The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/10/12 at 05:59 AM ET
If you happen to believe that the Detroit Red Wings tend to raise and lower their level of play to their perceptions of their opponent (see: the Wings’ first two games against St. Louis as an example), tonight’s game against the New York Islanders (7 PM EST, FSD+/MSG Plus/WXYT) is the kind of game that might incite a wee bit of worry, especially given the potential emotional letdown the Wings may display after concluding their Fathers’ Trip with a 3-2 overtime win over Chicago on Sunday.
The Islanders remain the Islanders: they sit in last place in the Eastern Conference and are only ahead of the Blue Jackets and Ducks in terms of points; while they’ve split their last ten games, they’re coming off consecutive losses to the aforementioned Ducks and Coyotes in those cities; and instead of utilizing Wing for-a-day Evgeni Nabokov against the Wings, the Islanders recalled 21-year-old goalie Kevin Poulin, who has all of 11 NHL games under his belt, and will start him tonight.
As Newsday’s Arthur Staple points out, however, in the land of frequently-injured goalies, Nabokov isn’t even the Islanders’ #1 netminder, and instead, he’s been spelling Al Montoya, who’s missed time with a concussion—as part of, as ESPN New York’s Katie Strang noted a few days ago, half a dozen players who’ve suffered concussions for the Isles this season. Staple reports that the Islanders hope that Poulin and rookie forward David Ullstrom’s (another concussion club member) returns will give the Islanders a much-needed boost:
In Montoya’s absence, Evgeni Nabokov has started the last eight games, beginning strong but faltering a bit during the team’s last two losses. The Islanders tried to remedy that by recalling Kevin Poulin from Bridgeport last night and sending Anders Nilsson down.
Poulin, who lost to the Stars, 3-2, on Dec. 15 in his only NHL appearance this season, was named the AHL’s player of the week after posting three straight shutouts and four wins. He is likely to start tonight.
The Isles’ problems, however, extend more to the other end of the rink. “Goaltending hasn’t really been a huge issue; it’s been our offensive side,” [Islanders coach Jack] Capuano said.
He harped on the quality power-play opportunities the Isles squandered in their 5-1 loss to Phoenix on Saturday, a disturbing showing for a team among the best with the man advantage this season. Detroit has allowed 28 power-play goals, which is tied for 19th in the league.
“We have to find a way for certain guys to light the lamp,” Capuano said. “You have to score a couple, three goals a night to win in this league.”
Ullstrom’s return will add depth to those second and third offensive lines that have struggled. Yesterday, he skated with Tim Wallace, Nino Niederreiter and Jay Pandolfo.
While the Islanders play in the media mecca that is the greater New York, NY metropolitan area, they tend to lurk in the shadows in terms of media exposure, and as most of Newsday’s articles are of the restricted, subscriber-only variety, the best, “State of the Islanders” report I could find comes from the New York Times’ Christopher Botta, who assessed the Islanders’ play over the course of the first week of January as follows:
Islanders: Jack Capuano’s club has fallen to five games under .500 (14-19-6) after back-to-back losses in Anaheim and Phoenix. They beat Carolina in a shootout Tuesday. A year ago – and without Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo, who were injured – the Islanders were 13-20-6 (32 points) at the 39-game mark. At the same point this season, they are 14-19-6 (34 points). With the exception of John Tavares, Travis Hamonic and Matt Martin, their young players are regressing more than developing. Now in last place in the East, and 12 points out of eighth, the Islanders need wins at home this week against Detroit, Philadelphia and Buffalo to stay relevant this season. Grade: C minus
The Red Wings didn’t practice on Monday, either—though they sent Chris Conner down to Grand Rapids during a Monday that was chock full of Red Wings-related stories (to the point that I posted both an off-day blog entry and an evening report)—so our tidbits of Red Wings-related note as they pertain to tonight’s game are a bit sparse.
Thankfully, NHL.com’s Brian Compton penned a superb game preview which encapsulates the storylines surrounding both teams heading into a game which [sarcasm] commands the marquee, must-see TV viewing [/sarcasm] which confines the broadcast to the “plus” sports networks in both New York and Detroit:
Big Story: Three’s a crowd in the Central Division. The Red Wings, who have won five of their last seven games, enter Tuesday’s action in a three-way tie for first place with Chicago and St. Louis. For whatever reason, though, the Islanders have been a pain in Detroit’s neck in recent years, so the Wings have to end a three-game skid at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum if they plan on keeping pace with the Blackhawks and Blues. Tuesday also marks the conclusion of a four-game road trip for the Red Wings.
Red Wings [team scope]: Detroit made it a three-way tie in the Central on Sunday night with its dramatic 3-2 overtime victory at Chicago. Pavel Datsyuk scored the game-winning goal at 3:08 of overtime, when his shot went off Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy and past goaltender Corey Crawford. Ty Conklin made 29 saves—including a penalty shot stop against Jimmy Hayes—in the victory.
Islanders [team scope]: Just when it appeared New York might be back in the playoff race, it gets outscored 9-3 in back-to-back losses at Anaheim and Phoenix. The Islanders, now five games under the .500 mark, begin a four-game homestand Tuesday night in last place in the Eastern Conference and 12 points out of a playoff spot.
“We had high expectations before this road trip,” captain Mark Streit said. “We started out well in Carolina, got a win, didn’t play that great, but got a win. Then last two games we played two good teams, but it’s just not good enough.”
Who’s Hot: Datsyuk has earned at least a point in 16 of his 19 games (7 goals, 17 assists)… Isles center John Tavares has a five-game point streak. He has 2 goals and 7 assists during that span.
Injury Report: Detroit winger Patrick Eaves is out with a fractured jaw. … The Isles are expected to be without Al Montoya (concussion), Rick DiPietro (lower body), David Ullstrom (concussion), Mike Mottau (concussion) and Marty Reasoner (hand).
Stat Pack: Conklin’s victory Sunday night was his first since his first start of the season, a 3-0 win against Colorado on Oct. 8. It was just his third start in 34 games. … New York is 8-for-20 on the power play over the last seven games. The Isles were 1-for-22 in the previous seven.
As of the middle of the night, the NHL’s media website has yet to post its game notes for tonight’s game, so I can’t tell you whether the league has chosen to grace the Wings with Mike Hasenfratz’s services for the third straight game.
The Red Wings did speak to the Free Press’s Helene St. James about the fact that they’ve given up multiple-goal deficits over the course of their last two games and four of their past seven road games, and remain a game below .500 on the road.
These issues obviously yield an imperative for the Wings to, as Mike Babcock tends to say, work much harder to, “Get started on time”:
After Sunday’s game—the Wings didn’t practice Monday, their activity limited to sending Chris Conner back to the minors—Henrik Zetterberg said: “We have to straighten that out, because it’s really tough to win games.”
The Wings’ 26 victories match defending Stanley Cup champion Boston and put Detroit atop the Central Division at 53 points along with rivals Chicago and St. Louis. The offense and defense rank among the top five in the NHL.
Even so, Danny Cleary said: “We should be better. We believe we’re a good road team, we just haven’t put a string together. If we’re to win our division, we have to get better on the road.”
Individually, several players have had strong first halves, like goaltender Jimmy Howard, who has given his teammates a chance to win almost every game. Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg emerged from quiet Octobers, as expected.
What really has pleased the organization are the bounce-back performances of Jiri Hudler and Johan Franzen, and finally seeing Valtteri Filppula play like a dominant forward regularly. Combined with the continued growth of Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader, “We’re going to have four real good lines, which I think is real important for our team,” coach Mike Babcock said. “If we keep getting better, we’ll have a chance to be good at the end.”
That “getting healthier” part will include Jan Mursak’s return from a two-week conditioning stint in Grand Rapids on either Wednesday or Thursday (which is why the Wings sent Conner down to Grand Rapids a little early, as the Griffins will host the Houston Aeros on Wednesday).
Babcock also groused about the Wings’ road record while speaking to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...
Said Babcock: “We can’t spend the whole year thinking we’re going (to maintain the same pace at Joe Louis Arena, 15-2-1). We need to win on the road. This was a big win for us.”
And Kulfan’s discussion of what might have been a job-saving win by Ty Conklin on Sunday has me wondering whether the Wings will start him tonight as well:
“I don’t care who we play, it’s nice to get a win,” Conklin said. “I don’t play that much (Sunday’s game was his seventh appearance), so any time I can give Jimmy (Howard) a rest, and can get a win in a building like this against a team we’re always battling, it makes it nice.”
A variety of factors have led Red Wings coach Mike Babcock to stay with Howard (who has played in 35 games): His performance has been worthy of Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) discussion.
The Wings are in a fight with the Blackhawks and Blues for the Central Division lead, as well as inching closer to the Canucks for the lead in the West.
Conklin hasn’t distinguished himself in limited time (2-4-0, 3.00 goals-against, .897 save percentage). So, defeating the Hawks in Chicago allows Babcock to gain confidence in Conklin.
“It gives him confidence and gives me confidence to use him, and gives our team confidence,” Babcock said. “Coaches always have confidence in you when you’re confident in yourself and showing good things.”
As Kulfan suggests, if Babcock plans on giving Howard some regular relief, Babcock will have to start the 35-year-old in almost half of the Wings’ 41 remaining games, and with games against the Coyotes and a rematch with the Blackhawks (who still believe that Jiri Hudler’s slash on Patrick Sharp is the reason that Sharp’s out with an “upper-body injury”) coming to town on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, tonight might be a good time to give Conklin the opportunity to get on a roll.
Also of Red Wings-related note: As noted on Monday evening, the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department will reveal its selections for the remainder of the All-Star Game’s rosters sometime today, so it’s highly likely that we’ll hear about Jimmy Howard and possibly Nicklas Lidstrom or Pavel Datsyuk’s travel plans today;
• The Detroit Free Press will hold a chat with the Free Press’s Helene St. James today at 3 PM;
• Also in the chat answer department, ESPN’s Scott Burnside answered one Red Wings-related question on Monday:
Zach (Chicago(Michigan at heart)): Do you see the Red Wings making a deadline move or waiting until the offseason. Lots of good players out there…
Scott Burnside: Zach; Well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ken Holland shore up the goaltending even though Ty Conklin got a big win last night. But as for big ticket items unless Holland thought he could land and then sign a guy like Zach Parise or Ryan Suter I expect summer will be where Holland does his heavy lifting given the cap space he’ll have.
• Somewhere in between talking about banning fighting and railing against the NHLPA’s decision to nix the NHL’s desire to realign next season, Wings VP Jimmy Devellano shared an interesting take on scouting players with the New York Times’ Christopher Botta for an article discussing New York Rangers defenseman and undrafted free agent signing Dan Girardi’s development:
“Scouting is far from a perfect science,” said Jim Devellano, a senior vice president with Detroit who ran drafts that built the Islanders of the 1980s and the Red Wings of the 1990s into Stanley Cup champions. “Some players are late bloomers. When you’re passed over by 30 teams, you’re really passed over. But what I find is, if the player doesn’t make excuses and never stops trying to get better, eventually he’ll be rewarded — if he’s any good.”
• If it matters to you, I posted clips of Bill Daly and Donald Fehr’s respective interviews on The Fan 590 regarding realignment on Monday, and TSN posted a few choice quips from Fehr’s interview on TSN 1050, and if you want to listen to the interview, the MP3 is available here. They did give equal time to Bill Daly, whose interview you can listen to here, and if you want to “watch” the interview with Daly via TSN’s video page, you can do so here;
• And this is going to seem like a strange note to end on, but as I want to end on a somewhat positive one:
The New York Islanders are one of the teams which employ “ice girls” who shovel snow from in front of the benches and the goalies’ creases during TV timeouts, and as famous hockey photographer Bruce Bennett is based out of New York, if he isn’t shooting the Rangers game, we might see some amusing shots of Wings players oogling the ice girls (Scott Clemensen and Craig Anderson live in goalie infamy for their open-mouthed stares at said scantily-clad ladies as captured by Bennett).
I’m not a fan of mixing that kind of marketing with hockey, though as someone who knew he liked girls when he was four years old and wanted to tackle and kiss a little blonde girl named Patricia, I have to admit that the NHL’s Ice Girls have nothing on the utterly ridiculous levels of T&A displayed in European hockey leagues (which I of course stumbled upon by accident when checking out photo galleries of Slovak league games on Hokej.sk)...
But my favorite story in that regard involves watching Dominik Hasek, circa 2007. Hasek despised the NHL’s rule allowing people to clear the snow from his immaculately-groomed crease, so when the Wings were playing the Islanders, well…let me show you, via Getty Images’ Jim McIssac:
Hasek didn’t even look down. He just stood his ground and stuck his stick out to ensure that the ice girls had to skate around him, basically snubbing the shovel-wielders as nothing more than nuisances who were trying to impinge upon his territory (as you probably know, the first thing goalies do when they skate onto the ice after intermissions or at the start of games is to scrape the hell out of the ice in their creases to both gain some traction and muck up the ice so that the gouges, scrapes and snow work against pucks that find their way into the crease). Something tells me that while this is the only image of Hasek worried about stopping pucks instead of staring at miniskirts, he probably did the same thing all game long, and I admire that.
There’s a time and a place for oogling, and it’s just as healthy when ladies appreciate hockey players’ looks and physiques as it is when gents happen to spot a lovely lady in the crowd, but when you’re playing goal, it’s about stopping the puck and absolutely nothing else.
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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.