The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/02/11 at 06:54 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings face off against a particularly dangerous opponent in the Anaheim Ducks tonight (10:00 PM EST, FSD/FS West/WXYT) due to plain old worrisome luck—the Wings are 3-and-0 against the Ducks this season—and the fact that the 35-25-and-5 Ducks sit in eleventh place in the Western Conference, but their 71 points are only four out of sixth place and nine behind the Wings’ 80.* The Ducks’ 3-2 win over Colorado on Tuesday also snapped a five-game losing streak, so the Ducks will be rip-roaring to crash and bang the Wings into next week…
And the final regular season match-up between two teams who simply don’t like each other very much is particularly likely to be a physical affair as the Ducks acquired Jarkko Ruutu, Wings-pain-in-the-butt Brad Winchester and scrapper Brian McGrattan who’s in the AHL but may be called up as the Ducks have one big problem, despite also bolstering their lineup by reacquiring Francois Beauchemin and adding tonight’s starting goaltender, Dan Ellis to the mix—they’re banged-up, with starter Jonas Hiller on the shelf, and, as the Orange County Register’s Curtis Zupke noted, possibly Corey Perry on the shelf for tonight’s game.
Put simply, as we tend to know from experience when the Wings and Ducks meet, less skill = Ducks get more (recklessly) physical, so it’s highly likely that the Ducks will try to drive the Wings to distraction by employing a rather viciously physical game.
Corey Perry left the ice with what Randy Carlyle said was a lower-body ailment. Carlyle said he had not yet been given an update.
Asked what Perry’s status was, Carlyle said, “It’s too early to even talk about Corey.”
Saku Koivu remains on the shelf for the moment…
Saku Koivu skated before practice and will continue to get treatment for a sore groin that has kept him out the past three games. Carlyle said he’s getting “much better” and vaguely indicated that Koivu might be a possibility in the “near future.”
Who knows what the “near future” means. Carlyle remains a master of obfuscation, never giving straight answers or tipping his hand (unless he’s baiting referees, ahem).
Zupke posted a prospective Ducks forward lineup (with Sheldon Brookbank taking Corey Perry’s spot)...
Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Sheldon Brookbank
Jason Blake-Brandon McMillan-Teemu Selanne
Jarkko Ruutu-Todd Marchant-Dan Sexton
Brad Winchester-Kyle Chipchura-George Parros
But it’s the Ducks’ blueline, whose pairings remain the same as they were in an Eric Stephens entry from a week ago, that’s their most dangerously underestimated element:
Lubomir Visnovsky-Toni Lydman
Francois Beauchemin-Cam Fowler
Andreas Lilja (or Andy Sutton)-Luca Sbisa
Visnovsky is fourth in team scoring with 46 points, and rookie Cam Fowler’s 29 points tell you all you need to know about his NHL readiness, and both Lydman and Beauchemin are proficient puck-movers.
The Ducks may be top-heavy up front as Perry, Ryan Getlzaf, Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan provide the majority of their scoring, but their balanced and efficient puck-movers on the blueline merit “seriously underrated” status.
Zupke also noted that the Ducks plan on giving Winchester, who gave the Wings fits in 2006 as a member of the Edmonton Oilers (and continues to perform well against the Wings), a significant role immediately:
Brad Winchester had his first practice with the team and was on the fourth line with Kyle Chipchura and George Parros.
St. Louis used the 6-foot-5, 228-pound Winchester in front of the net on the power play, and Carlyle threw out the possibility of putting Winchester on the top line, although top-line winger Corey Perry left practice because of a lower-body injury.
“We think he’s a guy that can move up and down on our left side,” Carlyle said. “We feel that there’s a necessity to have a bigger body playing with (Ryan) Getzlaf and Perry. It gives us the flexibility to move Bobby Ryan around.”
Winchester will otherwise have to develop chemistry in a short time playing fourth-line minutes.
Carlyle repeated his grumbles about Perry to ESPN Los Angeles’s Dan Arritt...
As the Ducks prepare to take aim at the visiting Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night, mysterious ailments continue to dominate the subject matter. Leading-scorer Corey Perry skated off the ice at the start of practice Tuesday at Honda Center, apparently stricken by a lower-body injury that went rather unnoticed until Perry was suddenly gone. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle referred to the injury as a “body ailment” before settling on the intentionally vague NHL classification of lower-body injury.
“I didn’t see anything,” Carlyle said. “He didn’t hit anybody. I didn’t see him fall down.”
Perry is sixth in the league in both goals (31) and points (68) heading into Tuesday’s games. The Ducks are 11th in the Western Conference, but just one point behind eighth-place Dallas.
While AnaheimDucks.com’s Adam Vevoda offered the only real Ducks perspective on tonight’s game:
[Winchester’s] first game will most likely come Wednesday, when the Ducks play host to the rival Red Wings. Winchester is quite familiar with Detroit, having been in the Central Division along with them each of the past two seasons. “They are a top-tier team in the league,” he said. “They have dangerous guys you have to keep an eye on. They are a good test.”
Anaheim (33-25-5, 71 points) has been unable to figure out the Red Wings up to this point. They have gone 0-3-0 in the three previous contests in this season’s series, including two 4-0 shutout losses. But the last game between the clubs was all the way back on December 3 in Orange County. Carlyle said he feels some things have changed in that timeframe.
“From our standpoint, we’re much more capable of playing a strong game against teams like Detroit than we were 2-3 months ago,” the head coach said. “We know the type of game Detroit plays. Hopefully, we’re a hockey club that is taking a step forward versus a step backward. Tomorrow night will be a big test for our team.”
NHL.com’s John Kreiser allows us to shift gears to a more neutral take on the Wings’ task at hand…
Last 10—Detroit 7-3-0; Anaheim 5-4-1
Season series—It’s the fourth and final meeting of the season, and the Wings are going for the sweep after winning 5-4 and 4-0 in Detroit and 4-0 in their previous visit to Anaheim on Dec. 3.
Big story—The Wings are off to a fast start on their five-game road trip with wins at Buffalo on Saturday and Los Angeles on Monday. The Ducks ended a five-game slide on Sunday by beating Colorado 3-2, but the losing streak dropped them out of the top eight in the West.
Who’s hot—Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg has 4 points in his last four games. Pavel Datsyuk has goals in back-to-back games. … Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan has 4 points in his last three games.
Injury report—Detroit is still without defenseman Brian Rafalski due to back spasms, though he hopes to play Thursday at San Jose. Forward Patrick Eaves suffered a groin injury last Tuesday and is still out. … Anaheim is without starting goalie Jonas Hiller (lightheadness and headaches) and center Saku Koivu (groin). Forward Corey Perry left practice Tuesday with what was termed a lower-body injury.
Stat pack—Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard is 16-3-0 with a 2.63 goals-against average in 21 road starts, including 10-0-0 in his last 12. … Henrik Zetterberg has 6 points against the Ducks this season and 16 in the last seven meetings. … Detroit’s 4-0 win in its last visit to the Honda Center took just 2:06, the fastest game in the NHL this season.
And it’s Kreiser’s injury report which merits the most attention from the Wings’ side. While Johan Franzen will return to the Wings’ lineup tonight, Rafalski told MLive’s Ansar Khan that he needs one more night’s worth of rest to allow his ailing back to heal…
Rafalski skated today at the Honda Center and said he feels better. He thinks he might play Thursday at San Jose.
“I think (Thursday) is a good possibility,’’ Rafalski said. “It’s getting better. I was encouraged by what I was able to do today compared to two days ago.’‘
So as the Wings will likely dress the now-customary lineup of Zetterberg between Franzen and Bertuzzi, Datsyuk between Cleary and Hudler, Modano centering Filppula and Holmstrom and a re-worked fourth line that will include Helm, Abdelkader and one of Kris Draper or Drew Miller (Jimmy Howard starts tonight, so it’s safe to assume that Joey MacDonald will start against San Jose)...
Coach Mike Babcock declined to reveal which forward will be scratched in favor of Franzen. Based on the line combinations, it appears Draper will sit out.
The Red Wings, winners of six in a row on the road, are 3-0 against the Ducks. Jimmy Howard has won all three games, including a pair of shutouts.
“We play shorter shifts on the road; we’ve been a better team for whatever reason,’’ Babcock said. “As much as we haven’t been great at home, I’m not overly concerned about it. I think we’re going to be a good team there.We’re a veteran team that’s been through this many times and understands what’s coming. It’s a grind and yet we all want to be playing the best we can going in (to the playoffs).’‘
The Wings not only talked about their road dominance, as also noted by the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...
“We play with a desperation on the road that maybe we haven’t played with at home,” Tomas Holmstrom said. “But hopefully we can change it around at home.”
The Wings—who, as Kulfan noted, may very well have to call up Doug Janik if Ruslan Salei’s wife delivers the couple’s third child tonight or tomorrow—emphasized the fact that, in Rafalski’s absence, Jakub Kindl must continue to impress:
One player who has impressed Babcock this season is defenseman Jakub Kindl . The former first-round pick hasn’t gotten regular playing time because of the team’s depth, but is showing flashes of potential when he does play.
“I said to (assistant) Brad McCrimmon on the ice, it’s like he’s (Kindl) a different person,” Babcock said. “From last year, to training camp, to after we sent him down (this season), to now, it’s unbelievable. It might be the greatest transformation I’ve ever seen.”
Babcock credits Kindl’s defensive partner Ruslan Salei and McCrimmon (who works with the defense) for Kindl’s growth.
The Free Press’s Helene St. James reiterated tonight’s points of emphasis:
Defenseman Brian Rafalski (back spasms) will miss a third straight game, but he said “things are going better. I was able to do more at practice today than I was two days ago.” He added there was a good possibility he would play Thursday at San Jose.
While Rafalski has been out, Jakub Kindl has continued his progress. “It’s like he’s a different person,” Babcock said of how well Kindl, a 24-year-old rookie, had played since late December, when he returned from a conditioning stint in the minors. “It might be the greatest transformation I’ve seen, actually, to tell you the truth.”
Kindl has been much more poised with the puck, and has developed nice chemistry with Ruslan Salei. “I think Rusty’s been real good with him and been real positive with him and real demanding of him,” Babcock said.
*Answering the asterisk, the Wings’ point total is important because the Wings’ Thursday opponent, the San Jose Sharks, will watch the Wings play on Wednesday sitting only 4 points behind the Wings, and Saturday’s opponent, the Phoenix Coyotes, trail the Sharks by a single point (76 to 75).
So the Wings need to do their best to stay off their heels while the Ducks attempt to pound ‘em into the end boards, counter a surprisingly potent puck-moving Ducks defense with Detroit’s own brand of puck possession hockey, and do their best to pepper Ellis while staying healthy, because the Wings’ third game in four nights against their closest pursuers in the Sharks (and then fourth game in six nights on Saturday against Phoenix, whee, compressed schedule!) matters almost as much as tonight’s tilt.
Per the NHL’s media website, Steve Kozari and Chris Lee will referee tonight’s game, with Brad Lazarowich and Brian Mach working the lines.
Wings notebook stuff: Time for irony in the classic sense of the term! The Detroit News’s Kulfan also talked about the fact that Babcock annoyed the heck out of Drew Miller, his mom, dad, brother Ryan and younger brother and sister by benching him in Saturday’s win over the Sabres. Miller’s family drove all the way from East Lansing to see their sons face off for the sixth time, but Drew spent the game in the press box.
Miller offered a rebuttal to Babcock’s decision by scoring two goals against the Kings…
“They weren’t too happy, but that’s the way it goes,” said Miller, who responded Monday with two goals in a 7-4 victory over the Kings. “Things come up, decisions are made and situations happen. I just have to deal with it and move on.”
“You move forward,” Miller said. “Next game you’re in, you have to take advantage of your opportunity. You want to respond every way possible and it was nice to get the two goals. You want to keep proving yourself every chance you get.”
But, as Kulfan suggests, with Modano, Filppula and Franzen back from injuries and familial issues (still no news as to whether Baby Mule has a name), it’s entirely possible that Miller will sit out tonight’s game, and when Patrick Eaves returns, Miller, Kris Draper, eaves and possibly Justin Abdelkader will take turns sitting out as the Wings have—knock on wood—14 healthy forwards:
“It’ll be tough,” Miller said of the competition. “But when you play for the Red Wings, we feel we can compete for the Stanley Cup and have that kind of depth.”
Coach Mike Babcock said it was a difficult decision to sit Miller against the Sabres. But he liked the way Miller responded.
“That’s the way it should be,” Babcock said. “It wasn’t a priority to scratch Millsie. It just happened, but there are guys who’ll be scratched when we are healthy. Guys have to be professional and they are allowed to be upset and disappointed and all those things, but go out when you play and play hard. Everyone wants to play, and you want to play everybody, but you can’t play everybody.”
The Free Press’s St. James also spoke to Miller and Babcock about the slightly uncomfortable competitive situation:
“You want to put yourself any way possible in position where you’re in the lineup every night,” Miller said Tuesday. “I wasn’t very happy that I sat out in Buffalo, but it was what it was, and you just have to move forward. Next game you’re back in, you’ve got to take that opportunity and make the most of it. I don’t think I’m going to score two goals every single night. I would like to, but I mean, I can’t be Todd Bertuzzi scoring two goals every game.”
That crack was prompted by Bertuzzi muttering at Miller to “stop using the same old clichés,” while Miller was talking to reporters.
What really matters, of course, is how Miller plays on the ice. He brings speed, he plays safely in his zone, and he’s a regular on the penalty kill. That he can add a dash of offense—he has six goals in 55 games, four short of last season’s career high—is a bonus.
“There’s guys going to be scratched down the stretch, and guys just have to be professional,” coach Mike Babcock said. “They’re allowed to be upset and disappointed and all those things—just when you go out and play, play hard.”
Babcock wouldn’t say who would be out tonight, but Kris Draper skated in Franzen’s spot during Tuesday’s practice.
Leave it to Bertuzzi to break the tension.
Also of Red Wings-related note:
1. Detroit Red Wings (39-18-6 for 84 pts; 63 Games Played)
Current streak: Two wins.
Week ahead: Three away games – vs. Anaheim (Wednesday), San Jose (Thursday) and Phoenix (Saturday).
Thoughts: The Red Wings won the first two games of their five-game road trip. If they can win all of them, that would be impressive. Even for Detroit.
• The Wings remain in third place in USA Today’s bi-weekly Power Rankings, but their slate of experts continue to agree that Nicklas Lidstrom should win the Norris Trophy by a rather wide margin;
• It’s time for our daily “Red Wings-Canucks comparison,” via the Vancouver Province’s Ed Willes, who hopes that the Canucks’ acquisitions of Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre will push Vancouver over the top and deliver a Stanley Cup. Quoth Mikael Samuelsson:
Mikael Samuelsson watched Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland acquire Brad Stuart from the L.A. Kings at the 2008 deadline for a second-rounder and fourth-rounder, then watched Stuart play a lead role in the Wings’ march to the Stanley Cup. He knows what Higgins and Lapierre might mean to the Canucks this spring, but he also knows what their acquisition means to the Canucks’ core group.
“He was a great asset to us, exactly what we needed,” Samuelsson said of Stuart. “It’s too early to say this time but I think (Higgins and Lapierre) were smart moves. It shows they mean business, that they really want to take us somewhere. It’s a good feeling.”
• It’s also time to take a gander at the Grand Rapids Griffins’ weekly release:
This Week’s Games
Fri., March 4 - Rochester Americans at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m.
Sat., March 5 - Rochester Americans at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m.
The Little Engine That Could: Grand Rapids is 4-1-0-2 in its last seven games overall, 3-0-0-1 in its last four at home and 5-2-0-3 in its last 10 on the road. The Griffins, who saw their season-high five-game point streak (3-0-0-2) snapped on Saturday in Cleveland, are still riding a season-best four-game point streak at home (3-0-0-1). They’ll look to continue their good fortune this Friday and Saturday when they host the Rochester Americans, whom they trail by one point in the North Division standings.
Interesting fact: Friday night’s game against Rochester is “Ladies’ Night” at Van Andel Arena, and Saturday’s game is “Star Wars Night” (fellow nerds, rejoice…though I’m more of a 2001 and/or The Fifth Element kind of guy).
Close Quarters: The North Division is by far the AHL’s most competitive from top to bottom, with only seven points separating seventh-place Grand Rapids (63) from the first-place logjam of Hamilton, Manitoba and Lake Erie (70) and a guaranteed berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs (third place). In fact, the Griffins are closer to first place than the 38-19-1-3 Hershey Bears, who sit in second place in the East Division, eight points behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The AHL’s other divisional standings spreads are 41 points in the East, 32 in the Atlantic, and 23 in the West.
Easy as Pyett: In the second period of Sunday’s 5-2 win at Hamilton, Logan Pyett became the first Grand Rapids defenseman to ever record a hat trick and the fifth Griffins player to score three goals in one period, joining Jeremy Williams, Jamie Tardif, Tomas Kopecky and Petr Schastlivy. His three goals came in a span of just 11:06.
Jordan Rules: Goalie Jordan Pearce, who has played three games in three nights for Grand Rapids over each of the last two weekends, has helped the Griffins earn points in 12 of his 15 decisions since Jan. 16, going 8-3-0-4 with a 2.52 GAA and a 0.919 save percentage. He is the first rookie goalie to twice play a 3-in-3 for the Griffins.
Reebok/AHL Player of the Week Nominee: The Griffins on Monday nominated forward Ilari Filppula for the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week award, after he recorded six assists and a plus-four rating in three games. He leads the Griffins and ranks among the AHL’s leaders with 50 points (T10th) and 32 assists (16th), owns a six-game scoring streak (0-10—10), and has recorded multiple points in three of his last four games.
• In amusing charitable news, per the Daily Tribune’s Catherine Kavanaugh, the Royal Oak Police Department has brought in a ringer for its annual charity game against the Royal Oak Fire Department:
The hockey teams of the city’s police and fire departments will face off in their second annual Royal Oak Guns & Hoses charity game at 6:30 p.m. March 12 at the John Lindell Ice Arena on Lexington Boulevard.
Still stinging from a 5-4 overtime loss in the 2010 game, the police have brought in former Detroit Red Wings player Darren McCarty, a four-time Stanley Cup winner, to coach them as they all raise money to help families and individuals dealing with autism spectrum disorders.
Tickets are on sale for $10 each or four for $30. McCarty also donated Red Wings memorabilia to be prizes for drawings that will raise money for families who are clients of Autism ASK of Waterford and Our Great Kids of Livonia.
Autism ASK, which stands for advocacy, support and knowledge, is one of the largest treatment centers in Michigan; Our Great Kids offers affordable therapy for children with autism, sensory integration disorders and other special needs.
Advance tickets for this year’s Guns & Hoses game are $10 each or four for $30 and can be purchased at any Royal Oak police or fire station or ordered online at Autism ASK. Tickets can also be purchased at the Lindell Ice Arena on the day of the game only.
• Finally Free Press’s Steve Schrader’s one of my favorite sports columnists simply because he’s genuinely funny in the classic Michigander-who-can-jab-at-the-fact-that-we-live-in-Michigan sense, and he offers this lovely tidbit:
Ticker: Detroit Sports Fans Aren’t That Miserable:
Have they seen what has been going on with the Pistons lately? And the Lions were 6-10, despite all the positives? And the Tigers were a .500 team, not nearly living up to expectations? Guess we just don’t know how good we have it, because Detroit IS NOT on Forbes.com’s list of the top 10 Most Miserable Sports Cities.
Seattle has the top spot: The Seahawks are the only 7-9 team to make the NFL playoffs, the Mariners lost 101 games, and the SuperSonics are in Oklahoma City. Filling out the list are Atlanta, Phoenix, Buffalo, San Diego, Houston, Kansas City, Cleveland, Denver and Cincinnati.
And there, but for the grace of the Red Wings ...
Also kinda important: I have to take a friend who lives an hour north of me downtown to a court date on Thursday morning—and I live about 40 miles northwest of Metro Detroit, so my 120-mile round trip and status as leaving the house at 6 AM and probably not coming back till 2 PM means that Paul will be substituting for me regarding any Wings-Sharks game-day updates, and it’s entirely possible that I’ll truncate my Wings-Ducks recap and Wings-Sharks preview as a result. Stuff happens.
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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.