The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/02/12 at 06:26 PM ET
Updated 5x at 8:55 PM: As the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks prepare to tangle this evening (10 PM EST, FSD/Sportsnet Pacific/WXYT), the Free Press’s Helene St. James reports that Danny Cleary looks ready to play tonight, but the Wings are making a strange lineup change given the Canucks’ toughness…
Danny Cleary on the ice this morning at Rogers Arena #RedWings
Commodore and mursak out tonight
MLive’s Ansar Khan confirms...
Wings are on the ice for morning skate in Vancouver and Cleary is skating. everyone is skating.
Wings skating with usual lines: 93-13-44, 51-40-26, 20-43-11, 48-8-96 (39). No word yet on who sits on 4th line.
Babcock said Mursak and Commodore out tonight
As does Fox Sports Detroit’s John Keating...
Wings prepping for Canucks in Vancouver tonite. Top 2 teams in west, separated by just 3 pts. RW Live at 9:30 on FSD. http://t.co/k3CdfJmC
Jakub Kindl and Tomas Holmstrom back in Wings lineup tonite in Vancouver. Commodore and Mursak scratches. RW Live @ 9:30 on FSD.
Cleary on the ice for morning skate
Mursak and Commodore out
And from the Canucks side, it appears that we’re going with compliments instead of lineup news via their official Twitter account:
Luongo on Howard - “His skill set is one of the best in the League. It’ll be a hard-fought game”.
Obviously, there will be much more to come as the Wings wrapped up their morning skate around 3 PM EST.
In much heavier news, the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa received official confirmation regarding Gordie Howe’s battle with something close to dementia:
Gordie Howe’s son Marty cautioned Thursday against improperly describing his father’s condition.
“Just to set things straight Gordie does not have dementia,” Marty Howe said as he was driving with his dad from Kamloops, British Columbia, to Vancouver for a press conference Thursday afternoon. “He has had a cognitive problem for 7 or 8 years that causes mostly short-term memory loss. If he had dementia we would be lucky to have him with us.”
According to a Canadian Press report, Dr. Murray Howe, another of Howe’s sons, said his father likely has mild cognitive impairment, which is considered and intermediate condition between the normal aging process, in advanced age, and early dementia. For a few years now, reporters attempting to contact Gordie Howe for specific memories of his glory years with the Red Wings and in the NHL have been cautioned by the Howe family, that their father or grandfather’s memory of such events is no longer entirely reliable.
Murray Howe particularly noted his father’s decline last year, during a trip to a game in Calgary, according to the Canadian Press.
Yahoo Sports just happened to post a Howe photo gallery, too…
And taking another sharp turn, the Hockey News’s Lyle “Spector” Richardson took a gander at the Wings’ potential trade deadline plans:
With less than four weeks remaining until the NHL’s Feb. 27 trade deadline, Holland acknowledged he’ll be shopping around to bolster his roster, though he’d prefer not to move early round draft picks to do so.
It’s believed Holland will shop for depth at forward, specifically a scoring winger or a good third/fourth line checking forward. There was speculation earlier this season the Red Wings would be a destination for Washington Capitals left winger Alexander Semin, but Holland’s comments suggest he’ll look more at affordable roster ‘tweaks.’ Rumored trade targets include Montreal Canadiens left winger Travis Moen, Dallas Stars left winger Brenden Morrow, Carolina right winger Tuomo Ruutu and Edmonton Oilers right winger Ales Hemsky, though Holland is said to have concerns about Hemsky’s injury history.
It had been suggested Holland would consider adding a more experienced backup goalie, but it appears his focus is more on his forward lines than in replacing Ty Conklin.
With more than $5.5 million in available salary cap space, Holland has room to take on additional salary, without having to move a roster player. Odds are he’ll shop mid-range draft picks, prospects or minor-leaguers.
Looking to next season, the Wings have $39.6 million invested in 14 players. That leaves Holland with considerable cap space to add more skilled talent, particularly to replace Lidstrom, who may retire at season’s end, as well as unrestricted free agents such as Bertuzzi, Hudler, left winger Tomas Holmstrom and defenseman Brad Stuart.
Of course, the new CBA will play a role in how much room the Red Wings have to play with and what type of moves they can make.
We’ll have #Detroit GM Ken Holland on The Mark Spector Show at 1:25 mt. Is this the ageing Wings last and best shot at the Cup? We’ll ask…
Update #1: Yowza, per the Free Press’s Helene St. James:
Cleary went to hospital yesterday after cyst burst in swollen knee. He’ll play tonight against Canucks. #RedWings
• If you were wondering, the CBC will host Oilers forward Taylor Hall and GM Steve Tambellini during its “After Hours” segment after the Wings-Oilers game on Saturday;
• Shifting focus back to tonight’s game, Canucks.com’s Daniel Fung wrote a fantastic game preview, which includes the following...
Scouting report: Having success on the man-advantage isn’t necessarily a guarantee of success but it would certainly be a boost for either team in tonight’s contest if they can find a way to get their power play going. That rings especially true for the Red Wings who have gotten the lion’s share of the power play opportunities so far in the season series. Detroit has enjoyed 11 man-advantages in two games versus compared to just four for Vancouver (the Canucks had none in their last head-to-head meeting back on December 21) but neither team has managed to capitalize on their opportunities. The Red Wings certainly won’t want to take their power play woes lightly. They’re still among the better teams in the league when operating with the man-advantage (18.2 percent) but they’ve struggled in that department for the past month-and-a-half. Dating back to December 19, the Red Wings have managed to score just six power play goals on 57 opportunities over their last 20 games (10.5 percent conversion rate).
Of course if tonight’s game proceeds in a similar fashion to the previous two meetings so far in the season series, goals may be few and far between even with power plays factored in. The Red Wings - who average just 2.31 goals against per game this season - have been especially stingy in their recent outings allowing two goals or fewer in eight of their last nine outings (the lone exception was their uncharacteristic 7-2 loss to the Habs just prior to the All-Star break). Despite their overall strong play defensively, they have shown some cracks in the armor when they’re away from the comforts of home ice. Detroit has a +49 goal differential on home ice this season (88 to 39) but has a -9 goal differential (70 to 79) in enemy territory. Their lowered confidence on defense while on the road seems to have an effect on their power play as well. The Red Wings’ have scored just 14 goals on 95 man-advantage opportunities on the road (14.7 percent conversion rate) and they’ve also given up five shorthanded goals away from the Joe Louis Arena this season. One of those shorthanded goals was surrendered to Vancouver back on December 21 off the stick of Alex Edler - the insurance marker early in the third period for the Canucks who hung on for a 4-2 victory.
Did you know? Pavel Datsyuk still has a bit of work to do before he can be considered as being the best of the best in terms of all-time Russian NHLers but he’s not too far off from that. Datsyuk has certainly worked his way up in that regard as far as statistics are concerned. The 33-year-old recently moved onto the top-10 list for most goals by a Russian skater with his 235th marker two Mondays ago in a game against the St. Louis Blues although he still has a long way to go before reaching the number one spot on that list currently held by ex-Red Wing Sergei Fedorov (483).
Datsyuk’s also making his way up the list in assists and overall points as well. He currently sits in ninth place among all-time Russian NHLers with 469 assists (one assist shy of eighth spot currently occupied by Sergei Zhamnov) and in 11th place in points with 704 (five points shy of cracking the top-10).
In addition to holding the record for all-time goals by a Russian NHLer, Sergei Fedorov also holds the record for all-time assists (696) and points (1,179). Fedorov’s last stint in the NHL came back in 2008.09 with the Washington Capitals.
Ones to watch: Todd Bertuzzi: Todd Bertuzzi may not be the same player he was back in his heyday with the Canucks but there are parts of the former All-Star’s game that the Red Wings are thrilled to see him reinvent - most notably his play at the defensive end of the ice. The 36-year-old may only have 10 goals and 25 points to his credit so far this season but he’s been one of the team leaders in another category - that being the plus-minus statistic where he has a plus-22 rating on the campaign. Even though he’s been lauded by Coach Babcock this season for his strong defensive work, the turnaround in that statistic is surprising considering he’s amassed a combined minus-27 rating over the past three seasons coming into this one. His career-best single-season plus-minus rating is plus-21 set back in 2001.02 with the Canucks and repeated in 2003.04 also with Vancouver.
Bertuzzi, who has lately been a fixture on Detroit’s top line alongside Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen, has picked up his offensive game of late as well after beginning the season with only three points in his first 14 games. He’s notched 22 points in his last 30 outings although he does bring a two-game point drought into tonight’s contest. He’s been a thorn in the Canucks’ paw this season netting two points (1-1-2) in two games so far in the season series. He’s amassed a total of just 11 points (4-7-11) in 23 career games versus Vancouver. Bertuzzi’s next goal will be a milestone one as it will be the 300th of his career.
• The Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma filed this game-day report...
With eight players in double digits for goals and a creativeness and drive in the offensive zone, the top pairing of Kevin Bieksa and [Dan] Hamhuis must pay special attention to shifty centre Pavel Datsyuk. A perennial contender for the Selke Trophy, the slick Russian is adept at stripping pucks and turning them into offensive chances and has 53 points (14-39) in 50 games. Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews lead in takeaways with 68 while the top Canuck is Chris Higgins with 45 to ranked 33rd. Hamhuis saw enough of Datsyuk in the Central Division while with Nashville to understand the level of attention he deserves.
“His take-away numbers are amazing,” added Hamhuis. “He just doesn’t take the puck away, he goes the other way and his creativity is probably one of the best out there. The team that plays the best defence will win, but we know that both sides have some great offensive ability and that’s going to be showcased tonight.”
The Canucks topped the Wings 4-2 at Rogers Arena on Dec. 21 and lost 2-0 at Joe Louis Arena on Oct. 13. And as much as the teams mirror each other with an up-tempo game that is also reliant on being good without the puck which again speaks to the value of Datsyuk. As much as Ryan Kesler is also good at that role, the Red Wing centre has turned it into an art form. That will be vital tonight because the Wings are just 14-14-0 on the road but have won six of their last 10 away from Joe Louis Arena. More importantly, they’ve won eight of their last nine, are 13-4-0 since Christmas and Datsyuk has vaulted into a fourth-place tie for league scoring with 18 points (4-14) in his last 16 outings.
“His skill set is obviously one of the best in the league and he has a tremendous amount of moves — and you don’t know which one to expect — and I could go on and on for an hour,” said Roberto Luongo, who gets the start tonight as the Canucks look to stretch their win streak to four games. “It’s his talent and vision but one of his best aspect is when you have the puck, he’ll get it right back off you and he never quits on pucks.”
If that isn’t enough, the Wings may have the best net presence with Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi.
“I’d like to think we do,” added Luongo. “They have a lot of guys who are good around the net and are good at creating havoc in front of me. We play similar styles and there are going to be some pretty plays and they like to shoot the puck a lot and that’s the type of game I like to be involved in.”
The same can be said for Kesler. Getting to goalie Jimmy Howard will mean getting to the crease and creating more screens that tip opportunities. Daniel Sedin does have four goals in his last six games but Howard is seldom beat from beyond the slot.
“It’s going to be important for us to take away his eyes — he stops what he sees,” said Kesler.
• Here’s the Vancouver Sun’s Brad Ziemer’s game-day report, which suggests that the Red Wings and Canucks are all but “shadows” of each other in terms of their styles of play:
“We both like to have the puck, we both like to keep control of it,” Canucks associate coach Rick Bowness said after today’s optional morning skate. “And we’re both very highly entertaining teams when we have it. We have got very creative players on both sides and they can do magical things with the puck and it’s going to be another very entertaining game. With the Wings, they always are. We have a tremendous amount of respect for that team. We hope they feel the same way about us.”
“There is a lot of skill on both teams and it makes for some real exciting end-to-end action,” said Vancouver defenceman Dan Hamhuis. “Both teams are committed to defence and have got great goaltending. We just seem to have really good games.”
“Detroit was Nashville’s biggest rival so I have always enjoyed playing them. There was a good buzz in Nashville every time we played. They are a fun team to play against, they are really challenging. They have got some really good players on that side who are challenging defensively.”
“[Both teams have a] lot of Swedes,” Henrik said with a smile, before adding, “I think we like to play the same way. Both teams are good defensively but we play defence maybe a little different than Nashville or Minnesota. Both teams have got guys who can score so it makes for fun games.”
The Canucks enter tonight’s game riding a three-game winning streak. The Wings, who beat the Flames 3-1 in Calgary on Tuesday night, have won eight of their last nine games. Centre Pavel Datsyuk, regarded by some as the best all-round player in the NHL, is having a terrific season for the Wings. He has 14 goals, 53 points and with 68 takeaways shares the NHL lead with Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
“He is a very special player,” Hamhuis said of Datsyuk. “The way he sees the ice, he is so strong on his skates, he’s very good defensively, his takeaway numbers are amazing. He doesn’t just take the puck away, he goes the other way with the puck. His skill set, his creativity with the puck, is probably one of the best out there.”
And yes, the Wings are wary of their 14-and-14 road record…
“We have been talking about it a lot, we want to play better on the road,” said Detroit winger Henrik Zetterberg. “We have been probably better than we thought at home. We got a good start after the break against Calgary and we have a challenge here tonight. These are two good teams. They play a fun style of hockey. We look forward to these games and I’m pretty sure they are, too. For the fans, usually there’s a lot of scoring chances.”
• Here’s Helene St. James’ game-day report, which expands upon (no pun intended) Cleary’s knee issue:
“It’s been swollen for six weeks now,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of fluid in there. The knee is sore. I had a Baker’s cyst, and it burst and leaked into my calf. We were worried about a blood clot, so that’s why I went to the hospital.”
A Baker’s cyst is a buildup of joint fluid. Cleary said he still needs to get the knee drained “at some point, but the time is not now.” He is considering getting a cortisone shot, too. This helps explain Cleary’s lack of offense. He has got 10 goals and 23 points and got bumped out of the top-six forward group after a lackluster first month, though that stemmed from a rib injury suffered during training camp.
Cleary is back on the third line tonight, so the lines are:
The Wings began this trip by grinding out a 3-1 victory Tuesday at Calgary, but the Canucks field a far more fearsome lineup, one that will burn opponents for making a mistake.
“You can’t (err), because they’ve got some players that really take advantage of you if you do,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “They’ve got maybe more depth than most other teams in the league. It’s a big challenge for us, because everyone knows that we haven’t been playing our best hockey on the road.”
• MLive’s Ansar Khan confirms Cleary’s situation in his game-day update:
“It’s got a lot of fluid in there, knee is sore,’’ Cleary said. “Had a Baker’s cyst in the back, it burst and leaked into my calf. We were worried about a blood clot, that’s why went to the hospital (Wednesday). It’s swollen, at some point I got to get it drained, but the time is not now.’‘
He said it’s been bothering him for eight weeks, forcing him to take Synvisc injection.
Tomas Holmstrom returns to the lineup tonight, after missing one game with sore knees. Jan Mursak is scratched. On defense, Jakub Kindl is in for Mike Commodore as the competition for the sixth spot continues.
Here is the Canucks’ anticipated lineup:
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins-Ryan Kesler-David Booth
Mason Raymond-Cody Hodgson-Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra-Maxim Lapierre-Dale Weise
Dan Hamhuis-Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler-Sami Salo
Keith Ballard-Aaron Rome
Roberto Luongo (starting)
Update #2: Let’s fire off some general blather via a chat ESPn’s Scott Burnside held today…
Nick (Chicago): Scott, we have a couple predominant players reaching the end of their careers (ex. Selanne, Alfie, Brodeur, Jagr, Lindstrom….). Who do you see postponing retirement and coming back for another year?
Scott Burnside: Nick; I wouldn’t be surprised to see them all return for one more kick at the can. All continue to produce at a high level. If the Wings won a Cup or even got to another final maybe that would be enough for Lidstrom. Maybe I’m being selfish but figure the game is better for having those greats still on the ice.
Greg (Saint Louis): Another goalie/trade question. Ben Bishop in the Blues organization…any interest around the league?
Scott Burnside: Greg; He’s a guy that could go at the deadline or more likely at the draft as teams figure out their long-term plans. Detroit, perhaps, will be looking to get younger in the back-up behind Jimmy Howard. Tampa definitely looking to get younger. New Jersey at some point has to come up with a Plan B. Bishop could be a guy that figures in although he won’t command a big return in terms of draft picks or prospects.
Bill (West Loop): How do you see the Central standings shaping out for the playoffs?
Scott Burnside: Bill; How great is that race? And now with Nashville right in the middle of it. If the Blues can get Alexander Steen and Andy McDonald back in a timely fashion (apparently they won’t play tomorrow) that’s like adding a pair of top six forwards and could nudge them ahead of the rest. If they can’t come back I’ll go with Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago and Nashville in that order.
• A little more specifically speaking, ESPN’s Craig Custance dished on the Tuomo Ruutu situation in his Insider blog:
There are so many teams looking for top-six forward help and so few sellers that Tuomo Ruutu of the Carolina Hurricanes has emerged as the hottest name on the trade market. He joked that he’s heard rumors of him going to every NHL team, and he’s pretty close. Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville and Toronto would all love to add Ruutu, and for good reason. There just aren’t many players available who are physical, capable of scoring 25 goals and versatile enough to play center or on the wing.
“That’s the unique thing about him,” one NHL source said.
A trade has been a bit of a foregone conclusion, and probably soon, since Carolina would like to capitalize on the lack of sellers right now—plus Ruutu isn’t cheap. His salary-cap hit is just $3.8 million, but his actual salary is $4.4 million. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford could save his owners a bit of cash by dealing Ruutu early.
But we heard all this with Tim Gleason, right? Then he signed a contract extension. So I doubled back and checked with Ruutu’s agent, Bill Zito, to make sure another extension wasn’t close.
“We’ve had casual conversations,” Zito said. “We’re just going to see what happens.”
If you read between the lines a little bit, you can conclude that if Rutherford isn’t overwhelmed with a trade offer for Ruutu, whose asking price is high, the two sides could get serious about contract talks. Still, nothing sounded close, even though Ruutu is open to the idea of staying in Carolina. The reality is, he may be worth more to the Hurricanes in a trade.
• In the “parody” department, the Hockey News’s Adam Proteau offered “apologies” from each and every one of the NHL’s 30 teams…
The Detroit Red Wings regret all jealousy we’ve triggered by being the NHL’s best franchise for well on a decade.
&bulll; In the non-parity department, SI’s Stu Hackel duly noted that the Red Wings were not the “old and busted” team he thought they were when they lost six straight games:
In getting their season back on track, Detroit has had two seven-game winning streaks, lost back-to-back games only three times, and shown they can still do what the game’s best teams always do: play any style and win. The Red Wings skate very well, have magnificent skill, can outscore opponents (163 goals, tied for third in the NHL; their +45 goal differential ranks second), can play a shutdown game (118 goals-against, sixth in the league; they had been tied for fourth before an awful outing in Montreal just before the All-Star break), and don’t beat themselves with bad penalties (8.5 PIM per game, second-lowest in the league).
And no one should believe that the Wings can be pushed around. It seemed as if the Blues did on the Monday night leading up to the All-Star Game. St. Louis tried to intimidate the Wings, only to find them more than willing to drop the gloves and hold their own. And they forced the Blues into penalties that resulted in two of Detroit’s tallies in a 3-1 victory, including this one by Pavel Datsyuk, who is finally starting to get the recognition he deserves as the game’s most complete player.
At the time the Wings were slumping, so was Datsyuk and other members of the core group. But as they found their bearings, so did the team. Datsyuk was a team-worst minus-5. Henrik Zetterberg, generally good for a point per game, had only four points in 10 games. Forwards Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi, Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler and Johan Franzen weren’t scoring . The same was true of defenseman Ian White, who went minus-4 during the early five-game slide.
Now White leads all NHL defensemen with a plus-25. Datsyuk is a plus-20 and the team’s top scorer, and the rest of the Wings have picked up their game as well. Franzen’s nine game-winners lead the NHL. Filppula has equaled his career high in points. After a year in the KHL and another under-performance in Detroit, Hudler seems to have found his scoring instincts again. The oft-maligned Bertuzzi is playing his rugged game and some of the best hockey of his career, at age 36.
No one defies age more than captain Nick Lidstrom, who continues to be one of the game’s top defensemen at age 41. “He’s one of the best players ever, period,” Babcock told Dave Stubbs of The Montreal Gazette last week. “He’s an incredible human being, he’s very humble and he provides unbelievable leadership. I think he’s the best player leader in the NHL. Because of no ego, he doesn’t allow the rest of the team to have ego and then you’re just about winning. The team comes first and to me that’s the best situation for any coach.”
While he plays a different style, hard-hitting, hard-shooting Niklas Kronwall has emerged as Lidstrom’s heir apparent on the blue line. Wings defensemen lead the NHL with 33 goals, 11 from Kronwall and 10 from Lidstrom. As a group, they often come in late and are allowed to join the rush because their forwards are so good defensively and don’t commit many turnovers in the neutral zone.
But perhaps the most impressive Red Wing this season is Jimmy Howard, who has grown into an All-Star goaltender. He personifies an organizational strength — how well Detroit develops players. He wasn’t rushed despite the obvious talents he showed while playing three years at the University of Maine. He spent four in the AHL before claiming the Wings’ starting job. Now in his third full NHL season, he’s become one of those goalies who, when he’s on his game, not only stops all the shots he should, but lots that he shouldn’t.
A key to the future will be if Detroit continues to produce more cornerstone players like Howard as its old guard ages and retires. One hallmark of the organization is its ability to find gems in the late rounds of the draft, so it’s possible that Detroit’s next generation of stalwarts will arrive quietly and blossom without great fanfare. Or will GM Ken Holland look outside in order to bring in the next major pieces? It will be an interesting development to watch during the next couple of seasons.
Both. Always both.
• In the charity department, from the Wings’ Twitter account:
There are a limited number of spots still left in the DRW Charity Poker Tournament, held at @MotorCityCasino. Info: http://t.co/6S8CNtdo
• In the charity department, part 2, from the Southgate News-Herald:
The 23rd annual Budd Lynch Celebrity Golf Classic, scheduled for June 25 at Grosse Ile Golf & Country Club, is seeking participants and sponsors.
The fundraiser for The Guidance Center features an 18-hole scramble with a participating celebrity on each team. The day’s events include a silent auction, on-course contests, food and entertainment. Last year, the event raised more than $60,000.
Sponsorship level offerings include the exclusive outing sponsor ($10,000), youth golf clinic sponsor ($10,000), ace sponsor ($8,000), eagle sponsor ($5,000), cart sponsor ($3,000) and Budd Lynch Special sponsor ($2,000).
Lynch, a Wyandotte resident, is the public address announcer for Detroit Red Wings games at Joe Louis Arena. He is a legendary figure in radio and television broadcasting and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
The tournament has attracted the likes of Red Wings play-by-play announcers Ken Daniels and Ken Kal; former Detroit Lions player Sonny Gandee; WDIV-TV (Channel 4) sportscaster Katrina Hancock; Downriver golf legend Glenn Johnson; former Aquinas High School and University of Michigan football star Mike Jolly; and former NHL players like Kirk Maltby, Eddie Mio, Phil Myre and John Ogrodnick, among many others.
The Lynch tournament is one of three major fund-raisers for The Guidance Center, a behavioral health and human services agency.
The first of the season will occur April 21 with the second annual Downriver DASH/5K Run/Walk and Tot Trot. The event encourages exercise and better habits to fight childhood obesity.
Grape Expectations for Kids, a wine-tasting event at the Rattlesnake Club in Detroit scheduled for Oct. 4, is a gathering to raise money for the Kids-TALK Children’s Advocacy Center of Detroit.
For more information, or sponsorship or ticket information, contact Fran Waszkiewicz at 1-734-785-7705, ext. 7153, or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Jean Wloszek at 1-734-785-7705, ext. 7825, or email@example.com.
• And, shifting focus back to tonight’s game, here’s the Vancouver Province’s Jim Jamieson’s game preview:
Six weeks ago at Rogers Arena, the Canucks downed Detroit 4-2 in a game that had a little bit of everything: Great goals, big hits and controversial plays. The Canucks, after jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, sealed it with a shorthanded goal by Alex Edler that had Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard going after Vancouver winger Jannik Hansen, who’d bowled him over while carrying the puck to the net.
The Red Wings lead the Canucks for top spot in the Western Conference standings by three points, but have played one more game.
“We lost the game in about a 40-second span,” said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. “We gave up a goal and then a huge goal right away. Against good teams, that’s going to kill you. They’ve got a good team, good depth and they’re a fun team to play with. It’s going to be hard and it’ll be a good battle on the puck.”
Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall caught Canucks centre Ryan Kesler with his head down and rocked him with an unpenalized hit. Kesler challenged Kronwall to a fight, but ended up getting a roughing penalty for his trouble. Kronwall said he won’t know if there’s any carryover to Thursday’s game until the puck is dropped.
“I guess we’ll see tonight, but I haven’t really thought too much about it,” he said after the Red Wings skate. “We know it’s going to be a physical game when we play Vancouver. A lot of times, it’s going to be a playoff game in character, not a lot of room and hard-fought out there. It’s almost become a rivalry with these guys.”
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault stressed the importance of getting in front of the Detroit goal and screening Howard.
“Whenever we play here, they’ve got guys crashing the net and trying to take my sight lines away, but it’s on me to try and battle through that,” said Howard, who’ll start his sixth straight tonight.
Update #3: For the record, The Team 1260 in Edmonton does not offer specific interviews, but instead hour-lnog “show” podcasts, so here’s what KH said to Spector: The Wings have been very fortunate to have been in the playoffs for all of the 20 years that Nicklas Lidstrom has been here, they’ve got a strong core of players in Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Kronwall, Howard, etc. and yes, when Lidstrom retires, the Wings will have some big decisions to make in terms of what they will do to continue competing at an elite level, but for now, they do not feel that their “window” has closed by any stretch of the imagination, and it didn’t sound like even Lidstrom’s retirement would prompt Holland to do anything other than reload instead of rebuilding.
• I can only shrug my shoulders at the “Aw shucks” from Pass it to Bulis’s Daniel Wagner regarding Mike Babcock’s Canuck compliments;
• The Windsor Star’s ob Duff took note of the Wings’ superb offensive production from their blueliners:
Two of the National Hockey League’s highest-scoring sets of rearguards will be on display Thursday as the Detroit Red Wings are at Rogers Arena to tangle with the Vancouver Canucks. The Wings’ blue-line crew shares the NHL lead for goals by defencemen with 33, six more than the totals produced by the back ends of the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators. Next in line after that duo are the Canucks with 25 goals.
“I think it helps when you can have the defence be a part of the offence, scoring goals and being a threat, whether you’re a guy joining the rush, or being a shot from the point on the power play,” said Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who has netted 10 goals. “I think when the D can get active and be a part of it, it can be harder to defend against, and I think it’s harder for the other team when you have a well-balanced team scoring.”
Niklas Kronwall leads the Wings defenders with 11 goals. Ian White has tallied six times, Brad Stuart has scored four times, and Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson have chipped in with a goal apiece.
“The teams that are very successful today, you need to have defencemen who can have the offence, especially with the forwards we have,” White said. “You’ve got to be able to get these guys the puck and let them do their work. I’m sure it takes a little stress off them if we score a goal every now and then, but I think the main thing is being able to get the puck to the forwards as much as possible.”
While it’s not their main priority to put the puck in the other team’s net, suiting up explosive defenders gives the opposition another element to worry about. “Obviously, that’s not our objective as a group, to try to score all the time, but when you can add that kind of dimension to the team, it definitely does help, gives you that extra little offensive kick that sometimes you need,” Stuart said.
• Here’s what the Canucks had to say about their power play to NHL.com’s Kevin Woodley:
The Vancouver Canucks have no problem admitting they emulate the Detroit Red Wings in terms of how they’ve built their team and want to play.
Coach Alain Vigneault would like them to imitate Detroit in front of the net too.
With his team struggling slightly not only on the power play—it’s relative when you lead the League—but also just to generate man advantages, Vigneault stressed the need for improved net presence from his Canucks. Not only should it help a power play that hasn’t scored in six chances over three games, but it should create more chances after Vancouver failed to get even one advantage during a 3-2 overtime win over rival Chicago on Tuesday.
“I’d like to take a page out of Detroit’s book,” Vigneault said. “I feel they’re the best team in the League as far as net presence and always having somebody there—square to the puck and making it hard on the goaltender. We need to screen the goalie more than looking to tip pucks. And they have so many big bodies that like to do that and go in those tough areas. They’re one of the most physical teams in the League.”
Detroit also has one of the NHL’s best net-front presences in Tomas Holmstrom, who returns to action against the Canucks after missing a game with swollen knees. He’s a player that Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler has tried to learn from since taking over that hard role atop opposing creases last season, a job his coach believes will be key to ending the Canucks’ 3-for-23 skid over the last eight games.
“I try to get better at that every day, it’s still pretty new to me,” said Kesler, a center who used to anchor the second unit. “I always try to pick up little things and he’s pretty good at it. Tips is one thing, just learning how and when to take the goalie’s eyes away.”
And at the other end of the rink, well, Woodley reports that Tomas Holmstrom’s Synvisc-fortified knees are ready to get back to work:
Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom will play Thursday night after missing one game with swollen knees, and plans to go straight to his usual spot in front of Vancouver’s net. The 39-year-old isn’t worried about his health. The knees are a long way from the heart.
“I play my game, I like the game I play, and it’s a good spot to be, the puck is going to be there sooner or later,” Holmstrom, who didn’t play in Calgary on Tuesday and was hobbling around with ice on his knees, told NHL.com. “I never think about if I take a beating.”
Holmstrom has taken plenty of pounding during 14 NHL seasons establishing himself as the League’s best net-front presence. He’s a fourth liner now, but remains invaluable on the first power-play unit, screening opposing goalies and scoring on tips and rebounds. For Holmstrom, it’s an easier job now—even at his age—then when he first started.
“After the lockout it seems like you can get to the net much easier, you can’t do the cross checking before you get to the net, but when the puck comes there, hell still breaks loose,” he said with a smile. “But back then you got three cross checks to the neck before you get to the paint, and then you get cross-checked again. So it’s a huge difference.”
Detroit was 0-for-3 on the power play without Holmstrom against the Flames, though his replacement, Jan Mursak, who will come out of the lineup against the Canucks on Thursday, did set up a goal in just 7:32 of ice time on the fourth line.
• And from the Canucks’ website, here’s a clip of Canucks assistant coach Rick Bouwness talking about tonight’s game…
As well as a game preview (I did not know that this was the last game of a 6-game home stand for Vancouver). Luongo and Howard make appearances in the game preview:
Update #3.5: TSN’s Farhan Lalji filed a game-day update in the form of 2:38 worth of Wings’ and Canucks’ interviews, and I’m finding it hard to believe that Ryan Kesler claims he “forgot about” the Kronwall hit until the press brought it up today; Kronwall suggests that he’ll find out whether the Canucks remembered it when the puck drops, but he’s concerned about playing in a playoff-caliber game in terms of its quality of play and chippiness; Wings coach Mike Babcock also suggests that the last game “wasn’t chippy,” and Chris Higgins, Jimmy Howard and Roberto Luongo all weigh in.
Update #4: FYI from the QMJHL’s website:
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League announced today the winners of the TELUS three stars for January.
The first star is awarded to Blainville-Boisbriand Armada defenseman Xavier Ouellet. Ouellet earned at least one point in 10 of 11 games last month to average 1.45 points / game. He registered 5 games with 2 points or more and in all, scored 4 goals and added 12 assists for a total of 16 points and a +/- of +8.
Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard leads the NHL in wins with 31. Yet his 43 games played ranks only sixth. Still, with an increasing tendency League-wide to use a goalie tandem – and Howard on pace to play an exhausting 69-game schedule – the Red Wings’ stopper knows the importance of taking time off. So there was little protest when head coach Mike Babcock ordered both Howard and fellow All-Star Pavel Datsyuk to not only miss Wednesday’s practice in Vancouver, but to stay away from the rink entirely.
“Pavel and I just went and walked round Vancouver, it was nice,” Howard, 27, said after Thursday’s morning skate. “I feel good. I don’t feel tired at all. Mike is really good giving us days off. He realizes it’s key sometimes to pull back on the reigns rather than being out there going, going, going. We always get an ample amount of days off.”
Howard is seventh with a .925 save percentage, and fifth with a 2.01 goals-against average, well ahead of veteran backup Ty Conklin, who is just 3-5-0 with a 3.20 and .896. But Conklin has won two of his last three starts, and could see more time down the stretch. If not, Howard is ready to keep taking breaks on off days, then playing the next.
“I’m young,” he said with a smile.
And a potential Wings-Canucks rivalry:
“It’s always fun to play the good teams,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.
“It’s almost become a little bit of a rivalry, really, a lot of emotions out there,” Kronwall said, adding he hadn’t thought about potential carry over from his hit. “Any time we play Vancouver we know it’s going to be a physical game. A lot of times it’s more of a playoff character game really, not a lot of room and hard fought.”
That last game finished with a knee-on-knee collision between Kesler and Henrik Zetterberg. Afterwards Kesler called out Kronwall for not backing up his hit with a fight, and Howard sounded off about the lack of protection from crease crashers.
“This game is all about emotion and it got a little bit of the best of me last time,” Howard said. “It always is (a great game) whenever we play them. Both teams play similar, both want possession of the puck and both make it hard on the opposing goalie and D. Whenever we play here they are always crashing the net and got guys trying to take my sightlines away but it’s on me to try and find it out there and not lose sight of the puck.”
Kesler, whose job includes doing just that on the Canucks’ power play, didn’t have much to say on the Kronwall hit now, and expects a spirited but clean game.
“I completely forgot about it until you brought it up again, so that’s how much it’s on my mind right now,” Kesler said of the hit. “I think you expect a hard-fought game, you expect two teams to battle hard and battle clean, that’s what you’re going to see.”
“I didn’t know the game was chippy last time until some of the guys told me about the articles. There was a hit and the guy reacted, that happens in the NHL a lot—so what?” [Babcock] said.
• DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose also checked in with Danny Cleary...
Cleary has had a cyst behind his knee that has been an issue for the last two months, and on Wednesday it landed him in a Vancouver hospital after it ruptured, causing fluid to drain in his calf, he said.
“We were worried about a blood clot, that’s why I went to the hospital,” Cleary said. “It’s swollen, at some point I got to get it drained, but the time is not now.”
Cleary played in Tuesday night’s 3-1 victory at Calgary, even assisting on Drew Miller’s third-period goal. But by Wednesday morning, the pain had gotten so bad that he went to the hospital.
Cleary, along with Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard were given the day off from practice on Wednesday. While coach Mike Babcock joked after Wednesday’s practice that he told Datsyuk and Howard to stay away from the rink and rest, Babcock said that Cleary, “Had something with his leg and gave him a day off. Nothing major at all. Just a little swelling.”
Cleary identified the cyst as a Baker’s cyst, which is swelling in the back of the knee joint usually brought on by arthritis or torn cartilage.
“It’s got a lot of fluid in there, knee is sore, there’s a lot of fluid,” he said.
• The Wings’ website posted a short game preview…
• Taking perhaps a strange turn, the Vernon Morning Star reports that their Predator Ridge golf course, which is near Ken Holland’s summer home and is where he holds a charity golf tournament every summer, will be used as Hockey Canada’s off-ice training facility this summer;
• And we’re gonna get into the Vancouver Sun’s Came Cole’s article about Wings coach Mike Babcock and the Vancouver Province’s Ed Willes’ column on the Wings’ age after the game, but for now, they’re good reads, and I’m gonna more or less close up shop at 8:55 so that you don’t have to worry about any late-breakers that drop right before the puck does.
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