The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/17/11 at 09:48 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings took a midnight flight to Columbus, where they’ll play against the Blue Jackets tonight (7 PM EDT, FSD/FS Ohio/WXYT) feeling as good about themselves as they have in a long time thanks to a tightly-contested 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night. The Wings played a determined and genuinely enthusiastic game against a novel and highly-skilled opponent, rising to the occasion of stifling the Capitals’ offense while answering with clutch goals of their own, and by playing a solid 60-minute game in the first time since what seems like forever, they snapped the Capitals’ 9-game winning streak while pushing the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks further behind them in the Western Conference standings.
Fox Sports Detroit’s Larry Murphy spent Wednesday night’s game between the Wings’ and Capitals’ benches, and he stated that Wings coach Mike Babcock repeatedly told his team to do its best to grind the Capitals down as they were playing their second game over the course of two nights, and after the game, the Washington Post’s Katie Carrera suggests that the Wings did a pretty darn good job of getting traffic in front of goaltender Michal Neuvirth while firing 35 shots on the net and another 29 wide or into Capitals players:
Coach Bruce Boudreau referred to the way the Red Wings can snap the puck around the offensive zone to make other teams seem helpless before the opening faceoff at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday night. The Red Wings did just that against the Capitals from the very start and although Washington would have its fair share of opportunities, it never seemed like the visitors were in control of the contest. That role belonged to Detroit.
To go along with their crisp passes, the Red Wings seemed to have at least one body in the crease at almost all times and they also took advantage of the springy boards in their legendary home arena — an advantage that John Carlson said threw the Capitals off and out of sync at times.
“They know this building pretty good and it felt that a lot of the times they started their offense with a smart play by them — they’re dumping it off the boards and they know where it’s going,” Carlson said. “We were just trying to ad-lib and try to counter that but they’re a good team and they use that stuff to their advantage.”
Carlson was one of four players to skate over 20 minutes against the Red Wings, along with Dennis Wideman, Alex Ovechkin and Scott Hannan. In the second and third periods in particular, a large chunk of Carlson’s task became trying to clear out Tomas Holmstrom from his wheelhouse in front of the net. It was a task the phrase ‘easier said than done’ was invented for.
“He’s unbelievable at [getting in front],” Carlson said of Holmstrom. “He’s made a living there and I don’t know how many goals he’s had in front of the net but I’m sure it’s a lot. He’s tough guy to move but you’ve got to be careful because you don’t want to take a penalty at the same time. It’s more of a team effort and defensively we had a few more breakdowns that we haven’t been having and we need to work on it.”
“They come at us hard, they control the game pretty well and it was good we bounce back right away,” Alex Ovechkin said about the constant game of catch-up against the Red Wings. “I think it’s kind of situation, when you have great chance to score and you don’t score and you’re getting frustrated. I missed the puck when [Mike Knuble] gave it to me right before the penalty [that would yield Zetterberg’s game-winner], and if I score that goal maybe it’s going to go a different way.”
But the Wings kept their forecheck and attack up against the Capitals, and thanks to a 3-assist effort by Brian Rafalski, a seeing-eye shot by Henrik Zetterberg and the luck of the crossbar, the Wings hung in tough and prevailed:
Ovechkin erased Detroit’s second one-goal lead just less than six minutes into the second period on a one-on-one against Brad Stuart by snapping a shot that appeared to surprise both the defenseman and Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, who finished with 26 saves.
The Capitals began to create more scoring chances but wouldn’t finish another against Howard. Detroit continued to out-shoot Washington as the game unfolded and Knuble’s tripping penalty in the third period proved to be all the invitation the Red Wings and Zetterberg needed.
Washington tried to ratchet up the pressure, pulling Neuvirth (32 saves) late in regulation in a final attempt to preserve a point, only to see yet another opportunity misfire and clank off a pipe.
“They’re good. What are you going to do when they come out and they’re rested and ready for bear and they come out that hard?” Boudreau said. “There’s not a lot of teams that are going to stop them when they’re moving the puck like that. . . . Things [like hitting the post late] happen. We have been getting the breaks in this situation for the last couple weeks, and tonight we didn’t get enough of the breaks.”
Boudreau suggested to WashingtonCapitals.com’s Mike Vogel that special teams play also carried the day. The Wings went 1-for-2 in only 2:33 of PP time and shut the Capitals down for 4 power plays and 8 minutes’ worth of PP time:
“One of our keys was we thought that the difference would be the special teams tonight,” laments Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “It usually is when we play them. We’re 0-for-4 [on the power play] and they’re 1-for-2. That’s the difference right there.”
Although Washington had some late pressure in the attack zone and a pair of near-goals from Alexander Semin in the waning minutes, it fell to its first setback in the last 19 days. Shortly after Zetterberg gave the Wings their 3-2 lead, an Ovechkin feed sent Semin in with a one-on-one opportunity against Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. Semin wasn’t able to get a good shot off, and Howard easily set that bid aside. In the waning seconds of the game, Semin fired a rocket of a shot from near the Detroit blueline that clanged off the crossbar behind the Red Wings goaltender.
“Semin had that play from Ovi and if he was sharper tonight, he would have scored that goal,” begins Boudreau. “It was unlucky; it shouldn’t have gone in anyway, but [he] hit the crossbar in the last five seconds. Granted, you should never hit the crossbar on a shot from there. Those things happen. We have been getting the breaks in those situations the last couple of weeks. Tonight we didn’t get a lot of the breaks and they played well enough to win.”
The only asterisk attached to this win involves the fact that, despite Semin’s return, the Capitals were a shorthanded team…
“It’s time to play,” says Ovechkin. “It’s time to be good. We have 10 games after tonight. We have to be ready for playoffs. We’re missing a couple key guys in [Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Fehr and Jason Arnott]. All those guys, when they’re healthy we’re going to be a scary team. Right now we’re scary, but when they come back, it’s going to be cool.”
And Vogel also noted that the Wings kept firing shot after shot at or near the Capitals’ net…
After two periods of play on Wednesday, the Caps were even, but they were a shade on the fortunate side, too. Washington was being outshot 26-18 after 40 minutes of play, and outshot in pure shot attempts by a margin of 46-27. The Wings shot high or wide 14 times in the first two periods, doing so on some fairly glorious chances in the process. By night’s end, Detroit owned a decided 64-42 edge in shots attempted.
For some bizarre and baffling reason, Wings fans started to boo Alex Ovechkin late in the second period and kept it up during the third period, but he told NHL.com’s Brian Hedger that the boos didn’t faze him…
“I didn’t hear the boos,” said Ovechkin, whose goal gave him 19 points (8 goals) in the past 15 games. “This is the kind of building where you only play once a year, so kids are excited and people were excited to see me. I thought it was kind of cool.”
And while Boudreau lamented the Semin goal that wasn’t…
“I think if he were sharper tonight he would have scored that goal,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It was unlucky. It shouldn’t have gone in anyway, but you hit the crossbar in the last (few) seconds … those things happen. We have been getting the breaks in this situation in the last couple weeks. Tonight we didn’t get a lot of the breaks and they played well enough to win.”
Hedger reports that Henrik Zetterberg, who broke a near-month-long scoring slump, was nothing less than delighted with game’s result, never mind scoring his 19th and 20th goals, about 15 games late:
The Swedish star forward even carried his scoring touch into the post-game locker room, where he peeled off some red tape while seated, balled it up and lofted it about 20 feet across the room – directly into a small garbage can near Todd Bertuzzi’s locker stall.
“See?” Zetterberg said, smiling. “Look at that!”
It wasn’t much earlier in the day that his smile was missing while he quietly wondered if maybe his hockey sticks were cursed or he’d gotten a bad batch.
“Every time you’re in a slump like that, you start to doubt yourself, so it’s nice to see I can still score some goals,” Zetterberg said. “It’s been a while and you start to think too much and make bad decisions out there, so it was nice to get it out of the way.”
Zetterberg admitted to the Associated Press that he got a bit of a lucky break on his second goal (ditto on the shot that dinged him in the visor)...
“It was a little luck to hit the mask and get it in,” Zetterberg said. “Every time you’re in a slump, you start to think, you start to doubt yourself, so it’s definitely good for the confidence to see you can still score goals.”
And, again, while the Caps lamented their loss…
“Pretty good game to watch. It was fun to play,” Ovechkin said. “It was tough for us. They have a great team.”
“They’re good. What are you going to do? When they’re rested like they have been and they come out like that, not much you can do,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Our goal in the first period was to hang in.”
Wings coach Mike Babcock suggested that the Wings were both a little lucky and very, very good…
“You know when you’re on a roll - no different for us - that roll’s going to come to an end at one time,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought they played good and I thought we played good. We were able to get one more than them. I thought we carried the bulk of the play there in the middle of the game, but I thought they pushed good at the end. It was a good game.”
And Zetterberg admitted that facing the Capitals may have allowed them to shake themselves out of their late-season doldrums as tangling with an extremely talented Eastern Conference team shook up their routine, big time:
“It was a little easier to get fired up for this game. We don’t see them that often - great players coming in,” Zetterberg said. “I think we had a good start, showed that we were in the game from the start.”
“Now, I know how the goalies in the east feel,” Howard said. “What a headache that guy (Ovechkin) would be every night.”
The Wings got some superb efforts from a few players that have been quiet lately or out of the line-up. Henrik Zetterberg broke a nine-game goal-less drought with a pair of tallies and defenceman Brian Rafalski returned after missing eight games to chip in with three assists.
“I think I was overdue,” Zetterberg said. “It’s been a while since I seen the back of the net. It’s a fun game. Fans are in it right from the start.”
Ovechkin did beat Howard on a shot that #35 never saw…
It wasn’t coming easy for the Capitals, but when you have Ovechkin in the line-up a sliver of daylight is all that’s required. Just such a scenario developed early in the second period as the Capitals’ winger bore down on defenceman Brad Stuart and unleashed a rocket of a wrist shot through his legs into the top corner at 5: 43.
“I felt good today,” Ovechkin said. “I controlled the puck and made some moves, but one goal today for me was not good enough.”
As he told the Free Press’s Helene St. James...
“I saw it leave his stick and then all I heard was ‘poof’ when it hit the padding at the back of the net,” Jimmy Howard said. “He can rifle it. I’d have to say he’s my new pick for the hardest shot in the league.”
But the Wings finally “got started on time,” and, as St. James suggests, never became frustrated with themselves when the Capitals tied the score at 1-1 and then 2-2…
It all began with a strong start that led to Zettterberg’s first goal at 12:23, when Rafalski found Zetterberg. The Capitals responded 23 seconds later when John Carlson connected on his own long rebound, but a couple of minutes later Rafalski fired a shot on net that Filppula deflected in for his 14th goal.
“We played a really good first period, were in their zone a lot and controlled play,” Rafalski said.
Zetterberg scored for the first time since Feb. 22 to reach 20 goals for the sixth consecutive season. Brian Rafalski had three assists in his first game back after being sidelined eight games by back spasms, and Valtteri Filppula had Detroit’s other goal. Todd Bertuzzi and Pavel Datsyuk had an assist each.
“It was good to see them both score,” Mike Babcock said of Zetterberg and Filppula. “It’s good for us because that means they’re getting on a bit of a roll here. But I thought the guy up front that was fantastic was Bertuzzi. I thought he had an excellent night and really skated good and good back pressure and played well defensively and did a good job.”
Babcock continued while speaking to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan, who also noted Jimmy Howard’s take about Semin’s knuckleball shot…
“It was good to see them break out,” said coach Mike Babcock of his two goal-scorers. “It was a good game. There was a buzz on our team. It’s always nice to play a good team.”
The Capitals (41-21-10, 92 points) saw their nine-game winning streak end. John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin scored for the Capitals, who saw Alex Semin’s shot with eight seconds left in the game hit the crossbar and flutter past goalie Jimmy Howard.
“A Tim Wakefield knuckleball,” Howard said. “It hit the top part of the crossbar after it went by. I just heard the ding (of the crossbar).”
Brian Rafalski returned to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 24 (back spasms) and assisted on all three goals.
“You try to take advantage of the opportunities and try to do the right thing,” Rafalski said. “We had the puck in their zone a lot in the first period and they left us open on the points.”
The Wings’ ability to win 63% of their faceoffs and capitalize on the Capitals’ willingness to allow Detroit’s defensemen to repeatedly fire long bombs at the net played large roles in the Wings’ win, as did a finally fully healthy Rafalski, who contributed 3 assists over the course of 19:10 of ice time, as Kulfan noted:
“I felt good,” Rafalski said in an apparent understatement. “You try to take advantage of the opportunities and try to do the right thing.”
Rafalski played 19:10 and was plus-2, with one blocked shot to go with his three assists.
“It’s good to see him come back,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “For our lineup and the power play, it’s nice to have him back there. He makes a great first pass out of the zone.”
Babcock suggested that Rafalski finally both regained his mobility after battling through a sprained knee which required surgery in late October, as well as a sore back that had sidelined him since February 24th:
“Raffy is a real good player and if he’s healthy he’s a lot better player,” said Babcock.
Babcock reiterated his point to Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji...
“Obviously, Rafi’s a real good player, and if he’s healthy, he’s a lot better player,” Babcock said. “He hasn’t been healthy most of the year, and we’d like to get him back and play the way he can. We’re a faster team when guys are moving the puck.”
And after the Wings briefly reflected on the larger task at hand, tonight’s game against Columbus included, going down the stretch…
“You just want to make sure you’re playing well,” Rafalski said. “Everyone’s healthy, so we want to really be focused on doing the right things and we did that (Wednesday night).”
““I think every single guy in here strives to be peaking right at the playoffs,” Howard said. “That’s when we want to be playing our best. There’s still some areas we can do better in, but we’re going to continue to work at it. That’s the type of group of guys that we have. Nobody’s ever satisfied.”
The Capitals and Wings focused on a point that the Wings hope they won’t have to revisit tonight in the fact that Detroit exploited the Capitals’ relative fatigue:
“They’re good,” Boudreau said. “What are you going to do when they come out and they’re rested and ready for bear and they come out that hard? There’s not a lot of teams that are going to stop them when they’re moving the puck like that. We tried and it’s the first time we’ve seen them. Our goal in the first period was to hang in because we knew they’d use a lot of energy up. If we could hang in and be down a goal, even or up a goal we’d have a chance to win.”
St. James also noted the Wings’ comments in that regard...
Mike Babcock, on ending the Capitals’ nine-game winning streak: “When you’re on a roll, it’s going to come to an end—it’s no different for them than for us. I thought they played good and I thought we played good. I thought we carried the bulk of the play in the middle of the game, but I thought they pushed good at the end. It was a good game.” ...
Brian Rafalski added: “They played last night, so they were a little fatigued, I’m sure. We came in, four days rest, pretty fresh. We were able to take advantage of it.”
As did the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness:
“I thought we had good pressure,” Babcock said. “We won faceoffs tonight and if you win faceoffs that gives you a real good start.”
“We knew it was going to be tough for them so we had to take advantage of it,” said Brian Rafalski, who assisted on all three goals in his first game back after missing eight straight with back spasms. “You do what you can.”
The three-point night for Rafalski was his ninth multi-point game of the season.
“If plays are there you try and make them,” Rafalski said. “I didn’t do anything special. We’ve got some good players on the ice so you get them the puck and good things are going to happen.
Overall, however, the night and the night’s bottom line belonged to Zetterberg, who earned his first-star status and then some…
“It’s always fun to play against great players, especially from the Eastern Conference. You don’t see them that often,” Zetterberg said. “When you get the opportunity, you want to have a good game. He’s a very skilled player and it was tough to defend against him. No matter how you do it, it seems he always gets a shot away.”
Valtteri Filppula also scored for the Red Wings. Brian Rafalski returned after missing nine games with back spasms and assisted on all three goals. Detroit killed all four Washington power plays. With former Red Wing Mike Knuble in the penalty box for tripping, Zetterberg scored on a harmless-looking play at 9:53 of the third. He lifted a backhand shot from a sharp angle that deflected in off goaltender Michal Neuvirth’s mask, just past his outstretched glove.
“It was a great pass by Pav (Datsyuk),” Zetterberg said. “I had a lot of speed. I think (Neuvirth) was cheating a little bit for a pass, so it was real luck to hit the mask and go in.”
“I think I was overdue,” Zetterberg said. “It’s been a while since I seen the back of the net, so it was nice to at least get one, and it was nice to get the second one, too.”
And Babcock, who suggested that two of the Wings’ other scorers who’ve gone silent in Filppula and Bertuzzi are coming around:
“I thought (Zetterberg) and Filppula both were really good and broke out,” Babcock said. “It’s good to see them both score, and it’s good for us because that means they get on a bit of a roll here. But I thought the guy up front who was fantastic was Bertuzzi. I thought he had an excellent night. Really skated good, good back pressure and played well defensively and did a good job.”
Bertuzzi was very strong on the forecheck, in transition—and the Wings really clamped down on turnovers between the bluelines while going north-south in the neutral zone instead of looping back, utilizing their speed to generate scoring opportunities—and when grinding the puck out down low and on the cycle, sticking his butt out to protect himself from opposing players. If the Wings can get Franzen going again while keeping Filppula and Bertuzzi engaged, they’ll be much better off…
And going into tonight’s game against Columbus, yet another game in a place Detroit can’t seem to win in Nashville this Saturday, and a bit of a revenge match that’s more about 2 points than anything else on Monday vs. Pittsburgh, I really hope that this doldrum-breaking game against the Capitals has shaken the entire team from what was a really troubling late-season malaise.
The key for the Wings, going forward, seems to involve manufacturing genuine enthusiasm for playing Red Wings-like hockey while rehearsing for the playoffs instead of simply going through the motions and playing disinterested, detached hockey simply because they’ve got a playoff spot locked up a month earlier than they did last season.
Highlights: Versus posted a 2:55 highlight clip:
Comcast Sportsnet Washington posted a 2:10 clip of highlights and post-game Capitals comments:
And NHL.com’s highlight clip is narrated by the Capitals’ announcer:
Post-game: TSN’s Aaron Ward claimed that the Wings’ defense is fatally flawed;
Comcast Sportsnet Washington posted a 2:40 clip of Bruce Boudreau’s post-game presser:
The Capitals’ website posted Boudreau’s presser and post-game comments from Matt Hendricks, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson:
The Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell posted a clip of Ovechkin’s post-game scrum;
Fox Sports Detroit posted clips of Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond’s takes on the game, as well as comments from Wings coach Mike Babcock, Brian Rafalski, Henrik Zetterberg and Jimmy Howard;
WXYZ posted a 30-second clip of Henrik Zetterberg and Mike Babcock talking about the game…
And the Red Wings’ website posted Zetterberg, Rafalski and Babcock’s comments:
Photos: The Detroit Free Press posted a 6-image gallery;
The Detroit News posted a 19-image gallery;
Yahoo Sports posted a 9-image gallery;
NHL.com posted a 21-image gallery;
Statistics: Shots 35-28 Detroit overall, breaking down as 10-9 Detroit in the 1st period, 16-9 Detroit in the 2nd period and 10-9 Washington in the 3rd period.
The Wings went 1-for-2 in 2:33 of PP time and the Caps went 0-for-4 in 8:00 of PP time.
Howard stopped 26 of 28 shots against; Neuvirth stopped 32 of 35.
The 3 stars, per the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness, were Ovechkin, Rafalski and Zetterberg.
Our goals: Zetterberg (19) from Rafalski (34) and Bertuzzi (24);
Filppula (14) from Rafalski (35) and Modano (10);
Zetterberg (20) from Datsyuk (35) and Rafalski (36), PP.
Faceoffs: 35-21 Detroit (Detroit won 63%);
Blocked shots: 13-8 Washington;
Missed shots: 16-6 Detroit (total attempted shots 64-42 Detroit);
Hits: 24-22 Detroit
Giveaways: 13-10 Detroit;
Takeaways: 7-6 Washington.
Faceoffs: Filppula went 9-and-6 (60%); Datsyuk went 8-and-6 (57%); Zetterberg went 7-and-4 (64%); Draper went 6-and-0; Helm went 3-and-3; Cleary and Modano both went 1-and-1.
Shots: Zetterberg led the team with 7 shots; Abdelkader and Filppula had 4; Datsyuk and Ericsson had 3; Kindl, Lidstrom, Draper, Kronwall and Franzen had 2; Cleary, Helm, Bertuzzi and Modano had 1.
Blocked attempts: Lidstrom and Zetterberg had 2 shot attempts blocked by Capitals players; Kindl, Abdelkader, Cleary, Datsyuk, Rafalski, Bertuzzi, Filppula, Kronwall and Franzen had 1 shot attempt blocked.
Missed shots: Cleary missed the net 3 times; Helm, Bertuzzi, Filppula and Holmstrom missed the net 2 times; Kindl, Lidstrom, Rafalski, Zetterberg and Ericsson missed the net 1 time.
Hits: Stuart led the team with 4 hits; Abdelkader, Helm and Bertuzzi had 3; Kindl, Cleary, Ericsson and Franzen had 2; Kronwall, Modano and Holmstrom had 1.
Giveaways: Datsyuk had 3 giveaways; Draper had 2; Kindl, Lidstrom, Abdelkader, Zetterberg, Helm, Ericsson, Kronwall and Franzen had 1.
Takeaways: Zetterberg had 2 takeaways; Lidstrom, Draper, Helm and Filppula had 1.
Blocked opponent shots: Kronwall blocked 3 Capitals shots; Stuart blocked 2; Lidstrom, Abdelkader and Rafalski blocked 1.
Penalties aken: Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Ericsson and Holmstrom were tagged with minor penalties.
Plus-minus: Franzen finished at -2; Datsyuk, Stuart, Ericsson, Kronwall and Holmstrom were -1; Lidstrom, Abdelkader, Zetterberg, Filppula and Modano finished at +1; Rafalski finished at +2.
Points: Rafalski had 3 assists; Zetterberg had 2 goals; Filppula had a goal; Datsyuk, Bertuzzi and Modano had assists.
Ice time: Stuart led the team with 25:07 played; Lidstrom played 24:10; Kronwall played 21:10;
Rafalski played 19:10; Zetterberg played 18:13; Filppula played 17:08;
Cleary played 16:50; Datsyuk played 15:57; Bertuzzi played 15:52;
Ericsson played 15:18; Abdelkader played 14:58; Kindl played 14:19;
Helm played 14:00; Franzen played 13:49; Draper played 13:48;
Holmstrom played 13:05; Modano played 10:16; Hudler played 8:40.
Part 2: Red Wings notebooks: Red Wings coach Mike Babcock offered a rather dire assessment of Chris Osgood’s delayed recovery from sports hernia surgery than GM Ken Holland did while speaking to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:
Osgood, close to returning from his Jan. 11 sports hernia surgery, felt soreness after the morning skate and wasn’t able to be in uniform. With that, the Wings promoted Joey MacDonald from Grand Rapids.
General manager Ken Holland said the move was a precautionary measure.
Said Babcock: “He ain’t going (to Columbus Thursday). “We have a goalie down and recalled another, so things don’t seem to be that good.”
• The Detroit Free Press’s Helene St. James offers more positive take on Osgood’s delayed return, however:
The Wings had to recall goaltender Joey MacDonald from Grand Rapids, as Chris Osgood deemed himself too sore to play after a third straight day of practice. Osgood was activated off injured reserve Monday, two months after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia and other groin-area problems. He plans to take it easy the rest of the week, and resume practices as soon as possible.
Forward Patrick Eaves, who had been sidelined by a groin injury, is expected to play tonight at Columbus. “With a major skating muscle, you want to be careful,” he said. “Especially with this amount of games left, you don’t want to come back too soon and then be out even longer.”
St. James also reports that Rafalski essentially had to “pay up” as Valtteri Filppula and Niklas Kronwall placed a bet on how many shifts it would take Rafalski to score a point in his return, with Filppula winning the bet:
“These guys over here were betting when I was going to get a point, how many shifts it was going to take,” Rafalski said, looking left down the row of stalls at Niklas Kronwall and company. “I pretty much hit the numbers they were guessing at lunch. I think Kronwall won.”
Kronwall piped in with the correct answer, saying, “Fil.” Rafalski had been sidelined the previous eight games by back spasms. Wednesday’s was his ninth multipoint game of the season.
“The game hasn’t changed in three weeks,” Rafalski said.
• The Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness also provided an Osgood update...
“He practiced real hard and pushed himself,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He felt a little sore. It’s just a precaution.”
He noted the fact that Jakub Kindl might be a healthy scratch when Ruslan Salei returns from California, joining Eaves, Miller and/or Draper in a press box rotation, but Babcock has no problem whatsoever with the concept that the Wings will sit valuable contributors on a nightly basis…
“I like our mix (on the fourth line),” Babcock said. “(Justin Abdelkader) and (Darren Helm) have become significant players on our team and Millsie and (Kris Draper) and Patty Eaves have been excellent. Millsie’s found himself scratched here, he’s been fantastic. They bring us good energy and expect it on a nightly basis.”
And Pleiness gauged the Wings’ takes on the league’s latest attempts to curb concussions:
“You want to maintain the physicality, you want to maintain the game that’s been forever, that people like and we’re all passionate about,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said after his team’s morning skate Wednesday. “But I also believe, over a period of time, the players used to make each other accountable. If you did that to someone, someone would stick you in the face. They took that away from you, so when you don’t look after yourself, someone else has to look after you and so it’s a different game now and the players got to be looked after.”
“It’s fairly easy,” Babcock said. “If you’re penalized for a hit to the head, then the league can decide on each one, whether you’re suspended or not suspended. If the suspensions are severe, they’ll stop. No one wants to give away money.The league’s doing what it can,” Babcock added. “Let’s make the game as safe as we can for the players and keep the physicality in the game.”
“The rule implemented going into this year has helped us,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “You’ve seen some suspensions and if they can tweak it a bit to make it better it would be good. It’s a fine line between making an open-ice hit and hitting someone blindside you have to look at even more. When a player is skating straight forward and you step up on him, that’s a hockey play,” Lidstrom added. “You don’t want to hit him in the head, but you’re trying to stop him. When you’re skating, your head is leaning forward so it’s hard to eliminate that. I think they can be stricter on the grey area hits from the side.”
• The Detroit News’s Tim Twentyman also discussed the fact that Wednesday night’s game represented a reunion for Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk, who played alongside each other during the lockout, playing for Dynamo Moscow in the old Russian superleague:
“It’s always fun when you haven’t see a guy in a long time and you come to his town. It’s fun,” Ovechkin said. “I think the fans like to see the rivalry and the challenge, so it’s nice.”
Datsyuk and Ovechkin can only skate together as Russian Olympic teammates, so NHL fans had to settle for Ovechkin-Datsyuk duel Wednesday.
In the only meeting between the teams this season, Ovechkin and Datsyuk had a point. Ovechkin scored a goal and Datsyuk had an assist. The victory for the Red Wings snapped a nine-game winning streak for the Capitals. Ovechkin tied the game 2-2 with his 29th goal this season at 5:53 mark of the second period. Ovechkin drove the puck right down the center of the ice and sliced it through the legs of defenseman Brad Stuart and over the stick of goaltender Jimmy Howard. Ovechkin finished with one goal on seven shots.
“You play once a year and we have fun and it’s exciting,” Ovechkin said after the game.
Datsyuk assisted on Henrik Zetterberg’s second goal of the game, a third-period power-play goal that was the winner. Datsyuk had one assist and three shots.
• And Kulfan also spoke to Darren Helm about his conscious decision to attempt to ignore his offensive abilities, lest he get himself into trouble by playing outside his assigned role as a defensive and energy forward:
“For me, I try really hard to not think about scoring goals,” said Helm, a defensive-minded forward who has already tied his career high of 11 goals.
Helm has his most success when he’s quietly going about his business of checking, and using his explosive speed to hound opponents.
“When I’m playing hard, working hard, and skating is when I usually get my most chances to score,” he said.
“When I get into a mind-set like a skilled player, I get in trouble,” he said. “I have to make sure I’m playing my game and let things fall where they may. Definitely each year I want to keep getting more confident and comfortable out there playing, with and without the puck and being able to make plays. If I can make more of an impact each year, produce more, and at the same time making sure other parts of the game they want me to play — the energy and playing physical — don’t dwindle, I could have a long career.”
Part 3: Red Wings-Blue Jackets set-up: Realistically speaking, the Columbus Blue Jackets don’t have much of a chance of making the playoffs. They sit seven points behind the 8th-place Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference standings, and while they’re tied with Colorado for the fewest games played in the NHL with 69 to 70-72 for most everybody else, they’ve lost 7 of their past 8 games, including a 3-2 shootout loss to Boston on Tuesday, so the Blue Jackets essentially have to 1. Win all their remaining games and 2. Hope that the four teams ahead or near them fall flat on their faces going forward.
That being said, the Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace reports that the Blue Jackets will still go into tonight’s game (again, it’s a 7 PM start, and will air on Fox Sports Detroit and Fox Sports Ohio) hoping to begin a near-miraculous comeback:
[A]fter the morning skate [on Tuesday], [coach Scott Arniel] said, “Until this whole conference is finalized, so much is going on right now. The wild West is happening every night. We’ve just got to take care of our business and hope things fall our way.”
Technically, they are not dead. The Jackets are seven points out of eighth place, with four teams to leap. The only real shot is at eighth, and if Calgary goes 5-5 the rest of the way, or Nashville, in ninth, gets hot whatever the Jackets do might not mean a thing. Total focus. There are some fans who still want to believe. The Jackets, they have to believe. Otherwise, what are they doing out there?
“We still want to play hockey games,” forward R.J. Umberger said. “We’re still fighting and clawing until they tell us this is over.”
With some goaltending, there is a shred of hope. Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon have been spotty, hot and cold, and they might want to think about catching fire right now. The boys might want to avoid shootouts, or work on a couple of new moves. And the captain, Rick Nash, who is 10 games without a goal now, might want to pot one, two or three sometime soon. Like, Thursday.
“They know how important this is,” Arniel said. “We’ve been talking playoffs since, what, 10 games into the season? Right now, it’s pure focus.”
—D Fedor Tyutin (flu) did not practice today. He’s been stricken by the flu the last couple of days, so maybe we should give him half of a break for letting Rich Peverley go by him for the short-handed goal on Tuesday.
—The Blue Jackets practiced for about 40 minutes this morning. Everybody was present except for Tyutin and the four injured players.
The Series: The Blue Jackets are 17-35-1-9 against the Red Wings, including 10-14-1-6 in Nationwide Arena. This is the sixth and final meeting of the season.
The setup: Detroit games seem to bring out the best in Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash, and the Jackets sorely need offense from him. The Red Wings played host to the Washington Capitals last night, so the Blue Jackets should have an energy advantage. The Blue Jackets are 8-6-2 against the Red Wings in the regular season in Nationwide Arena since the 2006-07 season.
Columbus Blue Jackets at a glance
• Past 10 games: 2-4-4
• Power play: 14.8 percent (27th in NHL)
• Penalty kill: 81.2 percent (20th)
• Player to watch: G Steve Mason is 6-7-2 in his career against Detroit despite a .922 save percentage.
• Injury update: Chris Clark (lower body), LW Kristian Huselius (lower body), D Anton Stralman (knee) and C Andrew Murray (lower body), out
Season Series: This is the sixth and final meeting between the Central Division rivals. Detroit is 3-1-1 against Columbus this season, but the Blue Jackets earned a 3-0 victory in the most recent showdown on Feb. 4 at Joe Louis Arena.
Big Story: The Vancouver Canucks were the first team to reach 100 points and seemed destined to earn home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Red Wings appear primed to go on another long run this spring. Facing a team that had won nine straight games, Detroit skated away with a 3-2 victory against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena. It was the Wings’ third straight win.
Blue Jackets [team scope]: Seven points out of a playoff spot with only 13 games remaining in their regular season, the Blue Jackets are on life support. They managed to get a point against one of the better teams in the League on Tuesday night, when the Blue Jackets suffered a 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins at Nationwide Arena.
Who’s Hot: Wings center Darren Helm and Blue Jackets winger Scottie Upshall have both scored four goals in their last eight games.
Injury Report: For Columbus, Chris Clark (lower body), Kristian Huselius (ankle) and Andrew Murray (lower body) are day-to-day. Anton Stralman (knee) is out indefinitely.
Stat Pack: Columbus captain Rick Nash has gone 10 straight games without a goal, one short of his career high. Nash went 11 contests without a tally last season and also during his rookie campaign of 2002-03.
Per the NHL’s media website, Wes McCauley and Dan O’Rourke will referee tonight’s game, with Scott Cherrey and Jay Sharrers working the lines.
Part 4: Also of Wings-related note: In Sweden, Calle Jarnkrok won’t be able to make a miraculous return to Brynas’s lineup as Farjestads BK defeated Brynas 4-3 to advance to the second round of the Eliteserien playoffs, where FBK will face AIK Skelleftea. I’m not sure whether Jarnkrok will attempt to recover from his separated left shoulder so that he can play in the World Championships in late April/early May;
• Back on this side of the Atlantic, the Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Oklahoma City Barons 2-1 in a shootout, with Jordan Pearce stopping 4 of 5 shootout attempts against him.
• In Swedish, Henrik Zetterberg told Expressen’s Gunnar Nordstrom that last night’s game had a “playoff atmosphere,” and he told Aftonbladet’s Per Bjurman that he’d love to play against the Capitals again, obviously;
• Also in Swedish, and as a follow-up, Aftonbladet’s Daniel Grefve and the New York Post’s Larry Brooks suggest that the Rangers will sign University of Michigan captain Carl Hagelin far before his rights expire in June. That nullifies the suggestion by the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff that the Wings will somehow manage to secure Hagelin’s rights;
• In case you missed ‘em, DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose penned an article about the Wings making a once-gravely ill boy’s dream of skating with the Wings come true, and NHL.com’s Brian Hedger spoke to Johan Franzen about the Ovechkin-vs-Datsyuk debate;
• Here’s a wee update on Gustav Nyquist’s situation, via the Maine Campus’s Jesse Scardina, who reports that Nyquist’s being lobbied to stay at Maine:
“I’ve met with all the players who have an opportunity to sign early,” [University of Maine coach Tim] Whitehead said. “It’s their decision, but we discussed it and I gave them my advice and the positives and negatives of signing and the positives of staying. There really aren’t a lot of negatives to stay.”
• And, in the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” department, per Crain’s Detroit Business’s Bill Shea:
Chalk this up — for now — into the juicy rumor category: The Ilitches have floated the idea of putting a greenspace-walkway “roof” over I-75 at Woodward Avenue. Why? If they build their long-proposed hockey arena for their Detroit Red Wings on land they own just north of the highway along Woodward, then having what amounts to a massive pedestrian bridge linking the venue to their properties south of I75 (the Foxtown area) makes sense.
The Ilitch-owned Hockeytown Café, Fox Theatre and Comerica Park would be more easily accessible if there were more than just Woodward Avenue and other road-bridge sidewalks (and future light rail line) connecting those properties to the land north of the I75. It’s also could satisfy safety considerations: “Overserved” Red Wings fans stumbling out of a new arena wouldn’t drunkenly toss items onto the highway (or fall onto it themselves) if it’s covered by a green space and paths.
The cost I heard was in the $160 million to $170 million range, and the Ilitches would seek to tap into federal and/or state funding to pay for it. Whether there’s any realistic chance of public funding paying for this is unclear (pots of money for green transportation projects exist in different places). It sounds like the Ilitches wouldn’t pay for this themselves. They’ll be on the hook for a large portion of the arena, which is expected to cost around $400 million.
Drawings apparently exist of the greenspace roof idea. I’ve not seen them, and I don’t know how much of I75 would be basically turned into a tunnel. Looking at a map, the stretch between Grand River and Brush Street makes the most sense.
Once the arena is built — keep in mind that the Ilitches haven’t said where the venue is going, but evidence strongly suggests that spot north of I75 — and the light rail line is running, there will be a wave of development. Investors will be interested in putting in restaurants, bars, retail and residential projects, further increasing foot traffic in that area. Making sure they can get around easier benefits everyone.
I asked Ilitch spokeswoman Karen Cullen about the I75 proposal, and she’s working on getting a comment, so check back here for updates. What are my sources on this? I’m not naming names, but a few people have quietly talked about it, and they are reliable.
Update: The Westland Observer’s LeAnne Rogers reports that the Wings’ alums defeated the “Westland Wild Wings” 10-9 in a game which raised $20,000 to upgrade Westland’s Mike Modano Arena.
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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.