rush. Lets dump it in because you can’t get through the neutral zone. It’s back it off. No one believes that. The neutral zone’s too small. The end zones are too big. Get the end zones back the way it was. Get the neutral zone back bigger. That’s the speed zone anyway and things will be a lot smoother.”

Otherwise, the Wings' Facebook page posted a photo gallery from the Toast of Hockeytown...

Khan took note of the Wings' players fuure attempts to fill out their NCAA basketball brackets...

Asked if he's filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said, “No, I haven’t seen it yet. I can’t say I know of one player. It’s Michigan State or Wolverines, right? You call them the Wolverines? I’ll cheer for both of them.''

Teammate and proud Spartan Drew Miller chimed in “No you won't. All you need to know is Michigan State. Go Green!''

To which Ericsson responded, “Well, Millsie says Michigan State, so I’ll go with, uh, Blue.”

MLive's Brendan Savage offered a round-up of the various slates of power rankings that hit the wires, including a pair of Tuesday slates from TSN's Scott Cullen...

This Week12 Last Week 15 Detroit Red Wings:

The Red Wings haven't been typically dominant this season and it's no surprise, but they've managed to keep rolling, especially lately, thanks to strong play from G Jimmy Howard (4-0-2, 1.29 GAA, .956 SV% in March).

Key Injuries: RW Mikael Samuelsson (groin), RW Todd Bertuzzi (back), D Kyle Quincey (face).

And Sports Illustrated's Adrian Dater:

10 Detroit Red Wings Last Week: 16

Tough news for the Wings on Monday when they learned that defenseman Kyle Quincey would be lost for four to six weeks due to multiple cheek bone fractures. He was averaging 19:11 of ice time per game and plus-8. His absence will put even more pressure on workhorse blueliner Niklas Kronwall, who was already averaging a team-high 24:07 per game. Another area of concern: the power play. The Wings rank 22nd in the league, at 15.8 percent. That's the same ranking they had last season, too -- at 16.1 percent, but last year's team wasn't in danger of missing the playoffs. This one is. Last week: 2-1-0

As Paul noted on Sunday, Dater's hoping that the Wings fail to make the playoffs for shits and giggles' sake.

In the rumor department, substantiated version: Anaheim Ducks winger Corey Perry told the Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger that he at least entertained the concepts of signing with the Leafs or Wings this summer before re-upping with Anaheim:

Sign with the Maple Leafs as a free agent next season and you could be just an hour away from your parents up in Kawartha Country. Join the Red Wings under similar circumstances and you would be just a 90-minute drive from London, where you still own a residence.

“I’m not going to lie to you. All those things weighed on my mind,” Corey Perry, 27, said from Anaheim during a phone interview on Tuesday. They weighed on my mind a lot.”

...

When Anaheim Ducks teammate Ryan Getzlaf inked an eight-year, $66 million (U.S.) extension two weeks ago, Perry’s impending future became even more of a hot topic throughout the hockey world. When asked about the Perry situation a day after the Getzlaf signing, two prominent agents figured the Leafs and Red Wings would be the leading landing spots for the pending unrestricted free agent at an average salary of about $9 million per season.

In Toronto, he would be reunited with Randy Carlyle, his coach when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007. In Detroit, he would be back together with Mike Babcock, the bench boss of Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver who helped guide Perry, Getzlaf and their teammates to a gold medal.

“I can’t say I never thought about it,” Perry said. “Growing up, those are the teams you watched. There are all kinds of things you think about. The people that care about you, they have to stay up pretty late out east to watch your games. All those things went through my mind.”

In the rumor department, sort of substantiated version: Eyebrows raised in the direction of ESPN's Pierre LeBrun:

• My TSN colleague Bob McKenzie reported Tuesday night during our Insider Trading segment on TSN in Canada that he believes the ball is now rolling on the Iginla trade discussion front, at least in terms of the team and the player communicating the possibility of moving him. Boston, Pittsburgh, L.A. and Detroit, to me, are the teams that make the most sense and are clubs I know that have interest in Iginla. But can the Flames find a fit that makes sense both for them as an organization and for Iginla to feel comfortable enough to waive his no-trade clause? We shall see. A Flames front office source declined comment even off-the-record Tuesday night, which tells you what a delicate situation this is.

• Word on the street is the Calgary Flames will move Jay Bouwmeester (who has one more year on his deal) only if they get blown away by a really strong offer. St. Louis and Detroit are among several teams with interest in Bouwmeester, but it doesn’t appear like he’s going to move unless a team really spends high.

• The Ottawa Senators had given thought to dealing Sergei Gonchar before the April 3 trade deadline because he’s a UFA after the season and they thought they might be out of the running with all the injuries. Instead, the Sens have stuck around in the playoff race and Gonchar has played well, enough that Ottawa, I’m told, is thinking it might keep him around.

LeBrun also offered a list of GM's meetings points of emphasis.

Regarding both trades and the 2014 Olympics, NHL.com's Dan Rosen found that many GM's don't believe that in-person conversations will add intrigue to the mix, and he reports that Holland will remain in Toronto after the GM's meetings conclude:

The GMs are expecting an update on the status of Olympic participation from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly on Wednesday. The timing couldn't be better for Hockey Canada and USA Hockey; each group has planned a meeting in Toronto with its advisory committee or management team to coincide with the GMs meeting.

According to Bowman, USA Hockey convened its advisory committee -- Bowman, Shero, Tallon, Nashville Predators GM David Poile, Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi, Brian Burke and Don Waddell -- for a Tuesday night meeting.

Armstrong confirmed Hockey Canada is doing the same Thursday with its management staff of Armstrong, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, Edmonton Oilers president Kevin Lowe and Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland.

Both sides say they are operating under the premise that NHL players will participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Daly said earlier this month that the League hopes to have the participation issue resolved by the end of March.

It's also worth noting that Sportsnet's version of LeBrun, former Canadian Press reporter Chris Johnston, believes that the salary cap's drop from $70.3 million to $64.3 million this summer will be a one-time event:

Opinions vary on how high NHL salaries might soar under the new CBA, but one agent (different than the previous one) estimated that the AAV — average annual value — of top contracts could hit $13 million or $14 million within five years.

That number was projected based on what the agent expects will be significant revenue growth for the industry, which would obviously push the salary cap much higher than the $64.3 million it will be set at next season.

In the rumor department, unsubstantiated version: Sportsline's Brian Stubits pondered the fates of 10 trade targets, including Ian White:

8. Ian White: The ironic part is that the Red Wings are going to be looking for defense if they're making any trades and White is a defenseman. But he's obviously not the defenseman they're looking for.

At this point White has stated that he hasn't been asked to waive his no-trade clause and he's played the good solider. However he has been a healthy scratch on an almost nightly basis, getting back in the lineup recently with the injury to Kyle Quincey.

I'm not sure the Wings will be looking to move White or that he is lying when he says he's happy being where he is even if he's not playing on a regular basis, but his uncertain situation certainly makes him worth watching. I'd just think Detroit would prefer having him if even as a safety blanket because of the struggles on the blue line.

Quincey's broken cheek/orbital bone = White will remain a Wing.

And in the rumor department, prospect version: NHL.com's Corey Masisak looked at the top NCAA free agents-to-be.  You're probably familiar with the name of one of the best of the bunch:

Danny DeKeyser, defenseman, Western Michigan

Several media outlets have pegged DeKeyser, a 6-foot-3, 198-pound junior, as the top free agent available. He had five goals and 17 points in each of his first two college seasons, and was expected to sign with an NHL team after last season. He has two goals and 15 points this season, and could be the most likely player on this list to be skating in an NHL game in the immediate future. Western Michigan looks like a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament, and when he signs with a team will be impacted by that.

Andrej Sustr, defenseman, Nebraska-Omaha

The obvious thing that stands out about Sustr is his size -- he is 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds. Sustr is a Czech Republic native and represented his country at the 2010 World Junior Championship. He had nine goals and 25 points in 39 games for UNO this season. McKenzie reported he will leave school to pursue a deal, and Katie Strang of ESPNNewYork.com and Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News have reported the Rangers and Flyers are among the teams interested.

DeKeyser and Sustr are the consensus top prizes in this free-agent class. They may not be on Schultz's level, but nearly every NHL team could be interested in both.

 

 

In the prospect department, the Grand Rapids Griffins have a Columbus Blue Jackets-style frustrating opponent in the Peoria Rivermen. The Griffins dropped a 4-1 decision to Peoria on Tuesday evening, marking their 2nd straight loss against the Rivermen. The Griffins' website provides a recap...

The Grand Rapids Griffins’ bad luck against Peoria continued on Tuesday night, as the team fell to the Rivermen for the sixth time in a row with a 4-1 loss at Carver Arena.

After holding a 1-0 lead heading into the second period, the Griffins surrendered four unanswered goals over the final 40 minutes, dropping a two-game set against the Rivermen.

Tomas Tatar wasted little time putting the Griffins (36-21-3-2) on the scoreboard as he scored his fifth goal in seven games against the Rivermen midway through the first period. As Mike McKenna moved from the right to the left side of the goal, Tatar fired a one-timer under the goaltender’s glove. The power play goal came at 11:41 of the opening period.

The Rivermen (28-28-4-3) tied the game at one on a power play goal at 3:27 of second period. Petr Mrazek tried to collect a rebound as multiple Peoria players piled outside of the Griffins net, but Michael Pelech jammed a shot over Mrazek before the goaltender could recover. The goal was Pelech’s first in the AHL.

Peoria scored two goals in just over one minute midway through the second period to take a commanding two-goal lead. Derek Nesbitt struck first with a goal at 9:56. T.J. Hensick scooped up the puck from behind the Griffins net and sent a blind pass to Nesbitt in front of the goal. The right wing snapped his shot past Mrazek’s blocker to give Peoria its first lead of the game.

Adam Cracknell capitalized on a two-on-one advantage at 10:57 of the middle period to give the Rivermen a 3-1 lead. The puck took a Peoria bounce off Grand Rapids’ line and Hensick found Cracknell streaking up the ice with a backhand pass. The center rolled his shot past Mrazek, scoring his 14th goal of the season.

Cracknell scored his second goal of the game on a power play at 6:47 of the final period, giving the Rivermen a 4-1 lead. Hensick connected with Cracknell for the second time in the contest, and the Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native walked in on Mrazek. Cracknell sent his shot right inside the far post, scoring his second goal back in Peoria after an eight-game stint in the NHL.

Mrazek stopped 30 of 34 shots as McKenna earned the victory behind 25 saves.

The Griffins will return to Grand Rapids to host Lake Erie on Friday at 7 p.m. before beginning their longest road trip of the season against the Monsters on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

The Rivermen's website offers a recap and a slate of highlights...

 

And the Peoria Journal-Star's Dave Eminian says that the Rivermen's win was their 6th straight over Grand Rapids.

The Journal-Star posted a photo gallery from the game, too.

I plain old missed this one, but DRW Prospects on Twitter didn't:

The Penticton Vees defeated the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 3-1 on Monday, and on Tuesday, they completed the sweep, with James De Haas scoring a goal and adding an assist in the Vees' 5-1 win.

In Sweden, Mattias Backman played 22:22 in Linkopings HC's 5-4 OT win over HV71. Backman and Linkopings HC lead the first-round series 3 games to 1.

And finally, the Wings will probably let Nick Jensen finish his college hockey career by playing out his senior season with Saint Cloud State University next year, but the 22-year-old defenseman popped onto Wings fans' radar screens when he was named the WCHA's defensive player of the year last week.

The Elk River Star News's Bruce Strand praised Jensen's play and maturation while noting that the SCSU Huskies will play in in the WCHA playoff semifinals on Friday (fellow Wings prospect defenseman Ben Marshall's University of Minnesota Golden Gophers have earned the other semifinal spot, with both SCSU and Minnesota's opponents to be determined on Thursday):

In WCHA games, Jensen had four goals and 19 assists, with a plus-15 rating. His 23 points were second among defenders and his 19 goals ranked first. On the defensive end, he consistently faced the top lines, blocked 27 shots and helped the Huskies limit league foes to 2.36 goals per game. Overall, Jensen ranks eighth nationally among Division I defensemen with 29 points and second with 25 assists. He is plus-21 and has 39 blocks.

The 6-foot-1, 183-pound defender made All-WCHA first team this year and second team last year. He has started 115 straight games with 15 career goals and 69 assists. His most recent goal came in the 4-2 win over Wisconsin that clinched at least a share of first place. The Huskies lost the finale to the Badgers 3-2 while the Gophers beat Bemidji and pulled into a final tie for first with 37 points each.

During the Alaska-Anchorage series, the Huskies skated unto the ice with the Cup for their fans. “We are the first St. Cloud team to get the McNaughton Cup so that meant a lot,” said Jensen.

The Huskies split with the Gophers on Feb. 8-9 in St. Cloud, losing the Friday game 4-2 before 5,648 fans, then winning the Saturday game 4-3 before 6,140 fans,. The Gophers were ranked No. 1 at the time and have recently regained the No. 1 rank while the Huskies finished the regular season No. 7.

“That’s a big game, obviously,” said Jensen. “But we have to keep it consistent with every game we play, because they all count as much.”

The WCHA is breaking up this year, largely because the Big Ten Network, a major funding source, needs the Gophers in a newly-created Big Ten for hockey. The Huskies will move to a new conference that will include North Dakota and Colorado College. Whether Jensen will still be there for his senior year, or with the Red Wings, remains to be seen. The NHL team made him a first-round draft pick when he was 18.

“We’ve got a playoff game Friday. That’s all we are thinking about,” said Jensen.

The Wings have enough defensemen in the pipeline--especially with CSKA Moscow defenseman Alexei Marchenko slated to sign with the team this spring--that they can leave Jensen and Marshall alone for another year. For the present moment, the team needs to know whether Gleason Fournier, Max Nicastro, Adam Almqvist and probable signee Brennan Evans can get the job done at the AHL level, and with Marchenko, Soo Greyounds defenseman Ryan Sproul and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada captain Xavier Ouellet slated to "turn pro," the Griffins and ECHL's Toledo Walleye's bluelines may be jam-packed with Wings prospects next season.

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Hootinani's avatar

Evans or Billings, George?  Which is it?

Posted by Hootinani on 03/20/13 at 08:27 AM ET

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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.