The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/03/11 at 07:04 PM ET
Updated 6x at 6:59 with No Rafalski from the Mercury News: As the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks prepare to face off tonight (10:30 PM EST, FSD/Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area/WXYT), the Red Wings chose not to engage in a morning skate as they took a morning flight to San Jose, but the rhetoric level is cranked up significantly. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun spoke to both Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and Sharks coach Todd McLellan about tonight’s match-up, noting that the Wings are at a slight disadvantage in the crease against a team that’s gone 12-and-2 over their past 14 games, including a 7-game winning streak, and a team that has February “second star of the month” Antti Niemi tending their net:
“I’ve got [Joey] MacDonald going tonight in net,” Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock told ESPN.com Thursday morning. “I can’t play [Jimmy] Howard every single night like I did last year going into the playoffs and wear him out. So MacDonald is starting and he got us a win in Buffalo and in Florida. It’s his turn tonight.”
And is it time to cue the, “Playoff match-up in the making” cliche meter? Why yes, yes it is:
The Wings were 2-1 overtime losers Wednesday night in Anaheim, so the fatigue factor is at play, but Detroit and San Jose tend to bring the best out in each other. And Thursday night might just be a precursor to another playoff matchup in April or May—the Sharks beat the Wings last spring in the second round.
“It could be all that,” Sharks head coach Todd McLellan told ESPN.com Thursday morning. “But what it is for us tonight is a chance to win on home ice and we haven’t done that enough this year.”
“It’s probably real good for us that we’re going into San Jose on a back-to-back and we got to dig in,” said Babcock.
Babcock told LeBrun that he hopes that the Wings learned from their 4-3 seesaw loss to the Sharks last week…
“The last time we played the Sharks, I thought they beat us in the first 10 minutes of the third period where they skated better than we did,” said Babcock. “We’re going to have to skate here tonight, and with efficiency, and we need our big people to be good.”
While Todd McLellan talked about his team’s learning curve with both LeBrun and the Mercury News’s David Pollak:
Todd McLellan said he planned to use his team’s last two games against Detroit — both on the road — in preparing them for tonight’s contest.
“The first 10-12-14 minutes both nights we were spectators,” McLellan said. “We may as well have bought tickets andwatched the game because we were slow and certainly not in the right position, reacting rather than being pro-active and we have to be much better tonight.
Then he was asked if a coach can be hard on a team when it’s on the 16-2-1 roll the Sharks are.
“Absolutely,” McLellan said. “The accountability factor doesn’t always change based on wins and losses. It’s the same evaluation night in and night out. I’ve said it before – we’ve played some games where we’ve lost and we’ve executed a lot of things that we wanted to. It just happens that way. Then,” he added, “there’s other nights where you win and you don’t quite get done what you need to be doing and those are real good nights to hold your team accountable.”
Pollak also reports that neither Dan Boyle, Scott Nichol nor Kent Huskins will play tonight, and he anticipates the Sharks’ forward lineup to look something like the following as they had an optional morning skate:
As for the Red Wings, they flew into San Jose this morning, so they didn’t have a morning skate, period, but MLive’s Ansar Khan notes that MacDonald’s not exactly chopped liver of late:
It’s a scheduled break for Jimmy Howard, who played Wednesday night, in a 2-1 overtime loss at Anaheim. MacDonald has won his past two starts—3-2 in shootout at Buffalo on Saturday and 4-3 at Florida on Feb. 18.
MacDonald is 3-3-1, with a 2.39 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. He is 0-2 lifetime vs. the Sharks (3.29 GAA, .906 save percentage).
We won’t know whether Brian Rafalski’s ready to return from back spasms until right before the game, and it’s still possible that Ruslan Salei’s wife could deliver the couple’s third child at any time, so Khan anticipates that the Wings will ice the following lineup, but it’s subject to change—especially given the fact that the Wings are very long flight away from Grand Rapids:
Draper-Helm-(Abdelkader or Miller)
He’s pegging the Sharks’ defensive pairings as follows…
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Jason Demers
Niclas Wallin-Ian White
Justin Braun-Douglas Murray
And he adds an unpleasant stat to the mix:
Niemi is 4-1-1 lifetime vs. Detroit (2.14 GAA, .927 save percentage).
The Free Press’s Helene St. James’ no-morning-skate-morning-skate report includes an assessment of the Sharks’ play of late from the Wings’ captain:
“They have a good team, a very solid team, and I think they’re just coming together and playing well when they need it,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “They need points as well, and I think that’s one of the reasons they’re just playing better down the stretch.”
The Wings are 6-3-1 in the second of back-to-back games this season.
San Jose is one of the few teams that can match Detroit’s depth up front. The Sharks’ winning streak includes a 4-3 decision in Detroit on Feb. 22, the second time this season the Sharks won at the Joe. The Wings, though, won the last time they were here, taking the Nov. 30 game, 5-3.
In the multimedia department, the Sharks’ website posted both Todd McLellan’s game-day presser…
As well as a game preview from Dan Rusanowsky, including comments from Sharks defenseman Justin Braun:
From the Wings’ website, instead of a Babcock presser from this morning, we get one from last night’s 2-1 loss to the Ducks:
More Wings and Griffins updates to come.
Update 4:07 PM: Not surprisingly, 97.1 The Ticket’s website has posted both a poll asking whether the penalty shot Bobby Ryan was awarded for a slash/hook by Ruslan Salei should have been called, ESPN YouTube-formatted footage of the call included.
Paul already posted this, too, but Red Wings TV’s, “The Lighter Side of Babcock’s” worth repeated viewing:
Update 2: NHL.com’s John Kreiser played up the significance of tonight’s game...
Don’t forget to look up: The excitement in the West starts at the No. 4 spot and goes through No. 12, but let’s not forget the top dogs. San Jose has put itself up there with Detroit and Vancouver thanks to its seven-game win streak. The red-hot Sharks have climbed within five points of the Red Wings for second in the conference.
And look at who they’re hosting Thursday—none other than those very same Red Wings, who had a two-game win streak snapped with an overtime loss in Anaheim on Wednesday. Still, the Wings continue to be one of the best teams in the NHL.
In fact, it’s utterly amazing how Detroit can be so far under the radar and yet be so good all the time. GM Ken Holland’s lone move at the deadline was to re-sign goalie Jimmy Howard to a two-year deal, and it was the best move he could have made. Mike Modano’s return this past Saturday was another key addition that cost Holland nothing but a contract he already signed.
The Sharks have been riding the hot play of goalie Antti Niemi, who also just signed a new four-year contract. Logan Couture continues to be rock solid and Patrick Marleau’s production is on the rise. This one could be a dandy, and it has some playoff implications even though both teams figure to be locks now.
As did Corey Masisak:
Second place in the Eastern Conference is up for grabs Thursday, and the No. 2 spot in the West just might be after the night is over. The Tampa Bay Lightning will be in Boston to play the Bruins while the Detroit Red Wings are in San Jose to face the surging Sharks. Both games feature the No. 2 and No. 3 teams from each conference, as these clubs will try to climb past each other while attempting to chase down Philadelphia and Vancouver for the No. 1 seeds in the forthcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Canucks and Red Wings have safely occupied the top two spots in the Western Conference since Christmas, but the Sharks could close the gap on Detroit to three points with a win against the Red Wings at HP Pavilion.
San Jose had fallen to 12th place in the West after a six-game losing streak in mid-January, but the Sharks are 16-2-1 and have broken free of a the jumbled pack of teams between fourth and 11th in the conference. Goaltender Antti Niemi has played a huge role in the streak, and was rewarded with a four-year contract extension Monday.
The Red Wings dealt with a myriad of injuries in the middle portion of the season, but nearly everyone is back in good health. Henrik Zetterberg is pacing the team with 69 points, while Danny Cleary has already set a career high with 22 goals in only 50 games played. Even Detroit, second in the West, isn’t completely free from danger in the compacted conference standings. Any kind of prolonged struggles could put the Red Wings in danger of falling back into the pack of teams behind them.
“It will be tighter every year because the cap is doing what it was designed to do,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “This is the tightest race in the history of the league, but it’ll be topped in the years to come.”
• The Red Wings’ Facebook page notes that Red Wings forward Patrick Eaves will be playfully asked fans to get him out of the “doghouse” to raise $5,000 for the Michigan Humane Society by April 10th;
• The Hockeytown Blog’s Jake Duhaime posted his latest survey of the Wings’ blogosphere, news and notes...
• And the Red Wings’ Facebook page’s fan of the day is the lovely lady who donated a ticket to the Wings’ charity dinner at training camp to some yutz so he could tell Nicklas Lidstrom that he was the yutz’s favorite player ever. And sit at a table with Cory Emmerton. And ramble about hockey equipment. Etc.
Update #3: It’s Griffins time!
• Amongst the Grand Rapids Press’s offerings, Michael Zuidema interviewed Brandon Straub, spoke to Griffins defenseman Logan Pyett about his status as the first defenseman in franchise history to register a hat trick...
“I was getting a little lucky, getting some bounces,” Pyett said. “It was hard to wipe the grin off after the second, that’s for sure.”
He didn’t even want to think about that it took Detroit Red Wings captain and future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom more than 1,400 games before he recorded his first professional hat trick earlier this season.
“I’m not really in that class,” Pyett said with a laugh.
Perhaps not, but Pyett has made strides in his development in his third season with the Griffins. The hat trick gave him nine goals, equaling his output from last season, although he still hopes to increase his assist totals — he has 11 after recording 21 last year — and improve his minus-2 rating.
“I think I started this year kind of slow,” Pyett said. “I wasn’t really happy with my production or how things were going, and the last couple of weeks the team has been playing better and as a result it’s been helping me. I think my game has improved since the first half of the year, so hopefully I can keep it up.”
And Zuidema reports that both Travis Ehrhardt (groin) and Sergei Kolosov (torn MCL) should return to the Griffins’ blueline shortly;
• The Griffins’ Facebook page posted a photo gallery of the Griffins pumping gas in Grand Rapids to benefit the Kids Food Basket, as well as a video of the event on WZZM 13, as also noted by the Griffins’ Afternoon Shift;
• And the Griffins’ Vimeo Page offers a slate of Griffins highlights from February:
Update 4: Also of note, per Associated Online:
Bill Wild is a brave man. There can be no doubt of his courage after the Westland mayor has revealed that he, and several city officials, will once again face off against retired Red Wing players in a charity hockey game.
This is the second time that the Westland Wild Wings, as the local team is known, will take to the ice against the Red Wings alumni team. Last year, the event generated more than $20,000 for the remediation of Central City Park. This year, the event will help fund improvements to the Mike Modano Ice Arena, where the rematch will take place.
The match will take place at 7 p.m. March 12, at the Modano arena, 6210 N. Wildwood. Tickets for the event are $10 for adults and $5 for children. Those younger than 3 are admitted at no cost. Tickets are on sale at the mayor’s office, the Bailey Recreation Center and the ice arena. Seating is limited to 800, Wild said, so it is best to get tickets early.
• A team of Moslem Shriners will face off against the Wings’ alums on April 15th to benefit Shriners Hospitals for Children in Dearborn;
• And the Everett Herald’s Nick Patterson reports that Red Wings prospect Landon Ferraro hopes to return to the Everett Silvertips’ lineup on Friday.
Update 6:59 PM: The Mercury News’s David Pollak reports that Rafalski is out for Detroit.
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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.