The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/26/11 at 07:42 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings will board Red Bird III and fly to Nashville this morning to prepare for tonight’s game against Nashville (8 PM EST, FSD/FS Tennessee/WXYT) hoping to accomplish more than simply earning a measure of revenge for their dreadful collapse in a 4-3 loss in Nashville eleven days ago:
The Wings begin a pair of back-to-back games this week, all against Central Division foes—in Nashville tonight; in St. Louis on Tuesday and at home against the Blues on Saturday, and in Chicago on Friday—and thanks to the Wings’ losses in Vancouver and Calgary last week, the Wings rather desperately need to gain ground in the Western Conference and Central Division standings.
The Wings begin their post-Christmas schedule with 43 points, 3 ahead of the Predators, 1 behind the Blues (who play tonight against Dallas, and are already salivatingabout gaining a seven-or-more point lead over the Wings by the end of the 2011 calendar year) and 5 behind the division-leading Blackhawks.
If the Wings continue their unsteady ways on the road, where they’re 2 games below .500 (8-and-10) and drop even two of these four games in regulation or overtime, they’re going to find themselves in a world of hurt in terms of their desire to win the Central Division and plain old make the playoffs without having to scramble for points over the course of a very busy January spent mostly away from home (the Wings play 12 times over January’s 31 days and play 7 of those games away from home, starting the month on a 4-game road trip and ending it on the beginning of another Western Canadian swing), especially given that they’re all of 3 points out of ninth place in what remains a jam-packed mash-up of 10 teams separated by a total of 10 points.
As for tonight’s opponent, the Predators have gone 2-and-2 since their 4-3 win over the Wings, and they’ve been especially leaky over their last two games, winning a 6-5, last-minute win over Columbus last Thursday and losing 6-3 to Dallas last Friday.
In their loss against Dallas, the Predators were practically Wing-like in terms of digging holes for themselves, as noted by the Tennessean’s Josh Cooper…
[On Thursday], the Predators had a comeback against the Columbus Blue Jackets, overcoming three-goal deficits twice. The Predators fell behind 3-0 early on Friday after the Stars scored three times in three minutes midway through the period.
“We’ve been putting ourselves behind the eight-ball a lot. It’s going to catch up to us. We can’t come from behind every game,” defenseman Shea Weber said. “It’s mentally draining. It’s tough to play from behind every night.”
Twice the Predators pulled to within one goal, only to see the Stars regain the momentum shortly after. Martin Erat made it 3-2 with 8:15 left in the second period off a pass from Ryan Suter. But with 5:50 left in the period, Mike Ribeiro scored on a cross-ice pass from Brenden Morrow to make it 4-2.
David Legwand notched a power-play goal off a pass from Colin Wilson with 15:22 left in the third period to make the score 4-3. But 30 seconds later Jamie Benn notched the backbreaking goal off a pass from Loui Eriksson to make it 5-3.
“When you’re gaining momentum, the next shift is crucial, they did that twice,” Nashville Coach Barry Trotz said. “To me that’s unacceptable if you want to win the game. You have to firm up and we weren’t firm enough.”
Goaltender Pekka Rinne was pulled for the fourth time this season. He allowed three goals on just seven shots. Anders Lindback made 19 saves on 21 shots in relief of Rinne.
If you’re a Red Wings fan, these stats from Cooper, via a Christmas Eve post, indicate weaknesses the Wings hope to exploit:
• The Predators rank 24th in the NHL on the penalty kill at 80.3 percent.
• Goaltender Pekka Rinne has seen the most shots in the NHL at 929. He also has made the most saves with 853. Rinne has allowed the sixth-most goals at 76.
• The Predators are on pace for 220 goals this season. That’s seven more than they scored a year ago.
• The Predators are on pace to allow 230 goals. That’s 40 more than they allowed a year ago.
• Nashville ranks 27th in shots on goal at 27.1 per game. They rank 25th in the league in allowing 31.5 per game. I wish the NHL kept track of scoring chances.
The Predators’ website sets up tonight’s game with the following “storylines”...
The Predators welcome the Detroit Red Wings to Bridgestone Arena tonight for the second time in 11 days. A season ago, the Predators claimed the season series 4-2-0; they lost the first contest on Oct. 30, 2010 then reeled off four straight victories – just the second time they’ve ever done it against Detroit – before dropping the last game of the season series on April 2, 2011. Nashville has never won five straight against the Wings, and only once (April 18, 2006-Feb. 24, 2007) has it claimed three straight on home ice. Since the start of the 2008-09 campaign, Nashville has picked up at least a point in nine of 10 home games against Detroit (6-1-3), while outscoring the Wings 32-20 in those 10 games.
The Red Wings made their first appearance of the season in the Music City a little more than a week ago. The game was tied at one after David Legwand netted his eighth goal of the year in the first period. The Wings jumped out to a 3-1 lead midway through the second frame, but Nashville responded in the final 23 minutes. Jordin Tootoo pulled the Predators within one at the 17:22 mark of the second period then captain Shea Weber ignited in the final 4:46, tallying a power-play goal to pull the Predators even. Weber found the back of the net less than three minutes later completing his seventh career two-goal game, as Nashville defeated the Red Wings, 4-3.
Rinne has gone 9-3-3 in his career against the Wings with a 2.30 goals-against average and three shutouts … Sergei Kostitsyn has eight points (5g-3a) in his last eight games against the Red Wings. His two-point performance (1g-1a) on Feb. 9, 2011 put him over the century mark in points for his career… Ryan Suter has seven points (1g-6a) in his last six games against Detroit… Weber notched his 200th career point with an assist vs. Detroit on Feb. 9, 2010.
In Nashville’s last 17 games, its power play has been among the League’s best, converting 32.1 percent (18-for-56) of its man-advantage opportunities. The power play has scored two man-advantage goals in back-to-back games.
In the Predators 11 games this month, they have outscored their opponents 16-10 (plus six), while outshooting the opposition 105-104 (plus one) in those game. Nashville’s 16 third-period goals in December have come from 10 different skaters.
For the season, Nashville ranks among the League’s top five in third-period scoring with 41 goals, while its opponents have scored 34 goals in the third (plus seven). Thirteen of Nashville’s goals have come in the final 90 seconds of play, including three extra-attacker goals, and four more game-winning goals. The Predators third period success has continued despite being outshot 359-316 (minus 43) in the final 20 minutes.
And the Tennessean’s Cooper offers a much more economical preview:
Season series: The Predators are 1-1-0 against Detroit.
Red Wing to watch: D Nicklas Lidstrom is a plus-16 and has 22 points in 34 games.
Red Wings injuries: F Jan Mursak (ankle), F Chris Conner (hand) and F Patrick Eaves (jaw) are out.
Predators injuries: D Kevin Klein (flu) is out.
NHL.com’s David Kalan offers the following preview...
Last 10: Detroit 5-5-0; Nashville 6-4-0
Red Wings [team scope]: Fewer teams in the NHL seem to enjoy home more than Detroit. The Red Wings boast an impressive 13-2-1 record at Joe Louis Arena, but the converse of that is their road record, 8-10-0, is lacking by comparison. Detroit would do well to try and even out those hedges when it gets back to action from the Christmas break Monday night in Nashville, but the promise of home sweet Joe will be on the horizon as the Wings wrap up a four-game road trip.
That must be particularly refreshing for Detroit, which has lost five of its last seven away from Michigan, and given the tight nature of the West playoff race the Wings have little margin for error both above and below them. Detroit is barely in the West’s top eight, a position that any slump could jeopardize, but on the other end of the spectrum, Central-leading Chicago is only five points up on the Wings, who also have a game in hand on their rival.
Predators [team scope]: Nashville was one of the most promising teams in the League at the start of this season and its hopes took a massive tumble when the team recently lost seven of nine games, but Barry Trotz’s charges are nothing if not resilient. The Predators have bounced back to take six of their last eight games and five straight at home. While the Preds still face a steep eight-point deficit between them and the first-place Blackhawks, they have at least climbed back into playoff position.
Perhaps more important for Nashville, however, might be the opportunity to establish a mental edge over the rival Red Wings. The two teams will always have their divisional rivalry in the mix, but with postseason futures also in the balance, these games become that much more important. Considering Nashville rallied from a 3-1 deficit to take the last meeting between the teams, there is considerable opportunity to grab the reins of the rivalry with another victory.
Who’s Hot: Shea Weber is earning his money on the Nashville blue line. The reigning Norris Trophy-winner has two goals and six assists in his last five games. ... Drew Miller might be on the verge of breaking out for Detroit. Miller only has seven goals on the season, but four have come in the last four games.
Puck Drop: It’s harder to find two teams in the NHL with more consistent playoff participation than these two, but given slumps both have endured, as well as the logjam in the West, it’s easy to see how either team could slip out of the mix in the second half with a few bad bounces. With Monday being a virtual four-pointer between the two, the stakes are that much higher.
That last comment pretty much summarizes the Wings’ situation for the week—should they continue to drop games on a regular basis, especially given that, aside from an 8-2 win over Los Angeles on the 17th, the Wings have been plain lousy lately.
“We want to get started playing better for 60 minutes,” defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “It’s something we’re still working on.”
For sure, that was the problem Thursday in Calgary, the last game before the Wings got the weekend off. Maybe it was because they were playing their third game in four nights on the road. Maybe it was mentally knowing they had a three-day break approaching. But the Wings played uninspired and lethargic for the first two periods against Calgary.
Coach Mike Babcock wasn’t surprised.
“I didn’t think we skated very good on the whole trip,” Babcock said.
The Wings woke up and played much better in the third period. But it was too late, and the Flames won 3-2. The loss dropped the Wings’ road record to 8-10-0, with tonight’s game in Nashville and another road game Friday at division-leading Chicago on tap this week.
“You can’t look too far ahead but we have a lot of road games coming up,” Drew Miller said. “We can’t rely on playing a catch-up type of game in the third period. Those are big points for us. We have to have those.”
The Wings play 6 of their next 8 games away from home, and 3 and 2-game home stands next week break up a what is basically a road schedule from now until the second week of February, when the Wings finally earn a 6-game streak of games at home and a late February schedule where they’re playing 6 of 8 at home.
The Free Press’s Helene St. James summarizes the Wings’ plight very succinctly:
The Red Wings resume December’s hectic pace today with a game at Nashville, fresh off a two-day break to enjoy Christmas. They return home to host the Blues on Tuesday, play at Chicago on Friday and then host the Blues again for the traditional New Year’s Eve game. That adds up to [four] Central Division rivals over four games and opportunities to make statements to the opponents who surround them in the standings.
“Those are big points for us,” Drew Miller said. “We’ve got to have those. We’ve got to play strong and continue to improve on our system. We can’t get away from it. When we do, you see odd-man rushes like we had (in Calgary). We’ve got to clean that up.”
The Wings are coming off a 1-2 swing through western Canada that saw them, uncharacteristically for the season, start slow every game. It’s hard to play comeback hockey in today’s NHL, especially against an opponent like the Predators, who have elite defensemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter and one of the game’s best goalies in Pekka Rinne.
“We’ve got to scratch and claw and get our game back,” coach Mike Babcock said.
According to the NHL’s media website, Mike Hasenfratz and Chris Rooney will referee tonight’s game, with Bryan Pancich and Jonny Murray working the lines.
• I can’t quote all of Helene St. James’ game preview/notebook, so I’ll just point out that she notes that Mike Commodore played very, very solidly against the Flames, and that Drew Miller managed to bump Jiri Hudler off the second line pairing of Henrik Zetterberg and Jiri Hudler for part of Thursday’s game:
Though the line didn’t stay intact because of how the game went for the Wings, it was gratifying while it lasted for Miller, a reward for all the hard work he has put in to improve his game.
“I tried to make plays and hold on to the puck and get in on the forecheck and play with those guys,” Miler said. “It was a good chance, a good opportunity and I’ll try and see if I can get there again.”
• When I said that the St. Louis Blues are salivating over their two games against the Wings this week, I wasn’t kidding. The Blues play against the Stars tonight, which at least makes tomorrow’s game somewhat “even” as both teams will be playing back-to-back games, the Blues told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford that they will have to try very hard to not simply look past the Stars because they’d love nothing less than knocking the Wings as many as 8 points b
“All the games are important, but we’ve got to focus on Dallas first and Detroit second,” forward Alex Steen said.
Although the Blues are 6-1-1 in their last eight games, Dallas is 5-2 in its last seven behind rookie goaltender Richard Bachman, who has been subbing successfully for starter Kari Lehtonen. The Stars, who are seventh in the West, are only three points behind the Blues in the standings.
After tonight’s game, the Blues will fly to Detroit, losing an hour as they enter the Eastern time zone for their first game this season at Joe Louis Arena. Both wins over the Red Wings came at Scottrade Center, 2-1 on Nov. 15 and 3-2 on Dec. 6.
“They get pretty (ticked off) when a team beats them in general and to beat them twice, and really take it to them physically, is something that’s not going to leave them with a great taste in their mouth,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “I think we have to be ready for them to really come and take it to us.”
The Red Wings have lost back-to-back games and are 5-5 in their last 10, heading into tonight’s game at Nashville, but they are 13-2-1 at Joe Louis. Although the Blues are 4-1-3 in their last eight road games, including Friday’s victory in Phoenix, Hitchcock doesn’t believe his team is playing up to par away from Scottrade Center.
“Not yet,” Hitchcock said. “If we’re going to learn to win on the road, we’ve got a ways to go. We have shown flashes of what it takes to win on the road, but we’ve got a ways to go.”
Somewhat ironically, the Blues will play against the Predators on Friday, so they’ve got the exact same schedule as the Wings in terms of games played this week, and if they win all four and the Wings lose all four in regulation, the Blues could finish the week 9 points ahead of Detroit:
“Now we have their attention, it’s a good measuring stick for us,” Hitchcock said. “We’re going to know where we stand. We think we stand at a certain level, but we’re going to find out. By the 10th of January, we’re going to know against good teams where we stand because we play so many of them before that date.”
• The Red Wings have five prospects playing in the World Junior Championships, which start today in Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta: Tomas Jurco and Marek Tvrdon will be playing for Slovakia, Petr Mrazek will tend the Czech Republic’s goal, Teemu Pulkkinen is playing for Finland and Mattias Backman is playing for Sweden.
Pulkkinen and Backman will be in action today as Finland plays the U.S. at 3:30 PM EST and Latvia plays Sweden at 5:30 PM, and the Canada-Finland game will air on the NHL Network in the U.S. and on TSN in Canada (TSN and TSN2 are airing every WJC game);
• As for the rest of the Wings’ WJC-playing prospects, the Czechs and Slovaks get underway on Tuesday, and the Toronto Star’s Daniel Girard notes that Jurco’s most likely the Slovaks’ go-to player (and Marek Tvrdon isn’t far behind):
Tomas Jurco, a Detroit Red Wings second-round pick last spring after winning a Memorial Cup with the Saint John Sea Dogs, has had a strong start to the Quebec league season with 45 points in 30 games and will be expected to lead the attack for Slovakia in his second world juniors.
• If you’re looking to watch other games which will involve future NHL’ers this week, a slate of Michiganders and NHL draft picks will play at the Great Lakes Invitational at the Joe on Thursday the 29th and Friday the 30th (Michigan State and Michigan Tech will tangle in the afternoon game and Michigan and Boston College will tangle in the evening, and the the Michigan-BC game and the championship game will air on Fox Sports Detroit);
• The Grand Rapids Griffins are going to host a New Year’s Eve party of their own when they play the Milwaukee Admirals on Saturday, and they host the Peoria Rivermen on Friday as well;
• And in Windsor, the World Junior Under 17-challenge will take place from the 29th until January 4th. The Windsor Star’s Bob Duff listed both a slate of NHL alumni from the tournament as well as several of this year’s crop of stars in the making;
• In the alumni department, made for TV version: several former Wings will play in the Rangers-Flyers alumni game which will precede the Winter Classic. Versus and the CBC will air the game, and Mark Howe, Derian Hatcher, Brad Marsh, Ron Duguay, Adam Graves and Mathieu Schneider are all taking part in the game, with Howe, Hatcher and Marsh playing for the Flyers and Duguay, Graves and Schneider playing for the Rangers;
• In the alumni department, part 2: Let’s all be surprised that former Wings coach Paul MacLean is succeeding in Ottawa for a simple reason, as noted by the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch:
“There’s a real good atmosphere because he communicates. He allows them to talk. He listens to them. He’s pushed them right from training camp to skate,” said [Senators GM Bryan] Murray. “We do a lot of skill development within the group, it’s not all individual stuff. I think the players know how to play now. It only works if you can play good defence and get some decent goaltending. The first four or five games we looked dreadful — as far as being able to defend — but I think that area has been cleaned up somewhat. He’s playing a lot of players.”
• As we look toward 2012, I’m going to suggest that Sportsline’s Adam Gretz proposes Winter Classics future which probably won’t come to Metro Detroit until 2014:
Technically this game won’t be played until 2013, but the decision will be made long before then and every team wants an opportunity to host what has become the NHL’s signature regular season event. Gary Bettman has already all but promised Washington D.C. the game in the very near future, so that’s on the table.
I’m a fan of taking the game to Michigan, perhaps the Big House in Ann Arbor, for a Red Wings game, or even to the State of Hockey and allowing the Minnesota Wild to play host to the game for its passionate fan base at perhaps either Target Field (home of the Minnesota Twins) or TCF Bank Stadium (University of Minnesota stadium).
Given that the Wings took part in the Winter Classic in 2009 and that Minnesota hasn’t played in one of late, I get the feeling that the “State of Hockey” would be pretty pissed off if the NHL didn’t, say, offer something like a Wild-Jets game or give the Blackhawks their second Winter Classic opportunity next season. I don’t think that the Wings will realistically host the event until 2014 or 2015.
• And finally, a programming note: I’m going to take things a little slower this week, running at about 75% to conserve a little energy and rest up. January’s going to be an adventure and as the Wings have rare two-day breaks between Tuesday and Friday’s games and their Saturday tilt against Chicago and their game in Dallas the following Tuesday, I’m going to try to get a little more rest than usual because back-to-backs and games in very large markets are the norm in January, and if a Wing or two plays in the All-Star Game, it’s no “break” for me. Put simply, I don’t want to get too burnt out.
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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.