The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/31/12 at 08:46 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings chose to skip practice on Monday and fly out West to Calgary, where they’ll begin a four-game slate of West Coast games against the Calgary Flames tonight (9 PM EST, FSD Plus/Sportsnet West/WXYT). The Wings won’t have much time to pause and enjoy the Flames’ tribute to Brad McCrimmon because, as the Wings duly pointed out to their press corps, the team’s road record remains a game below .500 (13-and-14) with hard tilts against the playoff-desperate Flames, the powerhouse Canucks, a nothing-to-lose Oilers team and a grudge match on Monday in Phoenix on the agenda prior to a long home stand.
If you take a look at the Western Conference standings, the Wings might not be able to match the 9th-place Flames’ burning desire to sneak back into the playoff pack, but the Wings are only two points ahead of the Blues and three ahead of the Blackhawks and Predators in the Central Division, and that includes a really remarkable 9-and-3 record over the course of January’s tightly-packed games, eggs laid in Long Island and Montreal last Wednesday included. In other words, the Wings simply don’t have the wiggle room to continue wobbling on the road, and the fact that the Wings dropped an ugly 4-3 decision to a team that tends to run ‘em into the boards just before Christmas doesn’t help the Wings’ cause.
The Flames have had an up-and-down month, going 5-5-and-1 while trading winning and losing streaks, but they’d won two straight prior to dropping a 1-0 decision to the Sharks last Tuesday. They do, however, remain all of three points out of 8th place in the West…And as the Calgary Sun’s Randy Sportak suggests, Flames GM Jay Feaster may or may not continue his rebuild-in-progress while making a playoff push…Or by clearing the decks, depending on how the Flames perform over the next few weeks.
Feaster sent Brendan Morrison to Chicago already, but he basically did so because he upgraded the team’s center position by acquiring Mike Cammalleri, and Sportak suggests that the Flames’ newest re-tread has to lead his team’s charge for a playoff spot, starting tonight:
The Flames are down to 32 games and sitting three points in arrears of the eighth-place Minnesota Wild as they resume action Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m., Sportsnet West). They need Cammalleri, who skated on a line with Olli Jokinen and Blake Comeau during Monday’s practice, to go. It would be pie-in-the-sky to expect the 29-year-old left-winger to immediately return to being the 39-goal, 82-point player he was during the 2008-09 season in his first stint with the Flames, but Cammalleri has to produce at a much better rate than what’s been delivered so far since the deal that sent Rene Bourque to the Montreal Canadiens. (By the way, Bourque has two goals and three points for the Canadiens since the swap.)
It does bode well that Cammalleri is refreshed from the break. It was a chaotic couple of weeks for him with all the hoopla created in Montreal because he called out himself and his team, then the trade followed by a three-game road swing with a couple of home games on both sides, and it showed in his play. Now, having had time to rest over the all-star break, as well as get his girlfriend and their five-month-old daughter settled here, Cammalleri has more bounce in his step.
“I feel better, especially physically,” he said.
Good, because this is the time for the winger who is in the third season of a five-year, US$30-million contract to step forward, which means provide a big part of the much-needed offensive attack sorely lacking of late.
“My personal goal is to make the playoffs,” Cammalleri said. “I know the team needs me to contribute in different ways to help. We all need to contribute in ways we can, but my goal is to be as good as I can. Production generally comes with that. It’s one of my responsibilities on this team, so I expect it of myself and I’m fine with it, but I don’t think it’s my time. This is our team’s time.”
“We’re aware of where we stand, where we want to be and our goals,” Cammalleri said. “And how you accomplish those goals is playing a very good hockey game, starting (against Detroit).”
Cue more pressure upon Cammalleri from the Calgary Herald’s Vicki Hall:
With 32 games left on the docket, the Flames (23-21-2) are tied with Dallas and Phoenix for 10th place in the Western Conference — three points back of eighth-place Minnesota. For the Flames to qualify for the post-season, offensive production from Cammalleri is a must — especially with Curtis Glencross out for at least another four weeks with a knee injury.
In 43 games this season, Cammalleri has collected 10 goals and 23 assists in 43 games. Flames fans badly want the newcomer to return to the form he showed back in 2009-10. Playing mostly on a line with Jarome Iginla, Cammalleri scored 39 goals for Calgary that season.
“My thinking right now is, ‘Let’s get in these playoffs,’” he said. “Because I do think we have a good team — a dangerous team. That’s goal No. 1. That’s thought No. 1. That’s excitement No. 1. Every day when we come to the rink, it’s going to be about us getting in the playoffs until we do.”
Before the all-star break, head coach Brent Sutter was raving about the passion for the game shown by his new sniper.
“The great thing about Cammy? He lives and dies this game,” Sutter said. “He’s always talking hockey. It’s kind of neat to be around a guy like that. He’s very observant. It’s like having a guy who knows the game on the bench. He’s got a good feel for it. He sees things. He brings up some very good points about stuff that I like, because it’s not about him. It’s always good to have a player like that on the hockey team who is a hockey geek.”
As for Cammalleri’s teammates? They told Hall that their emphasis involves nothing more and nothing less than winning as many games as possible and tossing the whole, “Let’s break it up into, ‘We need X points over Y games stretches” concept into the trash:
“Stay away from the math,” said Alex Tanguay, whose club — currently residing in 10th spot — faces the Detroit Red Wings, the conference kingpins, tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome. “We’ll look at it, but we’ll focus on what we have to do. If it takes 17 wins out of our last 32. . . to get us in, we’ll take that. If it takes 28 wins out of 32, well, we have to find a way to get there. If the other teams are doing well, it might take 100 points to get into the playoffs. So at this particular time? I just want to take care of (tonight). Then we’ll worry about Friday.”
“Sure, you could pick a magic number, but I’d rather not,” said Michael Cammalleri. “I’d rather say, ‘Let’s win tomorrow night.’ ”
The dream destination, of course, is top eight in the conference — but, as straightforward as that may seem, it can be a moving target. Even their own game needs to be fluid.
“It’s fine to lose two or three in a row, if we go out and win 11 in a row after,” said Tanguay. “If we’re going to lose one, win two, then lose one, win two, then we’d better lose only one (at a time). It all depends on how we go about our business. Quite honestly, the ball is in our camp. We certainly feel that with the amount of times we play the teams we’re battling with, our destiny is in our own hands. Just by winning those games, we’re probably going to put ourselves in. This is a great opportunity.”
One thing the Flames cannot afford is a duplication is their post-Christmas fizzle — awesome immediately before the break, gruesome immediately after it. Now, having not suited up for a week, the Flames need to present a cohesive unit. Like, right now.
“We can’t ease into things,” said Comeau. “Every year after all-star break, things just fly by. You definitely don’t want to look back and think about points that you could’ve had. You want to be sitting in the playoffs, not sitting at home in the summer saying, ‘What if?’ ”
The Calgary Sun’s Sportak offered a mini game preview which takes note of the fact that the Flames would love to exploit the Wings’ middling road record…
The NHL-leading Detroit Red Wings come to town for Tuesday’s tilt smarting from their most recent outing. The Wings saw a seven-game winning streak snapped with a thud in a 7-2 defeat at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens just before the all-star break. Shockingly, the Red Wings have a 13-14-0 road record this season, to go with an insane 20-2-1 home record that includes a 17-game winning streak.
The Flames were the last team to beat the Red Wings in Detroit and also came up with a 3-2 win in the last meeting at the Saddledome.
The first game back after such a layoff is always a bit of a crapshoot, but this is a golden chance for the Flames to set a tone for the rest of the season.
And the Calgary Herald’s Scott Cruickshank previews tonight’s game thusly (if you want to read the Herald’s George Johnson’s profile of Miikka Kiprusoff, you’ll have to do so on your own as it’s “for further reading”):
Detroit Red Wings (33-16-1) at Calgary Flames (23-21-6) 7 p.m., Scotiabank Saddledome, SN 960 radio, Sportsnet West
Flames player to watch: Miikka Kiprusoff — Team’s most valuable player (by a mile) makes his 44th appearance. His presence gives Flames a fighting chance for a playoff spot.
The Lines: A.Tanguay M.Backlund J.Iginla
M.Cammalleri O.Jokinen B.Comeau
L.Bouma B.Jones L.Stempniak
T.Kostopoulos M.Stajan T.Jackman
The Pairings: C.Butler J.Bouwmeester
The Goalies: M.Kiprusoff
The Injuries: G Henrik Karlsson (knee), D Derek Smith (ankle), LW Curtis Glencross (knee), RW David Moss (ankle)
Wings player to watch: Niklas Lidstrom — Watch him while you can. The 41-year-old legend plays in his 1,544th contest. A superb defender, he’s also piled up 1,136 points.
The Flames’ website doesn’t post its game preview until even too late into the night for me to stay up to wait for, but they have posted both a slate of projected lines and a CP preview from which we can glean a few tidbits which are worth noting—scary tidbits if you’re a Wings fan…
Although the Red Wings lead the NHL with 67 points and average 3.1 goals per game - fifth in the league - playing away from Detroit hasn’t been easy. They’re 13-14-0 on the road, including a 3-2 loss in Calgary on Dec. 22 in the most recent meeting.
The Flames are 2-1-0 against Detroit and are one of only three teams to win at Joe Louis Arena, where the Wings are 20-2-1 and have reeled off a franchise-record 17 straight victories since their Nov. 3 loss to Calgary. Miikka Kiprusoff is 2-1-0 with a 2.67 goals-against average against Detroit, holding Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler and Datsyuk - the Wings’ top four scorers - to a combined three goals.
The Flames (23-21-6), three points out of a playoff spot, return to the ice after ending the first half with last Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to San Jose. Calgary has lost its last two at home after winning eight straight at the Saddledome.
Kiprusoff and the defense are making it pretty tough on opponents, yielding a total of five goals in the last four games. The offense, however, has been held to two or fewer in five of its last six. Captain Jarome Iginla, tied with Curtis Glencross for the team lead with 18 goals, has been in the middle of the recent struggles, tallying one goal in the last six contests. Iginla, who had a goal and two assists for Team Chara on Sunday, had three goals in the two games Howard started for Detroit this season.
Howard, who allowed four first-period goals on 12 shots before getting pulled at Montreal, has given up at least three goals in each of his last four starts versus Calgary.
And NHL.com’s Brian Hunter shifts our perspectives from the Flames’ side of things to the Wings’ takes via a middle-of-the-road preview:
Season Series: Fourth and final meeting of the season. Calgary has won two of three, including a 3-2 win in the most recent matchup, Dec. 22 at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Red Wings defenseman Ian White has 2 goals and 5 points against his former team to lead all scorers, while Flames captain Jarome Iginla has 3 goals and 4 points in the series.
Red Wings [team scope]: This is the continuation of a five-game road trip in which Detroit will have to start turning around its fortunes away from the Joe if it wants to hang on not only to the overall NHL lead, but first place in the Central Division. On the first stop prior to the break, the Red Wings got routed 7-2 by the Canadiens, falling behind 6-0 after 40 minutes. Jimmy Howard lasted just one period before he was pulled. Jiri Hudler scored twice within a six-minute span early in the third, but overall it was a game coach Mike Babcock couldn’t wait to forget.
“I’m not going to watch any video of this, at all,” he said. “I’m going to have a drink. Actually, it is what I’m going to do.”
Who’s Hot: Hudler, who scored only 10 goals last season after a year away in the KHL, now has 15 goals, tied for second on the Red Wings and just eight off his career high. Niklas Kronwall has 2 goals and 2 assists during a three-game points streak. … Kiprusoff is 2-1-1 over his last four starts for the Flames, allowing just five goals over that span and posting a .956 save percentage.
Injury Report: Detroit forward Patrick Eaves (jaw) is on injured reserve. … Calgary goaltender Henrik Karlsson (sprained MCL), defenseman Derek Smith (ankle) and forwards David Moss (ankle), Alex Tanguay (upper body) and Curtis Glencross (lower body) are on injured reserve.
Stat Pack: With defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom sitting out last Tuesday due to the flu and having his consecutive games streak snapped at 213, the new ironman on the Red Wings is forward Justin Abdelkader, who has skated in 124 straight games. Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson is one behind. Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, meanwhile, is the all-time leader on defense, with 556 consecutive games played and counting.
Lidstrom is healthier than I am (yay Amoxcillin napalm death antibiotic), but Babcock offered a surprising comment regarding his starting goaltender while speaking to the Flint Journal’s Brendan Savage:
Jimmy Howard likely will be a game-day decision but captain Nicklas Lidstrom is expected to be back in the Detroit Red Wings’ lineup when they kick off a four-game road trip Tuesday night in Calgary. Howard could sit in favor of backup Ty Conklin after spending the last four days in Ottawa, where he played in his first All-Star Game.
But coach Mike Babcock wasn’t ready to name a goaltender when asked about it Monday before the Red Wings climbed aboard the team plane to head west.
“That’s real good question,” Babcock said when asked about Howard. “I don’t have the answer for you or I’d tell you.”
And Howard’s preference?
“Whatever Babs says I’ll go with,” Howard said.
The Wings mostly addressed their deficiencies in terms of playing away from home before boarding Red Bird II on Monday afternoon, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...
“Overall, our whole team has to be a better hockey club on the road,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, whose team has the most points in hockey (67) and is 20-2-1 at home. “We can’t hide from that.”
Last week’s 7-2 loss in Montreal was all too familiar to Detroit on the road. The Canadiens, Blue Jackets and Islanders are teams not headed to the playoffs — yet all three beat the Red Wings.
“We’ve obviously had at least two or three road games that have been real uncharacteristic,” Red Wings forward Danny Cleary said. “We haven’t been good enough (on the road). For us to stay on top, we have to be better on the road.”
How can the Red Wings accomplish that?
“We have to be better in our commitment to defensive details, starting on time, and be physical in the offensive zone,” Babcock said. “You want to get going.”
Team defense is a huge priority on the road, too. The Red Wings have allowed 78 goals in 27 road games, while giving up 39 in 23 home games.
“We seem to play with a lot more urgency at home, more disciplined and faster,” Cleary said. “We have an experienced team, we have good matchups, a good goalie. We have to be committed to winning on the road, and sometimes that’s a lot harder than winning at home.”
The Windsor Star’s Bob Duff...
“We’ve got to be a better hockey club on the road,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We can’t hide from that. We’ve got to get better in our commitment to the defensive details of the game, starting on time, playing with more physicality in the offensive zone, these are all priorities for us in this last little stretch.”
Detroit centre Henrik Zetterberg is of the opinion that the Wings are playing too softly without the puck when away from home ice. “I think we’re giving the other teams too many easy chances to score,” Zetterberg said. “Normally, we play solid enough defence. When we don’t do that, it’s tough to win games.”
Both Zetterberg and team captain Nicklas Lidstrom feel the best way to solve the problem is to tackle it head on, and what better way to do that with yet another road swing? Detroit has played 19 of its last 29 games away from home, but after this four-game swing, will close with 18 of 28 at the JLA.
“We’ve got another week long trip here so we might as well do it right away,” Lidstrom said. “We know we have to have a better road record so we’ve got to start playing better. Starting off on the road might be good.”
Zetterberg echoed those sentiments. “We’ve got a few chances here (to win on the road),” he said. “We’ll have a good start tomorrow, and hopefully, we’ll win a few more games and figure it out.”
The Free Press’s George Sipple...
“It’s important to get off to a good start,” coach Mike Babcock said Monday as team gathered for its trip to Canada. “Obviously, the standings are very, very tight.”
The Wings lead the Central Division by two points over St. Louis and three over Nashville and Chicago.
“The other thing I think you always want to do as a team is you want to put as much heat on the general manager to help you out as you can,” Babcock said. “The better team you have the more likely he is going to help you out.”
The NHL’s trade deadline is 3 p.m. Feb. 27. After the road trip, the Wings will finish the season with 18 of 28 games on the road.
“You want to get going and you want to get some energy,” Babcock said. “Winning’s contagious. We had a pretty good run going in and dropped the ball our last game. Now here’s a chance to pick it up. One good thing about losing (before the All-Star break) ... you get lots of time to think about it.”
And the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness noted:
“It would have been nice to open up at home, but we’ve got another week-long trip here so we might as well do it right away,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “It’s going to be a pretty hectic schedule here for awhile so it’ll be good to get going tomorrow. We know we have to have a better road record so we’ve got to start playing better,” Lidstrom added. “Starting off on the road might be good.”
“We’ve got a few chances here,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “We’ll have a good start tomorrow, and hopefully, we’ll win a few more games and figure it out. I think we’re giving the other teams too many easy chances to score,” Zetterberg continued. “Normally, we play solid enough defense. When we don’t do that, it’s tough to win games.”
“I think if we knew what the difference was, it would be a lot easier to just fix it,” Niklas Kronwall said. “But I think it just comes down to hard work and doing it as a five-man unit out there for each shift.”
“We’ve got to get back to playing like we do at home,” said Jimmy Howard, who leads the league with 30 wins. “It’s as simple as that, paying attention to detail on the road. To be able to have success on the road you’ve got to play a full 60 minutes.”
“We’ve obviously had at least two or three road games that have been very uncharacteristic of us, obviously Montreal was terrible,” Danny Cleary said. “Montreal, I couldn’t even come up with a good answer for you. It seems we definitely play with a lot more urgency at home. We play more disciplined, we play faster and we play a lot better at home. We’re a team that’s capable of doing it on the road, we keep talking about it, we’re an experienced team, we’ve got good matchups so that’s not an issue and we’ve got a good goalie. Our record speaks for itself on the road,” Cleary added. “We haven’t been good enough. For us to stay on top, we have to definitely get a better road record. This is a good chance for us, four games against four teams that are battling, too, so it’s going to be good for us but we certainly have to get going on the road.”
The Wings do have something to look forward to after this long trip, as 18 of their last 28 are at home.
“That’s huge for us,” Babcock said. “In saying all that, we’ve got four (road) games in (seven) days to worry about. We’ve got other priorities. Calgary has beaten us twice already this year, and this is an opportunity for us to go in and play better in situations where we haven’t been very good.”
That’s the theory.
Part II: If you missed it, the Calgary Flames are going to honor Brad McCrimmon tonight, and they’re doing so in a demonstrative manner:
Prior to their game against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night, the Calgary Flames will pay tribute to former Flames defenceman Brad McCrimmon. McCrimmon was one of the 43 victims on board the Russian plane carrying the Kontinental Hockey League team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl that crashed on Sept. 7, 2010.
During warm-ups, Flames players will don jerseys sporting McCrimmon’s number four and name on the back. Their respective numbers will be displayed on the arms of the jersey. The jerseys will be autographed and auctioned off after the game with the proceeds going to the Flames Foundation for Life. A custom tribute logo - 4 Brad - has been created and will be present on all materials connected with the tribute. Stickers with the logo will be on Flames players helmets tomorrow night.
Drafted in the first round draft, 15th overall, of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft by Boston, McCrimmon spent three seasons with the Bruins before being dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers for goaltender Pete Peeters. He ended playing with the Flyers for five years where he was able to set career highs at a professional level in both goals (15) and points (56) in the 1985-86 campaign.
He was traded to the Flames after the summer of 1987. In addition to his ability to provide offence from the blueline, he was steadfast in his own zone. He accrued a +109 rating through 231 games played with Calgary. In his first year with the Flames, he posted a +48 rating - a league-high that season. He was a key player for the club during their run to the Stanley Cup in 1989. He played in every game during the playoffs, earning three assists, and was depended upon to keep the opposition’s top players at bay.An invaluable leader both on and off the ice, McCrimmon was handed the captaincy by the Flames for the 1989-90 season.
“Beast was a quiet individual who, in my opinion, had a very deep and thorough understanding of the game,” Jim Peplinski stated. “I took great pride and pleasure and a lot of appreciation in talking to Brad about parts of the game that he saw in a way I certainly didn’t and many others didn’t.”
The Flames traded McCrimmon to the Detroit Red Wings after the 1989-90 season ended. He spent three years with the Red Wings before moving on to the Hartford Whalers for three seasons. He ended his playing career with the Phoenix Coyotes in the 1996-97 season.
As the Flames’ website notes, McCrimmon was also an assistant coach for the Flames in the early 2000’s. The Flames’ website posted both a 16-image gallery of McCrimmon’s time with the Flames and a background wallpaper commemorating McCrimmon’s tenure with Calgary.
DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose took note of the Wings’ part of the proceedings:
A video-taped message from Wings coach Mike Babcock will also play in the arena during the ceremony.
McCrimmon played for – and later became an assistant coach – for both the Flames and the Wings. He rejoined the Flames’ organization before the start of the 2000-01 season when he was named an assistant to head coach Don Hay. McCrimmon also spent time as an assistant coach with the New York Islanders (1997-99) and Atlanta Thrashers (2003-08) before returning to Detroit where he coached for three seasons.
A former first-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins, McCrimmon spent three seasons with each the Wings and the Flames in the late 80s and early 90s. Prior to being traded by the Flames to Detroit, McCrimmon amassed 16 goals, 67 assists and a plus-109 rating in 231 regular-season games and won his only Stanley Cup championship as a member of the Flames’ organization.
In Detroit, McCrimmon was the first defensive partner for a young Swedish rookie named Nicklas Lidstrom, who remembered his former teammate as “more of a stay-at-home defenseman, letting me get involved with the offense. He also protected me at certain times when things got heated.”
As an assistant coach, Lidstrom said that McCrimmon used to bring “a smile to everyone’s faces. He wanted things done a certain way. He had a gentler side to him. … As players, we saw that.”
McCrimmon left the Red Wings last May to take the head coaching job with Lokomotiv. Former Wings defenseman Ruslan Salei and former goalie prospect Stefan Liv also died on the ill-fated flight.
Part III: All about Babcock: I’m starting to wonder if the Wings are trying to prepare Mike Babcock for the Winter Classic spotlight to come after next week’s announcement regarding the Wings-Leafs tilt to be held at Michigan Stadium. Babcock played a leading role in NHL 36’s profile of Nicklas Lidstrom (talk about heavy editing!), he spoke to WDIV’s Bernie Smilovitz last Friday (the story now includes an embedded video of the interview), and he also engaged in a fascinating interview with the McGill Tribune while visiting his alma mater in Montreal last week…
Hard work is what brought Babcock to Detroit, and over the years, this same principle became the foundation on which the Red Wings’ organization is now built. One of these principles, particularly stressed by Babcock, is a team-first environment.
“The Red Wings is bigger than anybody … it’s about the team. When you come to our team, the veterans run the show, not the guy you trade for. He doesn’t affect the culture. He just fits in,” he said. “What we try to do is create a demanding, supportive environment.”
Working in a city known as Hockeytown, Babcock is fully aware of the expectations for his team and the pressure that accompanies it. The Red Wings currently hold the record for the longest streak of postseason appearances in all of North American professional sports (1991-2011). Yet, this doesn’t seem to faze management, the players, or Babcock.
“There is pressure, but what pressure in life means is that you have a chance. If you’re 15 teams in the league, there’s no pressure. Is that what you want?” Babcock asked. “To me, pressure is a great thing, makes things exciting. We have a chance because we have good players, we’re well-structured, have good management, and that leads to healthy pressure.”
Though Babcock underplays the role of pressure in such a hockey-crazed city, it inevitably remains a strong presence in the locker room. Playing through a gruelling 82-game season, with extra exhibition and playoff games, Babcock consistently needs to find ways to motivate his team in order to bring them together on a nightly basis.
“Motivation, in my mind, is ‘what’s in it for me?’ Now, how do you get 23 people to find what’s in it for them and be on a team? You give up some individual rights for team rights, but the reality is, they all still want to be important. That’s what I do, I manage people.”
And he spoke to the Detroit News’s John Niyo as well—and all of these quotes are just snippets of long, involved interviews that are fascinating reads. Babcock insists to Niyo that he’s not “a Yeller,” but given his demeanor on the bench, well…Stares speak volumes, and this part of Niyo’s interview is particularly important to mention because it ties in McCrimmon’s absence to Babcock’s desire to let the people around him grow and pursue other opportunities (see: Paul MacLean and Todd McLellan’s successes) because Babcock believes that he’s not going to succeed as the Wings’ coach for life, if you will, without constantly seeking out new perspectives and trying to self-improve:
[W]hen Babcock’s two assistants took jobs elsewhere during the offseason — longtime lieutenant Paul MacLean got the top job in Ottawa and Brad McCrimmon headed to Russia, where he and most of his Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team were killed in a plane crash in September — the league’s highest-paid coach went to great lengths to find their replacements. And it’s no accident he went outside the NHL to do it, surprising many by hiring two young coaches who’d never worked in the NHL before: Jeff Blashill from Western Michigan and Bill Peters from Rockford of the AHL.
Six months later, the Red Wings are back on top with the NHL’s best record coming out of the All-Star break. And Babcock is quick to credit the “new ideas” brought by Blashill and Peters with helping spark “some new energy in our team.”
If you watch closely in games, you’ll see some of that, whether it’s the new wrinkles off faceoffs or in the neutral zone. During practice, there are more individual “battling” drills captain Nick Lidstrom says have “freshened things up” and challenged players physically. But the biggest change has come defensively, as the new approach has everyone feeling better about themselves.
“Peters had done it, and (Blashill) had done it before, too,” Babcock said of a hybrid system that’s more commonly seen in the AHL. “So we threw the idea around and around and we started training camp with it. We had no idea what we were doing, so we just let it evolve.”
The results thus far are encouraging. After slipping to 23rd in the NHL in goals-against average a year ago, the Red Wings are sixth this season, and they boast the second-best goal differential in the league (the Bruins are No. 1). The general idea is to corral and corner the puck carrier when possible, effectively cutting off one side of the ice. Lidstrom, the seven-time Norris Trophy winner in his 20th NHL season, said the players like the more aggressive tactics. The coaches, as you’d expect, like the fact the Red Wings are spending more time with the puck in the attacking zone.
And when they’re not, well, Babcock knows there’s no need to yell about it.
“The one thing about our group is, they know when they’re bad,” he said, smiling. “They’re disappointed in being bad, too.”
Part IV: Red Wings notebooks: Jimmy Howard spoke to the Flint Journal’s Brendan Savage about his All-Star experiences (and Sportsnet’s Luke Fox reports that Carey Price and Howard hit it off, and Howard gave Price the idea to stop a shooter while facing backwards during the breakaway challenge)...
“It was a lot of fun,” Howard said Monday, a big grin on his face as the Red Wings were preparing to board their plane for Tuesday’s game in Calgary. “I got to spend a lot of time with my family, so it was good. The whole process was pretty cool to be around.”
Howard, who was joined in Ottawa by teammate Pavel Datsyuk, also participated in Saturday’s skills competition. In addition to taking part in the elimination shootout, he was the goalie captain Zdeno Chara of Boston chose to represent his team in the fastest skater competition. Howard clocked 17.514 and was soundly beaten by Los Angeles netminder Jonathan Quick, whose time was 16.939. Despite getting encouraging texts from former teammate Kris Draper, who now works in the Wings’ front office, Howard finished dead last among the 12 skaters in the event.
“I almost went down on the first turn and I said, ‘Forget about this,’” Howard recalled with a laugh. “I didn’t want to be the first guy to take out all the tires.”
His favorite part of the skills competition might have been watching the hardest shot event, where Chara broke his own All-Star Game record with a blast of 108.8 mph.
Howard enjoyed that “just because it shows how crazy I am,” he said, laughing again. “Some of these guys, it looks like they’re barely even firing and it’s over 100 (mph). I’m shaking my head saying, ‘Why do I even stand in front of these guys?’”
As did Datsyuk to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...
Pavel Datsyuk was taken first in the fantasy-type draft on Thursday. He had been hoping to go last so he’d get a car.
“I (was) picked last but on the wrong side,” Datsyuk smiled. “I was surprised (I was picked first) but I’m also happy, very happy.”
Datsyuk also said he wasn’t getting in the way for a Chara slap shot.
“I don’t want to stay in this line and the block shot, I hope Jimmy takes care,” Datsyuk said.
Babcock didn’t watch much of action over the weekend but was impressed by one thing.
“I watched Jimmy’s interview and was very impressed,” Babcock said. “My son kept yelling at me to come in and watch a little bit. I saw Pav had it on a string a few times, but I didn’t really watch it that much. It was obviously great for Pavel to be selected where he was. It tells you how good he is. Jimmy has come of age and is a real good goaltender. I was very impressed in the way he expressed himself as a man and how he thanked them for the foundation they built for him.”
And Datsyuk had this to say to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan about his trip (Yahoo Sports’ Dmitry Chesnokov Tweeted a link to Datsyuk’s interview with Sovetsky Sport’s Mikhail Tisizs and Vladimir Sapozhnikov, and the Google translation thereof doesn’t convey Datsyuks constant deadpan humor nearly as well as the video which Michigan Hockey’s Michael Caples posted in his “Shaved Ice” column):
“More experience, no more nervous, just have fun,” Datsyuk said. “I was surprised (to be picked first), but also very happy. The game was fun.”
• We’ll take a hard left at trade talk via Kulfan…
With the trade deadline quickly approaching (Feb. 27), Babcock wants the Red Wings to continue to play well and give general manager Ken Holland reason to improve the roster.
“The better team you have the more likely (a general manager) is going to help you out,” Babcock said. “In saying that, in the new world (of the NHL), when teams get in there, there are no real upsets anymore so you have to be careful what you mortgage in what you gain.”
Before talking about Nicklas Lidstrom’s surreal experience in Montreal last Wednesday…
Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom (flu) missed the loss in Montreal, but is expected to play tonight.
“It was strange (watching and not playing),” Lidstrom said. “I stayed back at the hotel and stayed in bed. I watched the first period (the Red Wings trailed 4-0). I don’t know if I could have done anything.”
• And while I’m not a football fan, something tells me, again, that you won’t be celebrating my 34th birthday on Sunday (take that, “Survival of the fittest!”), but will instead be doing what the Wings plan on doing—watching the Superbowl—as they told Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji:
“We play Monday so we’re going to have a team dinner at a good restaurant on Sunday and watch the game together,” Cleary said.
Although Cleary couldn’t remember who had the New England Patriots in the team pool, he knew exactly who had the New York Giants.
“I know Pavel has the Giants,” Cleary said. “Everything he touches this year, unbelievable this guy. I tell you, nothing makes him happier than winning football pools. He’s in the mix.”
“I like both teams,” Babcock said. “I like the quarterbacks. I think it’s going to be a great set-up. I was fortunate last week to pick both winners, so I’m excited about that. I think the National Hockey League has learned a lot from football in terms of access and selling their game. One thing about football, it’s a great game for fans. You’ve only got to go to a few home games. There’s lots of time to bet in between games and get fired up from the next one. It’s a great game that way.”
Howard has some conflicted loyalties for the big game.
“I don’t know, (wife) Rachel’s side of the family is all Pats,” Howard said. “My side of the family is all Giants. It’s an even split so we’ll see. I grew up a Buffalo Bills fan. I think I’m going to go with the Pats, same division and everything. Stick with the AFC.”
• The Detroit Free Press’s George Sipple also talked about Henrik Zetterberg’s bizarre inability to score goals with his Warrior sticks:
Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg has struggled to score over the first 50 games of the season. He has one goal in his last 19 games and nine for the season.
“Of course you wish it would it would go a little bit better,” Zetterberg said Monday, as the Wings regrouped from the All-Star break. “Nothing you can do about it. Just work hard and hopefully it will turn around.”
Zetterberg, 31, leads the Wings with 152 shots and ranks 22nd among NHL forwards. Among the league’s top 30 forwards in shots, Zetterberg has the lowest shooting percentage (5.9%).
Though the goals haven’t gone in lately, Zetterberg has chipped in 12 assists over the last 19 games and has 26 assists and 35 points this season.
He scored 24 goals and 80 points in 80 games last season and hasn’t scored fewer than 23 goals in a season since he had 15 in 61 games in 2003-04.
Part V: Power rankings: No games for five days for the Wings and six for most NHL teams didn’t deter the usual power rankings list-makers from cobbling lists together. Here’s what ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun has to say about the Wings...
2. Detroit Last Week: 3: OK, let’s just gloss over that hiccup in Montreal last Wednesday night and admire the seven-game winning streak that preceded it.
Here’s Fox Sports’ Joe Rosen’s take...
3. Red Wings [no change]: Henrik Zetterberg: The Wings have been winning in spite of Zetterberg’s production slide; he has one goal in his last 19 games. If he regains his touch – and it’s likely he will – Detroit emerges as the team to beat in the West.
And here’s Sportsline’s Adam Gretz’s take:
1. Red Wings [last week] 2: Yes, the Red Wings had their seven-game winning streak snapped in Montreal before the All-Star break, and in pretty ugly fashion. But they have also won eight of their past 10 and open the second half in the top spot in the NHL. This team could be dangerous with home-ice in the playoffs; Detroit currently is 20-2-1 at Joe Louis Arena, by far the best home mark in the league.
Part VI: Also of Red Wings-related note: If you missed it, part 1: Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported that the NHL will announce that the Wings are hosting the 2013 Winter Classic within the next 10 days (and the Free Press’s George Sipple reports that at least two OHL teams will play at Comerica Park as part of the festivities);
• If you missed it, part 2: The Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa wrote a lengthy column about the Wings’ non-fighting tendencies;
• If you missed it, part 3: I highly recommend that you read Crain’s Detroit Business’s Bill Shea’s article about the Tigers’ signing of Prince Fielder as it outlines the ways in which the Ilitch sports and entertainment empire bankrolls its sports teams;
And yes, Nyquist received the #14 jersey during training camp (as the Wings keep all their players’ jerseys in a big trunk during the season, it’s very rare that call-ups change numbers during the year), and he wears #13 in Grand Rapids as the Griffins don’t allow their players to wear high numbers, but if he makes the NHL on a full-time basis, he’s going to wear #89;
• In discussion of playoff pushes, NHL.com’s Dan Rosen offered the following assessment of the state of the Wings heading into the stretch drive…
1. Red Wings (67 points)
Non-shootout wins: 28
Games remaining: 32 (18 home, 14 away)
Significant injuries: Patrick Eaves (jaw)
Their 7-2 loss at Montreal notwithstanding, the Red Wings are in a great position coming out of the break. They lead the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and have a significant amount of games remaining at home, where they’ve won 17 in a row, three shy of the NHL record. The Wings are 20-2-1 at Joe Louis Arena this season. The problem is they come out of the break with a four-game road trip, with games at Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton and Phoenix. The good news is only one of those teams (the Canucks) currently is in a playoff spot.
And the LA Times’ Helene Elliott folded in trade talk while penning a similar column:
The NHL’s best race is in the Central Division, where the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks are three points apart. The Red Wings were 8-2 before the break, the Blues were 7-1-2 and the Predators were 9-1-0.
The Red Wings have more than $5 million in cap space and might pursue third- or fourth-line depth
• Speaking of trades, I was bolstering Puffs’ stock prices when TSN’s Darren Dreger got tongues wagging via this quip in a mailbag feature…
Now that the Red Wings are rolling along, just wondering if Ken Holland would add anyone for the playoffs? I heard that possible players - maybe Selanne, Grabovski, Elias, Hemsky and Jason Blake? Hopefully they can add someone to help balance out the scoring!
A: Mike, Ken Holland is among the best at identifying players he knows will help the Red Wings in the playoffs. I’ve heard some rumblings, like the Canucks, Detroit will, or has shown some interest in Moen. I would expect the Wings would show considerable interest in Brendan Morrow if Dallas is truly listening to teams targeting the veteran centre. Hard to imagine the Stars are willing to do the Red Wings any favours, but if the price is right, anything is possible.
But no, folks, the Wings will not be trading Tomas Jurco and a 1st-round pick to Edmonton for Ales Hemsky and Andy “Suspend Me” Sutton;
• Speaking of prospects present and future, MSUSpartans.com’s Neil Koepke reports that Jim Nill may or may not have been scouting the Spartans-Ferris State back-to-backs this past weekend as his son Trevor (a Blues draft pick) was playing for MSU in both games, and Wings capologist and de-facto assistant assistant GM Ryan Martin spoke to Sportsnet’s Patrick King about Alex Galchenyuk, someone the Wings won’t be able to get their hands on, in a column discussing the high number of banged-up players in the 2012 draft class:
“The challenge becomes where are they at this year, especially with a guy like Alex who barely played before his injury,” explains Ryan Martin, an assistant general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. “At least with some guys, they’ve played 20 or 30 games—you’ve got a bit of an idea of where they’re at.”
This year’s draft class is a field so loaded with mines, Galchenyuk’s season is just one of many top-end prospects derailed by major injuries. His teammate, Nail Yakupov, only recently returned from an injury sustained at the world juniors, but he won’t participate in the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game after a doctor in London concluded it wasn’t in his best interest to play in the event.
The list, however, goes far beyond Yakupov and Galchenyuk. It includes: defenceman Ryan Murray (missed nearly two months with a high-ankle sprain), forward Mikhail Grigorenko (missed two weeks with an ankle injury), defenceman Morgan Rielly (out indefinitely since early November with torn ACL), defenceman Slater Koekkoek (out indefinitely after January surgery on torn labrum in his left shoulder), forward Martin Frk (sidelined until early December with a concussion), forward Matia Marcantuoni (missed a month with a shoulder injury), defenceman Cody Ceci (minor leg injury) and goaltender Malcolm Subban (still on the mend with a groin injury suffered in mid-December).
“Obviously, the high, high-end prospects—teams are going to be more willing to take a risk on one of those players,” Martin said. “The other thing that comes into play is the number of picks a team has. If a team’s traded away a couple of picks and they’re down to having five or so picks left, they might be a little less willing to risk one of those on a guy that hasn’t played much or a guy that has a severe injury. It is definitely coming down to a risk-reward analysis and also based on the number of picks you have and what your comfort level might be.”
Every scouting staff is different, but one member of each department will get considerable more work this year than in any other: video. With so few viewings than usual, the age of technology becomes a useful tool in bridging the gap.
“What it really comes down to in amateur scouting is putting your list together and do you like Player A better than Player B, better than Player C,” Martin said. “If you’re a scout that hasn’t had the opportunity to see everybody that you’re comparing, it definitely helps to have a video component to watch. I guess I’m a little bit old school in the fact that I believe you get a little more out of going to the game live.”
• Speaking of injured prospects, I’m stunned to report that, per the Sault Star’s Bill Montague, Ryan Sproul is already back with the Sault Greyhounds after suffering a broken jaw about a month ago.
That’s saying something, and it’s saying something about Patrick Eaves’ “complications” from jaw surgery given that he’s been out since late November. The way Ken Holland’s been talking, it doesn’t sound like the Wings expect Eaves back anytime soon, and that’s scary.
• Shifting gears to charitable hockey, via RedWingsFeed, WXYZ’s Brad Galli reported that the Detroit firefighters and police tangled in a charity hockey game featuring the Wings’ resident alumni alligator wrangler;
• The Saginaw News’s Adam Bouton reports that McCarty and the Red Wings’ Alumni Association also helped raise $30,000 for defibrillators during their annual “Shocks and Saves” game in Saginaw this past weekend;
• The Macomb Daily reports that the Wings’ Alums will take on ,a href=“http://www.macombdaily.com/articles/2012/01/30/sports/doc4f26c67322f5c291703975.txt”>a team in Saint Clair Shores on February 18th…
GTJ Foundation vice president Kyle Johnson said his senior “A” hockey team from St. Clair Shores is looking for revenge when it plays a rematch with the Detroit Red Wings Old-Timers, 7 p.m., Feb. 18, at the St. Clair Shores Civic Arena.
Last year the Red Wings Alumni Association team defeated GTJ, 9-5.
“We’re planning on giving them a run for their money this year,” said Johnson. ”My brothers and I grew up playing hockey in St. Clair Shores and we are thrilled to be able to give something back to kid hockey in the Shores.”
Tickets for the game can be purchased at the Civic Arena, Gilbert’s hardware at 21912 Harper Avenue, Chapoton Woods Market at 22524 Greater Mack, online at www.gtjfoundation.org or at the door.
• While the press release is frickin’ long, the long story short is that the Wings will also take part in a game to raise funds for cerebral palsy research on March 3rd in Hazel Park;
• The Oakland Press’s Pat Caputo was actually at the tip of the spear in terms of talking about the Wings needing to right their road record a few days ago;
• In the promotional department, the Wings are accepting “WIingman/Wingwoman” applications to earn a pair of tickets to the Wings’ Valentine’s Day game;
• I absolutely love this All-Star-related quip from the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman...
15. Do think, though, Chara’s comment about not wanting appendectomy-recovering Jamie Benn to be the last pick was a (not-so) subtle message to Ovechkin. Also believe his decision to take Pavel Datsyuk first was a very different kind of message. Boy, do the players wax poetic about him. He stripped Erik Karlsson early in the game, and Karlsson came back to the bench smiling, shaking his head and mumbling, “Datsyuk.”
28. Montreal has the number one penalty kill in the NHL. UFAs Hal Gill and Travis Moen are first and fourth on the team in shorthanded minutes per game. Those players have value for that reason.
• And I must regretfully state that I have a doctor’s appointment at 2 PM today, right around the time the Wings will take their morning skate in Calgary, so my game-day updates will be a little late. Sorry!
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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.