The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/04/11 at 10:54 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings face off against the Colorado Avalanche tonight (
8 PM EST, FSD—not plus thanks to the NBA lockout/Altitude) facing a team that has played neither particularly well nor particularly poorly since the Wings defeated the Avs 5-2 about a month ago: the Avs have gone 5-and-5, but have won their past two games, including a 3-2 shootout win over St. Louis on Friday night; the Wings, of course, are coming off a 4-1 victory over Buffalo on Friday night, and they’re hoping that Ty Conklin can deliver the team’s eighth straight win.
Perspective from both teams’ camps seems to be a little lean this morning, as the Denver Post’s Adrian Dater spent this morning talking about the same realignment issue that’s bugging you and me, as well as the demise of the dedicated enforcer, so we’ll turn back to Dater’s recounting of Friday’s Avs win to gauge the Avs’ offensive firepower...
Ryan O’Reilly’s nickname is “The Factor.” You might say he was one in the Avalanche’s 3-2 shootout victory over St. Louis on Friday night.
In a tremendous, inspiring performance, O’Reilly led his team back from a third-period deficit against a Blues team that came into the contest 11-0 when leading after two periods. O’Reilly scored the tying goal, nearly won it at the end of regulation and overtime with other goals, then scored the only goal of the shootout as Colorado prevailed in front of — get this — a fired-up, loud crowd at the Pepsi Center. How’s this for a stat line on the night: for O’Reilly, he had a goal, assist, shootout winner, five shots overall and a 57 percent proficiency on faceoffs.
The win got the Avs back to within a game of .500, put them 4-3-0 on their eight-game homestand and marked the first time they’ve won two in a row since Oct. 15-17 (at Montreal and Toronto).
As well as their new-found stability in goal:
Let there be no doubt Semyon Varlamov has some flexibility. The Avalanche goalie did the splits while making a great toe save on St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie in the shootout Friday night as part of the Avs’ 3-2 victory.
Varlamov made several other acrobatic saves, part of his 35-stop, perfect-in-the-shootout performance. After a rough patch last month in which he allowed six regulation goals each in losses to Dallas and Pittsburgh, Varlamov has been strong, easing worries of Avs fans following a trade that saw the team part with first- and second-round picks to get him.
In his last five starts, Varlamov is 3-2, with a 1.78 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. He has allowed two goals or fewer in each of his last five starts. He is 4-0 in shootouts with the Avs, who are 15-1 in shootouts dating to December 2009.
So let’s just say that the Avs might provide the Wings with stiffer resistance than their record suggests, and let’s allow NHL.com’s Frank Mentnesana to provide us with a pivot point between the Avs’ and Wings’ perspectives:
Season Series: Sunday’s matchup is the third of four meetings between these Western Conference rivals. Detroit won each of the first two matchups by a three-goal margin. On Oct. 8 in Colorado, Ty Conklin made 29 saves in a 3-0 victory, and the Red Wings posted a 5-2 home win on Nov. 8 behind a hat trick by Johan Franzen, who has 10 goals in his last nine games against the Avalanche, a team the Wings have dominated over the last dozen years. Since 1999-2000, Detroit is 32-10-5 against the Avs, its third-best winning percentage against any Western opponent.
Big Story: The Red Wings are aiming for their first eight-game winning streak since Jan. 17-Feb. 5, 2008, having outscored their opponents 28-12 in winning seven straight. Detroit’s 3-2 shootout win in the Discover Thanksgiving Showdown in Boston is its only one-goal victory during the streak—and also served as the Bruins’ only loss in November.
The Avalanche hope to slow down Detroit and post a winning record on their season-long, eight-game homestand, which concludes on Sunday. The are 4-3-0 on the homestand after winning back-to-back home games for the first time since January with their 3-2 shootout victory over the Blues on Friday. The win also marked the first time Colorado has won two in a row since winning five straight, all on the road, from Oct. 10-17.
Red Wings [team scope]: Fast starts have been key for Detroit during its winning streak—the Wings have outscored opponents 10-1 in the first period. Three of those 10 goals came Friday in Buffalo, as Jakub Kindl, Franzen and Valtteri Filppula all found the back of the net within the first 15 minutes, setting the stage for a 4-1 victory. Jimmy Howard took care of the rest, stopping 27 shots in his 17th straight start for his League-leading 15th win. The Wings have claimed four straight on the road and have just two defeats in their last 13 games—back-to-back losses to St. Louis and San Jose during a recent West Coast trip.
Who’s Hot: Datsyuk has points in seven of his last eight games, notching six goals and seven assists in that span. Filppula has five goals and two assists during his current five-game point streak. … Besides O’Reilly, Milan Hejduk has five points in his last four games for the Avs. Varlamov has allowed two goals or less in each of his last five starts, posting a 1.78 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage in that stretch.
Injury Report: For Detroit, Patrick Eaves is several weeks from returning after suffering a broken jaw when he was hit by a slap shot on Nov. 26 against Nashville. … Colorado forwards Peter Mueller (concussion) and Mark Olver (head) remain on IR, along with defenseman Erik Johnson (groin).
Knock on my empty head, I’m stunned that we’re in December and the Wings are less banged-up than the Avs are, though the Wings are beginning to accumulate air miles: Red Bird III didn’t even land in Denver until after 3 AM EST on Saturday morning, which meant a late-afternoon practice for the Wings on Saturday.
The Wings’ beat writers probably got in later, however, so the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan filed this brief take on Conklin’s return to action…
With Jimmy Howard playing so well, coach Mike Babcock was hesitant about making a switch.
But the time has definitely come to give Howard a night off. And Sunday’s game makes a lot of sense. Conklin shut out the Avalanche the last time the teams played in Denver on Oct. 9. He has that on his side, plus the Avalanche haven’t been great home.
But Conklin hasn’t played much at all lately. Conklin’s last start was Oct. 25, in a loss in Columbus. His last appearance was Nov. 17, in relief of Howard, playing the 3rd period in San Jose.
Conklin simply hasn’t played much hockey over the last month. Very little, as a matter of fact. To come back strong against the Avalanche this time around might be asking a bit too much.
And MLive’s Ansar Khan offered this from Babcock and Conklin after noting that the Wings won’t make any lineup changes (which means that Cory Emmerton’s still out and Chris Conner’s still in; DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose offered a bit about Conklin’s start as the Saturday afternoon notebooks filtered in as well):
Jimmy Howard had started the past 17 games. Conklin’s last start was Oct. 25 in Columbus, a 4-1 loss, when Howard was home after the birth of his son. Conklin’s last appearance was Nov. 17 in San Jose, when he played the third period in relief of Howard during a 5-2 loss.
Conklin is 1-2-0, with a 3.33 goals-against average and .880 save percentage. He made 29 saves in a 3-0 victory over the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on Oct. 8.
Coach Mike Babcock said that factored into his decision.
“He got a shutout last time we were here. It was important to get him in,’’ Babcock said after practice today at the Pepsi Center. “Howie’s played great, we can always do that (play him), but I think Conks is going to play great tomorrow. He played great the last time in here.’‘
Said Conklin: “I’m very excited. It’ll be nice to get in there and get some action.’‘
The Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness filed a fine notebook praising Valtteri Filppula’s maturation from afar, but it’s the Free Press’s Helene St. James who offers the most substantive take on the Wings’ mood going into tonight’s game (she’s apparently got a helluva travel agent, and I do not envy the travel the Wings’ beat writers face for an instant). The Wings are “loose” right now, in the best sense of the term:
There’s plenty to feel good about as the Wings head into tonight’s match against the Avalanche on a seven-game winning streak, although captain Nicklas Lidstrom said “it’s not something we talk about in here.” The focus is, naturally, on continuing to do what has led to 14 straight points.
“We work together now,” Pavel Datsyuk said. “We don’t have spread from defense to forwards. We together.” Asked why there’s better cohesion, Datsyuk went to his wit: “I think arena smaller. This is maybe why. No, this is big thing: Everybody know what to do now more, what they are supposed to do. We trust each other more.”
Trust and “gap control?” Sounds like it:
“When we lost a few games there,” Niklas Kronwall said, “we had way too much separation between the D and the forward. We basically created more room for them, so that way they came with a lot more speed at us.”
Babcock agreed with his players…Mostly:
“Puck possession is kind of a fantasy we live in in here that we like to say that,” coach Mike Babcock said. “But puck possession comes when you check real good and you have the puck all the time. If you don’t check real good, you don’t have the puck all the time. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Real simple.
“To me, our guys are playing with way more tempo. They’re cutting people off, they’re working harder, they’re in good spots defensively, and therefore we have the puck. We’ve gotten off to good starts and established our game first, and we’ve found ways to win.”
The NHL’s media website already has the refs and linesmen listed for the game as I type this, which is rare: Jean Hebert and Dan O’Halloran are slated to work, with Tim Novak and Vaughan Rody working the lines.
Don’t forget that Dave Strader will be doing play-by-play duties on Fox Sports Detroit tonight as Ken Daniels’ dad passed away on Friday.
Part II: Wings notes and other stuff: It should come as no surprise that Ian White sounded absolutely delighted with his decision to join the Red Wings when he spoke to The Fan 590’s Roger Lajoie on Saturday night:
• Pleiness’s discussion of Filppula’s resurgence aside, the Wings talk this morning mostly involves the realignment issue, though the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch took a moment away from that particular subject to toss off an obligatory Wings rumor...
Don’t be surprised if the Wings add a veteran forward before the February deadline. They’ve got the cap space to make a deal and GM Ken Holland has always made shrewd moves. They’d just like more depth up front and don’t be surprised if they make a pitch for Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu.
• The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson spent most of his time talking about realignment and briefly mentioning Patrick Eaves’ injury (if you missed it, Eaves’ dad says that Eaves needed one plate inserted to stabilize his broken jaw), and his conversation with Scotty Bowman is more or less, “For further reading” material as it pertains to Bruce Boudreau’s firing and dealing with superstar play…Ah, what the hell:
Nobody has had to coexist with supernovas like Scotty Bowman, who had Guy Lafleur in Montreal with the Canadiens and Steve Yzerman with the Detroit Red Wings. Bowman won in Montreal and he won in Detroit. The big guns listened to him, but he also knew how to treat his stars. Bowman doesn’t know Boudreau well and he’s only looking at the Capitals from the outside, but he has general principles for coaches and the big wheels.
“The stars have to believe that the coach is in their corner, you can’t leave any doubts - maybe more so now (with the huge salaries and salary cap problems that give players the upper hand) than when I started. It’s hard to get offence now from more than four or five guys,” said Bowman, the winningest coach of all-time, who is now an adviser with the Chicago Blackhawks, where his son, Stan, is the general manager.
“You also have to take the pressure off the stars. If everything is on their shoulders every night, that’s too much. You have to insulate their belief that you’re there to make them play better,” he said.
How did Bowman manage ice-time of struggling superstars?
“When I was in Montreal with Lafleur, he had a lot of pressure early. He came up as a centre, and we kept telling him, ‘You’re playing against Bobby Clarke, Phil Esposito, Jean Ratelle.’ That’s hard. We moved him around instead and he found his niche on right wing,” said Bowman.
What does Hunter have to do with Ovechkin?
“Hunter has to get him cranked up. He’ll really have to upgrade his work ethic. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a really good defensive player, but he has to play harder than he has. Hunter will push buttons,” said Bowman. What he (Ovechkin) doesn’t have is somebody (older) ahead of him to learn from.”
• I suppose I can offer a little giggle at this snippet from the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons, too (though I did not know that today was Alex Delvecchio’s 80th birthday):
. Red Wings GM Ken Holland took offence to a note in this spot, indicating that this was the beginning of the end of this era for the Red Wings. In fact, Holland points out that Nicklas Lidstrom is playing better right now on defence than he did in last year’s Norris Trophy winning season. “He doesn’t age,” said Holland. The Red Wings, by the way, are playing at a 113-point pace, which if continued would represent their 12th straight 100-point-plus season.
• Per the Delvecchio reference, here’s our first of two, “Red Wings players or personnel showing up at a rink” stories. The Pioneer Press’s Charley Walters spoke to Red Wings director of pro scouting and Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Mark Howe recently, and the younger Howe had this to say about the elder:
By the way, Howe said his famous father is 83 and has some short-term memory loss. Mark said Gordie walks three to four miles several times a week. He resides for different periods of time with his children at their homes.
That’s where he should be, with his kids…
• And the Saginaw News’s Kyle Austin reports that injured Wings forward Jan Mursak was looking on the bright side of life when he visited the Saginaw Spirit on Friday:
“Things happen for a reason,” Mursak said. “In the time that I’ve been injured, I’ve been working on my strength in the gym and stuff. It was good for that, but I hope it won’t be too tough to get back on the ice.”
Mursak said he started skating 10 days ago, and hopes to make his return to the NHL in two weeks. But before he goes back to the big stage, Mursak was back in Saginaw, where he played for the Spirit in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
After spending 19 games with the Red Wings last season as an injury call-up, scoring one goal and drawing positive review from team brass, Mursak is ready to make his return to the NHL. He knows, though, that being a rookie for Detroit is no easy task.
“Detroit is always kind of hard to make the team,” Mursak said. “Whenever you come to the team as a first-year rookie, you don’t get as much playing time, so you need to make the best out of it. I was ready to accept any role that they would give me, but the injury kind of came, but I hope I’ll still be able to show them what I showed them even last year.”
The Red Wings drafted Mursak, a Maribor, Slovenia native, in 2006 when he was playing in the Czech Republic. They immediately went about finding him a junior home close to Detroit that would help his development and give the Red Wings easy access to watch him play. Saginaw fit the bill. In 94 games for the Spirit, Mursak scored 34 goals and notched 75 assists. When he returns to the Wings, though, he’ll be playing a different role, as a fourth line, grinding forward.
“In the NHL obviously my role was more of a third, fourth line player that skates good and kind of makes the opposite team’s defenseman make a mistake,” Mursak said. “It’s not so much about scoring goals but just playing a high speed game, tiring the other team out, and be good in my own zone.”
Part III: Griffins and Walleye recaps: The Grand Rapids Griffins blew 3-1 and 4-3 leads but managed to defeat the Chicago Wolves 5-4 in overtime on Saturday night. The Griffins’ website provides a recap of the proceedings...
The ice was tilted towards the Wolves’ end in the opening minutes of the contest, with the Griffins enjoying extended puck possession in Chicago’s zone even before Yann Sauve was whistled off for hooking 2:30 in. Grand Rapids kept the pressure on during its advantage and broke through for the first goal at the 4:01 mark, when Fabian Brunnstrom found a rebound just outside the crease and banged the puck behind Climie for his second goal as a Griffin.
A dazzling effort by Bill Sweatt set up Chicago’s initial goal at the 12:48 mark. He sped down the left side with the puck before hitting the brakes in the left circle, spinning and slipping a backhanded pass through the slot to Jordan Schroeder for an easy backdoor tally. The deadlock lasted little more than a minute, though, as the Griffins reclaimed the lead when Doug Janik’s shot from the left point was deflected by Willie Coetzee and fluttered over Climie at 14:10.
In the second period, Brunnstrom deftly stripped the puck from a Chicago player in the neutral zone and eventually gave it to Jamie Johnson, who skated out from behind the net and fed Gustav Nyquist on the left side for a goal that gave the Griffins a 3-1 cushion at the 7:47 mark.
The goals came fast and furious later in the frame, beginning with an exchange of power play markers. Mark Mancari set up to the left of the net to redirect Chris Tanev’s point shot with the shaft of his stick at 12:46, but Andersson backhanded a rebound past Climie from the doorstep at 14:07 to re-establish the Griffins’ two-goal lead at 4-2.
Mancari, however, rounded out a hat trick by lighting the lamp at 14:26 and 17:06, the latter coming on the power play, to even matters entering a third period that would pass without a goal by either team.
Joakim Andersson scored his second goal of the night on a breakaway 3:17 into overtime on Saturday to give the Grand Rapids Griffins a thrilling 5-4 victory over the Chicago Wolves and their first three-game winning streak of the season.
Moments after Tom McCollum made a tremendous point-blank stop on Anton Rodin to keep Grand Rapids alive, Brent Raedeke sprung Andersson on the break, and he ripped a shot past Matt Climie’s glove to ignite the Van Andel Arena crowd of 7,783.
As well as a Flickr photo gallery and post-game interviews…
And the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema spoke to Andersson but not Tomas Tatar (who got in a rare fight):
“It was a good feeling,” Andersson said. “We need those two points to keep climbing in the standings. We’re feeling pretty good right now.”
Andersson also had another goal to continue his recent hot streak. He has six goals in his past seven games after scoring none in the first 15.
“You can’t say enough good things about what this kid does for this hockey team,” Grand Rapids coach Curt Fraser said. “He plays against all the other teams’ best lines every night, he produces offense, he’s our best defensive player, penalty killer. ...He’s just a real solid player for us and it’s nice to see him get rewarded once in a while for that hard work.”
Andersson scored the game-winner after taking a nice lead pass from Brent Raedeke, who dug out the puck along the boards near the penalty boxes. Andersson beat one defenseman, skated in alone and fired a high shot past Chicago goaltender Matt Climie.
“Raeds threw the pass in the neutral zone and I got through the D-man,” Andersson said. “He was probably a little tired, it looked like, I got the breakaway and just shot it up top, over the shoulder.”
• In Toledo, several Wings prospects fared in the Walleye’s 4-1 victory over Chicago (coincidence? I think not!), with Trevor Parkes scoring two goals and both Gleason Fournier and Andrej Nestrasil registering assists in a scrappy affair...
Part III: In which I grumble: And yes, I’m going to flash my “NHLPA supporter” badge to close this out as the New York Times’ Jeff Z. Klein and Stu Hackel spoke to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr about the PA’s desire to negoatiate a new CBA with the NHL, especially in light of the latest Forbes franchise valuations, without witnessing the owners lock the players out for the third time in seventeen years:
The discussion of the collective bargaining agreement will inevitably be colored by the fact that the N.B.A. owners took a hard line, locked out their players and got them to agree to reducing their split of revenues from 57 percent to about 50. The N.H.L. players’ current share of revenues is 57 percent. Forbes magazine, while reporting the league’s rising revenues in its annual N.H.L. team valuations issue last week, practically fulminated for a lockout.
“The N.H.L. must move much closer to the 48 percent model the N.F.L. agreed to before this season or the 50-50 revenue split National Basketball Association owners and players recently agreed to,” Forbes wrote, and owners may be inclined to take a similar view.
“Is it surprising that they would pay less money if they think they can?” Donald Fehr, the executive director of the N.H.L. Players’ Association, said by telephone Friday. He was talking about the N.B.A. owners, but the same applies to their N.H.L. counterparts.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know you get a lot of discussion of things out there — sometimes they turn out to be an accurate predictor of what happens, and sometimes they don’t,” said Fehr, who will not be at the governors-only meeting. Fehr said all he knew was that he expected negotiations between the league and union to begin “sometime after the All-Star Game,” perhaps, in February.
I sure hope that the league and the players understand that two lockouts in ten seasons don’t equal NHL fans assuming that another sports lockout is just par for the course…And I should mention that the New York Post’s Larry Brooks peppered his Sunday column with references to a potential lockout and/or a rollback in salaries and/or a whole bunch of other grumbles and gripes, but his most interesting tidbits, realignment commentary aside, came regarding the NHL’s attempt to discern where some of the “missing” money underreported by its teams on a yearly basis went by auditing the Capitals and Predators:
The matter of Washington’s undeclared revenue for suites has been resolved, we’re told by individuals privy to the talks between the NHL and NHLPA. The sum amounted to under $4 million.
But there is not yet resolution of the definition of certain revenue in Nashville that we’ve learned is also a relatively minor amount, or of the most pressing dispute regarding whether Glendale’s $25 million subsidy of the Coyotes should be declared as hockey-related revenue and thus shared with the players.
The NHL and NHLPA, not insignificantly, are indeed working toward a policy that will address the usage and availability of painkillers after a review prompted by last summer’s tragedies, most specifically the death of Derek Boogaard.
The matter is also being addressed in the annual meetings between representatives of the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program and each team.
As Brooks stated a few weeks ago, it’s highly likely that the NHL’s franchises have been under-reporting revenues because ol’ Ted Saskin made sure to prevent the PA from being able to audit teams’ previous reported revenues, and he also mentioned that, should you fear Fehr, the PA’s chosen CBA heavy has assured that his constituents can attend CBA negotiation meetings whenever they wish.
And finally, before I go to bed at 9 AM (I had a bad night), while we’re talking about uncomfortable stuff, I will address my return at some point. I just wanted to get my feet wet, if you will, and get to having some hockey to talk about before admitting that I really did spend the vast majority of the past three months incapacitated by my chronic health issues, and that I regrettably haven’t learned anything new about how to manage them. At this point, I’m just going to hope that I stay healthy and can blog for the balance of the season, regain your web hits, eyeballs and trust again and just go from there.
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About The Malik Report
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.