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Red Wings-Sabres set-up: chasing history and/or two points (and yes, more Winter Classic talk)

The Detroit Red Wings begin perhaps the trickiest portion of their grinding January schedule by kicking off a back-to-back slate of games against banged-up teams in the Buffalo Sabres tonight (7:30 PM EST, FSD/MSG B—and if you have Time-Warner Cable in Buffalo, I’m sorry /WXYT) and in Dallas against the Stars tomorrow (8:30 PM EST, FSD/FS Southwest/WXYT) before heading to Phoenix for another grudge match against the Coyotes on Thursday and returning home to tangle with Columbus on Saturday.

Tonight’s challenge for the Red Wings involves both not letting up against an injury-plagued non-playoff team in the Sabres and attempting to establish a team record via a 15th straight win at Joe Louis Arena. To some extent, the Sabres, who sit in twelfth place in the Eastern Conference, have lost seven of their past ten games and have lost 8 straight on the road, represent the perfect opponent. The Sabres dropped a 4-2 decision to the Islanders on Saturday, and a team which is already playing without Christian Ehrhoff, Colin Stuart and Tyler Ennis suffered a few more blows on Long Island, as the Buffalo News’s John Vogl noted:

—-Thomas Vanek’s jaw and eye were evaluated and he has no broken bones in the wake of getting struck by a Jochen Hecht shot Saturday on Long Island. Vanek, who is still trying to overcome the flu, finished that game wearing a full cage and [Sabres coach Lindy] Ruff said he didn’t know if that would continue Monday.

“That will be based on Thomas’ own preference, on how tender the area is,” Ruff said.

—-Defenseman Robyn Regehr is staying on the road with the team but is likely to miss all four games this week with the upper-body injury he suffered Saturday night. Ruff is hopeful,  but not yet certain, that Andrej Sekera can slide back into the lineup tomorrow in Regehr’s place.

—-Jordan Leopold was also battling the flu last night but still managed to play 25 minutes, 41 seconds.  Tyler Myers (31:05) and Mike Weber (26:58) were forced into huge minutes because of the Regehr injury and the spotty play of Marc-Andre Gragnani and Joe Finley. The Buffalo defense was guilty of several grievous turnovers Ruff said simply can’t happen.

“When you throw people into bigger minutes, you see how that can impact their game,” said Ruff.  “We need better play. Our puck management has to be a lot better. We threw some pucks into the middle that were point-blank opporutnities. We won’t be able to get away with that stuff [Monday].”

The Sabres have received spotty goaltending from tonight’s probable starter, East Lansing’s Ryan Miller (Jhonas Enroth tended the net against the Islanders), but the Buffalo News’s Mike Harrington notes that the Sabres have issues at the other end of the ice, too:

The Sabres have lost eight games in a row in regulation on the road for the first time in their history and it’s largely because they sit dead-last in the NHL in road goals (36) and per-game average (1.9). Once 8-3 on enemy ice, the Sabres are now 8-11. And tonight in Joe Louis Arena, they meet the Detroit Red Wings. They are a juggernaut that is on a 14-game winning streak at home and sits one win from breaking the franchise record. Great timing.

Things stay equally tough the rest of the week as the road trip continues with games Wednesday in Chicago, Thursday in Winnipeg and Saturday in St. Louis. Combined home record of those four teams entering Sunday? A mere 65-18-9.
...
The Sabres haven’t won on the road since Dec. 3 in Nashville and have been outscored, 31-12, during the eight losses. No. 8 was Saturday’s 4-2 defeat to the New York Islanders, Buffalo’s sixth of the season against the teams currently ranked 13th-15th in the Eastern Conference (Carolina, the Islanders and Tampa Bay).

“It’s all about getting to the inside more,” coach Lindy Ruff said Sunday. “Scoring a goal [on a deflection] like Pat Kaleta got on the Island. Getting rebound opportunities. We have to be able to create more. There were pockets of really good inside play [Saturday] night but there haven’t been enough of them.”
...
Buffalo is tied for last in the league with just seven road power-play goals and ranks 23rd in efficiency at 14 percent.
...
t’s a huge challenge to keep up with the Red Wings’ balanced attack, as they lead the league in home scoring at 3.9 per game.

“They’ve been a great team at home,” Ruff said. “We’re gonna really need one heck of an effort. We just have to try to win a period of hockey and play smart. Be disciplined, don’t give them the power-play opportunities and odd-man rushes to do damage. We know they’ll try to put a lot of heat on us. Our puck management has to be a lot better. We threw some pucks into the middle that were point-black opportunities [Saturday]. We won’t be able to get away with that stuff against Detroit.”

Ryan Miller isn’t the only Sabre who’ll have extra motivation to perform as former Wings farmhand Matt Ellis and Oxford, MI native Nathan Gerbe are excited about returning to Detroit as well, but Harrington noted that the Sabres have some serious statistics stacked up against them in terms of attempting to spoil the Wings’ home-ice party:

On their way to a 12th straight 100-point season, the Red Wings are 17-2-1 overall at home and haven’t lost here since Nov. 3 against Calgary. Oddly enough, they’re just 11-13-0 on the road, which includes their 4-1 win over the Sabres on Dec. 2 in First Niagara Center.

The Sabres are just 1-7-2 in their last 10 trips here, winning only via shootout on Oct. 13, 2006.

Detroit has beaten 12 teams during its home streak, posting two wins over St. Louis and Phoenix. The NHL record for consecutive home wins is 20, by the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and the 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers. The Red Wings already own the NHL mark for consecutive road wins, with 12 in 2005-06.

Some more facts on the Wings’ current run at home:

* They’ve outscored opponents, 62-21, while winning three games by shutout.

* Nine of the 14 victories have been by three or more goals, including an 8-2 drubbing of Los Angeles and a 7-1 whacking of Winnipeg.

* Only three of the wins have been by one goal. Two of those have been in the last four days, Thursday’s shootout win over Phoenix and the Chicago game.

* The Wings are 12 of 52 on the power play (23.1 percent) and have killed off 39 of 47 penalties (83 percent).

NHL.com’s David Harper’s preview serves as our pivot point between the Sabres’ and Red Wings’ perspectives:

Big Story: The struggling Sabres enter Detroit looking for any sort of momentum, but a victory won’t come easily against a Red Wings team that has won 14 in a row at Joe Louis Arena. With 57 points, Detroit is fifth in the West after a 3-2 overtime win over Chicago on Saturday - the second OT win over the Blackhawks in a week—but just one point out of first place in the three-way scramble for the lead in the Central Division. The Sabres began a seven-game trip with a 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday.
...
Who’s Hot: Pavel Datsyuk set up both Detroit regulation goals Saturday, and has six assists in his last six games.

Injury Report: Few on Buffalo’s bench have avoided the injury bug. Brayden McNabb (concussion) and Robyn Regehr (upper body) are questionable for Monday’s game. Christian Ehrhoff (upper body), Andrej Sekera (upper body), Colin Stuart (lower body), Tyler Ennis (left ankle) and Corey Tropp (upper body) are on injured reserve. … Detroit’s Mike Commodore (bruised left ankle) is questionable, while Patrick Eaves (broken jaw) is out indefinitely.

Stat Pack: A trip to Detroit is a homecoming for [Ryan] Miller, who is expected to get the start in the state where he grew up and starred for Michigan State. However, Miller is just 2-5-2 with a 3.30 goals-against average in nine career matchups with Detroit. He’s also struggled on the road, losing his last six decisions with a 3.45 GAA.

The Wings don’t usually practice on Sunday, but they held a special practice for season ticket-holders, and after said practice, Wings coach Mike Babcock spoke about the team’s winning streak with MLive’s Ansar Khan, suggesting that making history doesn’t matter as much as capturing two points does given the Central Division dogfight the Wings happen to be participating in:

“I want to win tomorrow. For me, that’s how simple it is,’’ coach Mike Babcock said after practice today at Joe Louis Arena. “It’s always nice to have streaks and all that, but you need to get two points. All you got to do is look at the standings. If you don’t keep winning in our division, you have a way to fall out of things in a hurry. That’s what it’s about, that’s what our focus has to be. We got to continue to get points at home.’‘

The Red Wings have won 14 in a row at home, equaling the franchise mark set in 1964-65. But they haven’t separated themselves from the pack in the division. St. Louis and Chicago are tied for first place with 58 points, one more than Detroit. Nashville is just four points out of first.

The Sabres are struggling, having gone 9-15-5 since a 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Nov. 12. That’s the game in which goaltender Ryan Miller suffered a concussion on a controversial hit from Milan Lucic. Miller is back and expected to start for the Sabres. If so, he’ll be playing against his brother, Drew, for the first time in two years.

“I’m not 100-perecnt sure he’s playing, but I think the rotation worked out that he’s playing,’’ Drew Miller said of his brother.

The Wings also feel a little detached from their history-making aspirations given that they’ve just finished up a stretch of 14-out-of-19 games played away from Joe Louis Arena, as noted by the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...

“We haven’t been at home that often,” Danny Cleary said. “The streak feels weird. It’s been so separated. That whole December and January run we weren’t at home (the Wings were on the road for 14 of 19 games), so it’s been kind of weird. But before the season we talked about being better at home, that was a focus. No one in here has really talked about it (the streak).”

The Wings were an average 21-14-6 at Joe Louis Arena last season, and as Cleary said, JLA fans let the Wings hear their displeasure after several home losses last season.

“You get booed once at home, OK, but it happened four or five times for certain. It was embarrassing,” Cleary said. “As a team we said we have to play better at home and this should be a harder building to play in like it used to be.”

Considering the quality of teams the Wings have had just over the past two decades, setting this particular record would be a nice accomplishment for this group.

“When you think of it and the teams we’ve had in the 1990s and early 2000s, we’ve had some great teams,” said Nicklas Lidstrom, who was part of those star-studded, Hall of Fame-caliber rosters. “We should be proud of our home record, but we want to build on it.”

Cleary told the Free Press’s Carlos Monarrez that the Wings haven’t actually had the time to ponder the gravity of their position…

“No one’s ever talked about,” forward Danny Cleary said Sunday. “It’s never even been in anybody’s heads until you (reporters) bring it up or you hear eight, nine, 10 (straight wins).”

The Wings haven’t lost at home since Nov. 3, but the vagaries of the schedule have spread out the home wins and haven’t given the players much of a streaky feeling.

“I just think the streak feels weird because it’s been so separated, so spread out,” Cleary said. “If you’ve got a six-game home stand, you’re banging them out in a row.”

Cleary said he doesn’t expect anyone to mention the streak today.

“I’ve got to be honest with you, no one talks about setting anything or what we can do,” he said. “Honestly, the approach is the old cliché: just another home game, an important game in the standings.”

And while Nicklas Lidstrom was more than willing to discuss the Wings’ possible accomplishment at hand with the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...

“It’s been a long one,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “It’s pretty amazing we’ve been able to get 14 in a row, especially at this age. Wins are hard to get. We’ve been playing real well at home. We’ve been more aggressive at home, kind of going after teams,” Lidstrom added. “It’s been a good record. We want to continue playing well at home.”
...
“Our overall performance from last year was something we wanted to change, especially defensively,” Lidstrom said. “Cut the goals against down and play better defensively. You want to play well in front of your home fans. You want the fans to come back. We got booed a couple of times because we deserved it,” Lidstrom continued. “That’s something you don’t want to have happen in front of your home fans.”

Lidstrom made sure to mention that the Wings haven’t exactly steamrolled their competition of late…

The last two wins have come via shootout and in overtime respectively.

“We want to play better, keep teams off the scoreboard and play a more sound game both defensively and offensively,” Lidstrom said. “That’s something we work on everyday. If we happen to win in overtime or a shootout we’re still coming out with points.”

And Babcock hammered home the biggest reason why the Wings want to win tonight—their one and three-point deficits in terms of chasing the Blues and Blackhawks, respectively:

“If you don’t keep winning in our division, you have a way to fall out of things in a heck of a hurry,” Babcock said. “That’s what it’s about, that’s what our focus has to be. We got to continue to get points at home.”

And the Wings aren’t discounting the Sabres’ ability to win tonight for a second, either:

“The standings probably don’t show the kind of team they are,” Babcock said. “They’re healthier now and they’re going to be a handful. They play fast, I like the way they play.”

 

Part II: More Winter Classic talk: As the University of Michigan defeated Ohio State University at Cleveland’s Progressive Field ballpark on Sunday, U of M athletic director Dave Brandon spoke to the Free Press’s George Sipple about the NHL having approached the university about hosting the 2013 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium, but he emphasized that the event isn’t a sure thing;

“When we were approached, I thought, ‘Could be a great opportunity, but boy does it have a lot of complications.’ And I still feel that way. They play on Jan. 1st. It’s a holiday. It’s long after our stadium is closed up. Everybody is out of town, and in fact I hope a lot of people are at a bowl game and watching our football team. So there’s a lot of complications as it relates to that. We’re still having conversations, and we’ll see if we can work something out. But it’s still a work in progress.”

Being able to sell alcohol at Michigan Stadium is another issue that would have to be addressed.

“It’s an issue,” Brandon said. “And it’s not easy. It’s just something we have to come up with a plan and work through if we could ever make it work. More of a university issue and a state-law issue. This is not a venue that has a liquor license to operate on a day-in and day-out basis like a lot of other sporting venues. So, there are processes we would need to go through that could potentially give us that flexibility, but it’s something we’ve never done.”

Brandon said if the event were held there, it would be a total NHL issue, and he ruled out the possibility of the Michigan hockey team being involved in a separate game there.

“The reality is, this is very much an NHL event,” Brandon said. “They control it, they market it and that’s the way they do business.”

If the Wings do indeed hope to host a Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park as a sort of charitable bone thrown by the NCAA and NHL for not actually holding the Winter Classic itself in Detroit, they’ve got a problem in that Brandon doesn’t want to take part in it unless it’s a moneymaker for the university:

“A lot of it to me would be up to the coaches,” Brandon said. “I’d want to understand how many tickets would we sell. If you’re playing out in the cold and the wind in December and there’s nobody there and you’ve got Joe Louis Arena around the corner empty, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If you can put together an event that’s really big and really exciting and it would be special for our kids, then it’s more interesting.”

His bottom line is a simple one:

“There’s so many rumors and so much misinformation flying around about this,” Brandon said. “People are all lathered up to try and figure out what’s going on and the reality is we don’t know yet.”

 

Part III: Red Wings notebooks: If you missed it on Sunday, the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness posted a slate of mid-season player grades. Here’s a sampling of a few of TMR readers’ favorite players:

Johan Franzen (B+): 17 goals, 20 assists, +21 – The classic streaky-goal scorer is at it again; Wings see a 40-goal potential power forward in him, but a stretch of eight straight games without a goal and just two assists cooled things off.
...
Jiri Hudler (A-): 12 goals, 15 assists, +1 – Has reaped the benefits from playing on one of the Wings’ top two lines as well as seeing time on the power play; already a bounce-back year for him.
...
Jonathan Ericsson (B-): 1 goal, 7 assists, +14 – Developing into a pretty steady third pair defenseman; hasn’t been an offensive threat like the Wings had hoped.

• The Free Press’s Carlos Monarrez, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan and Pleiness covered the fact that this time around we should expect Drew Miller to play against his brother, but Kulfan reported that the entire Miller family won’t be in attendance for Monday’s game:

For the first time in about two years, Drew Miller might finally get an opportunity to play against his brother Ryan , the Sabres goalie and former Michigan State star (like Drew). Drew was scratched from a game against the Sabres last season. Earlier this season, Ryan suffered a concussion just before facing the Red Wings. But Ryan is expected to start Monday, which is good news for Drew and the Miller family, who were planning to get together for Sunday dinner.

“My dad is out of town, but my mother and brother and sister are coming down, and we’ll hang out and have dinner and I’ll drop him back off at the hotel,” Drew Miller said.

Drew, incidentally, expected to pick up the tab for dinner.

“He does a lot so you don’t always want to put it all on him,” Drew Miller said.

• I stuck this one in the Sunday post as an update and The Chief discussed it at length, so I’d prefer to focus on another angle from the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff’s story about Jimmy Howard’s maturation into an All-Star-caliber goaltender.

Howard deserves tons of credit for working his tail off to improve his positioning, conditioning and mental acuity during his tenure with the Wings, but it’s worth noting that the Wings’ organization worked their tails off developing Howard into an NHL netminder. The team more or less drafted Howard and were bound and determined to make him their first in-house goaltender who would progress from draft pick to starting goaltender since Chris Osgood (a 1991 draft pick).

They picked an incredibly athletic but slightly, and self-admittedly pudgy goaltender (by athlete’s standards, not “real people standards”; Howard’s 210-plus pound physique was not all muscle when the Wings drafted him) whose style could best be described as that of a late-90’s “flopper” goaltender, and they invested what probably add up to thousands of goalie coach Jim Bedard’s time doing everything from improving Howard’s hand positioning, trying to get him to not bite on dekes and flail (he still does that sometimes on breakaways) out of position, changing his stick length to prevent Howard from hunching over as much as he used to and obviously teaching him how to eat and train like a professional athlete, and yet Howard wasn’t exactly considered a blue-chip prospect when the Wings more or less had to jettison Ty Conklin and allow a goaltender whose AHL stats were less than stellar join the big club because the Wings were afraid of losing him on waivers three seasons ago.

As Wings assistant GM Jim Nill told Duff, Howard was very much so a work in progress

“He’s always been a very good athlete,” Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “The only question about him has always been his conditioning. He made a commitment to be in better condition, and that has helped his game.”

With each season, Howard refined his technique, improved his positioning and harnessed his rebound control.

“He has figured out how to always be there,” Nill said. “That’s a good sign for a goalie when they aren’t always flopping around, trying to make a dramatic save.”

It’s safe to say that Howard has grown from prospect, to suspect, to the real deal.

“What we have seen with him is the evolution of a goalie,” Detroit GM Ken Holland said.

At several points during Howard’s development, the Wings really wondered whether Joey MacDonald would develop into a better goaltender than Howard, or that Howard would serve as a bridge to Thomas McCollum (who’s fallen out of favor with fans of late, but remains a 21-year-old who could and should develop into a quality NHL goalie), if not a free agent or trade replacement for Chris Osgood (cough Ryan Miller cough). Those thoughts have changed:

“How high can his career go?” Holland asked rhetorically. “I don’t know. But we know he is a workhorse, and he’s a player we can build around.”

• This is plain old spiffy, per Red Wings social media coordinator Jake Duahime: the Wings will be giving away 100 tickets for their February 14th game against Dallas, but they’re doing so with a bit of a twist:

Why not create some Red Wing couples to be?

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and our friends at @AmwayUS have given us 50 pairs of tickets. One for you, one for your Wingman or Wingwoman. Want to win a pair? Submit a photo of you and your Wingperson to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with a 50-100 word description of why you deserve a pair.

We’ll notify 50 people (and their Wingmen or Wingwomen) that they’ll receive tickets to the 2/14 game by January 31st.

• And if you’re keeping score at home, per MLive’s Ansar Khan‘s Twitter account, the Dallas Stars are playing back-to-back games—with travel added in—as well as they’re in Missouri to play the St. Louis Blues tonight, and
in addition to not having Mike Ribeiro in their lineup on Tuesday, the Dallas Morning News’s Mike Heika reported that Jamie Benn had to have an appendectomy, leaving the Stars’ leading scorer sidelined for at least ten days.

 

Part IV: In the AHL and ECHL: The Grand Rapids Griffins made their first ever visit to Charlotte, North Carolina on Sunday, but things didn’t go particularly well for the Griffins. They rallied from a 2-0 deficit but dropped a 4-2 decision to the Charlotte Checkers, who they’ll face again on Tuesday. The Grand Rapids Press notes that the Griffins dropped their third straight game despite welcoming Travis Ehrhardt (shoulder) and Chris Minard (concussion) back into a lineup which now includes Chris Conner, Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Fabian Brunnstrom. The Griffins’ website provides the game’s details...

Charlotte (22-14-2-2) was first to get on the board at 11:28 of the opening period. Justin Soryal deflected Michal Jordan’s shot from the left point through [Joey] MacDonald’s pads for his third goal this season.

A handful of chances came and went for Grand Rapids (15-15-4-3) before the game sprang to life midway through the second. Trevor Parkes found himself overmatched in a scrap with journeyman Chris Murray after the Charlotte defenseman caught the Griffins rookie with a high stick.

On the ensuing power play MacDonald was hit with a slashing call before Travis Ehrhardt committed a holding penalty just 20 seconds later to hand Charlotte a 17 second, four-on-three man advantage. The Checkers power play made use of the extra ice, working the puck around before Bobby Sanguinetti’s blast rebounded to Zac Dalpe, who buried a snap shot from the right face-off circle for his eighth tally of the year at 13:48.

With the end of the period looming and trailing by two, the Griffins got right back into the contest through [Willie] Coetzee’s ninth strike this season. He was set up on a nifty feed from Parkes, who brought the puck into the offensive zone at speed and zipped a pass to Coetzee in the slot where the Griffins sophomore slipped a shot through the wickets of Murphy at 18:39.

The Griffins then pulled even at 11:48 of the third. Chris Conner darted in from the right point and feathered a pass through two Checkers defensemen to Andersson, who smashed a bullet into the net from close range to record his 10th goal of the season.

However, it did not take Charlotte long to regain a 3-2 lead. Rasmus Rissanen was afforded too much space as he motored in to flick a backhand shot over MacDonald’s right shoulder from a sharp angle for his first professional goal at 13:26.

Although the Griffins continued to swarm around the Checkers net, they could not crack Murphy a third time, and Chris Terry iced the game on an empty-net goal with 43 seconds remaining.

The Charlotte Observer’s Tim Donelli and the Checkers’ website provide Charlotte’s side of the story (as well as a Flash slideshow and a highlight clip) if you’re interested.

• The Toledo Walleye had a rough go while completing a three-games-in-three nights slate as well, dropping a 2-1 shootout decision to the Kalamazoo K-Wings. No Wings prospect playing for the Walleye (Andrej Nestrasil, Gleason Fournier, Nick Oslund and Adam Estcolet) registered a point. The Walleye’s website and the Toledo Blade’s Mark Monroe, who reports that the Walleye scratched Bryan Rufenach, provide recaps.

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Comments

MsRedWinger's avatar

Good morning, George!

Tonight’s game could be a classic “let down” after battling to beat the Squawks in OT.

Let’s hope the Wings come out fired up.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 01/16/12 at 10:10 AM ET

SYF's avatar

If the Wings do indeed hope to host a Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park as a sort of charitable bone thrown by the NCAA and NHL for not actually holding the Winter Classic itself in Detroit, they’ve got a problem in that Brandon doesn’t want to take part in it unless it’s a moneymaker for the university:

“A lot of it to me would be up to the coaches,” Brandon said. “I’d want to understand how many tickets would we sell. If you’re playing out in the cold and the wind in December and there’s nobody there and you’ve got Joe Louis Arena around the corner empty, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If you can put together an event that’s really big and really exciting and it would be special for our kids, then it’s more interesting.”

Holy fuch, a bean-counter for an AD.

Posted by SYF from The Revenge of Johnny E on 01/16/12 at 04:06 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.