The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/16/11 at 01:52 PM ET
Updated 8x with Osgood news, other stuff at 3:16 PM: The Detroit Red Wings will face off against the Washington Capitals tonight (7:30 PM EDT, Versus/the game is also on Fox Sports Detroit and Comcast Sportsnet Washignton/WXYT) in a showdown which will showcase two of the league’s most highly-skilled teams and two of the league’s most dynamic players in Pavel Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin, who, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James notes, happen to be good friends as the pair played together for Dynamo Moscow during the lockout:
Wings superstar Pavel Datsyuk and the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin are old friends, and chatted prior to the morning skates. Inside the Wings’ locker room there’s a good deal of excitement about seeing Ovechkin play, as he’s about as dominant as they come. He’s racked up four goals and eight assists during the winning streak.
“I think he’s unique in the way he can kind of do everything,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Like, not only has he got an unbelievable shot, his wrister has got to be among the best in the league, he can beat you one-on-one. He’s got so much speed and yet he’s a big guy, really strong. He’s the whole package. It’s always a big challenge going up against a guy like that. Those are the kind of guys you want to try to match yourself and see how good you are. It’s a big challenge, and it’s going to be fun.”
St. James reports that Wings coach Mike Babcock’s still refusing to let anybody know which forward line he’ll employ to slow down the Capitals’ leading scorer, and she confirms that the Wings will employ Nicklas Lidstrom and the Niklas Kronwall-Brad Stuart pairings extensively, while Brian Rafalski will be worked back into the lineup slowly alongside Jakub Kindl. Also:
Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves are out tonight, which Babcock acknowledged probably frustrates Miller, because, Babcock said, “he’s been fantastic.”
The expected lines are:
Hype aside, the Wings are plain old excited to face off against a team that employs a somewhat similar style…
“They’re really playing well in their defensive zone, I was watching them the other day, and Bruce has got them turned around and playing the right way,” Jimmy Howard said. “It should be an entertaining game.”
And the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan goes so far as to suggest that the game could be a “Stanley Cup Finals preview”:
There was an atmosphere of anticipation at Wednesday’s morning skate for what could be a Stanley Cup preview. And it should be an equally festive atmosphere inside Joe Louis Arena tonight.
“It’ll be a fun game,” said forward Darren Helm, noting Washington has Alex Ovechkin, one of the premier players in the world. “It’ll be a good chance to see what he can do and what we can do against him. They’re playing real well and have some real exciting players. It should be a fun game.”
The Wings will have defenseman Brian Rafalski (back spasms) returning to the lineup, replacing Ruslan Salei, who is in California tending to his pregnant wife. Kris Draper will fill out the fourth line, with Drew Miller a healthy scratch. Patrick Eaves (groin) is out. And Chris Osgood will back up Jimmy Howard in net.
As far as the Capitals are concerned, WashingtonCapitlals.com’s Mike Vogel reports that former Plymouth Whalers goaltender Michael Neuvirth will start, and the Washington Post notes the following tweaks to Washington’s lineup:
Neither John Erskine nor Eric Fehr will play tonight, according to Mike Vogel. Erskine was scratched against the Canadiens because of a cold, a team spokesman said, and Fehr was forced to leave the game in Montreal after suffering an upper-body injury.
Their absences means that Tyler Sloan and D.J. King will both be in the lineup tonight.
ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun also offered a short update on the Capitals’ changes in emphasis of play, via coach Bruce Boudreau:
“Last year, we took a lot of pride in scoring a lot of goals and being the highest-scoring team,” Boudreau told ESPN.com. “I think this year we’re taking a lot of pride in not allowing goals. When [the Canadiens] got the second goal last night, we said, ‘That’s too much. We gave away three last game. No more.’ It’s a great mindset to have, to have a lot of pride in your defensive play.”
This is as confident, Boudreau agreed, as his team has been all season, and he said the trade deadline additions of Jason Arnott, Dennis Wideman and Marco Sturm have been “real important” on the ice and in the dressing room with their experience.
Arnott, however, is out with an undisclosed injury, joining No. 1 center Nicklas Backstrom (hand) on the sidelines.
“Nicky’s day-to-day,” Boudreau said. “Arnott will be reevaluated. He should be ready by the beginning of April at the absolute latest.”
Update #1: MLive’s Ansar Khan reports that Ovechkin talked about tangling with Datsyuk this morning…
It’s not so much about me and Datsyuk right now,’’ Ovechkin said after today’s morning skate. “Two good teams playing against each other. Both sides have really good players. It’s going to be a good match.’‘
Ovechkin said of Datsyuk: “We played together with Dynamo (Moscow) during the lockout, we have a pretty good relationship. All Russians have a pretty good relationship. We can go to YouTube and watch his goals. He has tremendous skills, I think he’s one of the best puck-controllers in the league. It’s fun to watch.’‘
And after Babcock coyly offered this regarding any match-ups…
“I don’t know what my match-ups are going to be,’’ Babcock said. “I’m going to watch what (Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau) is doing. We’ve kind of gone two different ways.’‘
Patrick Eaves offered good news on the injury front:
Right wing Patrick Eaves returned to practice today and said he thinks he’ll play Thursday in Columbus. He has been out since Feb. 22 with a groin injury.
“I think I’m playing tomorrow. It’ll be good to be back,’’ Eaves said. “You never know with groins and skating muscles. You have to be careful. After this amount of games (off), you don’t want to come back too soon and then be out longer.’‘
Udpate #2: Per Paul and a supremely well-placed source, Red Wings fans in Michigan will be able to watch the game on Fox Sports Detroit, but the rest of the country will watch the Capitals’ Comcast Sportsnet feed on Versus. That also means that the game’s blacked out on Center Ice and GameCenter Online.
NHL.com’s Dave Kalan posted a capsule preview of tonight’s game…
WASHINGTON (41-20-10, 92 points) at DETROIT (41-20-8, 90 points)
Where they stand: Washington is 2nd in the Eastern Conference; Detroit is second in the Western Conference.
What’s at stake: The Capitals can pass Philadelphia for the top spot in the East with a win Wednesday, but it won’t be easy as they play at Detroit (7:30 PM ET, VERSUS) in what could be a Stanley Cup Final preview. Detroit is 11 points behind Vancouver for the West’s No. 1 seed, but with the Central Division still in doubt—the Wings lead second-place Chicago by six points—Detroit might breathe a little easier with a victory.
How it’s going: Washington started its six-game road trip strong, knocking off a hot Canadiens team in Montreal for its ninth consecutive win.
The Wings seem to be getting back on the right track. They’ve won two straight following a four-game winless stretch.
Upcoming: After leaving Detroit, Washington heads to New Jersey on Friday, then hits Philadelphia, Ottawa and then back to Montreal to close the trip. Detroit travels to Columbus and Nashville later this week, and then returns home for a five-game homestand to close the month.
As did WashingtonCapitals.com’s Mike Vogel...
With eight wins in as many games in the month of March, Washington has already assured itself of a winning month before the halfway point of the month. The Capitals are 8-0 in March with seven games remaining on the slate for the month. The team’s best record ever in the month of March was in 1984 when it went 11-2-1.
Only once before in the club’s history has Washington had winning and losing streaks of seven games or more in the same campaign. Back in 1983-84, the Caps had a 10-game winning streak and a seven-game losing streak. Washington endured an eight-game losing streak (0-6-2) in December of this season in addition to its current nine-game winning run.
Detroit has been a tough town for the Capitals in recent seasons. The Caps have not won at the Joe since the lockout; their last win in Motown came more than seven years ago, on Nov. 24, 2003. Rastislav Stana backstopped the Caps to victory that night, becoming the first Slovakian goaltender in NHL history to earn a victory in the league. It would also be the only win of Stana’s career.
The Capitals are 2-5-1-2 in their last 10 regular season trips to Detroit. Five of those seven losses were by a single goal and one came in overtime.
Washington has now collected at least a point in 30 of its last 39 games (23-9-7). The Capitals have allowed 78 goals in those last 39 games for an average of exactly two tallies per tilt.
The Wings have also recalled Joey MacDonald from Grand Rapids, per the team’s Twitter account:
The Red Wings have recalled Joey MacDonald from Grand Rapids. He will be available to play in tonight’s game against Washington.
I’m guessing that Mrs. Osgood might be delivering the couple’s third child….
Update 1:19 PM: Crud, per DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose:
The #RedWings have recalled Joey MacDonald to back-up Jimmy Howard tonite against the #Caps at JLA. Chris Osgood has reported some soreness.
Update 1:22 PM: Here’s Babcock’s game-day presser:
Update 1:29 PM: Here’s Ken Kal’s “game day” feature with Kris Draper and Jonathan Ericsson:
The City of Novi announced Wednesday that Arena Drive, near the city’s ice arena, will be re-named after the Red Wings captain Thursday, March 24, during a ceremony starting at 5:30 p.m.
“Nicklas Lidstrom is a local icon and we are proud he chose Novi as the community in which to live and raise his family inMichigan,” Novi mayor David B. Landry said in a statement.“His involvement with youth hockey at the City of Novi Ice Arena is a testament toMr. Lidstrom’s commitment to the future of hockey, good sportsmanship, and exemplary of the community spiritfor which Novi is known.”
The ceremony will include a presentation, shoot-out contest, giveaways and free refreshments.
Parking at the arena is limited. A shuttle service will be available from the Novi Civic Center, starting at 4:45 p.m.
• Very cool: The Hockey Writers’ Monica McAllister revisited H2H2;
• And the Oakland Press’s Pat Caputo raved about the Ovehckin-Datsyuk match-up earlier today:
The best stickhandler I’ve ever seen — and there isn’t a close second — is Pavel Datsyuk. Yet, despite breathtaking skill — Datsyuk is also extraordinarily strong on his skates, has an excellent shot and is an exceptional backchecker — he hasn’t been a statistical marvel. While he generally tallies more than a point-per-game, he has never had more than 32 goals nor 97 points in a season.
Take how Datsyuk is compared to fellow Russian Alexander Ovechkin, who will visit Joe Louis Arena tonight with the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin wins the Hart Trophy as the league MVP, while Datsyuk gets the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanlike play. I’m not sure if that is fair. Ovechkin is an incredible talent in his own right. He certainly is a better goal scorer than Datsyuk. But is he really more valuable to his team than Datsyuk, or just more flamboyant of a personality? Ovechkin is a rock star literally with his own video. Datsyuk is the enabler, who makes everybody better around him.
Ever notice how if there is a Red Wings’ winger in a scoring drought, somehow he’ll find his way onto Datsyuk line — and all of a sudden everything is better again?
Ovechkin is a physical player, but it’s not like Datsyuk isn’t. And like his stickhandling skill, there is one other thing he does better than any player I’ve ever seen — steal the puck. It’s uncanny how often he pulls the puck off an opponent’s stick.
There is also the sacrifice about winning that comes into play. Datsyuk could score more — and certainly would on a lesser team. But with the Red Wings, it’s more about sharing the wealth, sitting atop the standings and coming through in the postseason, than leading the league in scoring.
Update 2:05 PM: The Free Press’s Helene St. James offers this crypitc update about Osgood:
Chris Osgood has decided he’s not yet ready to play, so the Wings have recalled Joey MacDonald from Grand Rapids to back up Jimmy Howard.
Osgood was activated off injured reserve Monday, almost two months to the date he had surgery for a sports hernia and other groin-area problems. Osgood said this morning he’s not ready to play yet.
Yet another update: The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan states the obvious in stating that MacDonald will probably remain with the Wings as they’re playing 4 games over the next six nights;
• The Washington Post’s Lindsay Applebaum annotated Kris Draper’s comments to Ken Kal;
• And the Capitals’ website posted Bruce Boudreau’s game-day comments…
As well as an interview with Marcus Johansson, who’s excited about facing the Wings’ Swedes:
Update elevendy billion: Via Red Wings Feed, here’s a clip of several locked-out Lions working out with Wings players at “The Art of Strength” gym in West Bloomfield:
Update 12 billion and three: the Washington Post’s Katie Carrera adds a quote from Boudreau’s presser that I would have preferred to ignore:
I wasn’t able to make it to Coach Bruce Boudreau’s media availability this morning at Joe Louis Arena, but via the Capitals’ 365 team, you can catch up with the video below. Boudreau discussed his choice to go with Michal Neuvirth tonight against the always-formidable Red Wings. He also talked about how he approaches the task of selecting a goaltender for the playoffs.
“I don’t have to make that decision yet, so I’m really not doing it,” Boudreau said. “Every one of them we’ve put in has really excelled. Probably these next six or seven games will determine who’s going to be the starter in the playoffs for us, but right now we’ve got the three kids playing great and we give [Braden] Holtby a rest and see how somebody else can do the job.”
Based on his comments to reporters this morning, Boudreau certainly believes this is a true three-horse race, considering that he sees parallels between Holtby’s success and that of Hall of Famer Ken Dryden.
“I hate to be a historian on this, but in 1971 a kid got called up from the American League named Ken Dryden and played in the playoffs. I don’t think the pressure got to him and his career is history,” Boudreau said. “I see a lot of similarities in the Holtby, Dryden call ups, what their season’s been like and everything else.”
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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.