The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/26/11 at 08:51 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings face off against the Buffalo Sabres tonight (7 PM, FSD/MSG-B/WXYT) hoping to break a two-game losing streak without the services of Brian Rafalski, possibly without the services of Johan Franzen (if his wife delivers the couple’s first child two days early), and, if all goes well, Mike Modano and Valtteri Filppula playing on a line alongside Tomas Holmstrom.
The Wings face a Sabres team whose 4-2 victory over Ottawa on Friday night did little more than give them a 2-and-3 record going into the final game of a 6-game home stand and allowed the Sabres to remain in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, so while the Sabres have won two games in a row, they’re not going into tonight’s game with anything less than the same levels of urgency and “our playoff hopes are on the line” desperation that the Wings’ past two opponents—and just about every opponent from here on out—displayed and will display.
The Sabres talked about already playing with a playoff-like level of intensity after defeating Ottawa, as the Associated Press’s recap of said game notes:
“Often times it’s not going to be pretty,” said Buffalo forward Mike Grier, who opened the scoring with a breakaway goal 6 minutes into the game. “You’re going to have find different ways to get goals, get pucks to the net, and play well defensively. If we can win games 2-1 or 3-2, we’ll take it at this time of the year.”
Despite the win, the ninth-place Sabres were unable to gain ground on eighth-place Carolina. The Hurricanes defeated Pittsburgh to remain three points in front of the Sabres. Jochen Hecht and Thomas Vanek also scored to help the Sabres improve to 2-3 on their season-high six-game homestand.
“We have to keep putting pressure on teams,” said [Cody] McCormick, who posted his third multi-point game of the season. “If we can make them make turnovers, we can capitalize on it.”
[Ryan] Miller helped preserve the win with a terrific pad save on Nick Foligno’s attempt from the slot with 39 seconds left in regulation. Vanek then capped the scoring 7 seconds later with an empty-net goal, his 23rd of the season.
Miller stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced on Friday night, and he told the Buffalo News’s Mike Harrington that anything less than a win against the Wings is plain old unacceptable for a team that has to make hay while the home-stand sun shines:
It’s a quick turnaround for the Sabres, who stay home to meet the Detroit Red Wings tonight at 7 in the arena in the final game of their six-game homestand. A win could get the Sabres even on the stand at 3-3.
“Obviously you think in the back of your mind it’s not good enough,” said Miller, who was again sharp with 29 saves. “But from where we put ourselves, it’s got to be good enough. You always work from the point you’re at.”
Harrington notes that the Sabres are still basking in the glow of the enthusiasm surrounding new Sabres owner Terry Pegula’s official acquisition of the team…
Pegula watched from the owner’s box and he spent much of the night with injured center Derek Roy and French Connection legend Rene Robert, whose estrangement from the team ended when he skated to center ice with linemates Rick Martin and Gilbert Perreault to welcome Pegula to town Wednesday.
On Thursday night, Pegula and his family hosted a huge party at the Pearl Street Grill for the team’s players, coaches, staff and spouses/significants. Not your normal in-season night off.
But Harrington duly notes that the Sabres will face a Wings team that is…ornery:
The Detroit Red Wings hit town for tonight’s game in HSBC Arena second in the Western Conference and third in the NHL’s overall standings. But here’s some bad news for the Buffalo Sabres: The Red Wings figure to be in a surly mood. The Wings have lost two games in a row—both at home—and will be trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak in regulation all season. Maybe the road is a good antidote: Detroit has won four straight and is 6-1 in its last seven games away from Joe Louis Arena. The Wings are just 7-9-2 at home since early December.
“You can’t have success unless you’re dominant at home,” coach Mike Babcock said after Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Dallas. “If I could explain it, I’d straighten it out.”
Tonight’s game starts a five-game road trip for the Wings, who leave Buffalo and head west for games at Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose and Phoenix. For the season, Detroit is 17-10-4 at home and 20-8-2 on the road, one point off the league lead for road points.
“Maybe we’re fortunate going on the road,” Babcock said. “Maybe we can get our act together.”
The Sabres expect to start Ryan Miller opposite Joey MacDonald, who Babcock simply suggested was “in the rotation” as the Wings will be the ones facing a strange turnaround—via a flight back to Detroit on Saturday night before hopping on Red Bird II to spend Sunday in transit to Los Angeles. Monday night’s game will kick off a stretch of four games over the course of six nights, all against teams chasing the Wings in the Western Conference, including a San Jose Sharks team that now sits only two points back of the Wings (next Saturday’s opponent, the Coyotes, are 5 points behind the Wings), so it’s not as if the Wings don’t have to keep winning and keep winning regularly, lest they find themselves suddenly swimming amidst a pack of ten teams separated by ten points, the Sharks included.
They simply have to get their butts back in gear against Miller and the Sabres. BuffaloSabres.com’s Rob Crean both notes that Miller, a notorious Wing-killer, has played spectacular hockey of late…
For the fifth straight game, Ryan Miller allowed fewer than three goals, and his biggest save of the night also resulted in his first point of the season. Miller finished with 29 saves on 31 shots, including a stop coming in the closing seconds when he got his right leg on a point blank shot by Nick Foligno from the slot as Buffalo was clinging to a 3-2 lead. Seconds later, Thomas Vanek scored an empty net goal to secure the victory as Miller picked up an assist. Over the last five games, Miller has posted a 1.83 goals against average and a .945 save percentage.
And he sets up tonight’s game as follows:
The Sabres get right back to work as they close out their season-long six-game homestand on Saturday by welcoming the Detroit Red Wings to HSBC Arena. Although the Sabres and Wings don’t play often, this will be the fourth straight year that Detroit has traveled to Buffalo after not visiting HSBC Arena at all during the two previous seasons. Henrik Zetterberg leads the team in scoring with 66 points (18-48-66) while Johan Franzen has scored a team-high 26 goals and goaltender Jimmy Howard ranks 1st among all NHL netminders with 30 wins on the season. Ryan Miller’s younger brother, Drew, is a forward for Detroit and has registered 4-8-12 in 54 games.
Big story—The Wings, one of the NHL’s best road teams, start a five-game trip after a pair of disappointing home losses this week. The Sabres will be right behind them—this concludes a six-game homestand for the Sabres, who need the win because they play the next seven on the road.
Sabres [team scope]—More crash and less flash has helped the Sabres find their game. After losing the first three games of their six-game homestand, Buffalo has outhit and outhustled Atlanta (4-1 on Wednesday) and Ottawa (4-2 on Friday) to get within three points of eighth-place Carolina with two games in hand.
Who’s hot—After a poor showing in a 7-6 overtime loss to the Islanders on Feb. 13, Ryan Miller hasn’t allowed more than two goals in his next five starts. Thomas Vanek has points in three consecutive games.
Injury report—Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski will miss the game with back spasms. Patrick Eaves (groin) didn’t make the trip. … Sabres forward Derek Roy suffered a season-ending leg injury but the rest of the team is healthy.
Stat pack—Detroit has won 11 of the last 14 meetings between the teams.
The most obvious angle regarding this game involves the Ryan Miller-vs-Drew Miller scenario, and the Free Press’s Helene St. James reports that the siblings will play in front of an assembled cast of family and friends (so let’s assume that Miller will dress and play alongside Darren Helm and one of Justin Abdelkader or Kris Draper on the fourth line):
Red Wings forward Drew Miller said his parents were to drive Friday from East Lansing to Buffalo, where tonight they’ll get the rare chance to see him and his older brother, Ryan Miller, who plays for the Sabres.
“They’re actually going to be in Buffalo for the game, them and my little brother and sister,” Drew said. “They get to see us play at the same time. Usually they have two TVs going. It’s fun for them.”
Drew is 2-1 against Ryan, having beaten him while with Anaheim, lost to him early last season while with Tampa Bay, and then beat him at the Joe last season. He has never scored on him, though — “except in the summer. It’d be fun to get one in one of the games.”
Miller told the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan that the brothers don’t have anything other than bragging rights hanging upon tonight’s result...
There hasn’t been any trash talk or predictions or bets, but …“Just regular stuff,” said Drew, who like his brother, played at Michigan State. “He’s just concentrating on their team, making that push and getting above the eighth (and final playoff) spot, and being ready for a long stretch. They have a lot of work to do and he’s preparing for that.”
And Kulfan segues into the main topic of discussion during Friday’s practice updates—the Wings hope that both Mike Modano and Valtteri Filppula will return tonight, but it’s not just Patrick Eaves’ “lower body injury” (he won’t accompany the Wings on their road trip) or Brian Rafalski’s back spasms (he will) that are keeping the revolving personnel door spinning at a relatively rapid rate:
Johan Franzen is planning to play tonight … maybe. Franzen’s wife, Cecilia , is expecting the couple’s first child, likely this weekend.
So, if there’s no delivery tonight, the plan is for Franzen to return to Detroit after the game while his teammates head to California for Monday’s game in Los Angeles. Franzen expects to rejoin the team for Wednesday’s game in Anaheim.
“He’s having his first one,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s as special as it comes.”
Ruslan Salei’s wife is also due to have the couple’s third child sometime this upcoming week, so the Wings will need Rafalski to get back into the lineup sooner than later, and Chris Osgood’s wife is due at the end of March.
Regarding the injury part of the revolving door, the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness provides three updates...
Brian Rafalski did not make the trip to Buffalo, suffering from back spasms. He will rejoin the team in Los Angeles. The spasms began in the first period Thursday against Dallas.
“We were able to keep it somewhat loose, just trying to rest it to make sure it doesn’t get any worse,” he said. “It’s not that bad.”
Filppula is expected to play.
“I feel good,” he said Friday. “Hopefully it feels in the morning, that’s always the biggest thing, how it feels the next morning.”
Darren Helm didn’t practice due to a sore foot. Helm, who expects to play tonight, sustained the injury after blocking a shot on the penalty kill Thursday.
So given the high likelihood that the Wings will dress an interim defensive lineup consisting of Nicklas Lidstrom paired with Brad Stuart, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson playing together for the moment and Ruslan Salei mentoring Jakub Kindl, but are without a highly prolific point producer from the blueline, they’re hoping that Modano and Filppula will make up for the lack of offense and breakout issues that might result from Rafalski’s absence.
Modano spoke at length to the press about his hopes of contributing while setting up both a long playoff run and, possibly, anyway, a return engagement with the Wings, but Pleiness was the only one to note Modano’s comments about his hopes to mesh well with Filppula, who struggled mightily prior to his MCL injury:
“Me and Fil are pretty interchangeable,” Modano said. “Holmstrom, what you see if what you get, he’s a great net guy, hopefully we can get the puck there and let him do the rest. I’m sure there’s going to be some moments where I’m sucking some wind and hurting a little bit,” Modano added. “It’s just the nature of the beast. You just haven’t been out there as long, a lot of things happening you’ve got to adjust to when you get in the game. Until you get out there, get in some traffic, in a competitive nature, I guess that’ll tell.”
Modano likes the fact he’s got 20 games to play in before the postseason.
“That was basically all the motivation I needed to push it really hard and see if I could get back quicker than they thought I would or expecting to,” Modano said. “It’s going to be a little bit of a grind, but certainly the fact that there was some excitement at the end, I think that was … the opportunity we have here certainly is exciting. To be a part of that, be a part of the playoffs in Detroit with this team, that’s going to be the exciting part.”
With Jiri Hudler still offering up-and-down play alongside a strong Danny Cleary-Pavel Datsyuk pairing and Johan Franzen attempting to shake himself out of a goal-scoring slump as Henrik Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi continue to mesh, the Wings will definitely get an offensive and energy boost from Modano and Filppula, especially as Holmstrom looked to have regained his goalie-pestering, puck-retrieving form in Thursday night’s loss against the Stars…
But Modano’s best contribution to the Wings’ lineup might be his ability to both allow Helm and whoever he plays with (I’m guessing Abdelkader and Miller for the moment, and then Abdelkader and Eaves when Eaves recovers from his “lower body injury”) to go full-tilt playing a more physical game, and, perhaps moreover, to supplement Helm’s line in terms of defensive reliability.
The Wings have been able to toss Helm over the boards when the Wings’ defensive game lapsed, and when Modano finally got into game shape right before he was hurt, he offered much more than offensive panache and the ability to substitute on the point on the power play—Modano’s greatest contribution was his ability to win faceoffs and use his size and speed to defend, match up against top forwards, and even play on the penalty-killing unit, and I fully believe that the combination of Stuart and Modano’s returns should help the Wings’ defensive game return to its early-season form.
That being said, nothing’s guaranteed, and after the past two outings, the Wings can’t fall into the trap of assuming that their returning players will carry them, especially given that it’ll take a good two weeks for Modano and Filppula to get up to full speed, and the entire team needs to play harder, faster and pay more attention to detail than they did against the Sharks and Stars if they hope to right the ship on a collective basis while tangling with a gritty, defensively-oriented Sabres team whose goalie absolutely loves shutting the Wings down whenever he gets the chance to do so.
Tonight’s game won’t be determined by Modano or Filppula’s returns or Rafalski’s absence—it will come down to the Wings’ ability to counter the Sabres’ stifling defense with strong puck movement, a superb transition game and sustained possession and control of the puck in the offensive zone. The Wings can’t keep trading one-and-done scoring opportunities with opponents they allow to roar back down the ice on odd-man rushes, and again, while they might not be able to match the Sabres’ desperation tonight, if the Wings don’t get themselves “sorted out” and get back on a winning track, their margin for error in the Western Conference will become perilously thin, especially if they lose the majority of their games against their pursuers next week.
The collective self-steadying has to start tonight.
Per the NHL’s media website, Mike Leggo and Don VanMassenhoven will referee tonight’s game, with Scott Cherrey and Brad Kovachik working the lines.
This morning’s other “big story”: on Friday night, Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika noted Red Wings GM Ken Holland’s take as to why so many GM’s have already made their trade deadline acquisitions (see: parity), and this morning, he tells the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan that he simply doesn’t plan on making a move given the Wings’ cap situation and Chris Osgood’s health:
“We don’t expect to be very active,” Holland said.
The Red Wings have around $570,000 available under the cap. A long list of injuries forced Holland to bring up players from Grand Rapids, further cutting into the $750,000 team officials originally had planned to use at this time.
The only issue that would change the Red Wings’ approach would be the health of backup goaltender Chris Osgood, who has been out since Jan. 11 after undergoing sports hernia surgery. While Osgood has begun on-ice workouts, his health is of great importance to starting goaltender Jimmy Howard, especially with an inexperienced Joey MacDonald as the team’s only other goaltending option.
“But Chris is optimistic and upbeat and he’s happy with the progress he’s making,” Holland said. “If that were to change in the next few days, that could affect our thinking (about trades). But anticipate Chris playing again here soon.”
Osgood hopes to return to the lineup around the end of the Wings’ five-game road trip (read: during the second full week of March), and Holland reiterates the Wings’ deadline philosophy of late—there’s no point in overpaying for interim replacements anymore, especially when you can overbuild your team during the summer for nothing more than the price of players’ contracts:
“We couldn’t continue to stay on that path,” Holland said of trading away picks for rentals. “We had an incredible run. But we needed to change and we’ve been able to maintain.”
Also of Red Wings-related note:
• In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Lake Erie Monsters 5-3, with Jordan Pearce stopping 34 of the 37 shots he faced. The Griffins’ website notes that the Griffins now sit only 3 points behind the Monsters for the last playoff spot in the North Division, and the two teams will tangle again on Saturday, so the Griffins have some hay of their own to make.
• In the ECHL, Thomas McCollum and the Toledo Walleye droped an by an 8-5 loss to the Kalamazoo K-Wings. Willie Coetzee registered a goal and an assist in the loss, but the Walleye’s website’s recap reports that McCollum was pulled after 2 periods of play, giving up 6 goals on 33 shots against, though coach Nick Vitucci suggested to the Toledo Blade’s Mark Monroe that the loss was a team effort;
• Family obligations prevented me from watching Red Wings prospect Petr Mrazek play in the Metro Detroit area over the past two nights. On Thursday, Mrazek and the Ottawa 67’s lost a 4-3 decision to the Windsor Spitfires, with Mrazek stopping 30 shots, and on Friday, Mrazek sat out a 4-3 loss to the Plymouth Whalers;
• Also in the prospect department, the Portland Press-Herald’s Rachel Lenzi reports that University of Maine forward Gustav Nyquist left Friday night’s game against Merrimack after getting hit head-first into the boards, but he’s OK;
• Shifting focus to the NBA as it applies to Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch’s failed bid for the Detroit Pistons, the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa reports that Tom Gores’ exclusive period of negotiations with the Pistons has expired, but will be extended;
• Also regarding the NBA as it applies to the Red Wings, wings forward Henrik Zetterberg, defenseman Niklas Kronwall and captain Nicklas Lidstrom are featured in Nike Sportswear Sweden’s final English-language profile of Detroit Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko;
• Back in the NHL, TSN’s Scott Cullen posted awards picks at the three-quarters pole, suggesting that Nicklas Lidstrom remains the odds-on favorite for the Norris Trophy;
• And, finally, the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff spoke to Mike Modano about Brad Richards’ situation in Dallas, and Modano offered this tidbit regarding his opportunity to leave the Stars at last year’s trade deadline:
The face of the Stars until this season, when he signed as a free agent with the Detroit Red Wings, at last season’s NHL trade deadline, Modano was the guy headed toward UFA status who teams were seeking to pluck from the Dallas roster.
“(Stars GM) Joe (Nieuwendyk) approached me and said that Washington was really interested at the time, and in Boston, there was some interest there,” Modano recalled. “I felt at the time that Dallas was kind of almost in the same position that they are now, right around that eighth seed. A couple of wins and you jump forward. So I figured, ‘I’ve got a chance here, an opportunity.’ I think if we were out of the picture, I may have thought about doing something like that.” Modano didn’t know at the time that the Stars would not be offering him a new contract. “Not until over the summer,” he said. “I was a little upset about it.”
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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.