The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/05/11 at 10:33 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings will attempt to salvage their 5-game West Coast Swing tonight when they tangle with the Phoenix Coyotes (8 PM EST, FSD/FS Arizona/WXYT), facing yet another desperate team that’s fallen back into the Western Conference’s playoff pack by following up an 8-game February winning streak with a 5-game losing streak to close February and begin March, with their most recent defeating coming via a 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.
The Wings, of course, are in the midst of a 2-game losing streak thanks to Thurdsay’s 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks, and after taking Friday off, the Wings will have to get up to speed in short order against a possible first-round opponent that’s well aware of the fact that it’s playing a now-bitter rival both in the stands (thanks to the multitudes of Wings fans and Phoenix) and on the ice tonight. Coyotes coach Dave Tippett pulled out Ye Olde Measuring Stick when discussing tonight’s match-up with the Arizona Republic’s Jim Gintonio, promising to match the Wings’ worth ethic on a stride-for-stride basis:
“That’s the thing about Detroit,” coach Dave Tippett said. “They’re always recognized for the high skill they have, but they’re one of the hardest-working teams in the league. If you’re not willing to work going into it, you’re going to be behind, so that will be our focus.”
The five-game skid that followed an eight-game winning streak attaches extra importance on the Coyotes’ home-game-heavy schedule during the stretch run. If captain Shane Doan’s view is correct, the Coyotes are primed to play solid hockey moving forward.
“It’s not a joyful group by any means,” he said. “The last two games, we were one play away from either winning or getting a point. We got to find ways to do that. It’s one play here or there, and that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Still, to characterize each remaining game as a “must-win” one is not always productive, and Doan said the team knows a bump or two along the way does not equate to failure.
“You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low,” he said. “I think if it’s must-in, and you lose that, then what do you do then? We’re trying to keep more of a business-like approach. We’ve got to better in all areas of the game. Defensively, it’s starting to come, but we got to be better on the PP (power play), we’ve got to find chances to score, we’ve got to generate them and make them. When we do get an opportunity, we’ve got to score.”
“[During t]hat eight-game winning streak, we were winning some games by a goal that we were finding a way to get that extra play, and the last couple games we just haven’t been able to do that,” [Tippett] said. “Detroit obviously is a good test for us. We’ve played well against them this year, so I expect a very competitive game again.”
The Coyotes’ website posted a game preview via video from Yotes radio broadcaster Luke Lapinski, who interviewed Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, forwards Shane Doan, Brett MacLean and Vernon Fiddler, who tends to dominate against the Wings in the faceoff circle:
The Yotes’ website also posted audio clips of MacLean (who will probably substitute, per Gintonio, for the injured Martin Hazal) and Fiddler, and NHL.com’s Sergei J. Feldman provides a preview from a neutral perspective:
Season series—Last year’s first-round playoff opponents will meet for the fourth and final time this season. Detroit leads the season series 2-1-0, but both wins came in overtime.
Coyotes [team scope];—It’s been a tough week for the Coyotes, who lost a pair of heartbreakers that have left them in danger of dropping out of the top eight in the West. Phoenix rallied from a 2-0 deficit late in the third period to tie Dallas in the final minute [on Tuesday], only to give up a goal with just 4.8 seconds remaining in regulation for a 3-2 loss. On Thursday, Phoenix limited Los Angeles to just 18 shots—but the 18th was a power-play slapper by Jarret Stoll with less than eight minutes left in regulation that resulted in a 1-0 loss.
Who’s hot —Pavel Datsyuk has been leading the way for Detroit with three goals in his past four games and points in four of the last five games. … For the Coyotes, forward Ray Whitney has 4 points in the past five games.
Injury report—Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski has missed a week with back spasms and remains day-to-day. … Phoenix remains without defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who is day-to-day with an eye injury.
Stat pack—Coyotes center Eric Belanger hit the 700-game milestone against the Los Angeles Kings. … Detroit hasn’t lost three consecutive games since Dec. 4-8. … The Wings are 7-for-26 on the power play in their last six games.
The Free Press’s Helene St. James, who says that the Red Wings will receive the results of an MRI taken of Brian Rafalski’s ailing back on Friday sometime today (that’s not necessarily a good thing), notes that the Wings felt that they need to get more bodies in front of opposing goaltenders, and shot-soaking-up-machine Ilya Bryzgalov in particular, to get their offense back on track:
“When you get down to this time of year, every goal seems to be hard to come by,” Brad Stuart said. “You want as many guys in front as you can and then get shots through.”
The Wings have the luxury of mixing their lines to respond to how a game is going, like they did against the Sharks. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were united and gained Johan Franzen on the right side; coach Mike Babcock didn’t know if he’d use that combo tonight, but it might not be a bad idea since Franzen has gone 14 games without scoring. Valtteri Filppula was pulled off the third line to center the second, gaining two big wingers in Cleary and Bertuzzi, and Mike Modano pivoted the third line, with Holmstrom and Justin Abdelkader.
“I think the bottom line is we’ve got to skate better than we did tonight as a group,” Babcock said after the game. “Our big guys in particular have got to skate better.”
The Wings are second in the Western Conference, but the Sharks have moved within three points, and the Canucks are only four points ahead of the Wings.
“I think the whole West side, if you look right around the top eight spots, that eighth seed, it’s been changing almost every night,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the standings being so tight this late in the year.”
As such, it’s entirely possible that the Wings may face the Coyotes, Blackhawks, Kings, Stars, Flames, Ducks, Predators, Wild or the aforementioned Coyotes in the first round, so every game against their potential opponents include the customary amount of message-sending on both sides.
At the other side of the standings, the 89 points (Vancouver) versus 85 points (Detroit) versus 82 points (San Jose) scrum means that, as MLive’s Ansar Khan notes means that the Wings and Sharks, their nearest pursuers, are looking up (though you can read the Sharks’ comments on their own as they’re immaterial to this narrative):
“Every point you get is important,” Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said. “We know what it’s like this time of year, how hard it is to get points. We didn’t expect it to be any different.”
Khan also asked Babcock to assess the play of Johan Franzen of late as he hasn’t registered a goal in 14 games. Babcock—again—immediately deferred to the team as Franzen’s goal-less streak isn’t for a lack of trying…
“It’s back-to-back nights, it’s hard to evaluate,” Babcock said. “Sometimes, when you jump in when you’ve been away (for a game), it’s harder. The bottom line is we got to skate better than we did (Thursday) as a group. Our big guys got to skate better.”
Said Zetterberg of Franzen: “He’s doing the right things — he’s working hard without the puck and getting chances. When he gets one, he’ll probably get more. He’s a streaky goal-scorer.”
As Khan also notes, Zetterberg didn’t register a shot on goal for the first time on Thursday…
And he also notes that tonight’s game serves as a showdown of sorts between two of the league’s best defensemen:
Saturday’s game features the league’s two-highest scoring defensemen in Phoenix’s Keith Yandle (54 points) and Lidstrom (52 points).
“He’s a very active defenseman,” Lidstrom said. “He’s good on the rush, he’s good at reading plays and getting up in the play.”
Heading back to the front, however, the Wings’ main focus heading into tonight’s game remains getting butts in front of one of the few goaltenders who can look around players while in his stance in a Mike Modano-sized Bryzgalov, suggesting that penetrating the slot (stop laughing!), screening the opposing goaltender and retrieving pucks for secondary and tertiary scoring opportunities are huge priorities heading into tonight’s game, especially in light of the fact that they did such a poor job of getting butts parked in front of Antti Niemi on Thursday:
“He’s a big goalie (6-foot-2, 215), takes up a lot of the net. That’s how we scored (their lone) goal, got a lot of traffic in front of him,” MacDonald said. “That’s how you’re going to beat goaltenders like that, through traffic and rebounds.”
“That’s something you have to do, especially later in the year and in the playoffs, go hard to the net and get some goals you have to battle for,” Lidstrom said. “We need a better job of driving to the net.”
The Wings reiterated their points of emphasis to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan as well, and while the comments are a bit repetitious, give the Wings’ beat writers credit as they did quite a bit with very little in the way of content and context while setting up both their and the Wings’ fourth game, in their fourth city, over the course of six nights:
“This time of year every goal seems hard to come by,” defenseman Brad Stuart said. “You want to get as many guys in front as you can and get shots through. They (the Sharks) did that and we had some good opportunities off that as well. That’s important this time of year to be able to do that.”
“Especially late in the year, and when playoffs come around, it’s about going hard to the net and getting some of those type of goals,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “You have to battle. We have to do a better job of driving to the net.”
Coach Mike Babcock revamped his lines early to get production, but the results weren’t good enough. At one point, Babcock put Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen together.
“I just tried to get whoever’s playing, playing,” said Babcock, who wouldn’t commit to playing the three again. “The bottom line is we got to skate better than we did (Thursday) as a group. Our big guys have to skate better.”
Zetterberg said: “It’s good we can do that (mix lines) but it would be nice to get more production when we do that. It’s good to have options if we need to go there.”
They do, and it’s not just Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Franzen that have to step up. Todd Bertuzzi and Mike Modano have been the Wings’ best non-Darren Helm forwards of late. Filppula, Danny Cleary, Jiri Hudler, Tomas Holmstrom and whoever plays alongside Helm (probably Abdelkader and Miller tonight) have to crank things up, and while Lidstrom and Jakub Kindl have been particularly effective of late, the Wings need more from Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall in the puck-moving department more than the point-producing department as the Wings’ transition game has suffered since Brian Rafalski left the lineup…
And while I’m crossing my fingers, I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling that Rafalski’s going to be out for another week or two with some sort of sprain or minor herniation (those tend to heal on their own).
Per the NHL’s media website, Tim Peel and Ghislain Hebert will referee tonight’s game, with Shane Heyer and Tony Sericolo working the lines.
Also: Red Wings scout/defensive mentor/fitness guru Chris Chelios also spoke to WDFN’s Sean Baligian and Killer Kowalski on Friday, from the sunny locale of Fairbanks, AK (where Dean Chelios, Jake Chelios and Michigan State University dropped a 3-2 OT decision to the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the CCHA tournament), and he discusses superstitions, the Wings’ possible tiredness going into Thursday night’s game due to having to fly in on Thursday morning thanks to the local airport’s curfew, and the disallowed goal vs. the Sharks, among other topics, on Friday afternoon:
Of Red Wings-Related note, Grand Rapids Griffins department: The Griffins defeated the Rochester Americans 5-4 on Friday night, but the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema reports that forward Jordan Owens suffered a broken arm after attempting to score a breakaway goal.
The Griffins’ website (which also provides a Flickr photo gallery and YouTube-formatted post-game interviews) and Zudiema provide recaps, and Zuidema noted that the Lake Erie Monsters are looking behind them at the Grand Rapids team lurking in their rearview mirror;
• According to the Grand Rapids Griffins’ website, the team’s also auctioning off a slate of AHL 75th anniversary jerseys featuring the autographs of the Griffins’ most famous NHL alumni tonight when they face the Amerks again, and the Griffins are holding an online auction to benefit MSU’s College of Human Medicine as well;
• The Griffins’ website also posted its latest slate of “Griffiti” interviews with Owens, ironically enough, Brent Raedeke and current Wing Joey MacDonald, as well as YouTube interviews with Raedeke, Derek Meech and Griffins coach Curt Fraser.
Of Red Wings-related note, other stuff department:
• The Wings will hold a “Fan Day” at Meijer on Tuesday, when Tomas Holmstrom signs autographs at the Meijer in Wixom, MI from 5-7 PM;
• In the ECHL, Thomas McCollum stopped 41 shots and Sebastien Piche returned to the lineup in a 5-4 loss to the Kalamazoo K-Wings on on Friday night;
• Daffy, but typical: the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc’s already thinking about the possibility that the Chicago Blackhawks, who are 9 points behind the Wings and have 3 games left against Detroit, will win the Central Division;
• Paul already posted these, but I’m going to repeat them as I think they’re important/interesting: the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek talked to Red Wings forward Mike Modano about checks to players whose backs are turned to play, and Modano believes that these checks must be eliminated from the game:
“Taking obstruction out of the game has allowed guys to go from zero to 100 without being contested – without any slowdown through the neutral zone, without holding on to help your defence get back and get the puck,” Modano said this week. “Now, you’ve got to let ‘em go, so [the defenceman] is getting hammered from behind. Plus, the cross-ice hits and the equipment – it’s more like a weapon, like in football.”
In 1999, the then-Dallas Stars centre was slammed into the end boards from behind by Anaheim’s Ruslan Salei – who ironically is now his teammate with the Detroit Red Wings – and had to be stretchered off with a concussion and neck and facial injuries. Three years later, he suffered another concussion after being cranked from behind by Philadelphia’s Jeremy Roenick. After that hit, Modano lashed out at the seamless glass in place in most arenas – then as now, innovative new equipment designed to protect in some cases is creating unanticipated dangers.
“You’re so protected now, you feel a little bit invincible, where you can give punishing hits and know you’re not going to be receiving that. It used to be, when the equipment [was lighter], they used to get hurt just as badly as the guy getting hit,” he said.
Players at any level or at any age could do a lot worse, Modano said, than to watch teammate Nick Lidstrom absorb contact by bracing his outside leg – “He’s always skating forward, but protects himself this way [by leaning into contact], where he can’t get pushed over. Otherwise, you’re too light on your feet.”
But for all the efforts to prevent players from being injured on hits from behind, Modano raises another truism of sports: enact a new rule, and athletes will find a way to stretch it or exploit it.
“Some guys use it to their advantage. They know if they turn a little bit and embellish a little, you might get a call,” Modano said. “And that’s not right.”
And he also spoke to Modano about the Wings’ recent losing streak in light of the fact that the Red Wings are not scrambling to earn a playoff spot, like they did last year, but are instead attempting to determine whether they’ll be the first, second, or third seed in the West:
“I’ve been on both sides,” said Modano, “and I’ve really enjoyed the part where you can afford a little bit of a hiccup down the stretch and still be okay. Granted, you always want to be at your best, and at a top level, but with these guys here, it seems like every night there are teams who are challenged by the ability to play the Wings, and the competition, and grading themselves of where they stand always against Detroit. This team’s always been geared towards playoff runs and deep playoff runs, so I think they’ve always had the ability to kick it up a notch when they have to.”
As well as Modano’s status in terms of regaining his form after returning from his wrist injury:
Modano signed with the Red Wings to act as their de facto No. 3 centre but missed a big part of the year because of a wrist injury that was thought to be career threatening. Every serious injury is career threatening if you’re 40 years of age and taking it year by year, but Modano returned and is slowly working himself back into playing shape, something he says is taking a little more time than he’d like.
“There are moments when you feel pretty good and there are some that remind you you’ve been off for 13 weeks,” said Modano, who earned an assist on Tomas Holmstrom’s power-play goal Thursday night, for his 10th point in 23 games. Modano’s goal is to round into shape in time for post-season play, where the Red Wings project him as their third-line centre, who can play some on the second power-play unit.
“It’s a day-to-day thing,” continued Modano. “You just try to do what you can productively to get caught up to these guys, because they’re moving pretty good and every game is magnified these days with the way the playoff races are. You just go in, trying not to do too much and being in a good position - get the puck, move it a little, and do some positive things with it as far as putting it in a good area. And obviously, short shifts in the meantime.”
Update 8:22 AM: The Production Line spoke to Wings prospect and Grand Rapids Griffins forward Cory Emmerton recently;
• The Everett Herald’s Nick Patterson reports that Wings prospect Landon Ferraro returned to the Everett Silvertips’ lineup on Friday, going scoreless in a 3-2 loss to the Tri-City Americans;
• Hockey’s Future duly noted that Wings prospect Gustav Nyquist has regained his scoring touch:
No prospect was hotter in February than Maine’s Gustav Nyquist (DET). The junior winger started off the month with a bang, posting his first career hat trick in the Black Bears’ 6-3 win over New Hampshire on Feb. 4th. All of his goals came on the power play. In Maine’s eight games during February, Nyquist posted 14 points (ten goals, four assists). He posted points in seven of the eight games, having been held pointless only in the Feb. 18 game at UMass-Lowell. His outstanding performance earned him the Hockey East Player of the Month honor for February. Nyquist currently leads Maine with 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists) playing in all 32 games to date. His 26 assists also lead the Black Bears.
• According to the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa and Vincent Goodwill, there is yet another bidder waiting to talk to Karen Davidson about purchasing the Detroit Pistons should Tom Gores’ bid for the franchise fail;
Update 9:02 AM: Per Versus, in case you haven’t noticed, Jimmy Howard’s carried the mail in the Wings’ crease, and Chuck Gormley believes that Nicklas Lidstrom’s still the front-runner for the Norris Trophy;
And the Ottawa Sun’s James Culic reports that Ottawa 67’s goaltender and Wings prospect Petr Mrazek has been sidelined by a groin injury.
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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.