The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/08/11 at 09:00 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings and Phoenix Coyotes face off tonight (7:30 PM EST, FSD/WXYT/FSAZ, and its Johan Franzen bobblehead night tonight) as a pair of teams on streaks.
The Coyotes feel very good about theirs as their two-game road winning streak, most recently involving a 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators, has them sitting atop the Pacific Division with 33 points; their opponents, however, feel a little more about streaking the way fans in Calgary did one unfortunate night when someone chose to only keep his socks on while attempting to re-live some 70’s silliness on ice (with predictably disastrous results), with a 3-2 loss to St. Louis on Tuesday punctuating yet another multiple-game losing streak.
As the two-time first-round opponents renew hostilities for the first time since last April, PhoenixCoyotes.com’s Dave Vest suggests that the Wings face something of a road juggernaut which hopes to increase Detroit’s magic number to 3 consecutive losses while eclipsing the Wings’ 33-point status:
The Coyotes will enter the game with nine road victories already in the bank; no other Western Conference team has won more than eight road games and only three Eastern Conference teams have matched Phoenix with nine wins on enemy ice.
“On the road, we are finding ways to get points, and that’s what it’s all about,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said.
The Coyotes will be looking to snap out of a lengthy power-play slump against the Red Wings, who rank 23rd in the NHL at penalty killing at 80.2 percent. Phoenix has netted just one power-play goal in its past 37 tries and has fallen to 29th in the League at 10.8 percent. On the flip side, the Coyotes continue to lead the league in fewest penalty minutes per game (8.4) and rank seventh in the NHL in penalty killing (85.9 percent).
Mike Smith will be back in goal for the Coyotes after taking off Tuesday night’s game at Nashville, which Phoenix won, 3-2, behind 30 saves by backup goalie Jason LaBarbera. Smith will be seeking his 14th win of the season and the second of his career vs. the Red Wings in his fifth try.
The Coyotes feel more than a little good about their collective game after two gritty wins, as Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told the Arizona Republic’s Jim Gintonio...
Since the arrival of Tippett, the Coyotes are 80-9-2 scoring first, and getting the first goal against a high-powered team like the Red Wings - who are second in the Western Conference in goal differential - could be a pivotal element.
“I think scoring first in the league, it’s pretty common that’s a big factor,” Tippett said. “If you can score early and get momentum in the game, that’s usually a big factor. It’s something we talk about. We want to start well every game; sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but when a team does score first, it seems like they can momentum.”
Against Detroit, it’s never an easy night.
“Their players are very good players,” he said. “They play a strong team game, they’re very well-coached, so we feel like we’ve played well here the last couple games, we have to play well to beat them.”
Tippett said during this stretch of games, 12 in 24 days, all players will be monitored, including the two goaltenders, to determine game strategy.
“It’ll depend on the feeling of our group day to day,” Tippett said. “We’ll ... try to do whatever we have to do on that given night to give us the best chance to win.”
Tippett gave a superb audio interview to Fox Sports Arizona’s Todd Walsh, which you can listen to here, tossing out equal amounts of respect for the Wings being the Wings and desire to earn a little playoff revenge via defeating the team the Coyotes view as their most bitter rival.
As the Wings didn’t practice on Wednesday, NHL.com’s Brian Hedger provides the pivot point between the Coyotes’ and Wings’ perspective via his game preview:
Big story: Detroit has currently lost two in a row following its most recent winning streak of seven games that ended last Sunday in Colorado. The Coyotes haven’t had a lengthy streak of any kind and come into Detroit looking to match their season high of three straight victories. The availability of Red Wings forward Valtteri Filppula (leg laceration) will be a side story, as will last season’s playoff sweep by the Wings.
Coyotes [team scope]: Phoenix is in the midst of a grueling portion of the schedule. This game will be the third in four days for the ‘Yotes, who started the week with back-to-back wins on the road against the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday and Nashville Predators on Tuesday. After playing the Wings, Phoenix will play 12 of its next 19 games away from Jobing.com Arena. The good news is the ‘Yotes have found success in other buildings. They have a mark of 9-4-1 in 14 road games. Keith Yandle is also heating up. He’s scored in each of the last two games and played his 200th consecutive game on Tuesday in Nashville.
Red Wings [team scope]: Detroit took eight penalties in a 3-2 loss on Tuesday at Scottrade Center and that’s out of character for the Wings. Jimmy Howard took the loss against St. Louis, but the third-year starting goalie remains a rock of consistency for Detroit—which played the Blues without Filppula (8 goals, 21 points), who has a deep cut on his right shin from taking a skate blade just above the boot of his skate in a Dec. 4 loss at Colorado.
Who’s hot: Ray Whitney has 3 goals and 3 assists in his past five games for the Coyotes, while Phoenix forward Mikkel Boedker has scored points in five of his last six games—including 3 goals. … Howard is 15-6-1 with a miniscule 1.83 goals-against average and .931 save percentage for the Red Wings. He also had a personal seven-game win streak halted in St. Louis, where he showed his fiery side by going after Blue forward David Perron—who was pushed into Howard.
Injury report: Filppula (leg laceration) is day-to-day, while Jan Mursak (fractured ankle) and Patrick Eaves (fractured jaw) are also out. … Rostislav Klesla is day-to-day for the Coyotes with a lower-body injury and fellow defenseman Michael Rozsival (upper-body injury) is still on IR.
Stat pack: The Coyotes are an impressive 13-0-0 when leading after two periods and 13-1-3 when scoring the first goal. Conversely, they’re 2-8-0 when the opponent scores first and 0-8-1 when trailing after two periods. The Red Wings are 10-2-1 at home and have won seven straight at Joe Louis Arena.
As the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan notes, Coyotes goalie Mike Smith hasn’t played like chopped liver, either...
[G]oaltender Mike Smith has been a surprise, going 13-6-3 with a 2.26 GAA and .931 save percentage.
Before very bluntly discussing the Wings’ streakiness with Nicklas Lidstrom:
“You want to come back, and especially going home again, we want to play better,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “They (the Blues) scored timely goals and we didn’t respond (in a 3-2 loss on Tuesday). These are a couple of big games (at home against the Jets on Saturday) and we want to bounce back.”
For the Red Wings to return to the win column, they’ll need to do a better job of staying out of the penalty box. Against St. Louis, Detroit was shorthanded eight times, allowing two power-play goals.
“We did take a few too many penalties, and gave up a couple goals,” Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said. “That’s not good enough. We’d like to stay out of the box, especially in a tight game.”
The Red Wings are ranked 23rd in the NHL on the penalty kill (80.2 percent).
“At times we’ve done a better job (killing penalties),” Lidstrom said. “But the record doesn’t show it.”
The Free Press’s Helene St. James focuses on those ugly special teams numbers in her off-day column, and the Wings’ “numbers” definitely add up to those you’d expect from a team in progress:
After being on the road for a week and with a jam-packed schedule ahead, the Wings didn’t practice Wednesday. They’ve spent numerous sessions putting in extra time on their special teams, but their penalty kill ranks only 23rd in the NHL. Ideally, the positional rank of the two special teams adds up to 10, or less. With a sixth-ranked power play, the Wings add up to 29.
Captain Nicklas Lidstrom considers the penalty kill improved from last season, saying, “At times I think we’ve done a better job, but the record doesn’t show that.”
The power play is at times an equal source of frustration, despite a 2-for-7 night Tuesday. The Wings were unable to generate good scoring chances through two first-period power plays, and again through a full two-minute advantage midway through the third period of a one-goal game. They were repeatedly thwarted as shots were blocked, lanes were cut off, and the puck was cleared.
“We’re one and done. We take one shot, and they’re getting it on their sticks and shooting it down, and we have to start all over again,” Lidstrom said. “It tires you out, and it’s a little bit frustrating. We’ve scored some goals as of late, but not when we’ve really needed them. (Tuesday) we needed one, to get that second goal. We got it a little bit late in the game. So I mean, it’s still something we’re working on. I think we have improved since the start of the year, but still, I think we can still improve on it and score some more timely goals.”
I’m gonna harp on it again: given the turnover both behind the bench in Jeff Blashill and Bill Peters replacing Brad McCrimmon and Paul MacLean, and given the fact that the Wings’ veterans (see: Henrik Zetterberg) and youngsters alike continue to struggle to play consistent hockey while dealing with the leadership voids created by Kris Draper, Chris Osgood and Brian Rafalski’s retirements, the Wings have probably played as well as can be expected given the circumstances.
Given that it’s December, however, it’s time for both the Wings and their fans to justifiably ramp up their expectations as to the team’s individual and collective performances, because now is the time when the Wings usually either make their move—ugly road schedule this month included—into the Western Conference elite, finding their form and establishing a predictably elite level of execution in most or all aspects of their game, or they continue to scramble and end up expending way too much energy down the stretch while competing for a top playoff spot.
I do believe that the Western Conference’s standings will clear up a little bit in the next month or so, and when the dust settles, what the Wings do now will determine whether they’re cruising along at their casual, energy-controlled best or whether the Wings’ brass is considering making trade deadline reinforcements as the team’s flaws gradually transform into glaring inadequacies. As of December, it’s no longer “too early” to worry, but it is still “too early” for the Wings to give us anything other than reasons to believe in them, and be patient with them, too.
Per the NHL’s media website, Stephen Walkom and Ian Walsh will referee tonight’s game, and Scott Cherrey and Brad Kovachik will work the lines.
We won’t know Valtteri Filppula’s status until after the morning skate, but if I were to hazard an educated guess, I’d assume that he won’t play until Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada match-up against the Jets or Tuesday’s tilt against the Penguins as the Wings’ medical staff tends to preach conservatism when it comes to injuries that could yield ugly consequences like infections from hockey equipment when pressed back into action too quickly.
Also of Red Wings-related note: Most of the off-day updates involved tangentially Wings-related news thanks to the fact that the gents finally got a day off after playing and practicing for the better part of two weeks.
You can weigh in on the whole Howard-Blues kerfuffle if you wish, and I’d suggest the same regarding this: a day after giving Wings fans something of a tongue-lashing for supposedly not taking the NHL’s decision to realign the Wings while placing them in a Midwestern “conference,” geographically speaking, without much grace, the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa offers a somewhat ironically critical take on the fact that the Wings will face a tougher road to hoe in terms of making the playoff cut in an eight-team “conference” as opposed to the more easterly teams’ seven-team “conferences”:
In a bid to earn votes for realignment, the NHL put 14 of the 15 franchises in the Eastern Conference into two seven-team divisions, and moved Winnipeg into Detroit’s eight-team conference. The 14 teams in the East all will have substantively larger travel expenses and considerably more wear on players as a result of realignment. So the carrot dangled by the NHL to garner approval was placing them in the two smaller divisions.
The odds of making the playoffs for all seven teams in both new conferences are at 57 percent. The franchises in the eight-team conferences each have a 50 percent chance.
The inconsistency could loom large. If the Red Wings finish in fifth place, especially with appreciably more points than either fourth-place qualifier in the two seven-team conferences, it will magnify the inequity and make for a bitter offseason, especially for many fans who already have a bit of a chip on their shoulders about league policies.
Another imbalance is that the Red Wings and other teams in the two eight-team conferences will play some conference opponents six times and others five each season, on a rotating basis. It is possible that quirk would have one or more of those sixth games against a considerably tougher team, compared to the schedule of another team with which the Red Wings are vying for a final playoff spot or home ice-advantage.
For example, if the Red Wings and Wild are playing for the last playoff spot, and Detroit had to play tough Chicago and Dallas teams six times, while Minnesota played them only five, the inequity could become glaring. It could prove decisive to chances for winning the Cup.
• In the multimedia department, Wings VP Jimmy Devellano dismissed this imbalance as anything more than part of the realignment bargain while speaking to WBBL’s Huge Show:
• In the promotional department, part 1: Don’t forget that WRIF’s “Meltdown” is touring the Metro Detroit area in a huge tour bus promoting Jimmy Howard’s candidacy as a write-in starter for the All-Star Game (you can vote for Howard at vote.nhl.com):
There’s nothing earth-shattering in the interview. Devellano says the Wings are very happy with their status, and he suggests that the Wings’ younger players have made some steps forward which have allowed them to play pretty decently thus far.
• In the promotional department, part 2: Don’t forget that Mike Babcock, Ken Holland and several Wings players will be manning Salvation Army kettles on Friday, as duly noted by the Plymouth Patch’s John McKay:
Coach Mike Babcock and Ken Holland, the team’s executive vice president and general manager, will collect donations from 3:30-5:30 p.m. outside Hiller’s Market in downtown Northville. Holland is serving as the honorary chairman for the Salvation Army’s 2011 Red Kettle Campaign for the sixth straight year, according to the news release.
Drew Miller and Valtteri Filppula of the Red Wings will be at the Kroger in Plymouth. Red Wings players Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm will collect donations in front of Hockeytown Authentics in Troy. Fans at that location can receive an autograph from each forward with a $10 donation per player, the news release said. Two Red Wings prospects, Cory Emmerton and Jakub Kindl, will be at the Kroger in Birmingham. All the players will collect at the red kettles from 4-6 p.m.
According to the news release, the team makes the fundraising effort an annual competition to see who can collect the most money. Last year, the team of Helm and Abdelkader became the first squad to raise more funds than the coach-general manager duo of Babcock and Holland.
The Salvation Army also will have its red kettles at Joe Louis Arena for the Wings’ first four home games this month on Dec. 8, 10, 17 and 27.
• In the promotional department, part 3: DetroitRedWings.com’s Rick Bouwness posted a press release regarding the Great Lakes Invitational and Joe Louis Arena’s college hockey-hosting season:
The 47th Annual Great Lakes Invitational is fast approaching, with four high-profile NCAA squads set to descend upon Joe Louis Arena on December 29 and 30 for a single-elimination-style tournament that has become a holiday tradition for sports fans in southeastern Michigan. In addition to four action-packed college hockey games, attendees of this year’s GLI are also in store for a wide variety of unique contests and promotions as Olympia Entertainment’s 2011-12 ‘College Hockey in the D’ schedule kicks off with a bang.
“We’re very excited about the new elements we’ve added to the 2011 edition of the GLI,” says Olympia Entertainment Director of Strategic Hockey Alliances Mike Bayoff. “This tournament has traditionally been a fun-filled, family-friendly event and we feel that the dynamic mix of promotions we’re rolling out this year will enhance those traits and further add to the festive collegiate atmosphere at The Joe.”
Host school Michigan Tech University will be setting up an interactive exhibition entitled ‘The Science of Hockey’ on the main concourse at JLA for fans to visit throughout the duration of the 2011 GLI. This innovative educational exhibition is designed to be enjoyed by hockey enthusiasts of all ages and features a variety of exhibits which incorporate scientific lessons with hockey-related paraphernalia and equipment.
Presented by MTU’s Mind Trekkers Student Outreach Program, ‘The Science of Hockey’ will open at 2:00 p.m. on both December 29 and 30 and will remain open until the end of the first period of both of the tournament’s afternoon (4:00 p.m.) games. Admission to ‘The Science of Hockey’ is free with the purchase of any GLI ticket.
• In the promotional department, waaaaaayyy down the line: If you find yourself in Vancouver next February, Gordie Howe will be attending a Vancouver Giants WHL game on February 3rd.
• And in case you haven’t seen it, Fake Henrik Zetterberg has some car trouble:
I’ve got this to say about that: I blathered on about the Derek Boogard story as it might relate to depression yesterday morning, but SI’s Stu Hackel brought up a much more important point: the NHL has a serious problem that it doesn’t talk about in the ready availability of painkillers, which are sometimes abused by players.
People have talked about Boogard’s death as a result of repeated traumatic brain injuries and mental illness, but the simple fact that he suffered from the most common drug addiction in the U.S. and Canada—prescription painkiller addiction—and that this was the very specific reason he passed away…
It seems that we’re much less comfortable talking about NHL’ers as human beings when it comes to managing chronic pain, and this is clearly something that players, teams’ medical staff, coaches, trainers, etc. need to get onto the same page about in terms of talking about the issue openly and non-judgmentally while offering players avenues for help instead of trying to sweep the issue under the team rug.
• That’s one of the player health and safety issues which Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr have to discuss when they finally sit down and attempt to negotiate a new CBA in late January, and, as Paul noted, Fehr did open up ever-so-slightly regarding his players’ labor concerns in an interview with TSN’s James Cybulski:
Cybulski asked Fehr about some of the concerns that the players are expressing in advance of negotiations for a new labour deal. The current labour agreement expires at the end of the season.
“Generally, players are concerned about the upcoming negotiations and want to make sure that we reach a fair agreement - and not everybody has the same view on all issues as to what a fair agreement is. There’s no doubt that escrow is something that gets under people’s skin a little bit. What it means…is you say ‘I signed a contract that was going to pay me ‘x’ and it didn’t’. That’s a real problem and any of us would have that kind of problem. Escrow situations are endemic to salary cap situations. Is that an issue that the players pay attention to? Of course it is.”
Fehr was also asked when he might first speak with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about opening negotiations for a new deal.
“It will probably be after the (Jan. 29) All-Star Game, and there will probably be some preliminary conversations between now and then about how we set it up. There’s plenty of time - the agreement doesn’t expire for nine months from next week - so there’s plenty of time there,” said Fehr.
• Finally, I want to apologize for not dedicating a post, or at least a chunk of it, to my absence, or posting those first-quarter player valuations. Getting back to work hasn’t been easy after a very long lay-off, especially in terms of sleep deprivation after three months of more or less being bedridden, and Wednesday’s “off-day” involved some appointments that left me without any writing time. I’m just going to do the best I can to be here for you when I’m here and if I don’t meet certain writing goals, I have to ask for you to be patient and/or to please give me a friendly nag here and there.
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About The Malik Report
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.