Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Blues set-up, prospect gnus galore and ticket talk

The Detroit Red Wings’ game against the St. Louis Blues tonight (7:30 PM, FSD/FS Midwest/WXYT) is exactly the kind of game that would normally cause worry and angst among Wings fans as it’s a classic late-season-letdown in the making—a “throwaway” game against a team that’s bound for the golf course in two weeks—save the fact that…

Well, the Wings boast a less-than-lovely 1-1-and-2 record on the 5-game home-stand which concludes tonight; they have, technically speaking, lost four of their past five games; and, very plainly speaking, the Wings need the points as they’re only one point ahead of the San Jose Sharks and 3 ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference standings. The Blues might be just the team the Wings need to shake themselves out of their doldrums, too. The 13th-place Blues will be playing the second game of a back-to-back slate that started with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild, snapping a two-game winning streak, and the Blues will be without a wing-killer in T.J. Oshie, who was benched by the team for skipping (missing?) practice on Monday.

You’ll have to pardon me for suggesting that the Blues are vulnerable for trite and cliched reasons, however, because I’ll be the first Wings fan to admit that the Wings seem to be mired in a funk so severe that it could be a Bootsy Collins solo. The Wings have very readily admitted that they’ve lacked killer instinct and have, “Played well enough, but not well enough to win,” at least as far as Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg are concerned, and the Blues actually tend to play inspired hockey against the Wings…

So I’ll politely ask you to indulge me in suggesting that Jeremy Rutherford’s recap of the Blues-Wild game from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch may reveal that the Blues are ripe for plucking…

The Blues coughed up a third-period lead and fell 3-2 in a shootout to the Minnesota Wild tonight at Scottrade Center. Three nights after a 6-3 win over Minnesota, the Blues allowed the Wild to snap their eight-game losing streak (0-6-2) with the shootout win.

Chris Stewart scored the first of his two goals in the game just 1:19 into the third period to break a 1-1 tie. But 2:28 later, Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored an unassisted goal to knot the score again.

The Blues outshot Minnesota 29-28, but the Wild had an 8-1 advantage in overtime. That’s because the visitors had a 5-3 power play for 12 seconds and a 4-on-3 advantage for 1:06, but the Blues’ PK unit wiped it away.

After a scoreless OT, the Blues allowed Minnesota to go first in the shootout, and the Wild’s first to shooters converted for a 2-1 lead. On the Blues’ final attempt, Matt D’Agostini couldn’t beat Wild goalie Jose Theodore, ending the game.

Both Blues’ goals in regulation came from Chris Stewart, who now has 26 on the season, including 13 in 20 games with his new team.

So, again, under the transparent guise that the Blues are somehow not going to present more of a challenge than any of the other teams the Wings have faced, given that the Blues’ players know that they’re playing for jobs on next year’s team, and have actually played quite solidly of late, let’s pretend that the Post-Dispatch’s Dan O’Neill spoke to a Blues team that was dispirited instead of just disappointed in not being able to close out the Wild:

“The disappointing thing for me is a 2-1 lead and our puck decisions at that point weren’t what they needed to be,” said Blues coach Davis Payne, whose team briefly led 2-1 in the third period. “We’ve talked a lot about these things for a while now. That’s as off as we’ve been in quite some time as far as our discipline with puck decisions. We get ourselves to a lead, two scoring chances, faceoff in our own zone and the puck’s in our net.”
“You look at our second period, we had some puck possessions, but we never forced them to go all the way back to their net,” Payne said. “We were always looking for that next pass.”
Just 1:19 into the third, [Chris] Stewart whipped a backhand shot from a sharp angle and the puck clanked off the post and deflected in behind Theodore, giving the Blues a 2-1 lead. Stewart has collected five two-goal games since coming in a trade on Feb. 18. He has 13 goals for the Blues and 26 overall.

But the Blues traded soft goal for soft goal moments later when Minnesota’s Bouchard beat [Jaroslav] Halak on the short side with a shot from the dot. The unassisted goal was Bouchard’s 10th and came on Minnesota’s 18th shot of the night. Halak said he was screened by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

“It’s hockey,” Halak said. “Some nights it goes in and some nights it stays out. It stayed in tonight, so… at least we got one point.”

Okay, big pause, deep breath—it’s time to get back to reality. While speaking about Oshie, the Post-Dispatch’s Jeff Gordon reveals that the Blues’ revamped core’s worth of players are actually working very hard and getting a decent amount of results 9the truth of the matter being, of course, that the Blues’ 5-4-and-1 record over the past ten games is essentially the same as the Wings’ 5-3-and-2 record,* and they’ve worked harder than our Wings have):

[M]ake no mistake, times are difficult for the depleted Blues. They are playing out the string at the end of this lost season.

Injuries undermined their playoff bid. Armstrong got a head start on his house cleaning before the trade deadline, off-loading veterans Eric Brewer and Brad Boyes for draft picks. Additional injuries after that deadline forced the team to rely heavily on temporary help from the Peoria Rivermen.

Despite this adversity, several players stood out. Newcomers Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk played like the emerging stars they are.

Power forward David Backes has been a force. Center Patrik Berglund stepped up his play. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo starred. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak elevated his game at the end of his up-and-down campaign.

*NHL.com’s Brian Hunter provided those last-ten-games stats, and he provides a very balanced preview of tonight’s game:

Season series—Sixth and final meeting of the season between these Central Division rivals. The Red Wings won the first two meetings, both at Joe Louis Arena, and after the Blues responded with a victory at Scottrade Center on Dec. 23, the Wings won the next two meetings there as well. Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg has 1 goal and 8 points to lead all scorers, while Patrik Berglund’s 3 goals and 6 points pace St. Louis.

Between you and me, Berglund always plays fantastic against the Wings because he grew up in the same town as Nicklas Lidstrom, and I believe his dad was part of Vasteras IK when Lidstrom broke in with the then-Eliteserien team…

Blues [team scope]—This will be the second game in as many nights for St. Louis, which led briefly against Minnesota on Tuesday when Chris Stewart scored 1:19 into the third period but eventually fell 3-2 in a shootout. Stewart had both goals for the Blues, giving him 26 for the season—half of those have come in the 20 games since he was acquired from the Avalanche. Berglund assisted on the first goal to reach 47 points, tying his career high from his 2008-09 rookie season.

“I said that from Day 1, as soon as I got here the adjustment was very easy,” Stewart said. “They made the transition for me so easy I felt like I’d been here my whole career.”
Who’s hot—Stewart (4-1-5) and Kevin Shattenkirk (1-3-4) have four-game points streaks going for the Blues. Stewart now has five two-goal games since joining the club. … Zetterberg has scored in consecutive games and has 5 goals in his last seven for the Red Wings. Lidstrom has 1 goal and 4 assists during a four-game points streak. Jiri Hudler has 2 goals and 2 assists during a three-game points streak.

Injury report—St. Louis is without defenseman Barret Jackman (finger) and forwards David Perron (concussion) and Alexander Steen (ankle). Forward TJ Oshie missed Tuesday’s game for disciplinary reasons. … Howard could return for Detroit, but MacDonald will remain with the club regardless as veteran backup Chris Osgood (groin) remains on injured reserve. Pavel Datsyuk could also make his return Wednesday from a lower-body injury.

Stat pack—Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak has had a rough go against the Red Wings this season, posting a 4.62 GAA and .857 save percentage in playing every minute of the first five meetings. Howard has won all four of his decisions in the series with a 2.73 GAA and .904 save percentage.

In theory, anyway, Howard will back up Joey MacDonald if he feels good at the morning skate, and, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan notes, there’s an outside chance that the player the Wings have missed most might return, too (though Saturday’s a more likely return date):

[Red Wings GM Ken] Holland believes there’s a chance goaltender Jimmy Howard (sprained left shoulder) could play tonight.

“I wouldn’t rule out,” said Holland, who added a decision will made after the morning skate.

If Howard isn’t ready, Joey MacDonald , will start, with Thomas McCollum his backup. MacDonald is 5-4 this season.

… A decision on the availability of Pavel Datsyuk (lower body) will be made after today’s morning skate.

The Wings are at least cognizant of the fact that they haven’t played well enough to win of late, though they feel that they’re making progress in recovering from their February doldrums, as MLive’s Ansar Khan notes while pointing out that the Wings are still close to the 100-point barrier for the 11th straight season:

“It’s a good streak, but we just want to win games, finish as high as possible,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “We’ve been playing OK. We’ve been doing some real good things, even though we really haven’t gotten the points.”
“I think we’re starting to play better as a team the last couple of weeks, even though we haven’t won the games that we would have liked to,” Nicklas Lidstrom said.

Khan focuses his article on Joey MacDonald’s progression from a back-up-back-up plan to an NHL goaltender who the Wings aren’t afraid to tap on the shoulder, and while I can’t quote his entire article, Mike Babcock and Lidstrom suggested that the team has full faith in MacDonald’s abilities after Monday’s loss to Chicago, and Holland certainly agrees with that assessment:

“He has taken the opportunity and run with it,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “His numbers are fantastic (2.13 goals-against average, .928 save percentage in 14 appearances). He’s big, square, he competes.”

MacDonald, of course, was practically bubbly while speaking to the press after Monday night’s game, embracing what’s turned out to be a combination of, “Really, I’m just happy to be here” enthusiasm and flexibility in approaching his yo-yo existence and a quiet determination to prove that he’s the kind of goaltender whose play can be relied upon at the NHL level…

“Work ethic and do what the coaches tell me,” MacDonald said. “I knew I was going to be the third-stringer and you just got to prepare yourself the right way. When you get sent down, you can’t go down with a bad mindset that you’re not going to get called up. You got to go down and play well and work your way back up.”

And, in the eyebrow-raiser of the day, Holland admitted to Khan that MacDonald’s going to have an NHL job somewhere, possibly even in Detroit if Chris Osgood decides to call it a day:

“Everybody’s focus is on this year,” Holland said. “At the end of the season, we’ll sit down and see where we’re at. (MacDonald) is making a great case for all 30 teams. He looks like an NHL goaltender.”

The Detroit Free Press’s Helene St. James offers an optimistic assessment of the state of the Wings, all things considered, in an article discussing the team’s long-term staying power...

The Wings have four points in their past five games, but looking at the bigger picture, they’re 5-3-2 in their past 10. Two losses were 2-1; a 3-1 loss at Nashville included an empty-netter. During that 10-game stretch, counting regulation and overtime, they’ve allowed only 22 goals, showing a significant improvement in team defense.

Their penalty kill has improved dramatically, too—Monday marked the first time in 28 games the Wings allowed more than one power-play goal. Between Jan. 26 and last Saturday, the Wings were 82-for-94 on penalty kills, an 87.2% success rate.

They’ve scored 25 goals over the past 10 games, below their overall 3.16 goals-for average (second in the league), but that has something to do with missing Datsyuk the past five games and a great deal to do with Johan Franzen having gone cold since his five-goal explosion at the start of February. He has one goal in his past 21 games. Bertuzzi has one goal in his past 16 (not counting the 5 minutes he played Monday), but in fairness, he spent a week playing with a sore back. Tomas Holmstrom has one goal in 11 games.

Overall, given how injured the Wings have been and how tough it is to win, they sit in a good position as the season winds down. If anything came out of last spring’s playoffs, it’s that starting at home means far less wear-and-tear than starting on the road. With two games left against Chicago and one against Nashville, the Wings control their destiny in this matter.

At this point, there’s no question the Wings will make the playoffs for the 20th consecutive season. More remarkable: Since the salary cap was instituted in the summer of ‘05 and based on which teams will make the 2011 cut, only two of the NHL’s 30 clubs will have made the playoffs every season. The San Jose Sharks are the other.

But I’m torn by my, “I have to pretend that I’m objective and professional, but I’m really just a Wings fan at heart” thoughts right now. You can practically braid my goatee into a faux ponytail and call me “Pollyanna” regarding the playoffs, because I’m genuinely not concerned about Jimmy Howard’s playoff-ready competency, nor do I believe that the Wings are anything less than more driven than we’ve been led to believe to make a couple-round run at least, assuming they get and stay healthy, anyway, but at the present moment…

I’m quite honestly very [ticked] off at the Wings for [giving] away so many games over the past two months—they really could be on Vancouver’s heels if they didn’t seem to continue to think, “Well, if we’re gonna keep getting injured, we can get away with treading water till everybody comes back”—and I don’t understand why the Wings haven’t looked at their last ten-or-so games (the Wings have six left) and gotten down to the brass tacks of re-establishing home-ice supremacy while committing themselves to rounding into playoff-ready form. It’s as if they’re content to burn the rest of the schedule away and really crank ‘er up for the back-to-backs against Chicago, and while that’s a fan who has sky-high expectations for the Wings talking, this is a, “What have you done for me lately?” business, and the Wings haven’t done much other than contribute to their fans’ playoff worry piggy-banks over the past ten or so games.

And those bracketed words? Those are substitutions for swear words. I’m that frustrated with the Wings right now, and I hope that they stop drifting and shift the S.S. Detroit Red Wings back into “full” tonight. It’s more than time to get back down to the business of winning games instead of simply hanging in there.

The NHL’s media website has yet to release the referees’ assignments for game 1,148 as of the time I’m writing this, so I’ll update the refs’ assignments during my game-day update post.


Of Bertuzzi-related note: Okay, so you know by now that Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi wasn’t suspended for his hit on Chicago Blackhawks forward Ryan Johnson. What you might not know is that the Blackhawks are completely fine with Bertuzzi’s punishment consisting of a 5-minute major and a game misconduct, as Joel Quenneville told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Adam L. Jahns:

Quenneville was OK with Red Wings winger Todd Bertuzzi not receiving a suspension for elbowing Johnson in the head Monday, especially when comparing it to what happened with Bolland. Johnson briefly left the game, but was cleared to return, only needing stitches to repair his ear.

Bertuzzi received a five-minute elbowing penalty and a game misconduct. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina wasn’t assessed a penalty for his elbow to Bolland’s head on March 9. Bolland suffered a concussion and has yet to show considerable improvement.

“We had no problem with the call [on Bertuzzi],” Quenneville said. “We had a five-minute major. We got something out of it compared to what the [Bolland] situation was during the game.”

I’m not surprised, however, that an “anonymous player” told Delaware County Times scribe and Philadelphia Flyers correspondent Anthony J. Sanfilippo that Bertuzzi should have been suspended, because this is Todd Bertuzzi we’re talking about. I’m also not stunned that both the Philadelphia Flyers player and Pittsburgh Penguins player who weighed in asked to remain anonymous:

“It’s a joke, really it is,” said one player who asked not to be identified. “Cooke got what he deserved, but to say that was worth 13, 14 games … and what Bertuzzi did was worth zero is a total crock. Both hits were delivered the same way. The elbow was extended, you know? But the league chooses to ignore player safety once again.”

The Penguins were mum on the topic publicly, but privately they were stewing over the league’s no-call.

“The only way this will be resolved at all is if there is a set number of games that a guy is suspended for a check to the head, no questions asked,” said another player. “Ten games. That seems fair. Second offense – 20. That’ll stop the headhunting.”

Of serious-arse prospect-related note: This morning we’re going heavy on prospect news. In the most immediate sense of the term, the Red Wings signed Cory Emmerton to a 3-year contract extension worth an average of $533,000 at the NHL level on Monday night.  Emmerton talked about his probable NHL future in a conversation with the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema on Monday, and Wings GM Ken Holland, who has to decide whether he’s willing to cut ties with two of the Wings’ four unrestricted free agent forwards-to-be (Kris Draper, Mike Modano, Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller)—or whether he’s going to revisit moving Hudler or Filppula—to accommodate Jan Mursak, who’s won a spot on next year’s roster, and Emmerton, whose contract is still a two-way deal (i.e. he’d have to clear waivers to go down, but not re-entry waivers to be recalled), told MLive’s Ansar Khan that Emmerton hasn’t earned a spot on the 2011-2012 team yet:

“He’s got to play his way onto the team,” Holland said. “We got to make a decision on him in training camp.”

Emmerton, the club’s top pick in 2006 (42nd overall), has improved in each of his three seasons with Grand Rapids, Holland said.

“He’s smart, he’s got good hands, good hockey sense,” Holland said. “He’s good at carrying the puck into the offensive zone. Don’t know if he’s going to be a big-time point producer in the NHL.”

• The other “biggest” prospect-related news of the day comes from RedWingsCentral’s Matthew Wuest, who’s penned his latest prospect report—and it’s a must-read, as always.

I’ve mentioned over the past month or so that Farjestads BK forward Dick Axelsson has very readily admitted to the Swedish press that the Wings have talked to him and are receptive to re-signing him to at least retain his rights, and Wings European scouting director Hakan Andersson gave Wuest an in-English take on the Wings’ hopes for Axelsson going forward, especially given the fact that Axelsson doesn’t want to play in the AHL:

“We’ve told him, ‘We’re going to keep your rights, but if you feel this is a challenge you want to take up, let us know and we’ll bring you to training camp,’” said Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson. “‘If you make the Red Wings, great, if you can’t, it’s back to Europe.’”

As of now, it appears the 23-year-old left-winger is content to return to the Swedish Elite League next season. It also appears he isn’t quite ready to make the jump to the NHL just yet, and no one is sure if he ever will be. Axelsson, an enigmatic talent who plays for Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League, had 15 goals and 15 assists for 30 points in 47 games this season while pilling up 126 penalty minutes. He also has four goals and two assists in nine playoff games and is currently competing in the SEL semifinals. He also has seen time on the national team and led the LG Hockey Games in scoring in February with two goals and four assists in three games.

“He is an improved player this year,” Andersson said. “When he played his best hockey this year, he’s NHL level. There’s no doubt about it. He’s stronger, he’s more mature and he’s been dominating on the national team.”

But Wuest reports that the Wings are still frustrated by Axelsson’s inconsistency…

“When he’s playing his best, he’s NHL good ... Now, the problem is, when he plays his worst, he’s American League bad,” Andersson said.
“He scored three straight goals [in October], and they were all highlight-reel goals, and everyone was raving the next day that this guy is just unbelievable when he wants to play,” Andersson said. “But some nights when he just doesn’t feel like playing, he’s just floating around out there like another body.”

Andersson told Wuest that Axelsson reminds him of a rich man’s Mikael Samuelsson, and that might very well tell you all you need to know about “Hat Trick Dick.” The Wings are willing to give him one of the spots on their 50-man roster just in case the mercurial and, if you read the Swedish press, anyway, still somewhat loud-mouthed forward backs up his claims that he’s grown up and isn’t the type of player or person who’ll occasionally spend a night in jail for public intoxication, choose to leave an AHL team without notice by going home for the holidays and deciding to never come back, or become the kind of player that even the Swedish national team’s coaches tend to admit is incredibly frustrating to watch, all because Axelsson really does have elite talent…But he doesn’t have the motivation to use it far too regularly, and you simply can’t guarantee that kind of player a spot on your NHL roster.

As such, I’m assuming that Axelsson will spend a few more years in Sweden, making more money than he could in the AHL while slowly biding his time and making one more NHL push in a year or three. Regrettably, he’s still more likely to be a spectacular failure than a surprising success story at this point;

• When we talk about prospects, you and I tend to forget that when the Wings draft a highly-heralded player, they’re assuming that said player is 5-to-7 years from NHL-ready status, and that the Wings’ management is much more tolerant of players struggling than we are. I know that when the Wings signed Thomas McCollum to a contract two years ago, more than a few of us fans thought that he’d be backing up Jimmy Howard this year, and instead, people like you and me might very well argue that his two up-and-down professional seasons have been disconcerting to say the least, especially after Jordan Pearce unseated McCollum as the Grand Rapids Griffins’ goaltender this season.

As McCollum himself has suggested, however, the Wings remain patient with him, and as he told the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan, he’s taking his struggles in stride:

McCollum struggled with Grand Rapids (AHL), with a 6-11-2 record and 3.18 goals-against average and .881 save percentage. He’s played better at Toledo (ECHL), with an 11-9-2 record, 2.76 GAA and 90.9 percentage.

“The key thing is getting confidence and maintaining it,” he said. “I know I can play at this level (NHL), it’s just maintaining that confidence. I’m still only 21, a lot of people tend to forget that with me. Jimmy (Howard) didn’t break into the league until he was 25. Time’s definitely on my side.”

FYI: Per the Toledo Blade’s Mark Monroe, the Wings at least assigned McCollum to Grand Rapids, if only on paper, so that might mean that Howard is indeed ready to back up MacDonald tonight.

• Wings fans also have high expectations of University of Notre Dame forward and sophomore Riley Sheahan, who was selected by the Wings in the first round last summer, and Sheahan’s definitely excited about heading to the Frozen Four in St. Paul, MN on April 7th. As the big (6’2,” 210 lbs and still growing) power forward-in-the-making told the St. Catherine’s Standard’s Bill Potrecz, however, he’s still very much so a work in progress:

Sheahan, who had six goals and 17 points in 37 games as a freshman last season, improved to 5-17-22 in 39 games so far, following a slow start offensively.

“I think after the Christmas break, I started focusing on putting up some points,” Sheahan said. “I wasn’t too worried about it. I just started bearing down more and I started to go on the ice for some extra time by myself and I was focusing on that a little more. I didn’t get away from my defensive game. I’m still playing my physical game, I’m just trying to play all in all a good game and the points started to come.”

Sheahan admitted not being selected to Team Canada for the world juniors might have given him a bit of an extra boost.

“It gave me a little bit of a motivation,” he said. “It’s good to prove to people I can be a point producer. It didn’t really bother me too much. Obviously, it would have been awesome to play for my country, but they had something else in mind.”
Sheahan, who was selected in the first round (21st overall) by Detroit in the 2010 NHL draft, maintains contact with the Red Wings.

“I talk to them every once in a while,” Sheahan said. “They’re at quite a bit of my games. It’s good to know they’re there to support me. I talked to Jiri Fisher and know Ken Holland and Jim Nill are at some games so it’s good to know the big names in the organization and there to watch me.”

• For completion’s sake, I’m going to post the playoff prospect updates here before moving onto a Detroit News feature story. In the OHL, Wings prospect and Ottawa 67’s goaltender Petr Mrazek is having a rough go. He gave up 5 goals on 41 shots against the 67’s 5-4 OT loss to Sudbury, which leads their first-round series 3-0.

The 67’s were a playoff favorite going into the OHL playoffs, but they’ve given up a stunning 133 shots over the course of their 3 games (that’s 44.33 shots per game) thus far, with Mrazek facing 122 of them, and both the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Hedman and the Ottawa Citizen’s Don Campbell report that the 67’s are…stunned…

A No. 7 seed dominating a No. 2 seed is the OHL’s version of March Madness. It’s just not supposed to be. But the 67’s, whose longest losing streak all year was four games, are now in danger of doing the same in the playoffs, down 3-0 in the best-of-seven opening-round Eastern Conference series and on life-support heading back to the Rona Centre for Game 4 on Thursday night.

“It’s very disappointing because we had it won,” said goaltender Petr Mrazek. “[Josh] McFadden has a good shot. He seemed to have a couple of seconds to shoot. One I didn’t see. But we have two games at home now and we have to keep going. But it’s very disappointing.”

• In the QMJHL, Gleason Fournier posted an assist in the Rimouski Oceanic’s 7-4 win over Gatineau, pulling back into a series which Rimouski now trails 2-1;

• Montreal Juniors forward Trevor Parkes scored a goal in Montreal’s 2-0 win over Halifax, and the Juniors lead Halifax 3-0. As RWC’s Matthew Wuest covers the Halifax Mooseheads, he spoke to Parkes on behalf of Metro Halifax after the game:

The Mooseheads belied their status as 57-point underdogs last night at the Metro Centre, taking the nationally fourth-ranked Juniors to within a hair of overtime before losing a late-game heartbreaker 2-0.

Trevor Parkes broke a scoreless tie with just 68 seconds remaining to put the Juniors up 3-0 in the QMJHL best-of-seven first round. Moments before the goal, Mooseheads captain Travis Randell hit a cross bar and rookie Luca Ciampini was robbed on a rebound by the sharp pad of goalie Jean-Francois Berube.
This was a nail-biter that was much tighter than the Juniors’ 5-3 and 6-0 wins in Montreal. The 3,302 who turned out for the Mooseheads’ first playoff game in three years were treated to a hard-fought affair. Parkes, who jammed in a puck from behind the net after a broken three-on-two, said it was a big relief for his squad.

“We were probably just as tense as they were on the bench,” said the Detroit Red Wings prospect, who fired blanks on 21 previous shots in the series. “It could have gone either way … They played hard, it was a great game and we’re just happy we got the win.”

The Halifax Chronicle-Herald’s Wily Pavlov spoke to Parkes, too:

The Juniors are well known for the neutral zone trapping tactics and they lived up to that reputation on Tuesday. But after scoring five goals in Game 1 and six in Game 2, the offence clearly was not there in Game 3. The Mooseheads deserve plenty of credit for being much more effective on home ice.

“I don’t know if they threw something different at us but they really played hard,” said Parkes. “They just weren’t giving us anything defensively — no breaks and their goalie played really well. We didn’t get as many pucks to the net as we wanted to, like we did in the first two games, but they played strong.”

• Andrej Nestrasil and the PEI Rocket were shut out 3-0 by the Shawinigan Cataractes, and they now trail their series 2-1;

• And in the WHL, Mitchell Callahan scored 2 goals in the Kelowna Rockets’ 7-6 victory over the Prince George Cougars. Kelowna leads the series 3-0.

The other feature story of the day: The Detroit News’s Chris McCosky reports that as Michigan’s economy slowly begins to recover from a one-state depression, the Red Wings’ ticket base is rebounding in a big way, with 23 straight sell-outs at Joe Louis Arena thus far, and as McCosky suggests, with the playoffs approaching, the Joe’s rocking again:

“The fans have been amazing all year,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Especially this last home stretch; every game has felt like a playoff game.”

The Wings are definitely a leaner, more efficient business machine under Tom Wilson, the former Palace Sports and Entertainment CEO:

“Everything is up,” said Wilson, president of Olympia Entertainment. “Season tickets are up. Sponsorships are at a new high for the franchise. The suites are almost all gone in an economy where that shouldn’t really be the case. We are going to close the season with 23 sellouts and that’s due to a combination of things, starting with the stability and success of this organization, beginning with ownership.”

Wilson was quick to deflect any credit for the upturn, saying, “I haven’t done anything. There was a very talented group of people here and we brought another smaller group of talented people (from The Palace). The foundation was rock solid and we’ve just tweaked it through an exchange of ideas.”
As he did at The Palace, Wilson beefed up the sales and service departments. He improved customer relations. He put a huge emphasis on using the team’s website and social media to interact with customers. And he managed to sell the other venues on a cross-marketing plan where buying a season-ticket package for the Red Wings could include Tigers tickets and Fox Theatre passes.
“Because people are making the decision in a very tough economy to spend what few discretionary dollars they have with us, we owe them more than we showed them, across the board,” he said.

They’re doing a better job, no doubt. It’s good to see the Joe full or nearly so most nights, and the Detroit Free Press’s Mike Brudenell essentially penned a companion story by discussing the fact that a couple from Reno, Nevada chose to spend their spring vacation taking in the Wings’ five-game home stand.

Also of Red Wings-related note: The Red Wings made an appearance at the Detroit Economic Club on Tuesday afternoon, and WXYZ posted a video of their appearance (I’m sure more stories regarding Mike Babcock, Ken Holland, Chris Ilitch and the players’ comments will hit the wires over the next two days):

• I didn’t make much mention of this as Paul posted Elliotte Friedman’s “30 thoughts” on Tuesday, but Friedman made more than a few Wings-related observations which may have gone unnoticed:

9. Speaking of Pavel Datsyuk, walked with him to a photo of the 2002 Stanley Cup champions. I pointed at Steve Yzerman and the first words out of Datsyuk’s mouth were “hockey heart.” Then he talked about how much he learned from watching Yzerman during those playoffs, how the captain could barely walk into arenas but when the game started, you couldn’t tell. That really meant something to the young Russian.

10. The thing current and former teammates love about Datsyuk: his sense of humour. Example I: in the Inside Hockey piece, he refuses to take any credit for his role on that Cup team, saying all he did was sit on the bench. When I pointed out he did more than that, he said he handed out water, too.

11. Example II: As Todd Bertuzzi prepared to play his 1,000th game, wife Julie set up a surprise party for him in celebration. Datsyuk ruined it, however, by saying to him, “After the game, we celebrate you with beers,” while the Red Wings prepared to take the ice. The entire team howled as Bertuzzi clued in.

12. Since the NHL began counting plus/minus in 1967-68, only two defencemen have won the Norris in the red. They were Rob Blake in 1998 (minus-3) and Randy Carlyle in 1981 (minus-16). Nicklas Lidstrom is even after Monday’s 3-2 loss to Chicago.

13. It was weird to look at the game notes Saturday morning and see Lidstrom at minus-2. He’s been a plus for all 19 seasons of his career, only twice has he even finished in single digits. “It bothers me,” he admitted after the 4-2 win over Toronto. The key is neither Lidstrom, nor his opponents, see any kind of serious drop in his play.

14. Boy, you could see how disappointed Toronto’s coaches were after that loss. I’ve seen that look before. You really think you’re going to overcome the odds and make the playoffs, but, suddenly reality smacks you in the face.

15. Thought Joey MacDonald was really in trouble during that game when Jimmy Howard bolted right off the ice, giving MacDonald no time to get ready in relief. But goalie coach Jim Bedard disagreed. “That’s the best way to go in. You have no time to think.”

16. Here’s Henrik Zetterberg, asked how the Red Wings have been playing: “We’re good when we’ve been excited to play our opponent ... Everybody says there’s no on/off switch, but I’ve seen it. It’s there.”
29. Line of the Week goes to Tomas Holmstrom, discussing the 2002 champion’s fourth line - him, Igor Larionov and Luc Robitaille: “I was the fastest of the three.” Holmstrom is not known for his speed, but, geez, what a 10th, 11th and 12th forward to throw at other teams.

• For the record, Evgeni Nabokov, the one-time for-a-few-days Wing, spoke to Sport-Express’s Igor Larin as he took part in practices with the Russian national team, preparing for next month’s World Championships, and he’s still iffy about ever reporting to the New York Islanders. His only real bombshell involves the fact that he’s willing to admit that he shouldn’t have signed with SKA St. Petersburg in retrospect, suggesting that he let his competitive instincts get the better of him when he didn’t garner an NHL contract. He emphasizes that it wasn’t just his wife that couldn’t adjust to St. Petersburg—his kids had a rough time, too;

• I’m getting pretty tired of the Vancouver media’s five-month campaign to insist that they’re either the Detroit Red Wings, Mark II or that they’re better than the Wings for one reason or another, and the Vancouver Province’s Tony Gallagher keeps it up while suggesting that the Canucks have proven that they’re now an unbeatable team:

The Sedins? Well, Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland might have said it best over dinner before the Detroit game when he quipped “the Sedins are just so good, what can you do.”

I’m sure if the Wings play the Canucks in the playoffs they’ll try to come up with something, but for the moment, his point stands.

• And this one snuck under the radar: Red Wings play-by-play man Ken Kal gave an intriguing interview to Pat Steinberg of Calgary’s The Fan 960, talking about the Wings’ place in the standings, the Bertuzzi non-suspension, injuries and Jimmy Howard:

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Rdwings28's avatar

good morning, george. i enjoy the early reports.

Posted by Rdwings28 on 03/30/11 at 08:58 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.