The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/19/11 at 07:26 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings hopped back on Red Bird II on Friday afternoon having slept an extra night in their own beds subsequent to their 2-0 win over Columbus thanks to the generosity of Mike Ilitch, and when the Wings face off against the Nashville Predators tonight (8 PM EDT, FSD/FS Tennessee/WXYT), they will both face a possible playoff opponent as the Predators sit one point out of eighth place in the Western Conference, and, put delicately, a team that’s kicked the snot out of Detroit this season.
The Predators have gone 4-2-and-2 over their past eight games, Thursday night’s 4-3 overtime win over Boston included, but they boast a 3-game winning streak and a 3-and-1 record over the Red Wings this season, and they’re well aware of the fact that they can seemingly cycle the puck down low against the Wings’ defenders, earn breakaway opportunities and go to the Wings’ net with seeming impunity, as Predators captain Shea Weber told the Tennessean’s Josh Cooper:
Nashville’s puck-pursuit speed game has proved to be a solid counter to Detroit’s skill attack. While teams with big power forwards — such as the Kings and Flames — have given the Predators fits, much of the Red Wings’ offense goes through two of their smaller playmakers, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
“Obviously there’s some teams in the league they match up better against,” Weber said. “I think we like playing against them. They’re a challenge for us.”
The Predators also aggressively forecheck the opponents’ zone, which gives the Red Wings fewer opportunities to make plays.
“They’re so skilled they can make plays through you when they have time and space, and we try to limit their time and space a little bit more than some teams,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Some teams get very patient and have a lot of people back and try to get them in different zones.”
Cooper notes that the Wings have also been out-scored by a 10-3 margin over the course of the Predators’ three wins, but while both Weber and Trotz will initially credit luck for their dominance over the Wings, they certainly seem to grasp the technical details involved in stifling what is a team that they might suggest is almost…predictable:
“Our guys … have a comfort level of understanding what (the Red Wings) are trying to do all the time,” Trotz said. “So I don’t know if it’s necessarily match-up, I think it’s being familiar with what they’re trying to do, game-in, game out.”
Predators forward Patric Hornqvist dodged a suspension for hitting Bruins forward Tyler Seguin in the head on Friday, earning a $2,500 fine instead, and Cooper reports that forward Joel Ward may play for Nashville tonight as well (he’s been out with a “lower-body injury”), but as the Predators begin a stretch of back-to-back games tonight and Sunday (when they play in Buffalo), Cooper’s game preview points out that Nashville’s a bit banged-up:
Season series. Predators lead 3-1-0.
Red Wing to watch. D Nicklas Lidstrom is considered the Norris Trophy front-runner this year. At 40 years of age, he averages 23:42 of ice-time.
Red Wings injuries. F Jiri Hudler (flu) is out. G Chris Osgood (hernia) and D Ruslan Salei (personal) are doubtful. F Pavel Datsyuk (lower body) is questionable. D Brian Rafalski (knee) is probable.
Predators injuries. F Matthew Lombardi (concussion), F Cal O’Reilly (broken fibula), D Francis Bouillon (concussion), F Marcel Goc (shoulder) and F Steve Sullivan (groin) are out. F Joel Ward (lower body) is probable.
NashvillePredators.com’s Kevin Wilson offers a slate of stats, notes, more stats and more notes in his extremely meaty game preview...
The Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings clash for the fifth of six times this season tonight at Bridgestone Arena with the Preds having won each of the last three meetings. Only once in franchise history have they beaten the Wings four consecutive times – Feb. 28-Nov. 23, 2009. The three-game winning streak includes back-to-back wins at Joe Louis Arena – just the third time that has occurred – and a victory in Detroit’s first trip to the Music City on Feb. 5 by a 3-0 score behind a 35-save shutout by Pekka Rinne – his 18th career whitewash – Sergei Kostitsyn’s first multi-goal game as a Predator (2g) and Shea Weber’s 10th goal of the season. Nashville has picked up a point in six consecutive home games against Detroit, going 4-0-2 since the start of the 2008-09 campaign, outscoring the Wings 19-7 in those six games. Additionally, the Nashville penalty kill has been perfect in each of its last three games against Detroit, and has killed 16-of-17 Red Wing power plays off this season.
The last time these teams met was on Feb. 9 just five days after the Wings made their first trip to Tennessee. The Predators claimed a 4-1 decision that night at Joe Louis Arena, the second time in 38 all-time trips there that Nashville won by more than a single goal.
Kostitsyn’s back-to-back two-point efforts gives him a team-best five points (3g-2a) in four games vs. Detroit this season… Newest Predator Mike Fisher has six points (2g-4a) in nine career games against Detroit… Marcel Goc and Kevin Klein are a team-high +5 against Detroit this season… J-P Dumont has more career points (10g-21a-31pts, 42gp) and more points as a Predator (7g-17a-24pts, 31gp) against the Red Wings than any other team.
Nashville ranks first in home goals-against average at 2.09, and second overall at 2.31… The Predators were assessed more than 15 penalty minutes for the 10th time this season on Thursday, and are tied with Detroit for the fewest average PIMs per game (8.9). Nashville has been shorthanded an average of 3.41 times per game, third-lowest in the Western Conference.
And NHL.com’s Matthew Mankiewich gets down to the nitty gritty details of tonight’s match-up:
Season series: Fifth of six meetings this season between these Central Division rivals. Nashville can do no worse than a split, having taken the last three games. Most importantly for the Preds, these last two are at Bridgestone Arena. In fact, eight of the Predators’ remaining 11 games are at home at a time when every possible advantage counts.
Big story: As comfortable as a 10-point lead in the Central Division can be, a four-point lead for the second seed in the Western Conference is a bit less, so the Wings still have plenty of meaningful games left before the playoffs. The Predators are part of that year-long free-for-all in the middle of the conference standings, but have seen teams like the Kings, Stars, Blackhawks and Ducks start to heat up and pull away from the Wild, Blue Jackets and Blues. Still only one point behind eighth-place Calgary, the Preds have to do everything they can to keep up.
Predators [team scope]: If any one player can be credited with keeping the Predators in playoff contention, it’s Pekka Rinne. He has a career-best 2.11 goals-against average, is 4-2-2 over his last eight starts with an even stingier 1.84 goals-against average and also has the distinction of owning the Red Wings, going 7-2-2 lifetime with a 2.06 GAA and three shutouts. It’s no wonder coach Barry Trotz thinks he’s more than Vezina Trophy material, particularly after his most recent performance, a 35-save night in a 4-3 overtime win against the Bruins Thursday, their first in the 2010-11 season.
Against Detroit, Rinne stopped 69 of 70 shots in his last two outings, a 3-0 win Feb. 5 at home and a 4-1 shutdown four days later at Joe Louis Arena. Add Anders Lindback’s win on Dec. 8 and the Preds have a trifecta going against the Central Division leaders.
Who’s hot: Shea Weber scored the overtime game-winner on Thursday, giving him 5 points in five games, but he’s also posted at least one point in all 18 home wins for the Predators, compared with a total of three in the Preds’ 15 home losses. … Datsyuk was kept off the board Thursday, but still has five points in four games. Third-string goaltender Joey MacDonald, getting the nod with Chris Osgood’s absence and Jimmy Howard’s need for a rest, made 37 saves shutting out the Blue Jackets Thursday night, his best performance in a Detroit uniform.
I’m not sure that we’re going to get much news out of the Red Wings’ press corps today, aside from updating the injury statuses of Brian Rafalski, Pavel Datsyuk and Chris Osgood. On Friday, the Wings didn’t practice (the CCHA playoffs were being held at the Joe, and the Wings are playing their third game in the last four days tonight, so they needed a break), but Red Wings GM Ken Holland told the Wings’ beat writers that Rafalski (knee sprain) will play tonight, but Datsyuk (“lower-body-injury”) is “day-to-day.”
Holland was somewhat forthcoming about said injured players while speaking to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness:
“Pav feels a little sore,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said over the phone Friday. “He’s day-to-day. We’ll make a decision (this morning) after we see how he feels.
“Rafalski is planning to play, unless he has a setback between now and then,” Holland added. “He says he feels pretty good.”
And, as Pleiness notes, the Wings do remain shorthanded in that Ruslan Salei (his wife delivered the couple’s third child on Wednesday, and he remains in California until Monday) and Jiri Hudler, who has the flu:
“Hudler has a fever and achy bones,” Holland said. “He won’t make the trip.”
As for Osgood…
Holland expected Osgood to skate today, but they’re listing him as a day-to-day.
“He pushed it earlier in the week,” Holland said. “He was hoping to be ready to backup (Thursday) night. We backed off a couple days. The doctor who performed the surgery feels it’s a natural progression that goes with rehab,” Holland added. “Hopefully, sometime this week he’ll be back to backup.”
In Hudler’s absence, the Wings received quite the performance from Drew Miller on Thursday, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan notes:
Drew Miller was a healthy scratch two straight games before playing Thursday. He made a quick impact, scoring 33 seconds into the game, his fourth goal in five games. He also got into a fight with Derek Mackenzie about seven minutes later.
“He was awesome,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I said to him after the fight, ‘Where have you been Millsie?’ He’s been excellent. That’s what we expect.”
Miller and Kris Draper have been rotating on the fourth line. But with Patrick Eaves (groin) returning, two players will be healthy scratches.
Said Babcock: “What do I do the next game? We’ll work it out over time. It’s important to have all hands on deck.”
The Free Press’s Helene St. James also focused on the contributions of Miller, Eaves, Darren Helm and Kris Draper of late in her Saturday notebook:
Babcock disagreed, however, with the notion the competition is limited to one line, saying, “it’s not competition on the fourth line—it’s competition. Let’s understand that. The best players are going to play in the end.”
Given the talent the Wings have, a role player like Miller knows his situation.
“Everyone wants to play and compete and win and contribute,” he said. “You play for the Detroit Red Wings, you get a chance every year to do some special things with the team at playoff time and you get to play with some great players. You want to contribute any way you can.”
Miller contributes with speed and penalty killing and occasionally on offense, doing his part to make sure the fourth line remains successful when he’s on it.
“Whoever is a part of it on any given night has been doing a pretty good job,” Darren Helm said. “We’ve been contributing, we’ve been playing well defensively. I think it will help us moving forward to have four lines that can play continuously, grinding down the other team’s D-men or matching up against lines.
That’s the theory, but with Johan Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Cleary and Tomas Holmstrom having gone silent of late, the Wings need a strong push from their “top nine,” especially tonight.
Jimmy Howard’s slated to start against Pekka Rinne this evening, but as of the time I’m writing this preview (see: the middle of the night), the NHL’s media website hasn’t posted tonight’s referee assignments. I’ll post them when the Wings and Predators’ morning skate updates post.
Also of Red Wings-related note:
• George was a stupid-head on Friday and posted his updates in the main KK hockey blog. Don’t tell George as he might get a little upset with himself for being a doofus;
• In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins’ playoff hopes took a step back thanks to a 7-2 thrashing at the hands of the team that was tied with Grand Rapids in North Division standings in the Lake Erie Monsters. Jordan Pearce gave up all seven goals against as the Griffins had to sign back-up-back-up Brennan Poderzay to a pro try-out on Friday after releasing Riley Gill.
Pearce and the Griffins will earn ample opportunities to close the two-point leads that Lake Erie and Toronto have upon them as they play two more times this weekend, and as far as Friday night’s loss is concerned, the Grand Rapids Griffins’ website (which also posted a Flickr photo gallery and Youtube-formatted post-game interviews) and the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema provide recaps, and Zuidema reports that the Griffins both laid quite the egg, rallying from a 3-0 deficit to make the game a 3-2
It was an uncharacteristically flat performance by the Griffins, who were 11-2-1-3 in their previous 17 games.
“You listen to these guys talk, it’s embarrassing and all that kind of stuff,” Fraser said. “We just weren’t good enough tonight. They outplayed us from the opening drop of the puck and every bounce went their way. But in saying that, we’ve been at the top of our game for seven or eight weeks now and that’s a long time to go without stepping in a pothole.”
Tomas Tatar and Francis Pare scored for the Griffins, and Tardif added two assists. Trailing 3-0, Tatar put the Griffins on the board 9:07 into the second when he backhanded in a rebound after Tardif’s shot hit the post. The Griffins pulled to within 3-2 just 1:29 later on a nice give-and-go between Ilari Filppula and Pare that resulted in a power-play goal But that was the end of Grand Rapids’ highlights.
Lake Erie snuffed out a potential Griffins comeback when Harrison Reed stole the puck and scored on a breakaway just 1:02 after Pare’s goal. The Monsters’ Greg Mauldin then scored twice in the final 4:18 of the second to make it 6-2 heading into the third.
“That second period was getting kind of long, but I’ve played this game my whole life,” Pearce said. “You’re going to have nights where stuff isn’t going to go your way. Just got to come back from it.”
And he reports that the Griffins suffered a significant injury in the form of Brendan Smith, who re-injured a sprained knee:
Defenseman Brendan Smith left the game with less than 4 minutes left in the first and didn’t return. Fraser said Smith could be out anywhere from two to four weeks with the same knee injury that forced him to miss four games in early January.
To you and me, that means that, should the Griffins miss the playoff cut, the Wings won’t be able to employ Smith as an emergency playoff call-up, which would mean that Doug Janik and Derek Meech (who doesn’t have to clear re-entry waivers during the playoffs) would fill any injury voids on Detroit’s blueline first and foremost;
• In the ECHL, the Toledo Walleye suffered a 3-1 loss to the South Carolina Stingrays. Thomas McCollum stopped 14 of 16 shots against, so the Stingrays’ last goal was an empty-netter.
• Also in the prospect department, in Helsinki, Finland, Jokerit Helsinki dropped their first playoff game, a 1-0 loss to HIFK Helsinki, minus the services of Teemu Pulkkinen, who remains in the hospital with a kidney infection;
• Back on this side of the Atlantic, the Detroit News’s Eric Lacy reports that Red Wings prospect Riley Sheahan scored a goal in a losing effort in the CCHA playoffs as the University of Notre Dame lost 6-2 to Miami of Ohio, and will play against the University of Michigan in the CCHA’s consolation game on Saturday. Sheahan reminded observers that he’s all of 19:
Notre Dame center Riley Sheahan didn’t get the Joe Louis Arena debut he hoped for Friday night as the Irish fell 6-2 to Miami in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournament semifinals. Sheahan, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound Red Wings first-round draft pick last year (21st overall), drew a slashing penalty at 4:30 of the first period. Carter Camper scored 11 seconds into the ensuing power play.
That’s when things got ugly for the Irish. The RedHawks’ Bryon Paulazzo scored 59 seconds after Camper’s goal. Miami’s third and fourth goals also came in the first period, as Alden Hirschfeld scored at 9:47, and Camper responded again while his team was shorthanded.
“Sort of caught up in the moment,” he said. “Got ahead of myself, kind of got carried away.”
Sheahan tried to stay positive after the loss. He’s only a sophomore and thinks of the setback as another lesson he must learn to reach his NHL dream. The Red Wings drafted the prospect because of his size and ability to play either center or on defense. However, the St. Catherine’s, Ontario, native expects to be a center in the NHL.
“I’m just trying to improve my game and be a bit stronger off the ice,” he said. “I’m not really looking too far ahead to the future. But my goal is to obviously play (in Detroit) one day.”
Sheahan also addressed his development in a conversation with USCHO.com’s Bob Miller:
Rather than being a prototypical, highly offensive center that posts gaudy point totals, Sheahan toils as a kind of power center renowned for his tenacity and penchant for hard work. In his inaugural season with the Fighting Irish, he scored six goals among his 17 total points, not the kind of offensive output that inspires an NHL team to spend a valuable first-round draft pick.
But the Detroit Red Wings did exactly that in last June’s NHL entry draft, selecting Sheahan with the 21st choice of the first round, gambling that Sheahan would find the scoring touch he displayed in junior hockey in St. Catharines before making the move to South Bend. In two years for the St. Catharines Junior B Falcons before graduating to the NCAA Division I level, Sheahan totaled 49 goals among his 134 points. That means the offense that the Red Wings gambled on should be there to be tapped into, but simply hasn’t surfaced yet, as Sheahan’s four goals and 14 assists in 2010-11 for Notre Dame would attest.
“I’m just taking one step at a time,” Sheahan said of his current goals. “Just trying to improve my game and get a little bit stronger off the ice. They’re just small steps right now. I’m not looking too far ahead into the future.”
Sheahan has filled his power forward role sufficiently, though, to earn him the honor of being only one of four U.S. college hockey players selected to Canada’s World Junior Championship camp.
“Obviously, it would be nice to play here [Joe Louis Arena] one day. But, I’m not even looking at that right now,” Sheahan said.
Former Wings summer prospect camp participant Derek Roehl scored a goal in Western Michigan’s 5-2 win over Michigan;
• In the charitable news department, former Wings goalie Dominik Hasek is in Buffalo this weekend to take part in Willie O’Ree’s Skills Weekend tournament, which is being hosted by his “Hasek’s Heroes” hockey program, and Hasek will be recognized for his contributions to the Sabres on Sunday;
• Next week, Gordie, Marty and Mark Howe will be in Hartford, Connecticut, but this weekend, the Canadian Press and Calgary Herald’s Palmela Dixon note that Howe is in Calgary this weekend, where a charity hockey game will be played between NHL alumni and amateur teams to raise funds for the Gordie and Colleen Howe Foundation for Alzheimer’s research;
• This Sunday, as previously noted, the Brighton Patch’s Anne Seebaldt notes that the Red Wings’ Alumni Association will face off against “The Well Church” to raise funds for troubled kids on Sunday in Brighton;
• Former Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios insisted to WDFN’s Sean Baligian that Pavel Datsyuk “will be okay” in his weekly Chelios Report…
• Speaking of Chelios, the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle reports that Boston Bruins forward Mark Recchi will shortly pass Chelios on the all-time games played list;
• And the CBC’s “The National” aired a 12-minute documentary on inspirational Wings fan Earl Cook on Friday, and you can watch the documentary here.
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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.