Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Oilers wrap-up and overnight report: muck, grind and frustrate

The Detroit Red Wings didn’t exactly play an elegant hockey game in defeating the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Monday night, but the Wings managed to work just hard enough and play just well enough to bag two points before boarding a late evening flight to Vancouver, mostly because the Wings’ depth players delivered by doing the kinds of things that last year’s team didn’t when the team was less than in full flight—this year’s Wings continue to work the puck down low, find their way to the faceoff dots to take lateral or diagonal passes, tip pucks, and usually go to the net in numbers, providing both tips and screens which drive opposing teams’ defenses and goaltenders nuts.

So while the Wings weren’t necessarily happy with their up-and-down game, they earn bonus points because, to use a highly technical term, they frustrated the hell out of and plain old pissed off the Oilers, as noted by the Edmonton Sun’s Robert Tychkowski:

“I thought we played hard, a smart game, we were with them every step of the way,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney, whose club fell to 5-13-1 in its last 19 games. “We worked hard. I’m not going to say we deserved a better fate, but we were with this team all the way.”

All the way to 15:45 of the third period, when the Red Wings dusted off the time-worn Detroit-Edmonton script and simply won the game when the game needed winning. Drew Miller’s delfection with 4:15 left in the third period broke the hearts of a team in trouble.

“We stuck with them, we almost outplayed them for parts of the game, they were kind of sitting back on their heels,” said Jordan Eberle, whose goal at 19:59 of the second period tied it 2-2 and set up a 20-minute battle for two points. “But we let them stick around, we don’t bury our chances to get a lead. When we get opportunities we have to bear down. Everyone is frustrated, for sure.”

With Detroit 12-3 in its last 15, these are two clubs headed in opposite directions, but you’ve never know it from what happened on the ice. The Oilers played with the Wings pretty much step for step, just like they did two nights earlier in San Jose. And just like in San Jose, it wasn’t enough.

The Oilers are in a perilous situation where every single point counts, and for the fourth game in a row, there were none to be had.

“We played pretty well but we don’t get any points, we don’t gain any ground and now we’re two games under .500,” sighed Taylor Hall. “They don’t give any points for playing good games, we have to start winning.”

The fast-skating, hard-charging Oilers were particularly annoyed by the Wings’ tip-in goals, as the Edmonton Sun’s Derek Van Diest noted...

“You’d love to be able to win and learn,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “But they’ve been doing that since (head coach) Mike (Babcock) has been there. They throw pucks at the net from the goal line, from behind the net. That’s why you attack the end boards, not just the net, because you have a tendency to slow down heading to the net. When you attack the end boards, often times the net ends up being the end result and that’s exactly what Detroit does.”

Drew Miller scored the winner for the Red Wings in the 3-2 win, getting a stick on a Nicklas Lidstrom shot from the point and tipping it past Nikolai Khabibulin with 4:15 left in the third period. The Red Wings two previous goals from Danny Cleary and Jiri Hudler were scored in a similar fashion.

“It’s funny, when you think of the Detroit Red Wings you think of skill and finesse,” said Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff. “But the best thing that they are at is getting to the net with bodies and traffic in front. The best teams in the league are good at that and we can really take a page from that. When you have the best players in the world getting pucks on net from anywhere and crashing the net, it’s a good lesson.”

The Red Wings finished the game with 28 shots, most of which came from the perimeter with bodies in front of their opponent’s net. The Oilers, meanwhile, continued the trend of trying to make the perfect play and only managed to direct 23 shots at goaltender Jimmy Howard, who did have to make his share of solid saves.

“Pretty plays are going to happen, but the majority of goals are going to come from the other end,” Horcoff said. “Once you start developing a presence in front, it softens teams up and it soften plays up on the outside.

So the Wings were able to win not necessarily because they played better or more grittily than the Oilers, but because they played smarter. As the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson noted, the Wings’ smarts allowed them to rebound from what could have been a deflating goal at the end of the second period (which happened to result because Jeff Petry got away with not holding the puck in at the offensive blueline)...

Eberle gave them a jolt when he pounced on a loose puck in the high slot and blew a 25-footer past Howard after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ shot was blocked. It was the ninth time in the last 10 games the rookie has registered at least a point. But it wasn’t enough, and usually isn’t against the Red Wings (21-10-1), who have lost just once in regulation in their last 21 games against the Oilers (14-16-3).
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“In the end, winning is all that matters,” said Hall. “Jordan’s goal at the end of the second was a huge one . . . no team likes to get scored on them (Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg both got caught along the boards). You come in for the intermission feeling good about yourselves, but they get the goal with four minutes left. It’s almost the same story as it was in San Jose. You play well but you don’t get any points. It’s almost like you’d rather have a game where you don’t play well and you know the two points weren’t in your reach. But tonight and San Jose, they were.”

And as the Oilers fumed…

“I think you can tell from the locker-room tonight . . . there’s frustration,” said Horcoff. “But we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. The last two games, at least, are a step in the right direction (after a stinker against the Coyotes in Phoenix last Thursday and a 3-0 loss to the Flames in Calgary on Dec. 10).”

The Wings dished out compliments for a team they more or less got away with hanging on against…

“Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins are very good players . . . they’ve got lots of hockey sense and determination and vision,” said Babcock. “I was impressed with the Oilers as a team. They were organized, they skated, they competed.”

As the Edmonton Journal’s John MacKinnon also noted (and if you want to read some Edmonton player grades, the Journal’s David Staples provides them in spades)...

Renney was right, the Oilers stayed with the Red Wings for most of the game. With Taylor Hall, Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers can apply offensive pressure in a way unavailable to them for years.

“They are way faster than we were (as young players),” Zetterberg said, referring to himself, Datsyuk, Holmstrom. “First of all, they are at least three years earlier (getting to the NHL) than we were. I was 22, they’re barely 19. It’s amazing to see how developed they are skill-wise and with their strength and speed.”

Zetterberg said young players often roll through the first 50 games of a season “on pure joy. Then you hit the wall after 50 and you’re kind of out for 10-15 games, but then you work yourself back, coming back for playoffs.

“But I think in your second season, you know a little bit more, you know what’s going on, you know how to prepare and focus for every game. And also to forget. You have to forget games, you can’t think about what you did yesterday because it’s a new day, next day.”

Maybe that’s the point for the Wings on this West Coast swing. They survived to fight another day, and EdmontonOilers.com’s Ryan Dittrick (game blog) and Travis Knee (“Under the Scope”) felt that the game hinged upon the obvious play…

Turning point: With the game tied 2-2 in the third period, Detroit’s Drew Mill made a slick deflection to put the Red Wings ahead for good. Nicklas Lidstrom would fire a perfectly placed slap-pass towards Miller who got the tip to beat Nikolai Khabibulin.

But the Wings may not have prevailed had a certain goaltender stopped the Oilers’ youngsters’ offensive flourishes…

Unsung Hero: Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard was not tested all that much but was solid when needed. Howard would stop 21 of 23 shots he faced en route to the 3-2 victory. He now has a 20 wins on the season, most of any goalie in the NHL.

And for the Wings, the game literally involved getting even, as Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom told the Canadian Press:

The Wings are an impressive 13-2-1 at home, but have struggled on the road this season, making it a relief to get back to even in that category.

“That’s a stat we hear about a lot. It’s nice to be back to .500,” Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We didn’t have our best game. They were skating a lot better than we did. But we kept grinding away and that’s important to do on the road. It’s a good start to this road trip as we have two more before we go home for Christmas.”

Lidstrom agreed Detroit’s hard work was the difference.

“We were tied heading into the third on the road and we just wanted to grind it out and not open ourselves up defensively,” he said. “We wanted to wait for our opportunity and our third line had a great night tonight. It was great to see Miller get that winning goal tonight. It’s something we have to continue to build on.”

The Wings’ Twitter account fired off a few comments from Drew Miller…

Miller: It’s huge. Anytime you get a win on the road, it’s a good thing.
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Miller: I thought we played well enough to control them (Edmonton), then we got some good bounces and were able to get the W.
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Miller: We’ve got two more games to go, but it’s a good start to our road trip.

And coach Mike Babcock went from big picture to small picture and back during his post-game comments:

Babcock: We think we’re a good team. We think we’re a good team that’s getting better and I think that will be measured over time.
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Babcock says that Jimmy Howard will get the start in Vancouver on Wednesday night.
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Babcock: Two points, a real good two points for us.

As the Free Press’s Helene St. James noted in both her quoteless recap and her notebook, the Wings’ bototm six forwards did most of the heavy lifting…

A strong game from the third line gave the Red Wings a much needed victory on the road Monday. They improved to .500 after leaving Rexall Place having beaten the Oilers, 3-2.

Danny Cleary scored the only goal of the first period. Jiri Hudler restored the Wings’ lead in the second period, but a rebound goal from the Oilers’ talented young line left it 2-2 after two periods.

The Wings got a great opportunity to move ahead when they got what was just their second man advantage of the game when Shawn Horcoff clipped Pavel Datsyuk, but the power play, which had been on such a roll recently, didn’t get a good chance until the very last bit when Henrik Zetterberg forced a nice save from Nikolai Khabibulin.

It took a shot from the point from Nicklas Lidstrom and Drew Miller being in front of the net for the deflection to give the Wings the win and improve to 8-8 away from the Joe.

But while the Wings were happy with their win, they weren’t necessarily satisfied with the way they played, as they told the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...

The line of Darren Helm centering Danny Cleary and Drew Miller was in the spotlight against the Oilers. Miller scored at 15:44 of the third period, redirecting a shot by Nicklas Lidstrom and breaking a 2-2 tie.

“I went to the high slot and got my stick on the shot,” Miller said. “It’s one of those plays where you’re in the right place at the right time. I got a good piece of the puck and it found a way to get in, one of those good bounces to get. It was good to see our line get success and for our team to get the win.”

Said coach Mike Babcock: “Helm, Cleary and Miller were our best line by far.”

Jiri Hudler added the other Wings goal, as they opened this three-game western Canada road trip with a hard-fought victory.

“It was a good road win,” Babcock said. “We weren’t very good through two periods. We didn’t have much energy or legs, but we found a way to win a game which is a positive thing.”

The Wings have won 12 of their last 15 games. The victory also moved the Wings back to .500 on the road (8-8).

“We haven’t been happy with our road record,” Lidstrom said. “This is a building block, to grind one out and get a win.”

And that thread continued as Lidstrom and Miller talked about the game-winner—on surprisingly bad Edmonton ice—with MLive’s Ansar Khan:

“We were just grinding this one out, kind of waiting for the opportunity, and (Miller) scored a nice goal to win it for us,” Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said.

Miller redirected a pass from the point by Lidstrom past Nikolai Khabibulin, with Danny Cleary at the front of the net.

“I’m just looking for sticks when I’m shooting; it’s hard to get it on net,” Lidstrom said. “There’s guys in the shooting lanes, so you’re looking for a tip, and (Miller) was showing me his stick, so I tried to get that right in front of him.”

Said Miller: “I went to the high slot and got my stick on the shot. I was in the right place at the right time and got a good piece of it. Puck was bouncing a lot tonight. Sometimes, when the puck’s bouncing like that, you just want to throw it at the net and good things can happen.”

But “meh” won the day:

“[Winning’s] huge, especially games like this where you’re not really there,” Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “Edmonton’s skating really well, we can’t really get into the game. But we find a way to win. It’s an ugly win, but we got two points.”
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“We weren’t very good through two periods, didn’t have much energy, much legs, but found a way to win a game,” Babcock said.
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“We think we got a real good team that’s getting better,” Babcock said. “We can play way better than we did tonight.”

The Wings will have to play much better to keep up with a foil of sorts in the Canucks on Wednesday, but given the fact that they didn’t play their best hockey but snagged two points while playing their fourth game over the last seven days, sometimes you take the points—and constructive criticism—and run with ‘em.


Multimedia:

Highlights: TSN posted a 2:18 highlight clip which includes some post-game comments from Shawn Horcoff and Tom Renney;

Sportsnet embedded a highlight clip in their recap of the game, but if it works for you outside Canada, you’ve probably got a Canadian IP address;

And the Red Wings’ website’s clip is narrated by Ken Daniels and Larry Murphy:

Post-game: TSN posted a 2:22 clip of post-game comments from the Oilers’ players, but it’s not working as of the time I’m cobbling this recap together;

If you wish to watch Oilers coach Tom Renney’s post-game presser or post-game comments from Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Renney, you may most certainly do so, but something tells me you might be more interested in what Drew Miller, Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard and coach Mike Babcock had to say instead:

 


Fox Sports Detroit posted Ken Daniels and Larry Murphy’s takes on the game…

 

<a href='http://www.foxsportsdetroit.com/pages/video?videoid=36df9493-4361-4775-a4de-8ef9e3f5d734&amp;src=v5:embed::' target='_new' title='Recap: Wings edge Oilers 3-2'>Video: Recap: Wings edge Oilers 3-2</a>

As well as a slate of post-game comments from Drew Miller and coach Mike Babcock:

 

<a href='http://www.foxsportsdetroit.com/pages/video?videoid=20459f27-a191-4588-b84d-9faf03d79027&amp;src=v5:embed::' target='_new' title='Wings on win'>Video: Wings on win</a>

Photos: The Detroit Free Press posted a 7-image gallery;

The Edmonton Journal posted 8 images from the game in its “Oilers in December” gallery;

Fox Sports Detroit posted a 6-image gallery;

Yahoo Sports posted a 5-image gallery as they only post AP and Getty Images photos. There are at least a dozen more Reuters photos on Daylife’s Wings gallery;

NHL.com posted a 22-image gallery;

The Oilers’ website posted a 45-image Flash slideshow and added an image in its website’s recap;

And the Red Wings’ website posted a 17-image gallery and embedded an image in its website’s recap.

Statistics:

Shots 28-23 Detroit. The Wings were out-shot 10-8 in the 1st period but out-shot Edmonton 10-8 in the 2nd and 10-5 in the 3rd.

The Wings went 0 for 2 in 4:00 of PP time; the Oilers went 1 for 5 in 7:47 of PP time, including 0-for-1 in 56 seconds of 5 on 3 time.

Jimmy Howard stopped 21 of 23 shots; Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 25 of 28 shots.

The 3 stars, per Sportsnet, were Jordan Eberle, Nikolai Khabibulin and Pavel Datsyuk.

The Wings’ goals: Cleary (8) from Kindl (7);

Hudler (7) from Zetterberg (15) and Filppula (16);

Miller (6) from Lidstrom (15) and Helm (7).

Faceoffs 28-26 Detroit (the Wings won 53% of the faceoffs taken);

Blocked shots 18-11 Detroit;

Missed shots 9-8 Detroit (total shot attempts 49-48 Edmonton);

Hits 18-17 Edmonton;

Giveaways 19-11 Edmonton;

Takeaways 12-5 Edmonton.

Individual stats:

Faceoffs: Datsyuk went 7-and-10 (41%); Zetterberg went 11-and-4 (73%); Helm went 4-and-6 (40%); Abdelkader went 6-and-3 (67%); Cleary, Filppula and Franzen all lost the only faceoffs they took.

Shots: Cleary, Datsyuk, Miller, Hudler and Franzen co-led the team with 3 shots; Stuart, Zetterberg and Filppula had 2; Kindl, Lidstrom, Abdelkader, White, Helm, Kronwall and Holmstrom had 1.

Blocked attempts: Zetterberg took 4 shots that were blocked by Oilers players; Kindl, Lidstrom, Cleary, Datsyuk, Filppula, Ericsson and Holmstrom had single attempts blocked.

Missed shots: Miller missed the net 3 times; Kindl, White, Zetterberg, Filppula, Franzen and Holmstrom missed the net 1 time.

Hits: Datsyuk and White had 3 hits apiece; Ericsson had 2 hits; Kindl, Cleary, Stuart, Hudler, Zetterberg, Helm, Kronwall, Franzen and Holmstrom had 1 hit.

Giveaways: Lidstrom and Kronwall had 2 giveaways; Cleary, Datsyuk, White, Hudler, Bertuzzi, Filppula and Ericsson had 1 giveaway;

Takeaways: Datsyuk had 2 takeaways; Helm, Ericsson and Kronwall had 1.

Penalties taken: Ericsson took 2 minor penalties; White, Miller and Kronwall took 1 minor penalty.

Plus-minus: The Wings finished at a collective +10. Cleary and White finished at +2; Lidstrom, Miller, Hudler, Zetterberg, Helm, Filppula and Ericsson finished at +1; Holmstrom finished at -1.

Points: Cleary, Miller and Hudler scored goals; Kindl, Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Helm and Filppula had assists.

Ice time: Stuart led the team with 23:28 played; Lidstrom played 22:12; White played 21:35;

Kronwal played 21:08; Zetterberg played 21:03; Datsyuk played 17:38;

Filppula played 17:35; Ericsson played 17:11; Franzen played 16:38;

Cleary played 16:16; Bertuzzi played 15:16; Hudler played 13:45;

Kindl played 13:29; Helm played 13:24; Miller played 12:43;

Holmstrom played 10:29; Abdelkader played 8:55; Emmerton played 8:32.

 

Part II: Red Wings notebooks: The first crop of notebooks are more or less a repeat of my last update to the game-day post as you were probably watching Red Wings Live by the time I cobbled it together:

• 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.”
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“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.”
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“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.”
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“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.”
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“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—noting that White now leads the league in plus-minus as his +1 during the game leapfrogged him over Seguin, with White now leading +23 to +22:

“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.”
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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.”

• The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan discussed Drew Miller’s play as well as the resurgence of the Danny Cleary-Darren Helm-Drew Miller line as a whole...

“They’ve straightened out their games,” Babcock said. “They’re going north and south, they’re being physical, and they’re on the cycle. They can play against anybody.”

The line’s production of late only strengthens the Wings’ attack.

“We’ve been working well together,” Miller said. “Cleary started us out tonight and he’s playing real well and his leadership on our line drives it. Helm has the speed. We’ve been working well.”

And he received what might be a slightly predictable comment from coach Babcock regarding the Oilers’ stockpile of young talent:

“If you never, ever win, it beats you down over the year, but this year, they’ve been fortunate their veteran players have played real well, they have good special teams, and they’re organized and a fun team to watch,” Babcock said. “They’ve got real good young talent and the community is behind them.”

Center Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, June’s No. 1 overall draft pick, has looked like a cornerstone the Oilers can build around (33 points in 32 games).

“He looks like a real player,” Babcock said.

• The Edmonton Journal adds 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.

• The Edmonton Journal’s Joanne Ireland discussed the Wings’ consistent play yielding a self-sustaining winning machine, as evidenced by Mr. Miller’s development—and Miller makes some sharp, sharp remarks…

“This is a pretty unique situation for me,” said Miller, who played his first 67 games in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks and the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s now in his third season with Detroit. “You see how, over time, these guys go about their business on a day-to-day basis. And it’s pretty remarkable to see how some of these guys play night in and night out over such a long period of time,” he continued. “It’s helped me become a better player.”

Everywhere he turns there is experience to draw from. And whenever the team hits a rough patch — as it did earlier this season, going six games without a win — veterans like Pavel Datsyuk, captain Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom lead the way back.

“Look at the people we have in the locker-room. They’ve been through a lot of seasons, a lot of situations. The guys we have may be the best in the league,” said Miller. “Maybe it’s a little different looking from the outside in, but for us, it’s an everyday thing around here. It’s just a mentality that we’re going to be a good team, and it starts with our leadership. That’s how they were raised by the guys who were here before them. It’s just a mentality that we’re going to win games and we’re going to play the way we play. We’re going to go through tough times, but we’re going to stick together as a team and find a way to get out of the different ruts we’re going to be in through the course of a long season.”

After failing to produce a win for a six-game stretch that started on Oct. 22 and lasted until Nov. 3, the Wings went 15-5-0 in their next 20. The only noticeable flaw with the Red Wings is the road record they towed into Edmonton: a 7-8-0 compilation, compared to 13-2-1 at home.

“We’re not happy with the way we’ve been playing on the road,” said Lidstrom after the morning skate on Monday. “We can play a lot more consistently. 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.”

Overall, the Red Wings are again carving out their usual spot in the top half of the Western Conference standings.

“The lines are playing well together, (goaltender Jimmy Howard) has been outstanding in net for us the whole season. He’s been our best player … I just like the way we’re playing defensively,” Lidstrom said. “We’re playing a lot better defensively than we did last year. We’re thinking defence first, even though we’ve scored a lot of goals here of late. It starts from playing well in our one zone.”

• Hall both noted the Wings’ World Junior Championship participants (Pulkkinen for Finland, Petr Mrazek for the Czech Republic, Marek Tvrdon and Tomas Jurco for Slovakia and Mattias Backman for Sweden) and she mentioned the play of Howard, who the Edmonton Sun’s Derek Van Diest spoke with at some length:

Heading into Monday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers with an impressive 1.91 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and a league-high 19 wins, the Red Wings goaltender is starting to garner some attention of his own and getting the credit he deserves.

“I don’t really worry about that, you look at all the great goalies that have played in this league, they’ve always had great players in front of them and here it’s not any different,” said Howard. “Here you have one of the best defenceman to ever play the game (Nicklas Lidstrom), probably some of the best two-way forwards in Pavel (Datsyuk) and (Henrik) Zetterberg. They are our leaders and we look to them every single night.”

Howard, 27, has worked his way through the Red Wings system to become the club’s undisputed starter.
...
“He’s been taking huge strides every season,” said Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom. “This season he looks very comfortable in net. Usually he’ll make that first stop for us and it’s up to us to be there and help him out with rebounds. But you can tell he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”

Howard is one of the reasons for the Red Wings’ strong play of late. Having hit a rough patch in early November where they lost six straight, the Red Wings have found their stride, heading into Monday’s contest having won 11 of their previous 14 games.

“Ever since we had that little lull in October and the beginning of November, we seem to be finding the net a little more often,” Howard said. “I think it comes back to playing smart, guys are playing with a lot of confidence and guys are having a lot of fun.”

Howard has no problem shouldering the load of fans’ expectations of him, either:

“It’s good, it should be that way,” Howard said. “It should be Stanley Cup or nobody’s happy. The expectations are high and it’s fun to try and attain those goals.”

• And if Danny Cleary was feeling left out in the press’s praise for Drew Miller and Darren Helm, the Free Press’s Helene St. James rectified that situation:

Cleary scored his eighth goal of the season Monday as the Red Wings beat the Oilers, 3-2, at Rexall Place. His success individually reflects the surge of the third line, which netted the game-winner when Drew Miller tipped Nicklas Lidstrom’s shot in the third period.

Mike Babcock said it’s a matter of Cleary getting back to playing north-south hockey, being physical and being good on the cycle. “Suddenly Cleary has six points in his last four games, which is real good for him, he’s got to be feeling good about himself. You look at your stats, and if your stats are better, it doesn’t matter who you are as a player, you like stats.”

Cleary celebrated his 33rd birthday Sunday fresh off having set up three goals the night before. He had two goals two games earlier to reach seven for the season. He’s barely on pace to reach 20 goals—a mark he has hit three times in the previous five seasons—but if he continues to play as well as he has this month, he should get closer to the production the Wings have come to expect. More important than individual numbers, Cleary has made the third line, which currently features speedy Miller on the opposite wing. Helm sees confluence in the line’s current incarnation, saying, “I think all three of us were kind of struggling for a while there, but now, put three guys who are struggling together, and good things started happening.

“We’re not the top-end players, we understand that. For all three of us, we have to keep the puck going forward, be in their zone, play physical. We do have some skill, so it will come out if we’re on the puck enough in their zone.”

While Helm and Miller are used to checking-line status, Cleary has been a top-six forward the past few years and was second on the team last season with 26 goals. An upper-body injury suffered during training camp in September reduced Cleary’s effectiveness when this season began, eventually bumping him from his original spot next to Pavel Datsyuk. But Cleary is showing signs he’s back to his old self again.

“I’m feeling better, for sure,” he said. “Any time you can help out, it feels good. Not every game, you’re going to get scoring from the same guys. You have to have a little bit of an even keel throughout the lines, and I feel the line that we’re on now—with me, Helmer and Miller—we’re capable of being good offensively and defensively.”

Both Cleary and Bertuzzi took a while to come around, but now that they’re going, they’re going.

• And in the “local ties” category…I knew somebody growing up who had Mike Modano for a next-door neighbor in Westland, and a college roommate once played street hockey with the Hatcher brothers in Sterling Heights. According to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan, injured Wing Chris Conner and Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler are friends who grew up close to each other in Westland:

“I’ve thought about that,” Conner said. “Maybe something like the Staal brothers, but they’re all from the same family, it’s a little bit different. It is kind of wild when you think about it. I’d stay about 10 houses apart,” Conner said. “We met in kindergarten, went to the same elementary (Washington) and middle (Frost) schools. Went to (Livonia) Churchill for high school. We grew up together. We played hockey all the time. His dad had a pond so Ryan, his older brother, and I would be out there all the time.”

Even though hockey was a bond, they didn’t actually play on many teams together.

“He was an ‘84 (birth year) and I was an ‘83, and we might have played one or two years when he played up (in age class) but that was about it,” Conner said. “But in the summer, and even now, we’d train every day. And now during the summers, we still have our friends from high school and we hang out a lot. It’s fun.”

Conner, who is on the injured list with a fractured right hand, expects to spend time today in Vancouver with Kesler’s family.

 

Part III: Also of Red Wings-related note: If you missed it during the Fox Sports Detroit broadcast, Peter Forsberg told the Swedish press that the Swedish Olympic Team threw their last round robin game against Slovakia in the 2006 Olympics to gain a better quarterfinal match-up, but Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg denied it in English, and Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall told Expressen’s Gunnar Nordstrom that they don’t remember anyone talking about tossing the game to avoid the Russians—and I don’t know how the hell they’re going to do it, but IIHF president Rene Fasel claims that they’re going to “investigate” the game to determine

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;

• The Windsor Star’s Bob Duff noted that the World Under-17 Challenge, which will take place in Windsor from December 29th to January 4th, boasts oodles of NHL alumni, including Patrick Kane, Drew Doughty, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, Alex Ovechkin and one Valtteri Filppula:

For Detroit Red Wings centre Filppula, it was his initial taste of the smaller rinks, his first true test against top-flight North American competition.

“Back home, you played against Czechs and Russians and Slovakia and Sweden more,” Filppula said. “I got to play more against North American teams that you usually don’t meet, so that made it interesting. Going abroad, it was a good experience. We had a lot of good, hard games.”

• Less locally, Yahoo Sports’ Kelly Friesen had this to say about the Wings’ Slovakian participants at the World Junior Championships:

Marek Tvrdon, wing, Slovakia (Vancouver Giants) — The Giants are well represented at the world juniors. Head coach Don Hay is behind the bench for Canada, right wing Brendan Gallagher will suit up for Canada, defenceman David Musil for the Czechs, and of course, Tvrdon for the Slovaks.

The Detroit Red Wings fourth-rounder lost his first North American season to a shoulder injury, but has broke out this fall with 14 goals and 37 points in 33 games. The 6-foot-2, 217-pound wing’s complete game has also immensely improved. He’s playing hard at both ends of the ice and always seems to make something happen when he’s out there.

Fellow Red Wings prospect Tomas Jurco of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs will help take some of the scoring pressure off Tvrdon, but will be heavily relied on for crucial goals by the Slovaks. This will be Tvrdon’s first world junior. The Jurco-Tvrdon duo will have to be firing on all cylinders in order for the Slovaks to edge out the Swiss to reach the medal round, let alone hang with Russia and Sweden.

  • Ditto, sort of, as the Edmonton 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.

Pulkkinen happened to score a goal in Finland’s 3-1 exhibition loss to Canada on Monday night;

• I don’t think this is in doubt, as suggested by the the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix’s Aaron Brouwer in a discussion concerning fantasy hockey players...

Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings) is helping to keep the Red Wings a contender as he has 14 points over the last nine games and is on a five-game point streak. Datsyuk is one of the most skilled players ever to play the game and would likely lead the league in scoring if not for strong two-way play. Datsyuk is on pace for 86 points, highest total in three seasons.


• And finally, here’s a little bonus Swedish: Nicklas Lidstrom didn’t add much about the Wings’ win over Edmonton to the mix in a conversation with Aftonbladet’s Per Bjurman, but he offered a spiffy self-assessment:

“Lidas” registered one of the assists, his fifteenth of the season, on Drew Miller’s game-winning goal, and he proclaimed himself to be in great shape:

“Yes, I feel fresh and lively. I don’t have any flaws to complain about. But like everybody else, I’m looking forward to the Christmas break this weekend,” he says.

He be far from Detroit but he’s going to enjoy it once he gets home.

“Yes, we finish the trip with difficult back-to-back games against Vancouver and Calgary. Then we fly home and are going to be around from the 22nd on. It will be very nice,” says the team captain.

Now he only has time to get some Christmas shopping in during his travels.

“Yes, I hope to keep up in Vancouver. It’s a great city to shop in.”

Update: Via RedWingsFeed on Twitter, DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose posted one more Drew Miller story:

Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller predicted earlier this month that his younger brother would finally capitalize on his chances with the Red Wings, saying, “I think maybe some other people who watch hockey will be surprised when he starts getting some points here and starts settling into his role.”

And that’s exactly what Drew Miller has done lately, collecting his fourth goal in five games with the game-winner in the Wings’ 3-2 victory Monday night against the Oilers at Rexall Place.

“He’s seen me play from a young age and I think he wants me to take a few more chances, which hopefully with a little more experience I can take some more,” said Drew Miller when asked about his brother’s comments. “You want to establish that role and stick around a little before you start taking those chances.”

With less than four-minutes remaining in regulation Monday, Miller put the Wings up for good with his sixth goal of the season. With the Wings’ third line pressing deep in the offensive zone, Miller re-directed a shot from the left point by defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. The re-direction, on Miller’s back-hand, went through Danny Cleary’s legs and beat Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who was screened by the Wings’ forward. Center Darren Helm also drew an assist on the game-winner.

“I usually come around to the front of the net, but I saw that Cleary went there so I went for the high slot and I got my stick on it,” Miller said. “Sometimes you get a lucky bounce.”

Ahem:

“Tonight, we found a way to win on the road, but we probably won’t be as happy with some of the parts of that game, but anytime you can get a win on the road it’s big, and definitely to start off a road trip.”

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Comments

Rdwings28's avatar

You know, I wondered if the ice was bad, but couldn’t see how it would up nord dere, eh?

Posted by Rdwings28 on 12/20/11 at 10:32 AM ET

Rdwings28's avatar

oh, and by the way, Howard is only good because he plays on a good team, Just like HOF hopeful, Ozzie.

Posted by Rdwings28 on 12/20/11 at 10:36 AM ET

TKShreve's avatar

A- Jimmy Howard played great, period.

B- Rolling 4 lines all night. From Datsyuk to Z to Helm to Miller, they looked vertically solid.

C- I like this Oilers team. Not extremely deep, but will throw a couple fierce, quick moving lines against an opponent. I felt at any minute they could have tied that game last night. Jimmy said otherwise.

D- Maybe I’m crazy, but how Ericsson is a +10 is beyond me. He’s either out there for every goal against, or watching it from his private bench. Help me understand this guys upside.

Posted by TKShreve from East Uptown on 12/20/11 at 11:11 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

George, I didn’t think to look for a recap from you after the game and didn’t see it until this morning.  I thought it was an excellent summary of the game.  And how you put together all this great stuff overnight is still beyond me.  But it’s great and I love reading it in the morning.

Thanks so much!

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 12/20/11 at 11:54 AM ET

Avatar

The Oil has been my ‘girlfriend’ team for last two years, and it won’t be long until they’re a playoff contender each year. Nice job, George!

Posted by Jesters Dead on 12/20/11 at 01:05 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

D- Maybe I’m crazy, but how Ericsson is a +10 is beyond me. He’s either out there for every goal against, or watching it from his private bench. Help me understand this guys upside.

Posted by TKShreve on 12/20/11 at 09:11 AM ET

I’ve really got to stop defending him and let you guys just have at it, but for some reason, it bothers me when his suck is magnified beyond its true level.

Let me get the standard disclaimer out of the way to start: Jonathan Ericsson is currently not playing up to his $3.25M contract.  If the Red Wings could magically get around his NTC and swap him for somebody better than he is, of course I’d take that trade. The people calling for Mike Commodore to be in the lineup over him against a speedy Oilers team have zero concept of the kind of trouble they would have been in for with that sandskate on the ice.  Also, please be a bit patient. Brendan Smith is NHL ready, but he’s not “play 17-18 minutes per night and kill penalties” ready.

His penalties are frustrating, to be sure.  Know what else is frustrating? Watching replays of his penalties when he’s whistled for absolutely horseshit calls (seriously, if you’ve got access to a replay, go watch the “hook” he puts on in the first period.  Then watch Ryan Smyth take a dive while Ericsson battles in front of the net doing things much less severe than he no doubt watches Tomas Holmstrom take on the other end of the ice). 

The goal he was on the ice for last night (well, he was actually on the ice for three goals, but only one of them was against the Wings), a lot of people are throwing shit at him for a “bad pinch”, which is frankly horseshit. Ericsson pinches in with not one but TWO forwards (Helm and Miller) in position behind him. The Red Wings’ D corps makes this pinch ten times a game. Ericsson’s pinch had the desired result too, he prevented an easy outlet. Unfortunately, the puck bounced, Helm lost it, and Miller couldn’t quite get over fast enough to block the outlet.  Then, as you watch the play develop, you can see that it’s not even an odd-man rush (which is what happens when you get a “bad pinch”), it’s a breakaway.  Those happen when the defenseman who is supposed to be covering all the way up at the center stripe to make sure nobody gets behind him is two feet outside of the blue line getting himself caught flat-footed.  Jakub Kindl flubbed that play.  Hell, Darren Helm had more to do with that goal against than Jonathan Ericsson.

But that’s just one game and not quite on-point.

If you want to see his upside, spend time watching him in the corners and on the PK.  Spend time noticing that he doesn’t get beaten cleanly man-on-man often at all.  Notice how he’s subtly becoming a bit of an unnoticeable hole where opposition cycles go to die and rushes into the zone turn into battles on the boards rather than shots on net.

Jonathan Ericsson’s defensive zone positioning has improved by leaps and bounds. He’s not close to being as good as Brad Stuart, but he’s a lot better than that Jonathan Ericsson guy we had last season.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 12/20/11 at 01:34 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I like the way Ericsson has progressed, big time. He’s never going to be the top-pair defensemen the Wings or fans had hoped for, but he’s gotten most of the “stupid” out of his game (occasionally ill-timed but sometimes extremely astute pinches included) and while he doesn’t fight as much or hit as much as some fans would like, he’s going to become a rich man’s version of Andreas Lilja in short order, with more offensive punch.

He and Kindl (who is essentially preventing a very solid defenseman in Mike Commodore from getting into the lineup because Kindl, too, has improved, gotten stronger, faster, a bit more demonstrative and a lot more assertive) have really allowed the Wings to roll three defensive pairs on out there, and while, yes, they’re the most vulnerable pairing because they’re the youngest, I have no complaints with their usually superb skating, passing, positioning, underrated checking, shot-blocking and chemistry. I’ve really enjoyed watching them play and I Think that they’ve done an excellent overall job.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 12/20/11 at 01:58 PM ET

TKShreve's avatar

Who else could we have signed @ $3.25 mil last year? Speaking D of course.

I just want to get an idea what the market was like around the time we signed Big E.


I respectfully disagree with you guys regarding his play along the boards. I personally think he gets beat more often than what you’re suggesting, but I have an open mind and will continue to watch his play moving forward.

And again, he is a +10. Which surprises the hell out of me and backs off the foot torch a few inches in my book.

Posted by TKShreve from East Uptown on 12/20/11 at 02:16 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Who else could we have signed @ $3.25 mil last year? Speaking D of course.

I just want to get an idea what the market was like around the time we signed Big E.

We could have signed Ian White @ $3.25M wink

The pool was a bit thin. Hindsight gives us the thought that we may have been able to take a gamble on Cam Barker (just been bought out by the Wild, signed in Edmonton for $2.25 - currently on IR with an ankle injury).

Sheldon Souray is also a guy who would have been a gamble, coming out of a bad situation with the Oilers and looking like a reclamation project that’s doing well for the Stars ($1.65M salary - 14 points and a +6 rating for the Stars at this point is probably very high above expectations)

Roman Hamrlik went to Washington for $3.5M
Jan Hejda in Colorado got the same $3.25M salary, but an extra year on his deal (9 points and a -16. even though the team effect is strong on that plus/minus, he’s struggling).
Adam Pardy for $2M to Dallas (no thanks)
Ed Jovanovski got paid $4.125M for FOUR years by Florida - way too long for his age.
Anton Babchuk got $2.5M from Calgary - He had 3 assists and a +1 rating in 8 games before going down with a hand injury

That’s pretty much it for the early July signings.  We also could have traded for the rights and grossly overpaid James Wisniewski or snatched up Tomas Kaberle.

Pickin’s were slim.  While Ericsson is overpaid, so were a lot of these guys.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 12/20/11 at 02:37 PM ET

TKShreve's avatar

Yeah what Florida did was absolutely crazy, although I think they had to spend their way up to the floor if I’m not mistaken. But it’s working.

Anyways, thanks for the look back. I was not the only one who made a strange face when I heard about the Big E signing. But I think the Wings expected him to continue developing. And that (I think) is what’s most often in debate regarding his game.

Tell you what, Lidstrom’s production-to-contact ratio easily evens out Big E’s contract. Can’t be disappointed with White either. Especially after coming back from a bad case of puck-face.

Posted by TKShreve from East Uptown on 12/20/11 at 02:49 PM ET

Chris in A^2's avatar

I don’t like Ericsson on the PK (especially over Kronwall), but he’s playing much better than last year.  For a 6th defenseman, you could do much worse.  I won’t care about the cap hit until the wings get near the limit.

Posted by Chris in A^2 from Nyquist Puck Control on 12/20/11 at 04:56 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.