The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/13/11 at 02:17 PM ET
Updated 9x with tons of Wings game-day commentary and some Griffins injury updates at 2:23 PM: The Detroit Red Wings face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight (7:00 PM EST—not 7:30, sorry—FSD/WXYT/ROOT), the WIngs find themselves in a slightly strange position, having hoped to get back to .500 on the road by tangling with a Penguins team at full strength, and that’s what they discussed with MLive’s Ansar Khan yesterday afternoon, but they also readily admitted that the injury-plagued Penguins (no Zbynek Michalek, no Kris Letang, no Crosby, no Ben Lovejoy, no no Richard Park, etc.) provide an opportunity to kick a bitter rival while they’re down:
“Obviously, we’d like Sid to be playing. As a league, you want him to be playing,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “When you’re playing another team, you want their best goalie, you want their best players. You want to find out if you’re any good or not. In saying that, you also want points.”
With or without Crosby, the Wings know that Dan Bylsma always has his Penguins in a row…
“They have great structure,” Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “The coach (Grand Haven native Dan Bylsma) has done a great job making sure everyone is on the same page. They don’t live or die with one guy. Last year when you look at what they did, it’s pretty remarkable, being able to play that well without (Crosby and Malkin for much of the season). Guys like (Jordan) Staal (who’s questionable with a lower-body injury), (Chris) Kunitz and (Tyler) Kennedy really stepped it up, reached another level.”
And while the Wings wanted to play against Crosby, they’d be just as happy to play against Pittsburgh, period, more regularly—and occasionally win games in the process:
“It’s just become one of those teams that you love to play against,” Kronwall said. “It’s a great matchup. It’s always good, high-intensity games.”
The problem is they have played each other only four times in the past two seasons, and tonight’s game is their lone meeting this season.
“When you’re not playing more games, it’s hard to keep that rivalry going,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said, “but I still think you’ll see two competitive teams and two very evenly skilled teams, and I think the rivalry is going to come up again.”
On the Penguins’ side of the equation, things get curiouser and curiouser on the injury front. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Shelly Anderson reports that the team recalled Jason Williams from the AHL because Penguins center Evgeni Malkin was deemed a “game-time decision
Jordan Staal’s iffy for tonight’s game as he attempts to recover from a “lower-body injury” as well. Here’s Anderson’s game-day update...
The Penguins conceivably could be without their top three centers—Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal—tonight for their home game against the Detroit Red Wings.
Crosby, we already knew, is out because of concussion symptoms. Staal took the morning skate but said afterward that whatever his mysterious illness is has him just concerned enough that he wants to go through the afternoon before seeing how things are and making a decision.
Malkin is even more of a mystery. He was not known before to day to have a problem—sore scar tissue his knee was a problem early in the season—and he was absent from the morning skate. Coach Dan Bylsma would only say that Malkin, like Staal, is a game-time decision. He declined to say whether it is an injury or an illness or anything else.
If those three are out of the lineup, the team’s top two centermen will be Joe Vitale and Pascal Dupuis in whatever order you want to place them.
And here’s her initial morning skate report:
The Penguins are beginning their morning skate at Consol Energy Center in advance of tonight’s home game against Detroit. Center Jordan Staal, who is considered day to day because of an unspecified injury, is skating. No word yet on whether he might be able to play. However, center Evgeni Malkin is not skating. We’ll get an update soon.
As expected, center Sidney Crosby also isn’t skating. He is dealing with concussion-like symptoms.
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek is on the ice after returning to practice Monday. That’s a sign that his concussion symptoms did not return overnight.
The additions and subtractions have left the power play looking like this:
First unit—Matt Niskanen and Steve Sullivan on teh points with forwards Jordan Staal, James Neal and Chris Kunitz.
Second unit—Paul Martin and Jason Williams on the points with forwards Tyler Kennedy, Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke.
Chris Kunitz-Jordan Staal-James Neal
Matt Cooke-Pascal Dupuis-Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan-Joe Vitale-Arron Asham
Jason Williams-Craig Adams-Steve MacIntyre
If you’re interested, the Post-Gazette’s Seth “Empty Netters” Rorabaugh wrote a superb game-day preview (hey, I don’t have to like the Penguins to admit that their media corps does a fantastic collective job)...
And PittsburghPenguins.com’s Sam Kasan and Michelle Crechiolo fire off a very cool feature in a self-updating slate of game-day stories, pictures and videos. Crechiolo added a few contextual quotes regarding the Staal situation…
Pens center Jordan Staal, who missed Saturday’s game vs. NYI, said following the morning skate that he feels good, but wants to see how his lower-body injury reacts this afternoon and go from there. He’s unsure if he will play vs. Detroit, confirming he would be a game-time decision.
“I’m still not quite sure,” he said. “It felt good, but again, I want to see how it feels once I’m out of the skates and off the ice for a bit and if it starts to flare up. Then we’ll see from there.”
She spoke to a pair of Penguins about their rivalry with Detroit, and while one is a relative newcomer, Wings fans remember him as a Wing-killer of the first order from his days with the Nashville Predators:
Steve Sullivan: On why the Red Wings have been so good over the years: It’s a lot of things. You can’t just do one thing well to be a successful hockey club. You have to do a lot of things well. Detroit does it. They play a sound system. They play with pace. They’re a good forechecking team and they have a lot of talent. When you get good players that play a system like that you should have success.
On what the Pens need to do to have success against Detroit: We’re not waiting for them to make mistakes. We have to push the pace. We have to make sure we’re playing our system for us to be successful. We have to play within our system and not worry about the Detroit Red Wings or any team are doing. It’s all about what we do. If we play the way we’re supposed to play and play within our system we’ll have success.
Marc-Andre Fleury: On playing the Red Wings: It’s always fun since the two Finals in a row. There are a lot of battles. For both teams it’s always fun to play against each other.
On having a rivalry with Detroit: It’s not like the Flyers where no one likes anyone. There is respect on both sides. It’s tough to get there. We battled each other twice. It’s still fun and intense games to play.
On thinking of those playoff games when he faces Detroit: They’re memories, but it’s a different scenario in the middle of the season. It doesn’t matter what happened then. We have to get two points tonight. That’s all that matters.
And at least all sounds well regarding the Wings’ personnel…
Detroit’s lines at their morning skate:
Update #1: More good news from the Penguins’ Inside Scoop Twitter account:
Babcock said Howard in goal. No lineup changes tonight #Pens #RedWings -MC
Update #2: More good news from MLive’s Ansar Khan:
Wings go with same lineup as last several games: 93-13-44, 51-40-26, 11-43-41, 20-8-96; 5-18, 55-23, 4-52; 35. Stuart, Ericsson flip-flop.
Update #3: Changing gears, via the ever-indispensable RedWingsFeed, if you feel like watching Mike Milbury and Keith Jones talk about Chris Chelios being the best U.S.-born hockey player, get down with your bad self, and Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji filed a lovely late-breaker tailing last night’s crop of coverage of Chelios’s induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame that’s more than worth your time:
Chris Chelios is officially a Hall of Famer. On Monday night in Chicago, Chelios was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame along with Keith Tkachuk, Gary Suter, Mike Emrick and Ed Snider.
“The fact that it’s in Chicago, just (Sunday) night I’d seen people I hadn’t seen for 35 years growing up in the neighborhood in Chicago, Evergreen Park,” Chelios said during his induction speech. “For me, it means the world to me.”
“I think the Salt Lake experience [Olympic], being on home ice, you want to win the gold medal,” Chelios said. “But there were no disappointments. For my family, my friends, definitely for my career in USA Hockey, that was the highlight. Winning a silver medal, not too many people can say that. I’ve got that medal. That medal’s been as many places as the Cup. I feel very fortunate that I was able to share that with those guys and represent the country like we did. The best hockey I’ve ever been involved with at that skill level. It always works out better when you win. here was a lot of pressure in Salt Lake. I don’t know if Gary [Suter] remembers, but I grabbed him, we were both nervous wrecks, I looked at him and said, ‘Hey, we gotta relax. We’re going to win either way in this gold medal game. We’re walking home with something.’ It didn’t help. We still kind of got too nervous.”
Chelios also talked about his 26-year NHL career with Montreal, where he won his first Stanley Cup, with his hometown Chicago Blackhawks and finally, with the Detroit Red Wings.
“What Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch and their families meant to me and my family, from getting them into the hardest schools to get into in Michigan, my sons Jake and Dean also played for Little Caesars,” Chelios said. “We know what the Ilitch family has meant to youth hockey over the past 30 or 40 years, maybe longer, I’m not sure. But thank you, Mr. and Mrs. I. I appreciate everything you’ve done for us.”
With the induction, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame showed Chelios how much it appreciates everything that Chelios has done for hockey in the United States. Although Chelios is no longer playing, he remains in the Red Wings organization as an assistant in the front office.
“I’ll always be around the game. I love it,” Chelios said.
Update #4: Via RedWingsFeed, Pavel Datsyuk gave an interview to Sovetsky Sport’s Dmitry Malinowski, and while the Google translation thereof only offers a few glimpses into Datsyuk’s ever-present wry sense of humor, Yahoo Sports’ Dmitry Chesnokov offered a few highlights via Twitter:
Comment: Detroit was in a slump recently, bad to watch. Dats: “Of course it was terrible being in a hole - dark and moist.” (via SovSport)
Dats:“So many people will visit 4 the holidays; every room is taken. My house is a hotel called “Feel at home, don’t forget you’re a guest.”
Let’s shift gears and get back to discussing tonight’s match-up: Via the Penguins’ game-day blog, here’s what Pens coach Dan Bylsma had to say about the Wings…
On the Detroit Red Wings: They’re 8-2 in their last 10 games. They’re power play’s a strong 20 percent, right back up at being the dangerous level they always are. The line of (Johan) Franzen, (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Todd) Bertuzzi is playing extremely well right now. Franzen with his 28 points being the big part of that line, a guy that always drives his team with power play lines and 5-on-5. (Henrik) Zetterberg’s line is playing extremely well as well and added some danger with speed of (Darren) Helm. Chris Conner on that wing as well. They’re playing a quick game right now in the neutral zone; they scored a couple times last game with that quickness. We’re expecting a tough team to play against defensively they don’t give up a lot, but also a team that’s going to come at you pretty hard with speed and skill and dangerous power play as well.
On the potential of having all top three centers out of the lineup: I can’t really tell you exactly what the lineup’s going to look like so there’s some challenges there. Now Pascal Dupuis is going to be a part of the Big 3. He’ll be most likely in that position tonight playing center again. We’ll probably keep him with (Matt) Cooke and (Tyler) Kennedy to keep some stability defensively there. We’ll see how the rest of it plays out come game time with matchups. It’s going to be difficult if Malkin and Staal don’t play. Our No. 1 center is Joe Vitale or Pascal Dupuis.
On if he still hears Mike Babcock’s voice in his head from back in his playing days in Anaheim: IIt’s a loud voice. Yes, I do still. I watched the Red Wings a lot. They’re a team, whether because I grew up in Michigan and being a Red Wings fan or because they’re an elite team, a better team, certainly been playing that way; we’ve watched them a lot. I try to learn something from everybody and I learned a lot from Mike Babcock as a coach. Still watching they’re team, watching what they do to see if there’s not something there and you can hear Mike’s voice through a lot of that.
On Marc-Andre Fleury approaching his 200th career win and becoming a force in net: About this time last year he probably had won eight or so games in a row after a tough start. One of the amazing things about last year was his consistency, which he maybe never had as a trademark he had of his playing career, happened from about Nov. 14 or so on. He was as consistent as he’s every been at a high level. He backstopped us in many of the games. Gave us chances to win in a bunch of others. He was still the dynamic goalie with the knack for the big save or big game as he always was. That consistency was a big part of why he was goaltenders in the league last year. He’s doing that for us now. His play’s been outstanding, it’s consistent. Even in a game like last game in Long Island. The first or second shot goes in, maybe not the greatest goal for him. Once we get to even in that game, there’s a feeling they’re not going to be able to get another goal to win a game from us. That consistency level has been a real backstop for our team right now. It helps our penalty kill. It’s been a real confidence booster for guys on our team. He’s been over a year now at that consistent high-level of play.
[Evgeni] Malkin, who missed seven games earlier this season following right knee surgery, missed the morning skate in advance of Tuesday night’s interconference game against the Detroit Red Wings. Coach Dan Bylsma didn’t offer an explanation, and said Malkin would be a game-time decision.
Malkin practiced Monday with no apparent problems. Jordan Staal, the Penguins’ all-important No. 3 center, missed that practice with an unspecified lower-body injury but took part in the morning skate. Staal, who did not play in a 6-3 win over the Islanders on Saturday, will be a game-time decision. He wants to see how his undisclosed injury reacts the rest of the day.
“It felt good but, again, I want to see how it feels once I’m out of the skates and off the ice for a bit and if it starts to flare up,” Staal said.
With Crosby out again with concussion-related symptoms, there is a possibility the Penguins could be without all three of their star centers against the Red Wings. If that is the case, Bylsma said Joe Vitale, who alternates at fourth-line center with Richard Park, or Pascal Dupuis will center the top line.
“It’s going to be a different story, or difficult, if Staal and Malkin don’t play and Joe Vitale or Pascal Dupuis is our No. 1 center,” Bylsma said.
And here’s MLive’s Ansar Khan’s game-day update..
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said the potential absence of Pittsburgh’s top three centers won’t affect what he’s trying to do with match-ups.
“The good thing about it is I don’t have to make any of those decisions,’’ Babcock said. “I’m going to put my guys out on the ice and then he’s going to follow, so (Bylsma) can make all those decisions.’‘
The Red Wings will go with the same lineup they have been using lately, just switching their second and third defense pairings:
Which did not include the following Twitter update:
Mike Babcock on former Penguin Chris Conner: ““He just works, energy, blocks shots, competes hard, like a dog on a bone on the puck.’‘
Update #5: Multimedia from the Pens’ website:
The Pens posted a “Game Day Report which includes comments from Steve Sullivan and Dan Bylsma…
Here’s Crechiolo’s interview with marc-Andre Fleury…
And here’s Bylsma’s game-day presser:
Update #5.5: Just no, no and more no.
Update #6: Per NHL.com’s Alan Robinson, here’s more Babs:
The Red Wings go into their only meeting of the season against Pittsburgh with nine victories in 11 games and 13 in 17. They have outscored their opponents 65-33 in the past 17 contests. Detroit was 5-5-1 going into its 5-0 win against Anaheim on Nov. 5, but now is 18-9-1. The Red Wings – 6-7 away from Joe Louis Arena – would appear to be catching the Penguins at an opportune time. Pittsburgh will be missing star Sidney Crosby (concussion-related symptoms) for a third consecutive game, and centers Jordan Staal (lower body injury) and Evgeni Malkin (undisclosed problem) will be game-time decisions.
The Penguins already were without defensemen Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek and Robert Bortuzzo (concussions) and Ben Lovejoy (wrist), plus forward Richard Park (broken foot). Only 10 days ago, the Penguins were putting a close-to-healthy lineup on the ice for the first time this season – even if it was missing Letang, one of the NHL’s premier offensive defensemen. Now, they are as depleted as they have been since coach Dan Bylsma was hired nearly three years ago.
“Obviously, we’d like Sid to be playing,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “As a League, you want him to be playing. When you’re playing another team, you want their best goalie, you want their best players. You want to find out if you’re any good or not. But, in saying that, you also want points.”
Pittsburgh has won its last two at home against the Red Wings and swept a two-game season series against them in 2010-11. This is the first season since 2007-08 the teams won’t play each other at least twice; they met in the Stanley Cup Final in 2008 and 2009, with each franchise winning once.
“it’s one of those teams that you love to play against,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It’s a great matchup. The games are high intensity.”
Update #7: Here’s the Free Press’s Helene St. James’ game-day update:
The possibility of Malkin not playing came as a surprise to everyone in the media room, as he’s not known to have an injury. A Pittsburgh reporter asked Bylsma whether he “can confirm Malkin is injury-related, or is it an off-the-ice thing or something?” Bylsma responded with this nugget: “Then I would be confirming something that I didn’t say.”
Crosby is out indefinitely with concussion symptoms. So is elite defenseman Kris Letang (he has 19 points in 22 games). The Penguins recalled former Wings forward Jason Williams from the minors to help offset the losses.
It’s easy to think the Wings are salivating at the thought of fielding, down-the-middle, Datsyuk and Zetterberg against Pascal Dupuis and Joe Vitale, but they really rather would see Crosby and company on the ice.
“I’d like Sid to be playing, Malkin, all their best players,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Letang. Those are really high-end players. They’ve got a good team here.”
Bylsma, a Grand Haven native who always can be relied upon to have good things to say about his home-state hockey team, didn’t disappoint.
“Detroit Red Wings, I love to talk about them,” he said. “Eight and two in their last 10 games. Their power play is just around 20%, right back up at being at the dangerous level they always are. The line of Franzen, Datsyuk and Bertuzzi, with Datsyuk playing extremely well right now, and Franzen, with his 28 points, being a big part of that line; I think a guy who, a lot of times, drives this team, both power play-wise and five-on-five. Zetterberg’s line has played extremely well as well, but the speed is also from Helm, and Chris Conner on that wing, as well. They’re playing a quick game right now, scored a couple times last game with that quickness.
“We’re expecting a tough team to play against. Defensively, they don’t give up a lot, but also a team that is going to come at you pretty hard with some speed and skill and then a dangerous power play, as well.”
Update #8: Here’s the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan’s game-day update...
The Penguins are definitely without star forward Sidney Crosby and defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek, all out with concussion symptoms. But star forwards Evgeni Malkin (undisclosed injury) and Jordan Staal (lower-body) are both game-time decisions for the Penguins.
Coach Mike Babcock maintains it doesn’t make a difference for the Wings, who are preparing no differently from normal.
“I’ll put my guys out there and he’ll (Penguins coach Dan Bylsma) follow,” Babcock said. But he added: “Every time you go into an opposing (arena), you hope they have their best lineup, best goalie, and they play their best game and you win.”
Even with so many key players out, Niklas Kronwall sees the Penguins as a deep and talented team.
“They showed it pretty good last year for everyone with their two big guys out (Crosby, Malkin); they had a heck of a season,” said Kronwall. The Penguins earned 106 points but lost a seven-game first-round playoff series to Tampa Bay. “They ran out of gas at the end, but it’s pretty impressive what they did last year. Even this year, without Crosby, all the guys have stepped up into a leadership role.”
The 27-year-old Finn has been a key contributor in Detroit’s recent run of success. In his last eight games – seven of them Wings victories – Filppula’s racked up seven goals and four assists. He could still shoot the puck more, but with 25 points in 27 games and a plus-13 rating, it’s hard for anyone to complain. Taken 95th overall in 2002, Filppula’s one of many savvy Detroit draft picks in the lineup. His first few seasons in the NHL showed a lot of promise; however, his production fell off last season when he tallied just 39 points in 71 games.
Wings coach Mike Babcock knew his team needed more out of Filppula.
“We’ve challenged Fil a lot here,” Babcock told Fox Sports Detroit late last month. “We think Fil can score, and we think Fil can be a dominant player.”
Nicklas Lidstrom was similarly complimentary of his teammate.
“He’s playing at the top of his game right now, whether it’s back-checking or handling the puck,” Lidstrom said. “How he plays with the puck, too. He’s so strong on the puck, and he can make it look so easy out there, so it’s fun watching him out there.”
: Oh sure, why not. The Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema provides a Griffins injury update:
It looks like cold and flu season has made its way to the Grand Rapids Griffins. Brendan Smith, Sebastien Piche and Doug Janik were forced to miss practice Tuesday morning at Van Andel Arena, while Gustav Nyquist left early due to a bug that he caught as the team returned from its three-game road trip Sunday night. Those players don’t have much time to rest. The Griffins host the Rockford IceHogs on Wednesday night.
“It’s just another thing the guys have to get through,” Grand Rapids coach Curt Fraser said. “We need to come out with the best effort of the year.”
The Griffins also practiced without rookie forward Landon Ferraro, who left Sunday’s 3-1 loss against the Chicago Wolves after blocking a pair of shots off the same foot.
“It’s tough to lose him because he’s one of the young guys who’s been doing very well,” Fraser said. “Hopefully, after a couple days off, he’ll be back and ready to play.”
The Griffins did have two sidelined players return to practice, though: forward Fabian Brunnstrom and defenseman Travis Ehrhardt.
Brunnstrom has missed the past three games with an ankle injury, but the Griffins expect him to be ready Wednesday. Ehrhardt practiced for the first time since he injured his shoulder Oct. 16, and is making progress toward possibly returning sometime during the holidays.
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About The Malik Report
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.