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The Malik Report

Red Wings-Sabres game-day update: a big debut versus a…not-so-big debut…

Updated 2x at 4:14 PM: As the Detroit Red Wings prepare to face off against the a returning Ryan Miller (update: Possibly? He’s been cleared to return but even NHL.com’s not sure whether Miller or Jonas Enroth will start tonight, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was noncommittal while speaking to the Sabres’ website and WGR 550’s Bill Hamilton believes that Miller will back up Enroth) and the rest of the Buffalo Sabres tonight (7:30 PM EST, FSD/MSG Buffalo/WXYT), the injury-riddled Sabres are both welcoming Miller and Tyler Ennis back into the lineup and are welcoming a rookie who the Buffalo News’s John Vogl can only describe in one manner to the NHL…

The numbers—6-foot-8 and 260 pounds—already tell you Joe Finley is huge. But the Sabres’ newest defenseman stood up on skates while meeting with the media Thursday afternoon and I was right next to him. And let me tell you, he is H.U.G.E. Finley is up from Rochester and will likely pair with Brayden McNabb Friday night while making his NHL debut against the Detroit Red Wings. Not an easy spot. But the 24-year-old, a former No. 1 pick of the Washington Capitals, has overcome serious injuries the last two years and is grateful for the chance.

“I really just took it upon myself to focus on things I can control and that’s trying to play a real simple, solid brand of hockey,” Finley said. “I’ve been fortunate to do that so far. Things are moving in the right direction but there’s a long way to go to being here fulltime, that’s for sure.”

Finley leads the Amerks with a plus-10 rating and 57 penalty minutes this year. He’s been on the No. 1 pair with former Sabre Shaone Morrisonn in a meteoric rise from training camp tryout when coach Lindy Ruff said the Sabres were “test-driving a used car.”

While the Red Wings begin their strangely-planned road trip (see: flying to Buffalo before doubling back to play in Denver on Sunday, flying back east to St. Louis for a Tuesday night game and then heading

back West again to play the Coyotes before returning home to host

home to host Phoenix on Thursday and Winnipeg on Saturday) with a player of a slightly different stature making his debut, as MLive’s Ansar Khan notes:

Chris Conner is hoping his speed and tenacity will make an impression on the Detroit Red Wings, enabling him to earn a regular roster spot with the team. Conner will make his Red Wings debut tonight against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagrara Center (7:30, Fox Sports Net Detroit). He’ll start the game on a line with Darren Helm and Danny Cleary.

“It’s a good opportunity,’’ coach Mike Babcock said today after the morning skate. “I thought he played real well in exhibition. We wanted to look at (Fabian) Brunnstrom and (Cory) Emmerton. We since have decided that he can help our penalty kill and help our tenacity and help our work ethic and our speed. He’s not a big man (5-foot-7, 180) at all but he plays big, he’s hard on pucks. I think he’s going to be a help to us, and with (Danny) Cleary and (Darren) Helm on a line with him, I think that’s a real good opportunity for him to play well.’‘

Conner was recalled from the Grand Rapids Griffins on Wednesday. He replaces Fabian Brunnstrom, whose wife, Sandy, delivered their first child today, Alexander Noah (53 centimeters, 3.3 kilograms—that’s what they said). Conner, 27, leads the Griffins with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 20 games. The Livonia native has 16 goals and 24 assists in 139 career NHL games with Dallas and Pittsburgh.

“I want to come in and do what I can to help the team win, bring some energy and use my speed,’’ Conner said.

So it’s the 5’7” (maybe?) Conner in for Fabian Brunnstrom, who’s played like, well, perhaps what he is—the hockey equivalent of one of those fancy 1985 Mustangs you could buy with decked-out interiors, sporty options galore and a 4-cylinder engine under the hood. Brunnstrom’s both remarkably talented, moose-strong and about as casual as Jiri Hudler was last season, and I’m putting it politely by suggesting that, as the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff noted on Wednesday, Brunnstrom’s more or less played his way off the team.

Khan also reports that Cory Emmerton’s sitting out tonight and that Jimmy Howard’s starting opposite Miller. Fear not, Ty Conklin fans: with five games over the course of the next nine days and 15 games over the course of 30 December days, Conk Block will get his chance in the net soon.

Update: If you’re interested in reading more about Finley’s long and winding road to the NHL, the Niagara Gazette’s Bill Hoppe penned a helluva Finley profile.

Update #2: Here’s what Babcock had to say to the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa about tonight’s game as it pertains to the Wings’ road woes…

The red-hot Red Wings arrived in town on a day off Thursday to play tonight against the Sabres, who have struggled with injuries and to score, so far, this season. The Wings are on a six-game winning streak, while Buffalo is 1-3-1, in the past five, and only 6-7-1 in the renamed Niagara Center, this year.

“We’re five-and-five on the road,” said coach Mike Babcock, after Friday’s morning practice. “We’ve been good at home. We had a real good month, but in saying all of that I think if you look at the standings, we’re within two points of being out of the playoffs. So, the reality of it is, you’ve got to keep on going,” he said. “Now, we’re playing a good Buffalo team that plays a lot like we do, and it’s going to be a good test for us. We got yesterday off. We should be fresh. It should be a good game. We’re excited to have the opportunity to play and get started on the road.”

The Red Wings play 14 of their next 19 games away from home, through January 10.The Wings will start the 5-foot-8 Chris Conner, 27, a native of Westland, tonight, on a line with Darren Helm and Danny Cleary.

“I just want to come in and do anything I can to help the team win, and bring some energy and use my speed,” said Conner, who has 16 goals and 40 points in 139 games, with Dallas and Pittsburgh. “I think that’s a big part of it.”

Conner also will kill penalties.

“We like the way he played in the preseason,” Babcock said. “I think this is a real good opportunity for him.”

Update #3: According to Fox Sports Detroit’s Trevor Thompson, Brunnstrom’s Mrs. gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Alexander this morning.

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RedMenace's avatar

Hey George, pretty sure Miller isn’t playing tonight, unless you have some insider info…

Posted by RedMenace from The Luke Witkowski Fan Club on 12/02/11 at 06:18 PM ET

SYF's avatar

Cawks have 6’8”, 250 lb. John Smith on D as well.

He’s not a big man (5-foot-7, 180)...

Jeebus, would he have a stall next to Happy as well?

Posted by SYF from Twerkin' with Anastasia Ashley on 12/02/11 at 06:24 PM ET


I think the Phoenix game is here.

Posted by Tim on 12/02/11 at 06:31 PM ET

Nathan's avatar

Fear not, Ty Conklin fans

Wait, there are Ty Conklin fans? I guess those people haven’t watched hockey this season. wink

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 12/02/11 at 06:45 PM ET

WingedRider's avatar

Buffalo site says Enroth will start and Miller will dress as backup.  Conklin Fans, hmm??

Conner may be the same size as Hudler but he is faster, aggressive and can fore check, enuf said about that comparison.

Posted by WingedRider from Saskatoon, SK on 12/02/11 at 07:00 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Sorry about the road trip thing. It’s my first post in a long time. As for Miller, nobody seems to know whether he’s starting or not.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 12/02/11 at 07:02 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I’m a bit baffled as NHL.com says he might start. I tried to post what I could find in my edit. Sorry—I’m rusty.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 12/02/11 at 07:03 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

...the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff noted on Wednesday, Brunnstrom’s more or less played his way off the team.

I’d be interested in what Duff might say after Wednesday’s game because I thought Fabian played very well. Ken and Micky both commented on it.

As for Conner, I hated that pesky little SOB when he played for the Pens, so it’ll be nice to see what he can do for us instead of against us. At this point, It wouldn’t upset me if the Wings traded Happy for someone and kept Conner in the lineup. But that may change by 10:00 tonight. smile

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 12/02/11 at 07:07 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.