The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/11/11 at 03:33 AM ET
Updated repeatedly with gnus, gnotes and other stuff at 4:30 AM: After a few days spent
in semi-seclusion in Northern Quebec
, I mean on the IR due to an illness,* I’ve returned to find that H2H2’s only a dozen-and-a-half hours away, and that the Red Wings need to get their butts in gear in short order to deliver a win tonight against the Edmonton Oilers (7:30 PM, FSD/Sportsnet West/WXYT).
The Wings head into tonight’s tilt having lost four straight games, with their latest defeat coming at the hands of yet another play-resulting-in-a-disputed-goal against-style loss to Los Angeles on Wednesday (that’s what, the fourth game in a row where a discretionary call’s burned the Wings?), and while the Wings’ leads over the Sharks and Blackhawks in the Western Conference have dwindled to 1 point and 5 points, respectively, tonight’s game should present Detroit with a near-perfect opportunity to right the ship.
The Oilers have lost two straight, including a 5-0 loss to Washington on Wednesday, and, in theory, anyway, they’re the only team in the Western Conference with little to no hope of making a playoff push, and with Sam Gagner (Mike Modano-style injury), Taylor Hall (ankle sprain), Ales Hemsky (shoulder) and Ryan Whitney (ankle) out, you’d think that the Oilers would be easy pickings.
Except for the whole fact that the Wings have struggled to string together 60-minute efforts to such an extent that coach Mike Babcock started sounding like that celebrity train wreck who won’t be named while saying to the Free Press’s Helene St. James that his team would do the following against LA:
“Anybody who’s been around this team awhile knows what winning is like,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Knows what it tastes like, knows what it feels like, knows what it smells like. We want to get that feel, that smell, that taste back, and so we have an opportunity to do it—let’s do something with it.”
The Wings’ record at home of late is nothing less than awful, and with 15 games left until the playoffs begin, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan found Babcock singing a different tune during Thursday’s practice:
“We try to be solution-based and try to keep people accountable,” said Babcock after Thursday’s practice. “I probably haven’t done a good enough job because we’re not playing at a high enough level individually or as a team The buck stops here.”
The Wings have lost three straight at Joe Louis Arena and are 7-10-2 over their last 19 home games. They entertain Edmonton, the team with the worst record in the league (23-37-8, 54 points), on Friday night.
Don’t expect the Wings to take this game lightly.
“Do we have any reason to not be prepared?” Babcock said. “We should be the most prepared team in hockey, I would assume. I’m not playing into that (overconfidence). It’s not like we just won 10 in a row.”
Babcock continued in speaking to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness, noting the Wings’ status in the standings, and doing so rather…grumpily…
In the three previous meetings this season with Edmonton, Detroit has outscored the Oilers, 14-6, including a 6-2 decision back on Nov. 11 at Joe Louis Arena.
Heading into play Thursday night, San Jose was just two points behind the Wings for second in the standings, while Chicago sits just five points back.
“I’m pretty sure they know where they stand,” Babcock said. “That’s why they’re called ‘standings’. We have to get better and we understand that. In the West right now the playoffs are on for most teams,” Babcock added. “So we have to decide we want to join that party.”
Nine of the Wings’ final 15 games are at home.
“We were great at home earlier in the year and then we just got off it,” Babcock said. “I’m more concerned about how we play late in the period. We just got to be better than we have been. You can’t play against good teams and give up opportunities for free like we’ve been doing,” Babcock added. “The parity in the league makes it harder to win on a nightly basis. I still think everybody likes playing at home better than playing on the road.”
“Anytime we’re turning over pucks or getting cute or dreaming things up that aren’t there it ends up hurting us,” Babcock said. “Last couple of games on the road we were like that. We’ve been like that too much at home. The game’s real simple, the harder you play in the offensive zone, the more time you spend there, the more skilled plays you get to make as the game goes on. You’ve got to take what’s given,” Babcock added. “Sometimes we’re guilty of toe-dragging too early in the game and it causes a struggle.”
In other words, the inner artiste that the Wings have let out of his cage needs to be hunted down and trapped again, even though he always puts up a fight, kicking and screaming as the Wings give themselves fits before finally calming down and playing like themselves again. Babcock’s spot-on about the key to winning hockey games—sustaining possession and control of the puck in the offensive zone is where it’s at for Detroit—but the Wings can’t change their style of play without experiencing a few hiccups along the way, and they at least seem to understand as much, as Babcock and the players told WXYZ’s Tom Leyden:
“If we think that we took a step in a positive way in the way we played [on Wednesday], then we gotta take another step tomorrow,” said Babcock. “Usually what happens is when you’re on a roll, you win a few games you shouldn’t and when you’re not on a roll, you probably lose a few games you shouldn’t on the way out, so ideally, if we dig in we’re at that spot.”
“We’ve kind of been in a slump for awhile now,” said Henrik Zetterberg. “We’re doing good things and all of a sudden we’re playing well, but we can’t really find the consistency that we need to have come the postseason. We just gotta go back and play and believe in ourselves and keep doing good things.”
Jimmy Howard, who stopped 24 shots last night in the loss to the Kings, feels the Red Wings are close to breaking through and regaining their edge.
“It’s funny how this game works sometimes,” said Howard. “That was probably our best sixty-minute effort in a while, we probably deserved better. Every single team that we play right now is pushing for the playoffs, it’s a battle out there. It’s a battle to get to the get to the front of the net and create havoc.”
As Leyden notes, the Oilers’ 2 straight losses put an end to a 3-game winning streak and a decent 7-and-5 record since the middle of February, so it’s not as if the Wings assume that the injury-depleted Oilers won’t put up a fight…
And, perhaps moreover, with fifteen games left until the playoffs begin, the Wings have some extraordinarily high standards to start living up to—their own:
“We haven’t played as well as we know we can,” said Lidstrom. “We have to. We’re kind of in a situation where we want to play well. If we want to play well we have to continue to get better as a team. So tomorrow is just another game for us where we have to play better as a team.”
Lidstrom continued, focusing on the team’s defensive play, while speaking to WXYT’s Jeff Riger:
Over the course of the [four-game] losing skid, the Wings have scored just 1 goal in 3 of those games and led 4 to 1 in the 3rd period of the other game before losing 5-4 in a shootout. When Nick Lidstrom was asked what is wrong with Detroit lately he said “I think there’s more then one thing, just our overall play defensively and having a third man high coming back in our own zone and sorting it out. I think there are details in our game that we need to work on, not just one specific thing.”
As the team gets ready to try to break the skid and take on the Oilers on Friday, the question around the dressing room was, is it easy to over look a bad team that has no chance of making the playoffs like Edmonton? “Well every team is capable of beating you” said Mike Babcock. ” Do we have any reason not to be prepared? We should be the most prepared team in hockey I would assume, so I’m not buying into any of that. It’s not like we just won 10 in a row.”
Jimmy Howard said “you can’t take anyone for granted because anyone can beat anyone on any given night in this league. We have to go out there and take care of business and not give them anything.”
Another problem for Detroit has been winning in Detroit. The Wings started off the season with a 10-1 and 2 record at home but dropped to 7-10 and 2 at the Joe since the start of December. “We want to do a lot better job at winning more games at home and playing better at home too” Lidstrom said.
If you’re looking for a moment of, “Oh no, here we go again” panic, that comes in the form or the injury bug, via MLive’s Ansar Khan, who reports that the Wings recalled Doug Janik just in case Brad Stuart (ankle) can’t play on Friday as the Griffins are currently en route to Oklahoma City, OK, and it’s hard to recall a player from a bus. Stuart explained his “questionable status” for Friday’s game to Khan…
“I think I can play, but I’ll see how it feels tomorrow,’’ Stuart said. “Questionable is a good way to put it.’‘
Stuart was hurt in the second period, when he fell awkwardly. He finished the game. X-rays revealed no damage.
“I just shot the puck down the ice and fell,’’ Stuart said. “Skate caught on the board as I was falling back, kind of just twisted it.’‘
Defenseman Brian Rafalski (back spasms) said his status will be determined after the morning skate. Goaltender Chris Osgood (hernia surgery) isn’t likely to return until next Thursday at Columbus. Patrick Eaves (groin) skated with the team Thursday for the first time since getting injured but won’t play Friday and probably is out until next week.
Khan also reports that Babcock’s placed the Wings’ lines in a blender, so we may or may not see Modano centering the players he was originally slated to work with in Jiri Hudler and Danny Cleary, and while the Abdelkader-Helm-and-Miller-or-Draper line remains intact, Filppula, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Bertuzzi and Franzen are all in flux.
The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan notes, however, that the Wings might be taking preemptive measures to make sure that they’re not short-handed should a very overdue Mrs. Ruslan Salei give birth to the couple’s third child tonight or tomorrow:
Ruslan Salei said he’ll travel to California on Sunday to be with his pregnant wife, who is due next week.
I would gather that Howard will start tonight opposite Nikolai Khabibulin, with Joey MacDonald making possibly his last start as a Wing for the season on Saturday in St. Louis (the Wings’ next games are on Wednesday the 16th vs. Washington and Thursday the 17th in Columbus, which is Osgood’s return date).
And, for the record, the Wings are aware of the fact that they can’t seem to score goals and keep pucks out of their net, as Henrik Zetterberg told Kulfan:
After scoring four goals against the Coyotes last weekend, the Red Wings managed only one against the Kings on Wednesday. They scored seven against the Kings on Feb. 28, followed by two total against the Ducks and Sharks.
“You want to be able to score goals, especially when we have chances,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “We didn’t get that many opportunities on the power play, and that’s one area we have to amp up before the playoffs.”
Said Nicklas Lidstrom : “We haven’t gotten the ugly goals, where you get the puck to the net and get guys to the net, and get rebounds. … And those are the kind of goals you get in the playoffs.”
Since my talk is relatively cheap, here are the multimedia offerings from Thursday, starting with Babcock’s media scrum on the Wings’ website…
Continuing with WXYZ’s 1:44 off-day report…
Justin Abdelkader also happened to speak to WDFN’s Killer and Terp from the Motor City Casino…
And Red Wings GM Ken Holland spoke to WBBL’s Huge Show on Wednesday evening—and Holland makes a very wise comment about the Wings’ level of play from October and November not returning despite the fact that their injured players have returned to action over the past month-and-a-half. He feels that the Wings have yet to, for lack of a better term, get their early-season identity back:
NHL.com’s Deborah Francisco allows us to shift focus toward the match-up from both teams’ perspectives...
Last 10—Edmonton 5-5-0; Detroit 4-4-2
Season series—This is the final meeting of the four-game series between the Red Wings and Oilers. Detroit won the first three, each by two or more goals. Todd Bertuzzi scored twice in their last meeting on Jan. 4 to lead Detroit to a 5-3 victory at Rexall Place.
Oilers [team scope]—After stringing together three straight wins, Edmonton has dropped its last two games, including a 5-0 drubbing in Washington on Wednesday night. The Oilers gave up two power-play goals in the second period and allowed three more goals in the third period.
“We did not manage the game well because we didn’t manage the puck well.” coach Tom Renney said. “This is one of those games you don’t like talking about in March,” he said. “I can see maybe the first half of year, but this is March now. I don’t care who we’re playing and how they’re touted, the thing is we have to play our game and tonight we deviated in a big way from that. And that’s disappointing.”
Injury report—Edmonton is without Sam Gagner (hand surgery), Taylor Hall (ankle) and Ryan Whitney (ankle) for the remainder of the season. Gagner was injured Wednesday night and had surgery Thursday to repair a cut tendon. Taylor Chorney (upper body), Ales Hemsky (shoulder) and Theo Peckham (head) are also out. … Defenseman Brian Rafalski remains day-to-day with a back injury for Detroit, and forward Patrick Eaves is still out with a lower-body injury. Goalie Chris Osgood is nearing a return from sports hernia surgery. The Wings recalled defenseman Doug Janik from AHL Grand Rapids in case Brad Stuart (ankle) isn’t ready to go.
Stat pack—Don’t be surprised if the Wings end the night with more shots on goal. Detroit is third in the NHL with an average of 33.1 shots per game. The Oilers are next-to-last, averaging just 26.6 through 68 games.
From the Oilers’ perspective, aside from noting that the Oilers called up Michigan State University alum Jeff Petry for tonight’s game, Edmonton’s just trying to do its best as the injury bug continues to consume the Oilers’ best players, as the Edmonton Sun’s Derek Van Diest noted:
It’s proving to be the curse of the 42-point scorers. On Thursday, the club lost another 42-point man for the year, as it was revealed Sam Gagner severed a tendon in his left hand when teammate Ryan Jones caught him with a skate blade while jumping over the boards Wednesday against the Washington Capitals.
“We were just sitting on the bench and I was hopping over the boards,” said Jones. “I think he was reaching for water bottle at the same time, and the back of his hand nicked my skate.”
Gagner went on to finish the game, but stayed behind in Washington following the 5-0 loss to have his hand inspected further, while the rest of the team moved on to Detroit where they’ll face the Red Wings Friday. During exploratory surgery Thursday, doctors discovered the severed tendon and determined the centre would miss the remaining 14 games of the season.
Gagner finishes the season with 15 goals and 27 assists for 42 points. He joins Ales Hemsky and Taylor Hall on the list of forwards lost for the year. Both Hemsky and Hall also had a team-leading 42 points when they suffered shoulder and ankle injuries respectively. Dustin Penner, who was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings prior to NHL trading deadline less than two weeks ago, ironically, also has 42 points on the season.
Hemsky was forced out of the lineup at the beginning of the month with a shoulder injury, while Hall was hurt falling awkwardly on his ankle following a fight with Columbus Blue Jackets forward Derek Dorsett a couple of days later.
The injuries leave Jordan Eberle as the team’s leading scorer heading into the contest against the Red Wings. The rookie winger has 15 goals and 21 assists for 36 points on the season.
Even Jones could only shake his head when speaking to the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson about Gagner’s injury:
“When it rains it pours,” said Jones.
Gagner, who had a surgical procedure in the Washington area Thursday afternoon, was in hospital and unavailable for comment but the hard-working Jones was dumbstruck that his teammate was KO’d in such a freak fashion.
“You hop over the boards 50 times a game and this one time a teammate is reaching for a water bottle,” said Jones. “I heard him yell but then I went onto the ice and by the time I came back he was in the dressing room. This is the first for me something like this happening. I talked to Sam (after the game in Washington). He thought he’d be fine.”
Gagner was examined at the Verizon Center in Washington and they didn’t feel he’d done any major damage. He was stitched up and he returned to play 15 minutes in the 5-0 loss to the Capitals. “Adrenalin takes over,” said coach Tom Renney, who is fast running out of bodies, although he’ll bring back the flu-ridden Gilbert Brule against the Wings on Friday night, perhaps putting him in Gagner’s spot at centre with Jones and Liam Reddox. Alexandre Giroux, who would have been going back to Oklahoma City if Gagner could have played here, will now stick around to give the Oilers 12 healthy forwards.
“They were going in to see if it (the cut) was clean. If it was, Sam wanted to play and if he could have tolerated the pain, I guess he could have,” said Renney, who was more concerned about possible infection when he discussed the incident Thursday afternoon. “I would think he would have to wear a latex glove (under his hockey gloves). You’ve got sweat and leather and bacteria there.”
Update/edit 4 AM: Here’s the Edmonton Journal’s Game Day preview:
Storyline: It’s the same story for the Oilers when they met the Flyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday. They’re facing a team that has lost four straight games and is looking to lay a beating on somebody. The Flyers won 4-1, and the Red Wings, who have already taken down the Oilers three times this season, fortunately have Tom Renney’s bumbling squad on their menu. The Oilers have won just four times in the last seven years at the Joe Louis Arena and they’re 4-9 overall. They were clobbered on Remembrance Day in Detroit when Oilers defenceman Theo Peckham scored his first NHL goal.
Not Home Sweet Home:The Red Wings, who used to be dynamite on home ice, have lost three straight games at the Joe Louis Arena and have only won seven of their last 19 since the start of December.
They were 10-1-2 early in the season, but have lost their mojo in their own playground. They’re tied with the Minnesota Wild and Phoenix Coyotes for ninth spot in the Western Conference in home points with 38. The Vancouver Canucks lead with 51, then it’s the Calgary Flames, 46; Anaheim Ducks, 44; Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings, all with 42; and the San Jose Sharks are eighth, with 39 points garnered on home ice. The Oilers have the fewest home points with 28 this season.
Forget the Howard versus Khabibulin prediction—it’s the following:
Oilers: Devan Dubnyk will start in net, with Nikolai Khabibulin going against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon.
Wing: Jimmy Howard is expected to play his 52nd game in the Detroit cage this season.
Oilers coach Tom Renney also weighed in on the Oilers’ rough road trip in speaking to the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson…
The Oilers, last in the NHL’s overall standings with a 23-38-8 record, were beaten 4-1 by the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday before being whipped 5-0 by the Washington Capitals — second in the East — on Wednesday. They meet the Red Wings, who sit in second spot in the Western Conference standings, in Detroit on Friday and the Pittsburgh Penguins — fourth in the East — on Sunday afternoon. That’s four tough opponents in a six-day span.
“You can start to look at your players with contempt,” said Renney after back-to-back losses to the Flyers and Capitals. “But these guys are trying. That said, it’s not like the coaches can put their arms around the players’ shoulders and just say, ‘good job, guys.’ ’’
On Friday night in Detroit, who does Renney put out against veteran stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, especially if Gagner can’t play. Who can they match against big Todd Bertuzzi and the even bigger Johan Franzen?
“We knew back in September, when we looked at the schedule, that this stretch of games was going to be really interesting,” said Renney, who stands behind the bench trying to look at the big picture, not a one-game snapshot.
“You don’t want to get your butt handed to you because then it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to teach,” Renney said. “If you’re just getting hammered, what are the guys supposed to say, ‘OK, coach, what are we learning from this?’ But this does give the coaching staff, with this combination of people to appreciate, what the very best teams in the league look like. In the debriefs, we’ll talk to the players about deficiencies because they’ll be exposed, but it’s also giving us a chance to play different systems and tactics that will help us be competitive later on. We’ll have footage that we can put in the library, so to speak.”
Heading into tonight’s game, Matheson says that even the Oilers are ever so slightly concerned about the wrath of Babcock…
“I hear Mike’s a cranky guy. We’re good friends, but I hear he’s not a happy camper ... I hear he’s not getting a lot of sleep,” laughed his buddy Tom Renney, head coach of the Edmonton Oilers’.
And Danny Cleary offered some intriguing observations about the Wings’ plight:
“Four straight losses? That’s not good,” said Red Wings forward Dan Cleary. “We had a 4-1 lead in the third period in Phoenix last week and blew it. Ridiculous. Time to start locking down games.”
Detroit still has 86 points and only 20 regulation losses this season, but their standards are higher than most other teams. Do the Red Wings players get it, that their hold on second spot in the West behind the Vancouver Canucks is in jeopardy?
“Well, we have a board up (in the dressing room) with the standings,” said Babcock. “The players walk by it on the way in and the way out. I’m pretty sure they know where they stand. That’s why they call them standings,” said Babcock. “We have to get on a roll, so we can feel good about ourselves. It’s no fun unless you’re a really, young team. With us, the winning is what makes it fun. We have a standard. We always say that’s Red Wing-like or un-Red Wing-like, and we haven’t been Red Wing-like,” said Babcock.
Especially at home, where the Red Wings have only won seven of their last 19 games since December when they usually roll over visiting teams. Maybe the Red Wings, who are finally healthy except for Brian Rafalski (sore back), just want the post-season to start. Maybe they’re stale. Maybe, but that’s no excuse.
“The West is too tight to act like you’re just waiting for the playoffs to start,” said Babcock. “You earn the right to feel good about yourself in any walk of life or anything you do. Confidence is fleeting. It’s tough when the snowball goes the other way. Other teams are trying to win games too, so this is a little adversity for us. As a coach, you want adversity each and every year. You long for it, then when it comes you don’t want it. So here we are,” said Babcock.
“We struggled about four weeks ago, then put a good run together, now this is another tough stretch,” said Cleary. “It’s an understatement to say we haven’t won as much as we’d like ... and our home game? It’s not as sharp. We put a lot on ourselves, there’s high expectations (four Stanley Cups victories since 1997),” said Cleary. “We have to get it through our heads how tight it is in the West. I’ve never seen it like this. The Oilers will be the first team we’ve played in a long time that’s out of it (post-season contention). Everything has gone up. You can see it in everybody’s play. We had a bit of a cushion (over the Sharks), but sometimes we need a little reminder of what it takes,” said Cleary.
According to the Free Press’s Carlos Monarrez, Babcock went so far as to hold a team meeting to get his charges on the same page:
Upon further review, [Wednesday’s] game hit a sour note and Babcock was singing a different tune after Thursday’s practice.
“For the first 30 minutes, I thought we were fine. ... But in end we weren’t on top of their net long enough and hard enough,” Babcock said. “You can tell yourself the next day all you want, ‘Oh, their goalie played good.’ Well, why did you let him? There’s no goalie that keeps it out all the time—if you have a guy on his pads and someone standing on the side and you keep banging away at second chances.”
The Wings are on a four-game winless streak and also haven’t won at Joe Louis Arena since Feb. 13. And with a tight Western Conference playoff race looming, Babcock called a team meeting before practice.
“So we normally would have a meeting like this the second game of the playoffs because you think you’re getting to the net and you get to the playoffs and you’re not getting there,” Babcock said. “It’s impossible to score then. In the West right now, the playoffs are on for most teams. So have to decide that we want to join that party.”
Nicklas Lidstrom also insisted to the Edmonton Sun’s Derek Van Diest that the Wings won’t overlook the Oilers by any stretch of the imagination:
“The league is so close now, that you can win or lose on any given night, that’s why you have to come out with your best effort,” said Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom. “Whether it’s a team that is out of the playoffs or is battling for a playoff spot, they have a lot of pride in their room and they’re going to play their hearts out as well. That’s something that we have to respect and respond to.
“We haven’t played as well as we’ve wanted to lately and we’re in a situation where we want to play better as a team. For us, it’s just another game where we have to play better than we did in our last game.”
As of the time I’m writing this, the NHL hasn’t yet listed tonight’s referees or linesmen, but I’ll post them as soon as the league does. The Edmonton Oilers’ website has posted a slate of game notes, but no refs are listed as of 4 AM. Their game preview promises audio and video to come as well.
Update 10:57 AM: Per the Oilers’ website, Brian Pochmara and Paul Devorski will referee tonight’s game, with Brad Kovachik and David Brisebois working the lines.
Also of Red Wings-related note:
• Wings prospect Teemu Pulkkinen and Jokerit Helsinki begin the SM-Liiga playoffs against HIFK on March 18th, and Pulkkinen finished sixth in SM-Liiga scoring with 18 goals, 36 assists and 54 points over the course of 54 games played. The Hockey News’s Ryan Kennedy profiled Pulkkinen today:
No matter when the player is selected, it’s become almost gospel that if the Detroit Red Wings are making the pick, the kid’s going to turn into something special. And with reason, of course. The lore surrounding late-rounders such as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg is well established, but in recent years prospects such as Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist and Petr Mrazek have all played above their station based on when the Wings picked them. So it’s only fair to wonder about Finnish left winger Teemu Pulkkinen. Taken 111th overall by Detroit in 2010, Pulkkinen sat fourth in Finland’s highest league with 18 goals and 54 points through 54 games for Jokerit. At 5-foot-11, 183 pounds, he’s not small, so how did the Wings once again get a bargain?
“He’s got a nose for the net,” said Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill. “I think what scared a lot of people in the draft, including us, is that he could score, but didn’t do a lot else.”
Thankfully for Detroit fans, Pulkkinen has improved on that this season, particularly on the biggest stage for junior-agers, the World Junior Championship.
Based on the Red Wings’ slow-and-steady development model, both Jokerit and the national junior team can expect to have Pulkkinen back again next season.
“If he approached us and really wanted to come to North America, we’d sit down and show him the positives and negatives,” Nill said. “But he could stay in Finland for a couple more years.”
• Hockey’s Future also posited an assessment of the Red Wings’ top 20 prospects, and I have to admit that I have a bit of a bone to pick with Matthew Zarb for this take on Thomas McCollum:
13. (7) Thomas McCollum, G, 7.0 D
Acquired: 1st Round, 30th overall, 2008
If Landon Ferraro is the Wing’s poster-boy for bad luck, Thomas McCollum would be the flagbearer for frustration. With a clear opportunity to seize the number one netminder job in Grand Rapids, due to Daniel Larsson’s departure and a lack of other options, McCollum has been unable to seize the moment. Steadily displaced by other netminders, McCollum has slid all the way down to the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye, where he has played somewhat better against lesser competition. Though undeniably talented, McCollum’s problems seem to be mostly related to his confidence level, and that has likely taken a beating this season, with the mediocre play and demotions he has endured. While sitting in favor of a veteran like Joey MacDonald is one thing, McCollum has even been bypassed by unheralded free-agent signing Jordan Pearce, who was brought in originally only to provide depth. A serious dose of confidence-rebuilding and coaching will be necessary before McCollum can move forward and live up to his billing. with another year left on his entry-level contract, McCollum does have some time to right his listing ship, but positive progress next season is an imperative. With an .881 save percentage and a goals against average at 3.18, McCollum’s numbers are simply not good enough for a first-round level talent.
He’s only 21. I think he’s going to “right his ship” and reclaim his status as a top prospect next season.
• RedWingsCentral’s Matthew Wuest happened to post a profile of Wings prospect and University of Maine forward Gustav Nyquist on the same day that the Bangor Daily News’s Larry Mahoney all but confirmed that Nyquist will leave Maine to sign with the Red Wings this spring/summer. In any case, Wuest duly notes that Nyquist has rebounded significantly from a difficult start to his 2010-2011 season:
After what would not be described as a slow start for anybody but a Hobey Baker nominee, the 21-year-old Maine Black Bears forward has started ripping it up, piling up 11 goals and seven assists for 18 points in 10 games. Overall, he has 46 points in 34 games, third in Hockey East.
“Last year, nobody really knew him and he had a great year, but this year, he hasn’t come out of nowhere ... there was no hiding him,” said Red Wings scout Mark Leach. “Everyone knew him, everyone knew his abilities, and he’s been focused on by other teams quite a bit. This is part of development, adjusting to what’s going to be thrown at you at the next level, and he’s doing it.”
Nyquist, who was drafted out of Sweden in the fourth round (121st overall) of the 2008 draft, is in his third NCAA season at Maine. He had a solid 32-point freshman campaign but exploded for 19 goals among 61 points as a sophomore last season and was a top-three finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
Drafted in the low 160-pound range, the 5-foot-11 Nyquist has worked hard to gain strength and is now approaching 185 pounds. Once projected as a good two-way forward, the ceiling keeps getting higher.
“He took a really good step (in 2010-11),” Leach said. “He came back stronger, quicker faster, and his whole game, because he physically got stronger and more mature, took another leap. That’s what’s important in order to play at the next level. Continue to get stronger and just don’t be satisfied.”
He also notes that Brendan Smith’s posted 8 points over the course of his last 10 games;
• In the, “In case you wanted to know” department, DetroitRedWings.com’s Michael Caples asked Red Wings players which…um, “pop culture” things they wouldn’t be comfortable living without for five or six weeks (it’s really a, “What couldn’t you give up for Lent” in a non-religious sense):
The Wings’ website posted a clip of Darren Helm visiting Clinton Valley Elementary School as well (Justin Abdelkader read with students at Glazer Elementary School recently, too):
• If you’re interested, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan filed a superb NHL notebook;
• Also as an FYI, from DetroitRedWings.com’s Rick Bouwness:
The Detroit Red Wings will be looking to complete a sweep of their four-game season series with the Edmonton Oilers when they welcome central Alberta’s NHL squad to the Motor City for a Friday night showdown at Joe Louis Arena (7:30 p.m. EST). Detroit has won all three of their previous 2010-11 matchups with Edmonton by a combined score of 14-6.
Friday’s sold-out match will serve as the sixth and final ‘Meijer Kids Night’ to be staged at The Joe this season, with the first 2,500 fans (aged 12 & under) in attendance set to receive a free Hockeytown lunch box compliments of Meijer and the Red Wings. This year’s lunchbox features artwork of players such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Darren Helm, Pavel Datsyuk, Jimmy Howard, and Henrik Zetterberg emblazoned upon a classic rectangular tin container.
Update: The Detroit Free Press’s Carlos Monarrez posted an Eaves status report:
Forward Patrick Eaves skated with the team for the first time since he suffered a groin injury Feb. 22. He said he would not play tonight against visiting Edmonton, but otherwise gave no timetable for his return.
“First time out there,” he said. “So it was good to get back in the drills and the pace. But yeah, I had a good day today.”
Update #2: With HV71 down 2 games to none against AIK Skelleftea, Expressen’s Axel Pileby reports that Daniel Larsson will start for HV71 on Friday;
• Per the Grand Rapids Griffins’ Afternoon Shift blog:
Don’t look now, but the Griffins are officially the hottest team in the American Hockey League.
Grand Rapids’ 7-1-0-2 record in its last 10 games is the best of all 30 AHL teams, while its season-high four-game winning streak ties Connecticut and Portland for the league’s longest active run.
The Griffins’ climb to within six points of a playoff spot can be credited most notably to rookie goalie Jordan Pearce, who has played the last 10 games with a 2.37 GAA and a 0.923 save percentage and earned his first AHL shutout. His stats to this point of the season (2.67, 0.914) are nearly identical to Jimmy Howard’s career numbers as a Griffin (2.67, 0.911), and his save percentage is just 0.002 from entering the top 10 on the franchise’s single-season list, which includes such names as MacDonald, Howard, Prusek, Lalime, Lamothe and Fountain. Pretty good company, if Pearce can join them.
The other key factor to the team’s surge has been the offense, which has posted as many five-goal games during the last 10 outings (five) as it did in its previous 31 contests. Five players have averaged at least one point per game during the stretch — Jamie Tardif (6-6–12), Ilari Filppula (1-11–12), Tomas Tatar (6-5–11), Jamie Johnson (4-6–10) and Cory Emmerton (2-7–9 in 9 games) — while Chris Minard has scored a goal in six games and both Francis Pare and Logan Pyett have recorded hat tricks.
The Griffins will look to maintain their momentum and improve upon their sixth-place standing this weekend, when they continue their road trip with three games in three nights against a pair of desperate teams that are currently tied for sixth in the West Division. They’ll make their first-ever visits to Oklahoma City on Friday and Saturday, before boarding a Sunday flight to San Antonio for that afternoon’s game at 5:30 EDT.
• The Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema also interviewed Tomas Tatar in a “getting to know you” feature;
• Per Crain’s Detroit Business’s Bill Shea, Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch is estimated to have business interests worth $1.7 billion, per Forbes’ annual list of the world’s richest people. Here’s Ilitch’s profile, and as it turns out, he’s tied with Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Morun, as the Windsor Star’s Dave Battagello reports;
Another update: In a late-breaker, SI’s Brian Cazenueve dropped the Wings from 4th to 6th in his power rankings;
• Per Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika:
Do the Detroit Red Wings really want a top-four seed in the playoffs? Of course they do. But sometimes they wonder. “It’s a priority for us to finish as high as we can because we think it helps us at home, and yet I think we might have the best record in the NHL on the road, if I’m not mistaken,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. The Wings and Boston Bruins each have 48 road points, tops in the NHL. The Wings, Minnesota Wild and Phoenix Coyotes all have 38 home points, 15th in the league. The Wings have lost three in a row at Joe Louis Arena. They’ve lost four in a row overall (two in overtime).
• FYI: the IIHF announced that the 2014 Olympics will be played on Olympic-sized rinks (200’x100’);
One more update: Surprise surprise: the Chicago Blackhawks tell the Chicago Sun-Times’ Adam L. Jahns that they still plan on wresting the Central Division title away from the Red Wings;
• If you’re interested, the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema posted a profile of Griffins starting goaltender Jordan Pearce;
• Sticking with prospects for a moment, the Kelowna Capital News’s Kevin Parnell reports that Kelowna Rockets forward Mitchell Callahan’s delivering in a big way for the Rockets down the stretch, registering a Gordie Howe hat trick in Wednesday night’s 3-1 Rockets win over Tri-City;
• Also in the prospect department, Gustav Nyquist and the University of Maine Black Bears will be playing for their NCAA playoff lives when facing Merrimack College in the Hockey East playoff tournament, which begins tonight;
• In the alumni department, the Buffalo News’s John Vogl reports that the Buffalo Sabres will entertain Dominik Hasek on March 19. There’s no doubt in my mind that Hasek will head to East Lansing to visit his son, Michael;
• In his first blog entry for Fox Sports Detroit, Art Regner argues that the Wings must play a much more aggressive, hard-charging style of play to succeed in the playoffs;
• The Edmonton Sun’s Derek Van Diest posted a profile of Darren Helm that didn’t post till 4:30 AM, but it was worth staying up for on my part as he chronicles Helm’s progression from a play-off call-up to the Wings’ checking line center:
“Helmer came here four years ago and won a Stanley Cup with us, then we sent him back to the minors the next year because that’s what we do,” said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. “But he was a real good player last year and he’s a better player this year. He’s hard for people to play against and he’s harder on the puck. His line is having success simply because they do it right. And the rest of us have to get our head around that if we did it the way they’re doing it, we’ll be real good. Once they decide to play like that, we’ll be off and running.”
Heading into Friday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, Helm is on the verge of matching his goal total from a year ago, having netted his 10th goal in a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. He’s already surpassed his point total registering 29 to last year’s 25. But it’s in his own end where Helm is thriving, centring the Wings checking line and being used as penalty killer.
“I started off the season a little slow, but I think I started to find my game a little more in the last half of the season,” Helm said. “It’s good, because going into the playoffs, you want to be playing your best. I think I’ve done a lot of good things and I keep taking strides to become a better player.”
Having come out of junior as a goal scorer, where one season he netted 41 goals for the Medicine Hat Tigers, Helm has had to refine his game, taking on more of a checking role with the Red Wings. However, the scoring touch is still there, as evident in his last encounter with the Oilers, picking up a goal and an assists in a 5-3 win in January.
“I came in and they gave me a pretty simple role on the team to be an energy guy, play simple and make sure you can be counted on in the defensive zone,” he said. “Your line can’t be the one digging the puck out of your own net every night. You have to be counted on in the defensive zone and if you can’t be counted on you won’t be playing.This is the best league in the world and it definitely took a little bit of an adjustment coming up here and having to play against some really great players.”
• Finally, I’d suggest that Dave Waddell’s profile of Todd Bertuzzi and Dmitry Chesnokov’s conversation with Pavel Datsyuk are both worth your time.
*For the record, it was a sinus infection, and a particularly vicious one…And I’m sorry for the slightly scatterbrained nature of this post. I had to re-write the game preview thanks to late-breaking stories from the Edmonton Sun and I’m still getting back up to speed after battling boogers.
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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.