The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/04/11 at 04:36 PM ET
Updated 4x with even more realignment stuff at 7:05 PM: The Detroit Red Wings face off against the Colorado Avalanche tonight (8 PM, not 9 PM, EST—sorry, I forgot to carry the one in the game set-up—FSD with Dave Strader doing play by play/Altitude/WXYT) with the easygoing Wings hoping to establish an eight-game winning streak against the plucky Avs with Ty Conklin between the pipes.
As Pro Hockey Talk’s Mike Halford suggests (via RedWingsFeed), the world’s a different place from the one in which Conklin last started a game on October 15th, and while I don’t think that the Wings will be too concerned if Conklin is anything less than dominant tonight, but I can’t help but feel that Wings fans might freak out if Conklin’s limited exposure continues to reflect his ability to back up Jimmy Howard in a poor light.
As Wings coach Mike Babcock told MLive’s Ansar Khan, Conklin did happen to shut out the Avs when the Wings first visited the Mile High City on October 8th, so it makes sense to go with the “hot hand” while getting Conklin back into the goaltending rotation in a December where the Wings have to play a game every other night for the balance of the month:
“Howie’s played great, we can always do that (play him), but I think Conks is going to play great (tonight),” Babcock said. “He played great the last time in here.”
Conklin’s last start was Oct. 25 in Columbus—a 4-1 loss—when Howard was home following the birth of his son. Conklin’s last appearance was Nov. 17 in San Jose, when he played the third period during a 5-2 loss. Conklin is 1-2-0, with a 3.33 goals-against average and .880 save percentage.
“I’m very excited,” Conklin said. “It’ll be nice to get in there and get some action.”
Conklin said he did what all goalies do when they’ve been inactive for a long stretch—treat practices like games.
“That’s as much as you can do,” Conklin said. “Physically, you’re always skating. I think it’s just the mental stuff, getting prepared and staying focused for 60 minutes and getting into the flow of the game because things are going to be faster than they are in practice.”
As for his shutout against the Avalanche earlier this season, Conklin said, “You can draw on good experiences, but teams are playing different, it’s a different time of the season.”
It goes without saying that Howard would prefer to keep starting for as long as possible, but that’s just not realistic at this point.
Biggy note: I’m still waiting for the Wings’ press to post morning skate updates, but the Avs posted theirs an hour ago, and I feel uncomfortable sitting on them. Expect a Wings update in a little bit, and in the interim, here’s the Avs news of note from their morning skate:
The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers reports that the Avs held an optional morning skate, and that coach Joe Sacco’s going to stack his blueline (and dress a player whose acerbic nature tends to rub the Wings the wrong way in Cody McLeod)...
Greetings from the morning skate at the Pepsi Center, where the Avalanche will host the Detroit Red Wings tonight. Defenseman Erik Johnson will return to the lineup and the Avs will go with seven D, with EJ and rookie Stefan Elliott possibly playing the points on the power play[.]
Winger Chuck Kobasew is unavailable because of a minor leg injury, Avs coach Joe Sacco said. So Cody McLeod, the only extra forward, will snap a two-game DND (did not dress) stretch and play for just the third time in eight games.
No changes to Colorado’s top lines. Paul Stastny is still between Matt Duchene and David Jones, and Ryan O’Reilly is centering Gabriel Landeskog and Milan Hejduk. Varly is in net.
“Varly” is Semyon Varlamov, and here’s the Avs’ rationale for bringing both Johnson and Elliott back into the fold at the expense of rolling four lines (Chambers reports that former University of Michigan forward Matt Hunwick will sit out tonight as a result):
Avalanche defensemen Erik Johnson and Stefan Elliott will both play in tonight’s game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Pepsi Center. Johnson has missed the past five games with a groin injury, and Elliott has been a terrific addition during that stretch since making his NHL debut. Colorado is carrying eight defensemen and will go with an 11-forward, seven-defensemen lineup against Detroit. Avs coach Joe Sacco said the offensively gifted Elliott — who has two goals and three points in four career games — will continue to be utilized in all situations.
“He’s been doing a pretty good job (overall),” Sacco said of the 20-year-old. “Last game, I think defensively, he had a couple lapses, but that’s typical for a young player. This will allow us a little more flexibility, especially on our power play, which lately has been struggling.”
Elliott and Johnson are both right-handed shooters, but Sacco said they might be paired together on the power play. Left-shooting defenseman Kyle Quincey will also continue to play the point with the man-advantage. Johnson, the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft, has zero goals, nine assists and a minus-12 rating in 21 games. He said he originally injured his groin Nov. 20 against the San Jose Sharks.
“Anytime you have to sit out and watch, it’s never a fun experience,” Johnson said after this morning’s skate. “You want to be out there helping your team. Once I get back in there, it will be relief.”
Chambers posted a clip of Matt Duchene discussing tonight’s game (turn your volume up for this one)...
And the Avs’ website posted a clip of Duchene and Elliott speaking to the media as well (turn your volume back down for this one):
Also of Red Wings-related note this afternoon: MLive’s Khan pointed out that while Jimmy Howard probably won’t be named to the NHL’s Western Conference All-Star Team as a starter, he’s played more than well enough to garner an invite to the ASG in Ottawa via the NHL’s Hockey Operations department, which picks the non-starters…
“I’m not even worried about it. I couldn’t care less,” Howard said. “Truly and honestly just play; whatever happens, happens.”
Howard, at this rate, is a shoo-in to be named to the All-Star team next month.
“I think you worry about as a player things you can control,” Babcock said. “You do good things on the ice, good things happen to you as far as notoriety.
“And yet to me, (being an All-Star) would be a real honor for him. He was in the running for rookie of the year a couple years ago (finished second in Calder Trophy balloting in 2009-10). He’s been a real important player for us and continues to get better.”
• If you missed it, I updated the realignment blah story with an article by USA Today’s Kevin Allen, who believes that there simply aren’t enough Eastern Conference members of the Board of Governors who are interested in “swinging” their votes toward radical realignment or doing much more than swapping out Winnipeg for either the Wings or Blue Jackets, but he does point out that the Western BoG members might not be too keen on the fact that they’re the ones who’d be playing in 8-team “conferences” as opposed to 7-team Eastern “conferences” under the radical realignment plan, too…
• While we’re talking about executives behaving like grumpy old men who can’t stand change and/or are only concerned with their fiscal and competitive bottom lines, to the point that they’ll all but literally fight each other to ensure that the agenda which most directly benefits them will pass, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek offered tales of GM’s and owners coming to blows in light of the whole, “Brian Burke wanted to drop ‘em with Kevin Lowe” thing, including a tidbit about the Wings’ first owner which just isn’t all that surprising given that one Bruce Norris empowered Jack Adams to all but employ a union-buster’s worth of bullying, antagonism and franchise-crippling trades to terrorize his employees (one wonders what the Wings could have done had Adams not disassembled them after their 1955 Cup win):
A little known story involves an owner and a skater, as former Detroit Red Wings owner Bruce Norris confronted Parker MacDonald at a team function. Apparently, Norris tried to strangle the winger before players separated the two. It is believed that Norris may have been over-poured that evening.
• In prospect-related news, Griffinscentral.com’s Jason Kasiorek filed a fantastic review of the Grand Rapids Griffins’ November performances on individual and team bases on Winging it in Motown;
• And at the other end of the spectrum, CSN Philadelphia’s Jay Greenberg checked in with someone who both played with Mark Howe and Brad McCrimmon in Philadelphia and served as Nicklas Lidstrom’s first defensive partner in the helmetless Brad Marsh. Brad McCrimmon may have taught Lidstrom about the finer points of playing efficient, positionally-perfect defense, but Marsh was the first “Larry Murphy” (i.e. Mr. Heavyfoot) which Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov encountered during their rookie seasons, and Marsh provided equal amounts of enthusiasm, an innate ability to skate toward where the puck and play were going to be happening when his skates could finally propel him toward action, and, quite frankly, dirtiness with a smile on his face that may or may not have helped the Vladinator hone his now-legendary nasty demeanor.
Update #1: Let’s go with, “Damn straight, coach Babcock”: the Red Wings’ third and fourth lines (Drew Miller-Justin Abdelkader-Tomas Holmstrom and Chris Conner-Darren Helm-Danny Cleary) were probably the team’s best lines from minutes 1-60 in the Wings’ win over the Sabres on Friday, and Babcock told the Free Press’s Helene St. James that he’s digging what he’s seeing from the “bottom six”:
“I think Cleary, Helm and Conner should be able to play against anybody in the league,” Babcock said. “I really believe that. I think if you go on the road and you trust all your people, it doesn’t matter, you just roll them out the door. I thought in the Buffalo game the other night, our best line in the first 10 minutes of the game was Abby’s line. They had all the scoring chances early. Homer’s at the net grinding, Miller’s a really good skater, and Abby is a heavy body. We’re not going to hide anybody here tonight. We’re going to roll them out the door, see who’s going and then play whoever’s playing the best the most.”
Colorado lines are:
“I think they’re a good team,” Babcock said. “I like the way they play. They go straight ahead most of the time. I really like Duchene and O’Reilly. I like their team. They’ve played us real hard for a number of years.”
The Avs are fast and offensively talented, so the team that wins tonight’s game will probably be the team that controls the puck for the longest period of time…
Update #2: I would have preferred to keep the realignment talk confined to one single entry, but, via RedWingsFeed, the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness tossed off an extremely late-breaking set of comments from the Wings’ management as to their hopes regarding Monday’s Board of Governors’ meetings any sorts of modifications to the league’s schedule:
“It’s very, very simple from the Red Wings’ standpoint: what we would like to avoid is going far west twice,” senior vice president Jimmy Devellano said. “We understand we need to go there once. To go twice is terrible for TV ratings, extra travel expenses that many teams don’t share in. That’s really our only concern. (Traveling West twice a year) has been our only problem,” Devellano added. “People say we’d like to be in the East. That is true, but that (being in the West) isn’t the major problem. We’ve done that for many years (go west twice), we’re an East-based team,” Devellano continued. “Where the problem lies is that so is Columbus and Nashville. If it was just us it would be easy for the league to handle.”
Realignment is necessary after the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg last spring. The Jets remained in the Eastern Conference this season but will be shifted to the West for the 2012-13 season. That’s really the only certainty we know before the two days of meetings begin [Monday].
“There’s not one thing the Detroit Red Wings want,” said Wings general manager Ken Holland, who will attend the meetings. “We feel if we go out there with one thing and we don’t get the one thing, we could be left on the outside looking in. We’re going there open minded with two or three different scenarios that may satisfy us,” Holland added. “The Detroit Red Wings want to hear what the issues are and what the problems are. Anything what I’ve been suggesting is better for the Detroit Red Wings and their fans than what we have today. We’re probably not going to get the absolute perfect scenario, so we want something better. We’re not okay with the status quo.”
According to numerous reports, the proposal that is hot right now is for the league to switch to two eight-team divisions and two seven-team divisions. Currently, the league is comprised of six divisions with five teams in each. Under that plan, the Wings could end up in a division with Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, Minnesota and Winnipeg or they could get that move to the East in a division with Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo, Boston and Pittsburgh.
“I’ve seen the proposals on the agenda,” Holland said. “You either have three divisions in the west and three in the east or you have four regions. I don’t think we can have anything else. You can debate who goes in what division or region. I don’t know if there is another solution.”
The playoff format would have the first two rounds be played entirely within your division.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Devellano said. “The four-division format is good because you play teams in your own time zone (or close to it) and the first two rounds are in the division. But the problem is there would be two divisions of eight teams and two with seven,” Devellano added. “A lot of people have problems with that.”
Update #3: MLive’s Ansar Khan filed the equivalent of a “late-breaker” given the game’s relatively early start in noting that the Wings…Well, hope that a fast start will propel them to victory:
Detroit has outscored its last six opponents 9-0 in the first period. The Red Wings haven’t allowed a first-period goal since Los Angeles’ Mike Richards scored shorthanded at 6:37 on Nov. 19. The Red Wings have trailed only twice for a total of five minutes, 19 seconds during this streak, which is their longest since an eight-game winning streak from Jan. 17 to Feb. 5, 2008.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence, getting great goaltending, which we’ve had all year,’’ defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Even though we haven’t played our best level yet we’ve still been able to come away with wins. I think everyone in here feels like we got more to give. If we can play like for 60 minutes like we did in the first period against Buffalo (Friday) we’ll be a pretty good team.’‘
Detroit has dipped a bit in the second period in each of its past two games after jumping out to a 2-0 lead vs. Tampa Bay on Wednesday and a 3-0 lead at Buffalo.
“We got off to a real good start and established our game first,’’ coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s natural when you’re ahead to not keep doing the same things you did. As a coach, you’d like to do the same things.’‘
The Red Wings are 2-0 vs. the Avalanche this season, outscoring them 8-2. Here is Babcock’s breakdown of Colorado:
“I think they’re a good team, I like the way they play. They go straight ahead most of the time. I really like (Matt) Duchene and (Ryan) O’Reilly. (Gabriel) Landeskog’s a great player, big, heavy, does everything right, looks like he’s a real good pick. The new kid that’s up, (Stefan) Elliott, looks like he’s real active on the back end.’‘
update #3: Here we go again, via the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:
The Wings consistently have expressed their desire to move to the Eastern Conference.
“That would be our preference,” said Wings senior vice-president Jimmy Devellano.
The Wings say too many of their fans can’t watch games that start at 10 or 10:30 p.m. — typical for their western road trips. The Wings also would travel fewer miles in the playoffs if they were in the Eastern Conference.
“That’s when you feel it the most — in the playoffs,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “If we cut some of the travel, that was be good.”
Kulfan also added a bit about Valtteri Filppula’s offensive blossoming:
Filppula headed into Sunday’s game with five goals and seven points in the last five games. With 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 24 games, Filppula has become almost a point-per-game player.
Coaches have always prodded Filppula to shoot more frequently and be aggressive with the puck.
“I’m trying to be; that’s been part of the focus,” Filppula said. “Being in front more, trying to find pucks. The big thing, though, is winning games. Everyone looks better when you’re winning games. I’m just happy I’ve been able to help the team.”
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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.