Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Oilers set-up and overnight report: deceptively difficult

File this puppy under things I didn’t think I’d say in the middle of the night on February 3rd, 2011: Lost amidst the news regarding Jimmy Howard’s broken index fingertip, the Red Wings’ first outdoor practice in Metro Detroit, their off-day trade talk, broomball tournament and discussion of Detroit’s 4-3 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks…

Nobody mentioned that the Wings’ tilt against the Edmonton Oilers tonight (10 PM EST, FSD/CBC/NHL Network U.S./WXYT) might be the most difficult game against the most challenging opponent the Red Wings will face on their four-game road trip.

I’m not smoking anything when I suggest that the Wings face off against a team tied for 13th in the Western Conference standings that also happens to be ready to pounce on Ty Conklin’s Wings. Sam Gagner’s 8-point performance in the Oilers’ 8-4 victory over Chicago merely punctuated a stretch in which the Oilers have at least earned a point in four straight games, defeating the Sharks and dropping a shootout decision to the Canucks prior to the All-Star break and returning to defeat the Avs 2-1 before absolutely hammering the struggling Hawks.

Just as importantly, as young Oilers streak into tonight’s game on collective and individual adrenaline rushes, they’re going to have all hands on deck: Cam Barker (ankle), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (ankle) and possibly Tom Gilbert (ankle) are good to go, and as such, the Oilers told the Edmonton Sun’s Robert Tychkowski that they feel now is as good a time as any to try to close their 12-point deficit on the 8th-place Minnesota Wild:

“It’s unbelievable,” said defenceman Ladislav Smid. “We’re finally going to be healthy, have 100% of our lineup. Now we can show what we can do.”
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“Definitely not used to this,” admitted Jordan Eberle, who’s only witnessed the carnage here for 18 months. “Especially after last year when everybody was out for the season by this time.”

It’s bad when 11 different players have missed at least six games and it’s still not as bad as last year, but that’s the kind of run it’s been around here.

“Everybody goes through injuries, but for whatever reason it seems like our injuries are always significant and they all happen at the same time,” said Gilbert, who’s seen more than his share of half-staffed Oilers funeral marches in the second half of seasons. “The last couple of years down this stretch was tough, it was really tough.”

After playing the last three months hopelessly undermanned, with players logging more minutes than they should, thrust into match-ups and situations they shouldn’t, the Oilers now have an opportunity to play at full strength for the first time in two years — to see, and to show, what this team is really all about.

“You’ll get a better idea of who we are and what we’re capable of,” said goaltender Devan Dubnyk. “We have a good group of guys in here, a talented group, and we showed at the start of the year what we’re capable of. It’s going to be exciting to get everybody back together and keep going here. But at the same time it’s going to be pressure on us to go and do it. Not that we were making excuses before, but we certainly have none now that everybody is back.”
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“That atmosphere this year was really hard for a while, lots of meetings, kind of negative, which it has to be when you’re losing, you have to point out the things that are wrong out there,” added Smid. “But finally it’s kind of turning around.”

The Edmonton Journal’s Joanne Ireland spoke to the Oilers about their improving confidence as well…

The Oilers, 3-0-1 after a skid of 5-18-2, host the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.

“You need to get winning to feel that,” said goaltender Devan Dubnyk. “It doesn’t matter how many good things you do. If you’re not on the right end of it after the game, you’re never going to feel that good. We all agree there’s some things we need to tighten up, but if we can adjust and get better while we’re winning, that’s even better.”
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“Everybody goes through injuries, but for whatever reason it seems like our injuries are always significant and seem to all happen at the same time,” Dubnyk said. “You’ll get a better idea of who we are and what we’re capable of. At the same time, that means we have to go do it. Not that we were making excuses before, but we won’t be now that everyone is back.”

Last season, the Oilers lost Ryan Whitney, Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff and eventually Taylor Hall to season-ending injuries. In 2011-12, the players are at least heading out the exit door of the medical room.

“When the injuries started coming, I did think, ‘not again,’ ” said Gilbert, “but it has actually turned out better. We still have 30 games left and we’re playing better, so it’s going to be good to have the full team. These are the guys who are going to be around here for a while, so you want to get some chemistry.”

Ireland reports that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will bolster the Oilers’ top line in a big way…

Nugent-Hopkins will slide between Shawn Horcoff and Hemsky for the Red Wings game, leaving Gagner with Hall and Jordan Eberle. The trio, sparked by Gagner’s eight-point night, collected 18 points in an 8-4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
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Despite missing 13 games, he’s still sitting at the top of the NHL’s rookie scoring chart. The New Jersey Devils’ Adam Henrique has missed seven games with a groin injury. He left the lineup with 34 points, one less than Nugent-Hopkins.

And while much of Friday’s Oilers chatter from Ireland and the OIlers’ website either involved Sam Gagner’s performance against Chicago, more Ryan Smyth trade rumors and Gagner-versus-Hemsky trade value comparisons, Oilers coach Tom Renney told the Edmonton Journal’s John MacKinnon that his job is to keep the Oilers going forward as a group (MacKinnon reports that Renney met with the Oilers’ pro scouts regarding trade deadline possibilities) with or without whoever will be shipped out by February 27th:

“Maybe, in a strange kind of way, maybe the wheel has turned,” head coach Tom Renney said. “Maybe we’re going in the right direction here now and we can start to talk about more special things. That’s what you can look forward to here. I’m not going to say it’s going to be a high-wire act every night and we’re going to be doing extraordinary things offensively every single time we play … but this team is going to be special, there’s no question.”

It’s also a rebuilding team, a franchise in transition, Renney noted, which has implications for a variety of players as the deadline nears. Wingers Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky and defenceman Andy Sutton all are unrestricted free agents on July 1, for example. A report out of New York City suggested Smyth would be prepared to waive his no-movement clause to enable a trade to the first-place Rangers. Which certainly was news to Smyth.

“I’ve moved four times in the last five years,” Smyth said. “I think I wanted to come back here for a reason, didn’t I?”
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It’s hardly a secret what the Oilers would want in return for key assets at the deadline. They need to upgrade their back end in the short-to-medium term, primarily. Two or three years down the road, the Oilers have high hopes for the likes of junior prospects David ­Musil, Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin and Martin Gernat. But next year, the expectation is that some, or all, of them will be playing for Edmonton’s Oklahoma City farm team, not the Oilers. In the meantime, much depends on the stability of Ryan Whitney’s ankle, on the return to health of Tom Gilbert and Cam Barker and the development of Jeff Petry.

If Renney is correct in surmising that Gagner’s brilliant night “could be as galvanizing a moment as we’ll have this year,” then Tambellini’s trade deadline options could improve demonstrably. If Gagner gets hot in the second half, for example, and some NHL shopper out there absolutely wants him, well, Tambellini can deal from a position of relative strength. On the other hand, Gagner may have demonstrated Thursday night that his best role is as a second-line centre, and a mighty good one, for the Oilers. Not to mention a young one who has yet to reach his full ­potential.

Unless a deal is overwhelming, why trade an appreciating asset like Gagner? On a team that has tried for some time to sort out its hierarchy at centre, having Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner as the 1-2 centremen down the middle would clarify the depth chart considerably. So, of course, would having the walking wounded return to action. And they are. With Nugent-Hopkins set to play Saturday, that leaves only veteran defenceman Tom Gilbert (ankle sprain) out of action, and he’s expected to return on Monday when the Oilers play the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

“I don’t think we’ve had a full lineup all year,” Smyth said, alluding to Whitney starting the season on the shelf, and Barker and Hemsky getting injured early on, as well. “It would be nice to get that full lineup to see what it is like. I see some things turning here. We’re getting some timely goals and we’re getting some confidence. So, that’s huge.”

That’s what Renney’s concerning himself with, so he practically snarled at the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones when Jones asked Renney whether “the town” needed to witness Gagner’s 8-point outing to symbolize the hope the fans should have for its team after it makes its requisite deadline deductions and fades away as they play out the string and prepare to go golfing in April:

“The town?” said coach Tom Renney. “Start with the team. The team really needed it. It could be as galvanizing a moment as we’ll have this year. This might be one of those moments where guys kind of bring it all together and look at it as something special and say ‘What else can we do?’ ”

Then he went there.

“This team is going to be special. No question. It’s got special people in it, kids who are deeply committed to where this can go,” said Renney.

There was more to Sam Gagner’s unforgettable moment than Sam Gagner. It was eight points but it kind of worked like eight pills. Because of his night and an 8-4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, the Oilers are back to where they were (minus the possibility of making the playoffs) when the team went 8-2-2 to start the season. You can see the future again. Happy days aren’t here again. But happier days have returned.

Renney went out of his way to use the moment to remind everybody that there are several other Oilers who are going to produce many more unforgettable nights.

“That’s what you can look forward to here. I’m not going to say it’s going to be a high-wire act every night and we’ll be doing extra-ordinary things offensively every single time we play, and there’s going to be this and that and every other little thing, but this team is going to be special. It’s got kids who are deeply committed to where this can go with their help.
In a strange kind of way, maybe the Oil is turning. We’re going in the right direction and hopefully we can talk about more special things as time goes on.”

Renney even made it personal.

“Am I gonna be the guy here when they lift the Stanley Cup? What are the odds, right? I sure hope so. But that being said, I have to leave my work behind and say, ‘Not bad. Overall, good job. There’s your legacy.’ ”

In other words, the Oilers hope that they’re playing like the Chicago Blackhawks did in 2006 and 2007, circa Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s rookie seasons, and that sooner or later, they’ll be standing eye-to-eye with the Hawks, Red Wings, Canucks and Sharks as Western Conference contenders, and EdmontonOilers.com’s Travis Knee certainly intimated as much while speaking to the Oilers about Thursday’s win:

“We’ve been playing good hockey, putting in the work and getting big contributions from a number of guys,” said head coach Tom Renney.

There are all of a sudden a number of positives to hang your hat on if you follow the Oilers. First off, the team’s health is definitely something to get excited about moving into the final 30 games of the season. The Oilers welcomed back Cam Barker who scored a goal in his return to the lineup last night. With Tom Gilbert and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also very close to joining the party, the Oilers will have their full roster in place, giving Tom Renney more options to play with.

“As we continue to get healthy we just have more weapons to use, guys like Whitney and Barker moving the puck up the ice makes a big difference,” explained Renney.

Also not to be lost in the recent excitement is the play of Devan Dubnyk. A fourth straight start in net last night produced a 43 save performance by Dubnyk for the win. The young netminder has been rock solid during this stretch and should be given credit for getting these ‘winning ways’ started with the 44 save effort he put in on January 23 to beat San Jose 2-1. Since that game the Oilers seemed to have regained the confidence that saw them start the season so strong.

“I’m seeing the puck well and the guys are really playing well in front of me, it’s fun when you get rewarded with some wins,” said Dubnyk.

With a GAA of 2.88 and a .911 SV% on the season, Dubnyk is starting to post ‘starting goalie’ type numbers. The ability for Dubnyk to be counted on in consecutive games like this will go a long way in helping to build the future of this hockey club.

Dubnyk will probably start opposite Ty Conklin tonight, and as EdmontonOilers.com’s Ryan Frankinson noted, the Oilers’ blueline has received a boost of late as well:

Overshadowed by Gagner’s heroics on Thursday were a pair of much-needed positive performances from defencemen Cam Barker and Ryan Whitney. Barker tallied the game-winning goal and posted a plus-three rating in his first game back in the Oilers lineup since Nov. 10, when he suffered an ankle injury. Whitney, meanwhile, scored his first goal since Dec. 26, 2010, as he continues to recover from his ankle and knee ailments.

“I felt good and felt like I fit in out there, and it was nice to contribute offensively,” Barker said. “It’s just one game, and I need to build on that, but I thought it went pretty well.”

Again…

Renney had plenty more to say about Thursday’s memorable game, stressing that there are multiple Oilers players who are capable of producing such remarkable performances. He said he hopes Gagner’s feat is the first of many similar achievements forthcoming for the organization.

“That’s what you can look forward to here,” the bench boss said. “I’m not saying we’re going to be doing extraordinary things offensively every time we play, but this team is going to be special. It’s got kids who are deeply committed to where this thing can go with their help.”

“In a strange kind of way, maybe the Oil is turning,” he continued. “We’re going in the right direction and hopefully we can talk about more special things as time goes on.”

If you’re interested, Renney at least indirectly talked about tonight’s game several times during his off-day press conference, and you can watch the entire 11:34 presser via the Oilers’ website if you wish to…

But it’s time to shift perspectives from the Oilers to those of the Red Wings’ coach and, via NHL.com’s Matthew Mankiewich‘s game preview:

LAST 10: Detroit 9-1-0, Edmonton 4-4-2

Season Series: Third meeting of four, the first two both Detroit wins, and both on goals by Drew Miller. He scored the opening tally in a 3-0 shutout at the Joe on Nov. 11 and the tiebreaker late in the third period of a 3-2 win at Rexall Place on Dec. 19. That extended the Wings’ winning streak against the Oilers to seven dating back to the 2009-10 season; the last Oiler win came on March 19, 2010, a 3-2 shootout victory at home. In their last 21 meetings, the Red Wings are 14-1-6 against the Oilers.

Big Story: Sam Gagner made history on Thursday with his eight-point performance and the Oilers are playing well with a 3-0-1 record in their last four games. Trouble is, the Red Wings come in winners of nine of their last 10 games and the only break the Oilers get is not having to face goalie Jimmy Howard, who’s out for at least the next two games with a broken right index finger. The Wings have begun to narrow the yawning gap between their home play and away, having won four of five on the road to bring their record to 15-14-0. A 4-3 shootout win in Vancouver on Thursday extended their lead in the Western Conference to four points.
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Red Wings [team scope]: Basically, the Wings played Thursday’s road game like a home game, where they’ve won 17 in a row. They dominated the Canucks for the first two periods at Rogers Arena, outshooting them 30-11 and taking a 2-1 lead into the intermission, with only Roberto Luongo’s strong play keeping it close. The Canucks came back in the third, forcing overtime with a late Mason Raymond goal, but Detroit solved Luongo in the shootout, beating him twice to seal the 4-3 win and extend their record in the post-game skills competition to 6-0. Five of the Wings’ last nine wins have come in similar fashion.
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Who’s Hot: Gagner had plenty of help on Thursday; Jordan Eberle had a four-point night and has scored goals in three of his last four games. Taylor Hall also had four points and has scored in three straight. … Jiri Hudler has four goals in his last three games for the Wings, while Danny Cleary has four points in his last three.

Injury Report: Detroit forward Patrick Eaves (fractured jaw) is still weeks away. … For the Oilers, rookie forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, out since Jan. 2 with a shoulder injury, is expected back in the lineup Saturday.

Stat Pack: With Howard out of commission, Ty Conklin will likely get the start with Joey McDonald coming up from the AHL to back him up. He’s 4-2-0 with a 3.02 goals-against average versus the Oilers. It would be the first anniversary of the last time he faced Edmonton, beating them 5-3 in a St. Louis Blues uniform. The Red Wings have outscored the Oilers 22-9 in their last six matchups.

The Red Wings aren’t too worried about Jimmy Howard’s injury, but the Free Press’s Helene St. James reveals that the Wings might be without another important player in her off-day notebook…

Todd Bertuzzi is questionable for tonight; the left wing suffered a charley horse courtesy of Keith Ballard during Thursday’s 4-3 shoot-out victory at Vancouver.

Ballard’s low-bridge hit—he went out of his way to stick his butt into Bertuzzi’s right thigh—can be seen all of a second and-a-half into Hockeyfights.com’s clip of the players’ scrap:

Put delicately, it was bloody f***ing cheap.

Anyway, the Wings insisted that Howard would be okay sooner than later, and if you’re not familiar with this type of injury…While goalies are pretty darn well-protected, even pro goalie blockers’ fingers aren’t protectively padded along the gussets of the fingers and fingertips because it would be very hard to grip one’s stick if they were…

And if you’re not someone with a double-jointed thumb like me, you’re probably someone who doesn’t want to dislocate their thumb trying to use it to steer your hockey stick, so you stick out your index finger and wrap the tip around the “paddle” of your goal stick to point it in the right direction (I don’t have to worry about these things, but my thumbs naturally bend backward as well as forward at the upper knuckle), and as such, that finger is especially prone to getting jammed, smashed (goodbye fingernail!) or broken when a shot smacks into it or a player happens to run into a goalie and bump his hand at the right angle.

Howard was hurt Thursday when he was hit by a shot from Maxim Lapierre. He will be reevaluated when the team returns to Detroit, but the injury isn’t considered serious. Howard already was planning a comeback as he loitered around Rexall Place.

“I’ve played with broken fingers before,” he said, “so I’m going to fiddle around with my sticks and cut some notches out of them, so hopefully I’ll be able to hold on to them.”

Most of one’s grip strength in terms of grasping the stick comes from your middle and ring fingers, but the “pointing” part comes from the index finger and thumb, and even though goalie blockers have stiff and reinforced plastic thumbs to help prevent hyperextension (for normal people) and prevent goalies’ sticks from being knocked backward when they stop shots, Howard might have to either carve a notch into the shoulder of the paddle of his sticks, if not do what Dominik Hasek did and shave the angle down so that his finger can more easily wrap around the paddle. I don’t mean to continue to over-personalize here, but I’m probably the only person I know who can wrap all four fingers around my goal stick’s narrow shaft and still control it, and I can only do that because my thumbs move in ways that might break the average person’s thumb.

While he recovers, the Wings will rely on Ty Conklin. Joey MacDonald was called up from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League to serve as Conklin’s backup. This isn’t a bad scenario for the Wings, who would be relieved to see a couple of strong performances from Conklin after he has gone 3-5 with an .886 save percentage and 3.20 goals-against average this season.

“Good opportunity—he’s getting a chance and is ready to go,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ve got to play real well, like we always try to do. If we do that, we give Conks an opportunity to be good.”

The Wings improved their road record to 15-14 on the strength of playing well early in Vancouver and Tuesday at Calgary, something that was a prime focus after the break.

“I thought we did a better job that way, and if you look after the defensive details, you’ve got a chance to be good,” Babcock said.

The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan took more statistically-inclined note of Howard’s likely two-to-four game absence (as the Wings play every other day until Valentine’s Day, my guess is that we won’t see Howard play when the Wings host Edmonton on Wednesday; he’ll probably return either against the Ducks next Friday or against Philadelphia on Sunday the 12th):

Losing Howard, even for two games, is a blow. He leads the league in victories (32) and ranks among the league leaders in goals-against average (2.03) and save percentage (.924). With Howard unavailable, Ty Conklin will start tonight and Monday, and his backup will be Joey MacDonald, who was recalled from Grand Rapids.

“It’s a good opportunity for Conk,” coach Mike Babcock said. “He gets a chance.”

After playing sparingly the first half, Conklin has been receiving a steadier workload. He has appeared in 10 games and is 3-5-0 with a 3.20 GAA and .886 save percentage.

MLive’s Ansar Khan also briefly noted the goaltending change, though I suppose both Khan’s article and Kulfan and St. James’s state the obvious: the Red Wings are relatively comfortable with utilizing Conklin and MacDonald for a week or two, so we shouldn’t expect a goalie trade anytime soon, but at the same time, there’s no doubt that Conklin is both playing for his coach’s confidence going down the stretch, and he’s plain old playing for his job. If he’s flopped on his face between now and after next Wednesday’s game against Edmonton, we might be talking about a different line of thinking:

He won’t play Saturday in Edmonton or Monday in Phoenix – he likely would have sat one of those games anyway – and will be re-evaluated when the team returns home on Tuesday. Howard was injured from a shot by Max Lapierre in the third period.

“Lapierre spun and shot it, missed my blocker and caught me right on the finger,’’ Howard said. “We’ll go home and see our doctors and get their opinion.’‘

Howard’s injury gives Ty Conklin at least two consecutive starts. He has won two of his past three outings and is 3-5-0, with a 3.20 goals-against average and .886 save percentage.

“This is a good opportunity, he gets a chance and he’s ready to go,’’ Babcock said. “We’ve got to play real well like we always try to do, and if we get to do that we’ll give Conks a chance to be good.”

I suppose that’s where it’s worth pointing out that the Wings gave up 1-0, 2-1 and3 3-2 leads to the Canucks, and especially given the Oilers’ levels of energy, enthusiasm, speed and self-confidence, the Wings can’t afford to make the same mistakes tonight, and especially given that the Oilers will want to make a big statement during a Hockey Night in Canada game, the Wings’ power play can’t repeat its 0-for-4 performance if the Oilers’ over-enthusiasm yields penalties.

 

Part II: In the AHL and ECHL: Tom McCollum didn’t do much to inspire confidence in Joey MacDonald’s stead. McCollum gave up 5 goals on 24 shots and over 40 minutes of play as the Griffins dropped a 5-2 decision to the Hamilton Bulldogs, though it should be noted that the penalty-filled game included a Bulldogs power play which went 3-for-8 in a game which included 23 penalties (and no fights)!

The Griffins’ website’s recap provides the details of the Griffins’ first game of a 3-in-3-nights slate:

In a game marked by a constant parade to the penalty box, Hamilton scored on three of its eight power play chances while holding Grand Rapids scoreless in seven attempts. The 15 combined power play opportunities and eight opponent chances both tied Griffins season highs established twice before. The Griffins (18-18-4-4), who saw the Bulldogs (20-19-1-4) leap over them by a point in the North Division standings, will have an immediate shot at redemption on Saturday when they host a rematch at 7 p.m.

Hamilton struck first during a power play when Olivier Fortier put a shot through Tom McCollum’s five hole from close range 14:45 into the contest, but Grand Rapids answered with a beautiful scoring play before the period ended. With the Griffins maintaining control in the Hamilton end after their own power play had expired, Jamie Johnson threaded a pass the width of the ice to Chris Conner along the right half-wall. Conner skated in a few steps before quickly feeding Chris Minard at the top of the crease for a tap-in past Nathan Lawson with just 1:08 left in the frame.

Hamilton, which had been outscored 16-2 en route to logging its 0-3 record in the season series against the Griffins, scored three times in a 3:17 span of the second period to take a commanding 4-1 lead. Power play goals by Brian Willsie at 7:14 and Andreas Engqvist at 8:38 preceded a 4-on-4 tally by Ian Schultz at 10:31, as the Bulldogs doubled their season-long goal output against the Griffins in slightly more than half of the game.

Not yet done, the Bulldogs tallied their fourth goal of the period off the stick of Philippe Lefebvre during a delayed penalty at the 16:45 mark to take a 5-1 cushion into the final 20 minutes of play.

After surrendering five goals on 24 shots, McCollum gave way at the start of the third period to Jordan Pearce, who made his first appearance since injuring his ankle on Dec. 30. The Griffins stopped the bleeding with a shorthanded goal by Doug Janik from the right point with 5:17 remaining, but they could get no closer despite outshooting Hamilton 15-4 during the period.

Pearce, who turned aside the only four shots he faced, is slated to start tomorrow against Hamilton.

The Griffins’ website also posted a Flickr photo gallery and a slate of post-game interviews with Chris Minard, Tom McCollum and coach Curt Fraser, and the Grand Rapids Press’s Peter J. Wallner spoke to Fraser about his team’s performance as well (the Grand Rapids Press posted a 10-image photo gallery, too):

“I thought we were decent in the first and I thought we were good in the third, but the second period has given us trouble,” said Griffins coach Curt Fraser. ”But it’s not that. It’s inconsistency. Champs one night, average the next. Champs one night, average the next. Peaks and valleys happen too often to us.”
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The day started with a jolt anyway. Grand Rapids goalie Joey MacDonald, who has started 26 games this season, was called up around 10:30 a.m. by Detroit to fill in for an injured Jimmy Howard. Tom McCollum, making his first start since Jan. 17 (a 6-5 loss at Charlotte) stepped in and played well in the first period, but was torched in the second. Much of it wasn’t his fault.

“That just threw a wrench into everything,” said Fraser. “It didn’t give Tommy much of a chance to get ready … But we just have to be better. That (call-ups) has happened a hundred times. Why should it affect us tonight?”

Jordan Pearce, back with the Griffins after a one-day stint in Toledo, was in goal for the third period. He was assigned to Toledo of the ECHL on Thursday and returned Friday when MacDonald was called up. Fraser said Pearce will start in goal Saturday when the teams meet again.

“I thought he looked sharp,” Fraser said.

The best moment of the night for Grand Rapids came on two sharp passes to set up its first goal and tie the game midway through the first period. Jamie Johnson fired a cross-ice pass to Chris Conner who led a streaking Chris Minnard for a tip past goalie Nathan Lawson. Then came the second. Hamilton scored twice within a minute, both with the Griffins shorthanded, and added two more on even strength at the 10-minute mark and with about three minutes left. The Griffins were outshot in the period, 16-6.

“When you take penalties like that, and not everybody gets to play as much and penalty kill guys get tired,” said Minnard, whose team had to fight off 11 penalties.

• In the ECHL, the Toledo Walleye won a barnburner, defeating the Kalamazoo K-Wings 5-4. Gleason Fournier registered an assist, as did Nick Oslund but the rest of the Wings’ prospects playing in Toledo (Andrej Nestrasil, Adam Estcolet and Bryan Rufenach) were held off the scoresheet.

The Walleye’s website, the Toledo Blade, the K-Wings’ website and the Kalamazoo Gazette’s Pam Shebast provide recaps.

 

Part III: Also of Red Wings-related note: Last night’s overnight report was literally so jam-packed that I had to edit down quotes and chop down links so that I didn’t run out of space, and Friday’s off-day report has more than its share of news, but it’s been all but disturbingly quiet yesterday night and this morning (maybe it has something to do with my 34th birthday celebration…Erm, I mean the Superbowl on Sunday, which I will probably sleep through), and I don’t want to get too repetitious…

So we’ll stick with some Gordie Howe news, because even after looking at the Swedish press, this is what I’ve got for you:

• Gordie Howe’s son Marty spoke to the CBC’s Radio 1 Saskatchewan’s Craig Lederhouse regarding his father’s condition;

• Gordie and Marty attended Friday night’s Vancouver Giants game, and the Giants defeated Kamloops 7-5 while wearing jerseys which commemorated Howe’s legacy as a hockey great and a minority owner of the Vancouver Giants, as the Vancouver Sun’s Elliott Pap noted...

Giants majority owner Ron Toigo, who encouraged Mr. Hockey to join his ownership group when the franchise was founded 11 year ago, said he will never grow tired of the annual Gordie Howe Night.

“Everybody respects Gordie for what he means to the game and the ambassador that he is whether they saw him play or not,” Toigo explained. “They all admire Gordie Howe. These are things that keep Gordie going and having him look forward to the next day.

“It’s really hard to put into words having Gordie involved,” Toigo added. “He’s irreplaceable. He’s got more [health] challenges every year to so getting him out here involves a few more logistics. But, overall, Gordie looks forward to it and when he gets here, he’s upbeat. No matter what’s going on, he loves hanging out with the players and telling hockey stories.”

And the Canadian Press noted that Giants forward Jordan Martinook registered 2 goals, an assist and a fight with Mr. Hockey in attendance (strangely enough, Wings prospect Marek Tvrdon was both held off the scoresheet and finished at a -2 on the night):

Martinook assisted on a first-period goal and then scored a goal in the second, prompting him to go out and get in a fight to complete the “Gordie Howe hat trick.”

“I came off after the goal and I said to our equipment manager (Chad Scharff) I think I should have a fight tonight because Gordie’s in the building,” said Martinook. “It just kind of happened. We bumped behind the net and I said ‘Let’s go.’”

He scrapped with Kamloops’ Tyler Hansen in the third period and ended up scoring an insurance goal late in the third. He was named the game’s first star and when he skated out to the applause of the 8,115 fans he raised his elbow in honour of the 83-year-old icon.

“When he did the mock-elbow at me yesterday (at a media event to promote Friday’s game) I figured if I was going to get a Gordie Howe hat trick tonight I had to do it,” said Martinook.

The Giants were wearing commemorative jerseys resembling those of the early Howe-era Detroit Red Wings, with his familiar number nine as the logo.

“Sometimes you take a double look when you’ve got No. 9 on the arm, but we’ll be back to normal tomorrow,” said Martinook of the special uniforms. “I wish we could keep wearing those – we were kind of good in them tonight.”

• And while Crain’s Detroit Business’s Tom Henderson offered some Howe reminisces, I think that we should conclude with this reality check from the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff, who says that Howe has been suffering from some memory loss issues for more than a few years now, but at the same time, we can’t forget that someone who’s about to turn 84 is not lost in thought or unable to interact—he’s merely not nearly as sharp as he once was, which is somethign most of us will have to deal with at some point, assuming we live long enough to join Gordie and fellow frequent Wings locker room visitor Ted Lindsay as octegenarians:

Regardless, the bottom line we all need to remember during this moment is not that Gordie Howe was a legendary NHL player, but that he is now 84 years of age. He hasn’t played a meaningful game since 1980, some 32 years ago.

Like or not, old age catches up to everyone. It’s a clock that never stops ticking. The eyesight grows weaker, the hearing is not quite as sharp, and the memory begins to fade. Everyone is affected differently. Lindsay and Johnny Bower, fellow hall of famers and both older than Howe, remain mentally sharp. Others aren’t so fortunate.

Whether it’s our own parents, or a famous hockey star we grew up idolizing, no one wants to see them suffer the horrible fate of losing grasp of their faculties. We’re all getting old. We all hope to age gracefully.

Sadly, that fate is not left in our hands.

So let’s be thankful that Mr. Hockey’s still “with us,” literally and figuratively, and let things be.

Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink
 

Comments

Chet's avatar

love it. great post.

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 02/04/12 at 11:09 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Is it your birthday tomorrow, George?  Happy, happy birthday!  Hope the Wings win for you tonight!

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 02/04/12 at 01:43 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

It’s going to be hockey night at my house tonight - lucky for my husband (who doesn’t like any sports) that he’s out of town.  Michigan vs. Miami Ohio at 7:30 and the Wings at 10:00.  Can’t wait.

Hope Bert is OK.  Geez, the last thing we need tonight is line changes with Conklin playing.  I really hope Conks has a good outing.  The back up goaltending situation is still a real concern, I think, going into the stretch and the playoffs.

LGRW!!!!!

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 02/04/12 at 01:47 PM ET

WingedRider's avatar

The Oilers have a few young guns that are scary good and with RNH coming back for this game, Wings might be surprised by the speed and skill of top 2 lines. Negating that is Hemsky/Horcoff (awful) and their D is suspect.  Dubnyk should start and has been playing well. 

Missing Bert would suck!!!

Go Wings Go Conks

Posted by WingedRider from Saskatoon, SK on 02/04/12 at 03:15 PM ET

cigar_nurse's avatar

Stolat George. Stolat in Polish means may you live 100 years. Have a nice and restful day. You deserve it after the Vancouver dog and pony show that the Canadian media shoveled out.

Posted by cigar_nurse from Greenville South Cakalakee on 02/04/12 at 04:09 PM ET

SYF's avatar

Thanks, George.

The Oilers have a few young guns that are scary good and with RNH coming back for this game, Wings might be surprised by the speed and skill of top 2 lines. Negating that is Hemsky/Horcoff (awful) and their D is suspect.  Dubnyk should start and has been playing well.

Posted by WingedRider on 02/04/12 at 12:15 PM

And those kids will be high after thrashing the Cawks.  And with that super slick ice at the Rexall, they just might be the fastest team in the League.

Posted by SYF from Zata's Epic Viking Beard on 02/04/12 at 04:46 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I grew up between Polish neighbors who would lean over the fence separating our backyards and gab at each other for hours on end, so I’m at least familiar with a few Polish words (for some reason, they never wanted me to learn any Polish…Probably because I’d hear, “Blah blah blah George blah blah blah, ha ha ha!” on occasion) wink

I know it’s silly to make a big deal out of one’s birthday when you’re in your 30’s, but I had strep throat 13 times between the ages of about 4 and 11, I lost my dad when I was 14 and I’ve obviously had health difficulties, so I like to stick it to Darwin.

That and it’s the one day of the year where I allow myself to make a big deal out of myself. I don’t believe in doing so otherwise.

And SYF? Remember what Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond revealed the last time the Wings were in Edmonton—the ice has actually deteriorated in a big way because the rink’s being used much more regularly. Last time around the ice was downright goopy and puddly.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 02/04/12 at 05:11 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.