Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Maple Leafs set-up and overnight report: on-ice focus must overrule spectacle stare

On the kind of morning where the party that went with the nuclear option regarding realignment offers far more rational, reasoned and sane explanations as to why the other side more or less posted a press release calling it a total doo-doo head for daring to ask for a thorough analysis of a very literally radical realignment (a certain grumpy Red Wings member of the Board of Governors included), the Detroit Red Wings and their fathers find themselves in the place where this kind of stuff is everyday parlance, playing a Toronto Maple Leafs team tonight (7 PM EST, FSD/CBC/NHL Network US [i.e. no Center Ice and/or GameCenter Live tonight]/WXYT) that is anything but a doormat anymore.

With the Chicago Blackhawks watching and waiting Sunday’s match-up after an ugly loss on Friday, the Red Wings, fathers in tow, have to keep their heads level and their focus on playing a smart and simple road game against a team which may aspire to play like Detroit, but in fact will tangle with the Wings—with the international spotlight and/or spin machine shining brightly down—while displaying both puck possession skill and a healthy amount of “truculence.”

Long story short, if the Wings don’t remain focused and attentive to the game taking place on the ice instead of the virtual ink being spilled in the press box and on TV, their road record will continue to suffer and they’ll head into Chicago both a point behind the Blackhawks and two behind the Blues, who’ve just tied the Wings in the Central Division standings.

The Maple Leafs sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but they broke a December’s worth of trading wins and losses via a 7-3 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday and a 4-0 shutout over Winnipeg on Thursday, and they sent two players down to the AHL because Mike Brown (yes, the Mike Brown that blindsided Jiri Hudler in 2009) and fellow hard-hitter and defenseman Mike Komisarek are slated to return from injuries...

And as the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby notes, the Leafs will still have Dion Phaneuf, who took a Red Wing-like puck to the face on Thursday, on the ice tonight, with Brown and Komisarek back just in time to grind down the Wings:

Brown is the kind of player the Wings have in abundance, mid-size, good wheels and hard-hitting. Komisarek is another big body to try and box out the invasive Wings forwards and Phaneuf can hit in open ice and bring a hard shot on the power play — if disciplined Detroit allows even one or two of those.

“It’s a big test,” Komisarek said. “We’re trying to build confidence and momentum, put those together and get our foot in the door. A few days ago, we were on the outside looking in (before winning two at home to start the new year). A few more wins will secure our spot even more.”

The return of Brown and Komisarek will mean some changes and, in the case of Matt Frattin, it was an outright demotion. An exciting young player, Frattin was nonetheless stunted since being dropped to the fourth line and needs more ice time with the Marlies. Brown can do more in that limited role with linemates Darryl Boyce and David Steckel.
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Komisarek, who made it back a few days earlier than expected, sees his role as helping goalie Jonas Gustavsson’s sight lines against the likes of Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom.

“Those guys have made a living in and around the front of the net,” Komisarek said. “We have to have good body position, good sticks to tie them up and let the Monster or whoever is in net see the shots so they don’t get second opportunities. We want to block shots, as well. We have some big men back there and I think we match up well.”
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Phaneuf, Brown, Cody Franson, Joffrey Lupul and Matthew Lombardi have all spent time in the Western Conference trying to solve the Wings. They’re once again among the league leaders in vital statistics, fifth in goals, third-best in goals-against and second lowest in penalty minutes per game, Detroit is headed for a 21st consecutive playoff appearance.

“As a team, they create speed by moving the puck fast,” Wilson said. “And the one thing the Wings have got and have always drafted, are big power forwards, the Franzens, the Holmstroms. We’re still a ways from that, but a lot of teams look to Detroit as a blueprint.”

In an article in which Sportsnet’s Mike Brophy insists that the Maple Leafs are indeed becoming more Red Wing-like, one of their most dangerous players discussed the challenges involved (as mentioned on Friday, the article is in part a response to what Brian Burke said when the Leafs’ GM waived tough guy Colton Orr, and what Wings coach Mike Babcock had to say to the Fan 590 in rebuttal of said remarks) in shutting down and taking out Detroit:

“When you know that team is in town, you know what to expect right away,” said Leafs left winger Joffrey Lupul. “On Thursday Winnipeg comes to town and they’re unbelievable at home and can’t win a game on the road. You’re not exactly sure how they’re going to play coming into your building. With Detroit, you know how they’re going to play. They’re going to play the same way they’ve played for the last 15 years. They’re going to try to control the puck, move the puck, be hard on the puck and be a hard-working team. For us it’s something we can learn from; watching a team like that. But you don’t want to get into that state of mind where you’re getting caught out there watching what they do. We have to go out and compete and play physical against a lot of their guys.”

Leafs defenceman Cody Franson saw more than his share of the Red Wings the past two seasons playing in the Western Conference with the Nashville Predators.

“They’re a very well-balanced team,” Franson said. “They’ve got a lot of skill up front; they’ve got guys on the back end that move the puck and skate well. They’ve got good goaltending. They’re good all-around. It’s a good challenge for us and we’re looking forward to it.”

The Wings, as usual, are being led by veterans Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg and ageless defenceman and sure-fire Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom. The supporting cast isn’t bad either; the likes of Valtteri Filppula, Danny Cleary, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and goaltender Jimmy Howard who leads the NHL with 24 wins. Is there a danger of the Leafs not performing up to par because they are in awe of the visitors?

“I don’t think that will be an issue with our team,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “We’ve got to build on what we’ve been doing. Our team is aware of how well the Red Wings have been doing this year, especially after the first couple of weeks when they were only .500. Through November and December they probably have the best record in the league. Again, our attention is entirely on us and what we have to do to be successful.”
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The Wings have out-scored their opponents 73-32 at home, but have been out-scored 56-55 on the road. That does not mean the Leafs will take them lightly.

“I think you have to respect them,” Franson said. “They have a good record every year and they’re always considered a contender, so you have to respect that. At the same time you have to look at it as one of those games where we can measure ourselves and see how we compare.”

Of more direct game-related note, fro the Toronto Star’s Bob Mitchell:

With eight of their next nine games at home, the Leafs have a chance to solidify a playoff spot with a string of victories. Detroit comes to Toronto playing dynamite hockey at home (15-2-1) but 10 wins in 21 road games.

The Leafs have also had an up-tick in the penalty-killing department of late, as noted by the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby...

The return of the injured Mike Brown will help the Leafs’ penalty-killing unit, but Wilson sounded a little disappointed at the prospect of cutting back special-teams time for either Joey Crabb or Darryl Boyce. Both helped the Leafs to a modest 6-for-6 streak the past two games.

“We bottomed out in Winnipeg in certain areas (of the PK),” Wilson said. “Since then our focus has been good, we’ve used some different guys such as Boyce and Crabb. In their careers, they’re bubble guys who will do anything, like stick their heads in front of a shot, knowing if they don’t, they wouldn’t be here (in the NHL). That kind of intensity has helped our PK a lot.”
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A third home win on Saturday would tie the Leafs’ season high.

The National Post’s Michael Traikos notes that “The Monster” will start against the Wings…

Win or lose, Jonas Gustavsson does not like to dwell on past games. That being said, the Leafs goaltender allowed himself to savour a 24-save shutout against the Jets on Thursday.

“I think it’s easier to let a win like that go than a loss, to be honest,” he said. “Today, I saw this as a new day. I see the Red Wings here practising, so I’m preparing for that game.”

Based on Wilson’s recent “win and you’re in” philosophy, Gustavsson is expected to start against the Red Wings on Saturday.

As dnoted during Friday’s off-day post, TorontoMapleLeafs.com’s Matt Iaboni offers the following prospective Leaf lineup…

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards:

Lupul-Connolly-Kessel

Kulemin-Grabovski-Crabb

MacArthur-Lombardi-Kadri

Boyce-Steckel-Brown

Defense:

Gunnarsson-Schenn
Gardiner-Franson
Aulie-Komisarek
Phaneuf

Goalies:

Gustavsson
Reimer

And the Toronto Star’s Bob Mitchell posted a capsule preview:

LEAFS INJURIES Tyler Bozak, John-Michael Liles, Colby Armstrong

WINGS INJURIES Tomas Holmstrom, Patrick Eaves, Jan Mursak, Darren Helm

NOTES The Wings have been dynamite at home (15-2-1) but have won just 10 of 21 on the road. . . . Wings goalie Jimmy Howard makes his first Toronto start and is looking for his 100th career victory. . . . Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf is a game-time decision after taking a puck to the face but is expected to play. … It’s the third game for Toronto in a stretch where they play nine of 10 at home. They’ve won the last two, by an 11-3 margin.

In the Leaf multimedia department, Sportsnet talked about Joffrey Lupul’s resurgent play and an injury report; the Leafs’ website posted clips of Lupul, Brown, Carl Gunnarsson and Komisarek speaking to the media; the Toronto Sun embedded an off-day report in its Wings-Leafs story; TSN posted a feature on Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel’s chemistry, a quick clip about Phaneuf, a longer Leaf injury report, a must-watch 4:02 clip of Ken Holland, Nicklas Lidstrom and Mike Babcock rebutting Brian Burke’s remarks (with some Leaf comments as well) and a third injury update; The Fan 590 posted a clip of Ron Wilson’s off-day presser, and if you missed ‘em…

Wings coach Mike Babcock spoke to Jim Lang and Mike Farwell about the state of the Wings, Jiri Hudler, and, as noted by Sportsnet’s annotation of the interview, Burke’s comments:

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Wings GM Ken Holland spoke to Jeff Blair around lunchtime:

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NHL.com’s Brian Hunter allows us to shift perspectives via his game preview:

Season Series: Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada showdown at Air Canada Centre is the first and only meeting between these Original Six rivals this season. Detroit won last season’s lone game 4-2 at Joe Louis Arena in what was the 643rd meeting in the organizations’ storied histories.

Big Story: Both teams are coming into this game feeling good after victories, with the Red Wings downing the Stars 5-4 in Dallas on Tuesday and the Leafs pasting the Winnipeg Jets 4-0 at home on Thursday night. The Wings are hampered by groin injuries to fourth-line veteran Tomas Holmstrom and speedy energy-line center Darren Helm, both of whom will miss the game. The Leafs, meanwhile, have five on injured reserve and got Matthew Lombardi back on New Year’s Eve in Winnipeg after an 18-game absence with an upper-body injury. Toronto has gotten points out of six of its last eight games and has only lost in regulation twice in its last 10 games at Air Canada Centre.
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Red Wings [team scope]: The Wings’ home-road split can’t be emphasized enough. Not only is their record slightly-below par on the road, despite the win at Dallas on Tuesday, but they’ve also allowed one more goal (56) than they’ve scored (55) in 21 games away from home. Meanwhile, they’ve got a whopping plus-41 goal margin at Joe Louis Arena - where they’ve scored 73 goals and allowed just 32 in 18 games. Continuing to improve that first stat, away from home, is an ongoing theme. Goalie Jimmy Howard will also be aiming for his 100th career win against the Leafs - which will be CBC’s nationally-televised Hockey Night in Canada broadcast.
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Who’s Hot: The Red Wings’ second line of Valtteri Filppula (1 goal, 3 assists), Henrik Zetterberg (4 assists) and Jiri Hudler (3 goals) has accounted for a jaw-dropping 11 points in the last two games, which have both been victories. … Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul has recorded points in eight of the last 10 games and has five goals and six assists in that span.
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Stat Pack: Toronto comes into this game with a 275-275-93-0 all-time record against the Red Wings. … Howard leads the League with 23 wins and is on pace to win 49 games, which would break the team’s single-season record of 44 set by Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk twice in the 1950s. It would also top the NHL mark of 48 set by Martin Brodeur in the 2006-07 season.

Puck Drop: If Howard starts on against the Leafs and again Sunday in Chicago, it will be the seventh set of back-to-back games he’s started this season - which shows just how much Red Wings coach Mike Babcock depends on his main man in net.

DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose has more about Howard nearing the 100-win mark, and as of the time I’m writing this, the NHL has yet to list the referee’s or linesmen’s assignments for tonight’s game, but you can probably find them here sometime after sunrise.

Concentration issues aside, the Wings will most likely play both games of their Fathers’ Trip (as far as I can tell, the dads head back to Detroit, probably via a charter flight, after tomorrow’s game in Chicago; the Wings will continue on to Long Island, where they play the Islanders on Tuesday) without a key component of their shaky road penalty-killing unit and a crucial part of their suddenly stinky power play in Darren Helm and Tomas Holmstrom, as noted by the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness:

Forwards Darren Helm and Tomas Holmstrom will both miss Saturday night’s game with the Leafs. Both are overcoming groin injuries.

“They haven’t been made eligible to us at all, so I don’t know when they’re going to play, but they’re not going to play this weekend, probably,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I don’t know if they’ll play in Chicago, but I doubt it. If they’re not playing (today), why would we play them the next day?”

Defenseman Jakub Kindl will return to the lineup, after being a healthy scratch the last six games. He’ll replace Mike Commodore.

“I’ve just got to keep it simple and play hard, that’s all,” Kindl said. “Play simple and hard and go get the pucks.”

The Wings’ press corps reported that both Holmstrom and Helm skated on Friday, but neither made it all the way through practice.

Jimmy Howard did address the possibility of hitting the 100-win mark with the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...

“I knew it was coming up, but I didn’t know it was (today) until the other day I was going to pick up my father at the airport and my buddy called me and told me,” Howard said. “He’s the one who filled me in. Time flies,” Howard added. “I can’t believe we’re in January already, seems like we just started.”

Howard is just 15 wins away from tying Greg Stefan for sixth on the all-time wins list. What’s going to make it more special for Howard if he’s able to pull out a win is he’ll be doing it in front of his dad, who’s along on the Wings’ seventh annual fathers trip.

When the Wings’ arrived in Toronto on Thursday, they got a guided tour of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Howard wanted to find one thing, Chris Osgood’s goalie stick from his 400th win he recorded last season.

“I searched high and low throughout the place and couldn’t find it,” Howard said. “I got a kick out of looking at the old goalie stuff, Jacques Plante and what they used to wear.

“I wouldn’t be a goalie back then, that’s for sure,” Howard added. “They’re definitely a lot tougher than we are, that’s for sure, to be able to be out there with hardly anything on and have pucks zip at them. I had a hard time playing street hockey without a mask. To be out there on the ice (without a mask), I don’t know how they did it.”

For the record, I started playing goal by playing street hockey, and until my right front tooth was loosened by a few too many slap shots, I played maskless (that might explain some things)...

Niklas Kronwall told the National Post’s Michael Traikos that the Wings are all too well aware of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul’s chemistry going into tonight’s game…

Heading into tonight’s game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Air Canada Centre (7 p.m., CBC), Kessel is tied for third in NHL scoring with 46 points (23 goals and 23 assists). Lupul is tied for fifth with 45 points (18 goals and 27 assists).
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“Obviously, Kessel is skilled out of his mind,” defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “But Lupul does too. As soon as they get some room, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

But I can only say that these statements made by Danny Cleary to the Free Press’s Helene St. James, via her game preview, have me jittery:

“Everyone likes coming to Toronto to play,” Danny Cleary said. “We don’t get here very often. It’s good to have the dads here. Pretty peppy.”

The Wings arrived Thursday afternoon and spent the evening getting a private tour of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I got a kick out of going and looking at the old goalie stuff, what they used to wear,” Jimmy Howard said. “I wouldn’t be a goalie back then, that’s for sure. They were definitely a lot tougher than we are, to be out there with hardly anything on.”

Tonight could be historic for Howard, who is one victory from becoming the ninth goalie to reach 100 as a Red Wings; he’d be the fifth-fastest to do so if he beats the Leafs. “To do it in front of my dad, that would be really special,” Howard said.

It’ll have to be accomplished without Tomas Holmstrom and Darren Helm, neither of whom is ready to return from groin injuries, though that could change for Sunday’s game at Chicago. The Wings, who’ll face Jonas Gustavsson in net, seek to improve on their 10-11 road record and build on a two-game winning streak. The Leafs are poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004, thanks partly to top-10 NHL scorers Phil Kessel (23 goals, 46 points in 40 games) and Joffrey Lupul (18 goals, 45 points in 40 games).

Wings coach Mike Babcock noted it isn’t just those two, though, saying the Leafs are “playing fast. I think they’ve got a pretty good back end. They’re getting better goaltending than they were. They’re playing with good tempo, playing hard. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

A good challenge that the Wings have to show up for mentally, because the Leafs are a very good team, and I for one hate admitting that.

 

Part II: Red Wings notebooks: These don’t necessarily count as notebooks, but I’ll include them per the “Fathers’ Trip” theme:

RedWingsTV posted a clip of Mike Commodore interviewing Justin Abdelkader during the Wings’ private tour of the Hockey Hall of Fame—where the Wings will hold a meet-up for fans on Saturday afternoon...

The Wings posted a longer feature on the Fathers’ Trip…

 

Also, via RedWingsFeed, here’s a multimedia promise to come from DetroitRedWings.com’s Will Posthumus:

Tomorrow’s Game Day Preview will feature @cemmer48 in goal at the Hockey Hall of Fame’s goalie simulator. He was a stonewaller.

And we are going to hope that we do not have to reference this video posted by the Detroit Medical Center on Friday.

• DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose also mentioned that Nicklas Lidstrom told the press that filming the Honda commercial he and Corey Perry co-star in actually took quite a bit of time;

• The, “Hey, Brian Burke says the game’s going to hell without fighters, but the Wings don’t fight!” topic got overplayed a bit on Friday, but the Wings offered smart responses to the Leafs’ media’s questions about the team’s lack of “truculence,” as noted by the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby...

“I don’t know if we’re trail-blazers,” general manager Ken Holland said Friday as he watched his team work out at the MasterCard Centre. “It’s just the evolution of our team. I just think of the late 1990s, when we had Martin Lapointe, Darren McCarty and Brendan Shanahan — built-in toughness to our top nine forwards. When we came out of the work stoppage in 2005, we were just trying to find a way to stay afloat and get as much skill as we could. Our guys don’t necessarily fight, but they compete for the puck. There probably still is a place in the game for fighting, but my feeling is that (its reduction this year) is the evolution of the game.”

Holland needed no further evidence than scouting the world junior tournament.

“These are the best 18- and 19-year-old players in the world, this year and next year and they showed you have to be able to skate and have some hockey sense. The game is going up and down the ice so fast.”

Trying to goad the Wings into penalties rarely works as the statistics show. And once the playoffs arrive, everyone sticks to hockey, anyway.

“I think the games are too important,” Holland said. “You go into overtime and you need a long bench. You have to be able to play everybody, not just keep someone for a role or be afraid of taking penalties.”

And the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa:

[N[o one in the organization is protesting that the game is too fast.

“I think it is getting faster and faster,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Guys are getting stronger and they’re faster skaters. But the GMs last summer wanted to crack down on some of the concussions, so that is why we are seeing some of the suspensions this year. I don’t think players are afraid to hit. But you’ve got to be more conscious of how you land the hit and you’ve got to be more conscious of keeping your elbows down and not try to hit someone in the head but have more full-body contact.”

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock sees it as a matter of assembling a team with some players who combine skill with aggression.

“You can play in the league as an enforcer if you can fly and play,” he said. “You can’t play in the league if you’re an enforcer and you can’t. All you’ve got to do is look at Boston. (Milan) Lucic plays on their top line. (Zdeno) Chara plays on their top ‘D.’ Those guys don’t back down from anybody. But you’ve got to build your team that way, and there’s no quick fix for that.”

If it makes you feel any better, the Wings have drafted more than a few big, strong forwards over the past three years, as well as a spitfire named Mitchell Callahan, but for the present moment, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are the players closest to earning regular NHL playing time (and the smallish Teemu Pulkkinen and Calle Jarnkrok are the most talented players in the system Nyquist, Brendan Smith or Tomas Jurco), not Trevor Parkes, Brian Lashoff, Louis-Marc Aubry, Andrej Nestrasil, Tomas Jurco, Richard Nedomlel, Riley Sheahan or even Brendan Smith or Joakim Andersson.

• The Wings’ players did address the Swedes’ World Junior Championship wing given the “Swedish Colony” in Detroit, as noted by the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...

“Anytime you watch your country, especially with it being so long since Sweden won it, it was a tough one to watch (because of intensity),” Niklas Kronwall said. “I was just so happy for the guys, just the way they did it, they did the whole country proud.nIt is huge (back home),” Kronwall continued. “For the two weeks it’s going on, it’s a big deal. When they’re doing well, it’s even bigger. They had a really good team this year. Maybe not the high-end players they had in the past, they just had an overall great depth and goaltending and their D-men were outstanding.”

Sweden outshot Russia 58-17.

“I’m not happy, but I know our guys played hard,” Pavel Datsyuk said. “Sometimes you feel bad, not feel fresh, but Sweden played better, they were more fresher. But I’m proud of how our team played. They gave everything. They had tough night.”

• And as GM Ken Holland is in Toronto for the Fathers’ Trip, he spoke to the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa about Petr Mrazek’s play for the Czech Republic:

“We felt he was promising all along, and to play the way he did on that stage was great for our organization, our scouts,” said Ken Holland, the Red Wings’ general manager and executive vice president.

Mrazek was named the best goaltender in the tournament, as well as a first-team all-star selection. While the U.S. players, many of who train in Ann Arbor at the National Team Development Camp, did not appreciate Mrazek’s flamboyant celebrations of a save on a penalty shot, some of his countrymen’s goals and the victory, several said he won the game.

“We feel we have a really good young prospect,” Holland said. “He’s competitive. He’s quick. Obviously, he can handle the pressure. I thought against Canada he played really well. Even though they lost 5-0, he gave them a chance to win. He stole the game from the Americans. It was a goaltending clinic against the Russians, with the 2-1 loss in the quarterfinal, and then he won the last game.”

The Red Wings drafted Mrazek in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, 141st overall. He is not the prototypical NHL goalie, at 6 feet, 184 pounds. But scouts say his sight and quickness make up for what he lacks in size. Playing this season in the Ontario Hockey League for a third consecutive year with the Ottawa 67s, Mrazek will turn pro and play in Grand Rapids next season, Holland said.

“Obviously, we’re really excited,” he said. “You know, you could tell in the games that he really enjoyed the games, and he’s not afraid. He rose to the occasion on a big stage.”

Chris Osgood, the Red Wings’ assistant goalie coach, who at 5 feet, 10 inches, was among a dwindling number of smaller goalies in the NHL, has begun working with Mrazek.

“Ozzie’s built up a real good relationship with him,” Holland said. “They text back and forth, and I know that Petr enjoys his relationship with Chris.”

The thing about Mrazek which bodes well for his future is that he’s the opposite of former Wings prospect Daniel Larsson, who was about the same size but as skinny as Mrazek during his draft year (maybe 160 pounds)—Mrazek plays “big,” maximizing his shot-blocking surface almost innately, so he tends to look as intimidating in the crease as Thomas McCollum (who’s 6’2” and built like the real-life version of his Bullwinkle the moose’s nickname) and Jordan Pearce (who’s 6’3”). Larsson looked like Manny Legace minus the 38” tall pads, offering a tiny target to shooters by staying deep in his crease, but as you’ve probably seen from highlight clips or whole games, Mrazek plays an aggressive, North American style in the crease.


Part III: Speaking of prospects, in the AHL and ECHL…

• The Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Abbotsford Heat 4-3. The Griffins’ website provides the details thereof...

On a night that saw numerous players add fresh ink to the club’s record books, the Grand Rapids Griffins earned perhaps the most important as a team with their first-ever win at the Abbotsford Sports & Entertainment Centre in a 4-3 victory over the Abbotsford Heat on Friday.

Grand Rapids (14-13-4-2), which had failed to secure points in its previous four outings in Western Canada, moved above the .500 mark for the first time this season and into a third-place tie on 34 points with the Lake Erie Monsters in the North Division standings.

Francis Pare and Brian Lashoff paced the Griffins’ offense with a goal and an assist each. Tomas Tatar and Landon Ferraro also scored for a Grand Rapids team which will take on the Heat again tomorrow at 10 p.m. EST.

Jon Rheault potted two goals for Abbotsford (22-10-2-0), and former Griffin Krys Kolanos continued to play his hot hand against his former employers, notching three assists.

Joey MacDonald stopped 27 of the 30 shots he faced to earn the win, while Joni Ortio made 20 saves in relief of Danny Taylor, who was pulled at 12:05 of the first after allowing two goals on only eight shots.

The Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema provided a recap, the Canadian Press’s recap actually includes quotes, and the Heat’s website’s recap contains embedded highlights.

• Via the Griffins, Grand Rapids’ WZZM 13 reports that the Griffins’ special New Year’s Eve jerseys were auctioned off to raise funds for the Grand Valley State University’s roller hockey program;

• And in the ECHL, the hard-luck Toledo Walleye dropped a 5-2 decision to the Trenton Titans, with no Wings prospect, formal or otherwise (Andrej Nestrasil, Gleason Fournier, Bryan Rufenach or Nick Oslund) registering a point. The Walleye’s website and the Toledo Blade’s Mark Monroe provide recaps.

 

Part IV: Also of Red Wings-related note: Via the Plymouth Patch’s John McKay, don’t forget that the Wings’ Alumni Association will face off against the Detroit Moose at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena today;

• As noted way way way earlier, the Chicago Blackhawks lost 4-0, at home, to the Colorado Avalanche on Friday (and they’re very angry about it, very, very angry), and if you’re not too keen on having to watch the CBC’s ever-Leaf-friendly feed of tonight’s game if you live outside of Michigan, you’re going to like tomorrow’s game even less as it’s going to be an “NBC Sports Network” exclusive:

• Am I allowed to snicker at this suggestion from the Ottawa Sun’s Chris Stevenson, given that the NHL keeps the profits from inflated ticket sales at Winter Classics after buying the host team out of a regular regular season game’s worth of ticket sales?

With the NHL talking to the University of Michigan about holding the 2013 Winter Classic, the theme for next year could be breaking the record of 113,411 for an outdoor game (Michigan vs. Michigan State). The Toronto Maple Leafs, with their huge following not too far away, would be a natural to pack the place against the Detroit Red Wings. The challenge will be finding the right price points to get the fans in and make sure everybody makes a decent cut.

Good luck with that…

• We can only sigh about this number, per the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek:

192,685: Number of votes received by Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings for the all-star game, fifth among goaltenders, but the overwhelming leader among players not officially on the ballot. All of Howard’s support came via a write-in campaign.

• Do what you will with the Free Press’s Jamie Samuelssen’s consistent mentioning of Wings fans’ booing of Sergei Fedorov when he returned to town in an article about Pistons fans booing Richard Hamilton;

• According to the Sault Star’s Peter Ruicci, Ryan Sproul has returned to Sault Ste. Marie to have the Soo Greyhounds’ doctors oversee his recovery from jaw surgery.

• And if you want to understand how wacky the Toronto media can get, try this scathing assault on the Maple Leafs’ penalty-killing, bolstered by quotes from Ken Hitchcock of all people, from the Globe and Mail’s Jeff Blair.


Regarding realignment: Given that the NHL out-and-out lied to fans and produced a website and report (penned by the man in charge of the SEC when Enron did an Enron) insisting that a hard salary cap would permanently stabilize NHL franchises “in their current markets” and would result in a limiting, if not extinction, of increases in ticket prices which the league swore up and down were directly linked to player salaries, all before co-opting the NHLPA’s December 9th, 2004 proposal and then crafting what was supposedly a dream CBA under the table with league sycophant Ted Saskin, I find it hard to take anything that the NHL says at face value.

I do not believe that unions are necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, but as we head toward CBA negotiations, you should expect that I will continue to speak with a bias toward the NHLPA’s side of the story, and especially after the NHL essentially tossed off a childish press release regarding the NHLPA’s refusal to accept realignment on face value, despite the fact that the NHLPA very explicitly explained their concerns and bluntly, simply and maturely explained why the NHL forced the union to press the nuclear option—all for the sake, it seems, of painting the NHLPA as a union bent on fan and league damnation under Donald “Fear the” Fehr…

I think that it is very early and very dangerous to make blanket statements regarding Friday’s events, but I do not believe there is any doubt that the NHL chose to act as the aggressor here and instigated a fight which will have lasting consequences on the fact that you and I want to watch the Red Wings’ players play hockey next fall.

With a Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada’s worth of discussion and Sunday columnists (like the NHLPA-friendly Larry Brooks and the NHL-supporting Kevin Dupont) still getting to the bottom of Friday’s shenanigans, we’re obviously going to find out more about why this happened and what it means going forward, Greg Wyshynski offers the best explanation this side of Eric Duhatschek, Scott Burnside and Nicholas J. Cotsonika, explaining that the NHL stood up the PA repeatedly and refused to do so much as plug in a schedule for the sake of simulating what the real mileage would be)...

So I can only tell you that Wings VP and Board of Governors member Jimmy Devellano all but yelled at MLive’s Ansar Khan about “that union,” and then he went on The Fan 590 to rail against the NHLPA with Norm Rumack (Ken Holland offered a more moderate remark to the Free Press’s Helene St. James), with Rumack teeing up the NHLPA’s statement on a platter to allow Devellano suggest that it’s Donald Fehr’s fault that you and I have to deal with late-night games and long playoff series’ out West.

Download file

It’s an NHL infomercial full of softballs. I’m as disappointed as anyone about this but I’m also unwilling to simply suggest that things are not as simple as they seem at present, and if this is indeed a brawl coming down the pipe, the timing of the first punch—on a Friday night, when owners are bound to receive panicked calls informing them of the news by reporters asking hard questions and players are busy playing hockey, and especially given that it seems that more than a few higher-profile journalists had this date circled on their calendar because they knew what was coming, and knew the details of the fight pretty damn conveniently fast—stinks of instigating.


Update via roughly-translated Swedish: You know how the Wings chose to re-sign Dick Axelsson just in case he pans out with Modo Ornskodlsvik this season, but that Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson wasn’t sold on Axelsson’s ability to get his head on straight?

He still isn’t, as he told Aftonbladet’s David Olsson Jiglund:

“He has to manage his diet and exercise”

Axelsson’s heating up, but Detroit’s still hesitating: “He shows flashes now and then”

Ornskoldsvik. Twelve points in his last twelve games. Dick Axelsson is red hot right now.

The Detroit Red Wings, who own his NHL rights, however, are reluctant about giving him another chance.

“He has to play much more consistently and win a spot on the World Championship team for him to even be considered for playing games in Detroit next season,” says Detroit’s chief of European scouting, Hakan Andersson.

Modo was supposed to be a stepping stone to the NHL for Dick Axelsson, who left Farjestad to receive a bigger role, but he had a rough start with his new team.

First, he injured his knee, and then he tore an old groin injury.

In the end, the only alternative was surgery. Then he returned in late November, and he’s been one of the Eliteserien’s hottest players.

His assist on Mattias Ritola’s 3-1 goal in yesterday’s rout over Timra was his 12th point over his last 12 games.

“It’s like night and day compared to before my surgery,” says Dick Axelsson, and he adds: “I rely on my skating, but before my surgery, I could barely get out on the ice. Only now do I feel that I can do myself justice.”

Fierce Competition

He has not succeeded in convincing the Detroit Red Wings—who shut him out two years ago after he left the farm team, the Grand Rapids Griffins, without the team’s permission, and flew back to Sweden—to give him another chance.

“I’ve seen him in some games this season, and he’s looked pretty much like he used to,” said Hakan Andersson, continuing: “In some games, he’s been really good, in fact he’s looked really damn good, but in some games, he’s been really poor.”

Are you going to offer him a contract this summer?

“I believe we have to do so in order to retain his rights, but we really haven’t made any decision yet. We probably won’t do so until after the season.”

What’s made you hesitate?

“We know what he’s capable of in his best moments, but he has to become more consistent and earn a spot on the World Championship team to even be considered for playing games in Detroit next season. Competition for spots on the team is fierce, and it isn’t enough to show flashes [of promise] now and then.”

I’m not panicking

Why do you think he’s had problems playing at a steady level?

“As a professional hockey player, you have to take care of your physical conditioning, nutrition and all other preparations in an exemplary manner, and he may not have done so yet.”

Dick Axelsson: “I’m not panicking, but of course I want to play in the NHL. Although those games in Detroit seem far away after all that’s happened. Ideally, maybe they’ll let my NHL rights go to another team.”

How do you view Hakan Andersson’s criticism?

“I know I haven’t been consistent enough before, but I think I’ve improved my game since I’ve gotten here [to Modo], and even though my body might not be on the top three hottest bodies of the team, I’m not actually in as bad shape as some claim I am.”

That’s a reference to the double-chinned profile picture of Axelsson that popped up on Modo’s website last summer.

Speaking as someone with a ski slope for a chin (thanks, dad) instead of a strong jawline, he does have a bit of a double chin, but I think it has something to do with his anatomy as opposed to his physical shape.


One more thing, part 1: From the Windsor Star:

Hall of fame linesman Matt Pavelich will be honoured by the Great Lakes Jr. C League next week. Pavelich, who officiated 1,727 regular season games in the NHL, will be recognized by the league for his service as an OHA supervisor of officials over the past 12 years.

The league will honour Pavelich prior to the junior C game between Belle River and Essex at Lakeshore Arena Jan. 13.

The Windsor native began officiating at the age of 14 in minor hockey before being named referee-in-chief of the Northern Michigan Intermediate League.

Pavelich worked in the American Hockey League during the 1955-56 season before making the leap to the NHL the following year. Pavelich ranks second to Neil Armstrong in regular season games worked and his 245 playoff games rank second behind John D’Amico. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987, the first year it allowed linesmen to be nominated.

One more thing, part 2: I’ll do my best to keep up with the press today and tomorrow. Back-to-back games mean very little sleep, and by comparison, dealing with the Chicago Blackhawks and their media corps is child’s play when staring at the enormity of covering a Hockey Night in Canada game in Toronto, but it’s still gonna be difficult, and I’m not sleeping as of 5 AM already. Rough day yesterday. Just gotta suck it up and take it a shift at a time.

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Comments

MsRedWinger's avatar

Good morning, George!

I took a couple of things out of Babcock’s interview with Lang and Farwell.  In countering Brian Burke’s recent comments about enforcers, he first made the very good point that the game has become so fast, you can’t have a guy on the team as an enforcer if he isn’t capable of going out on the ice and skating fast enough to keep up.  But another thing he said was really interesting.  He said - and I’m paraphrasing because I didn’t get the exact words - “The players are getting really big, the players are getting really fast, and the rink is too small.”  Made me wonder if maybe the future solution to the serious injury issue might be going to an international-sized rink…

BTW, Babs still says “Fill-A-Pool-A” which cracks me up every time.

And I don’t know about anyone else but, as much as I love to watch the Wings play, it’s getting to the point where I prefer just to listen to Ken and Paul on the radio rather than watch games on FormerVersucks or the NHL Network (if they have the other teams’ feed, which they seem always to do for Wings games).  Ken and Paul are so good, and I can always watch highlights after the game… 

Try to get some naps in during the weekend, George.

LET’S GO RED WINGS !!!!!

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 01/07/12 at 11:21 AM ET

Avatar

great work george . your providing tons of info us wing fans cant get any where else . im wondering since i dont always see you post nhl game notes like you did today at this link , http://ultimate.nhl.com/link3/gamenotes/gamenotes.nsf/attachments/2011020603/$FILE/gn-2011020603.pdf , if you have a link i can save so that i can always go there before every game ?

Posted by gratiot_rat from east side detroit on 01/07/12 at 01:11 PM ET

HockeyTownTodd's avatar

Good morning, George…
I agree with your initial comment last night on the main page, that this was going to get bigger and uglier than most fans realize.

The re-alignment is a good idea, but I am not at all happy about leaving the 2 eastern divisions at 7 teams while forcing the remaining 2 eastern time zone teams (Det and CBJ) to play in the central time zone.  Something very smelly going on with that decision.

However, I think you are off the mark with this….

I do not believe that unions are necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, but as we head toward CBA negotiations, you should expect that I will continue to speak with a bias toward the NHLPA’s side of the story, and especially after the NHL essentially tossed off a childish press release regarding the NHLPA’s refusal to accept realignment on face value, despite the fact that the NHLPA very explicitly explained their concerns

The NHLPA, in the past, never had to approve scheduling or travel, and expecting the NHL to
cave in to these newly manufactured concerns is ridiculous.  If the NHL bows down to this,
it could set a very dangerous precedent, with the NHLPA demanding to approve the scheduling and travel each season.

Posted by HockeyTownTodd on 01/07/12 at 02:09 PM ET

Avatar

but I do not believe there is any doubt that the NHL chose to act as the aggressor here and instigated a fight ... NHL stood up the PA repeatedly and refused to do so much as plug in a schedule for the sake of simulating what the real mileage would be)...

Really?  The idea for this came out in the media in January 2011, maybe earlier.  Why couldn’t the NHLPA, if it was so worried about travel back then, have done it’s own analysis on team-by-team travel.  Why should the NHL do it for them?  Why wait until realignment is approved, when the PA knew as early as September that this was the most likely scenerio? 

The issue could have been broached months ago if the PA had a problem with it.  It’s clear that the PA, and particularly Don Fehr, “is the aggressor here and instigated the fight.”  They are just posturing b/c they know they’re going to get screwed in the next contract (rightfully so). Todd is right,, “it could set a very dangerous precedent, with the NHLPA demanding to approve the scheduling and travel each season.”

Why only get one side of the story from player reps in Carolina and Florida?  Surely the vast majority of the players support realignment (east teams better chance to make the playoffs and west teams reduced travel).  I sure hope the union breaks over this issue and Fehr is ousted.

Isn’t it ironic that one of the biggest cheerleaders of realignment (going all the way back to his first posts on MLive) is suddenly against realignment?  Monkey see, monkey do, I guess.  But yeah, you “do not believe that unions are necessarily a good thing or a bad thing,” even though in dozens of posts you’ve said how your whole family has been in unions and how you wouldn’t be here today without them.  I wouldn’t be where I am either without them, but that doesn’t stop me from criticizing them when they deserve it—like right now.

Posted by jkm2011 on 01/07/12 at 02:32 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

If the league is going to call collective bargaining a “partnership with the players” (which they did in 2005), then why haven’t the agreed to act as partners to the players in a manner so big?

The union is doing good work here. I completely disagree with any implication that the sport of hockey or the business of the NHL would be better off with a weaker players’ union.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 01/07/12 at 02:49 PM ET

SYF's avatar

After reading all that, George, I’m never more ready to watch tonight’s game.  Děkuji.

Long story short, if the Wings don’t remain focused and attentive to the game taking place on the ice instead of the virtual ink being spilled in the press box and on TV…

With their dads along for the ride, I’m sure they will kick the team’s ass if the Wings don’t.

Posted by SYF from Zata's Epic Viking Beard on 01/07/12 at 03:18 PM ET

SYF's avatar

James Mirtle tweeted:

mirtle James Mirtle
Wings’ NHLPA rep Nik Kronwall says unfairness of playoff format was a big part of what he didn’t like about the proposed realignment.

Posted by SYF from Zata's Epic Viking Beard on 01/07/12 at 03:53 PM ET

HockeyFanOhio's avatar

James Mirtle tweeted:

  mirtle James Mirtle
  Wings’ NHLPA rep Nik Kronwall says unfairness of playoff format was a big part of what he didn’t like about the proposed realignment.

Posted by SYF from “Balls Hill” on 01/07/12 at 12:53 PM ET

I’m not sure why this is such a big issue.  Frankly, the concerns could be easily fixed, as suggested by many others, by simply adding a wild card type deal.  But how is the 7/8 team division problem any more unfair than the current system where a mediocre team in a weak division automatically gets the 3 seed?  There probably isn’t such a thing as a perfect system, but overall the realignment would be better and more fair to all the teams and fans.

Posted by HockeyFanOhio from Central Ohio on 01/07/12 at 09:40 PM ET

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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.