The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/23/12 at 06:55 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings, new arrival Kyle Quincey and the re-signed Todd Bertuzzi will attempt to continue their NHL-record-setting home-ice winning streak when they tangle against the Vancouver Canucks tonight (7:30 PM, FSD/Sportsnet West/NHL Network U.S./97.1 FM—and take note that 3-6 inches of snow are expected in Southeastern Michigan this afternoon, so be careful if you’re headed to the game).
As noted on Wednesday night, the Canucks came into town insisting that they will make history tonight—as the tam that ends Detroit’s streak, and that the Canucks have gone so far as to suggest that they have been hoping that the Wings would continue to win so that the NHL’s “yippiest” team would earn the privilege of making their own exclamation point.
Now we’ll get into the talk in a minute, but I’d prefer to cut the bulls*** for a moment and get down to brass tacks here:
Does the streak matter to the Wings? Hell yes it does.
But the Boston Bruins did something equally impressive on Wednesday night in defeating the St. Louis Blues for the first time in regulation since December 3rd, allowing the Red Wings to boast a five-point lead over the Blues in the Central Division standings, with the Blues having 2 games in hand as of the conclusion of tonight’s Wings-Canucks tilt, and an 8-point lead over the Nashville Prdators, who defeated Vancouver 3-1 on Tuesday. Moreover, the Canucks sit all of two points behind Detroit despite having played one less game than the Western Conference-leading Wings, so tonight is very literally one of those “four-point” games…
And the Canucks’ loss to Nashville snapped both a 4-game winning streak and represented the first regulation loss for the Canucks in February (they’ve gone 7-1-and-2), so while one could—and the Canucks probably would—argue that tonight’s game means much more than allowing the Canucks to avenge their 4-3 shootout loss to the Wings way back on February 2nd, the final regular-season meeting between a pair of teams which may very well find themselves tangling come May, should good fortune hold out, this game is something that matters way, way more to the Wings than any streak-preserving, message-sending or history-making frame of reference can add to its significance.
It’s two God-damned points with 20 games to go after tonight, and it’s two points which the Wings plain old need to capture to keep up with the teams they’ll likely jostle for playoff position with for the remainder of the regular season, especially given Detroit’s tepid performance in their 2-1 loss to Chicago on Tuesday.
The Red Wings are in the business of winning as consistently as humanly possible in a tightly-packed Western Conference, ensuring that they win that damn Central Division and, as we round the 3/4ths pole, tonight’s game is about ensuring that Pavel Datsyuk’s absence as he recovers from the kind of “goop” cleaned out of his knee that could have really derailed the Wings two months from now does not translate into the Wings stumbling in the standings.
The rest of this stuff is fun to talk about and fun for journalists and pundits to write and talk about, but regardless of what happens tonight, the Wings and I are gonna have to shovel half a foot of snow out of our driveways, and for me, off of the cars in my shared condo parking lot on Friday morning, and the long march toward the playoffs will continue. The Wings just want to keep the Big Red Machine workings as efficiently as possible as they deal with some slightly slick terrain minus #13, and the rest of it?
To paraphrase Mike Myers, it’s not Scottish.
That being said, ESPN’s Scott Burnside, who writes things that are decidedly Scottish (not crap), and his colleagues at ESPN have deemed this their “Game of the Week,” and he spoke to the Canucks as they
left Nashville practically giddy:
Canucks Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler were sitting in their hotel rooms in Edmonton, watching the final period of the Sunday matinee between the Sharks and Red Wings. Detroit’s home-wins streak was on the line, one it would extend to a record 23 games with a 3-2 win. And despite competing with Detroit for the top spot in the Western Conference, Bieksa was rooting for the Red Wings. He didn’t want the Sharks to break the historic streak. He wants the Canucks to do it. He’ll get that chance Thursday night when Vancouver visits the Red Wings in Detroit.
“Weirdly or not, we were cheering for them,” Bieksa told ESPN The Magazine on Wednesday on the way to the Nashville airport to catch a flight to Detroit. “Any time you get a chance to play in an important game in February ... to have a game like this that not only is battling for the top of the NHL standings, but they’re trying to extend their streak, a part of history, and we’re trying to end it, it’s going to be a little bit more emotion added to an already emotional game.”
Vancouver has managed to quietly keep pace. As impressive as Detroit’s home record is, Vancouver’s road record is just as good—especially compared to Detroit’s mediocre road record of 15-16-1. The Canucks are the only team in the league with at least 20 wins on the road, which is particularly impressive considering the amount of travel they face each season. The game against the Red Wings is the third in a six-game trip that concludes in Phoenix on Feb. 28. Coyotes GM Don Maloney knows it won’t be easy, even when catching Vancouver at the end of a road bender.
“They’re quietly one of the top teams in the league,” Maloney told ESPN The Magazine. “All you have to do is peek at the standings. They’re playing with confidence, they have depth and they have a good mix. They’re a team to be reckoned with.”
There’s a “homecoming” angle in the mix as well as Ryan Kesler (Livonia) and David Booth (Shelby Township) are “heading home” for tonight’s game, with booth starting to make the kind of impression that Kesler usually does on the scoresheet and on opposing players’ bodies…
Since coming over in a early-season trade with the Panthers, Booth has provided the kind of power forward that was lacking on a team loaded with skill. February is shaping up to be his most productive month with the Canucks. He has three goals and three assists in 10 games, giving the Red Wings another player to think about when trying to shut down the Sedins and Kesler.
“[It will] reunite him and Kess on Michigan soil,” Bieksa said, joking. “He’s somebody we needed. A power forward in the truest sense. He takes pucks to the net, hard. He’s a big body, hard to move. He’s got a great shot. You need guys like that on the team.”
Booth gushed about playing at the Joe while speaking to NHL.com’s Kevin Woodley...
“The Joe is the only arena I have never played in my career,” Booth, who was 12 years old when he saw that Stanley Cup victory in person, told NHL.com. “I grew up watching the Wings with my family, even when I was in college, going to the games for the longest time. It was always special when we went down to The Joe and watched the Wings play. They have a great organization and it was great growing up with them.”
That it took until career game No. 344 for Booth to experience Joe Louis Arena from the other side of the glass is a function of scheduling and bad luck – during five-plus seasons in Florida, the Panthers only visited twice and both times he got hurt shortly before the games.
That this visit finally comes with a team modeled after the Red Wings feels a bit more like fate. The bad luck started in December 2007, when Booth hurt his knee just four days before a scheduled visit and was forced out of the lineup for eight games (he only missed nine all season). Then in October 2009, he was knocked out by the infamous Mike Richards blind-side hit less than a month before the Panthers played in Detroit.
Booth didn’t become a Canuck until nine days after their first visit to his hometown on Oct. 13, and was out with another knee injury when the Red Wings visited a few days before Christmas, before finally getting to play them in Vancouver on Feb. 2. It was just the third time he’d played the team he grew up cheering, and Booth’s excitement that day was tangible, but nothing compared to his thoughts of playing his first game in Detroit.
He went into the season with Florida’s visit to The Joe circled on his calendar, but even that date, April 1, seemed a cruel joke. Given his luck getting there it’s understandable that Booth was hesitant to talk for too long about his first visit before the Canucks left on their current six-game road trip. But he had no problem sharing his favorite memory.
“Front row for that Stanley Cup win,” Booth said with wide eyes and a huge smile.
And both Booth and Kesler spoke about the importance of winning tonight’s affair for more than just bragging rights while talking to NHL.com’s John Manasso:
“They’re in front of us by a couple points and obviously it’s a game for a No. 1 spot and we want to play well, play our game and not worry about anything else other than executing our game and we’ll be fine,” said Kesler, who expects to have about 40 family members and friends present.
Booth, a Michigan State product, said his family has had season tickets to Red Wings games for about 25 years. They sit right behind the glass.
“My family is my biggest fans and they’ve been able to support me through all those years,” Booth said. “Just to be able to play in the hometown … they’ve traveled to Vancouver, they’ve traveled to Florida. They’ve made the long road trips to Montreal to see me play. But just to go there and see where we grew up will make it special.”
This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the teams, with Detroit having won two of the first three games, including a 4-3 shootout win at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 2 in which Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo made 40 saves. Luongo, coming off a 25-save performance in a 3-1 loss at Nashville on Tuesday, will get the start. He is 1-0-1 against the Wings this season, including a 38-save effort in a 4-2 win Dec. 21. Entering the season, he had a 2.66 goals-against average against Detroit along with a .926 save percentage—but just a 9-10-5 record.
Often the back-up goalie will receive the start in the second night of a back-to-back situation on the road—hockey analyst Darren Eliot, a former NHL back-up goalie and Red Wing, calls it the “back-up goalie blues.” Not so with the Canucks.
“Yeah, I think you tend to see more of the strenuous travel on the road,” said Cory Schneider, who has played 14 of his 22 games this season on the road. “Three (games) in four (days), back-to-backs, things like that. It’s worked out really well. I’m pretty comfortable on the road. I’ve gotten accustomed to it because I don’t get as many home starts just because Lou’s so good at home. I think it helps that if we can go and we can be a little fresh, maybe the team will be a little fatigued, but if he and I are a little fresh maybe we can keep the team in the game until they get their legs, and usually, if we do that, we have a good chance to win.”
That’s what Canucks coach Alain Vingeault and the aforementioned Roberto Luongo believe, as they told the Vancouver Province’s Gordon McIntyre:
“That’s an amazing, amazing feat,” Alain Vigneault said. “I mean, to win 23 games in a row at home in such a competitive league is remarkable. We’re going to go in there, we’re going to have an opportunity to put our best game on the ice and see what happens.”
And you know what? Canucks players have been cheering for the Wings for a couple of weeks now, hoping they’d keep playing bad host right up to the moment the visitors from Vancouver ring the doorbell.
“We were hoping they’d still be undefeated by the time we got there, so it’s going to be fun,” Roberto Luongo said. “I was talking to the guys two or three weeks ago, hoping Detroit would hold on till we got there. That’s what’s fun about playing the game, challenges like this. As a group, we’re excited about it and we’re going to step up to the plate.”
The funny thing is, the Wings are sub-.500 on the road. Mike Babcock, in Vancouver recently, said it’s a head-scratcher because last season they were great on the road and so-so at home.
“It’s a confidence thing,” Henrik Sedin said. “They feel like they can’t lose at home, but on the road they’re more of a fragile team. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be a good road team, but they can’t find ways to win.”
Meanwhile, the Canucks have the most road wins in the NHL this season, so it’s a classic showdown.
“We wanted to go in there and challenge them for it,” Kevin Bieksa said. “It’s pretty impressive what they’ve done and it would be nice to put an end to it.”
In the warmest and fuzziest David Booth story of the morning, from the Vancouver Sun’s Iain MacIntyre, Booth’s dad and Booth himself speak at length about the Shelby Township native’s long path back to the Joe, and Booth of course feels that he’s going to make his NHL debut at Joe Louis Arena memorable for one very specific reason:
“Breaking a home record there for most wins, battling for first place in the league, it’s just going to be a great atmosphere,” he said. “I don’t think you can ask for a better time to play your first game there. Really, I think this is going to be more special than I can imagine.”
If you missed ‘em as I posted the multimedia from the Canucks’ website at 9 PM EST on Wednesday, here are Henrik Sedin…
And coach Alaign Vigneault discussing their team and tonight’s night’s match-up:
ESPN’s Barry Melrose previewed the game in Burnside’s article as well:
I would also be remiss to not mention that the Vancouver Province’s Jason Botchford pondered Mayon Raymond’s struggles, and both the Vancouver Province’s Gordon McIntyre and the Vancouver Sun’s Iain MacIntyre point out that the Canucks are a bit nervous about the fact that new-found power forward Byron Bitz’s sore hip flexor has the Canucks ever-so-slightly worried that the big winger might have some more serious issues plaguing him…
A free-agent acquisition in July, Bitz missed all of last season and nearly two years in total with chronic abdominal problems that required three sports hernia operations. The six-foot-five 27-year-old also had major surgery on his hip to repair a torn labrum and shave bone around the socket. So the Canucks were understandably concerned when hip soreness forced Bitz to leave the lineup after Saturday’s 6-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs — the 17th game of the winger’s comeback, which started in January with a minor-league assignment in Chicago.
Because he’s been tremendously effective:
The team needs to know before Monday’s trading deadline whether it’s likely or not that Bitz will be healthy for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. Vancouver needs the size, toughness and ability Bitz displayed in seven games with the Canucks. The team was 6-0-1 in those games and Bitz registered four points, a plus-two rating and 14 penalty minutes.
“In the games he played, he was a factor,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “Every game, whether it was the physicality, whether it was making the right plays at the right time, you were able to notice him. He makes our team bigger. And if he can stay healthy, obviously he will help our team. I think it’s normal for any individual who has been out for the number of times and length of time that he has been ... there is going to moments where it is a little bit stiffer and sorer than usual. Hopefully, that’s just what happened here. I think the next couple of days are going to tell us. If he can feel good tomorrow and practise or play, then it was just a minor, little blip that happens to any hockey player. If it happens to be more than that, we’ll have to evaluate it properly.”
The Canucks hope that Chris Higgins will be able to play tonight, too:
Winger Chris Higgins was the only Canuck who missed Wednesday’s practice after blocking a Predator shot with his thumb in the third period and requiring stitches to close a small cut. Higgins has twice missed stints this season due to infections and later sat out six games due to side effects from the powerful antibiotics he was taking. Yet, he declared he was fit to play tonight.
“There’s a couple of stitches there, but I’m fine,” Higgins said. “Nothing broken. We’re on top of it and we kind of knew this would be an issue. We’re taking care of it. Maybe before, the little cuts and little openings in the skin, I wasn’t as proactive as I could have been. I don’t think this will be a problem.”
We’ll slowly shift focus from the Canucks’ perspectives to those of the Red Wings via the Associated Press’s game preview…
The Red Wings have been nothing short of a juggernaut as host, winning a league-record 23 in a row and going 26-2-1 overall. Not only do the Canucks pose the biggest threat to that streak yet, leading the league with a 20-10-2 road record, but they’re very happy to get that opportunity.
“They’re on quite a bit of a roll,” goaltender Roberto Luongo said. “I think that’s what makes this game so exciting for our team. We’ve been hoping they would still be undefeated by the time we got there. Talking to the guys, even two to three weeks ago, I was hoping that they would hold on until we got there at least, so we can get a chance. That’s what’s fun about playing the game; challenges like that. I think as a group, we’re excited about it and we’re going to step up to the plate.”
Vancouver might be catching the Red Wings at an opportune time, as they’re missing Pavel Datsyuk - their leader with 43 assists and 59 points. The All-Star left wing had arthroscopic surgery Tuesday to remove fragments from his right knee and is expected to be sidelined for two weeks. Detroit didn’t fare well without Datsyuk on Tuesday, falling 2-1 at Chicago.
“Pav’s been out before and he’s a huge part of our team but we’re going to need guys to step up,” said Jimmy Howard, who had 27 saves against the Blackhawks in his return from a broken finger. “This is an opportunity for other guys now to play in a role maybe they’re not used to playing in, maybe getting some more ice time, and they’re going to find a way to get it done for us.”
Valtteri Filppula may be one of those players. The center’s 17 goals are third on the team and two shy of his career high set in 2007-08, but his goal Tuesday was just his second in 18 games. Johan Franzen, the team leader with 23 goals, has 12 goals and 10 assists during the home winning streak. However, the right wing has just one goal and one assist in 10 home meetings with the Canucks.
Henrik Sedin leads the Canucks with 64 points, while his twin brother Daniel Sedin is second with 61 and first on the club with 26 goals. Both were kept off the score sheet by the Predators after getting six points each in the previous two games.
The Sedins are looking to regain that scoring edge by continuing their success against the Red Wings. Henrik Sedin has 18 points in his last 12 games against them, while Daniel Sedin has 14 goals and 24 assists in 41 career matchups.
As well asNHL.com’s Brian Compton’s game preview:
Season Series: This is the fourth and final meeting between the clubs. The Wings have won two of the first three matchups, including a 4-3 shootout on Feb. 2 at Rogers Arena.
Canucks [team scope]: Vancouver was 9-0-3 in its last 12 games heading into Tuesday’s match at Nashville. While the Canucks played a solid road game, they came up short against Pekka Rinne and the Predators in a 3-1 loss at Bridgestone Arena. It was Vancouver’s first regulation loss since Jan. 15.
“I think anytime you lose it’s frustrating, and when you play so well like that it’s a little more frustrating,” said Dale Weise, who had the Canucks’ lone goal Tuesday. “(We’re) back at it Thursday and tomorrow’s another day and we’ll get right back to work. I thought we played well. We had enough chances to win. Their goalie stood on his head and when we win so many games in a row like we did, we’re bound to run into a game where you’re not going to get the bounces and not going to score. Full credit to their team.”
Red Wings: Detroit has been phenomenal at home, but it has been plagued by inconsistency on the road. Such was the case again Tuesday night, when the Red Wings suffered a 2-1 loss at Chicago. Jimmy Hayes scored the tying goal in the second period and set up Marcus Kruger’s winning score in the third for the Blackhawks, who dropped Detroit’s road record to 15-16-1.
Who’s Hot: The line of Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows came up empty Tuesday night, but it combined for 16 points last weekend in victories against Edmonton and Toronto. … Valtteri Filppula scored Detroit’s lone goal Tuesday night. He has points in four of his last five games.
Injury Report: Canucks winger Byron Bitz has missed back-to-back games due to a sore hip, while defenseman Keith Ballard is out with a neck injury. … Pavel Datsyuk is expected to miss a month after undergoing knee surgery, while Patrick Eaves is out due to post-concussion syndrome.
In terms of the Red Wings’ side of the story, the news that Todd Bertuzzi has in fact re-signed with the Wings overnight kinda stole the thunder from what was already a slim margin of material: the Wings didn’t practice on Wednesday, and the fact that I will be out of the office from about 2-5 today because I have to take care of someone with a bad back—my mom, who has a doctor’s appointment regarding her worsening back issues today—means that I can’t stay up till 6 or 7 AM to wait for the Canucks press’s game-day previews and lineups, so we’re going to politely lift the Canucks’ lineup from Nucks Misconduct’s Sean Zandberg (as a side note, “F*** You Detroit” seems to rhyme a little less well than using the same expletive with “the Canucks,” but whatever)...
Dank Sedin - Hank Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
David Booth - [Ryan Kesler] -Mason Raymond
Jannik Hansen - Maxim Lapierre -Chris Higgins
Manny Malhotra -Cody Hodgson - Dale Weise
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler - Sami Salo
Chris Tanev - Aaron Rome
And I will suggest that the Wings will instead continue with the usual no-Datsyuk lineup of…
And the wings will start Jimmy Howard opposite Luongo, with their only big lineup change involving Jakub Kindl and Mike Commodore sitting alongside each other on exercise bikes in the Wings’ locker room as Kyle Quincey, presumably wearing the #27 he was listed as owning in the Wings-Hawks game’s scratches, starts his second stint as a Wing alongside Jonathan Ericsson.
Kindl spoke to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness about essentially losing his job to the man who might be the Wings’ only trade deadline addition…
“I don’t know what they’re going to do about that,” Kindl said. “Quincey’s been a great defenseman for a while and I think he’s going to help us, too. I just have to stay ready,” Kindl added. “Injuries are a part of hockey, but I don’t wish anybody to get hurt, I just have to be ready. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Kindl has started the last eight games over Mike Commodore as Jonathan Ericsson’s partner on the blue line.
“I’ve been feeling very good lately,” Kindl said. “I’ve been playing more and more and obviously we’ve been winning and that helps, too. I think I’ve been playing my best hockey so far in my life. I just have to keep getting better and better and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Wings coach Mike Babcock said Quincey will help the team in all areas and he’ll be paired with Ericsson and play on the second power play unit.
“Should help on the penalty kill, should help at even strength and on the power play, he’s a good player, we’re thrilled to have him back,” Babcock said. “We think the deeper you are in the back and the better you move the puck the better chance you have to be successful. We’ll see what happens,” Babcock added. “No such thing as too much D at playoff time.”
And both Kindl and Babcock spoke to MLive’s Ansar Khan about Quincey’s addition.
It helps that Khan worked the locker room after the Wings’ loss to Chicago to gauge Quincey’s other teammates’ takes on what he brings to the mix:
Asked recently what he needed to see from Kindl, Babcock said, “A willingness to take a hit and a willingness to be involved and go back and get the puck. His skill level was never an issue,’’ Babcock said. “He’s got to compete on a nightly basis and compete hard defensively. If you do that, you can play.’‘
We’ve kind of heard that before, and I will admit that, despite the high likelihood that the Wings would prefer to see Brendan Smith play one more full season in the AHL, Kindl’s future with the Wings looks a little tenuous after this spring’s playoff run (no, Ken Holland will not trade Kindl or Stuart—the Wings need all the defensive depth they can handle come April):
“Playing with him for a lot of years in Grand Rapids, we became good friends,’’ [Jimmy] Howard said. “I was texting him on the way (to the arena Tuesday), saying it’ll be good to see him. From what I gathered, he was very excited.’‘
“I think it’s going to help us, just adding depth and adding a guy who’s been here before,’’ Nicklas Lidstrom said. “He knows most of the players, knows the system. And I think he’s developed into a fine defenseman.’‘
Said Howard: “He’s a battler, he’s in front of the net, he’s a hard worker, he likes to bang and throw his body around, block shots.’‘
Detroit now is eight-deep on defense. Babcock said he will use Quincey on the second power-play unit
“We think the deeper you are in the back and the better you move the puck the better chance you have to be successful,’’ Babcock said.
And we’ll close things out with a little stating of the obvious, from the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa, who notes that while Jimmy Howard showed no rust whatsoever despite holding his stick with an index finger that’s packed to stand straight (thus limiting his grip strength) in his return, the Wings are very obviously hampered offensively sans their leading scorer:
In a word: shock. A guy walks around the dressing room one day, and the next he is in a news release that includes the words “bone fragment” and “surgery.” But that is hockey.
The impact of losing Datsyuk for two or three weeks, or perhaps six-to-nine games, was immediately evident Tuesday against the Blackhawks. With Chicago ahead for much of the third period, Detroit’s anyway, anytime, anywhere man — i.e., capable of scoring anyway, anytime, from anywhere — was not on the ice. They missed the wizard, on whom they rely for lightning strikes of skill and genius.
Johan Franzen has 10 game-winning goals. Datsyuk assisted on four of them and has five of his own. That accounts for 15 of the Wings’ 34 winners. Suddenly, that is a lot of slack.
At a minimum, the remaining games he is likely to miss are against the Canucks, Avalanche, Blue Jackets, Wild and Blackhawks. On paper, without Datsyuk Detroit should beat Colorado, Columbus and Minnesota. But winning those, and more, likely requires someone stepping into the breech with timely scoring.
The best news is that, without Datsyuk, the Wings started two points ahead of the Canucks, three ahead of the Rangers and five ahead of the Blues, where they remain despite losing to the Blackhawks.
Especially if others help score a few important ones, Datsyuk will return with the Wings in the thick of the battle for home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, with 13 to 16 games remaining. As usual, Datsyuk’s timing is pretty good.
In the interim, and especially against Vancouver tonight, the Wings will have to match playoff intensity with “more” from Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler, Danny Cleary, the aforementioned Bertuzzi and Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, some offense from their back end, and, frankly…
More than being able to say that, yet again, the Miller-Helm-Abdelkader line was the Wings’ most consistent, grittiest and most offensively effective one. Over the past three or four games, because Grind Line: The Next Generation has done a helluva job of denting the scoresheet, and against the Sedins, a motivated Kesler and Booth and the rest of the Canucks’ hopeful streak-breakers, the Wings need even more from their second-most consistent line of late in Mursak-Emmerton-Holmstrom, and that tells you pretty much all you need to know about the effects of Datsyuk’s absence on the top two lines.
Part II: In the AHL, Ty Conklin did exactly what the Grand Rapids Griffins needed him to: he won. Conklin stopped 22 of the 24 shots he faced, and the Griffins fired 45 at the Hamilton Bulldogs en route to a 4-2 victory.
In a rare spate of enemy press, the Hamilton Spectator’s Jeff Green provides the Bulldogs’ side of the story…
A flat start would be an understatement for the Bulldogs, who only managed to post a single shot in the entire first period, and were completely manhandled by the hometown Griffins.
“We had a no-show in the first,” said Hamilton coach Clem Jodoin. In his opinion, it was a game he would forget in a hurry. I have to,” Jodoin said, “I have to start over.”
Halfway through the game, the Dogs were down 3-0 and were being outshot 25-4 against one of the three teams the Dogs are ahead of in the Western Conference standings. But a pair of goals by Joonas Nattinen and Blake Geoffrion to close out the second period brought the lost Dogs back into the game.
Hamilton couldn’t complete the comeback and the Griffins added an empty-netter to seal the win.
And the Griffins’ website’s recap and game narrative:
Having played just 11 games this season – all on the road as a Detroit Red Wing – Conklin appropriately saw little action during the opening period of his Griffins debut. Grand Rapids out-shot Hamilton by a 15-1 margin and did not allow a puck to make it through to its new netminder until just 2:04 remained before intermission. Meanwhile, Grand Rapids made the most of its opportunities on the other end to take a 2-0 lead into the locker room. During a power play at 11:04, [Gustav] Nyquist took a pass from Brendan Smith near the bottom of the right circle and made a deft move in-close on Robert Mayer before shoving the puck home for his 17th goal of the season.
Nyquist then helped the home team extend its lead in the final minute of the period, only moments after a Hamilton power play expired. He led a rush into the Bulldogs’ zone and skated to top of the right circle before slipping a pass into the slot to a charging Chris Conner, who redirected the feed past Mayer with 24 seconds left.
Smith pushed the Griffins’ advantage to 3-0 with another power play goal at 8:10 of the second, scoring on a wrister from the high slot off an assist from Nyquist. But Hamilton (24-24-1-4) finally got on the board at the 16:20 mark, as reigning AHL Player of the Week Joonas Nattinen set up at the right hashmarks, took a pass from the end boards and slapped the puck inside the far post.
A pair of Griffins penalties late in the period gave the Bulldogs a 5-on-3 advantage and a faceoff in Grand Rapids’ zone with only nine seconds left, which was all they needed to pull within one. Conklin got a piece of a Garrett Stafford one-timer from the left circle, but when the puck trickled behind him, Blake Geoffrion was waiting to put it into an empty net with 0.7 seconds showing on the clock.
Grand Rapids killed off the remainder of the power play to start the third, and Conklin turned aside the nine shots he faced in the frame before Tomas Tatar scored into an empty net from the neutral zone at 19:37 to seal matters.
Conklin, who hadn’t faced live fire since Feb. 4 or played a full game since Jan. 17, made his first AHL appearance since Dec. 1, 2007, when he stopped 32 shots for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in a 2-1 shootout win at Hershey. Mayer, meanwhile, put in a valiant effort for Hamilton, keeping the Bulldogs in the game with 41 saves while his team was out-gunned 45-24 on the night.
The Griffins’ website also posted a Flickr photo gallery and YouTube-formatted post-game interviews with Gustav Nyquist and Griffins coach Curt Fraser; the Grand Rapids Press posted an 11-image gallery and a recap via Peter J. Wallner, who talked to Conklin about his first start in almost a month…
“Personally, I felt okay, a little sloppier than I’d like.” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be a little sharper after some more game action.”
Conklin appeared to hurt his left knee on a save in the third period, and he favored it slightly when he tried to clear a puck. But he shrugged it off as “just a little knee tweak, nothing big.”
He received a strong defensive effort. Hamilton didn’t get a shot on goal until two minutes were left in the first period. He fended off 14 in the second and nine in the third.
“It would have been nice to get a couple more shots,” he said, “but when you outshoot a team 15-1 and you’re up 2-0 after the first period … that’s the goal of the game, playing in the other team’s end, so it’s a good sign.”
As well as Nyquist…
Near mid-point in the second period, he assisted on Brendan Smith’s goal. The three-point night moved Nyquist into third place for most points by a Griffins rookie. With 17 goals and 33 assists, he’s two points behind Justin Abdelkader’s 2008-09 mark for second. Glen Metropolit had 55 points in 1997-98. He also has a point in seven consecutive games, tied for the longest team streak this season.
“I’m really happy with Brunno [Fabian Brunnstrom] and Andy [Joakim Andersson], and I think we have good chemistry,” Nyquist said of playing with teammate Fabian Brunnstrom and Joakim Andersson. “It’s just fun playing hockey and I’m enjoying my time here.”
And Griffins coach Curt Fraser:
“We had a quality goaltender in goal tonight,” said coach Curt Fraser. “Didn’t matter whether we got Joey (MacDonlad) or Ty, either one of these guys stabilizes everything in between the pipes. Now all of a sudden our defense looks better, our forwards look better.”
The Griffins are still 8 points out of a playoff spot, so they’ll need much more from Conklin if they are to be doing more than sending a handful of “Black Aces” to Detroit two months from now.
Part III: On Kyle Quincey and other trade cra…I mean talk: The Free Press’s Jamie Samuelssen offers a postive take on the Wings’ decision to surrender a 1st round pick in what is admittedly a somewhat spotty draft to over-build on the blueline and ensure that, should Brad Stuart leave this summer, the Wings already have a #3/4 defenseman in the ever-elusive Bob Rouse/Swiss Army Knife mold:
The Quincey trade satisfies many factors on the checklist when assessing a good trade.
Does he make the team better this year? Check.
Did the trade upset the roster right now? Nope, no regulars were traded. Check.
Does it make sense for the future? Yes, it’s insurance against not only Stuart but also against the annual question about Nicklas Lidstrom’s impeding retirement. Check.
Does it give the Wings a better chance to win the Stanley Cup?
Only time will answer that last question, but it clearly makes the team better. The Wings have been so good for so long that we sometimes forget just how hard it is to win a title. Whether you have zero banners hanging in your arena or you have 11 like Detroit does, you absolutely have to go for it all when you have the chance. Picking up Quincey certainly doesn’t have the same impact as targeting a player the caliber of Rick Nash, but by trading a first round pick, you are sacrificing some of the future for the present. And I have no problem with that whatsoever.
Who’s to say where this team will be when Lidstrom retires or when Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen begin to decline. (With Holland at the helm, the odds are that they’ll still be pretty good.) But the point is that the Wings are an elite team with elite players in their prime. You go for it when you have that mix. You always, always go for it.
The Wings are better with Quincey. Their blue line is deeper. As amazing as the home winning streak has been, the Wings remain just two points ahead of Vancouver for the top spot in the West. So Holland wasn’t going to stand pat. And he may not be done yet. But this is certainly a solid start.
• As you probably know by now, Tuomo Ruutu signed for what I will politely describe as “silly money” with the Carolina Hurricanes, earning nearly #5 million per season on a 4-year extension.
That kind of, “You know what, I really like my player and I’m gonna sign him instead of trading him for a bounty!” thinking by Jim Rutherford will probably, and I must emphasize probably, get the ball rolling in the forward trading department—along with the Coyotes’ acquisition of Antoine Vermette, anyway—but despite ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun’s delight in suggesting that the Red Wings are among a number of teams which could benefit from Paul Gaustad’s services, my gut instinct suggests that the Sabres would want more for a 6’5,” 30-year-old checking center, yeidling a, “Let’s hope for Travis Moen for a mid-round pick!” mentality for me.
The Wings simply aren’t in the market for Rick Nash or Jeff Carter when they could snag a free agent for the price of his contract come July, regardless of what the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch suggests the Sharks or Kings might do to bolster their forward lines, but I will add one “dark horse” candidate to the mix via Garrioch:
Caps RW Mike Knuble will have one eye on trade coverage until the deadline. GM George McPhee hasn’t decided whether he’s a buyer or seller, but Knuble is coveted by teams looking for veteran help such as the Rangers, Bruins, Wings and Hawks. “There’s been a lot of trade talk,” said Knuble, 3-9-12 points in 56 games. “I haven’t had a good season and I know it looks terrible on paper. We’ll see what happens. I guess I’ll be watching the next little bit, more on Monday.”
Knuble is indeed 39 and slowing down, but he’s 6’3” and nearly 230 pounds, he’s more than affordable capwise at $2 million in salary, and as the Sports Forecaster’s profile suggests, he might be useful in a limited role:
ASSETS: Does his best work in front of the opposing goal and along the boards. Is very capable on special teams and as a checker, is extremely durable and can score in bunches.
FLAWS: Has to work extra hard for his goals, since he lacks top-end speed. Despite his huge frame, he doesn’t play with nasty intentions. Is starting to show his age.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Big, savvy complementary winger on the decline.
As for that Ales Hemsky character? The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson wrote three columns suggesting that the Red Wings might still be interested in a player who the Oilers probably want a 1st round pick, top prospect and roster player in exchange for, and Matheson went so far as to get Jaromir Jagr’s endorsement of Hemsky, but the third version of his column, which Paul posted, scares me: Hemsky wants a four or five-year contract, and probably at a Ruutu-like $5 million per season.
The Wings can do way better in the summer for a similar or lesser amount of money while surrendering absolutely no assets in return.
I should also note that ESPN’s “Insider” trade blog suggested that the Wings might be interested in Steve Ott, but again, there’s no way that the Wings would surrender assets to acquire him, and despite TSN’s Darren Dreger’s suggestion that he’s on the market…Why the hell would the Stars trade him?
Part IV: Also of Red Wings-related note: If you missed it, Wings’ website posted Ken Holland’s radio interview with NHL Live, held on Wednesday evening, in video form. Holland spoke to EJ Hradek while en route to Grand Rapids to take in Wednesday’s Griffins game, and he talked about the Quincey trade, Todd Bertuzzi’s contract extension and Pavel Datsyuk’s knee surgery.
According to Holland, Datsyuk’s knee was locking up on Sunday, so trainer Piet Van Zant chose to get Datsyuk an MRI. There was apparently a “fray” in a knee ligament which needed to be “cleaned up,” and the Wings believe that he’s 10 days from skating and perhaps a few days after that:
• Also in the multimedia department, but in the “new stuff” category, Joey MacDonald spoke to WBBL’s Huge Show on Wednesday evening, and he said that “being ready” to play every night is the hardest part of being an NHL’er. He also reveals that Ty Conklin flew him to Grand Rapids to pick up his truck recently. Conkin is indeed a registered private pilot:
• We’ll stick with “media” for a moment because I thought this quip from the Globe and Mail’s Bruce Dowbiggin is just plain cool:
Good to see our old CBC Toronto colleague Ken Daniels toughing it out with a cold on NBC’s Hockey Day In America on Sunday. We’re biased, of course, but never could understand how CBC let him go to the Detroit Red Wings TV network. He’d be a strong No. 2 in the current Hockey Night In Canada roster. Listening to Daniels and sidekick Mickey Redmond is a treat.
• From the Freep, part 1: Steve Schrader notes that ESPN’s Craig Custance says that it’s OK for MSU alums to enjoy going to Michigan Stadium to enjoy the Winter Classic.
I don’t know if it matters, but I went to the Cold War—the event that started this whole thing—back in 2001, and I had a great time at Spartan Stadium. MSU fans were very cool to this University of Michigan alum;
• From the Freep, part 2: yes, SI’s limited player poll named Pavel Datsyuk the NHL’s nicest player;
• From the Freep, part 3: It sucks if the Forbes.com report that all Gannett newspapers not named USA Today will employ paywalls by the end of this year, because the Free Press was named one of the top 20 sports sections in the country;
• From the Freep, part multimedia: one photo from each and every one of the Wings’ 23 home wins? Sure;
• Shifting focus while sticking with lists, via Puck Daddy, Dmitry Chesnokov posted “Scotty Bowman’s Five Golden Principals” of coaching after they were pirated from a Russian version of his book on the KHL’s website:
Bowman’s 5 Golden Principles
Here are the 5 Golden Principles from Scotty Bowman’s coaching manual titled “The Art of Coaching the Team During the Game:”
1. Surround yourself with the best personnel! Running the team is a team effort.
2. Be creative! Only when you try to create a goal you can achieve that goal.
3. Create the core of your team made up of strong leaders! Without 5-6 players on your team, who you can always rely on, you cannot accomplish any initiative.
4. Grasp conflicts and be ready to be confrontational! Resolved conflicts pulls everyone together more.
5. Be critical but to not criticize! To get out of setbacks you need strength not to sink deeper.
• And this is the reason that the Moen for Xavier Ouellet rumor made me say, “F*** NO, HA HA HA YOU WISH” or something to that effect: Hockey’s Future’s Kevin Forbes believes that Ouellet is the 3rd-best defenseman in the QMJHL:
3. Xavier Ouellet, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
NHL Rights: Detroit Red Wings
Drafted 48th overall (2nd round) in 2011
The change from one season to another has been quite an adjustment for Xavier Ouellet. Not only did his team, formerly the Montreal Junior, move to become the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, but the team itself said goodbye to a large amount of veteran talent. By necessity, Ouellet was handed the top defensive duties and has responded in admirable fashion.
Despite icing a much younger and very different line-up, the Armada are leading their division and Ouellet’s impact, both on the blue line and as team captain, has a lot to do with that success. He’s blown past previous career totals to currently have 49 points in 54 games, placing him third among QMJHL defensemen. His 17 goals are the second most by a blueliner in the league and seven of those goals have come on the man advantage.
Ouellet is contributing in all situations for the Armada and sees plenty of ice time every game which is good news for his development as a prospect. Still only 18, he’s already one of the QMJHL’s top defensemen and should be heavily considered for a role with Team Canada at the World Juniors next winter.
He’s the Wings’ best defensive prospect in terms of offensive talent that isn’t named Brendan Smith.
• If you are unfamiliar with the fact that the City of Detroit may need an emergency financial manager to stave off bankruptcy, that Wayne County is under investigation for some serious-ass corruption issues, that the State of Michigan is cash-strapped as well…
Babcock said Tuesday that a new arena, as part of a commercial development at the foot of the Cass Corridor, would be a boon for the city.
Other than some folks approached recently to sell their land there, no one had mentioned a mall, publicly.
But before you contemplate hitting Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret and Macy’s while catching the Wings in action, figure on at least a few more years before the economy is close to favorable for financing such a proposition.
And that is only the start of the heavy-lifting.
• And finally, I may have to leave the “office” for a few hours, maybe for as long as from 2-5 PM today, as my mom’s scheduled to see an orthopedist today, and her back’s been getting worse, so it’s essential that, barring worries over the half-a-foot of snow that we’re about to get, mom gets to see her doctor. I’m sorry about the absence but family comes first…
And Saturday I will definitely be gone for the Wings-Avs game-day updates as one of my pals is getting married. That’s pretty darn important, too.
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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.