Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Oilers game-day updates: business as usual on a ‘later-breaking’ day

Updated right before game—9:25 PM—time with some very, very, very late-breaking stories: As the Detroit Red Wings prepare to face off against the Edmonton Oilers tonight (9:30 PM EST, FSD/Sportsnet West/WXYT), the Wings are just wrapping up their morning skate in Edmonton, and given the workload to come in three games over the next four nights, no news is good news, per MLive’s Ansar Khan...

Everyone at the skate. Same lines 93-13-44, 51-40-26, 11-43-20, 48-8-96. 5-18, 55-52, 4-23

Fox Sports Detroit’s John Keating fired off a pair of Twitter updates from the Wings’ morning skate as well…

Behind the scenes in Edmonton. Kronwall and Holmstrom to the ice for morning skate. Wings-Oilers at 8:30 on FSD. http://twitter.com/#!/JohnKeatingFSD/status/148831464786640896/photo/1
Johan Franzen and the Wings getting set for Oilers tonight. 8:30 on FSD http://twitter.com/#!/JohnKeatingFSD/status/148837070742355969/photo/1

[edit/update: I triple checked…The game will indeed start at 9:30 PM EST. I believe we’ve got a Daylight Savings Time Translation issue going on].

On the Oilers’ side, their official website will post rolling updates via its game-day preview. Here’s what we know via their Twitter account...

Nikolai Khabibulin will start in net for the #Oilers against the #RedWings tonight
“If we keep playing the way we did in San Jose, the wins are going to start to pile up.” - Taylor Hall
“It’s been a battle trying to get healthy and play good hockey. I’ve got to be better, plain and simple.” - Ryan Whitney
#Oilers projected forward lines tonight against #RedWings: 4-93-14, 94-10-83, 89-20-28, 55-57-37
“The Red Wings have really found their game. They make you play poorly, or really well. We’re hoping for the latter.” - Coach Renney

And the Oilers’ website has posted both audio interviews with Taylor Hall and Theo Peckham, as well as Tom Renney’s 6:12 game-day presser (and a video of factoids about tonight’s game).

More videos and pre-game notebooks will hit the wires as the afternoon progresses, but for now, the old, “More to come…” line is accurate because if a) at the office and b) in the Eastern time zone, some of the reports might not come in till you’ve left for home. That’s how it’s going to roll over the next four days due to the fact that the Wings are facing teams in the Mountain Standard Time zone today and Thursday and will be practicing and then playing in the Pacific Time Zone tomorrow and Wednesday, respectively.

Also of Wings-related note this afternoon: Via the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples, the Sporting News posted a story and slideshow naming the NHL’s top All-Time starting lineup and list of All-Time teams…

In their “All-Time” starting lineup, Gordie Howe and Nicklas Lidstrom made their roster (alongside Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr and Martin Brodeur), and in their team category, the 1951-1952 Red Wings (5th) and 2001-2002 Red Wings

• The Wings earned a mention in the Associated Press's Larry Lage's "

Detroit Year in Sports” column for what I guess we’ll call the usual reasons:

The Red Wings extended their best-in-sports run of playoff appearances to 20, and their championship window stayed open when defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom returned to chase a fifth Stanley Cup and perhaps an eighth Norris Trophy that would equal Bobby Orr’s record total.

• The Great Lakes Invitational takes place at the Joe on December 29th and 30th, with Michigan State University, Michigan Tech, the University of Michigan and Boston College taking part, and as such, the Wings’ youTube channel (via RedWingsFeed) posted short clips of Drew Miller, Justin Abdelkader and Chris Conner plugging the tournament:

• In the fantasy hockey category, Yahoo Sports’ Darryl Dobbs suggests that poolies pluck Danny Cleary off the waiver wire due to his streaky scoring:

Daniel Cleary, Detroit Red Wings (7-3-5-8, plus-8, 6 PIM, 17 SOG) — The only thing that Cleary is consistent with are the injuries. You can pretty much predict his points based on a 68-game season and you’ll be within five games of that call. But now that he’s healthy you can count on 10 or 20 games hot, 10 or 20 cold all year long.

• In a very similarly subjective vein, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun offers the following take on the Wings while ranking them fourth on his list of power rankings:

4. Detroit Last Week: 3: Lost to Nashville last week but bounced back with an impressive 8-2 whipping of the struggling Kings on Saturday night.

• The Windsor Star’s Bob Duff took note of Brad Stuart’s goal against Los Angeles as a reminder that the Wings’ defensemen have and will need to step up in terms of scoring for the Wings to succeed this week:

Brad Stuart potted his fourth goal of the season in Saturday’s 8-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, already surpassing his total from the 2010-11 NHL season, but the Detroit Red Wings defenceman is hardly excited by his offensive outburst. “It was kind of a meaningless goal, but it’s nice to score, I guess,” Stuart said with a shrug. “The game got out of reach at that point, we’re just trying to kill the clock off. It’s nice to get them, I guess.”

A two-time double-digit goal scorer during his NHL days – Stuart had 12 goals in 2006-07 and 10 during his rookie season of 1999-2000 – and the author of 72 goals over the course of his career, Stuart has helped contribute to the league-leading 23 goals potted by Red Wings defencemen already this season. Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall are pacing the blue-line attack with seven goals apiece, while Ian White (four) Jakub Kindl (one) and Jonathan Ericsson (one) have also chipped in with tallies.

“It’s something we don’t talk about or think about,” Stuart said. “I take more pride being in the top 10 in goals against and the penalty kill. That’s what we’re focused on more.”

Regardless, Stuart recognizes the long-term value of balanced scoring toward team goals. “Its’ a long year and you need games where you get production not just from your top two lines,” he said. “If your third and fourth lines can contribute on a consistent basis, and your defencemen can chip in, that creates success during a long season. You need that, especially during the course of 82 games.”

• And the biggest “surprise” regarding the Wings’ offense from defense remains Ian White, because his plus-minus stat is pretty remarkable (per TSN’s Scott Cullen):

Red Wings D Ian White has, not surprisingly, found playing with Nicklas Lidstrom to be rather beneficial to his numbers. White leads all NHL defencemen with a plus-21 rating in 27 games and is a ridiculous plus-20 in his last 16 games, a stretch during which he’s also tallied 11 points. White hasn’t been a minus since back-to-back minus-2 games on October 25th and 28th—his only two minus games of the season.

Update #1: Here’s Renney’s game-day presser…

• The Free Press’s Helene St. James confirms that all is well with the Wings…

Update from Ice Station Zebra: Wings fielding same lineup tonight as Saturday, take on Khabibulin & Oilers at 9:30 Detroit time tonight

As does Fox Sports Detroit’s John Keating…

Same lineup for Wings tonight. Howard in the cage vs the Oil. Pregame coverage at 9 pm ET on FSD.

• And as former Wing Mike Knuble prepares to play in his 1,000th game, the Washington Times’ Stephen Whyno spoke to both Knuble and former Wings coach Scotty Bowman about Knuble’s attempts to find a spot on what was a star-studded Wings team:

The Detroit Red Wings took Knuble with the 71st pick in the 1991 draft knowing he could score.In three subsequent seasons at the University of Michigan, he scored 96 goals, but by the time he turned pro the Red Wings had developed into a perennial power.

With the likes of Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov leading the way, Detroit had a logjam of veteran forwards, so opportunities were short for Knuble.

“He came up at a tough time because we had a strong, strong team. It’s not easy for guys to break in,” legendary coach Scotty Bowman said in a phone interview last week. “He was really good coming off the wing and picking the far corner. I liked his style and everything. The unfortunate part is we had so many guys ahead of him.”

Knuble recalled his first game, March 26, 1997 against the Colorado Avalanche, where he got a taste of the rivalry in the form of brawls and a goalie fight. And his first goal, which came on a Saturday night at Maple Leaf Gardens – a dream scenario for the kid born in Toronto.

While Knuble won a Stanley Cup as a bit player for the Red Wings in 1998, it was a “battle” to carve out a niche in the NHL.

“You spend the first four or five years of your career trying to lock up a spot in the league and try to prove to everybody that you can play and that you’re worthy of them getting you another contract and worthy of them investing time and energy into you,” Knuble said.

Update #2.5: Hooray, more power rankings from the Hockey News’s Adam Proteau:

4. Detroit Red Wings [last week] 5: Wings are a league-best 13-2-1 at home, but just 7-8-0 on the road

Update #3: Sportsnet’s Luke Fox posited his slate of power rankings as well:

5. Detroit Red Wings [last week] 5: The Wings continue to dominate in the D. On Saturday they smashed a Kings team in interim disarray 8-2, giving them 10 consecutive home victories. Too bad nine of their next 11 are on the road.

• Here’s MLive’s Ansar Khan’s morning skate report, which discusses a pair of third-liners who have started to contribute to the Wings’ offensive cause of late:

“I think Dan Cleary and [Darren Helm] have straightened out their games, they’re going north-south, they’re playing physical, they’re on the cycle,’’ coach Mike Babcock said today, after the morning skate at Rexall Place. “Suddenly, Cleary has six points in his last four games, which is real good for him, got to be feeling good about himself.

“They can play against anybody. I thought Abby’s line (Justin Abdelkader with Tomas Holmstrom and Cory Emmerton) was fantastic last game and has had a lot of O-zone play for us over the last while. If they continue to grow they’ll make us a better team.’‘

Cleary and Helm have played with Drew Miller the past two games, after Chris Conner broke his hand. Cleary has two goals and four assists in the past four games, Helm has a goal and four assists in five games and Miller scored twice in Saturday’s 8-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

“We’re doing things well, keeping it simple, going forward with the puck, not trying to do too much,’’ Helm said. “All three of us were kind of struggling for a while there … put a few guys who are struggling together and good things start to happen.’‘

Said Cleary: “We don’t play east-west game anyway, we’ve always played a north-south game, up and down, keeping it simple, going to the net. It seems (when) you get more confidence, you hang onto the puck a little longer, you’re shooting a little more, getting to the net a little more.’‘

• And, amongst EdmontonOilers.com’s Ryan Dittrick’s morning skate notes:

“[Detroit has] a veteran lineup that does a lot of good things,” Head Coach Tom Renney said. “They make you play poorly or really well, so we’re obviously hoping for the latter. It’s a great challenge for us, we’re looking forward to it.”

The Oilers come into tonight’s game having lost three straight, all on the road, as the club returns home to Rexall Place sporting a below .500 record and a 12th place standing in the NHL’s Western Conference. The orange and blue’s latest outing saw them come closer, dropping a 3-2 decision to a perennial powerhouse in the San Jose Sharks; but the assignments don’t get any easier, as the Red Wings’ 20-10-1 record presents another daunting opponent ahead on the Oilers’ quick two-game homestand.

“I think we played better last game,” said Sam Gagner who, on a personal note, has been producing much more as well, scoring three goals and 12 points in 25 games this season. “We were a little loose and making plays, and I think that’s important for us. We’ve got a young team and we need to stay focused on being solid defensively and not turning the puck over, but at the same time, we’ve got to play loose and enjoy ourselves out there, and make plays with each other. I thought we did that last game; and while we didn’t get rewarded with a win, sometimes you lose one you shouldn’t prior to going on a big winning streak. Tonight’s a big night for us and we’re going to turn things around.”

As disappointing as Saturday’s result was, it was made even worse, as the Oilers held a second-period lead when Ryan Jones’ shorthanded marker put the visitors up 2-1. The Sharks tied it up, but took the lead when Theo Peckham’s third-period penalty allowed the home side to cash with the man-advantage.

“It’s crucial to stay out of the box, especially in important times in the game,” Gagner explained. “For the most part, our special teams have been quite good this season. We were putting so much emphasis on making [the opponent] work. 5-on-5, we’ve got to make sure we’re playing solid, moving our feet and not taking those penalties that will cost us games. Detroit has a lethal power-play; even when they’re not scoring, they’re creating chances and adding momentum. We can’t let them do that tonight.”
Nikolai Khabibulin returned to the pipes in Saturday’s game, stopping 34 shots as he notched the loss. He’ll get back in tonight looking for redemption, as the Oilers need a win to keep pace with the conference’s post-season dwellers.

“We have to approach every game as its own entity,” Gagner said. “They’re tough games, but for now we’ve got Detroit. It’s going to be a tough test for us, but we thought we played pretty well last game; and assuming we continue to play that way, have intensity and make plays like we did, we’re going to win more games than we lose.

Update #3: Here’s Helene St. James’ morning skate report, which focuses on the third line as well—albeit with Drew Miller’s addition to the third line as the focus of her article:

“They can play against anybody,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said following today’s morning skate.

Miller spent most of the season on the fourth line, before injuries prompted a reshuffling. What has been especially satisfying to Miller is that he has played every game since Oct. 22, a change from last season, when he was in and out of the lineup. Some of that has to do with injuries to Patrick Eaves (jaw) and Jan Mursak (ankle), but even before Eaves got hurt Nov. 26, Miller was a regular in the rotation.

“He’s a guy who, at training camp, got going right off the get-go, so he never got himself in that situation,” Babcock said.

Miller, 27, reupped with the Wings this past summer, for two years and $1.675 million, because he saw an opportunity to continue improving as a player.

“I felt I could come in and battle and earn a spot,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why I came back. I think it’s just, practicing and playing with this team for a couple of years now, you learn so much from the high-end players. I try to learn from them every day, and take in as much as I can and make myself a better player. I think you find a role that you can play on a team, and you try to be the best you can at that, and you continue to move up. This year, I’m playing a little more penalty kill, and with injuries and stuff, you get a chance to play on the third line and make the most of that opportunity. The more games you play, the more confident you get with your own game.”

You’d think that Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm would have more chemistry, but for whatever reason, Miller’s slightly slower skating and slightly more methodical forechecking have given the hard-charging Helm and Cleary more of a foil, and as Justin Abdelkader’s more comfortable playing as a center, he looks much more assertive with Tomas Holmstrom leading the way for all the grinders as Cory Emmerton slowly steadies himself. It’s just a subtle lineup tweak, but swapping Miller out for Abdelkader has paid off in spades.

As for tonight’s opponent…

“They’re a good, young team,” Babcock said. “They’re a much-improved team. They’re much more excited, are hanging in there. (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins looks like a real, real player. This year, they’ve been fortunate that their veteran players have played real well, they’ve gotten good goaltending, and they’ve had good special teams. The coach has them organized, and they’re fun to watch.”

Babcock also made sure to reiterate his beilef that the Wings can only right their mediocre (7-and-8) road record via “jump” and assertive play, just as he stated on Saturday:

“I think we’ve got better jump, and we’re on our toes more when we’re at home, and I think we’ve been much more tentative on the road,” Babcock said. “The way we play, we have to play fast, we have to get after the other team. If we play cautious, we’re not going to win very often. So the bottom line is we have an opportunity right here, three games before Christmas—we still feel, as a coaching staff, that our team is getting better. We feel we’ve gotten progressively better since the start of the year. We’ve gotten quicker and are playing better defensively. Our penalty kill is really coming, our power play has been better. It gives us a good opportunity and a good test here.”

Update #4: Via RedWingsFeed, Rogers Sportsnet posted a game-day video (good luck to get it to work for you if you’re in the U.S.);

Here are the Oilers’ broadcasters dishing a game-day preview…

And the Oilers’ website posted a slate of pre-game interviews with Tom Renney and Edmonton’s players (Theo Peckham and Taylor Hall)...


As well as the Wings’ Drew Miller, Jimmy Howard, Nicklas Lidstrom and coach Mike Babcock:


• Here’s the Edmonton Journal’s Joanne Ireland’s game-day update...

Edmonton Oilers winger Jordan Eberle is not only keeping company with Pavel Datsyuk in the NHL’s scoring racing, he’s virtually gone point for point with the Detroit Red Wings veteran since Nov. 17. Eberle has eight goals and 12 assists in that stretch; Datsyuk has eight goals and 14 assists. The two, who both have 33 points, will be going head-to-head when the Oilers take on the Wings at Rexall Place.

Nikolai Khabibulin will start in net for the Oilers; Jimmy Howard, who’s leading the league’s goaltenders with 19 wins, is starting for Detroit.

“They’ve found their game. Clearly,” said coach Tom Renney of the Wings.

After going six games without a win, Detroit has gone 15-5-0. The Oilers are a dismal 2-7-1 in their last 10. Through that stretch, veterans Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff have one goal between them – a goal Hemsky scored against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 2.

“It’s a great challenge for them to go out and lead us into this game – and hopefully past Detroit,” said Renney. “Regardless of what the track record might suggest to this point in time, certainly over the last 10 games, I have all kinds of faith in those guys being able to create offence for us.”

The only noticeable flew with the Red Wings is their road record: a 7-8-0 compilation compared to a 13-2-1 mark on home ice.

“We’re not happy with the way we’ve been playing on the road,” said captain Nicklas Lidstrom. “We can play a lot more consistent. Our team defence has been there but we’ve had some problems scoring goals. We have to stay focused. We had a game in Nashville the other day where we played real well for 55 minutes but lost the game in the last five.”

• The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan also filed a game-day report which focuses on Drew Miller, duly noting that it’s Emmerton and probably Eaves, Mursak and Conner who are fighting for the 12th, 13th and 14th spots as Miller has finally cemented his place in the lineup on an every-night basis—after a few frustrating years rotating in and out of the lineup:

“It’s frustrating when you feel you can help the team, and you are playing well, and you’re being told you shouldn’t be out but you are out,” Miller said. “It’s tough, but it’s something you kind of appreciate where you came from type of thing, and you remember how hard you worked to get to a certain point and it’ll pay off in the end. You learn from it and be better a better player from going through the experience.”

Miller went into Monday’s game against Edmonton with five goals and four assists in 29 games — and he hasn’t had to worry much about being bounced from the lineup this season.

This for Miller comes after re-signing with the Wings last summer as an unrestricted free agent (a 2-year contract worth $1.65 million), when he could’ve gone anywhere he wanted.

“I knew it could be a tough situation to battle for a spot but it was one I felt I could battle and earn a spot and that’s one of reasons I decided to come back,” Miller said. “You find a role you can play for a team and try to be the best you can be.”

• And as all we’re waiting for are updates from the Edmonton Sun and TSN’s game-day video, we’ll conclude for now with this observation from ESPN’s fantasy hockey guru, Sean Allen, about the supremely streaky Todd Bertuzzi:

It’s starting to get difficult to ignore Todd Bertuzzi’s slow yet steady production for the Detroit Red Wings lately. He has had a positive plus/minus in 10 of the past 13 games and zero minus ratings in any of those contests. He has a point in nine of those 13 games. Seriously, Big Bert is worth an add to your roster as long as he keeps playing with Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen. And there is no reason to think he won’t.

I adored the “Pavel, a Mule and a Sasquatch” line Babcock put it together two years ago as Pavel’s dekes and dangles force Franzen to engage and go to the front of the net and Bertuzzi to simplify his forechecking game as the two trade off positionally, so I’m very happy that it’s been reunited. Obviously, Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg could play with a pylon and do well, but it’s very encouraging to see Jiri Hudler play like a playmaking pain in the butt alongside them, and, well, between the Miller and Abdeklader line talk…

Lets see…Ian White and Nicklas Lidstrom = natural, sustained chemistry, Stuart and Kronwall never should have been separated, and as I told my Uncle Paulie on Saturday, Jonathan Ericsson has gotten “most of the stupid” out of his game while playing alongside a remarkably steady and stronger Jakub Kindl. All in all, the Wings’ line combinations are working exceptionally well at present.

Update #4.5: Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall told TSN that the Swedes did NOT throw a game against Slovakia at the 2006 Olympics, despite Peter Forsberg’s suggestions to the contrary.

Update #5: Fa ra ra, via RedWingsFeed, from the Red Wings’ organization (and yes, my relatives are kind enough to let me sing, “Deck da Harrs” at the family Christmas party as an ode to A Christmas Story):

You would think that Pavel Datsyuk steals the show, but, nope, it’s Johan Franzen snacking on a rib that takes the, erm, Yule Log

Update #5.5: Finally, here’s TSN’s game-day update via Ryan Rishaug. Ryan Smyth, Tom Renney and Shawn Horcoff weigh in.

Update #6: Grumble. The NHL is apparently doing power rankings now, and here’s what NHL.com’s Dave Lozo has to say about the Wings...

4. Detroit (20-10-1) [last week] 6: The Red Wings have won 13 of their 20 games by three goals or more. There might not be a better team in the League when they’re “on,” as they say. It’s just a matter of being “on” all the time.

TSN’s Scott Cullen gave the Wings a promotion in his set of power rankings...

This Week 2   Last Week 4   Detroit Red Wings   [record] 20-10-1

The Wings have won four of five, with each of the wins coming by a margin of at least three goals, while the loss was a one-goal defeat against Nashville in which they outshot the Predators 40-21.

And Fox Sports’ Joe Rosen did the opposite:

4. Red Wings [last week] 2 [highest/lowest] 2/20: Pavel Datsyuk has 22 points in his last 14 games and may be the hottest forward in the league right now.

• While we’re doing lists, why yes, Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski, Evgeni Nabokov has indeed made a few bad decisions over the past year:

3. Evgeni Nabokov Intercepted: Evgeni Nabokov left the NHL for the KHL after the San Jose Sharks severed ties with him as a free agent and no one was willing to meet his asking price. He decided to return to the NHL in January, signing a contract with the Detroit Red Wings.

He still needed to clear waivers; the New York Islanders, one of the worst teams in hockey last season, didn’t allow him to, claiming him despite having other options in goal.

Nabokov refused to report and was suspended; he’s 1-5 in eight games with the Islanders this season, making $570,000 after making $6 million for the Sharks n 2010.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Howard is a contender for the Vezina for the Wings.

There’s no way Nabokov would have signed with the Wings this past summer, either. He wanted to play his way into a starter’s spot. Instead, he’s gotten hurt several times.

• DetroitRedWings.com’s Rick Bouwness tossed off an exceedingly long list of Michigan-born players taking part in the Great Lakes Invitational;

• DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose filed a pair of stories about 20 minutes after I skipped off to have my pre-game nap (it wasn’t a very good one), discussing both the offensive surge from the Cleary-Helm-Miller line...

“It’s a long season and even our best players aren’t going to have unbelievable nights every night so they need scoring throughout the lineup,” said Drew Miller, who had his first two-goal game of the season in Saturday’s 8-2 win over Los Angeles. “I think that’s a big thing for our third and fourth line guys to contribute here and there. For myself, it’s nice to get goals and be on a line where guys are getting points. It always looks good when a defensive third or fourth line guy is getting points and helps the team like that. It’s a little bonus for guys like us.”

Check out these recent numbers from the current third line: Miller, three goals in five games; Danny Cleary, three goals and five assists in seven games; and Darren Helm, a goal and four assists in five games.

“I think Dan Cleary and Helmer have straightened out their games, they’re going north-south, they’re playing physical, they’re on the cycle,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said following Monday’s morning skate at Rexall Place. “Suddenly, Cleary has six points in his last four games, which is real good for him, got to be feeling good about himself. They can play against anybody. … If they continue to grow they’ll make us a better team.”
“Offensively, it’s going better,” Cleary said. “When you start scoring more, everyone measures your game by statistics. Playing with Helmer, we’ve been playing well. We don’t play an east-west game anyway. We’ve always played a north-south game, up and down, keeping it simple, going to the net. It seems you get more confidence, hang onto the puck a little longer, shooting a little more, getting to the net a little more.”
“They’re good players. We’re doing things well,” said Helm, of his linemates. “Keeping it simple, going forward with the puck, not trying to do too much. All three of us were kind of struggling for a while there … put a few guys who are struggling together and good things start to happen.”
“We’re not top-end players, we understand that,” Helm said. “If all three of us play forward, get the puck ahead, play in their zone, be physical, we do have some skills, so it will come out if we’re on the puck enough in their zone. I know I wasn’t doing the best job previously. I think I’m doing a better job getting the puck in deep, I’m not trying to create something out of nothing. I can get away with it once in a while but I can’t assume I’m that type of player. Clears and I are good when the puck’s in their zone, we’re grinding, being physical and forechecking.”

And Roose talked to Ian White about his tremendous plus-minus rating as he’s easily acclimated himself with the Wings’ style of play alongside one Nicklas Lidstrom:

“I feel good out there, I feel like I’m making good decisions most of the time,” said White, who leads all NHL defensemen with a plus-21 heading into tonight’s game against the Oilers at Rexall Place. “Just as a team, I think we’re starting to hit our stride here,” he said. “We’re playing really good hockey lately, starting to get rewarded as well.”

In the last month, White has a goal, seven assists and is a plus-13 in 12 games since returning to action, and his plus-21 is second-best overall behind Boston’s second-year center Tyler Seguin (+22). White is a plus-8 in the last five games, including a plus-3 performance in the Wings’ 8-2 drubbing of the Los Angeles Kings Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena.

“It’s something I definitely take pride in, whenever you’re on the ice for more goals for than against you got to be doing something right,” White said. “But I think it’s more of a positive to the way the team is playing. They’re scoring goals. When you’re putting up 7-8 goals a night lots of guys are going to get the rewards from that. That’s more of a team stat. Five guys on the ice are getting the same numbers. I’m fortunate enough to get a few extra than some of the other guys but definitely can’t take too much stock into that.”
“I think he just plays solid defensively, and very seldom does he get beat on plays out of the corners or on one-on-ones, and he’s a competitive guy, and that shows, particularly in our own zone where he’s battling hard,” Lidstrom said. “I think we try to complement each other with him being a right-hander and I’m a left-hander, being in the right spots and helping each other out and I think it’s been a good fit so far.”

The 27-year-old White is also second among Wings’ defensemen in takeaways (12) and shots on goal (70), trialing Lidstrom in both categories. But the amazing thing about White’s season, to this point at least, is that he’s only had two minus-games through his first 27 games. And both games came in late October – he was a minus-2 in each – when the Wings as a team were slumping through a 0-5-1 stretch. A lot of White’s early season success comes from the Wings’ system and the iconic defensive partner that he’s playing besides, defenseman Niklas Kronwall said, but not all of it.

“At some certain extend, absolutely, but at the same time Whitey has been playing great ever since he’s got here, and that’s regardless of who he’s been on the ice with,” Kronwall said. “There are times during the game when he’s not out there with Nick, so he’s been finding ways to make sure that he’s been on the right side of the ice when we score. He’s been doing a great job for us all year, making plays and keeping it simple in our own zone and quick first passes.”

And MLive’s Ansar Khan also spotlighted White in what is an incredibly close-to-the-game’s-start notebook:

“Great for him,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Sometimes (plus-minus) doesn’t tell the whole story but, over a period of time, it sure does, and there’s a reason he’s plus. He’s making good plays, he’s good defensively, he gets the puck going.”
White called it a big honor to be paired with Lidstrom.

“It’s very easy to mesh with a guy like that,” White said. “He’s such a smart player, really easy to get to know his tendencies, and he always covers up for me whenever I make mistakes.”

As much as Lidstrom turns everyone he plays with into a better player, lining up alongside the seven-time Norris Trophy winner can be nerve-wracking, even for veteran players. Brad Stuart said last season that, initially, he was nervous playing next to Lidstrom, worried he would let him down. White said “there were some nerves” at first, but training camp and the preseason helped alleviate them.

“We had some time to get to know each other and work the kinks out,” White said. “I was definitely nervous for the first few days getting the chance to play with him, more along the lines of “Don’t screw this up” nerves. But with his personality and sitting beside him in the locker room, he made it a very stress-free and very easy environment to be relaxed and play the way I know how to play hockey.”

• And the Edmonton Journal adds two final Wings-related stories to the mix via a Q and A with the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson...

Q: Could Bruins’ Tim Thomas win the Vezina Trophy again in Boston? Or is there another goalie who could beat him out?

(Keith McCullough)

A: Thomas has won two of the last three top goalie awards which the NHL general managers vote on, and in the other year he was battling hip problems. Thomas has been full measure for that four-year $20-million contract he got from the Bruins. He’s 37 in April but he’s had no drop-off in his game whatsoever. He’s got a 1.83 goals-against average, .943 save percentage and four shutouts in 22 games for Boston. He won the Vezina with only 57 games last year, and I would think he’d have to play that many to get it again. Who will challenge him? Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (1.91 GAA, .929 save percentage, three shutouts, 19 wins going into the Oilers game Monday night). Henrik Lundqvist in New York has been very good for the Rangers, and shockingly Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues has the best goal average of 1.43 and has only lost two games in regulation, but he’s only played 16 games. He’ll have to get that up if he’s to be a Vezina contender. You have to play at least 50, I would think, to have a shot.

And the Journal’s Farhan Devji profiled Finland’s World Junior Championship team’s go-to players:

#6 Teemu Pulkkinen: Pulkkinen returns to the Finnish squad for the second consecutive year after leading the team in scoring with nine points in last year’s tournament. Although the Detroit Red Wings prospect is best known as a sniper, he broke Teemu Selanne’s single-season assist record with 36 helpers last year with Jokerit Helsinki in the SM-liiga.

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SYF's avatar

It was kind of a meaningless goal, but it’s nice to score, I guess,” Stuart said with a shrug. “The game got out of reach at that point, we’re just trying to kill the clock off. It’s nice to get them, I guess.”

True but it was a dagger in the heart so it still matters.

Posted by SYF from Twerkin' with Anastasia Ashley on 12/19/11 at 04:33 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

I keep saying this in various places, but it concerns me that we haven’t heard anything about contract negotiations with Stuie.  Ken and Mickey scared me one night with speculation that Stuie might want to return to the west coast, because his family is still out there.  But I just can’t believe he’d want to leave the Wings.  And I would also think that since Holland re-signed Kronwall early, he’d want to get Stuart signed before the trade deadline.  I love Brad Stuart and consider him a defensive stalwart for our team.  I hope there are talks going on that we haven’t heard about yet to get him re-signed.  (Please, Santa!)

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 12/19/11 at 05:05 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I get the feeling that Stuart’s contract negotiations will proceed the way he does—very, very quietly. That means more stress for you and me, but as Mrs. Stuart’s no longer taking care of a pair of toddlers, I think that there’s a pretty strong chance that Stuart will re-sign in Detroit and possibly bring his family along with him.

His situation makes me just as nervous and I do hope the Wings are talking to him, and encouraging him to bring his family to Detroit as well. The Wings’ players’ wives are relatively tightly-knit and I’d imagine that Mr. Ilitch would flex his influence to ensure that Stuart’s kids would find spots in the best kindergartens/elementary schools possible as that’s what Mr. I does, so there’s going to be a pretty solid amount of support for Mrs. Stuart if her concerns are the tipping point.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 12/19/11 at 05:46 PM ET

Alzy's avatar

It could also be a CBA issue. If I remember correctly, back in 08/09, didn’t Tick Tock have to put off announcing Mule’s deal for a few months because of some CBA provision? I think it’s something like you can’t have more salary committed to the following year if that figure rises above the current year’s salary cap.

And I’m not quite sure I understand the time confusion GM? All of Alberta is in mountain time, two hours behind EST (we’re not nutty like Arizona who just choose to ignore DST if i remember correctly). So the game starts at 7:30 pm here.

Posted by Alzy from Cambridge, Ontario, Canada on 12/19/11 at 06:00 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

It’s called “tagging space,” and with all the expiring contracts coming off the Wings’ cap figure for next season, they have more than enough theoretical 2012-2013 bucks available to re-sign Stuart.

I know about Alberta being in MST, but I think that given the back-and-forth shuffle between EST and MST, to PST and then back to MST, people are getting a little confused in terms of translating time zones.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 12/19/11 at 06:27 PM ET

Alzy's avatar

Ah, thanks for clearing that up George, you had me wondering for second if the time I think it is actually isn’t the time lol.

Well shoot, there goes my ray of hope that it was just a technicality putting off the Stuart re-signing announcement. I really hope his agent isn’t filling his head with dollar signs. I personally don’t think Stuart should go higher than $5.5 million per, but I could definitely see him getting $6 million plus easily on the open market. In Kenny I/We Trust.

Posted by Alzy from Cambridge, Ontario, Canada on 12/19/11 at 06:34 PM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

Considering what Kronwall is going to make, I can’t imagine Stuart making any more than that…even though I think Stuart is more of a mainstay on the PK and probably a better d-man in his own zone. I’d hope Holland could get him for no more than $5 million a season but…we’ll find out eh?

Posted by mrfluffy from A wide spot on I-90 in Montana on 12/19/11 at 07:08 PM ET

Alzy's avatar

Should’ve checked capgeek before I posted. Since Kronner is at $4.75 million per, I wouldn’t give Stuart anymore than that. But I still think the point stands, he could very well get $5.5 million per or more on the open market, so hopefully Tick Tock will be able to work his magic. I’m listening to the WIIM podcast though, I have to agree with the guys on this one, I don’t think Stuart will go anywhere other than re-signing with Detroit, or going to one of the California teams.

Posted by Alzy from Cambridge, Ontario, Canada on 12/19/11 at 07:09 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Thanks to all for your thoughts and insights about Stuart.  I thought I was the only one concerned about this.  George, hope you’re right and they’re just doing it quietly.  Interesting how Stuie is talking to the media a lot more than usual this season, don’t you think?


Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 12/19/11 at 10:22 PM ET

Norskirama's avatar

Good discussion-I too had been wondering about Stuie.

Posted by Norskirama from Lincoln, Nebraska on 12/19/11 at 10:46 PM ET


Howie’s in net again. Would you play Conklin against Calgary?

Posted by Bugsy on 12/20/11 at 12:32 AM ET

Michiru Kaioh's avatar

I’d play Howie in both games. There’re two days off following them, and the team plays better at home. It’d be smarter to try and get Conks in when the team is at home, and let Howie handle the road affairs, unless the schedule is just too ridiculous. But he’s a young guy, and healthy…he ought to be able to handle it. The team needs road wins.

Posted by Michiru Kaioh on 12/20/11 at 04:45 AM ET

SYF's avatar

Actually, I don’t think Jimmeh minds playing back-to-back games.  The worrying is left up to us as fans.  He has gone through the AHL schedule and there are spots of games where they would play three nights in a row and he played all three games.  Yes, the game at the NHL level is far more intense; I’m just saying Jimmeh has done it before.

Posted by SYF from Twerkin' with Anastasia Ashley on 12/20/11 at 04:20 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.


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