The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/23/11 at 07:28 AM ET
Between the Vancouver media’s assertions—to Wings coach Mike Babcock’s face, no less—that the Red Wings have “conceded the Western Conference title” to the Vancouver Canucks by choosing to sit out Todd Bertuzzi (sore back), Johan Franzen (groin), Jiri Hudler (neck) and Pavel Datsyuk (???) for tonight’s match-up between the Red Wings and the team which has an 8-point lead over the Wings and suggestions such as the following from the Hockey News’s Ken Campbell, you’d think that tonight’s Wings-Canucks tilt (7:30 PM, Versus/TSN/Fox Sports Detroit Plus/WXYT) is either a prelude to a Western Conference Final showdown and/or the be-all-end-all game which will prove, once, for all, and forever, whether the Canucks have surpassed the Wings, as Campbell suggests:
When the Detroit Red Wings look across the ice during warmup Wednesday night, they’ll be looking at a mirror image. It appears the Vancouver Canucks have grown up and become the Red Wings, minus the Stanley Cups, of course. The question now is whether grasshopper (the Canucks) can snatch the pebble from Master Kan’s (the Red Wings) hand and win a championship. There’s a chance the Canucks and Red Wings will give a preview of a playoff showdown when they hit the ice in their last regular season meeting. And if the first three games of this season were any indication, we can only hope this won’t be their last of 2010-11. Western Conference final, anyone?
Red Wings GM Ken Holland seems to think that the Canucks are the better team as far as the regular season’s concerned…
“They’re the best team in the league,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland said of Vancouver.
And the Canucks do readily admit that they have tried to become more Red Wing-like, courtesy in some part due to their acquisition of a player who’ll miss tonight’s game with a “lower-body injury”:
“I think we’ve kind of taken areas of their game and modeled ourselves around that,” said Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. “(Former Red Wing) Mikael Samuelsson came in and we got some of his leadership and some info on how they go about their business. And the stuff after the whistle, we’ve gotten a lot better at that, a lot smarter, and it has definitely helped us out. I wouldn’t say we play exactly like them. I like to think we’re a little more physical and gritty and I think they have a little more skill.”
The coaches kind-of-sort-of bought into the, “Who’s the best?” theory…
“You’ve got two teams that don’t mind going on the offensive,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “Both teams love to have their ‘D’ being part of the attack. We’re teams that can go up and down and trade chances and that makes it very entertaining.”
“I think they have good depth, I think they have a good back end, good goaltending, good scoring and guys who are playing well with and without the puck,” [Wings coach Mike] Babcock said. “They look like a good team, so now we’re all going to find out who’s a good team.”
When it was brought up to Vigneault that it never seems to matter to the Red Wings how many and which players are missing, he said: “I could say the same thing about us. We’ve been missing quite a few players all year long. We’ve been missing quite a few defensemen all year long and we’ve kept on plugging away. I expect them to keep on chugging away and we’ll do the same thing.”
And amongst a pair of “Ryan Kesler is the new Mike Modano” articles, discussion of the Canucks’ need to fill the void left by defensive super-forward Manny Malhotra (he’ll miss the rest of the regular season and playoff with an eye injury), visor discussion included, the Canucks talked about the whole measuring-up-to-Detroit concept in a conversation with the Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma…
“They’re definitely one of the elite teams and we’ve taken areas of their game and modelled ourselves around them,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who’s expected to return after missing 15 games with a foot fracture. Samuelsson came in and we got a little bit of his leadership and info and how they [Wings] go about their business. The stuff after the whistles we’ve got a lot better at and we’re a lot smarter. I wouldn’t say we play exactly like them. We’re more physical and they maybe have more skill, but we make up for it with hard work.”
The Wings are legendary for unearthing European talent. They drafted Tomas Holmstrom in the 10th round, Henrik Zetterberg in the seventh and Datsyuk in the sixth round. Then again, the Canucks have been drafting better, developing talent and doing the spade work to find college free agents such as Chris Tanev.
“They [Wings] are the tops in the league because they’ve taken everything into consideration,” added Bieksa. “They have these guys who come out of nowhere and turn into great players and they just plug them in. We’ve done a lot better job of that lately. Tanev relatively came out of nowhere and he’s not the only one. We’ve definitely taken strides in that area.”
“Always the Red Wings,” agreed defenceman Sami Salo. “All the games I’ve played against Detroit in my career, they’ve always had injuries to a lot of good players and their young players are really good. So we don’t expect anything else from what we’ve seen before.”
(Bieksa also made a charming quip about the “lovely weather and clean air in Detroit”)
And at the same time, the Canucks acknowledged that tonight’s game might not involve handing out the Stanley Cup:
“Nobody in our group is going to be judged by what we’ve done in the regular season we’re going to be judged by what we do in the playoffs,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “We’re aware of that and it doesn’t matter what people believe. It’s what those guys in the dressing room believe and I can tell you there’s a lot of confidence. This is a very motivated group.”
For Vigneault, tonight’s game involves some line-tweaking, minus Malhotra and Samuelsson, as he told the Vancouver Sun’s Brad Ziemer…
“Right now with the number of games we have left I am going to try different things,” Vigneault said. “Considering where we are in the standings I have the benefit where I can try a few things and we’ll see how it works out. There’s some good internal competition and we’ll see who can play the best.”
The top line of Alex Burrows with Daniel and Henrik Sedin won’t change, but the other three lines will have different looks. Here’s how the other three lines could look tonight against the Wings:
Mason Raymond-Ryan Kesler-Chris Higgins
Raffi Torres-Maxim Lapierre-Jannik Hansen
Jeff Tambellini-Alex Bolduc-Victor Oreskovich
(according to Canucks.com’s Nolan Kelly, the Canucks will probably go with the following tandems on defense: Bieksa-Hamhuis, Ehrhoff-Salo and Rome-or-Tanev-with-Ballard)
And as both teams will “try different things,” the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle argues that tonight’s game might be anticlimactic:
This season has brought a new feeling for Roberto Luongo, one he knows may not last once the playoffs arrive for the Vancouver Canucks’ netminder and his team. Being the very best.
“It’s the first time in my career that I’ve been at the top of the standings looking down at everybody else,” Luongo said. “It’s just fun and exciting to come to the rink every day. I think guys are excited about what’s ahead of us.”
What’s directly ahead is a game many around the league have marked on their calendar, a chance to see the two top teams in the Western Conference in the Canucks and Detroit Red Wings go head-to-head in a rivalry that is becoming must-see viewing.
But while Wednesday’s meeting is a “big game” in the sense that it involves two Stanley Cup favourites, it’s somehow become more of an opportunity to rest banged-up players and test new line combinations.
Whereas in past seasons a 2-0-2 record against the Red Wings in their regular-season series (which Vancouver will get to with a win Wednesday) would have been a considerable accomplishment, it’s now only another trial run en route to the games that really matter.
Will instead of “could?” Right…
Anyway, yes, both teams are looking forward to tonight’s game, as the Vancouver Sun’s Ziemer underlined...
“They have so much talent and we have some as well, pretty high-scoring teams, physical, we’ve got it all,” said Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, who will start tonight. “When we face each other it just seems to make for some entertaining games.”
“You have two teams that don’t mind going on the offence, both teams have a considerable amnount of very skilled players, both teams love to have their D be a part of the attack, so that makes for teams that go up and down and create chances and make it very entertaining,” added Vigneault.
But while Nicklas Lidstrom did bring out Ye Olde Measuring Sticke when discussing tonight’s game…
“We are eight points behind them so we have a chance,” Lidstrom said after the Wings practised at Joe Louis Arena. “But I think it’s more of a measuring stick to play againt the top team in the league right now. Looking at their record, looking at their speciality teams, they are tops in most categories. That’s a team you kind of want to measure yourself against. . .It will be a good test for us.”
Babcock didn’t believe that he was, per Ziemer’s words, registering an “obligatory denial” when he suggested that the Wings must surely understand that they can’t catch the Canucks…
“I don’t think we concede anything whatsoever,” he said.
Nor did he suggest that losing to Vancouver tonight, which would pretty much eliminate the Wings’ chances of winning the West, serve as a crippling loss:
“A couple of years we won the Presidents Trophy, a couple of years we were just short of it,” Babcock said. “You’d like to finish as high as you can. I think it’s important if you can have home-ice advantage. I really believe even though we have played better on the road this year than we have at home I think it’s a benefit at playoff time. So the higher you can finish the better you are and the better you feel about yourself going in. Now that doesn’t guarantee you anything. We have gone in feeling like we’re not playing very well and played great and we’ve gone in feeling like we are playing great and played bad and been out. We have tried it all different ways. Whichever way you get in that particular year you embrace and get on with winning.”
As for an actual game preview, the Vancouver Province’s Jim Jamieson offers the following...
Canucks: The Canucks are still trying to get their feet back on the ground after the devastating eye injury to centre Manny Malhotra, who’ll be out at least through the rest of this season and playoffs. Vancouver is also dealing with other, less serious, injuries for this game: RW Mikael Samuelsson is out with a lower body injury, while LW Tanner Glass won’t play due to sore ribs.
Red Wings: Detroit is coming off a 5-4 shootout loss to Pittsburgh on Monday, the Wings’ second straight loss after four straight wins. Detroit is eight points behind the Canucks, and both have nine games remaining, so a win for Vancouver just about wraps up the Western Conference title. Detroit is 2-1-0 in the series, having a game each in OT and the shootout.
Three things to watch
1. Max Lapierre on the third line. He looked a little slow playing with speedsters Raffi Torres and Jannik Hansen in his first full game in Malhotra’s spot, but let’s cut Lapierre some slack. He was decent in the faceoff circle and logged a ton of ice time on the PK — which is the job description.
2. Alex Bolduc and Victor Oreskovich on the fourth line. They’ve both just been recalled from the Manitoba Moose, but you get the impression they’ll be options in the playoffs against a physical opponent — especially if Lapierre stays on the third line.
3. Can the Canucks contain Henrik Zetterberg? The Red Wings’ all-world forward will have four key teammates out for this one, but he’s always poison to Vancouver. In three games this season, Zetterberg has 2-3-5 against the Canucks and 3-4-7 in four games last season.
And NHL.com’s Matthew Mankiewich posited an objective game preview:
Last 10—Vancouver 8-2-0, Detroit 4-3-3.
Season series—It’s the last meeting of the regular season at least, and the last chance for the Canucks to get a split of the four games. It’s also a chance for them to win six straight road games for the first time since Dec. 26, 2006-Jan 18, 2007.
Big story—The Northwest Division and a playoff spot are all sewn up, the last regular-season objective for the Canucks is their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Red Wings still need to keep the Sharks at bay to secure their second seed and possibly take a bite out of the Canucks’ eight-point lead.
Who’s hot —Good thing Kesler is healthy, as he has a team-high six points, all assists, against Detroit this year. Daniel Sedin’s eight-game point streak will carry over another evening, while Henrik’s seven-game streak was stopped Friday.
Injury report —Datsyuk and Franzen (lower body) will each miss a third straight game, while Hudler (upper body) will sit out a fourth. Bertuzzi is also nursing an upper-body injury. Goalie Chris Osgood (sports hernia) may make his return to the nets Wednesday night for his first start against the Canucks since beating them on Dec, 4, 2008. Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa (foot) is expected to play, while Andrew Alberts (wrist), Tanner Glass (upper body) and Alex Edler (back surgery) remain out.
Stat pack—This year notwithstanding, Detroit still dominates this matchup at home with a 17-4-3 record with a tie since 1997-98. Roberto Luongo gave up nine goals in the first two games against the Wings but stopped 32 shots on Jan. 8 in a 2-1 shootout loss.
As far as the Wings are concerned, again, playing Vancouver does mean attempting to close the gap between the teams in the standings, as Jimmy Howard told the Free Press’s George Sipple…
“We would love to catch Vancouver,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “We’ve just got to worry about ourselves and continue to strive to get better, so when the playoffs roll around we’re playing our best hockey.”
The Wings are 2-1 against Vancouver this season. The Canucks feature the top power play (24.8%) in the NHL and the top penalty kill (86%).
“That’s a team you want to measure yourself against,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said.
And Lidstrom repeated to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:
Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom , on the Canucks: “They’re the top team in the league right now the way they’ve been playing. You look at their record, special teams, they’re tops in those categories. They’re the type of team you want to measure yourself against.”
The Wings are 0-and-1 on their five-game home stand, and they know that they need to make hay while the sun shines. That includes a bounce-back effort for Jimmy Howard, who told the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan that he’s keeping a positive mind-set…
“You don’t want things creeping into your mind that aren’t there,” said Howard, who was pulled after allowing four goals on 15 shots in the 5-4 shootout loss. “You just have to live in your own little bubble.”
Howard will start tonight when the Red Wings host the Canucks in a matchup between the top teams in the West.
“I wasn’t happy with how last night went,” Howard said. “But at the same time, you just let it go and continue to push forward because the season isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
Howard has 34 victories, tied with Montreal’s Carey Price for No. 1. But Howard’s 90.8 save percentage is 29th and his 2.79 goals-against average 32nd.
And, according to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness, he’s doing his best to deal with this year’s ups and downs…
“I wasn’t happy with how last night went, but I’ve said it before you just have to let it go and continue to push forward,” Howard said. “The season isn’t a sprint it’s a marathon. Just put it behind you and move forward.
“It’s not been as smooth sailing as it was last year,” Howard added. “I’ve still just got to go out there and win games.”
Howard said he doesn’t listen to his critics out there.
“I don’t read the newspapers. I don’t read the internet. I don’t listen to the radio stations. I don’t listen to any of it,” Howard said. “You just have to live in your own little bubble.”
The Wings are scrambling a bit because the injury bug’s bitten them again. Chris Osgood’s apparently ready to back up Jimmy Howard, so the team was able to recall Jan Mursak from Grand Rapids, but he’ll simply replace Todd Bertuzzi in the lineup, and despite the fact that the Wings are facing some high-profile opponents in short order in the Canucks (tonight), Maple Leafs (Saturday) and Blackhawks (Monday), they’ll have to deal with significant absences in the scoring department, as the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness noted:
“I don’t think we’ll have (Johan) Franzen, (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Jiri) Hudler or (Todd) Bertuzzi available for tomorrow,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I’m going to try and get some guys some ice time.”
Bertuzzi (back spasms) is the latest forward to go down. Franzen (groin), Datsyuk (lower body) and Hudler (back/shoulder) are the others sidelined.
“(Bertuzzi has) had aches and pains for awhile so he just can’t go,” Babcock said. “We’ll give him a few days and to get himself ready so he can go.”
Babcock did say if it was the playoffs that all four forwards would play Wednesday.
“I always tell these guys once the playoffs start I’m the team doctor,” Babcock grinned.”Until then I’m not the guy that makes these professional decisions.”
Red Wings GM Ken Holland told the Free Press’s George Sipple that he believes that Johan Franzen should be good to go on Saturday, but he’s deeming everyone else “day to day,” which isn’t good.
In plain English, the Wings will be without 71 goals and 180 points’ worth of offensive firepower tonight, however, so between you and me, I’d suggest that we cross our fingers, toes and just about anything else that can be crossed in the hopes that Franzen, Datsyuk, Hudler and Bertuzzi return in short order.
Per the NHL’s media website, Eric Furlatt and Don VanMassenhoven will referee tonight’s game, and Vaughan Rody and Tony Sericolo will work the lines.
Power rankings: Monday and Tuesday’s rankings generally involve stable statuses for the Wings, though those posted on Tuesday offer demotions. Let’s start with Monday’s crop, beginning with ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun...
3 ([last week]4) Red Wings: Pavel Datsyuk remains out for Monday night’s game against Pittsburgh. The Red Wings, meanwhile, have killed off 32 of 35 penalties since March 1.
And continuing with TSN’s Scott Cullen...
: This Week 2 Last Week 2 Detroit Red Wings: Won four in a row before losing to Nashville Saturday and now have five in a row at home; would feel better about matters if Pavel Datsyuk wasn’t out with a nebulous lower body injury.
Key Injuries: C Pavel Datsyuk (lower body), RW Johan Franzen (groin).
Sportsnet’s Mike Brophy...
5 [last week] 4 Red Wings: The injury-plagued Wings had their four-game winning streak snapped by the very hungry Nashville Predators. The Wings were missing Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen.
Sportsline’s Wes Goldstein...
4 Red Wings [last week] 5: Wings have an inside track to the West’s second seed with seven of their final 10 games in their own rink.
And the Hockey News’s Adam Proteau:
3. Detroit Red Wings [last week] 3: Only three road games remaining in Wings’ final 10 games, leaving them time to rest and focus on post-season
3 Red Wings [record] 43-21 -9 [highest/lowest ranking] 1/7 [winning percentage] (.653): Valtteri Filppula potted goals in each of Detroit’s wins last week, helping the Red Wings hold onto the No. 2 seed in the West.
But the Sporting News’s Craig Custance did address Monday’s loss in direct terms:
2. Detroit Red Wings (2): The comeback against Pittsburgh was nice, but Mike Babcock couldn’t have been pleased that it took two periods for his team to show up against the rival Penguins.
Is there a Russian-speaker in the house? Pavel Datsyuk conducted a two-part interview with Sovetsky Sport’s Pavel Lysenkov and Sovetsky Sport readers, but the near-ridiculous level of Wings-Canucks hype prevents me from providing rough translations. If anyone’s willing to lend a hand, the originals are available here and here, and if you can manage reading garbled Russian, I’d suggest taking a look at Promt’s two article translations as they’re most faithful to the original Russian, or a pair of Yahoo translations if you want easier-to-follow comments.
Amongst the interview’s highlights:
• Datsyuk’s now no longer sure whether he’ll return to Russia after his career is over, though he makes sure to emphasize the fact that he’s a very proud Russian;
• If the Wings do bow out of the playoffs early, he will play for Russia at the World Championships;
• He says that his right wrist is still a little sore at times, but that he’s doing well in terms of recovering from his injury;
• He claims that he goes through at least 160 sticks per season;
• He says that his teammates understand most of his jokes, and if they don’t, he tries to explain them by way of hand gestures;
• One of his jokes involved putting size 16 shoes in Niklas Kronwall’s locker as Kronwall has small feet (he wears size seven shoes and size six skates);
• He defends both Detroit’s hockey traditions (he says Wings fans are “crazy” about hockey) and Metro Detroit in general as a place that isn’t exactly the wasteland it’s perceived to be, though he acknowledges its urban blight;
• He confirms that Ted Lindsay works out in the Wings’ gym 3 times a week;
• He says that he calls Evgeni Nabokov from time to time, and is disappointed that the goaltender was plucked off waivers by the Islanders;
• And he says that his phone’s ringtone is no longer James Brown’s I Feel Good—it’s a Russian song by Leonid Portnoy.
Playoff ticket stuff: The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan reports that the Red Wings will release pricing information regarding playoff tickets, which go on sale this Saturday, sometime today;
Also of Red Wings-related note: In Sweden, Red Wings prospect Dick Axelsson took six shots but didn’t register a point as Farjestads BK defeated AIK 2-1 in the first game of their Eliteserien semifinal;
• Frustrating: Red Wings forward Mike Modano told everyone within earshot that the terrible wrist injury he suffered did not involve a skate jabbing him below the coverage of a “short cuff” glove—Modano actually wears relatively long gloves, and he’s stated that R.J. Umberger’s skate bounced off his wrist protection and jabbed him above it, but the Mercury News’s David Pollak ignores that fact while pointing out that many players refuse to alter their equipment to protect themselves from skate cuts despite the fact that equipment manufacturers are beginning to experiment with cut-resistant materials:
Veteran center Mike Modano missed 41 games this season after tendons in his right arm were severed Nov. 28 in a freak accident along the boards. Modano returned to action with the Detroit Red Wings two weeks ago and still isn’t wearing any of the new equipment.
“It was just a freak thing that the heel of that skate pushed the cuff of my glove down,” he said. “As far as wearing anything extra, what are the odds of that happening again?”
No one in the Detroit organization pressured him to add the protective equipment, added Modano, who included himself among players set in their habits.
“You just get used to things, and you’re comfortable, and it’s tough to change,” he said.
• You weren’t hearing things if you tuned into Versus and heard Ken Daniels doing play-by-play during Tuesday night’s Flyers-Capitals game. Versus’ Steve Lepore reports that Daniels will take part in several Versus broadcasts before the end of the season. I thought he did a great job during the Flyers game;
• The Grand Rapids Griffins’ website posted the team’s weekly press release, and after noting this week’s Griffins schedule…
Wed., March 23 - Toronto Marlies at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m.
Fri., March 25 - GRIFFINS at Texas Stars - 8:30 p.m
Sat., March 26 - GRIFFINS at Texas Stars - 8 p.m.
It breaks down the Griffins’ hard road to a playoff spot:
Moving On Up: With their ninth win in 11 games, the Griffins (35-26-2-8, 80 pts.) on Sunday moved into third place – the final guaranteed playoff spot in the North Division – for the first time since Nov. 18. They also stand just two points behind North Division co-leaders Manitoba and Lake Erie, the closest they’ve been to first place since Nov. 11. Remarkably, Grand Rapids needed just 10 games and 17 days (March 4-20) to move from seventh to third in the North, leap-frogging over Rochester, Abbotsford, Toronto and Hamilton. Since sitting in last place, the Griffins have fired off an 8-1-1-0 record during their “March” to the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Breaking it Down: The top six teams in the North Division are separated by a total of five standings points…The Griffins’ nine remaining games tie for the second-fewest within the North Division, their four divisional games are by far the fewest, their two home games are the fewest, and their opponents’ winning percentage of 0.569 ties for the highest…If the other six teams in the North Division maintain their current winning percentages through the end of the regular season, the Griffins would need to finish with 92 points to clinch a playoff spot, which translates into a 6-3 record over their final nine games.
• I’m simply not going to touch a comment made by the Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan about Brett Lebda;
• And Montreal Juniors forward Trevor Parkes sounded downright Red Wing-like when discussing his team’s match-up with the Quebec League’s 15th-best team, the Halifax Mooseheads, while speaking to the Montreal Gazette’s Randy Phillips:
“The one thing is you can’t take any team for granted in this league,” said forward Trevor Parkes, the Juniors’ top scorer with 33 goals and 29 assists in 60 games. “Even though Halifax finished so low, they’ve always given us some trouble, either here or there. They seemed to always take the early lead on us in games this season.
“It’s never been an easy game against them,” Parkes added. “If we go in thinking it’s going to be easy, we’re not doing ourselves any favours. We have to go into the series with the right mindset.”
One more thing: If you find yourself in a West Side suburb on Thursday afternoon, don’t forget that the city of Novi will re-name a street after Nicklas Lidstrom at 5 PM.
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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.