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Red Wings-Predators set-up: ye olde four-point game

Updated 2x at 12:13 PM: Minus at least the services of Chris Conner and possibly another player, the Detroit Red Wings flew to Nashville on Wednesday afternoon to prepare for tonight’s game against the Predators (8 PM EST, FSD/WXYT/FS Tennessee) with a “four-point game” in the offing.

The Predators sit five points behind the Wings in the Western Conference standings, but have won five of the eight games they’ve played since the teams last tangled the Saturday after Thanksgiving (the Wings won that game 4-1), and the Predators come into tonight’s game having won 3 straight games, including a 2-1 victory over Calgary.

The Tennessean’s Josh Cooper reports that Nashville’s players spent Wednesday meeting with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, but as they’ve been battling the injury bug that’s making its presence known in Detroit, Cooper says that the biggest development heading into tonight’s game is a simple one:

A cheer went up Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena before the game against the Flames, when it was announced that the Predators had no players on injured reserve.

The Predators do not expect any healthy scratches for tonight’s game against the Red Wings.

Cooper offers a brief preview of tonight’s game...

When: 7 p.m [Central Standard Time]. today

TV/radio: Fox TN/102.5-FM

Season series: The Predators are 0-1-0 against the Red Wings.

Red Wing to watch: F Valtteri Filppula notched three points against Nashville in the most recent meeting.

Red Wings injuries: F Jan Mursak (ankle) and F Patrick Eaves (jaw) are out.

But the Predators’ website offers something of an overload in terms of context:

The Predators welcome the Detroit Red Wings to Bridgestone Arena tonight for their first matchup in the Music City this season. 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 Apr. 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 eight of nine home games against Detroit (5-1-3) while outscoring the Wings 28-17 in those nine games.

These teams opened their 2011-12 season series on Nov. 26 in the Motor City. Valtteri Filppula scored twice, and Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary added markers in a 4-1 victory for the Wings. Jack Hillen responded with his first goal in a Predators sweater at 5:34 of the third period. Pekka Rinne made 33 saves for Nashville in its second game of a five game road swing. Roman Josi made his NHL debut for the Predators after being called up from Milwaukee the day prior.

In the Red Wings’ last trip to Bridgestone on April 2, 2011, the Predators received a power-play goal and an assist from Ryan Suter, goals from both Sergei Kostitsyn and Martin Erat, and a pair of assists from Mike Fisher, but fell in overtime. Kostitsyn became Nashville’s first 20-goal scorer of season and extended his point streak (4g-7a) to a career-best nine straight games. The clubs met just 14 days prior on March 19 in the Music City; the Predators gave up the first goal of the game with just 22 seconds left in the first period, but rallied to tie it on Blake Geoffrion’s first career home goal in the second, then win it on fellow rookie Jonathon Blum’s first-ever game-winning goal, on the power play, at 8:42 of the third.

Rinne has gone 8-3-3 in his career against the Wings with a 2.25 goals-against average and three shutouts … Kostitsyn has eight points (5g-3a) in his last seven 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… Suter has six points (1g-5a) in his last five games against Detroit. Suter’s defensive partner, Shea Weber, notched his 200th career point with an assist vs. Detroit on Feb. 9, 2010.

Let’s try the “brief” part of the preview instead…

QUICK HITS:
  • The Predators have played in eight straight one-goal games – they are 5-3-0 in those contests.

• Nashville is 3-1-2 against the Central Division this season.

  • Shea Weber has posted 13 points (5g-8a) in Nashville’s last 15 games. Weber’s defensive partner, Ryan Suter has 12 points (2g-10a) in his last 15 games.

  • Colin Wilson has seven points (3g-4a) in his last six games, including two game-winning goals.

• David Legwand has five points (2g-3a) in the Predators’ last six games.

  • Jordin Tootoo has eight points (4g-4a) in his last nine games.

  • Mike Fisher has won nearly 60 percent (80 of 129) of his face-offs in the last seven games.

  • The Predators are 11-1-2 when holding their opponent to two goals or less.

  • Pekka Rinne’s 13 wins this season tie him for fifth in the League. He paces the League in saves (747), and ranks second among goalies in shots against (811) and minutes played (1,521:20).

  • In their 15 victories this season, the Predators have received game-winning goals from 12 different players. Colin Wilson (3) and Nick Spaling (2) are the only players with multiple game-winning goals.

That’s a little better, and NHL.com’s Brian Compton provides a better-polished take on tonight’s game:

Last 10: Detroit 8-2-0; Nashville 5-5-0.

Season Series: This is the second of six meetings between the Central Division rivals. Detroit cruised to a 4-1 victory against the Predators on Nov. 26 at Joe Louis Arena. Valtteri Filppula had a pair of goals and an assist for the Red Wings.

Big Story: It appears as though the Predators are headed back in the right direction. After tallying only two wins in a nine-game stretch, Nashville enters Thursday’s action with an opportunity to earn its fourth straight victory. Each of the Preds’ three consecutive wins have been decided by one goal.
...
Predators: Nashville also made it three straight Tuesday, when they peppered Miikka Kiprusoff with 45 shots in a 2-1 victory against the Calgary Flames at Bridgestone Arena. Pekka Rinne made 35 saves for the Preds, who ended a stretch of six straight home losses to Calgary. Prior to Tuesday, Nashville’s previous home win over the Flames was Jan. 15, 2008.

The Predators have scored at least one power-play goal in each of their past six games. Thirteen of their last 29 goals have come via the man advantage
...
Who’s Hot: Wings center Pavel Datsyuk has 19 points (7 goals, 12 assists) in his last 12 games. He’s had 8 multi-point performances during the stretch. … Preds forward Colin Wilson has 2 game-winning goals in his last three games.

According to the NHL’s media website, Brad Watson and Wes McCauley will referee tonight’s game, and Scott Driscoll and Darren Gibbs will work the lines.

The Wings didn’t practice on Wednesday, but they did speak to the media, and the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness notes the parallel thrusts of the Wings’ comments. The team’s kicks off a stretch of nine games over the course of 17 nights against the Predators, and six of those nine games are on the road:

- The Wings evened their road record to 7-7-0 after Tuesday’s win.

“We were great defensively last year on the road and awful at home, 29th in the league to second,” Babcock said. “We had the second-best road team in the NHL. This year it doesn’t look like we’re very good on the road, so I don’t know what I did over the summer that different, but the reality is we really tried to commit to being better defensively.

“In this league it’s hard to outscore the other team,” Babcock added. “If you play well defensively, you got a better chance. Our penalty kill on the road’s been good, our penalty kill at home’s been no good, so I don’t know the answer to that either.”

—The Wings now have fifth best goals against in the league, allowing 2.17 goals a game.

“We pride ourselves in being good defensively, that’s how we’ve won a championship here,” Cleary said. “We all believe that’s how you win in the end. The other side of it is Howie’s had a spectacular season. Anytime your goalie is your best player you’re goals-against is going to be good.”

Babcock continued while speaking to the Free Press’s Helene St. James...

The Wings were in the top five Wednesday in goals scored (3.17 per game) and goals allowed (2.17). The latter is especially satisfying, as it was a main focus entering the season.

“It’s a huge priority for us, just because you can’t outscore everybody,” Babcock said. “You’ve got to be able to play well without the puck.”

And MLive’s Ansar Khan suggests that the Wings’ defensive commitment is, well, pretty close in terms of numbers to their 2007-2008 record. As Khan suggests, the Wings’ defensemen are giving Jimmy Howard a hand...

They’re committing fewer turnovers. They’re moving the puck out of their zone quickly and efficiently. Nicklas Lidstrom, at age 41, is having another outstanding season, and his new partner, Ian White, has meshed in well. Jonathan Ericsson has improved after two shaky seasons. Jakub Kindl has developed nicely in his first season as a regular. Also, forwards are spending a lot of time in the offensive zone with the puck.

“I believe if your players have the puck and you’re playing in the offensive zone, that’s pretty good defense,” Babcock said. “That hasn’t changed for us. So did we not bear down enough last year?”
...
“We’re a little bit different in our own zone. I don’t even know if it’s different than we were in the playoffs but it’s different than we were in the regular season,” Babcock said. “We always talk about system play. Work ethic and stick-to-it-iveness and mental toughness are the biggest parts I know to system play. Just do it, and do it right and do it longer than the other team, and that’s how you win.”

Their defensive improvement at home is like night and day. Last season, they allowed 3.1 goals per game at home, which ranked 29th in the league. This season, they’re allowing only 1.87 goals per game at home. Solid structure, a strong work ethic and outstanding goaltending is a winning combination.

“We pride ourselves in being good defensively, that’s how we’ve won a championship,” forward Danny Cleary. “The other side of it is Howie’s had a spectacular season. Any time your goalie is your best player, your goals against is going to be good.”

Howard said he has had plenty of help.

“For the most part, I only have to worry about the one shot,” Howard said. “I just try to put the rebounds in good areas, whether it’s hold onto it or put it in the corner.”

Howard’s placing those rebounds in better spots, of course, and that’s going to be very important against the hard-charging Predators tonight.


Red Wings notebooks: Very ironically, Chris Conner earned the lion’s share of press coverage on Wednesday, receiving heaping praise from the Free Press’s Helene St. James...

Following Tuesday’s 4-1 victory at Pittsburgh, which saw Conner set up a goal, Babcock said, “I thought he was real good. He’s playing well for us.”

The proof is in the minutes: 13:17, 1:36 of it spent holding the Penguins 0-for-4 with the man advantage. Conner, a native of Westland who played at Michigan Tech, isn’t new to the NHL: He’s 27 and racked up 60 of his 145 career games while playing for Pittsburgh last season. Before that, he spent time with the Dallas Stars organization. Now he’s eyeing an opportunity with Detroit.

“I just want to come in and work hard, and every chance I get, I want to prove that I can play and keep doing well,” he said. “I want to do whatever I can to help the team win. I’m just trying to keep it simple and use my speed and my assets.”

The Wings had other options to flesh out their roster, like [Fabian] Brunnstrom, who is bigger and has more offensive potential. But Brunnstrom didn’t show the Wings the hard-nosed play needed to extend a stay when given the opportunity in November, so the Wings opted to see how Conner would fit, which he has done nicely next to Danny Cleary and Darren Helm.

Within the next few weeks, there’ll be a challenger for a roster spot in Jan Mursak, who has started practicing after being sidelined by a broken ankle. Mursak “isn’t even close,” though, according to Babcock. “He’s coming, but I haven’t seen any agility from him yet,” the coach said.

If Mursak isn’t on the active roster by Monday, he can’t be activated until after the eight-day Christmas holiday roster freeze ends.

As well as the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...

Conner, who has a goal and two assists in his last three games, has taken full advantage of playing on the Wings’ third line with Cleary and Darren Helm.

“They’re both great players,” Conner said. “They talk to me a lot, help me out, so it’s been good so far. I just want to continue and keep getting better.”
He’s also a plus-2.

“You can see as Connie’s gotten more comfortable in the lineup he’s making more plays,” Cleary said. “He’s a talented little player and tenacious on the puck.”
And because of his play Conner has also moved ahead of Cory Emmerton on the depth chart.
...
“He just works, has energy, blocks shots and competes hard,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s like a dog on a bone on the puck.”

Unlike two other Grand Rapids Griffins that have been called up this season – Fabian Brunnstrom and Gustav Nyquist – Conner is playing during crucial situations, killing off penalties. Conner, who was leading the Griffins in scoring when he was called up, is averaging just over 11 minutes of ice time a game. However, Conner’s days in Detroit may be numbered. Jan Mursak (broken ankle) is expected to return in a few more weeks and Patrick Eaves (broken jaw) is slated to return around mid-January.

“I’m just trying to go out there and do whatever I can,” Conner said. “Use my speed to forecheck and be responsible in my own zone as well. Penalty killing as well, I know that’s what my job is so I’m going out there and doing my best.”
...
“He’s doing a great job, he’s got great speed,” Jimmy Howard said. “He played really well last year for Pitt and he’s doing it again this year for us.”

• Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall reacted to the spate of concussions plaguing the NHL’s top scorers with a few simple comments to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:

“Unbelievable,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said Wednesday.

Kronwall credited the league for doing what it can to prevent concussions, with various preventive measures. But hockey being a sport filled with physical contact — and players becoming bigger and faster — there’s only so much the league can do.

“It’s always going to be a contact sport,” Kronwall said. “It’s tough. I don’t know what you can do to change it. There will always be hits in the game. Sometimes it’s not the guy who hits who is to blame. A player who moves a split-second to avoid the hit and gets hurt even worse. Accidents are going to happen. You just have to limit them as much as possible.”

Kronwall also credits NHL vice president Brendan Shanahan for setting a preventive tone during the exhibition season, showing on video to players on what the league condones and what is illegal.

While Datsyuk doesn’t exactly call his shots like one viral video phenom in Shea Weber, his ability to roof the puck on the backhand seriously impresses his goaltender, as Jimmy Howard told both Kulfan…

Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard sees Pavel Datsyuk ‘s backhand shot daily during practice. Still, he’s so impressed with it, he consider Datsyuk and Crosby as the top backhand shooters in the game.

“He can disguise it so well,” Howard said of Datsyuk, who can roll his wrists on the stick and fake goaltenders into believing he’s going for a different shot.

And MLive’s Ansar Khan:

Howard said it’s difficult to tell where the puck is going on backhand shots like the one Pavel Datsyuk unleashed to score on Marc-Andre Fleury in Tuesday’s 4-1 win in Pittsburgh.

“That’s the one thing that’s so hard about the backhand for a goalie, because it’s one of those shots that’s hard to read,” Howard said. “When a guy’s shooting on his forehand, you can read by the toe of his stick. If it’s open, he’s going blocker side. If it’s closed, he’s shooting glove side. For the most part, when it’s on the backhand, the curve is going the other way, so you have a hard time reading it.”


In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Rockford IceHogs 5-4 in a shootout.

The Grand Rapids Griffins’ website provides a recap, of the wild affair—the Griffins had to rally from 2-1 and 4-3 deficits, and won the shootout when Landon Ferraro, the Griffins’ fifth “regulation” shooter, scored—as well as post-game interviews and a Flickrphoto gallery, and the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema duly notes that the Griffins’ younger players and secondary scorers carried the day.


Also of Red Wings-related note, short version: As I was ill yesterday, I’m sorry for the lateness of this report.

• The Left Wing Lock’s Sarah Lindenau tossed off what seems like an already dated take on Chris Conner’s success with the Wings…

He’s played his role so effectively that he hasn’t allowed rookie forward Cory Emmerton to be inserted back into the line-up. The 6-foot, 190 pound Emmerton was scratched due a decline in play and a series of rookie mistakes thus providing Conner his shot at the line-up.

The Wings only recalled Conner after Fabian Brunnstrom became unavailable due to the birth of his first child. Brunnstrom, who made the team out of training camp, has spent most of his tikme in the press box seeing time in just 5 games for Detroit. The problem with the 6-foot-1, 206 pound Swede is that he needs to play on a scoring line to be effective and he hasn’t been able to establish himself as an NHL forward in a limited role. Now in Grand Rapids, the Wings are hoping he can find his form and provide solid depth later in the season.

With Conner exceeding expectations and Cory Emmerton itching to return to the line-up, the real competition begins once Jan Mursak returns from a fractured ankle injured during a preseason game. The 5-foot-11, 190 pound forward played 19 games for Detroit last season impressing the coaches with his speed, instincts and work ethic. Until the injury, he was a lock to make the roster out of training camp and his return in a few weeks will mean Detroit will have key decisions to make.

Though Mursak’s return will likely send Conner back to Grand Rapids, he isn’t making it easy on the coaching staff. The diminutive forward seems to get more comfortable and effective with each game meaning his AHL stay could be short lived. At the very least, Conner has established himself at the top of the promotion pecking order in the event Detroit needs an extra forward and he’s certainly more than just a veteran presence for the Griffins.

• And prior to last night’s Versus game, which I was burping through (bad tummy), Paul told me that TSN’s Bob McKenzie talked effusively about Wings summer prospect camper and Western Michigan University defenseman Danny Dekeyser, suggesting that many teams are eying the Brad Stuart-style free agent defenseman, but that the Wings may have the edge as Dekeyser went to high school with Trevor (son of Jim) Nill and given that he went to their summer camp, he might be most comfortable with heading to Detroit.

Dekeyser’s only posted 3 goals and 4 assists over the course of 18 games, and has 30 penalty minutes over that span, but the 6’3,” 190-pound (and 20-year-old) defenseman offers all sorts of intangibles in terms of his smart skating, ability to blend an, “I can keep up with Brendan Smith” steady offensive game with again, a sort of Brad Stuart-style nastiness in terms of his physical and steady defensive play, and he’s a vocal and grounded leader.

Dekeyser’s only real visit with the media during the summer camp involved speaking about Jeff Blashill when the Wings hired away WMU’s head coach to serve as one of Mike Babcock’s assistants, but he was quite poised when he was more or less asked to talk about a move that he didn’t even know took place.

He’s not exactly a marquee prospect in the making, but when you can sign a #3/4 defenseman for free, that kind of player is going to garner quite a bit of interest, and I can understand why multiple NHL teams are interested in signing him.


Update: Okey dokey, here are some stories I missed while ill:

• The Morris Daily Herald’s T.G. Smith tosses off another Chicagoan’s perspective on Chris Chelios’s career;

• The CBC’s Tim Wharnsby states the obvious while ranking the Wings 3rd on his list of power rankings:

3. DETROIT RED WINGS (19-9-1): Goalie Jimmy Howard has quietly developed into one of the league’s elite netminders. He leads the NHL with 18 wins. (Last Week: 10)

• If you’re interested, the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame is selling autographed prints of some fantastic artwork featuring Gordie Howe…For $400...

• Nick Barnowski of Nick on Sports did a fantastic job of breaking down the Malkin goal on Tuesday via some freeze frame analysis;

• And NHL.com/TheAHL.com’s Samantha Wood profiles Griffins forward Gustav Nyquist this morning:

Playing over 4,000 miles away from his hometown of Halmstad, Sweden, Grand Rapids Griffins left winger Gustav Nyquist has to improvise when he’s homesick.

“I think obviously me and Andy [Joakim Andersson] have been pretty close together,” he said of the relationship with his Griffins linemate. “We’re both from Sweden and he has a Swedish girlfriend here so it’s kind of nice to sometimes go over to their place and be Swedish for a little bit.”

His off-ice camaraderie with his fellow transplants has translated to impressive numbers for Nyquist. The 2008 fourth-round draft pick by the Detroit Red Wings has blossomed into the AHL’s second-best rookie scorer, posting 9 goals and 27 points in 25 games this season.

(For his part, Andersson is no slouch either, ranking fifth among the Griffins in scoring, with 7 goals and 16 points in 25 games.)

Nyquist made his NHL debut with Detroit on Nov. 1 in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild. Though he stayed off the score sheet, the 22-year-old registered over 11 minutes of ice time in his 13 shifts, including an appearance on the power play.

“I was kind of nervous before the game, but once you get out there and get your first shift, it’s all good,” Nyquist said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t win the game, but it was a great experience for me.”

Update #2: USA Today’s panel has the Wings ranked third in their slate of power rankings, and they also have Jimmy Howard listed as their pick for the best goalie and 5th-best player in the league. Lidstrom’s in third place in their best defenseman’s rankings.

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Comments

bezukov's avatar

Brad Watson + Pekka Rinne = Wings have at least one goal waived off tonight.

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 12/15/11 at 01:30 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Agreed 10,000%.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 12/15/11 at 01:34 PM ET

red_wings_49's avatar

So damn true Bezukov.  But… we can wish for a Christmas miracle…

Posted by red_wings_49 from Mad Heights, MI on 12/15/11 at 03:59 PM ET

SYF's avatar

Brad Watson + Pekka Rinne = Wings have at least one goal waived off tonight.

Posted by bezukov from Celebrating 20 yrs of Hockeytown being > St Louis on 12/15/11 at 11:30 AM ET

Posted by SYF from Alana Blanchard's Bikinis and Surfboards on 12/15/11 at 04:38 PM ET

Chris in Hockey Hell's avatar

<——————-.

Posted by Chris in Hockey Hell from Ann Arbor, MI but LIVING in Columbia, TN on 12/15/11 at 04:53 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Gotta beat Nashville.  Just gotta.  Just pepper Pekka with so many shots that the one called back won’t matter.

LET’S GO RED WINGS !!!!!

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 12/15/11 at 06:28 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.