The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/02/12 at 07:15 AM ET
Updated 3x at 6:48 AM: When the NHL’s supposedly least-hated team, the Detroit Red Wings, face off against the Vancouver Canucks tonight (10 PM EST, FSD/Sportsnet Pacific/WXYT), there’s obviously little doubt that the Canucks remember this hit from the teams’ last meeting, a 4-2 Canucks victory on December 19th…
And given that Ryan Kesler attempted to fight Niklas Kronwall take out Henrik Zetterberg’s knee after Kronwall leveled him, and Kevin Bieksa suggested that someone needs to jump Kronwall and “beat him up” to teach him a lesson in terms of standing up for himself after predatory hits, there is no doubt whatsoever that, despite the Canucks’ rather meager protestations to the contrary, Vancouver will take a page out of the St. Louis Blues’ book, and are all but assured to both find a way to target #55 and physically “punish” the Wings’ players in the same manner that the Blues attempted to do a week-and-a-half ago.
Such an analysis of tonight’s match-up (and we’ll get to the Kronwall part, trust me) fails to acknowledge, however, is that both the Red Wings and Canucks sit in first and second place in the Western Conference standings, respectively, with the Canucks’ 3-point deficit matching that of the Wings’ nearest Central Division opponent, the Nashville Predators, for a reason:
The the Canucks, who beat the team tied with St. Louis at all of four points behind Detroit—via a 3-2 overtime victory over the Blackhawks—while the Wings were tangling with Calgary on Tuesday night, are the one team that hasn’t faded from the rearview mirror as the Predators make their traditional February push to swipe the Central away from the Wings and Hawks (and now the Blues). The Canucks are coming into a game on a 3-game winning streak, and they boast a 8-2-and-2 January record, which is just behind Detroit’s 10-and-3 record, and is on par with the near-unbeatable Blues, Predators and Blackhawks’ marks.
In other words, the Canucks have rebounded from any early-season wobbles and have reestablished themselves as a team that has every chance to challenge the Central giants and the Sharks for Western supremacy both during the regular season and in the playoffs, and, and perhaps moreover…
The Canucks, who will start Roberto Luongo opposite Jimmy Howard tonight, were more interested in this aspect of their win over the Wings while talking to their press corps about tonight’s game during Wednesday’s off-day discussions with the media:
After nine days between games, Roberto Luongo will return to the Vancouver Canuck nets Thursday night when his team faces the first overall Detroit Red Wings at Rogers Arena (7 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040). Luongo was in a ball cap Tuesday when backup Cory Schneider turned in a sublime 37-save performance against the Chicago Blackhawks. Prior to that, the Canucks were off for five days during their all-star break. Luongo beat the Wings 4-2 on Dec. 21, stopping 38 of 40 shots.
“They have world-class players,” Luongo said, describing the Red Wings lineup. “They’re very well-coached, they know what it takes to win and they’re very disciplined. If we want to have a chance to win, we have to play our game plan to a ‘T’ and not give those guys any free passes.”
This will be the third of four meetings between the teams. Detroit prevailed at home, 2-0, on Oct. 13.
“It’s two of the best teams in the league going at it,” Luongo continued, “There is always a lot on intensity and a playoff atmosphere. Those are fun games to be playing in and I don’t expect anything different. We’ve always had good games against them and exciting to be a part of. I expect more of the same tomorrow.”
But after the Canucks talked about their dissatisfaction with the ways in which they’ve been winning of late—especially given their schutzenfest with Chicago—while speaking to the Vancouver Sun’s Pap...
“Obviously if you’re giving up 35-plus shots, and those kind of quality opportunities to the opposition, you’re probably not going to be on the winning end too much,” [Chris] Higgins agreed. “It’s a long season, 82 games, and sometimes you’re in stretches where the team play dips a little bit. I think that’s a hard thing for fans and reporters to understand. I think when you play a couple of seasons in the league, you realize every team, no matter how good or how bad, goes through those periods.”
Goalies Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider and rookie centre Cody Hodgson were Canuck stalwarts in January but not many others in the lineup were able to make the same claim. Obviously they hope February, a month fraught with 10 road games and one stretch of five games in seven nights in four different time zones, produces more consistency of performance.
Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault bristled when it was suggested his players were lacking structure, leading to numerous odd-man rushes and defensive breakdowns in certain January outings. In Tuesday’s middle period against Chicago, the Canucks were out-shot 15-6.
“In such a competitive league, where the quality of the teams is so good, to expect any team to dominate a full 60 minutes is ludicrous,” Vigneault said. “I mean, we played a great team [Tuesday]. They have some highly skilled players. We had a really good first period and, in the second, they had a push. Yeah, we might have made some mistakes with the puck,” the coach added. “We didn’t play high percentage in certain situations where we normally do. Chicago is a good team and they can push and capitalize on that. In analyzing the month of January, I think in some instances we were really good and, in some instances, you have to give credit to the other team because there are some good teams in this league.”
None is better than Detroit right now. The Wings sit atop the league’s toughest division and, with a record of 34-16-1, are three points clear of the Canucks, who hold one game in hand. Vigneault would like his players to show the net presence Detroit exhibits on a regular basis with the likes of Tomas Holmstrom, Dan Cleary and even Todd Bertuzzi.
“I feel Detroit is the best team in the league as far as net presence and always having somebody there, somebody square to the puck making life really hard on the other team’s goaltender,” Vigneault explained. “It’s one area where we can improve.”
And the Vancouver Province’s Tony Gallagher asked the Canucks and Wings’ players alike to weigh in as to whether the Canucks—whose 31-15-and-4 record isn’t far behind Detroit’s 34-16-and-1 record—have been able to “sleepwalk” through more games playing in the Northwest instead of the Central division…
“[Their] big guys like (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Henrik) Zetterberg, (Johan) Franzen and even Brad Stuart, those guys set the tone and go every night,” observes Vancouver backup goalie Cory Schneider, who watches a lot of hockey both from the bench and around the league. “I’d agree, they don’t take nights off.”
“We’ve had a few more bad ones this year than we did last,” admitted Daniel Sedin. “Last year I would say we were better but now is the time when nobody can afford one. We’ve got to be better than we have been playing lately, but I think it’s going to come.”
Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome sat together and discussed the issue and while admitting to some savage nights off, also pointed out the record in shootouts which hasn’t seen as good as Detroit. But maybe Wings coach Mike Babcock put it best when he described his own approach to a season and by extension that of his players.
“For me the challenge is winning and not so much after you’ve won for one year or one Cup it’s how many can you win, how long can you keep it going,” he said. “This year I hired two new coaches and they’ve given me a whole new way of looking at things and done that for some of our players and it’s definitely helped. In this business if you’re doing what you did last year you’re not going to win. You’re always trying something new trying to get better. Last year for us wasn’t good enough so we’re trying to get better.”
“In the division we’re in, it’s a tough game every night, tough games to play but it’s been good for us and it’s going to be good for us in the playoffs,” says Stuart. “We never get an easy game. Teams are ready for us and we know that. It helps us get ready.”
“This might be the toughest division in history. I would say it is but from Nick Lidstrom on down this organization is all about winning,” says Todd Bertuzzi. “In our division, with everyone winning every night, we can’t afford nights off. It’s just that simple.”
Luongo and Vigneault reiterated their very specific point of emphasis to the Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma:
[T]here’s nothing funny about facing the top-ranked Detroit Red Wings. The league’s best puck-possession team also goes to the net with purpose and can make it a rough night for any stopper. Coach Mike Babcock can also ice eight players who have hit double digits in goals.
“It’s a mix of both,” said Luongo. “Babs is a big believer in shooting pucks on net — whether it’s a good or bad angle and create rebounds and scrambles. When you add the fact that they’re got five or six guys who can do the unexpected, it’s pretty dangerous. As a team we’ve got to be sharp. They’ve got a lot of weapons.”
The Canucks topped the Wings 4-2 in a Dec. 21 meeting at Rogers Arena but hitting that goal total again might be tough because Detroit doesn’t waste opportunities when in possession.
“To get the puck away is a real challenge,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “They like to hang on and when you have good gap or back pressure, they’ll make the high percentage play and put in back and then put it in an area they can battle for it.”
Therein lies the rub, as Kuzma suggested in his main game preview:
“I’d like to take a page out of Detroit’s book,” said Vigneault. “I feel they’re the best team in the league as far as net presence and always having somebody there — somebody 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 who like to do that and go in those tough areas. They’re one of the most physical teams in the league.”
It’s not that Vigneault needed a long-term refresher course on the Wings. Their game is well-documented and it’s the dedication to the diligence that few teams can match over the course of a long season. And as much as Kesler took issue with the Kronwall hit and challenged the defenceman to a fight in the last tussle, the Livonia, Mich. native always circles games against the Wings.
“It’s not just that I’m from there,” said Kesler. “They’re such a good team that you want to prove yourself against those guys and it makes it extra special and some bragging rights for the summer. I still get a charge out of it. It’s always fun playing them because we kind of play the same way. But we’re going to have to play them hard and fast because it’s going to be a puck-possession game and we’ve just got to be smart about it.”
Despite a 7-2-2 record in January, the shot the Canucks are absorbing is that there were too many gaps in their game and disturbing losses to Florida and Anaheim. They have slipped to seventh in goals allowed and constantly turned over pucks Tuesday in a 3-2 overtime win over Chicago. Doing the same Thursday against the Wings will be costly.
“They like to hold on to the puck and they’ll bring it back once or twice and then give it to the forwards,” added [Henrik Sedin]. “You’ve got to be tight and you can’t lose patience otherwise they’re going to beat you. And they’re going to play you hard or beat you with skill and those are fun games to be a part of.”
So do the Canucks need to “make a statement” tonight?
“We’re past the point of statement games,” said Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo who gets the call against the Wings. “We know what we’re capable of. But it is a huge game. There’s always a playoff atmosphere and I don’t expect anything different. They have world-class players, they know what it takes to win and they’re very disciplined. If we want to have a chance we can’t give those guys any free passes.”
In other words, yes.
NHL.com’s Brian Hedger allows us to shift gears from the Canucks’ to the Wings’ perspectives via his game preview...
Season Series: This will be the third of four meetings between Detroit and Vancouver, with the season series split at one win apiece. Both teams held serve on their home ice, with the Red Wings winning 2-0 on Oct. 13 at Joe Louis Arena and the Canucks striking back with a 4-2 decision on Dec. 21 at Rogers Arena.
Big Story: It’s a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference standings and possible preview of one enticing potential playoff series. Thanks to the San Jose Sharks ousting the Red Wings in each of the past two postseasons and the Chicago Blackhawks taking care of the Canucks in both 2009 and 2010, hockey fans haven’t gotten a chance to see what a playoff series between these two highly-skilled squads would turn out like. Odds are it would be fast-paced, hard-hitting, exciting hockey from one end of the ice to the other for seven games.
That’s how this one will likely be, even though Detroit is still working its way through a season-long slog during road games. The Wings won 3-1 on Tuesday night in Calgary despite a sluggish start and that makes them just 14-14-0 away from Joe Louis. However, they’re trending up in road games, with a 6-4-0 record in their last 10 on enemy ice.
Canucks [team scope]: Any time Vancouver gets a victory against the hated Chicago Blackhawks, it’s a thrill—especially when the Canucks pull it off in overtime of a well-played game. That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena, when Daniel Sedin’s redirect of a perfectly-placed pass by his brother Henrik ended a nail-biter for both teams with a 3-2 Vancouver win. The goal also moved Daniel into sole possession of the top spot all-time in team history for overtime goals scored (10). Cory Schneider, who’d been torched by the Hawks in an earlier game at Rogers Arena, got an unexpected start and played brilliantly for the win—making 37saves, including several highlight-worthy stops to thwart prime Chicago scoring opportunities. Cody Hodgson remained red hot with a goal to give him 14 on the season and four in the last five games.
Who’s Hot: Hudler has scored three goals in Detroit’s past two games, including his second game-winner of the season on Tuesday night in Calgary; Daniel Sedin has 4 goals and 1 assist in the past five games for the Canucks, while Vancouver’s David Booth had scored in three straight games prior to Tuesday’s victory against Chicago.
Stat Pack: Detroit is 68-3-4 the last 75 times it has scored four or more goals in a game, while the goal for Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi will be the 300th of his career; Vancouver has outscored opponents 54-30 in the first period and holds a League-best 27-6-1 record when scoring the first goal.
Puck Drop: Howard has racked up 31 wins and is on pace to prevail in 49 this season, which would break Martin Brodeur’s NHL record of 48.
As Hedger notes, the Canucks are healthy, and while Danny Cleary missed Wednesday’s practice due to what Wings coach Mike Babcock called a “swollen leg,” and Babcock kept Jimmy Howard and Pavel Datsyuk off the ice as a mandatory rest day given their participation in the All-Star game, the Wings expect every hand but Patrick Eaves to be on deck tonight, and Tomas Holmstrom’s knees should be good to go after receiving injections of a substance which replicates the gunk which lubricates our joints.
The AP’s game preview also offers a few tidbits of note...
Seeking a fourth road win in five games, the Red Wings square off against the Canucks in a matchup between two of the Western Conference’s top teams. In the midst of a 17-game winning streak on its own ice, Detroit (34-16-1) has picked up the pace as the visiting team. After a lackluster start in opposing arenas, the Red Wings have taken three of four on the road to improve to 14-14-0.
Keeping things going, however, likely won’t be easy. Sitting atop the West, Detroit is three points ahead of second-place Vancouver (31-15-4), which holds a big lead in the Northwest Division.
While the Canucks took the last meeting 4-2 on Dec. 21, they know they’ll surely have their hands full in this one.
Vancouver carries plenty of momentum into Thursday’s showdown after defeating Chicago 3-2 in overtime Tuesday for its third win a row. Cody Hodgson scored his third goal in as many games before Daniel Sedin tallied his team-leading 22nd in OT.
While Schneider turned away 37 shots in improving to 9-1-0 over his last 10 games, Luongo is likely to be back in goal. Luongo is 2-0-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average in his last three games versus the Red Wings.
After surrendering four goals on 12 shots before getting pulled versus the Canadiens, Jimmy Howard bounced back to make 28 saves Tuesday in posting his NHL-best 31st win. Howard has gone 2-3-0 with a 3.51 GAA in five career starts at Vancouver. He made 25 saves in a 2-0 win over the Canucks at home Oct. 13.
And it’s DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose of all people who most strongly hints that coach Vigneault’s plan might involve pushing, shoving, snowing, crashing into and otherwise annoying the pugnaciously-inclined Jimmy Howard:
“I’d like to take sort of a page out of Detroit’s book tomorrow,” Vigneault said Wednesday. “I feel they’re the best team in the league as far as net-presence, always having somebody always there, somebody square the puck, making life real hard on the other team’s goaltender.”
The Wings do cause considerable problems for opposing goaltenders by manning the front of the crease with big bodies like Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi and Danny Cleary. And the Wings will have Holmstrom back in the lineup against the Canucks. The veteran power forward missed Tuesday’s 3-1 win at Calgary with some inflammation in his knees.
Typicall the Wings are able to create a lot of success with their net-front presence on the power play with their big men parked in front of the crease. Unfortunately, the power play has been reeling on the road since mid-December when they have gone on a 1-for-33 stretch going back to their first western Canada trip. Regardless, Vigneault believes the Wings’ net-front is a recipe that he would like his Canucks to duplicate.
“That’s an area where we can improve on,” he said. “We need to screen the goal more. We’re tipping pucks and letting the goalies see the pucks most of the time, it’s a pretty easy save for the goaltender. Detroit are so good at that and they have so many big bodies that like to do that and go to that tough area. So hopefully we’ll take a page out of their book tomorrow night because their goaltender’s been playing real well this year.”
Vigneault also suggested that the Wings will be meeting a team that has to actually match Detroit’s physicality…
“Whether you call physical taking the man when the opportunity is there or protecting the puck,” he said. “Look at the size of some of those forwards when they have the puck down low or you’re battling along the wall or in a confined area with them, to get the puck away is a real challenge. They like to hang onto it, but if they feel the other team’s got good gap or good back pressure they’re going to make the high-percentage plays. They’re going to chip it in, try to get it back, put it in an area where they got a chance to battle for it. And because of their speed, their skill, their size, that’s why they’re one of the best teams, if not the best right now.”
In other words, the Canucks are going to try to beat the snot out of the Wings and knock Detroit off the puck at every opportunity, but what do I know? I’m a partisan Wings fan.
Roose also kicks off the Niklas Kronwall angle, but I’d prefer to let the other Wings’ beat writers take care of that side of the story.
And here’s the Canucks’ website’s interview with one Kevin Bieksa as well:
Here’s Kulfan’s interpretation of Kesler’s quip:
You have to believe the Canucks will take notice of where Niklas Kronwall is tonight. The last time the teams played, Ryan Kesler was tagged with a Kronwall hit that aggravated the Canucks forward. Kesler (Livonia) went after Kronwall, who refused to accept Kesler’s challenge, irritating Kesler further.
Kesler joined a growing line of opponents who believe Kronwall is reckless, something Ducks forward Teemu Selanne suggested in the past after being leveled by Kronwall.
“Obviously you have to keep your head up when he’s on the ice,” Kesler said Wednesday. “(But) that was last game. This is a new game.”
Still, the Canucks acknowledged Kronwall’s ability to have a physical impact is there.
“People are aware of him and you should be, he’s one of those guys who can really step up and make one of those big hits,” Canucks forward Daniel Sedin said. “But you can’t let it get under your skin. You just have to keep playing hard.”
Kronwall, and to a lesser extent Kesler, faced a barrage of questioners Wednesday, eager to see whether there will be any sort of spillover from the game in December. Kesler seemed to move past the incident. Kronwall said it’ll be business as usual.
“The bottom line is, everyone is trying to do what they can to help their team,” Kronwall said. “Everyone is just trying to do their part and focus on their jobs. I don’t try to think about it. I have to worry about my own game and just try to be physical when I can and hopefully help the team that way. I’m sure there are people who feel both ways (as to whether the hit was illegal). Everyone is entitled to their opinions. I didn’t think I left my feet, and the puck was right there.”
Kronwall continued while speaking to MLive’s Ansar Khan...
“I’m sure if there was something that happened to one of us that we didn’t like we would say something, too,” Kronwall said. “At the same time, I’m a big fan of big hits. I’ve taken a few over the years as well. I just think that’s the way the game should be played. You get hit and you hit.”
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but I didn’t think I left my feet and I thought the puck was right there,” Kronwall said. “If it’s a clean hit, you should just leave it at that. Next time, maybe he’s the one laying it into you.”
“Fortunately, I played with him (previously, in 2007) so he was pretty kind to me when I did have my head down once,” [Todd] Bertuzzi said. “I’ve never seen him hit dirty. He just knows how to properly hit. There’s not a lot of guys who know how to hit that way anymore. Those are the guys who end up getting suspended.”
The Canucks agreed? Um…Kay…
“He’s a solid D-man that likes to come down on pinches on breakouts, and you got to be aware of it,” Vancouver forward Alexandre Burrows said. “I think he’s an elite defensemen and he does a lot of good things out there. You just have to keep your head up.”
“He makes big hits, but he’s not a guy who’s going to come out and make cheap shots,” [Henrik] Sedin said. “When he plays on the edge like that, sometimes the hit goes wrong and someone gets injured, but a lot of times it’s clean hits.”
Sedin’s twin, Daniel, said, “I think people are aware of him and you should be. But you can’t really let that get under your skin, got to keep playing hard.”
Wings coach Mike Babcock offered this assessment of Kronwall’s play, suggesting that neither Kronwall nor any other Wings defenseman would be excused from trying to make a hit at the expense of doing their primary job…
“You can’t be giving up two-on-ones just to finish a check, so we got to be careful with that,” Babcock said. “But (Kronwall) is one of those guys that if you’re going to be physical, he can respond and initiate. He’s playing fair and honest, and if he gets a chance to catch you he’s going to catch you.”
And while I really do believe that the Canucks are going to go after Kronwall one way or another, the Free Press’s Helene St. James noted that the Canucks’ captain has no qualms with a player that St. James points out tends to pick and choose his spots more often these days to save his knees:
Kronwall doesn’t hit often, but when he does, he leaves an impression. Kesler downplayed the incident Wednesday, curtly acknowledging that “obviously you’ve got to keep your head up when he’s on the ice.”
[Henrik] Sedin was more expansive about Kronwall, who has helped the Wings to a three-point edge on the Canucks for first place in the West.
“I told the guys when he came into the league that he’s going to be a top D-man in this league for a long time,” Sedin said. “I played with him growing up in Sweden for the junior teams and then the national team. He’s effective because he can hit, he can make plays, and he can put up points. I think he plays a fair game. He makes some big hits, but he’s not a guy that’s going to come out and make cheap shots or anything like that. When he plays on the edge like that, it’s just sometimes, the hit goes wrong and someone gets injured, but a lot of times, it’s clean hits.”
Todd Bertuzzi called Kronwall “tenacious. He’s always in your face. I know from playing against him, he’s one of those guys you’ve always got to be aware of. Fortunately he was pretty kind to me when I did have my head down once that I remember.”
Bertuzzi also backed up why Kronwall never has been suspended. “I’ve never seen him hit dirty. He just knows how to properly hit. There’s not a lot of guys who know how to hit that way anymore.”
I still think that the Canucks are going to try to find a way to kick his ass and to distract the Red Wings physically by going after their players and goaltenders with as much malice aforethought as the Blues displayed a week and-a-half ago, and I think that Vigneault and Luongo also strongly hinted that the Canucks plan on beating the snot out of anybody who dares tiptoe near the Canucks’ crease, but, again, I’m a partisan fan of the team which I can assure you is not a team that “Nobody Hates.”
Part II: About the Central Division: USA Today’s Kevin Allen spoke to members of the Blackhawks, Predators and Wings about the Central Division slough-fest, and while I think that Craig Button’s assertion that the Red Wings caused this problem by beating up on its Central opponents while they’re rebuilding, I do agree with Button’s suggestion that winning the Central has to be the Wings’ top priority given that it is highly, highly likely that the team which finishes second will tangle with the team that finishes third in the division during the first round of the playoffs:
“It will be a photo finish from first through fourth (in the division),” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “It’s a great race. … We know if you win you stay even and if you lose somebody is going by you.”
Over their last 10 games, the four Central Division teams are a combined 29-6-5. They have four of the top five records in the West, with only the Vancouver Canucks in that mix. Since the NHL went to a six-division format in 1998-99, no division has provided the top seed and then the next three best non-division winners.
“It’s such a tight division that if you take a night off you’re done,” Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter said.
Holland agreed. “This race is helping us and everyone in the conference to stay focused,” he said.
With the trade deadline less than four weeks away, these four teams could all be looking to make a move. The Blackhawks have added Brendan Morrison, and Nashville general manager David Poile has been aggressively trying to add a top-six forward.
“The goal has to be first place in that division,” said Button, an NHL Network analyst.
Seven of last postseason’s 15 series went to a Game 7. “And the odds tell you that if you go to a Game 7 you’d like to have it at home,” Holland said.
Part III: In the ECHL, the Toledo Walleye dropped a stunning 6-1 lead en route to a 7-6 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Cyclones on Wednesday. Andrej Nestrasil registered a goal and 2 assists and Adam Estcolet had 3 assists, but the Walleye just crumbled during the second and third periods.
The Toledo Blade’s Mark Monroe also happened to post a profile of Estcolet a few days ago. He struck me as incredibly smart and poised last summer, and it turns out that the Dartmouth graduate is just that:
At this time last year Estoclet (pronounced EHST-oh-clay) was hitting the books hard as a senior at Dartmouth College. He juggled the mental demands of a challenging curriculum with the physically demands of being a college hockey player.
“It was pretty difficult,” Estoclet said. “You go to school all day and then you go to practice. You’re not done until 8:30 and then you have to get on it [studying]. It’s kind of a slippery slope if you decide to play video games or turn on the TV or go out with some buddies. It wakes you up. You have to be more responsible.”
After graduating from Dartmouth with a degree in sociology modified with economics, Estoclet decided to pursue a career in professional hockey. Estoclet is off to a fast start in that endeavor in his first full pro season this year with Toledo. The rookie is averaging nearly a point per game. Estoclet has seven goals and 13 assists. The forward is ranked fourth on the team with 20 points in 22 games.
“The biggest adjustment is the amount of games and the amount of time blocked for hockey,” Estoclet said. “I played 34 games all of last year in college. Now we are more than halfway through the season and we’ve played [42 games]. We still have 31 games left. It’s double the amount of games.”
[O]ne unexpected bonus is the amount of free time Estoclet said has suddenly been added to his schedule during the team’s off days. Aside from a daily, three-hour morning practice and workout, studying has been replaced with reading for pleasure, and watching movies.
“Some days I sit around and wonder what’s going on,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard finding something to do. Now I’ve taken up reading and I’ve become addicted to books. I love going to the movies. You can’t argue with only having to work three hours a day.”
Part III: Also of Red Wings-related note, because we’ve got no notebooks today: If you missed it, part 1: Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner made a hard push to suggest that the Wings need to snag either Tuomo Ruutu or Ales Hemsky to deal with the types of injuries to the Wings’ top six forwards which have hampered their playoff runs;
• If you missed it, part 2: Wings goalie coach Jim Bedard apparently pulled the wool over assistant coach Jeff Blashill’s eyes, because MLive’s Ansar Khan reported that Blashill tended the net in Jimmy Howard’s absence:
“I was just trying to survive, trying to breathe, make sure I made it through the day without a heart attack,’’ Blashill said. “I called my wife and told her hopefully I’ll be home, but not sure.’‘
Blashill played goal for Ferris State from 1994-98. He said this was the first time he’d been in net since filling in for a practice while serving as an assistant coach for Miami (Ohio) eight years ago.
“I haven’t played net in a long time, so it was a lot of fun,’’ Blashill said.
He said players took it easy on him.
“Luckily, we won last night (3-1 in Calgary); if we had lost there might have been more head shots,’’ Blashill said. “The D were playing the shooter extra hard just to make sure they didn’t get the shot off.’‘
• If you missed it, part 3: Tomas Holmstrom told Khan that his knees are at, “Pretty much 100%,” and Justin Abdelkader is OK despite having blocked a Jarome Iginla slap shot with the back of his right calf;
• I missed it: The Free Press reported that their readers overwhelmingly believe that the Wings are the most likely Detroit sports team to win a championship in short order;
• The Buffalo News’s Mike Harrington wants us to know that Wings pro scout Kirk Maltby has taken in the last two Sabres games;
• And we’re going to finish with two very strong articles from the Canucks press. The Vancouver Sun’s Ben Kuzma spoke to Babcock after his post-practice workout about both tonight’s opponent…
His assessment of the Canucks: “I really like their top four D. Most people see Hamhuis and Bieksa as their No. 1 pair, but Edler and Salo, for me, are outstanding players. They’ve got their guys everyone talks about, but Hodgson was a top-10 draft pick, Canadian Hockey player of the year, he’s a real hockey player to me. Lapierre and Malhotra gives them a real solid fourth line. Higgins seems to be revived, Raymond can really skate, Burrows really skates. And I haven’t even talked about their big three up front. Then, one-two in net are outstanding. There’s no fall-off.”
Niklas Kronwall (seriously, after Laraque took Kronwall’s knees out, he made a commitment to playing more positionally sound hockey, a la Nicklas Lidstrom, to avoid injuries, and it’s obviously paid off despite the decrease in what Aftonbladet’s Per Bjurman calls “Kron-Wall of Pain” hits)...
On Niklas Kronwall’s leaping hit on Ryan Kesler in December: “He’s one of those guys that, if you’re going to be physical, he can respond or he can initiate. The thing I like about it, he’s playing against good players, he’s playing fair and honest, and if he gets a chance to catch you he’s going to catch you.”
And, um, the “sisters”:
On the recurring references to the Sedins as sisters by the likes of Chicago’s Dave Bolland: “I don’t know what they were calling them after the [win over the Blackhawks]. I think sometimes you better keep your mouth shut and just appreciate good players. The thing I like about ‘em, and I was talking to one of our players about this today, is they have decided to be elite. They’ve gotten better each and every year. There’s nobody in the league better on the cycle than them and no one better on the power play than them.
“Wasn’t one of them the top scorer last year and the other the year before, something like that? I don’t know what you want them to do, they look like pretty good players every time we play them. To me, they’re real special players. They don’t have a ‘good-enough’ metre. They haven’t said, ‘OK, we’ve been good enough,’ and reflected on their past. They want to win. I’m impressed by them. I like their attitude, I like how hard they play.”
One of my oldest hockey pals calls them, “Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen,” but I sure as hell respect ‘em…
• And that respect was returned in a big way, via the Vancouver Sun’s Elliott Pap:
Canuck captain Henrik Sedin is a large fan of Red Wing counterpart and fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom. The two have been teammates on Swedish Olympic teams despite their 10-year difference in age. Lidstrom is 41 and Henrik 31.
“If he can continue to play at this level, he can play until he’s 45 or 50,” said Henrik. “He’s very effective in the way he plays. He doesn’t really have to move much out there because he’s always in the right spot. So it’s impressive.”
A seven-time Norris Trophy winner, Lidstrom is enjoying another fine season with 10 goals, 28 points and a plus-20 rating.
I hope so, I hope so.
Update: Worth posting at 6:19 AM: We All Bleed Red posted Kris Draper’s interview with John Keating from the Wings-Flames game:
Update #2: This doesn’t fit into the game preview very well, but it’s a wise point worth noting from the Vancouver Province’s Jim Jamieson:
The Red Wings biggest stars haven’t been a factor in the first two games between Detroit and the Canucks this season. Pavel Datsyuk has one assist, and Henrik Zetterberg has no points, as does multi-year Norris Trophy-winning defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom. Don’t expect that trend to continue. The Canucks blueline certainly doesn’t.
“They’re very good one-on-one,” said Dan Hamhuis, who, along with defence partner Kevin Bieksa, is likely to see a lot of the Datsyuk line. “Datsyuk is very skilled. As a team we need to be very good. We need to have our forwards getting a lot of back pres-sure to eliminate their east-west game and force them to go north-south. In our end we need to be good individually down low on the one-on-ones, but we also need the forwards to collapse and taking away their space to make plays.”
Added Keith Ballard: “As a group it’s about puck management. You can’t feed their transition game. They’re going to get chances because of their skill. You can’t give them any unnecessary power plays, you can’t turn the puck over. That’s what they’re going to thrive on.”
Games with the Red Wings, a team that Canucks GM Mike Gillis has modelled his own team after, are almost always a treat to watch, with two high-skill rosters going after each other.
“Every since I’ve been in this league I’ve always looked forward to games against Detroit,” said Alex Edler. “They’re always very hard and fun games to play. They’ve always been so good and they always have so many skilled players. It’s a great challenge for us.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I got a short nap in from about 10:30-11:45 after starting on the Wings-Nucks off-day post at around 3 and ending updating it at 9:30, and this article from Jamieson didn’t hit till after 6:30 AM EST, so I need to get some damn sleep before getting up at 1 for the morning skate.
I hate games against Vancouver because their press updates on an almost continual basis, and while the press overload reminds me of the old days when the Wings, Tigers, Pistons and Lions had 2 beat writers following them from every newspaper (the Canucks have 4 or 5 from both Province and Sun, respectively, a few from their official website and scribes which will chime in from the Globe and Mail, Sportsnet, TSN and NHL.com today), the lack of any real coherent style of updating their websites yields a stream of stories that’s not just yielding no sleep for me—it makes it incredibly hard to follow the team because there are no points during the day or night when fans can take a deep breath and step away from their computers if they want the whole story.
Five players have been added to the Detroit Red Wings alumni and the Muskegon roster has been finalized for the Red Wings Alumni Game on Feb. 11 at L.C. Walker Arena. Former NHL players Bryan Smolinski, Kip Miller, Wayne Presley, Craig Wolanin and Sergei Kharin, who played five seasons in Muskegon, will take the ice for the Detroit team as it faces a squad of local hockey heroes. Game time is 7:15 p.m.
“We continue to be impressed by the efforts of the Red Wings Alumni Association,” Muskegon Lumberjacks president Tim Taylor said. “The lineup they are providing is the best I’ve seen for an event like this. We look forward to seeing this formidable collection of NHL veterans on our ice.”
Mickey Redmond, Darren McCarty, Kris Draper, Joey Kocur and Jimmy Carson, among others, have already committed to play for the Red Wings Alumni, which has raised more than $4 million for various causes since 1959.
Stanley Cup winner Jock Callander, Scott “Farmer” Feasby and top minor-league goal scorer Robin Bouchard will join a host of past Muskegon pros.
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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.