Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Sharks wrap-up: Sharp like a spork

Updated in the middle of the night with multimedia, quotes, notes and a bit about Gustav Nyquist: The Detroit Red Wings came home after a 3-game road trip hoping to stave off the usual, “First game back let-down” while facing the streaking San Jose Sharks, but a combination of lack of attention to detail, constant back-passing and regrouping that stifled the Wings’ transition game and tangling with a team that plain old wanted the game more than the Wings did wasted a superb goaltending performance by Jimmy Howard and resulted in a 4-3 loss to the Sharks on Tuesday night.

The Wings lost Patrick Eaves to a knee or thigh injury of unspecified severity and seemed to lose their focus after successfully killing off a full 2-minute 5-on-3 thanks largely to Howard, choosing to trade the kinds of rushes with the Sharks that involve slowly skating into the Sharks’ zone, firing a long shot on Niemi and then allowing the Sharks to roar back down the ice, usually on an odd-man rush, and register both a superb scoring chance on Howard and some serious “zone time,” establishing a cycling game which eventually bit the Wings’ defenders as they chased the puck carrier once again, with the expected pass-to-the-slot-and-goal result (Devin Setoguchi’s strange goal included).

Wings coach Mike Babcock did his best to shake up the lines after Eaves left by double-shifting Datsyuk, Franzen or Zetterberg with the Abdelkader-Holmstrom pairing, and Jonathan Ericsson’s unwillingness to stop his dangerous and ill-timed pinching yielded a reuniting of the Lidstrom-Rafalski and Kronwall-Stuart pairs so that Salei could back Ericsson up, but the Wings continued to play on the perimeter far too regularly, pass and/or loop back in the neutral zone before attempting to send a lone forward into four Sharks defenders instead skating through the neutral zone with any real speed. Moreover, the Wings allowed the Sharks to get body position on them both in the offensive zone, where only one-handed stabs at the puck constituted rebounds against Niemi, and the Sharks’ ability to win one-on-one battles on command and get onto the inside of the Wings’ defenders yielded multiple quality scoring chances and a wearing down of Howard and the defense which yielded predictable results—last-minute-of-play goals against and rebound goals and/or tips that Howard had no chance on—via an inability and/or unwillingness to clear the puck, cut down on turnovers in the defensive zone or move Sharks away from the front of the net on a night where both teams could all but hook, hold, slash and grab with impunity.

The fourth goal Howard gave up wasn’t pretty, and the Wings’ rally was at least heartening, but it was incredibly frustrating to watch the Wings very predictably expend far too much energy making the game far too hard on themselves against a team that exhibited more tenacity, attention to detail, focus, “jam,” a plain old better competition level and a stronger work ethic. The Sharks earned the win and the Wings earned the result on a night where even the players who show up every night (Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Bertuzzi, Helm, Lidstrom and Stuart) made uncharacteristic mental mistakes and tried to get “too cute” on multiple occasions.

Crap happens and teams can’t win forever, but it was disappointing to see the Wings serve up the usual “short attention span theater” game as they handed two points to their first-game-back-from-the-road-trip opponent. Hopefully the Wings will get themselves sorted out, get their opponents “sorted out” and get Patrick Eaves back for Thursday’s game against Dallas, because fans at Joe Louis Arena have paid quite a bit of money to watch disheartening and deserved losses during the Wings’ rare home appearances over the past two months.

Media update: The Sharks left the game with a 4-3 victory and two well-deserved points, but nothing summarizes the size of the chip they played carrying on their shoulder better than Logan Couture and coach Todd McLellan’s lingering anger and resentment about the fact that Logan Couture only drew six minutes worth of high-sticking penalties and not eight, as noted by the Mercury News’s David Pollak:

[T]he best material that didn’t get in the print edition story was the dispute over those two high-sticking calls that sent both Jonathan Ericsson and Nicklas Lidstrom to the penalty box. Both Red Wings clipped Logan Couture, Ericsson drawing four minutes while Lidstrom received two. The only thing is that both Detroit players drew blood, creating gashes in Couture’s chin. But Lidstrom got two minutes while Ericsson got four because the referees weren’t sure there were to separate cuts on Couture’s chin. After the game, it was readily apparent that the cuts were similar, but separate — about an inch apart, each requiring four stitches.

“The ref didn’t take time to look at it carefully. He thought it was the same cut,” said Couture, who complained at the time and went back to the officials after receiving the stitches. “He still thought it was the same cut. After it got stitched up,” Couture said, displaying the two separate wounds. “I don’t know how you can’t see that.”

Can’t disagree with him, though in the moment MAYBE it could have looked as if Lidstrom reopened the same wound Ericsson created. Maybe, and not sure how the rules deal with that. But afterward? Perfectly clear, two separate cuts.

The Red Wings didn’t get many calls, period, but again, that had to do as much with the quality of refereeing in general as it did with the Wings’ inability to win one-on-one battles, generate speed through the neutral zone, generate any sort of forecheck or sustain possession and control of the puck in the Sharks’ zone for an extended period of time (without giving up a rush going the other way).

And despite the fact that Danny Cleary tied the game all of 34 seconds after Ryane Clowe scored a breakaway goal thanks to a Jonathan Ericsson gaffe, I’d argue that it was the 2-1 goal that truly took the wind out of the Wings’ sails and sapped their confidence. 

In any case, the Mercury News’s Pollak felt that the game hinged upon Antti Niemi’s biggest save of the game, a slick toe save on Johan Franzen with 21.7 seconds left in the game. Franzen elegantly skated from the right side of the net to the left and attempted to tuck the puck into the far corner, beating Niemi to the goalpost, but he couldn’t lift the puck, and that was enough for one of the most awkward-looking goaltenders in NHL history to flex his right leg and kick out his toe:

“From the scramble, I saw him trying to go wide and beat me on the far side, but I was able to push there,” said Niemi, who extended his right leg to get his pad on the puck.

The victory was San Jose’s second of the season at Joe Louis Arena, going a long way toward driving out the ghosts that have haunted the Sharks, who are 7-26-4 here over the years. But once again, it didn’t start out as one that would end up in the win column. The Red Wings dominated the opening 10 minutes just as they did when San Jose won 5-2 on Dec. 6.

“I don’t know what it is coming into this building,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “They’re a very good team, but sometimes I think we may over-respect them, and we play standing around watching them. That’s just a death trap against a team like that. Fortunately they took a few penalties, and that allowed us to get back into the game.”

That was a big part of the problem. The Wings roared out to a 9-1 shot lead before Jonathan Ericsson’s jab cut Couture’s chin at the 9:46 mark of the 1st, but emerged from the 1st trailing in the shot column by an 18-10 deficit, thanks in part to the fact that Lidstrom’s high-sticking penalty gave the Sharks a full 2-minute 5-on-3.

Then, perhaps bafflingly, in a game where copping a feel didn’t require a $20, Jiri Hudler was called for holding, resulting in Joe Thornton’s goal with only 12 seconds left, and his 300th NHL tally got the Sharks off and running while leaving the Wings going into the 1st intermission of yet another home game trailing against a hungrier opponent which had sucked the life out of the Wings’ attack and made the Wings’ energy their own.

The Sharks, in other words, were more like vampires during the first period.

From there, let’s allow the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell to recount the game’s narrative before returning to Pollak:

The surprisingly free-flowing game continued in the second period as the teams split four goals. Dan Cleary started things off with his 20th of the season at 7:06. After Jiri Hudler flipped a loose puck into the crease, it bounced in behind Niemi and Cleary pushed it in.

Just under three minutes later, Detroit lost Patrick Eaves when he was injured throwing a big hit behind the San Jose goal. Eaves limped to the bench favouring his left leg and immediately went to the dressing room and didn’t return.

The Wings were beginning to regain some momentum, especially behind line of Datysuk, Cleary and Hudler, when they stubbed their toe again. Ericsson made a very poor decision to try and one-time Brian Rafalski’s pass with Ryan Clowe closing the shooting lane rapidly. The resulting blocked shot led to Clowe breaking away to roof a backhander at 14:09. However, not to be outdone by his fellow Newfoundlander, Cleary struck again 33 second later. The Detroit winger pounced on the rebound of Hudler’s slapper and banged it in on the second try. It was his career-high 21st goal of the season.

As the Sharks were struggling with the Datsyuk trio, Detroit couldn’t do much with Thornton, Devin Setoguchi and Patrick Marleau. Thornton gathered in his own rebound, circled the net and fed Setoguchi for a tally at 18:43 with Todd Bertuzzi being too inattentive in front of the Detroit net. The Wings came close to tying the game twice early in the third period with Datsyuk and Bertuzzi both hitting the post before Setoguchi scored at 13:12.

Pollak spoke to Setoguchi—who may or may not have been pushed into the net by Todd Bertuzzi, and got his stick on the puck a split-second before ducking under the crossbar and landing in the back of the net himself:

“I knew I was going into the net,” Setoguchi said, “so I had to try and get it off and duck underneath without losing my head on the crossbar.”

Setoguchi’s second of the night also was set up by Thornton, but this time the right wing was positioned in the high slot and fired a 50-foot slap shot that sailed into the net over Howard’s glove at 13:12 of the third period.

The Wings wanted the goal to be reviewed, but Bill McCreary again refused to double-check a judgment call. The Wings rallied late and made the loss seem a little less like they got out-worked, out-hustled and plain old beaten by a team that wanted the game more because Henrik Zetterberg scored a power play goal with 1:51 left in the 3rd period, and the Wings’ furious last-two-minutes assault was indeed spirited…

But it came up empty, as did Johan Franzen.

After the game, NHL.com’s Brian Hedger and the media worked both sides to draw praise for Thornton, but McLellan preferred to continue raving about Setoguchi‘s play…

“It’s everything that leads up to the goal,” McLellan said. “It’s the fact that he’s involved physically, that he’s in on the forecheck, that he stays in battles, that his shift length’s right, that he’s working back defensively … I can go on and on. And then it ends with a goal.”
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“Jumbo has the ability to find him,” McLellan said of Thornton. “They’ve clicked before and had some chemistry. Hopefully they can continue it.”

As well as praising Niemi…

“That’s just another night for him,” McLellan said of Niemi, who signed with the Sharks as an unrestricted free agent last summer after leading the Chicago Blackhawks to a sweep of the Sharks on the way to the Stanley Cup. “The save at the end against Franzen was obviously a very big one, but he made a couple real good saves early in the game - when we needed to keep the game close and work our way into it.”

And the Sharks’ collective work ethic:

“Every night’s a playoff game,” McLellan said. “For some teams that’s a great thing. We put ourselves in this situation, where we have to compete hard every night. We don’t get the opportunity for a stinker. That may be a good thing for us.”

As for the Red Wings, they had to admit the obvious…

“(The penalties) killed our momentum for the most part,” said Howard, who made 39 saves. “We were able to kill off the 5-on-3, but (Thornton’s goal) was just one of those ones where it’s like playing ‘Plinko’ on ‘The Price is Right.’ It bounced off everyone and just happened to land right on Joe’s stick.”

As the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell also noted...

“At times we were good,” said Detroit’s Dan Cleary, who scored a pair of goals. “The first half of the first (period), the latter half of the second and third. But they were definitely the better team. They outworked us.”

Thornton simply echoed his coach’s comments when speaking to Waddell, discussing his goal in terms the Wings would agree with:

“Our playoffs started 15 games ago,” said Thornton of the Sharks’ surge.
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“When you get a goal like that near the end of the period, it always seems to give you confidence and gets the other team down a bit,” Thornton said.

As you’ll see in the game summary‘s breakdown below—and I’ll repeat, I’m not a stats guy, but I do believe that they provide information which can help put the game in context—the lost the faceoff battle 33-31. The scary part is that they did so after leading faceoffs 9-1 in the first period and 20-19 in the 2nd period, meaning that they only went 2-and-14 at the dot in the 3rd period.

The shots breakdown was pretty similar in that the Wings gave up 15 shots (to 13) in the 2nd period before shooting one more on Niemi than the Sharks fired on Howard (13-12 Detroit in the 3rd, shots 43-38 San Jose overall), and as such, Babcock felt that Jonathan Ericsson’s gaffe and then the lapsed coverage on Setoguchi were preventable mistakes:

“The two goals in the second period I didn’t like very much at all,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We turned one over at the blue-line and then we miscommunicated on a three-on-three coming into our zone.”

Nicklas Lidstrom could only compliment Thornton while speaking to the Associated Press...

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Thornton joined Mark Recchi, Mike Modano and Teemu Selanne as the only active players with at least 300 goals and 680-plus assists.

“He’s very good with the puck and he uses his size to his advantage,” Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “He’s hard to defend with or without the puck.”

And the Wings did their best to minimize the pride wounded by their loss to a potential playoff opponent…

“We’re not going to win every one, so this is nothing to get down about,” said Jimmy Howard, who stopped 39 shots.

Henrik Zetterberg scored a power-play goal with 1:51 left to pull the Red Wings within a goal, but they couldn’t beat Niemi again to force overtime.

“They made the plays in the end, give them credit,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.

While continuing to bluntly criticize themselves for being out-worked, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted:

“At times we were good,” said Danny Cleary, who scored twice for the Wings, giving him a career-high 21 goals. “But they definitely were a better team. It was a good team we played and we have to be better for sure.”

The Wings saw their five-game winning streak end.

“They made more plays than we did,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I don’t think either team came in expecting to give up (so many shots, the Sharks had 43 shots on net, the Wings 38), that’s probably not how you probably want to play. There were a lot of plays made. Their first 10 minutes in the third period was better than our first 10 minutes.”

As the Wings’ power play continues to sputter, Lidstrom summarized the Wings’ strange inability to generate traffic or secondary scoring opportunities on Niemi, especially during their late-game power play:

Said Nicklas Lidstrom: “We were getting chances but we just couldn’t capitalize. We had chances to tie the game but couldn’t put the puck in.”

McLellan duly noted that the Sharks simply out-worked the Wings…

“It was a very intense game both ways, a lot of battles around the crease and lot of board battles,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “You have to win at least 50 percent of those battles and we found a way of doing that later on.”

And Cleary continued critiquing the Wings’ play while speaking to the Free Press’s Helene St. James:

“I thought we started good,” Cleary said. “We were in the box a little too much in the first. They got some momentum, got that goal. They played well. We didn’t play great at all. We had some chances offensively, but I think defensively, we were too loose.”
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“They’ve got a good team — talented forwards, big and strong, and they’re good on the cycle,” Cleary said. “That fourth goal was key, because we were coming, but I just didn’t think we played as solid defensively as we have the past five games. They definitely were the better team. They outworked us in different shifts and got to loose pucks a little better.”

Much is made of the Sharks’ size, but when someone like Setoguchi (listed as 6’0” with his helmet and skates on) is the waterbug who fires the nails into your coffin, it’s not size that matters. It was the Sharks’ battle level that was higher than the Wings.’

Regarding that fourth goal, Howard insisted that he didn’t whiff on the shot—which he did…

Jimmy Howard faced 43 shots and didn’t give up a bad goal until the last one, when Devin Setoguchi fire a shot from several feet above the right circle that beat Howard cleanly on his blocker side.

“He just wired it,” Howard said. “It was a good pass, right in his wheelhouse, and he got all of it. I don’t think we played bad at all. I think they just executed a little bit more than we did.”

And, again, while Lidstrom’s comments were sparely noted, he already earns the “bottom line” two thirds of the way through this recap:

We came up short, but I thought it was a very close game,” Lidstrom said. “I thought they were a little bit harder in front of both nets to get the win tonight.”

The Wings let the Sharks forecheck, establish a cycle down low and get to the front of the net because the Wings chased the puck carrier and let the Sharks get body position, and at the other end, the Wings earned one-and-done opportunities and couldn’t get any traffic in front of Niemi.

Also of game-related note from St. James:

OVERHEARD: Mike Babcock, on the start: “We had 8 minutes of penalties there in the first, and obviously that got momentum for them. I thought we did the right things to get started. We had a real big kill.” ... Babcock, on Howard’s 39 saves: “I thought Howie gave us an opportunity.” ... Thornton, on his goal: “Any goal late in a period, the team that scores the goal gets a little boost of confidence, and the other team kinds of goes down a little.”

900 MARK: Salei played in his 900th career game. The Wings signed Salei, who played previously for Babcock in Anaheim, to a one-year deal last summer. “Guys are great and the system, it’s pretty easy to fit in,” Salei said. “We have known each other, me and Babs, and he knows what I can do.”

MLive’s Ansar Khan noted more of Lidstrom’s commentary:

“They’re a tough team to play against,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “They have goal-scorers and big guys who can hang onto the puck and make plays. That’s where you have to play well in your own zone. We did that most of the time, but they’re still going to score on some of the chances we gave them. That’s where you got to keep them more on the outside.”

Again, that’s about body position. The Wings are at their best defensively when they’re covering ice instead of chasing the puck carrier, keeping their bodies on the inside by out-skating and out-working their opponents, getting their sticks and legs in shooting and passing lanes and rotating to cover ice as necessary like the legs of a starfish.

On Tuesday night, they were bunched-up and scrambled on a regular basis against a Sharks team that was on the inside and winning one-on-one battles, and, perhaps just as importantly, when the Wings did win battles for the puck and started to break out, their defensemen held onto the puck for two seconds too long, passed side-to-side instead of moving the puck forward, and because their forwards weren’t willing or able to skate through the neutral zone with speed, the Wings plodded forward slowly through center ice, with the forwards almost constantly dropping the puck back to defensemen who had no choice but to send a lone forward into 4 or 5 Sharks stacked up at the blueline, with no winger support whatsoever for that lone forward.

“They got a good team; talented forwards, big and strong, and they’re good on the cycle, they spent some time in our zone,” Cleary said. “I just didn’t think we played as solid defensively as we did the last five games.”
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“They played well, we didn’t play great at all,” Cleary said. “We had some chances offensively, but I think defensively we were too loose. Giving up 43 shots is not like us.”

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Todd McLellan earns the final word here:

“Sometimes, I think we give them too much respect and it’s almost like we stand around and watch them,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “That’s a death trap against that team. It was a very intense game — lots of battles around the crease, lots of battles along the boards. If you win at least 50 percent of those battles, you have a chance against that team.”

The Sharks worked harder and paid more attention to detail than the Wings, and San Jose earned their result.

As did Detroit.

Multimedia:

Highlights: Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area posted a 2:42 highlight clip:

NHL.com’s highlight clip is mercifully narrated by Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond:

The Wings’ website also spotlighted a lovely glove save by Howard…

 

And Clowe and Cleary’s goals (the 2nd for Cleary) as both are Newfoundlanders:

 

Post-game:

Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area posted Todd McLellan’s 4:34 post-game presser…

 

As well as a 2:22 interview with Devin Setoguchi:

 

Fox Sports Detroit posted Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond’s recap, as well as a 3:08 clip of Wings coach Mike Babcock, goaltender Jimmy Howard and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom talking about the game;

Here are the Wings’ post-game comments, per the Red Wings’ website…

 

WXYZ’s Reggie Hall also posted an update on Mike Modano’s status, from Mike Modano:

 

Photos: The Free Press posted a 7-image gallery;

The Detroit News’s David Guralnick posted a 19-image gallery;

Yahoo Sports posted an 8-image gallery;

NHL.com posted a 23-image gallery;

The Sharks’ website posted a 12-image gallery and embedded an image in its website’s recap;

And the Red Wings’ website posted a 16-image gallery and embedded an image in its website’s recap.

Statistics: Shot 43-38 San Jose overall. The shots were 18-10 San Jose in the first period, 15-13 San Jose in the 2nd and 13-12 Detroit in the 3rd period.

The Sharks went 1-for-3 in 4:12 of PP time, but did not score on their 2-minute 5 on 3. The Wings went 1-for-2 in 2:26 of PP time thanks to a late penalty against Heatley.

Howard stopped 39 of 43 shots; Niemi stopped 35 of 38.

Our goals: Cleary (20) from Hudler (22) and Lidstrom (36);

Cleary (21) from Hudler (23) and Kronwall (19);

Zetterberg (18) from Holmstrom (14) and Franzen (19).

The 3 stars, per Reuters’ Mike Mouat, were Cleary, Setoguchi and Thornton.

No love for Jimmy.

Faceoffs 33-31 San Jose (48% won by Detroit)—which is really bad as the Wings led the faceoffs were 9-1 Detroit after the 1st period and 20-19 Detroit after the 2nd. In other words, the Wings went 2-and-14 at the dot in the 3rd period.

Blocked shots 10-7 San Jose;

Missed shots 11-6 San Jose (total attempted shots 61-54 San Jose);

Hits 28-17 Detroit;

Giveaways 8-3 Detroit;

Takeaways 10-3 San Jose.


Individual Stats:

Faceoffs: Zetterberg went 15-and-10 (60%); Hudler went 4-and-6 (40%); Helm went 5-and-4 (56%); Cleary went 1-and-5 (17%); Abdelkader went 1-and-4 (20%); Datsyuk went 3-and-2 (60%); Draper went 2-and-1 (67%); Miller lost his only faceoff.

Shots: Datsyuk led the team with 5 shots; Lidstrom, Cleary and Bertuzzi had 4; Rafalski had 3; Abdelkader, Salei, Hudler, Draper, Zetterbberg, Helm, Ericsson and Franzen had 2; Eaves and Miller had 1.

Blocked attempts: Datsyuk, Rafalski and Zetterberg had 2 shot attempts blocked; Abdelkader, Stuart, Hudler and Franzen had single shot attempts blocked.

Missed shots: Cleary, Datsyuk, Stuart, Rafalski, Zetterberg and Franzen missed the net once apiece.

Hits: Abdelkader led the team with 5 hits; Cleary, Eaves and Salei had 3; Datsyuk, Hudler, Ericsson and Kronwall had 2; Lidstrom, Miller, Zetterberg, Helm, Bertuzzi and Ericsson had 1.

Giveaways: Zetterberg had 2 giveaways; Abdelkader, Stuart, Rafalski, Draper, Kronwall and Howard had 1.

Takeaways: Datsyuk had 3 takeaways.

Blocked shots: Abdelkader and Stuart blocked 2 shots; Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Rafalski blocked 1.

Penalties taken: Ericsson took a double minor; Lidstrom and Hudler were tagged with single minors.

Plus-minus: Zetterberg finished at -3; Bertuzzi finished at -2; Miller, Stuart, Salei, Ericsson, Franzen and Holmstrom finished at -1; Kronwall and Hudler finished at +1; Cleary and Datsyuk finished at +2.

Points: Cleary had 2 goals; Hudler had 2 assists; Zetterberg had a goal; Lidstrom, Kronwall, Franzen and Holmstrom had assists.

Ice time: Stuart led the team with 24:09 played; Lidstrom played 22:19; Datsyuk played 22:12;

Rafalski played 22:02; Kronwall played 21:16; Zetterberg played 20:42;

Cleary played 20:19; Hudler played 20:01; Franzen played 18:38;

Salei played 15:46; Ericsson played 14:46; Bertuzzi played 14:21;

Holmstrom played 13:30; Helm played 10:49; Abdelkader played 10:38;

Miller played 10:08; Draper played 8:03; Eaves played 5:13 before getting hurt.

Also of Red Wings-related note this morning:

Wings notes: As the Free Press’s Helene St. James notes, nobody’s quite certain as to what happened with Patrick Eaves, who left the Wings-Sharks game after a thigh-on-thigh collision with Torrey Mitchell which resulted in a very awkward landing:

Forward Patrick Eaves left midway through the second period after he collided with San Jose’s Torrey Mitchell behind the Sharks’ net. Eaves jammed his right leg and landed awkwardly on his left leg. He was slow to get up, and after skating back to the bench, Eaves was helped down the tunnel by team personnel. Babcock said he didn’t know how Eaves was, adding, “We’ll just wait and find out tomorrow where he’s at.”

She also duly noted that Chris Osgood may have been part of the Wings’ push to acquire Evgeni Nabokov. When Osgood woke up after Dr. William Meyers repaired what was supposedly just a sports hernia on January 11th, he got the famous surgeon’s beaming face saying, “You won’t believe what we found!” (I’ve had that happen to me on both occasions that I’ve had sinus/throat surgery, and it sure as hell woke me up and had my jaw dangling off my propped-up stretcher):

“At that point, we didn’t know if I’d be back,” Osgood said. “I had so many things done.” In addition to sports hernia surgery, Osgood, 38, also had surgery on his groin and “something with the tendons and some scraping of a bone—I don’t know. It was kind of shocking to me, because I went there thinking I was just going to do my hernia. At that point, I was nervous about if I was going to be able to come back.”

Osgood plans to step up his workload every day, but he isn’t certain if he’ll be ready to play by next week. “I can’t put a date on it today. But I’m more or less pain-free, so I just need some practice time before I can play again,” he said.

Osgood spoke to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan about his status:

“I’m pretty fired up,” said Osgood, who faced live shooting Tuesday and expects to participate in practice drills today. “I’ve been out long enough. I’m fired up to get back.”

Osgood isn’t sure when he’ll return, but hopes it will be sometime during the upcoming West Coast trip. Or soon after.

• Kulfan also noted that referee Bill McCreary may have reffed his last game in Detroit, that Ruslan Salei played in his 900th career game, and this about Mike Modano:

Mike Modano (lacerated right wrist) and Valtteri Filppula (sprained left knee) also are close to returning to the Red Wings lineup. Modano is projected to return Saturday in Buffalo, while Filppula is hoping for either Thursday against Dallas or Saturday.

The rest of the regular season and the playoffs are vital for Modano, 40, who said how he feels physically, how he plays, and how the team does in the playoffs, will determine if he’ll play one more season.

“I want to make a real good push here and be the impact they were hoping for me to be in the spring,” Modano said.

• MLive’s Ansar Khan noted that Modano very admittedly has nerve damage that won’t heal for a while (see the WXYZ report above for Modano’s comments), but Modano says he’s good to go in terms of arm strength and the soundness of the 3 flexor tendons which were repaired.

Valtteri Filppula also issued good news regarding his sprained left MCL. He’s going to practice on Wednesday and will either return on Thursday (maybe) or Saturday (much more likely), when Modano’s slated to return:

“Definitely felt really good [Tuesday],” Filppula said. “I’m really hoping Saturday for sure, but hopefully it’s good (today) and Thursday I’ll be ready.”

The sidebar story of the day, however, involves Danny Cleary. Cleary missed a full month and, per Khan, 14 games with a broken ankle, but he still registered his career-high 21st goal on Tuesday, and both Cleary and Jiri Hudler are tearing up the scoresheet while playing alongside Pavel Datsyuk (St. James talked about Cleary in her notebook, too, but I can’t quote her entire article):

“They’ve been excellent,” coach Mike Babcock said. “They’ve been working. Their legs are going and they’re competing hard. When you do that you have a chance to be successful. Huds made some plays for them. Cleary’s at the net all the time. They got it going, they were our best line by far tonight.”

Cleary has five goals in his last six games and 10 points in his past eight games.

“He goes to the net. He goes to the hard areas and he goes for rebounds,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “He stops in front of the net to battle for the puck and that’s how he scored his goals tonight.”

Cleary’s previous career-best was 20 goals—in 2006-07 (71 games) and 2007-08 (63 games).
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“Playing with Pavel is a real treat,” Cleary said. “He’s so talented and works everywhere on the ice. It seems to be going OK, for sure, Pavel’s obviously the catalyst.”

I’m going to be very emphatic about this: Jiri Hudler probably owes Pavel Datsyuk a week’s worth of expensive steak dinners or a nice watch after resuscitating what was a lost season for him.  Datsyuk has given Hudler the confidence he lacked from September to February, and he may very well have saved Hudler’s career as a Wing.

• In the “I mentioned this yesterday” category, from the Free Press’s Steve Schrader, Nicklas Lidstrom is the Hockey News’s cover boy this week, and Schrader shares the first of what I promise will be more than a few tidbits from Ken Campbell’s article about the player THN has declared to be the best 40-year-old in NHL history:

“There are players who have played far longer than Lidstrom has and there are others who have been better,” Ken Campbell writes in the seven-page spread. “But no player has combined excellence and longevity, save perhaps Gordie Howe, who scored 103 points and was third in NHL scoring when he was Lidstrom’s age.”

The Wings have had their share of good 40-year-olds, haven’t they? What’s freakish about Lidstrom is that he’s playing well enough to still be in the Norris Trophy conversation. And that’s about the only way he’ll have it.

“I admire Chris Chelios for what he did,” Lidstrom told THN. “His ice time got cut more and more, and there were some games he didn’t play, but he still had a love for the game, and I admire that. But for myself ... it would be hard for me to take a step back and sit out games and being a sixth defenseman and not playing a whole lot. That would be really tough for me.”

That’s not going to happen, as we already know.

• In the, “I mentioned this yesterday” category, part 2: As the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema reported, the Griffins have sent Thomas McCollum down to the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye because Griffins coach Curt Fraser has ridden Jordan Pearce as his man in the net since the end of December;

• If you want to read Bob Duff’s story on San Jose Sharks forward Kyle Wellwood, you’ll have to do so on your own;

• Heading back to the Griffins, let’s take a look at their weekly press release:

This Week’s Games

Fri., Feb. 25 - Lake Erie Monsters at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m.

Sat., Feb. 26 - GRIFFINS at Lake Erie Monsters - 7:30 p.m.

Sun., Feb. 27 - GRIFFINS at Hamilton Bulldogs - 4 p.m.
...
Get Busy Livin’ or Get Busy Dyin’: With just one regulation loss in their last seven games (3-1-0-3), the Griffins have a golden opportunity this weekend to make up critical ground in their chase for the playoffs. Hamilton, Manitoba and Lake Erie are deadlocked in a three-way tie atop the North Division, just seven points ahead of sixth-place Grand Rapids, and the Griffins will begin a home-and-home against the Monsters on Friday at Van Andel Arena before visiting the Bulldogs on Sunday.
...
Positive Signs: By recording points in all four games last week (2-0-0-2), the Griffins tied their longest point streak of the season (3-0-0-1 from Oct. 23-30). Grand Rapids is 4-1-0-3 in its last eight games on the road and 2-0-0-1 in its last three at home.
...
Jordan Rules: Jordan Pearce has helped the Griffins earn points in 10 of his 12 decisions since Jan. 16, going 6-2-0-4 with a 2.48 GAA and a 0.920 save percentage. On Sunday, he became the first Griffins goalie since Jimmy Howard to start both three games in three nights (April 3-5, 2009) and four games in five nights (April 11-15, 2007), while becoming the first rookie to ever accomplish the latter. Only two other rookie netminders had ever started 3-in-3 for Grand Rapids: Howard (Dec. 21-23, 2005) and Simon Lajeunesse (Jan. 18-20, 2002).
...
Almost Whole: With the return of defenseman Greg Amadio to Grand Rapids’ lineup on Saturday following a six-game injury absence, the Griffins’ lineup is nearly intact. Defenseman Sergei Kolosov (eight games) continues to nurse an injured knee while goaltender Joey MacDonald remains with the Red Wings. He helped Detroit earn a 4-3 victory in Florida on Friday with 29 saves.

Who’s Hot?: Cory Emmerton has consecutive multi-point games (1-3—4) and points in three of the last four contests (2-3—5)…Jan Mursak has assists in three of four games (0-4—4) since returning from injury/Detroit…Chris Minard is riding his second three-game point streak (2-2—4) of the season…Ilari Filppula has points in three straight games (0-4—4), four of five contests (0-5—5) and six of eight outings (2-6—8)…Tomas Tatar owns a four-game scoring streak (3-3—6), one shy of his career high, along with points in eight of his last 11 contests (5-6—11).

• Pretty dang cool: The Bangor Daily News’s Larry Mahoney penned an article praising University of Maine forward Gustav Nyquist, raving about his puck-handling ability—Mahoney suggests that Nyquist has a Paul Kariya-like level of skill when it comes to dekeing, dangling and making slick plays:

UMass Lowell hockey coach Blaise MacDonald was marveling at a play he watched on video during the University of Maine’s 4-2 win over Vermont two weekends ago. Maine’s Gustav Nyquist came into the offensive zone, stopped and flipped the puck in the air to Brian Flynn. Flynn was in front of Nyquist, and Nyquist’s pass dropped from approximately 15 feet in the air right into the path of Flynn, who swatted it when it was chest-high only to have Vermont goalie Rob Madore make a quality save on it.

“That was such a cool play … and calculated,” said MacDonald. “It was a terrific play to watch. Flynn was smart enough to go to the net, and then to see somebody make a pass like that on a rush tells you (Nyquist) has a low panic threshold and a lot of confidence in his game. (Nyquist) has such a phenomenal skill level and he plays the game with integrity and honesty. He’e very engaged with his teammates.”
...
He was a fourth-round draft choice of Detroit in 2008 and is expected to sign with the Red Wings in the offseason. He has provided the Alfond Arena with a lot of thrills in his three seasons.

The Black Bear program has been blessed with a catalog full of talented players, but when it comes to pure passing skills and creativity, Nyquist will have to be among the top five. Of course, the leader in those categories is Paul Kariya, who may have been the greatest college player of all time. He is still the only freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award.

Nyquist was one of three Hobey finalists a year ago as a sophomore. Nyquist, like Kariya, has an accelerated thought process. He thinks one pass ahead. He isn’t afraid to try something like that airborne pass to Flynn. Nyquist and Kariya are the kind of players who are worth the price of admission. They are dynamic. They cut on a dime and spin away from checkers. They epitomize hockey’s beauty.

Good to know, and yes, I think the Wings will sign him given their M.O. regarding college hockey-playing prospects, who tend to join the big club after their junior seasons;

• Also in the prospect department, The Production Line interviewed Wings prospect and University of Notre Dame forward Riley Sheahan;

• Don’t forget:

1. Jimmy Howard will take part in a charity event for “dads and sons” in which $100 will be donated to local hockey organizations for every shot stopped at the Clark Park Recreation Center in Detroit, today from 6-8 PM:

2. Patrick Eaves will be signing autographs at the Meijer on Warren Road in Westland, MI from 5-7 PM today;

3. The Wings will be collecting diapers for the Detroit Area Diaper Bank during Thursday’s game against Dallas;

4. And the Wings’ $9 tickets for March and April go on sale at and only at the Joe Louis Arena box office on Saturday the 26th at 1 PM;

5. Updateydoo: Fox Sports Detroit wants you to vote on its 10 April in the D song contest finalists as well.

• In the “other stuff” department, the Delaware County Times’ Anthony J. Sanfilippo argues that Mike Richards, not Pavel Datsyuk or Ryan Kesler, should win the Selke Trophy;

• The State News’s Jeff Kanan posted a quip or three about Drew Miller;

• And Adrian Dater answered a reader question about Steve Moore and Todd Bertuzzi, saying something surprising—that he believes Bertuzzi’s apology to Moore was genuine. You can read the rest of the Space Canoe’s mailbag on your own.

Update 7:13 AM: Well-put, per RedWIngsCentral’s Sarah Lindenau on her “Left Wing Lock” blog:

Jonathan Ericsson seems to be slipping back to bad habits. After starting the season strong, the 26 year-old defenseman is starting to make mental mistakes that are costing the Red Wings.

Tonight’s offensive zone turnover to Ryan Clowe was just the latest example of poor decision making by the big Swede. Clowe blocked Ericsson’s shot and skated the puck in on a breakaway eventually scoring on a defenseless Jimmy Howard. The play was reminiscent of last season where Ericsson struggled to find his game. The Karlskrona, Sweden native told the media in November of 2010 that he had been understandably distracted last season by his mother’s treatment for throat cancer.

The 6-foot-4, 220 pound defenseman started the season strong after sitting out the first month with a bulging disk. His outstanding early season play looked as though he had turned the corner and was playing consistent defensively sound hockey.

However, his recent play is a cause for concern and may cause Detroit to re-evaluate its blueline heading into the playoffs. The Red Wings have been patient with Ericsson, but they won’t continue to do so at the expense of winning. If Ericsson doesn’t improve is play and eliminate his mental lapses, he could be on the outside looking in when the playoffs start.

The Wings had hoped that Ericsson would develop into a top-four defenseman worthy of complimenting Brian Rafalski on a regular basis, but by the end of Tuesday night’s game, Rafalski was paired with Lidstrom again and the Stuart-Kronwall pairing was back together so that Ericsson could be steadied by Ruslan Salei.

He’s just made far too many mistakes far too regularly over this season to appear to be headed toward a career arc as anything more than a #5/6 defenseman, and that’s worrisome going forward.

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Comments

perfection's avatar

honestly george, while i sometimes take issue with your opinions and enjoy questioning them on occasion, you are one hell of a blogger. having you on here doing your long-form comprehensive coverage lately really has reminded me of what i missed for most of this season.

snapshots was my go-to, one stop shop for all i needed to know (snapshots and KK actually…. now it’s even easier!) and i cant tell you how happy i am you’re doing your thing again. as someone who likes to stay informed but doesn’t have a ton of free time, you do all of the hard work and i thank you for it.

Posted by perfection from LaLaLand on 02/23/11 at 05:03 AM ET

Hippy Dave's avatar

Will Eaves still be at Meijer Westland?

Posted by Hippy Dave from Portland by way of Detroit on 02/23/11 at 05:31 AM ET

w2j2's avatar

Kronwall whiffed on a clearing attempt just before that 4th goal….

Posted by w2j2 on 02/23/11 at 07:28 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

Eaves? Yes. See above.

You’re *supposed* to disagree with my opinions. They’re just my opinions, and I just sharing them in the attempt to start a conversation and/or make you think about your own.

I’m not trying to tell you how to think—I never want to do that—and I think it’s incredibly important that if a blogger’s interacting with fellow fans, his opinions should be questioned on a regular basis. That’s a good thing!

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 02/23/11 at 08:47 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

Am I the only one that didn’t think they played a bad game?

They came out like they were shot out of a cannon. The first two or three shifts they had three or four legit chances and held the puck in SJs end. Then the Thornton line answered with a strong 45 seconds against the Z line, but the Wings answered with a couple more strong shifts. The two high sticks took the wind out of their sails, which isn’t all that unexpected. Any time you have to kill a four minute penalty, and a full two of those minutes are with three skaters, you’re going to expend some energy and your rotations will get out of sync.

I guess my take is, they put three pucks past Niemi. The overall effort wasn’t too bad. I don’t feel they were losing puck battles. It was a 50-50 hockey game in a lot of respects. The teams traded jags of possession, and ended up about square on face-offs, shots, and chances. The differences were some bad giveaways (Ericsson, and Rafalski was playing like he was blind all night) and a bad call (holding on Hudler). Such is life in the NHL.

When the season is 82 friggin’ games, you’re going to have a half-dozen games where you play decent on the whole, but still lose.

Most importantly, juxtapose last night’s effort with any game from the eight weeks prior to the five game streak, and it’s pretty obvious that the compete level was there and the guys were at least playing to win. Something you couldn’t honestly say about them for way too long.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 02/23/11 at 09:36 AM ET

Jeff  OKWingnut's avatar

As hot as SJS has been, and as poorly as the Wings played last night (excluding Jimmy), you’d think the Wings shoulda got blown out.

Big “E” was awful last night.

Pavel’s line continues to be magic.

Uncle Mike really needs to think about how to game plan the first game home-crapper after the road trip - - or perhaps home games in general.  DET are now 17-9-4 at home (20-8-2 on road).

Posted by Jeff OKWingnut from Quest for 12 on 02/23/11 at 10:40 AM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

I think the Wings played ok, better than in January…but not as good as they were on the road. That and again, a million and two chances from the outside but they never really worked to get in the middle of the ice.

Posted by mrfluffy from A wide spot on I-90 in Montana on 02/23/11 at 11:43 AM ET

Nate A's avatar

Datsyuk has given Hudler the confidence he lacked from September to February, and he may very well have saved Hudler’s career as a Wing.

I sure hope you’re right. But I guess we’ll see when Babs inevitably shuffles the lines and moves Hudler off Pavel’s wing.

Nathan, I agree, it was a pretty good game despite the loss. For all the laughing we do at the Sharks, they’re still a pretty good team. They really took advantage of the few mistakes the Wings made. Most any other team, we come away with a W after that. Gotta hand it to the Sharks. Their D did a good job shutting down the Wings attack in the 3rd.

Posted by Nate A from Detroit-ish on 02/23/11 at 12:02 PM ET

Nathan's avatar

Yes, the Sharks played a good game. I guess from my vantage point both teams did a lot of things well, and sometimes it goes where you get a couple unlucky high sticks (or something like that) and that can be the difference. I know the Sharks didn’t score on those PPs, but until after the first intermission the Wings were never able to sync up their lines and get back to how they played the first handful of minutes of the game.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 02/23/11 at 02:58 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.