The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/21/12 at 03:30 PM ET
Updated 7x very late, at 6:31 PM, with Lebda talk and chatter from Commodore: As the Detroit Red Wings prepare to face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight (7 PM EST, FSD Plus/FS Ohio/WXYT), little news is in fact excellent news. MLive’s Ansar Khan reports via Twitter that the Wings will make only one subtle tweak, inserting a player who Columbus banished to the minors last season—but they won’t see a certain former Wing tonight, either:
Only change for Wings tonight vs. Columbus is Commodore in for Kindl. Howard starting as team looks for 16th win in a row at home.
Former Wings defenseman Brett Lebda, whom Columbus signed to a 1-year deal this week, is not playing tonight.
And before getting to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness’s confirmation of the Wings’ roster tweak, it’s worth pausing to note that while Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson posted a blog post detailing his team’s injury situation while trying to explain why he remained patient with a team whose half-dozen injuries plummeted down the standings before he relieved Scott Arniel of his duties, all while alluding to jettisoning players at the trade deadline, while Red Wings GM Ken Holland, Wings assistant GM Jim Nill and the Wings’ pro and amateur scouts are meeting in Las Vegas this weekend to talk about potential draft and trade deadline targets.
If Holland and Nill read Kukla’s Korner, I’m sure that their ears perked up when they read Paul’s post about the Devils’ financial difficulties possibly necessitating a Zach Parise salary dump.
Given where the Wings, who are celebrating their 50th straight sellout tonight (go resurgent economy and dedicated Wings fans) find themselves compared with the Blue Jackets’ situation, it’s good to be the Wings, and this afternoon, it’s good to be a Wings fan, isn’t it?
And it’s also good to hear that Wings coach Mike Babcock very explicitly told Pleiness that he wants to guard against any sort of letdown:
“I worry about every game,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “On game day I worry about the game we’re playing and that would be consistent today. Obviously, we have to find a way to win. We have done that the last couple of games. We haven’t been great in our last couple so we can be much better and we expect to be much better at home.”
Mike Commodore, who played two and a half seasons in Columbus, will be in the lineup, replacing Jakub Kindl.
“Is this going to be different, sure, I was there for two and a half years,” Commodore said. “I had some good relationship with some of those guys on that team. It’s always a little different playing against guys you’ve just got done playing with. I would really like to win this game. I’d like to win every game, but I’d really like to win this one.”
Just spoke with Pavel Datsyuk who says he wants to be the last pick in the All-Star fantasy draft. “I want the car,” he said.
In the Blue Jackets’ personnel department, updates are still in progress as they’re wrapping up their morning skate as I write this, but the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports that R.J. Umberger won’t play tonight despite clearing his baseline neurological tst as he attempts to recover from a concussion, so that’s no Lebda, no Umberger, no Kristian Huelius, no James Wisniewski, no Jeff Carter, no Radek Martinek and no Mark Letesu (per the Dispatch).
BlueJackets.com’s Scott Mixer insists that Columbus will offer stiff opposition for the Wings in his game preview:
The Blue Jackets have played some of their best hockey this season under interim head coach Todd Richards, and perhaps the greatest test yet comes tonight against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Not only have the Red Wings won 15 consecutive games at home (a streak currently intact), they are 18-2-1 within their friendly confines this season and have turned it up another gear in the last two months.
As usual, the Red Wings are led by one of the best all-around players in the game in Pavel Datsyuk, who even at age 33 continues to produce at a high level and dazzle with shootout moves and brilliant takeaways. He’s had an excellent career against Columbus, collecting 19-39-58 in 48 career games with a +23 rating. Riding shotgun with Datsyuk is the man they call “The Mule,” Johan Franzen. The big Swede has 18 goals on the year to lead Detroit and always finds a way to score goals at the right time. The Blue Jackets will try to use their checking line anchored by Sammy Pahlsson as often as possible against Datsyuk and Franzen, but with the Red Wings playing at home, Columbus won’t have the last line change.
The Blue Jackets’ play at even strength has been their calling card of late, and tonight they face the league’s second-best club at 5-on-5. Detroit’s even-strength goals scored for/against ratio ranks second only to the defending champion Boston Bruins, and the Red Wings’ fifth-ranked offense has clearly been dangerous on even terms this season.
Detroit and Columbus last met on Oct. 25 at Nationwide Arena, four days after the Red Wings earned a 5-2 win in the series opener in the Motor City. The Blue Jackets were seeking their first win of the season in that game, and got first career goals from both Ryan Johansen and John Moore in a 4-1 win.
Tonight’s game will be an intriguing matchup because both clubs are in markedly different positions than they were three months ago. The Blue Jackets have good memories in Joe Louis Arena, though – including an 8-2 drubbing of the Red Wings in March of 2009 and a 3-0 victory last year.
Tonight marks the third of six meetings overall and the second of three meetings at Joe Louis Arena this season between the Blue Jackets and Red Wings. Columbus is 18-37-10 all-time against Detroit, including a 7-22-3 mark at Joe Louis Arena. The Blue Jackets have won three of the last six meetings after losing the previous five straight.
Like I said during the overnight report, the Wings have three games to play over the next five days, and with a nasty tangle against St. Louis on Monday and an always strange game in Montreal against the Canadiens on Wednesday, the Wings need to take care of business tonight and absolutely stomp on the Blue Jackets.
From the other team’s website, here’s Rick Bouwness’s press release regarding the Wings’ sellout streak....
The Detroit Red Wings are set to skate in front of a capacity crowd (20,066) at Joe Louis Arena for the 50th straight game later tonight when the Columbus Blue Jackets pay a visit to the Motor City for a 7:00 p.m. showdown with the reigning Central Division champs. Detroit has amassed a 31-12-6 record on home ice during the team’s run of consecutive sellouts, a mark which includes an active 15-game winning streak – the best in franchise history. Tonight’s game will feature the one-millionth arena patron to pass through the gates at The Joe since the sellout streak began on December 19, 2010.
A special video presentation thanking the citizens of Hockeytown for their continued support will be shown during this evening’s contest, with face painters and an old-time-hockey organist set to be on hand for the proceedings as part of the season-long Meijer Kids Night promotion. Furthermore, the first 2,500 children aged 12 and under in attendance for tonight’s game will receive a free Jonathan Ericsson growth poster courtesy of Meijer and the Red Wings.
EVERYONE LOVES A SOCIAL TICKET DEAL: From now until 2:00 P.M., get $25 tickets for our February 8th game against the Edmonton Oilers.
Top Secret Password: bert
By February 8th we should be hearing confirmation regarding the Wings hosting the Winter Classic, and a little under three weeks later, the trade deadline comes around on February 27th. And on February 8th the Wings kick off a six-game home stand and begin that lovely stretch in which they play 18 of their last 28 games at home.
Again, night and day, and it’s good to be a Wings fan.
Also: The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta reported that Slava Fetisov chose to announce that he’s resigning from his posts as CSKA Moscow’s general manager and the chairman of the KHL’s Board of Directors on Saturday, a day after he led a team of KHL legends in a precursor to the Team Ozolinsh versus Team Fedorov KHL All-Star game in Riga, Latvia.
Well I found an explanation as to why Fetisov did what he did during a press conference in which Alexander Medvedev spoke about the NHL swiping its All-Star format—Fetisov told Sport-Express’s Andrei Kuznetsov that he’s both incredibly frustrated with
CSKA’s lack of progress—Fetisov and Russian prime minister and soon-to-be president (dictator) Vladimir Putin announced a huge program of spending and player development designed to restore CSKA’s luster as one of Soviet and Russian hockey’s greatest teams, and they still remain in 8th place in the KHL’s Western Conference.
On top of that, Fetisov tells Kuznetsov that he’s exhausted because he’s pulling double duty in a big way, working as a member of Russia’s Upper House of parliament, the Federation Council of Russia (nice to have Wikipedia back), so Fetisov went so far as to ask his own father what he should do to combat the mental and physical fatigue he was feeling, and Fetisov told him to focus on one job or the other, and to leave CSKA in the hands of coach Sergei Nemchinov and Viktor Tikhonov.
Update #1 from Khan:
Curtis Sanford starting in net tonight for Blue Jackets. He has started 7 of the past 8 games in place of struggling Steve Mason.
And from Portzline:
#CBJ RW R.J. Umberger (concussion) on the ice this morning in Joe Louis Arena. C Derek MacKenzie (sick) not out there.
#RedWings D Mike Commodore to face his former club tonight. #CBJ
#CBJ D Brett Lebda will not play tonight.
#CBJ RW RJ Umberger passed his baseline test on Friday, won’t play tonight but hopes to dress in game before All-Star Game.
#CBJ C Antoine Vermette will stick w Prospal - Nash, leaving Brassard w Kubalik - Johansen.
Via RedWingsFeed (please, please, please bookmark them and follow them on Twitter—Mike Serven and Lola by the Bay do such a fantastic job that they are in fact the news source I check first, 100% of the time), here’s Mike Babcock’s game-day presser from Red Wings TV. It’s three-and-a-half minutes long:
Update #2: Here’s Ansar Khan’s game-day article, starting with Commodore’s take on facing Columbus:
Is this going to be different, sure, I was there for 2½ years,’’ Commodore said. “I had good relationships with some of those guys on that team. It’s always a little different playing against guys you’ve just got done playing with. I would really like to win this game. I’d like to win every game, but I’d really like to win this one.’‘
Commodore’s tenure in Columbus ended on a sour note, as he was buried in the minors most of last season by coach Scott Arniel, who was fired on Jan. 9, replaced by Todd Richards on an interim basis. Commodore replaces Jakub Kindl in the lineup. Commodore has one assist, a plus-4 rating and nine penalty minutes in 11 games this season. He was out with knee injury during Detroit’s first two games against Columbus this season.
The Red Wings are 1-1 vs. the Blue Jackets, beating them 5-2 at JLA on Oct. 21 and losing 4-1 in Columbus on Oct. 25.
“They played us tough first game, we beat them. I think they outplayed us here,’’ Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Second game, I think we played as poor as we’ve played all year and they beat us in their building.’‘
The Red Wings (31-15-1, 63 points) are riding a five-game winning streak and have won a franchise-record 15 consecutive games at home. The Blue Jackets (13-28-5, 31 points) have by far the worst record in the NHL.
“We haven’t been great in our last couple (3-2 shootout wins in Dallas and Phoenix), so we can be much better, and we expect to be much better at home,’’ Babcock said.
I also have a question to ask: Saturday night is anime night for this nerd: I watch Adult Swim and try to catch at least Durarara, Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex (I have yet to understand what the hell Bleach is about), so I’m up late in no small part due to the fact that the heavy hitters’ weekend notebooks hit around 4 or 5 AM, but I might not post a recap till around 6 as the Blue Jackets’ press bafflingly doesn’t update their website until 5, 6 or even 7 AM. Would you prefer that I try to post a partial recap around 5, or would you prefer that I wait to get the full Blue Jackets’ story (the Wings’ press mostly updates their websites by 3 AM)?
Update #3: The Free Press’s George Sipple handled today’s morning skate update instead of Helene St. James…
Red Wings defenseman Mike Commodore will be in the lineup tonight against the Blue Jackets instead of Jakub Kindl. Commodore had been dealing with a sore foot but said he was pain free when skating this morning.
The Wings haven’t played Columbus since October, when the teams played twice in a span of three games. Commodore was injured, so this will be his first game against his former club.
“I’ve done this a few times, played against a few ex-teams,” said Commodore. “I was there for 2 1/2 years. I have some good relationships with some of those guys.”
NOTEBOOK: Former Wing Brett Lebda signed a one-year deal with Columbus on Thursday and is expected to play his first game tonight…. Wings coach Mike Babcock said the team had a talk this morning about the struggling power play. The Wings are 1 for 19 on the power play over the last six games. Babcock said the team has to play fast and be more efficient.
• And again, if you’re in Grand Rapids tonight, don’t forget to take part in the Great Skate after the Griffins-Amerks game.
Update #3.5: I know that Wings coach Mike Babcock wouldn’t mind adding a guy who can drop gloves a little more regularly, but given his comments about wanting to roll four lines, first and foremost, methinks he sounds a little more like one of his mentors. The New York Times’ Jeff Z. Klein tried to determine whether fights actually spark teams to score (short answer: nope!), and Bowman offered this quip regarding his preferences:
“I wanted to play four lines, especially in the playoffs,” said Scotty Bowman, who coached the Penguins and the Red Wings to championships. “That was always my theory. You have to stand up to the other team, but if you have a guy that just specializes in fighting, it’s a handicap.”
Update #4: Here’s the Blue Jackets’ website’s game-day updates, per Rob Mixer:
Blue Jackets interim head coach Todd Richards said defenseman Grant Clitsome will return to the lineup tonight after sitting out the previous five games. Newcomer Brett Lebda, who skated for the first time with his new team yesterday at Nationwide Arena, took today’s morning skate but Richards said he is not going to dress tonight.
There was also positive news on the injury front, as R.J. Umberger took part in the full skate with his teammates. Since suffering an upper-body injury on Jan. 8 at Anaheim, Umberger has missed four straight games but is looking forward to a possible return this week.
Curtis Sanford is expected to start in goal for the Blue Jackets tonight opposite the red-hot Jimmy Howard for the Red Wings. Detroit has won 15 consecutive games at home and are 18-2-1 overall at The Joe this season.
Richards said the Blue Jackets plan to go with this lineup tonight:
LW C RW
Prospal Vermette Nash
Johansen Brassard Kubalik
Russell Pahlsson Dorsett
Gillies MacKenzie Boll
Richards on how to be successful against the Red Wings: “To me, it’s how we manage the puck. They’re a transition team that plays fast, they have guys that are very good with their sticks as far as stripping pucks – either knocking them down in the air or coming behind you and stealing them. Especially early in the game, maybe just chip-outs or chip-ins…we’ve got to be smart about how we’re playing.”
Richards on using a young second line for tonight’s game: “As a coach, you have to trust your players. You have to see what they can do and see if they can handle it. If they can’t handle it, then I’m going to have make decisions and switch them up. Right now they’re playing hard and playing good hockey, we’ll give them the opportunity.”
Update #5: Per MLive’s Ansar Khan on Twitter:
Blue Jackets are missing Jeff Carter, R.J. Umberger, Kristian Huselius, Mark Letestu, James Wisniewski and Radek Martinek with injuries.
Injured players account for $22 million of Blue Jackets’ staggering $62.8 million payroll, which is nearly $5 million more than Wings
And here’s NHL.com’s Brian Hedger’s game-day post:
The Columbus Blue Jackets are riddled with injuries to key players and basically playing with a patchwork lineup, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous in the mind of Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.
The Wings have also won a franchise record 15 straight games at Joe Louis Arena, so a Saturday night visit from the Blue Jackets looks every bit like one of those “trap games” on the schedule – when teams that are heavily favored get trapped into thinking it’s going to be an easy win. Babcock isn’t looking at it in quite the same way, however.
“I worry about every game,” he said after Detroit’s optional skate on Saturday morning. “On game day I worry about the game we’re playing and that would be consistent today. Obviously, we have to find a way to win. We have done that the last couple of games. We haven’t been great in our last couple, so we can be much better and we expect to be much better at home.”
They have been, too. The Wings have lost just 3 times on home ice this season, where at times they’ve looked like an entirely different team than when they wear the road whites. The good news for the Wings is that their last two wins both came on the road to even their road record at 13-13-0 after lagging below the .500 mark for most of the season – and now they get a struggling, injury-strapped opponent at Joe Louis Arena.
It might not seem like a big game from the sheer matchup, but the way the top three teams in the Central Division have played leapfrog in the division and Western Conference standings of late, they’re all big games from here on out.
“Overall, playing fast is what we have to do to be successful,” Babcock said. “We haven’t been as efficient as we’d like to be (recently), but we’ve found a way to grind out points and as you know in the NHL that’s hard to do.”
Update #6: Via RedWingsFeed, here’s Ken Kal’s game-day preview with Jonathan Ericsson. There’s also some fantastic practice footage in here:
Update #7: Sorry for the late update. No sleep last night + tired blogger from 11-games-in-19-nights grind = nap necessary.
• The Wings’ Twitter account offers two quips regarding potentail statistical milestones:
PREGAME NOTES: Bertuzzi needs one goal to reach 300. Lidstrom is 2 assists behind Phil Esposito for 21st place in NHL history (873).
PREGAME NOTES: Jimmy Howard leads the NHL in victories (28) and is on pace to tie M. Brodeur’s NHL record for wins in a season (48)
• The Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness spoke to one Mike Commodore about tonight’s game…
“Is this going to be different, sure, I was there for two and a half years,” Commodore said. “I had some good relationship with some of those guys on that team. It’s always a little different playing against guys you’ve just got done playing with. I would really like to win this game,” Commodore added. “I’d like to win every game, but I’d really like to win this one.”
What could have added a bit more meaning to the game would have been if Commodore had gotten to skate against his former coach in Columbus, Scott Arniel. However, the Jackets’ fired him on Jan. 9.
“With the changes they made the last couple of weeks it’s a little different, the sting isn’t quite there anymore,” Commodore said.
Commodore did not play in either of the first two games this season against the Blue Jackets because he was recovering from a knee injury.
“I’ve got bigger things on my mind than worry about what the Columbus Blue Jackets are doing,” Commodore said. “I’ve got to take care of myself and what’s going on with my future. I don’t look at their stuff anymore than I do for stats on any other game. I don’t make a special trip to the computer to check.”
Commodore has missed five of the last six games due to a foot injury after taking a shot off the inside of it against Chicago on Jan. 8.
“My foot is getting a little better,” Commodore said. “The morning skate wasn’t painful, which was the first time for me in a couple weeks. I feel good.”
• And Brett Lebda was asked to weigh on leaving the Wings for the Leafs, which didn’t exactly go swimmingly. He has no regrets—and two years of about $450,000 in buyout money from the Predators tends to help in that regard:
“I don’t think anything went wrong, I wouldn’t stay that, just another opportunity presented itself to move on and that happens in the game,” said Lebda, who was a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game against his former team. “Whether it was a right or wrong decision you can never say. You just have to live with the decisions you make. We are where we are right now and we just have to make the best of it. It’s good to come back here. It brings back a lot of memories,” Lebda added.
After the 2009-10 season, Lebda signed a two-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs worth $1.45 million a season, a hefty increase from the $650,000 he made in the final year of his deal with the Wings. Lebda, who still owns a home in metropolitan Detroit, played just 41 games with the Leafs and was traded that offseason to the Nashville Predators. A month after being traded, the Predators placed Lebda on waivers and then bought out his contract. In November, Lebda signed a deal with the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League. The Falcons are affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“There were opportunities to pursue different paths,” Lebda said. “(Columbus) called me and gave me the opportunity. It was an easy decision. They were the ones that stepped forward and asked if I wanted to play in Springfield. Hockey-wise it was a good time and hopefully it prepares me for now.”
“It was tough, but at the same time that’s what was presented to me,” Lebda said. “It was tough to take, but you’ve got to swallow your pride and work as hard as you can to try and get back here The goal from the beginning of the year was to get back in the league,” Lebda added. “I went down and played in the American League for awhile, I got a good opportunity there so I’m excited to be back now.”
Lebda has fond memories of Detroit, and Wings coach Mike Babcock suggested that there are no hard feelings on his part:
“He came to training camp [in 2005 and] no one ever talked about him,” Babcock recalled. “I kept saying he looks good, but no one ever talked about him. Next thing you know he’s on the team. He played real well with (Andreas Lilja) and Cheli early going for us. He was a plus player in the playoffs. He was an important part in winning the Cup. He did a lot of good things for us. He’s a great skater and he was a good teammate and a good Red Wing.”
The Blue Jackets’ website’s Rob Mixer also spoke to Lebda—who won’t play tonight—about his indirect route back to the NHL after the Predators acquired him from Toronto and bought him out:
“You can never take anything for granted like that, but (returning to the NHL) was always a goal of mine,” Lebda said. “I feel like I can still contribute at this level, and that was the goal from the start. However long it took, just to go down and hone my skills and hopefully get a shot to come back here and prove myself.”
And it almost seems fitting that he joins the Blue Jackets in time for tonight’s game against the Red Wings, in a city where he cut his teeth as an NHL player. Lebda’s first practice with the Blue Jackets was an optional skate yesterday at Nationwide Arena, and he said he’s not sure if his Columbus debut will come tonight at Joe Louis Arena.
Lebda was willing to wait, and in the wake of Radek Martinek’s season-ending concussion symptoms, the phone rang again. Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson worked swiftly with his agent, he said, and the finishing touches to the contract were applied earlier this week.
“They’ve been really good about open communication,” Lebda said of the Blue Jackets. “It wasn’t all the time, but within the last week talks have started and got the ball rolling a little bit. It happened quite quickly, but at the same time, it’s a good feeling.”
He last suited up for an NHL game on Mar. 26, 2011 as a member of the Maple Leafs – ironically in Detroit against the Red Wings. The butterflies and nerves are sure to be out in full force if he plays tonight, but Lebda said he plans to stick with the style of play that got his foot in the door at the NHL level.
“I’m not going to go out there and kill anyone, but I play solid defensively and get the puck out of our end as fast as possible,” Lebda said. “(My game is) making a good first pass and chipping in on the offense when I can.”
And I don’t know why this was posted at 4 PM, but here’s the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline’s “Morning Skate” report:
Playing in Joe Louis Arena is always a daunting task, but the Blue Jackets are braced for a hellstorm from the Detroit Red Wings tonight. The Wings have won 15 in a row in the Joe, outscoring their poor-sap opponents 63-19 during the run that began Nov. 3.
“Obviously it’s a very confident group in this building,” Blue Jackets interim coach Todd Richards said. “It’s a great challenge. I like the way we’ve been playing, but this is a very good measuring stick. To me, it’s all about how we manage the puck, how smart with are with possessing and leaving it.”
The Jackets lost 5-2 here on Oct. 21. The Wings scored three power play goals that day, two by the Mule, Johan Franzen.
An interesting lineup decision by Richards: Center Antoine Vermette will remain on the No. 1 line with wingers Vinny Prospal and Rick Nash, with Derick Brassard slotting between Tomas Kubalik and Ryan Johansen on the No. 2 line. That’s how the Jackets looked in the third period of Thursday’s loss to Nashville, and, at times, they looked decent. But one has to wonder how such a young line will fare against the Wings.
“As a coach, you have to trust your players, see what they can do, see what they can handle,” Richards said. “If they can’t handle it, I’m going to have to make decisions and switch them up. They’re playing hard, they’re playing good hockey, give ‘em the opportunity.”
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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.